Streetcars (Still) Do Not Reduce Miles Driven In Cars
NextRailKC.com is the website promoting the streetcar/lightrail extension in Kansas City. The site is supposed to present information, but more often than not, it offers data so cherry-picked that it can only be considered intentionally misleading. This is a shame, because people are eager to understand the very complicated issues at hand.
Here we will address the site’s claim regarding Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Previously, we have explained that rail transit does not remove cars from the road. But NextRailKC persists in making claims that, well, confuse people who honestly seek information.
First, just as with economic development claims, there is absolutely no peer-reviewed data to support the claim that rail reduces VMT. None. As written in Reason Magazine, “VMT is influenced by a host of factors. Density is the most important but land-use, development patterns and politics also matter. The prevalence of transit is maybe the 25th most important factor.”
Second, the cities they chose skew the results to the point that they are meaningless.
New York has lower VMT because it is extremely congested, located on water and built before World War II when cars were less prevalent on a pre-planned street grid. Even without its fantastic transit network it would still have a much lower VMT.
Dallas has a lower VMT because congestion is much more severe. Worsening congestion to lessen VMT is a perverse policy goal. Further, Dallas is the poster child for how not to build rail. Despite populations increases and the addition of a light-rail network, fewer people take transit in Dallas in 2013 then before the light-rail network was built. When a region spends billions to build transit and the total number of people commuting by transit declines, you have made some major mistakes.
Kansas City’s population and density are not like the population and density in New York or Dallas. Additionally, Kansas City’s needs are different. We cannot look to New York or Dallas for any meaningful prediction of the impact of rail in Kansas City. The comparisons are absolutely meaningless, to the point of being misleading.
Perhaps most indicative of the city’s lack of desire to engage seriously with taxpayers is that officials NextRailKC can’t even be bothered to develop their own misleading infographics — instead, they chose to borrow Charlotte’s.