Friday, April 24, 2015

The Case for the Market St. Streetcar Line

I am a big fan of streetcars and their potential to have transformative effects on neighborhoods and cities as a whole.  I am so much of a fan and believer that I have written several post on why I think they can and will work in Louisville and I also started the Louisvillians for Modern Mass Transit Facebook page to promote the idea.

However, even with all of the evidence that suggest that streetcars are in fact a great driver of economic development, urban development, and mobility there is still a lot of resistance. The main criticism seems to be that it's too expensive. If you look at what Cincinnati is spending for their new streetcar line I can see why that is the biggest critism. Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine/Downtown streetcar loop will cost around $102 million and will cover approximately 3.6 miles (link). That is just to build it. That price doesn't include the estimated $2-2.5 million to run the Streetcar system each year. The Market St. streetcar line idea is almost double that. It would be over 6 miles long, from one end of Market St to the other. In theory it could cost Louisville around $180 million plus for a line that long. In theory. However, there is a smarter way. There is a better way.

We can do a full Market St. streetcar line for a fraction of the cost that other cities have spent. But before we get into how we can build a system at a fraction of the cost lets do some back of the napkin numbers on how much a new streetcar system would be. To lay brand new track you are looking at an average cost of $2 million per mile. The catenary lines (the overhead wires that power most modern streetcars) cost about $3 million per mile. The streetcars themselves average $6 million per car. I don't have an average to build the trolley barns and other maintenance facilities because those vary widely depending location and other things. If we use Cincinnati as an example we can easily see why their system cost $102 million. 3.6 miles of track (I'll round up to 4 to make the math easier) on average would be $8 million just for the track. Then you add another $12 million for catenary, and $36 million for the 6 cars that they ordered. You're already up to $56 million and that doesn't include the trolley barn and other maintenance facilities. That price also doesn't include extras you may add to spruce up the visual appeal of your stations (if you them), etc.

Now that you have a pretty good idea of the just the baseline cost of putting in a streetcar system here is how we can do it cheaper. The first way is to reduce the cost of laying track. We do that by reusing the existing track. Louisville use have one of the most advanced streetcar system in the United States. Much of that track is still buried beneath about 1-2 inches of asphalt. Over the years a lot of the old track has been dug up or it was torn out. Much of the track under Broadway was torn out and used for the war effort in the 40's. However, most of the track under Market St. is still there. When Dallas first started their streetcar line ( granted it wasn't the city of Dallas, but a local non profit organization that got the ball rolling first) they used the old track whenever possible. From talking to officials in Dallas it cost them on average $79,000 a mile to use existing track. With almost all of the track still intact under Market St that would be a tremendous savings.  That would bring the total cost to repair and fix the rail for the 6 mile Market St. line to $474,000. Let's round up to $500,000 and add another $1 million to repair sections of the line. That's an estimate of $1.5 million for the track.

We have the track, but what about the streetcars themselves? Here we have several options. We can buy new cars or we can get used cars. The city of Toronto is about to surplus all of their existing streetcars because they are buying new ones. Most of the Toronto's streetcars (know as CLRV)
were built in the early 80's. They are also not as wide as the track we have in Louisville. We have had preliminary discussions with officials in Toronto and believe we can get 10 cars for around $10-30,000. We would then have to ship them to another company to have them retrofitted to make them ADA compliant, add AC, Wifi and refurbish them. The estimated cost per car would be $60,000. We estimate that it would take 10 cars to run a good streetcar line. If we average the price of the cars (when fully refurbished) to $100,000. We are looking at $1 million for all 10 cars. If we use the Toronto CLRVs we would also need the catenary at a cost of about $18 million. That would bring the total cost of the Market St. line to around $20.5 million. What also makes the Market St, line so attractive is that both of the original trolley barns are still there. We wouldn't have to build from scratch.  

That would be option 1, but there is another option where we use existing track, but with brand new streetcars. This would be much more expensive, but still a lot cheaper than what other cities have done. The cost for the line and new streetcars would be the same, except we would use brand-new hydrogen powered modern streetcars. These hydrogen powered streetcars don't use catenary so that would eliminate $18 million, but the price per car would be around $6-7 million. According to TIG-M, the company that makes the streetcars, they design an almost 100% green system. The total price of this system (not factoring in the hydrogen generators and various solar arrays) would be $61.5 million. That's pricey, but still cheaper than cities and may have a much lower operating cost over time because the streetcar system itself would be generating much of it's own power.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Will The Real Martin Luther King Please Stand Up.

What King's message and how is that message being portrayed today.

I wanted to focus on the message and how it is sold to us today because I believe we are doing King's message and life a great disservice. We are sanitizing his message and his work to the point that the real King is lost on most Americans today. Especially black folks.

If you go to any school in America and the discussion of MLK comes up the first thing kids and will talk about is the "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington. The vast majority of commercials during February which almost all of them talk about King only mention the "I Have a Dream" speech. Pundits, commentators, political leaders, and most writers fall into the same trap. They get stuck on the dream speech and the March on Washington. We are sold the idea that all King wanted was for little black boys and little black girls to hold hands with little white boys and little white girls. How many of you knew that the title of the March on Washington was the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice?

Very rarely do you hear about the other King. The King who believed that, yes, we needed to end segregation, but didn't want full assimilation. King himself stated: " We must use every constructive means to amass economic and political power. This is the kind of legitimate power we need. We must must work to build a racial pride and refute the notion that black is evil and ugly." King, like Malcolm, Garvey, Tubman, Washington, and many others thought that the black community needed strong black businesses, institutions, neighborhoods, and schools if we are to truly be free.

The anti-war King only gets lip service in the main stream media. We rarely delve into Kings thoughts on not only the Vietnam war, but US militarism and imperialism.

"God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any other nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation."


"I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government."

The fact that many black ministers and churches openly disagreed and were against King is also sanitized from our collective history.  When King came to speak in Louisville (this also happened in every city he visited) many ministers tried to convince King not to come because he would bring trouble. Many sermons in black churches throughout West Louisville (and across the country) actively discouraged their members from joining the civil rights movement and attending King's speeches. Many of the sermons focused on the gospel of respectability. The Gospel of respectability says that if Black folks do what is right and are above reproach then eventually we would be accepted as equals. Protest are unnecessary. 

Knowing how much push back King got from other black ministers and politicians puts into perspective just how much of an uphill battle he and movement faced. 

If King were alive today there is no doubt in my mind he would be hated by many just like he was when he was alive. From Listening to his speeches he would have been against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would have been against the use of drones and drone attacks. He would have been for raising the minimum wage. He would have supported the peaceful protest of #BlackLivesMatters. He would have been for increasing spending on the poor and taxing the rich. I'm sure King would have been happy to have seen Obama elected president, but very disappointed in his policies.

Yes, we can even talk about Kings shortcomings and his womanizing because these gives us a complete picture of the man. And if we take these things into consideration it does not diminish his greatness.

Now, more than ever we need keep the real King close to our hearts and minds and not the sanitized version we are given every year.

Why I am opposed to the Vietnam War

I am Black and Proud

From Ferguson to Louisville with Love

What does Louisville and Ferguson, MO. have in common?  The prison pipeline and the hopelessness it creates.  According to the Center for American Progress African-Americans are no more likely to either sell or use drugs than Whites, but 1 in 3 people arrested for drugs offenses are African American. 70% of students referred to Law enforcement and arrest were Black of Hispanic. People of color make up 30% of population, but make up 60% of the prison population. I could go on and on, but I won't. I think you get the idea. And for those who think that this doesn't happen in our city I give you the Frontline special about Beecher Terrace housing projects. In that Frontline special it details how almost everyone in Beecher Terrace will have some interaction with the prison system.

Don't think this is just Beecher Terrace, because its not. I'm sure if you look at JCPS stats on suspensions, students referred to LMPD, kids suspended you will see the same patterns. African American kids will be many more times likely to face harsher consequences for similar acts than their white counterparts. I'm sure if we did a study of the number of people arrested for marijuana use you will see that most of them will be African-American. Despite the fact that we use drugs at the same rate and levels as our white counterparts. In fact, several studies have pointed out that Whites actually sell drugs at a higher rate than Blacks, but by looking at the prisons you would never know that. 

I know that there are people who will say that "If blacks didn't commit the crimes then they wouldn't go to jail" or "If we hold ourselves beyond reproach, and do the right things then it will be all right."  I call BS. Study after study has shown that blacks commit crimes at nearly the same rates as whites. We just go to jail and whites largely don't. We as a nation/world have been condition over centuries to view African-Americans as criminals, violent, over sexed and dangerous. This isn't something new.

This is why movements like #BlackLivesMatters, that started in Ferguson, are so important. They not only shed light on the dual problem of racism and the prison industrial complex, but they put much needed pressure on the authorities to actually do something about it. These are problems we can't ignore away, or hope that if we behave correctly then they will change. History has shown us that will not work and will just lead to the status quo.

I hate that Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown and others were killed because of the duality of racism and prison industrial complex, but their deaths gave birth to a movement. From Ferguson, to Louisville, to the world, with love. #BlackLivesMatter.