Friday, 31 of October of 2014

Category » Congestion

Maryland’s Transportation Plans Go Off the Tracks

The Washington Post editorializes about getting Maryland moving again.  It seems that northern Virginia has become an attractive destination for Marylanders who can no longer take the high cost of living in the high tax state.  So perhaps improving its transportation system will make things better.  This would be true if the State Assembly spent revenues on transportation projects that work, namely roads and bridges.

Instead, the Post exhorts Smart Growth Governor Martin O’Malley to “take the lead” on an initiative to increase the tax on gas an additional 15 cents per gallon, and the scheme would divert money increasingly to transit projects: “the Red Line in Baltimore” … “the Purple Line connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties” … “the Corridor Cities Transitway.”  Sure, some money will also trickle down to roads and bridges.

Transportation policy in this Smart Growth State has already been heading in the wrong direction, and Gov. O’Malley’s “leadership” only makes matters worse.  The Post earlier reported on Montgomery County’s plan “to give more of the road to buses,” which simply doubles down on the earlier idea to push “car-free living.”

The reason why so many people have become anti-tax over the year is only partially explained by the high tax burden many people face.  It’s also due to the distrust with politicians on how they spend tax money.  A scheme like this only deepens that skepticism.


Challenging the Anti-Car Consensus

When Smart Growthers say “Less is More,” they are usually talking about reducing capacity on major roadways. This fad has developed it’s on catchphrases and buzzwords like Road Diets and Complete Streets. In my town of Gainesville, the political establishment has long championed the effort to reduce lanes on two major arterials cutting through the heart of downtown.

Last week, the editorial editor commented on this with the typical Either/Or Fallacy. This week, the paper published my response.


Congestion Costs in the UK

The Daily Mail reports that gridlock on Britain’s roads is costing families £500 a year in wasted time and fuel.  $800 U.S. dollars.  This represents a more comprehensive way to assessing costs than from previous studies, for it includes indirect costs from businesses passing along the costs to end-users.  From the INRIX summary: “These costs are a result of the direct impact of traffic on drivers in terms of wasted time and fuel as well as indirect costs to U.K. households resulting from businesses passing these same costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

Sounds like the Brits need to abandon their sprawling car-centric ways and adopt Smart Growth, right?  Well, as ADC friend Phil Hayward says: “The UK under its Town and Country Planning system, after 60 years, has attained several targets that urban planning fads aim for. It has the highest urban densities of any western nations. It has the most compact urban form. It has very high petrol taxes and massive subsidies of commuter rail and subway systems.”

In other words, it exemplifies Smart Growth.  Consequently, Great Britain also has the West’s “least affordable housing, in spite of the lowest land consumption per person; the west’s greatest social exclusion, particularly from home ownership, the west’s worst traffic congestion delays, the west’s longest trip-to-work times, and the west’s worst local air pollution.”  (By contrast, the U.S. with much lower densities has the most affordable housing and much shorter trip-to-work times.


The Greedy Government-Surveillance Society Complex

Technology is wonderful, but in the wrong hands can lead to abuse of our citizenry.  Combine technologies potential with the thrist for more money from local governments and you’ll have a toxic mix of government watching you and fining you “for your own good.”

National Journal reports on the latest development where local governments are re-timing traffic signals to shorten the yellow light function, thus making it more likely motorists will be caught (with intersection cameras) running red lights.

“Cities and for-profit camera companies maximize revenue by setting yellow-light times that are too short,” said National Motorists Association President Gary Biller. “It is a violation of the public trust, and it jeopardizes motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian safety.”

Local government’s insatiable appetite for money (i.e., greed) is putting lives at risk.  Yellow lights serve a critical function at busy intersections, and shortening them simply to raise more revenue show a callous indifference to the safety of the community.  Sadly, I see this trend only increasing in coming years.


The New Normal for Highway Capacity

Congestion continues to worsen around the country’s major cities, yet the political will for taxpayer-financed new highways seems to be lacking.  A solution to this dilemma that is increasingly gaining currency in public policy circles is tolling.  Indeed, tolling is already more extensive than one might first think.  Where there is resistance comes from the general public that sees a road and believes it has been paid for with gas taxes and, consequently, they believe paying a toll to drive on it represents a double billing.

Such is the sentiment S. Masani Jackson, as quoted in the New York Times: “I’ve been living here my whole life, and I have never had to pay for the 110 Freeway.  It’s ridiculous.”  She’s referring to Interstate 110, which is converting an 11-mile stretch across central Los Angeles into tolled express lanes.

One of the driving forces behind this policy development is Robert W. Poole, Jr. of the Reason Foundation.  His work on Congestion Pricing makes the case that all states and metropolitan areas should be looking into this opportunity to create capacity while associating the costs with those who actually use it.

But there are benefits beyond just reducing congestion and eliminating/reducing taxpayer subsidies.  Tolled roads tend to be safer, which enables motorists to drive faster.  The newly constructed Texas Tollway 130 posts a speed limit of 85 miles per hour.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.


Questions No One Is Asking

What Happens When We Reach ‘Peak Car’? … asks Time.


Control Freaks Won’t Give Up

As I write this, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association is meeting to discuss, among other things, … spprrraaaawwwwwwllllllllllllll.

Many are upset that Florida’s governor and legislature de-fanged the onerous Department of Community Affairs that oversaw growth management in the state.  The bright side to this conference, however, is that they have Samuel Staley as a featured speaker.  Staley is the managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University and also a member of the ADC and a fellow at the Reason Foundation.  He commands respect within the planning community, and our cities and places would be a lot better off if they would follow his advice more often.


Smart Growth Hopes Your Car Gets Crappy Mileage

One of the odd traits of self-described “progressives” is how they root for things to get worse as a “wake up call” for the masses to accept their vision.  The price of gas is one of those things.  They like it when gas prices rise because it punishes Americans for their “dependence” on automobiles.  They hope it will lead to a mass movement toward mass transit.

Improved fuel efficiency will mean motorists can get farther on a gallon of gas, which lessens the impact of higher prices.  For normal people, this is a good thing.  Technology is the driving force, but government has always played a role in setting standards.  The Washington Post reports that new federal rules will require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.  For the most part this is overkill that might result in car makers making vehicles lighter and, thus, less safe.  It’s also driven by the radical environmentalist’s alarm about greenhouse gas emissions, which have already dramatically declined due more to market forces than to governmental intrusion.

The irony is that the more progressives push artificial boosts to fuel efficiency, the more they undermine the Smart Growth planning doctrine preferred by said progressives.  Better fuel efficiency standards also weaken the case for transit.  I’ve previously showed how transit is dependent on automobiles for transfer payments from the gas tax.  Wendell Cox shows that – for those who are sincere about the threat of global warming – a higher fuel efficiency average for automobiles will make them less CO2 intensive than buses and light rail.

So as technology allows Americans to expand their mobility while improving the environment and lessening their costs … Smart Growthers and other progressives fume.


“If you go forward with this, traffic congestion will get worse and you’ll waste a lot of money.”

That is Wendell Cox’s assessment of T-SPLOST, Atlanta’s awkward acronym for a July 31 referendum for a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects.  In the public’s eye, Atlanta rivals Los Angeles for its legendary traffic congestion, and proponents of the new tax that would raise approximately $7 billion say the projects funded would overhaul highway interchanges, fund mass transit projects, and pay for road construction and improvements across metro Atlanta over a 10 year period.

So why wouldn’t pumping all that money into metro Atlanta alleviate congestion?  Because 52 percent of the funding would go to mass transit, “leaving less than half of the money for road improvements.”  And transit’s impact on congestion is negligible.


More Smart Growth Claims Refuted

The indispensable Wendell Cox is out with another excellent piece questioning the messianic conception of Smart Growth.  Cox details a new study in the Journal of the American Planning Association that either refutes or diminishes the most significant assumptions of Smart Growth.  A major conclusion of the study found that “Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction on the basis of reducing energy consumption without also considering its potential negative consequences. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”

In Wendell’s review of the study, he uses loaded words like “messianic” and “sacred foundations” when referring to the key assumptions of Smart Growth.  For those of us who follow closely this urban planning doctrine, we recognize that Wendell is a lot closer to being literal instead of figurative.  Smart Growth acolytes have elevated this planning doctrine to the status of a clique religion.  Smart Growth principles were cast in stone and are articles of faith that simply need not be challenged, so any effort to challenge them must be derived from ill motives.  Contrarians – even outstanding researchers like Wendell – are heretics.  Evidence (to the contrary) is ignored because evidence is unnecessary.

Smart Growth is a faith … a pretty pathetic faith.