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Archive: Tom Downs

Demographics as Destiny

Tom Downs / Sep 03 2011

For Release Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thomas DownsThe new demographics are found in two generations deeply influenced by suburbia. First there’s the 20-30 something’s who grew up in suburbia and, like all generations, do not want what their parents wanted. The second demographic are their parents, who are now becoming empty nesters with a five-bedroom McMansions in the suburbs.

According to housing and location preference surveys, the younger crowd wants to be in the center of things — downtown. They want cafes, restaurants, entertainment, and other young people to socialize with. They want walkable communities with parks; they want bike trails; they want to bike to work; and they want transit.

At the aging boomer cutting edge, what are we interested in? For boomers, preferences split almost down the middle. Half of the 50-60 somethings want to move to a larger house in a semi rural area. They wanted to build their “Dream House”, the house they wanted all their life, but deferred it to raise their children. The other half want to move to a central urban area with a walkable, transit- accessible life style. Read More »

Public Transit: Bleeding to Death from a Thousand Cuts?

Tom Downs / Aug 06 2010

For Release Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thomas DownsI will show my age when I say that I remember the last of the streetcars being ripped up to make way for the automobile. Fifty some odd years latter, it seems every city in America is betting its economic future on new light rail systems. Therein lies the story of the modern American experience with transit.

After throwing transit away, we now want it back. We just don’t want to pay for it.

Public transit — bus and rail — has experienced its first decade-long ridership expansion in over half a century. With people moving into older neighborhoods, with auto use growing ever more expensive, we seemed to be stumbling toward national support for transit.

But national political and economic trends are pointing toward a potentially grim future for the nation’s transit systems. At the operating level, 90 percent of all transit systems report flat or declining local financial support. Ninety percent of transit systems indicate state support for their systems was flat or declining. Costs, in the form of petroleum and electric power, are continuing to rise. Read More »

Driving on to Irrelevance: That Or a 21st Century Train System

Thomas Downs / Oct 09 2009

For Release Friday, October 9, 2009

Tom DownsThere is an old saying that Americans will always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else first.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to make the transition. Latest example: visceral opposition to high-speed rail by those who should be thinking more innovatively. Consider Robert Samuelson’s recent column in the Washington Post– “A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed.” Samuelson cites the usual statistics–that we are an auto culture, that not enough people ride trains, that the costs are high. So, he concludes, President Obama’s commitment to high-speed passenger rail is a fool’s errand.

But Samuelson’s among those who has been playing this song for over 20 years. Their message has turned into a weird anomaly given what is happening around the rest of the globe. Read More »

More Riders, High Costs: Transit’s Tough Dilemma

Tom Downs / Sep 11 2008

For Release Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tom Downs For public transit in America, 2008 has produced a vivid “best” and “worst” of times scenario.

After 50 years of sagging ridership and lost stature, buses and transit trains are back in heavy demand. Nationwide ridership is 4.5 percent higher than 2007, with some cities experiencing growth of 10 to 15 percent.

The top reason’s clear: high gas prices. Highway vehicle miles of travel nationwide have taken a 4.5 percent dip in a year — an unprecedented decline even as our population increases.

But sadly, the nation’s transit operators have little chance to celebrate their systems’ new popularity. Read More »