32 thoughts on “Out Of Town Attack on Streetcars

  1. that’s why i did not stay last night. if that judson guy shows up i have alot of beef to pick with him, especially “SA’s riffraff would come to OlmoPark city park if we make one”. another issue not train related

  2. LMAO, well i can research the accidents reports on that Michael G. Imber, Architects design fountain, poor thing did not get any love by drunk drivers and elderly drivers and HEB trailers to pin down if the RIFF RAFF was from SA or Olmos Park.

    • Not to nit-pick, but the fountain was not a Michael G. Imber design, and I guarantee he would distance himself from any claim of credit. It is an off-the shelf model that was put through by an interested Olmos Park resident. The accident reports, if you look into them, will show that the majority of the accidents happen between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. On another note, it is something that those opposed to the streetcar network have to bring in someone from outside to fight their battle.

  3. ^^ LOL, hadn’t heard about the snide remarks about “riffraff” in Olmos Park. Funny that the drunks there crashed into their fountain at McCullough/Olmos, but the lovely roundabout at Blanco/Fulton is quite intact. Guess our ‘riffraff’ are better drivers!

  4. So glad you guys did an article on this! As soon as I saw the Cato Institute is who O’Toole represented I knew something was up. Also really glad Judge Wolff was direct about it. Is there a vote or something that will commence on this streetcar biz?

  5. VIA is asking for feedback from the public on proposed routes. They weren’t clear on what’s up for votes last night, because the process isn’t there yet. Right now there’s plenty of debate to be done on the routes.

  6. VIA wants controlled public comments but they will do anything to avoid a public vote on the streetcar. 70% of people voted against this in 2000 because of the same kind of dishonesty with the data I see with this plan.

    I wish some of you would address the actual facts of O’Toole’s study rather than repeat the unbecoming personal attacks begun by Nelson Wolff. This city needs an informed debate. At least Bekah’s piece tries to address factual issues although she misunderstood the facts she was critiquing.

    • A 12-year-old referendum from a different time with $1.40 gas and a booming suburban market that 9% of the local electorate turned out for is hardly something to depend upon in an argument about what the people of San Antonio might want…just saying. Not sure if the word “dishonesty” is properly representing anything about this plan. It’s transparent, it’s been in the public dialogue for almost 3 years, and it’s consistent with every other plan that has received public input in the same time frame.

      An informed debate is fair, but you should also consider that highway interchange projects at I-10/410, 281/410, and 1604/281 did not go to the voters, and that those projects are also about increasing capacity and enhancing economic development like the streetcar. Growth is occurring downtown in a form that happens to be more pedestrian-oriented than auto-oriented, and it needs to have proper capacity for moving people around, just like auto oriented parts of town. That growth is not induced; the free-market is demanding it. It is being subsidized, both the development through incentives, and the streetcar. But also consider that the highways are built entirely by subsidy as well, and it’s not like suburban subdivisions don’t get incentivized either. How do you think those developments get water, electricity, and dispose of waste? How do they get access to the road network or to new schools? Without that subsidized infrastructure, those developments would not be possible because it would not make economic sense for the developer. The free-market demanded those developments, and I’m not suggesting that they are bad. People have a choice, which is the great thing about this country, and that demand needs to be met by supply, which requires subsidy.

      Some people are demanding the urban living product, which is good for keeping at least some of the suburban growth at bay, or at least keeping it from accelerating so fast, which means that suburban commuter congestion will not grow as fast, which is good for people who choose to live in that particular environment. But for the urban living product to be successful, which is beneficial to those who demand it and those who don’t, proper infrastructural investments such as streetcar need to be made, even if they are a little expensive (highway interchanges). You don’t have to like that product or agree, but you should acknowledge that some people do, and that’s their choice. If choices are going to be accommodated, particularly if there is a long-term economic benefit to be realized from a property value standpoint, which is how we pay for everyone’s public services regardless of where they live, then investments are going to have to be made to support a multitude of development products. It’s like saying that all you care about is tomatoes in the produce section at HEB, so the whole section should be tomatoes, and HEB shouldn’t spend money on stocking apples or bananas…just tomatoes.

  7. Jeff, you talk about dishonesty, then you lie in your comment and say 70% of people voted against “this” in 2000. Street car was not part of the 2000 vote, that was light rail. If you spend more than 30 seconds looking at the two initiatives, you’ll know street car and light rail are very different animals with different goals. But your interest isn’t intelligent analysis, it’s to lie about street car because you oppose public funding of transportation no matter how much it benefits the public.

    Ironically, your kind hates public transportation and urban development, yet you ignore the disparity in public funding for suburbs versus urban neighborhoods. Higher density neighborhoods use far fewer tax dollars than suburban neighborhoods. Be honest Jeff.

  8. I am for more choice in ways of getting around in a city. Different parts of a city call for different forms of transit for different scales of movement. The more choices you have for getting around in a city, the more appealing that city will be to people who are looking at what city they might want to relocate to. I don’t want to live in a city with a car monoculture and with no investment in pedestrian street culture. That’s a suppression of choice for the consumer.

    On a separate note, I really really resent that think tank suggesting I’m like the Unabomber because I believe that climate change is happening.That is no way to foster an “informed debate.”

  9. Bekah,

    I am sorry if my report failed to explain the concept “per passenger mile.” If a streetcar travels one mile with 10 passengers, that’s 10 passenger miles. Considering actual ridership levels, Federal Transit Administration data show that streetcars are just about the most energy inefficient form of surface travel we have — worse than driving an SUV with no passengers. (Ferry boats are worse, but airplanes are much more energy efficient than streetcars.)

    Streetcars cost roughly four to eight times as much as buses. I wonder why so-called “Progressives” think they deserve expensive rides, while poor people should be satisfied with low-cost rides on buses–especially considering the lower-cost rides will be faster, safer, and more convenient (since they can travel well beyond the limits of the rails).

    Forward talks about the price of gas. That has nothing to do with the fact that streetcars are technologically obsolete and buses are a far superior way of moving people (and use less energy per passenger mile besides). Streetcars are nothing but a scam designed to enrich railcar manufacturers and rail contractors. Progressives should oppose this corporate welfare, not blindly support it.

    • Mr. O’Toole,

      Do some real research please before you start talking about something you know nothing about. You should really look at the demographics of this city before you start name-calling.

      Lets look at the East-West proposed line… the average household income along this line is 1/5 of that of your buddy Jeff Judson’s “town” and the same for the councilman from district 8. When is the last time those two gentlemen stood on the side of the road to catch the bus? Or you?
      Looks to me like the only snobs here are those opposing the streetcar line that don’t want the “poor” to have a better option than the bus or the economic benefits of locating such routes in these parts of town.

      Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the number 97 bus along 1604 or at the Rim without a single body inside… is that more efficient than the SUV with no passengers that you talk about?

      And lets be honest… you don’t care about energy efficiency or the environment… if you did, you would be all for streetcars and the density that they support, and instead of targeting the streetcar, you would target the energy companies to preach about using less fossil fuels.
      How about all those parking spaces in suburbia that are needed to support the maximum number of shoppers in every store at the same time (which never happens)? Is that more efficient? Wasting land and building more roads that are farther and farther apart from location to location just to support the waste of space? I’m sure using more space to make up for the extra space we used to store cars and to support a “city for cars and buses” is doing wonders for the environment.

      Cars are a scam designed to enrich car manufacturers, oil companies and asphalt companies. Progressives should (and do) oppose THIS corporate welfare while you get a paycheck for supporting it.

      Don’t bother responding or trying to convince me of anything… I blindly support streetcars.

    • My reference to the price of gas has nothing to do with being for or against Streetcars or automobiles. It is simply a characteristic of the times that may have an impact on voter disposition with regard to public investment in transportation alternatives.

      Just like your report, you chose a statement (gas prices) out of my entire post that completely misses the bigger picture that is my point. My response to Mr. Judson is not taking sides for or against, rather its offering a perspective on how all investment in transportation infrastructure is about capacity and economic development, how its always subsidized, and how all development is incentivized. Your statement about corporate welfare is to this point as well. Every public investment allows the free market to operate, allows for the distribution of goods and services, and allows companies to compete and make profits.

      The free market is demanding a product (urban living), and Streetcars are no more than a component of that product. You talk about Streetcars as if they were some sort of silver bullet rather than discussing the whole picture…and you completely avoid anything having to do with San Antonio. If your going to engage our local debate, then engage the full debate, not some aspect for which you have a vendetta. What about SA2020, Center City Strategic Framework, Hemisfair, or the fact that our public transportation company is investing almost as much money in a major highway project as Streetcars.

      Also, what is a progressive, and what is the opposite? These labels are filler rhetoric that don’t have anything to do with this discussion. Perhaps if people would take a fair and educated look at all, not both (there are more than two sides), but all facets of this discussion, certain things might make more sense.

    • Mr. O’Toole,
      I think I understand your point about passenger miles. And underutilized public transit may be a problem. However, I’d be interested to know (from anyone who has these facts) how many people need to ride a streetcar to bring the average energy cost per passenger mile beneath that of an automobile. As for the single passenger SUV being more efficient than a streetcar…are you saying that a streetcar carrying 30 people uses more energy than 30 SUVs traveling the same distance?

      I also wonder this about passenger miles: when I take my car I drive door to door, which is the longest distance between two places. Taking public transit of any kind cuts the ends off of that (the rail and bus routes, sadly do not have a stop at my front door, nor in front of every place I go) and require me to walk a little bit- which I think we can all agree is about the most energy efficient method there is.

      As population increases, it seems to make sense to invest in a form of transportation that, with each user, decreases the amount of energy per passenger mile, rather than increases it. The people who are going to use the street car are people who would be taking some form of auto transportation. So, the question for us is: how many of us need to get out of our cars and onto the streetcar in order to do something good for the environment? Because right now we’re just adding cars, and that’s certainly not the answer.

      The most important point, however, is that we are trying to be a city with comprehensive answers to transit needs for visitors, new residents, and citizens of all income levels. We don’t want the bus/car dichotomy anymore. Clearly, people in San Antonio want the variety of transportation alternatives that match our increasingly diverse lifestyles.

      • Bekah,

        We personally love walking to shop, dine and tour. We frequent the Pearl Brewery often and go to San Miguel de Allende entirely because of its walkability. It is a 17th century colonial town built in the days of walking and horses.

        If we lived along Broadway in one of the 2000 units that will someday be there, we might walk to eat or shop. But these trips would be occassionaly. Unless we were lucky enough to work within walking distance or downtown transit, we would be taking our car. The fact of the matter is that without densities that we can never achieve and never have been achieved in a modern city, and adding to that the heat that makes walking even 100 feet an unpleasant experience if you are dressed for work, we have to admit that we live in an automobile oriented community. As Randal points out in his paper, even the transit oriented developments in Portland and elsewhere do not survive without lots of parking. That is because the number of people riding light rail is so small that most patrons end up coming by private automobile. Think about the places you go on a daily basis. Have you ever figured out if you could go to all of those places by transit? Not possible, other than a daily commute IF you work downtown.

        Transit in cities like ours works for some people, if there lives are very simple and they stay in a small geographic area and have lots of time to waste waiting and transferring and walking. But in San Antonio, streetcars would be merely an amenity, and a very expensive one at that.

        See my talk on KENS TV this Sunday at 7:30 am. I’m sure we will get into that.

        • Jeff,
          I see your point, and I realize that if we didn’t change anything about our lifestyles, we would all need cars (because our lives right now are built around them). And some people’s lives will always necessitate daily driving (sales reps, home health workers, etc.). Cars will always be a very handy way to make things more comfortable, immediate, and individualized.

          My family lives in Helotes and Bulverde. The McNeel household will probably always have at least one car even though Lewis mostly bikes to work, and I work from home. But I have lived carless for a year in a city that made that possible, and enjoyable. And London felt pretty modern, despite being founded in the days of ox carts. San Antonio was founded pre-auto, too. We’ve just been promoting sprawl since the automobile made it possible. As far as being “modern,” usually modernity has at least some correlation to improved health and safety. I have yet to see a single statistic that says cars are not the most dangerous mode of transportation. Except motorcycles.

          Part of promoting urban density is making it possible to go carless. Obviously the streetcar isn’t crucial to our existence, or we’d all be gone. But such “amenities” are useful for encouraging people to move into more dense areas of San Antonio. Just like HOAs and apartment complex pools are amenities that make people want to live in certain places. Only this amenity will be available to whoever wishes to come downtown and use it.

          Here’s the catch: that’s only worth it if you believe we need to be promoting downtown and encouraging the benefits of urban density. That’s a pretty big presupposition, one that not everyone agrees with. So maybe the fundamental difference we’re seeing here has more to do with that?

        • Jeff,

          I felt the need to point out that you are generalizing how people act and commute based on your own experience. I have ridden my bicycle to work every day for a year now, even in that heat you can’t stand to walk in. I know many people in this city without vehicles. I own a car and choose to bike… you were talking about people who “have lots of time to waste”? Because of how poorly the engineers have designed and timed the roads in downtown San Antonio, I get to work faster by bicycle. I save time by avoiding travel by car, even when traveling up to five miles.

          I find it odd that our governments have been so willing to invest in the most inefficient system that is the automobile, but any penny spent on diversity in transit is somehow unacceptable. Roads are expensive and difficult to maintain. To even have the opportunity to use those roads, a family must spend tens of thousands of dollars initially on a car and then continue spending hundreds every year for gasoline, insurance and maintenance. Most people do not want these costs but feel there is “no alternative”. Continuing to subsidize highways and oil at the insane rate we do (in turn blinding Americans to the true cost of it all) while “thumbing our noses” (to use a Rick Perry phrase) at the development of alternatives is quite hypocritical and lacks foresight. Our growing population wants to live in the city. San Antonio can either meet that demand at the front of the battle or try to react when it is too late.

          We live in an automobile-oriented society even though we long for walkability and density. Do you accept an inefficient fate of highways and auto or do you dream of something greater and work to make it happen? I’d prefer the latter. I have never met a single person who went to London, Madrid, New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Hong Kong, etc and claimed to despise the incredible access to a diverse and affordable transportation system.

          • In reading the comments above, I wonder if anyone has actually read the O’Toole report, or only read the news article. I assume the latter. The O’Toole report is well documented and looks at the actual experience and outcomes of streetcar systems based upon Federal government data and the actual plan put forth by VIA.

            We can all dream about a revitalized downtown, which I support, and dream about more people riding bikes, walking and riding transit. But in achieving those dreams, we must look at what actually works. When Dallas spends billions on their two most recent light rail lines and carries fewer transit riders after doing so, is there room to discuss that maybe this investment was counterproductive.

            If we see development around light rail stations but it was due to subsidies, not light rail, are we open minded enough to question whether we can possibly just look to the subsidies and leave off the rail, looking instead to bus which has been proven to achieve all the same objectives as rail?

            And as for transit and walking and biking, we have to keep in mind that only 2% of local travel is done by these modes. If we were to double the number of people riding transit, which is not really possible under any reasonable scenario, we would still not make a measurable difference in overall mobility. What can be done is to create pockets of walkability, like the Pearl Brewery area, which the private sector has all the capabilities of doing. It does not require billion dollar trains that degrade the bus system. And if the city planners would get out of the way, developers could build this without subsidies too.

          • Mr. Judson, I believe the reason why few seem to want to engage Mr. O’Toole’s report is because it uses a belittling and hyperbolic tone, makes apples to oranges comparisons, states some unsupported facts, employs name calling, and makes unfair leaps of logic between unrelated points, among other tactics.

            I am not singlemindedly craving a streetcar but as an architect I am craving solutions for how to fit more people in denser urban spaces with grace and dignity as the world’s population continues to increase and as resources continue to diminish. I am excited that the city I live in is researching possibilities like streetcars to prepare long term for a more crowded city than the city we currently enjoy right now. I would love to hear a sound long-range lifecycle cost argument for why streetcars aren’t a good idea. I’m certainly open to believing that possiblity. However, if there is any truth to any of Mr. O’Toole’s arguments, that truth is obscured by his debate tactics and belittling tone. I will not trust any of Mr. O’Toole’s conclusions in this report because of the disengenuous nature of the author’s tactics.

            One example of unfair leaps of logic: Cars have improved since 1900 so that they can go much faster than streetcars. Streetcars still go the same speed that they did in 1900. The report’s conclusion to this comparison is that streetcars could never be a valid form of transportation in any part of a city.

            One example of an apples to oranges comparison: The report says 1 passenger mile by streetcar uses twice as much energy as 1 passenger mile by car. This might sound like an apples to apples comparison, except that 1 streetcar carrying 1 passenger cannot be compared to 1 car carrying 1 passenger. Mass transit is based on an economy of scale. I’ll return to Bekah’s question above: Does 1 streetcar carrying 30 people going 1 mile use more energy than 30 cars carrying 30 people going 1 mile? Using the unit of passenger miles to compare these two modes of transportation needs some further qualifiers to enable it to communicate a believable argument.

            One example of belittling tone: This report labels a segment of streetcar riders as “snobs”. An “objective report” with this kind of tone is not a helpful way to engage a city in an informed debate.

          • Mr. McNeel,

            If the tone of my report seems belittling, it is because the idea of using streetcars to solve any urban problem (other than the problem of how to spend lots of taxpayer dollars) is absurd. I called streetcars a fantasy because people fantasize that it will solve problems, when actually all it will do is create them.

            You ask, “Does 1 streetcar carrying 30 people going 1 mile use more energy than 30 cars carrying 30 people going 1 mile?” That is an irrelevant question and really is the apples-to-oranges comparison. You can fantasize that streetcars will carry an average of 30 people, but the reality is something around 10.

            The relevant question is, “Does one streetcar carrying an average number of riders going 1 mile use more energy than the same number of riders in cars at average occupancy?” The answer is that streetcars use about twice as much energy, on average, as cars and more energy than single-occupant SUVs.

            As for using the term “snobs,” I met several such people during my visit to San Antonio. “I won’t ride a bus,” they said, “but I would ride a railcar that required many times more tax subsidies than a bus.” That sounds snobbish to me. They liked to think of themselves as progressives, but how progressive is it to take transit away from low-income neighborhoods (as has happened in so many cities that built rail lines) in order to fund subsidies to rail transit for snobs?

            You allege that I had several unsupported facts in my report, but you don’t cite any examples. If you find any, let me know and I’ll provide the support. The truth is that I love trains and the first job I ever had was restoring an old Portland streetcar. But that doesn’t mean I think other people should subsidize my hobby.

          • I have previously attempted to discuss your “unsupported facts” before, Mr. O’Toole. The result was a series of personal attacks written by you and your followers.

            When I saw your response to Lewis McNeel, I knew nothing had changed.

    • Just for the record, here’s a link to an op-ed piece I wrote for the Express-News shortly after Randal O’Toole’s original anti-streetcar screed was printed.

      I suppose it doesn’t matter very much right now. After all, O’Toole, Judson, McCombs and others won the most recent battle over rail-based transit in San Antonio through their coordinated disinformation campaign. Still, the truth needs to be told.

      Garl B. Latham

      “Streetcars will be a pleasant surprise”


  10. All well and good, but let’s not forget that this proposal is pitched as an “economic development” project. In this town, like so many, “economic development” is code for business development only, however, these two terms are NOT one and the same thing.

    Therefore, for those promoting this project, pls explain the business development spin-offs you’re envisioning, and drop the “economic” aspect, unless you understand what it implies.

    Just as words matter, so do concepts, especially in a planning context. Thanks.

  11. As a city planner and urban designer, from San Antonio, with work experience in NYC, Boston and Dallas, I fail to see the mentality of judson et al. Why in Dallas, they beg for ‘transit’ and the other big city amenities needed to become competitive in the world market. It has created such places as Mockingbird Place at Central Expressway/Mockingbird transit station.

    The community of investors here should see light rail as an opportunity to make money and talk about THAT at the Argyle…using the same sensibilities of placemaking and urbane redevelopment found in southtown/kingwilliam, the pearl and even alamo heights.

    The investment is private and public. Small businesses. Small companies. Renting. Home / Condo Ownership. These investments will leverage transit’s public investment. The vision has to include mixed use and urbane.

    Your oppositon related to funding sources/intent/definitions are shallow and truly San Antonio LAME. The key, from an urban economics and quality of life perspective, is to create choices in housing and how we live.

    In San Antonio, I love that one can live an urban life (downtown/king william) or a suburban life (Olmos Park/castle hills) or a small town life (Boerne) or a country life (hill country / coastal plains. Quality and choice of housing, public facilities, goods and services will draw investment and JOBS.

    Somehow, Boston’s GreenLines, New Orleans trolleys and and San Francisco’s system continue to sustain the land values and economies near them.


  12. Houston’s proved that you can’t solve an urban traffic problem simply by building more roads. If you’ve ever witnessed or participated in the rush hour traffic on I-10 West out towards Katy you can see the futility of that. 28 lanes of roads filled with bumper-to-bumper cars creeping along.

    So as a recent SATX transplant, I salute our planners for working up other ways to get people around.

    But I’m also one of the fools who voted in the Houston Metro Transit Authority (back in the days when they were promising to build a personal rail car for every neighborhood). So I’m watching this planning exercise and following the debate carefully. When time comes to vote on this I will talk up the subject with my friends and co-workers.

    There isn’t a single self-sufficient metro transport system in the world. China has built a world-class nationwide bullet train system. And their government is subsidizing trains at a cost of more than $10 billion a year.

    SATX will have to pay the piper to keep streetcars running. What’s the bottom line for the city and taxpayers?

    • Isn’t it interesting that taxpayers’ money invested toward the establishment and maintenance of alternative forms of passenger transport (such as rail-based initiatives) amounts to a “subsidy” – therefore a very, very bad thing – while taxpayers’ endless support of autocentrism is supposedly justified.


      This is especially fascinating when coming from a man who has already decried the “futility” (Zatoichi’s word choice) of attempting to pave one’s way out of traffic.

      Shouldn’t we use the same financial metric when comparing and contrasting various transport modes? Just how “self-sufficient” is our roadway system? What is the bottom-line for taxpayers?

      While we’re on the subject, what sort of future are we creating for our progeny?

  13. Streetcars are expensive garbage that injure cyclists and cause traffic jams. They are an integral part of the dream of little leftist dictators to make it as painful as possible for someone to choose to drive in order to force them into using public transit.

    The idea that San Antonio has the density to support a rail network of any kind of laughable.

    The idea that 200 year old technology that was cast aside is somehow “moving forward” is laughable. There is a reason they paved over all the street car tracks in every city in the US 60 years ago.

    Awful and dangerous.

    • And while we’re at it:

      Automobiles – the ultimate source of all “traffic jams” – cause someone in the U.S. to die every quarter hour of every day, year ’round. Another person sustains an injury from a motor vehicle incident every 15 SECONDS.

      They’re our most efficient killing machine, mowing down a pedestrian every two hours.

      Bicyclists? On the average, almost two per day are killed by automobiles, with more than 64 TIMES that number injured every year.

      When it comes to domestic energy use and the environment, motor vehicles are the biggest thorn in our side. Transportation is the number one user of petroleum products, and automobiles are the number one mode of transport. The number one source of every form of environmental pollution: air (both gaseous and particulate), water, ground, light, noise…can be traced back to the private auto.

      Even with all this, our “leaders” continue doing whatever is necessary to make it as painful as possible for Americans to choose a lifestyle which does not include one or more motor vehicles at their disposal.

      Of course, the idea that rail-based passenger transport requires development density is laughable, yet those who ideologically oppose the freedom of choice keep on slinging that mud, in hopes something will stick.

      After all, railways of all types can peacefully coexist with roadways, but autocentrism as a societal standard demands unquestioned allegiance.

      This is the primary reason our country began developing a de facto transport policy which used the taxpayers’ money to directly compete against our for profit, tax and dividend paying, employee supporting, privately owned railroad companies. Without our own government’s direct and predetermined aid, there is no way a 19th century technology like the automobile could have destroyed the comprehensive network of passenger railway services we once enjoyed.

      I guess if you pave over enough tracks, you can effect change.

      So now, we’ve become the world’s poster child for autocentrism and the home of those who, no matter how awful and dangerous the U.S.’ over-reliance on motor vehicles might be, continue to do whatever is necessary to suppress any reasonable discussion of alternatives.

      Garl B. Latham

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