Ryan Avent

Ryan Avent is a freelance economics writer living in Washington, D.C. He blogs at ryanavent.com, and at The Economist's Free Exchange.

The Transit Authority: Stimulus miss

Bills for highways, no change for transit

Think all news is bad news during this epic recession of ours? Think again -- over the past three months, real wages have increased 23 percent, an enormous gain. At a crucial period for many working families, paychecks are going a lot farther than they did back in the summer. The explanation is simple: wages are flat, prices are down. The labor market operates on a bit of a lag, so while the recession affected oil demand and prices very quickly, layoffs and falling wages are emerging more slowly. Eventually, the weak economy will catch up to workers (those who still have jobs), and spending power will decline. But this is important to remember given the trends of the past decade. When economies are growing, oil prices rise. This means that even while wages are growing, it's difficult for consumer spending power to keep up, unless we reduce the intensity of oil in our economy. How can we do this? Easy -- cut commuting times, reduce driving, reduce congestion, green intercity travel and green freight shipping (so that rising oil prices don't feed through to prices for other goods, including food). This, of course, is the logic behind a push for greener infrastructure. Better transit and rail systems boost productivity -- by improving movement of goods and people -- which increases wages. They also reduce the petroleum intensity of the economy. In a boom period, you then have rising wages that aren't much eroded by rising energy costs. And that means a richer and greener society. Barack Obama understands this; at least, that's what we've been led to believe by his speeches. Many Congressional leaders understand it too. And it is therefore very disappointing to see the contents of the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- also known as the stimulus bill. As has been widely reported, roughly $30 billion of the proposed infrastructure spending will go to highways, while only $10 billion is allocated toward transit and rail.

Urban doubt-fitter

What Obama's picks signal for urban policy

Who are President Obama's key urban policy advisers? What do his pickes for Housing and Urban Development and Transportation say about an Obama urban policy?

The Transit Authority: A study in Charlotte

Funding transit to reshape the Sunbelt

The city of Phoenix celebrated the dawning of the new year by beginning normal, paying service on its shiny new light rail line. The current 20-mile segment runs from north of central Phoenix through the city, past Sky Harbor airport, and into Tempe and Mesa. If current plans are realized, an extension to the line will be completed by 2012, and a full(ish) network will begin to take shape over the following decade. The light rail line is part of a wave of transit construction that's bringing transit systems to a new generation of booming cities. These emergent metropolises often went through crucial development phases at a time when the highway was king. Compared to older cities in the Northeast and Midwest, the amount of space devoted to dense, gridded development in such places is quite small indeed, and it has long been unclear whether transit could work in these cities, built for the car. A dreadful chicken and egg problem seems to exist. Few neighborhoods are currently dense enough to support transit, so opponents argue that systems won't draw riders. And because opponents can make this argument and systems often die on the drawing board, these cities never have the opportunity to catalyze denser, transit-oriented growth.  

Ray, it ain't so

Will Ray LaHood be our next transportation secretary?

People are saying that Ray LaHood, a downstate Illinois Republican representative, may get the nod for DOT. So far, the things mentioned as being in his favor are — friendship with the president-elect and his …

How things changed

The transportation story at the heart of a history-making crisis

There’s a remarkable graph that has starred in blog posts and news stories with some regularity over the past year. It shows vehicle miles traveled in America over the last quarter century or so. For …

Connect the dots

For stronger cities, build better connections

Infrastructure is a dull business. The guy talking about pipes and wires is not generally the life of the party (to my chagrin). But infrastructure is all the rage these days, with economists calling for …

November train

How investing in transit could save Obama’s butt

Nov. 4 was a good day for public transit. Ballot measures around the country performed well — the state of California even approving a first-in-the-nation plan to create a true high-speed, inter-city rail system. Increased …

In search of an urban plan

How design must change in a warming, oil-scarce world

This week I was able to attend a conference on urban planning hosted by the Penn Institute for Urban Research and the Rockefeller Foundation. Fifty years ago, the same entities had put together another urban …

Plan B minus

Some disappointments in Obama’s new energy proposal

Joe Romm isn’t off the wagon in calling Barack Obama’s latest energy policy outline [PDF], “easily the best energy plan ever put forward by a nominee of either party,” particularly given its release during a …

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