Letter Announcing The Transition Trilogy (1/28/19)

Dear Fellow Advocate for U.S. Regional Rail:

Over the next few months, I will be concluding this survey with what I call a “Tripartite Transition.” I introduce briefly these last three articles later in this email. 

This survey of 10 articles posted over the last 16 months on “What Stations Teach” has served an important purpose to understand better our common problems in evolving commuter rail when metropolitan governance is weak. But in the real world of politics, I remind myself that the analysis in this series alone can’t reduce America’s road congestion and transportation costs!

So how does this analysis get past today’s paralysis, specifically, to convert terminals into through-stations?

To get on a route likely to achieve that goal, we first need to proto- type proposals for those most urgently challenged metros. (New York comes to mind first… but others are close behind.) Detailed proposals will require more research and perspectives than a one- man blog can do.

Effective proposals also require more active critiques by this site’s distribution list of regional rail advocates. And of course, all this needs to be strategic enough to overcome political resistance at every level. To get to that high level of detail that succeeds, a new forum is needed.

In the next month, I will be contacting many of you about how to shape that forum. (And if I don’t have time to contact you, then e-mail me with your suggestions.)

Of course, the easy route for me is to proselytize how Europe has redeveloped into regional rail networks. But suggesting that we copy European through-networks is unlikely to get Americans out of cars they’ve been promised for a century. Nor do we have European agencies that actually have the authority to shape efficient transportation.

So in the next three articles, I propose a journey unique to the U.S. Each in this “Tripartite Transition” has its specific goal.

The first article summarizes what metros have in common… and how each is different. The previous 10 articles of “What Stations Teach” found common obstacles and regional peculiarities. But, we still have a common analysis: our legacy systems stagnated because each state keeps too much authority. A common solution is to devolve the needed authority to a metropolitan body suited to solve that region’s rail stagnation.

Part 1 has been drafted and will post in mid-February after a peer-like review. 

Part 2, lighten-up and learn from others. Rebalancing authority amidst U.S. political dysfunction gets easier if we know how others like us are succeeding. Taking a break from heaviness, the second article shows how similar nations are transforming from auto- dependent transportation by making regional rail a viable alterna-tive.

Of course to find a proper subject, we have to take a work-study trip abroad. In 2018, I surveyed Australia’s three major cities and Auckland. (Where it is summer!) I finished this tour of Common-wealth progress with Vancouver and Toronto recently. While Europe’s standard of regional rail is driven by national policies, The Commonwealth analogy also is succeeding and is more suited to the federal structure in the United States.

Part 3, involve Uncle Sam. To compensate for the two decade lead held by Commonwealth global cities (and Europe has a five decade lead), I propose we make a U.S. regional rail policy in which Uncle Sam encourages states to devolve their authority to metropolitan bodies. 

Articles sketched what I call a Corridor-based governance. These also serve the transition to strengthen regional governance. (See Chicagoland’s first Corridor Council and an early sketch of the concept called the Bay Area’s Caltrain Corridor Commission.) 

Uncle Sam can speed-up regional evolution. Incentive funding — that goes back to the 80% tradition — will encourage making ex-periments to re-form regional agencies.

A more comprehensive federal policy for regional rail would also develop new performance measures that devolve state authority and grow suburban ridership. Such a federal policy is outlined at the end of Part 1.

Until I post Part 1, please peruse the blog and think about how our common threads can help your region evolve. Then, shoot me an e-mail or a phone call. Thanks.

Robert Munson

P.S. People come into this network at different times and from different regions. So, a summary of the larger focus on rebalancing governance is helpful. For that, perhaps link to the second article “What Is To Come ?”  It starts by suggesting that county-wide transportation agencies are not an efficient structure when people commute in corridors.

My conclusion is commuters and suburbs are more likely to change their behavior if policy is geared to the corridor. After several corridors operate satisfactorily, metropolitan government can be instituted.

Please email me your comments or the address of a colleague who also should be on this list. Thanks.