Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Our Coverage | Hopes for AIAs Trashed »

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Not Idiotic

posted by on July 26 at 15:14 PM

Some folks took issue with my characterization, in the Morning News, of Emory Bundy’s Crosscut piece criticizing light rail for its supposedly enormous environmental impact. (I called it “idiocy.”)

Anyway, someone less glib than me has written a comprehensive takedown of Bundy’s idiotic argument. Here are just two of his excellent points:

First off, Bundy only considers the carbon cost of operating an automobile in the comparison. Emory does not consider the equivalent cost of building and maintaining roads and freeways. True, those roads and freeways will continue to be maintained regardless of whether light rail is constructed or not, but he also does not consider that light rail combined with rising gasoline costs will reduce traffic substantially enough to make it unnecessary to expand existing roads and construct new ones. […]

Bundy [also] completely ignores the carbon costs of building (and the useful lives of) cars and trains. Cars are not built to last, because auto manufacturers know that we will dispose of cars long before the end of their useful lives—after less than 10 years. Trains last for 40 years or more as my sister, the economist with a scary knowledge of the economics of transportation, pointed out. In other words, Bundy failed to consider if effective light rail and greater density will encourage people to purchase fewer (or no) cars at greater intervals, and how this compares to the carbon cost of building trains versus buses.

Read the whole thing here.

RSS icon Comments


My favorite line--

Bundy is using statistics like a drunkard uses a streetlamp--for support, rather than illumination.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | July 26, 2007 3:25 PM

There's all this rampant paranoia about Scientology on the Slog today and now you come along and say "glib".

That's a Tom Cruise word!

Are you trying to freak everyone out?!

Can't catch a break today.

Posted by L. Ron Hubbubbub | July 26, 2007 3:27 PM

Light rail will not reduce traffic substantially - and that IS a fact (not one that completely outweighs the value of moving people from buses onto rail, but let's don't kid ourselves about how many cars LRT will remove from the roads, cuz it ain't very many).

Posted by Mr. X | July 26, 2007 3:37 PM

Pure idiocy. No wonder why it's posted on Crosscut...

Posted by bma | July 26, 2007 3:50 PM

"Light rail will not reduce traffic substantially - and that IS a fact"

That's because NOTHING reduces traffic, Mr. X. It's called latent demand or induced demand - and it works for road widening, too. When the I-90 bridge re-opened with all those new lanes, 30k trips per day appeared out of nowhere, which soon led to the congestion we now have 6 hours a day on that relatively new mega-highway.

And when somebody leaves their car behind for light rail, there's always some new sap out there willing to take a trip to fill that person's place.

So, while it might be a "fact" that light rail does not reduce traffic congestion, it does IN FACT remove cars from the road. The problem is other cars just take their place.

They key thing to remember when comparing rail to bus, is that statistically people are a lot more likely to leave their car for rail than they are for a bus. ECB did a nice job of reporting (below) on the fact that half of Denver's light rail riders are new to transit. Those are IN FACT "cars off the road." All you have to do is take a look at traffic flow on a federal holiday to see that even a relatively small percentage reduction in cars can exponentially improve traffic flow and effeciency on the roads.

Here, in a city pretty much no one would regard as cutting-edge light rail has managed to take thousands of cars off the road. Surveys found that nearly 50% of light rail riders switched to transit from cars, and that more than 25% of commuters to the city center get there by transit. Light rail ridership here has been 60 percent higher than projections.

Posted by Mrs. Y | July 26, 2007 3:55 PM

It's a good thing cars only last 10 years. The place would be a (more) polluted, dangerous energy-abusing mess if we all were still driving our '67 beetles (man I loved that car). Cars are mostly recyclable.

Posted by ejamadoodle | July 26, 2007 4:03 PM

@6 right on.

And by the same token, what's so great about running trains built with four decades old technology? And the environmental priorities of four decades ago?

Posted by elenchos | July 26, 2007 4:08 PM

For the record, Emory Bundy is an idiot.

Besides parroting Krazy Right Winger Kemper Freeman's lies about cars being just as efficient as transit (all the blue blood old money Seattle dinosaurs seem to hold this opinion), Bundy IS AN IDIOT because he always hides his real agenda

I mean, Bundy quit his job at the Bullitt Foundation to spend all his waking hours obsessing over new ways to kill light rail...but like most Snake Oil Salesmen, Bundy isn't about to tell you what he's actually FOR....but others have outed his weird ideas in the past:


"Personal rapid transit is one technology that holds great promise for urban transit systems."
-Emory Bundy, Seattle political scientist.


Light-rail foe has rival-rail link Conflicts?

May 19, 2002
David Quigg- The News Tribune

Since the 1980s, years before he emerged as a civic-minded general in the battle to kill light rail, Seattleite Emory Bundy has been a corporate officer of a fledgling transit company that touts itself as a low-cost alternative to light rail. This financial stake - in what the influential critic dismisses as a corporation with no product, no venture capital and no payroll - surprised longtime friends and foes alike last week.

Most wished he'd disclosed it all along. Then the public could judge its effect, if any, on his credibility as a critic, as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against light rail and as a dissident member of the official citizen committee that reviewed and endorsed the 1996 ballot measure that created Sound Transit.

Members of that committee say - and meeting notes and minutes confirm - Bundy didn't tell his fellow panel members about his stake in Pathfinder Systems Inc., a developer of so-called personal rapid transit, or PRT. Not on Feb. 8, 1996, when he talked up PRT at a committee meeting. Not on March 5, 1996, when he arranged for a business partner to brief the committee about the PRT concept.

The committee's chairman, Seattle attorney Dick Ford, said it "troubles me" to have been unaware of the business relationship. Other light-rail backers, including state transportation commissioner Aubrey Davis, also see Bundy's silence as problematic.....



UBI Number 601 506 329
Category Regular Corporation
Profit/Nonprofit Profit
Active/Inactive Inactive
State of Incorporation WA
Date of Incorporation 01/14/1986
License Expiration Date 01/31/2003
Registered Agent Information
State WA
ZIP 98112

Posted by BigD | July 26, 2007 4:42 PM

"And by the same token, what's so great about running trains built with four decades old technology? And the environmental priorities of four decades ago?"

elenchos, since you're a dedicated motorcycle rider (and bicycle hater - check Bundy's comments about "bikes for everybody"), I might point out that the first motorcyle was invented in 1885, and rail technology has evolved the same way your crotch rocket has evolved over the past 100 years.

In case you want to check in to see just how ignorant your comments are, go here and here

New high speed rail is now competing with jets in Europe, and new light rail vehicles are much faster, quieter and easier to board thean their "four decades old" predecessors.

Posted by BigD | July 26, 2007 5:51 PM

@9: I think his point was that if ECB is going to tout a 40-year-long service life as a plus for trains, it's fair to ask whether we'll still want to be running trains in 40 years that were built to today's pollution and safety standards.

But it's actually kind of a false argument because locomotives aren't usually run for 40 years with all the same internal equipment. It's routine to "re-power" old locomotives with new engines.

Posted by Orv | July 26, 2007 6:50 PM

BigD, you ignorant slut.

The point of the argument is that cars are used for a few years, and then upgraded, while rail engines stay in service for "40 years" Thus the carbon cost of manufacturing a car needs to be multiplied by the number of times a car would be replaced in the single lifespan of a train. Times the equivalent number of cars taken off the road. Which is just hunky dory.

The question is, what would be so great about these long lived trains in 2047, if we bought them today? The cars on the road in 2047 will make the relatively smelly, smoggy, carbon-spewing 2007 trains look pretty bad in comparison, won't they? What's so great about keeping the same trains for so long? Simple question, the answer to which does not lie in knowing the year the motorcycle was invented or how fast it evolved.

I do not hate bicycles. I like them. I hate bicyclists. I really hate bicycle advocates, especially the ones who make shit up and advance silly arguments.

And nobody calls Italian bikes "crotch rockets." "Spicy meat-a ball-a" sure, "sausage creatures" definitely, but not "crotch rockets."

P.S. "Re-powering" engines with new technology sounds hunky dory too. But there went your carbon savings over replacing those shorter-lived automobiles, eh? You can't have it both ways.

Posted by elenchos | July 26, 2007 6:55 PM

@11: I'm actually not sure where the carbon footprint comes down. Does replacing pieces of a locomotive every decade or so have a larger carbon footprint than scrapping and manufacturing hundreds of cars? I doubt it, but the fact is I just don't know. (And neither do you.)

I think a bigger problem with rail is it's limited geographically. Buses can go anywhere, rail can only serve specific linear areas. The Sounder is great, but it's not much help unless you live along its corridor *and* commute in the right direction. Heck, both those things are true of me, but it still doesn't help me because it lacks good bus connections at the Seattle end.

Posted by Orv | July 26, 2007 7:00 PM

The big cost with light rail -- the big cost Bundy is hung up over -- isn't the light rail itself. It's establishing the right-of-way. When he talks about replacing light rail with buses, what he's really talking about is vastly inferior bus service.

And y'know what, he doesn't even talk about "bus rapid transit;" he's not bashful at all about getting behind the good'ol' vastly inferior bus service that commuters stay away from in droves:

The most cost-effective and energy-efficient transportation option, it turns out, would be making more productive use of existing capabilities. There is a lot of spare capacity on King County Metro Transit buses and those of other local agencies, even on a large share of the rush hour routes. One obvious way to use that spare capacity is to make more of the bus rides free or much lower-cost.

I live 7.7 miles from my work. I work downtown. I live in a Seattle neighborhood that has some of the best transit service in town. If I leave work at 4 PM, it still can take me well over an hour to get home by bus. Over an hour for under eight miles even while trying to beat rush hour. Making the rides free will do nothing to improve my trip or to get people out of their cars and onto the buses. Believe it or not, working people value their time more than a $1.50 fare. Making the buses more frequent won't make them any faster or more reliable either.

And then on top of that conventional bus service that people don't want to ride, Bundy offers bicycles and vanpools. Gee, thanks for the options. It's clear that Bundy doesn't look at me or anyone else who might want an alternative to driving as consumers; to him we're just cattle.

Posted by cressona | July 26, 2007 7:07 PM

@13: Well, of course he doesn't advocate BRT; BRT has the same need to establish and maintain its own right-of-way that a rail system does.

"It has too big a carbon footprint" is just the latest argument for people to try to gin up statistics to support their political views. It's being used the same way "it's uneconomic" used to be.

Posted by Orv | July 26, 2007 7:13 PM

What's remarkable to me is that here are people like Emory Bundy defending an automobile-dependent, carbon-intensive way of life by attacking the carbon footprint of reducing our carbon footprint. It's a bit like Bush administration creating a national security disaster and then the Republicans turning around and claiming they're the party that's strong on national security.

But here's what makes Bundy's argument such a sophisticated bit of sophistry. Notice that he only talks about the carbon footprint of building light rail tunnels, not of building freeways. So do we build freeways instead and just give them a free pass? Or do we simply not build anything?

Building nothing may sound appealing, but nothing happens in a vacuum. Seattle certainly could reduce its carbon footprint by establishing a policy, "We're not building any new transportation infrastructure. We're going to tell people to take it or leave it with our freeways and our buses and our vanpools. If you don't like it, ride a bike. We're going to make this such a miserable place for greater populations to live in that people will stop moving here and start moving away." Yes, that will be effective. So would a major increase in crime, or Boeing or Microsoft falling on hard times.

But you see, people are still going to live somewhere. And that somewhere could just as well be the sprawling exurbs along the I-5 corridor or other cities that decided to build freeways instead of mass transit.

Yes, I'm sure New York City has a much, much greater carbon footprint than Buffalo. The sad thing is that there are people around here who call themselves environmentalists and want to go the Buffalo route.

Posted by cressona | July 26, 2007 7:28 PM

If we really took Emory Bundy's carbon footprint argument at face value, we would be thinking, "Y'know, maybe I should not build a new home. How long will it take until the carbon cost of my new home gets paid back? Maybe I should not buy a new Toyota Prius. How long will it take until the gas savings from driving my Prius offsets the carbon cost of building it? Maybe we as a society should put a moratorium on, or a greater price tag on, all the activities that contribute to global warming."

People are not going to stop living modern lives and just dump them for a back-to-nature existence whose central transportation mode is bicycles. Societies are not going to stop needing to invest in infrastructure. And yet Bundy wants us to adopt that very thinking, but only selectively, only to the one collective infrastructure investment that actually would dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

Emory Bundy's advice: "All those other activities that contribute to global warming -- I'm not going to say you shouldn't continue doing them. I'm just going to say you shouldn't do the one thing that actually could combat global warming."

It's a bit like asking, "What's the one thing we could do that would most compromise the United States' and Israel's security?" "Hmm, lemme think. How about bombing Iran?" "Perfect!" So Joe Lieberman comes out and says, "Hey, let's bomb Iran."

Of course, Emory Bundy probably cares even less about global warming than Joe Lieberman does about American and Israeli security. I think Bundy's been fighting transit since long before climate change became a hot-button issue.

Posted by cressona | July 26, 2007 8:00 PM

Cars only last 10 years?

Hmm. Guess I better stop driving my 1996 Saturn SC2.

Too bad it gets better gas mileage than your car.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 27, 2007 1:55 PM

Rail cars do not necessarily have engines or motors. Often either electricity is used, or a single diesel engine. Therefore a 40-year old rail car is making no more pollution than a new one.

Posted by Transit Economist | July 27, 2007 8:39 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).