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Wichita transit center application

Although plans have changed, an application by the City of Wichita holds interesting observations and claims.

Recently the City of Wichita submitted an application to the Federal Transit Administration seeking funds for a proposed transit center in Delano, just north of the new baseball stadium. Plans have changed, and the city’s intent is not clear. Nonetheless, the application is worth of reading and commentary. You can read the application by clicking on The Wichita transit center application. Following, some excerpts from the application and some remarks.

Application: “Employment centers are distributed in several areas around the City and are not concentrated in the downtown core.”

Precisely. This is one of the reasons why mass transit is difficult in Wichita. Transit worked better when downtown was a major employment center, but this is no longer true for most cities.

Application: “Located in the Delano District of the city, an area that is home to new economic development initiatives …”

While Douglas Street in Delano seems to be bustling, the “new economic development initiatives” are mostly in the future, at least as far as producing tangible results. The River Vista apartments are complete, and the new library is open. The new baseball park will not open until next year, and many are skeptical of its value as an economic driver. Other initiatives are still in the planning stage.

Notably, there is a lack of activity at the Delano Catalyst Site, a project slated for 200 apartments with parking garage, a 90 room hotel, and a public transportation hub. (Question: If this project has a public transportation hub, why build another just a few blocks away?) As of a week ago, there was no evidence of any positive construction activity, although it was reported there was some demolition last year. The city’s deadline for completion of this project is October 2020.

Application: “Not only would a new, multi-modal center be key to the growth of the west bank area and mitigate increased traffic, it would replace our old and antiquated transit center.”

Before reading this application, it was unclear to me (and others) whether the proposed transit center in Delano would replace or augment the existing transit center at Topeka and William. Now we know the city’s intent: replacement. Curiously, the application cover page checks off “Bus facility expansion” instead of “Bus facility replacement.”

Application: “Also integral to the boom in this area is a new multi-million dollar public-private economic partnership consisting of private a sports complex and other economic drivers slated to open in April of 2020.”

Regarding “private a sports complex,” I had thought that the City of Wichita would own the new baseball stadium. But this application calls it a private sports complex. While it is scheduled to open in April 2020, it seems unlikely that anything else will have opened by then.

Application: “… it is vital that services connect those areas to downtown employment (which exceeds 5,000 jobs) and to large employers (exceeding 11,000 people).”

Not long ago, city leaders told us there were 26,000 jobs in downtown Wichita. 1 The city and its affiliated agencies no longer use that number, because it was based on a gross misunderstanding and misuse of the data. A better estimate of jobs downtown is perhaps 14,000. 2

So why does this application use 5,000 as the number of jobs in downtown? (Exceeds?)

Application: “However, our aged and outdated transit center, located at William and Emporia Streets is an old design that doesn’t always meet our ever increasing needs.”

Click for larger.

As can be seen in the nearby chart, demand for bus transportation in Wichita is not rising — to say the least — in terms of either trips or passenger-miles.

Application: “Due to its inner city location, it requires constant policing and also sits less than 100 feet from Intrust Arena which hosts numerous events that necessitate closing the streets around the center; making bus operations next to impossible with foot traffic, cars and event activities so close.”

I believe that the proposed location in Delano also qualifies as “inner city.” If the transit center is a crime problem, moving it to Delano will probably also move the problem of crime. Indeed, the likely reason for the city deciding to move the proposed transit center is that developers of nearby property didn’t want a bus station next door.

As far as the present transit station being near an event center, Intrust Bank Arena hosts relatively few events, and very few that generate many thousands of spectators. And, isn’t the proposed location near a baseball stadium that the city hopes will generate much “foot traffic, cars and event activities?”

Application: “The land has also seen a significant increase in its value and will eventually be landlocked by future economic development by the private sector, further reducing accessibility.”

This is a surprise to hear. The only significant development near the present transit station is Commerce Street and the Spaghetti Works District. Property owners on Commerce Street think their property taxes are too high and have asked for relief. The Spaghetti Works district is not complete, so we really don’t know how to gauge its success. Whatever its future, it took millions in public subsidy to achieve.

Directly across William Street from the transit center is retail space owned by the City of Wichita whose only tenants have been government and quasi-governmental agencies that pay a fraction of market rent. (The last time I checked, in 2015 Wichita Festivals, Inc. was paying $2.00 per square foot in rent to the city for the entire space. At that time, according to the Weigand Commercial Real Estate Forecast, Class A space in the central business district averaged $16.04, Class B was $9.96, and Class C $7.46. Perhaps the city considers low rent as a contribution to Wichita Festivals. But it’s also an indication of the low value of this space. When built, it was thought that the retail space would lease for $8.70 per square foot, in 1993 dollars. 3 That’s $15.42 in 2019 dollars.)

Catty-corner to the northwest lies new retail space that has largely remained empty since it was built some five years ago.

Application: “While changing attitudes about automobile ownership and driving are evident among the younger population, schedules and route coverage limit expanded ridership.”

This statement echoes a common belief: Young people, specifically Millennials, don’t like to own cars and drive as much as previous generations. This, however, may not be true. A recent research paper holds this in its abstract:

Anecdotes that Millennials fundamentally differ from prior generations are numerous in the popular press. One claim is that Millennials, happy to rely on public transit or ride-hailing, are less likely to own vehicles and travel less in personal vehicles than previous generations. However, in this discussion it is unclear whether these perceived differences are driven by changes in preferences or the impact of forces beyond the control of Millennials, such as the Great Recession.

After describing their research methodology, the authors state their findings:

We find little difference in preferences for vehicle ownership between Millennials and prior generations once we control for confounding variables. In contrast to the anecdotes, we find higher usage in terms of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to Baby Boomers. Next we test whether Millennials are altering endogenous life choices that may, themselves, affect vehicles ownership and use. We find that Millennials are more likely to live in urban settings and less likely to marry by age 35, but tend to have larger families, controlling for age. On net, these other choices have a small effect on vehicle ownership, reducing the number of vehicles per household by less than one percent. 4 (emphasis added)

Commenting on this study, Leonid Bershidsky wrote:

It would, however, be a mistake to reconsider business plans as if consumer preferences were undergoing a radical change. Having a car of one’s own provides, and will continue to provide, a degree of freedom that cannot be matched by any other transportation offering. Data do not bear out the expectation that people will give up that freedom for any reason except being unable to afford it. 5

Looking at data for automobiles sales, Dale Buss wrote this in Forbes last year:

It turns out that Millennials were responsible for all new-vehicle sales growth in North America during the first quarter of 2018, according to data compiled by Experian, the credit-information company. More specifically, Millennial market share increased to 29.7 percent during the period from 27.9 percent in the first quarter of 2017, while market shares from other generations remained unchanged or fell in the same period, when overall U.S. car sales were leveling off after an eight-year boom. 6

I hope that decision-makers in Wichita government have better access to data than this application reflects.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-jobs/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/a>.
  3. Weeks, Bob. As landlord, Wichita has a few issues. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/landlord-wichita-issues/.
  4. Christopher R. Knittel, Elizabeth Murphy. Generational Trends in Vehicle Ownership and Use: Are Millennials Any Different? NBER Working Paper No. 25674, March 2019. Available at https://www.nber.org/papers/w25674.pdf.
  5. Bershidsky, Leonid. Don’t Expect Car Ownership to Become Obsolete. Bloomberg, March 27, 2019. Available at https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-03-27/millennials-aren-t-making-car-ownership-obsolete.
  6. Buss, Dale. Millennials — Once Viewed As Auto Market’s Lost Generation — Now Are Its Biggest Growth Driver. Forbes, July 27, 2018. Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/dalebuss/2018/07/27/millennials-once-viewed-as-auto-markets-lost-generation-now-are-its-biggest-growth-driver/.
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