Published: 30 May 2005
Wendell Cox featured as a writer of 2 reports, and the heavily criticised subject of another, in the US debate on sprawl versus compact city/smart growth which were published on Urban vision at the weekend.
Those reports were written in mid-2004, which was when I first read through them. Unfortunately they were long, complex, and I ran out of time to put together concise dissections of them. When I went searching through this website for Wendell Cox’s name this weekend, he wasn’t there because I hadn’t run the story. Instead of putting the documents down again, I was determined this time to run them in some form.
My abbreviated versions of all 3 documents are still too long & unwieldy, but at least they’re there for all to see.
Mr Cox has 2 New Zealand associations â€“ one current, as the producer of a simple international housing affordability index with Christchurch property developer Hugh Pavletich, and an earlier one in 2000-01 on rail (or anti-rail) issues.
While Mr Pavletich came up with the idea of the affordability index using median multiples and carried out much of the research, you can access it through Mr Cox’s Demographia website.
The NZ Automobile Association and the Road Transport Forum commissioned Mr Cox to produce the March 2000 report, New light rail in the US: Promise & reality, and he toured New Zealand & Australia a year later with another outspoken critic of new urbanism, Randal O’Toole, an economist, director of the Oregon-based Thoreau Institute & director of the Independence Institute’s Centre for the American Dream, speaking on “land-use planning (so-called â€˜smart growth’) & transport”. Presentations from that tour are available on Demographia.
Mr Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an international public policy, demographics & transport consulting firm based in St Louis. His basic premise is “pro-choice with respect to urban development. People should have the choice to live & work where & how they like.”
He’s also on the board of research advisors at the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, along with 3 New Zealanders â€“ Sir Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson & Owen McShane.
The Cox-O’Toole visit to Auckland was followed in 2001 by a visit from pro-rail consultant GB Arrington, based in Portland, Oregon, senior professional associate, transit-oriented development, at international planning, engineering, programme & construction management consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff and leader of the firm’s global transit-oriented development practice, “linking major transit investments & land-use planning to create more liveable communities”.
Mr Arrington’s latest work on the transit issue, published on the Parsons Brinckerhoff website last November, is Being an alternative to the car is not enough: Making transit more sustainable. In that article he wrote: “We have all come to learn that â€˜transit is an alternative to our over-dependence on the automobile.’ But we know that belief is inaccurate and too simplistic. As communities have spread out and become more auto-oriented, out of necessity so have their transit systems. The first generation of modern heavy rail systems in the US relies on the automobile as its primary mode of access, including San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) & the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). For example, WMATA has more than 50,000 parking spaces. We must take a fresh & broader look at how we design transit if we are to realise its potential within the context of sustainable development.”
The Cox & Arrington views are in direct conflict. Before coming to New Zealand, Mr Arrington said of Mr Cox: “Wherever he goes comes the same well polished anti-rail mantra:
urban rail is “an expensive & ineffective strategy”
the proponents of rail engage in “waste and deception”
it costs “less to lease cars for new riders”
“light rail (is) not justified”
“there is no hope of reducing auto-dependency”
“there is virtually no connection whatsoever between new urban rail & traffic relief’, and
urban areas would be better off “to increase the frequency of garbage collection” to reduce congestion.
“In his many criticisms of rail transit, Wendell Cox employs a virtual avalanche of official-sounding statistics supporting his view that modern light rail & commuter rail systems are a profoundly misguided waste of public moneyâ€¦..
“Unfortunately Cox’s work is so badly flawed that it lacks any objective credibility. He consistently presents data in a selective way that leads to inaccurate & misleading conclusions. His work is difficult to respond to because of the lack of a published methodology for his analysis and the use of contradictory evidence.”
Mr Arrington detailed fact versus what he called “Cox myth”:
Myth: Light rail ridership does not even equal a freeway lane. An analysis of actual US data on all new light rail systems indicates that no system carries more than one-third of the volume of a single freeway lane
Fact: During rush hour, Portland’s Eastside light rail line is carrying on average 120% of the peak-hour capacity of the adjacent freeway lane
Myth: There is no connection whatsoever between new urban rail and traffic relief
Fact: New urban rail lines have been effective tools to help manage congestion. Houston & Phoenix are wonderful illustrations of communities that have discovered they can’t spend enough billions of dollars on roads to solve congestion. Portland‘s Westside MAX is demonstrating the short-term congestion relief rail can offer. Drivers will get out of their cars if they have an attractive choice for avoiding the pains of congestion.
Myth: On average the cost to build & operate motorways, including private auto costs, are 1/7th that of light rail/passenger km
Fact: Urban freeways cost significantly more to build than light rail. In Portland, the Oregon State Department of Transportation estimated the freeway alternative to a light rail project would cost $US1.74 billion more ($US1.5 billion for 21 miles of rail verse $US3.24 billion for a 6-lane freeway) for a freeway of half the length & half the capacity.
Myth: Little unsubsidised, market-based light rail development has occurred
Fact: In combination with a growing real estate market & supportive public policy, new rail lines have been shown to be powerful tools to help shape urban development without public subsidy. Washington DC’s transit operator, WMATA, has undertaken 27 development projects at a value of more than $US2 billion on land they own. In the past year (that was in 2000) WMATA has realised a 50% price premium over appraised value on land sales. The premium in land sales to WMATA exceeds $US50 million.
The sprawl papers, on the Urban vision website 29 May 2005: