Sunday, 21 of December of 2014

Category » Smart Growth

What’s New in Urban & Suburban News?

The latest edition of the ADC Communicator is available here.


So Much for Letting the People Decide

For two years citizen-activists have been gathering signatures to force the Vancouver City Council to put on the ballot a public vote on light rail.  The proposed rail line would extend TriMet’s MAX line from Portland to Vancouver.  They apparently had the signatures, turning in a certified petition with the names of 5,479 city residents, seven more than were required.

But the county’s supervisor of elections, Tim Likness, has invalidated the petition “because of a technicality, according to the Vancouver Columbian.  Apparently, 94 signatures were set aside because they didn’t have a tally total at the bottom of the page.

This is obviously an example to the wedge rail transit creates in a community … not between blacks and whites or the haves and the have-nots or any other division we typically see on political matters.  This division is between those with elite visions of transforming our communities and those who foot the bills in the communities we already have and kind of like the communities as they are.  And the elites must not allow the little people to vote on their extravagant visions!


Affordable Housing Markets

The Street publishes the five most-affordable housing markets in the U.S.

  1. Detroit
  2. Atlanta
  3. Minneapolis
  4. Phoenix
  5. St. Louis

The analysis looks at only the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and calculates the amount one would pay each month for a median-priced home, assuming 20% down and a 30-year fixed mortgage that charged the local average interest rate.  None of these cities would be considered a Smart Growth City although Minneapolis perhaps comes close.  Using similar methodology, we also see the five least affordable markets:

  1. San Francisco
  2. New York
  3. San Diego
  4. Miami
  5. Los Angeles

Certainly San Fran and New York qualify as Smart Growth Cities, but there’s enough “plausible deniability” to keep the label off the others.  In fact, Miami and Los Angeles generally have a poor reputation among planners who see them as sprawling cities.  Yet, both Miami and Los Angeles share key characteristics of Smart Growth: Density and Public Transportation.

A generation ago, both cities began building new roads less and invested much more in public transit, including rail transit.  Both cities have also promoted super high densities as a way to contain outward growth.  In fact, let’s look at these ten cities to show how the densities (i.e., people per square mile) relate to affordable housing.  Using 2010 Census data:

  1. San Francisco   17,179 people per square mile (unaffordable)
  2. New York City   11,138 people per square mile (unaffordable)
  3. Los Angeles   8,231 people per square mile (unaffordable)
  4. Minneapolis   7,088 people per square mile (affordable)
  5. St. Louis   5,157 people per square mile (affordable)
  6. Detroit   5,144 people per square mile (affordable)
  7. Miami   5,129 people per square mile (unaffordable)
  8. San Diego   4,020 people per square mile (unaffordable)
  9. Atlanta   3,154 people per square mile (affordable)
  10. Phoenix   2,797 people per square mile (affordable)

If we were to broaden our search beyond the Top 25, the relationship between density and affordability would become even clearer.  Better yet, Wendell Cox has already published the 2012 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.


Busting the Downtown Transit Myth

A lot of cities are spending a lot of money trying to revive their downtowns.  To the extent public officials should want all places in a city to experience economic prosperity, it’s good to root for downtown revivals.  For Smart Growthers and central planners, however, the primary motivation in revitalizing central business districts (CBDs) is to service transit.  Where once we viewed public transportation as a means to an end (mobility for those without private automobiles), we now see transit as the end itself.

A new report from Florida State University should help squash this myth of the importance of CBDs to transit ridership.  The study looked at all 82 U.S. metropolitan areas with at least half a million people” and found that there was “no relationship between the strength of the CBD and transit ridership.”  What matters more is 1) service frequency, 2) service coverage, 3) car ownership, and 4) unemployment.

Eric Jaffe, writing in Atlantic Cities, sees a bus half full: “some ridership factors will always fall outside a transit agency’s control, but the ones that fall squarely inside it are powerful too.”

Yes, it is within the ability to control for transit agencies to reallocate monies to improving service frequency headways and re-orienting routes to dispersed job centers.  But to get there, transit boosters will first need to challenge their assumptions that city cores are the key to success and expensive gaudy rail systems will “lure” commuters out of their cars.


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.


New New Urbanist Trend

Turning churches into condos.  When you combine the general decline of organized religious participation with the New Urbanist doctrine that implicitly appeals to young urban singles who tend to be more secular in orientation, this is to be expected … for better or worse.


DOT’s LaHood Sticking Around

Ugh.  Looks like Robin LaHood is planning to stick around and promote multi-million dollar boondoggles for another four years.  Politico says, “Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talking with Obama about staying”


The Federal Push for Smart Growth

With Obama re-elected, we can expect an even stronger push for Smart Growth from the feds.  The U.S. Department of Transportation says there will be no slowing on sustainable communities.  This will come primarily through the Livable Communities Act, which I previewed here.  In short, this is a preference for mandates over markets and central planning over property rights.  Spend lots of money on transit and, oh yeah, push much higher densities … all represented in clever soundbites and catchphrases … but also bringing the very things we don’t want.