Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Getting Commuters out of their Cars

Fairfax County and developer Pulte Homes are working on details of a deal that would make Pulte subject to up to $500,000 in fines if it can't persuade enough people to stop using autos at its proposed MetroWest development next to the Vienna Metrorail stop, says this story in this morning's Wash Post.

MetroWest is proposed for a 56-acre parcel next to the station and would have 2,250 residential units plus retail and office space. Fairfax officials are convinced that this higher density mixed-use approach along its major transit corridors is the best way to absorb the population growth it's expecting.
/Consultants hired by the county and Pulte estimate that if a project the size of MetroWest were built far from a train station, it would generate 1,356 new car trips during the typical rush hour. Using those numbers as a starting point, Pulte must reduce residential trips by 47 percent and business trips by 25 percent by the time the mini-city is completed in 2012 or face the sanctions.'
'Pulte's proposal calls for a full-time transportation coordinator to match potential carpoolers, a store that sells Farecards and a child-care center. Pulte officials said they have not signed contracts with any retailers but hope to attract a bank, health club, coffee shop, dry cleaner, fast-food restaurant and supermarket, among others.
Pulte also envisions promotions for frequent bus and train riders, such as free food deliveries, and oil changes or car washes to entice people to carpool.'
The project is heading for a rezoning hearing February 8. Some residents have opposed the project because if its size, and say they don't oppose the mixed-use concept but that the MetroWest project is just too big.
I haven't really heard any good answers to the point Fairfax leaders make about the county's coming population growth and how the county can absorb it. By default, the only alternative would be spreading these new residents even farther out. Or maybe somebody wants to propose a carrot-and-stick approach to make employers choose locations in the outer suburbs. Fat chance.


At 8:41 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I don't think carrots are necessary, all you have to do is remove the existing sticks that are used to swat businesses away. I own land adjacent to an interstate and near an interchange. Any rational thought would make this light industrial, but the county has decided it is more valuable as prime farmland.

I can think of dozens of businesses I could put here, some without even disturbing the neighborhood.

PW already has the fastest job growth in the area. Places like Fair Lakes and most of Centerville didn't even exist a few years ago.

If congestion pricing is enacted, that would make a pretty good stick.

As it stands now we don't know if 1356 trips is a good staring point, don't know if the reduction can be achieved, and this deal will result in a whole new bureaucracy for government traffic counters if the idea spreads.

I thought the usual standard was something like ten trips per residence. Even for a transit oriented developmet 1356 sounds fishy.

Pulte may be taking a suckers bet if they have let the county set the odds, or they may figure the half million is part of the cost of doing business and move on.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

The job growth issue raises a point that Ed Risse and others have made many times; that the rate of job growth in the outer suburbs may be higher than in the inner suburbs, but the raw numbers are much higher in the inner suburbs and city. The point being that the residential growth on the urban perimeter isn't going to be matched by job growth.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Exactly. And because all those jobs are already in the core the traffic going there will continue to do so. Because the roads going there are already congested, they will continue to be. Because the core is aready congested, hard to get to, and expensive few new jobs will locate there.


Regardless of the total amount of jobs, the rate of job growth is higher in the suburbs. (measured fact) But the area affected is much larger,(measured fact) so the total number of jobs in suburban areas will probably continue to climb and exceed that in the core.(speculation)

The current preferred location (of employers anyway) for new job location is no longer in the core.
What should we plan for? What we would like to happen, or what is happening?

IF the answer to is that we would like more job growth in the city, what in the world would lead us to believe it will result in less congestion?

Evidently, people already prefer not to live in the core, the majority of people are not there, and most growth is in the suburbs.

Why would you want to move all those people from where they are to where the jobs are not going?

You can make any kind of plan you want, but if you plan to make water run uphill then it's going to take more work, cost more, and be more likely to fail.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

A couple of thoughts & questions. In theory, mixed use makes a lot of sense. But is there necessarily any ties between who lives at Metrowest & who works there? What percentage of the residents will also work at businesses located there? What percentage of the total number of new workers at Metrowest will also live there?

Same with TOD. Makes good sense in theory. But we still have the 10-pound sack problem. Can Metrorail handle the additional passengers from this and other developments? If not, what are the fixes and the associated costs? Keep in mind that, at the very same time, our fearless Fairfax leadership is trying to build the Silver Line to Tysons, Reston & Dulles and to promote large-scale redevelopment at Tysons. What is the cumulative impact on Metrorail?

Of course, there remain the questions about the impact of the additional developments on other public facilities. No one in this area with any responsibility seems willing to address those questions. All we hear is more buzz words -- mixed use, TOD, etc. Buzz words do not solve problems.

Finally, the $500 K fine, etc. are all for show. Gerry Connolly is trying to redeem his reputation as a protector of the public interest. It would seem more significant if the county were to require Pulte to build the real TOD (1/4 mile from the station) first and condition permission to build the rest on the first section meeting the agreed upon standards.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I talked in the previous post about what is known about Induced traffic, based on a summary of published studies. Here is what we know about getting people out of their cars, based on a number of academic studies. I should note that these are not nut cases pushing some agenda for pay, these are people who promote the idea of reduced auto use, but accept the facts as they are.

Researchers have been unable to associate any particular settlement pattern with a reduction in auto use. The studies come up with conflicting results that are not replicable, results that point to other factors, etc.

Even where there are correlations, there is no evidence of causality. The growth of VMT has outstripped population growth, road miles constructed, economic growth, number of drivers, and the calculated decrease in the cost of driving over the past 20 years. Whatever is causing itcan't be the result of any one factor.

Still, there is enough evidence to make some tentative conclusions. Tha amount of driving goes down as density goes up, but only by a small amount. A ten percent increase in density is associated with a decrease in driving of 0.5 to 0.7%, certainly less than 1%. There is no evidence of causality in this and subtantial evidence that other factors are at play.

Where supposedly walkable neighborhoods have been studied, the results show that people do walk to local shops and attractions, but they still drive to other places as well. The increased accessibility provides additional opportunities, not replacement opportunities.

Highly attractive locations are also known to attract visitors from a considerable distance. I wouldn't call Potomac Mills attractive, but it draws in bus tours from out of state.

There is no proven correlation between travel and street networks. Cul-de-sacs are out of favor now, but they were originally designed to prevent traffic problems posed by grid networks. Citizens routinely object to cut throughs, and developers make more money selling homes that sell for a premium on cul-de-sacs.

One of the benefits rail supporters claim to make the cost benefit ratio work out is the enormous value of property improvements caused by Metro et al. That same argument is used against the construction of roadways "Look at all the development it causes". Studies of roadways have concluded they don't cause more development, just change the location. If the same thing is true for Metro then both the argument for Metro and against roads are wrong, or overstated.

"Policies to increase mobility will
generally increase accessibility as well by making it easier to reach destinations. But it is possible to have good accessibility with poor mobility. ... It is also possible to have good mobility but poor accessibility. For example, a community with ample roads and low levels of congestion but with relatively few destinations for shopping or other activities or with undesirable or inadequate
destinations has good mobility but poor accessibility. Good mobility is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for good accessibility. ....But there is no guarantee that planning for accessibility will actually reduce driving even if it
succeeds in reducing the need for driving." - Susan Handy.

Certainly people will drive if there is no alternative, so increasing accessibility is a good thing: just don't expect that it will reduce VMT. And at the same time, increasing mobility always increaases accessibility.

"Transit-oriented development, defined as relatively high-density, mixed-use, pedestrianoriented development in transit station areas, capitalizes on the ability of transit to deliver large numbers of people to a particular destination and increases the numbers of people transit is likely to carry." - Susan Handy

This means that transit oriented development is actually a subsidy to transit which could not exist otherwise, and it is a subsidy to the particular location is serves, as I have said previously.

Dozens of studies have been done, and like the case in induced travel some have chosen selectively in the results they choose to champion. Early studies showed that some good reslts could occur from mixed use, TOD, Etc. they concluded that that the built environment is more significant than socio-economic characteristics in predicting trip lengths, but that socio-economic characteristics are more significant than the built environment in predicting trip frequencies and mode choice.

Later studies showed a statistically significant but rather limited link between characteristics of the built environment and travel behavior, with the results noted above.

"The available research suggests two reasons why land use strategies do not seem to reduce driving any more than that. First, enhancements to accessibility produced by these land use strategies may actually increase travel. Although these land use strategies reduce the need for driving, they also tend to increase the potential for driving. Although residents may drive shorter distances on average, the may also choose to drive more frequently." - Susan Handy.

You can reduce driving by increasing it's cost, but in order to prevent that from producing a net economic loss you need to offset it with chices for more accessibility, which may actually increase driving. Then there is the fact that people like to drive. Studies ahve shown that people drive when they don't need to and drive longer or different routes, just to enjoy their surroundings.

"Researchers who have looked at the
importance of attitudes and preferences relative to the built environment in a substantial way,
found that attitudes were a more significant predictor of travel behavior than either socio-economic characteristics or the built environment." Paraphrased from Handy, this supports EMR's contention that the problem is education.

More accessibility, mixed use, new urbanism, intelligent transportation systems, TOD etc. are all fine. But they should be supported on their own merits, or lack of, not on unsupported claims that they will solve all our problems from obesity to air pollution to lack of opera.


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