Saturday, August 13, 2005

Fairfax Metro: How Greater Density Can Reduce Traffic Counts

Foes of Business-As-Usual transportation policy argue that developers should be allowed to build at greater densities in areas served by existing transportation infrastructure as an alternative to building at low densities in areas that require expensive road improvements. Skeptics respond that higher density -- packing more houses, offices and stores into a smaller space -- means more localized congestion.

The arguments of both sides are on display at the Vienna/Fairfax Metro station, where Pulte Homes wants to develop 2,250 residences, 100,000 square feet of retail space and 300,000 square feet of office space. Fairfax supervisors approved the request subject to Pulte being able to demonstrate that it could reduce the number of expected "trips" generated by the development by 47 percent.

A Pulte study contends that it is possible to meet that goal, with a little to spare. Local foes of the project question the methodology. See The Connection newspaper's account of the controversy here.

What the Not-In-My-Back-Yard types overlook, of course, is that people have to live, work and shop somewhere. If they don't do it in a compact space connected to Metro rail and designed to encourage foot traffic, they will most likely do it in scattered, disconnected, low-density places that will generate far more trips and create greater congestion on someone else's roads.

World's Most Expensive and Useless Drawbridge Erected

Construction crews have put into place a piece of giant drawbridge -- a 466-ton, 155-foot span -- that forms a critical element of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River. The Washington Post describes it as "one of the largest draw bridges in the world." It also may be one of the most expensive: The drawbridge is adding $186 million to the cost of the multi-billion bridge project.

Furthermore, I would argue, The Woodrow Wilson drawbridge may be one of the most useless in the world. The Post, which breathlessly describes the erection of the span, never inquires why it is needed in the first place, noting only, "The new bridge will open about 60 times a year instead of the 250 times that the old bridge opens because, at 78 feet in the air rather than 50, more boats will be able to pass beneath it."

Sixty times a year? Taxpayers are spending $186 million so vessels can pass underneath the bridge at the rate of once every six days?

And what ships be those 60? There is little commercial shipping traffic along this stretch of the Potomac -- the Washington Post printing plant gets its paper delivered upstream from the bridge, but there's not much else -- and no Navy traffic. A handful of coast guard vessels may ply the waterways around Washington, D.C., but otherwise most of the maritime traffic consists of yachts and other pleasure craft. I would love to know the identity of those 60 vessels that are costing taxpayers $186 million. If they belong to private citizens, then the drawbridge would rank as one of the greatest boondoggles of in the world.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Excellent Kaine Interview on VBT Website

I don't agree with the Virginians for Better Transportation on many transportation-related issues, but I will give them credit for one thing: They can conduct a good interview. The VBT website contains a lengthy interview with Tim Kaine about transportation policy. The questions cover the salient issues -- including the relationship between transportation and land use -- and Kaine provides thoughftful answers.

It's the best Q&A I've seen so far this campaign. I'm looking forward to reading a comparable Q&A with Jerry Kilgore.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Realtors in James City County Fight Proffers

If James City County adopts cash proffers on new homes when a rezoning is required it will effectively be a tax on every homeowner, not just the new arrivals, say Realtors in this Virginia Gazette story.

Proffers tend to increase home values across the board, thus driving up real estate tax bills, not to mention housing costs, opponents told county supervisors.

“Why are only certain people required to pay,” Susan Gaston, a government lobbyist hired by the Realtors, told the board. “This does not meet the bright line test of fairness.”

Real estate taxes don't meet the bright line test either, of course, but no matter. The money from the proffers is supposed to be set aside for school costs. The Realtors support as an alternative setting aside one cent of the real estate tax revenue for schools.

Hmm... It's always about tax policy and the local cost for public education. Maybe if the state actually paid its fair share for public schooling, and localities did the same for local road construction and maintenance, then.... Oh, nevermind. I'm talking crazy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tom Friedman's Case for a Gas Tax

So we passed an energy bill, says NYT columnist Tom Friedman - so what.

"Sorry to be so cynical, but an energy bill that doesn't enjoin our auto companies to sharply improve their mileage standards is just not serious," he writes in a recent essay. (registration required)

If the rising competition for energy resources with India and China isn't enough, here's another reason to look for ways to cut consumption and reduce VMT by rethinking our land-use and energy policies. I'll paste a few graphs here:

"..we are in a war. It is a war against open societies mounted by Islamo-fascists, who are nurtured by mosques, charities and madrasas preaching an intolerant brand of Islam and financed by medieval regimes sustained by our oil purchases.
Yes, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism: our soldiers and the fascist terrorists. George Bush's failure, on the morning after 9/11, to call on Americans to accept a gasoline tax to curb our oil imports was one of the greatest wasted opportunities in U.S. history."

"We need a strategic approach to energy. We need to redesign work so more people work at home instead of driving in; we need to reconfigure our cars and mass transit; we need a broader definition of what we think of as fuel. And we need a tax policy that both entices, and compels, U.S. firms to be innovative with green energy solutions. This is going to be a huge global industry - as China and India become high-impact consumers - and we should lead it."

"Many technologies that could make a difference are already here - from hybrid engines to ethanol. All that is needed is a gasoline tax of $2 a gallon to get consumers and Detroit to change their behavior and adopt them."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hide the Women and Children! The Rebellion Is Here!

The Aug. 8, 2005, edition of Bacon's Rebellion has been posted online.

Doug Koelemay explores new strategies in financing transportation infrastructure projects in his column, "We Are What We Finance."

And Patrick McSweeney makes the case for linking transportation and land-use planning in his column, "Voters Want Substance."

Washington Post Wary of Dulles Rail Cost

The Washington Post's editorial page has been a major supporter of plans to build a 23-mile extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport. But now the escalating estimates of its cost - $2.4 billion for the first phase, up from a previous estimate of $1.5 billion - has curbed its enthusiasm.

The paper's editorial today wonders if it's becoming a "vanity project" for its powerful backers and urges planners to look at all the options - including road improvements and a less-costly bus rapid transit system.

I'm not sure what line was crossed here by the higher cost estimates - previous studies had already declared that BRT was less costly than rail. What does BRT lack that made transportation planners and these 'powerful friends' willing to leave those savings behind?

Tolls Troubles in Chesapeake

When the Chesapeake Expressway, a toll highway, opened in 2001, says the Virginian-Pilot, it lowered the number of vehicles on nearby South Battlefield Boulevard in the city of Chesapeake. But truck drivers still prefer South Battlefield to paying the toll, and some residents along that road think it's getting more dangerous. They want city traffic engineers to do something - lower the speed limit, preferably.

But engineers say a study last year showed the road's 55 mph speed limit works fine, and that lowering it wouldn't necessarily make the road more safe; it's the difference in speed between vehicles that creates the biggest hazard. And they say they can't just ban trucks on the road.