Friday, June 17, 2005

The Poor: Let Them Live Elsewhere

The developers of Washington, D.C.'s Watergate apartment complex now propose to build three condominium high-rise buildings with a total of 720 units on the waterfront of the Occoquan River. According to an editorial in today's Manassas Journal Messenger, the location would be well served by transportation infrastructure.

Considering the county's problems with sprawl, our leaders need to seriously consider building up, instead of building out. The only places to build up, are near transportation hubs. This is such a place.

... When it comes to infrastructure, this property is not only served by Virginia Railway Express, HOV and the I-95/Va. 123 interchange, it is practically on top of a large commuter lot that we pay for, yet no one uses. Plus, Fort Belvoir, and yes, Woodbridge are next in line for Metro expansion. Making the correct decisions when it comes to developing along U.S. 1 is key to Metro's migration south. If the county worked with the developer, there's a good chance it could come away with some lucrative transportation concessions.

It goes without saying that the project faces opposition. Supervisor Corey Stewart, R-Occoquan, fears an influx of "low income" residents. The county, he says, should focus on adding office space and employment centers. With attitudes like that, no wonder housing is so unaffordable in Northern Virginia, and no wonder developers are moving deeper into Virginia's rural hinterlands to find developable land--and more congenial local governments--to build houses that people can afford. If the ensuing long-range commutes add to gridlock on I-95, that's the state's problem, right? Mr. Stewart can always blame the stingey politicians in Richmond for refusing to cough up more bucks to widen more miles of Interstate.

Fortunately, there are indications that other supervisors -- including Chairman Sean Connaughton, back from the campaign trail after his unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor -- see the value of permitting denser, more compact development in areas well served by existing infrastructure.


At 7:37 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

There's another advantage to permitting high-density development along the waterfront: In theory, the Potomac and its tributaries (like the Occoquan and Anacostia) one day can serve as maritime highways. With sufficient high-density residential development along the river (subject to appropriate protections for wetlands and rules to prevent run-off into the river, etc.) it might become economically feasible to establish water ferry service to other development nodes along the river.

At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Joe Freeman said...

Right on! However, though the logic is clear, people don't always respond to logic. The way such matters are presented need some more muscle. Wouldn't it help such discussions to be able to indicate how MUCH difference it makes to have more campact, varied settlements?

Someone is bound to have a reasonable count of how many trips are made per household, per day, maybe even, for representative locations, the distances of the trips and the modes of transportation. Comparing these figures for different kinds of housing (case I, single family house in suburban zoning vs. case II, condo with access to mass transit, some shopping and recreation) would give a quantitative dimension to the discussion that might nudge the debate in a more rational direction. If, hypothetically, it worked out that in case I it was 60 miles of road use and in case II it was 15, maybe an eye or two would open. Other elements, such as the cost of parking at the end of every car trip, time, etc., could be added. A picture of what we are actually doing could emerge.

And on the matter of ferries, does anyone on this list use White's Ferry to get to the western Maryland suburbs of DeeCee? We've done it for decades.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

Joe, I'm gathering string for a column about getting more mileage (so to speak) out of ferries on the Chesapeake and its tributaries. What can you tell me about White's Ferry?

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Whites Ferry is a whole different deal than commuting up and down the Potomac.

While Ferry service might work, and would certainly be more civilized than gridlock on 95, we don't have it yet. If you compare new cities and old cities in the US, you find that Old cities were constructed around rivers and harbors, and Like DC they now have problems with restricted access/directions for growth. Building major developments into a corner composed of two rivers might not be such a hot transportation idea.

I don't think the metrics we have on transportaion are anywhere near sufficiently quantitative to make good decisions. We might be very surprised when we compare condos with mass transit (and presumably an auto as well) to suburban housing and auto. If we are comparing 60 miles of free flow to 15 miles of congested stop and go, we might be surprised again. So far, there is too much dogma (on several fronts) and not enough knowledge, in my opinion.

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Joe Freeman said...

Response to Jim:

White's Ferry is a 19th century survival -- a privately-owned, flat-bottom cable ferry that crosses the Potomac from near Leesburg to Poolesville, Md. It's been there for generations, costs about $5, and is a neat ride, as well as quite convenient for certain trips. To take it, go out of Leesburg on US 15, turn right at the first county road (also some small signs for the ferry)and follow it to the ferry landing.

For (much) larger volumes of traffic, check out the ferries that cross Puget Sound from Seattle. Big, heavily used, and they load them with amazing speed.


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