Sunday, January 08, 2006

Is the Road Builders Lobby Budging?

In the transportation debate to this point, Virginia's tax-and-build lobby has blown off the need to link land use reform to any increases in transportation funding. Harumph. Just not practical. Can't address the problem quickly enough. But now comes Jeffrey C. Southard, the new chief of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance.

As reported by Peter Bacque in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Southard ... conceded that 'land use planning and transportation planning have to go hand-in-hand.' He added, 'beyond that, we have to look at the details.'"

If the transportation construction lobby is willing to budge on this issue, opposition to Gov.-elect Kaine's land use-transportation proposals may not be as implacable as I had feared.


At 11:48 AM, Blogger Jim Duncan said...

From the RTF story: "You have to be careful that everybody wins," he said, "that you don't have losers at the end of the day, not just regionally, but also by different transportation modes."

This is impossible. Anything that is designed to appeal to all is doomed to failure. In my opinion. Trying to please everybody, to me, smacks more of pandering than thoughtful, decisive planning and leadership.

How does one define "land-use planning and transportation planning (going) hand-in-hand"?

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Good grief, there is certainly an appetite among opponents to change for clouding the waters in this debate. I suspect it is actually a strategy of sorts for resisting change. That's what permeates an argument that we can't 'define' a link between land use and transportation. Let me suggest a starting point: it is everything that we're not doing now.

One guy's 'pandering' is another's consensus and compromise. One of the things I rather like about the constant talk that we're facing a transportation 'crisis' is that it puts everybody on a short leash.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

Only an absolute idiot would sign off on the concept without adding: we need to look at the details. The Chamber of Commerce and other advocates for better transportation are quite willing to listen to these ideas, but won't buy anything carte blanche.

The spin on this Piedmont Environmental Council sponsored outlet is getting a bit out of control.

Notice a comment Kaine made, about allowing a locality to resist a rezoning if the road network will be unduly stressed. First, of course, that is very different than denying a building permit where the zoning is already proper for new development, which is often the case, or abusing the permit process itself to make it a second bite at the zoning apple. Then even if you like the idea, you have to define your terms, give some concrete criteria, or you spend the next 20 years in court.

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I'm not opposed to planning, I do it all the time. But I'm telling you there isn't a soul on the planet that knows how to do this: it is going to make an Apollo moon shot look simple. You hit the nail on the head when you said it is everything we are not doing now. It is going to wind up affecting literally everything.

The strategy for resisiting change is linking land use to transportation. EMR calls it a strategic stalemate, and he is right, it is going to take forever to get this out of the courts.

Since it takes 20 or thirty years to plan and approve a road, this is going to add that much time to getting a building permit. How much more resistance to change can you have?

There is no validated model to predict what land use will do to transportation. No one has EVER made a database that says, OK, here is where everyone in the region lives, and works and shops, and here is the network of roads and streets. And here are the formulas for how transportation costs affect land use, and here is the decision trees for siting new office building and creating jobs, and here is the logic model for how people choose where to live and when to change jobs. (This is only part of what you'd need, like you said, itis everything we are not doing now.)

Then you invent the prediction tool that postulates all the new technologies we don't have yet, and what changes they will cause.

Then you push the button and let the thing iterate for a while and you print out the results: here is what will happen in 5, 10, 15, 20 years.

Then you wait ten years and go out and repopulate the database with what actually happened, to see if your model worked. You do that dozens of times for different locations to see if it is replicable.

When you find out your model was slightly incorrect, you make corrections and start over.

Maybe in a hundred years you got something that you can prove works within plus or minus 20%.

The next time I hear someone say that puttering around with our population patterns will cure congestion, pollution, pinkeye, and child abuse, I think I'll scream.

This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of.

I don't think we are facing a crisis. We are wasting thousands of gallons of fuel and thousands of hours of people's lives, but at least we've all got low flow toilets so we don't waste water.

We can do nothing, if we choose. Eventually people will get tired of living in their car, they'll decise they can't afford home prices that are 50 to 100% higher than someplace else, and they'll go elsewhere and take their business with them.

If the long term trend is that we all retire to the South and Southwest, maybe doing nothing is the right answer.

The point is, nobody knows. We are making guesses based on theories composed of a vague notion of political desires tempered with a little bit of professional intuition, just like the planners of 60 years ago.

We have just spent the greater portion of our adult lives watching the greatest experiments in planned economies go belly up, what more do we need to know?

If we require that developers provide everything a new community needs, then let's not be too surprised when they feel like they own it. If government doesn't want to be in the infrastructure business, then let's turn it over to the developers: at least they have some experience in planning large projects.

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

I would prefer that idiots not be allowed to sign off on anything, but sadly, that is not the case.

And I am second to no one in my admiration of the chamber's carte-blanche policy. Thank god for those people, and their steely determination to avoid spin.

On Kaine's suggestion about boosting local authority to consider the road impact when considering rezonings: i would guess that's not going to mean much in a lot of places..

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I don't think anyone knows what it means. We've got TMT arguing that Fairfax infrastructure is completely overloaded, and we've got others saying the outer counties don't have any infrastructure.

Sounds like a strategic stalemate.

Wherever we put that next two million people, they are going to need infrastructure, even if we put them in Iowa.

The situation in Loudoun is hysterical. The papers are full of people exhorting against growth and losing our heritage and saying that the people don't want more housing built out there.

Meanwhile hundreds of people are out in the woods, frantic to get their home built before the door slams shut.

People who had one building right per three acres for a hundred years or more are going to lose them, just because they were the ones who were most successful in preserving their land the longest.

I can't think of a better way to get people on the conservation bandwagon than to punish them.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

OK, here is a proposed policy to debate.

"Unrestricted construction is allowed provided that the existing population density within a 2 mile radius is at least X and not more than Y the existing traffic density is no more than Z at any location within a ten mile radius."

This would prevent construction in green fields (unless they are infill) and place it where there is some semblance of accessibility.

It would preent construction from resulting in too much traffic.

When the inner circles were filled it would allow construction along the nearest edges, only.

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous sdh4vbt said...

Yes, Bob, the pot got caught calling the kettle black once again, and I can spin with the best of them. Ironically, I misread the original post in haste and reacted to the wrong things. I do think there is a willingness to consider amendments to Virginia's land use process and certainly no one disagrees that the problems are made worse by occasional bone-head decisions, but there is the sticky issue of property rights -- kind of important to most Americans.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

In his 7:10 PM post Ray Hyde came up with a variation on my Accessibility
Post in the last thread.

I suggested the time based concept of Accessibility. How many places can you get to within a set time? Forty-five minutes is the usual time used. How many customers can get to you in a set time?

When you look at new development, draw the accessibility circles and count destinations. If Accessibility is increased, approve the development. If it is decreased, reject it. The circle will wiggle with each new development. Inner circle development will increase accessibility if it is mixed use that matches trip origins and destinations. It will decrease accessibility if it is all work or all residences. Edge development will increase or decrease accessibility depending on whether it includes matching destinations within the accessibility circle. A residential development with an hour commute will decrease accessibility.

Agreement to a time circle may be easier then agreement to X and Y population density, and Z traffic density.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

Property rights. That's a good topic for its own thread.

Here's a quote from a book by Alex Marshall called 'How Cities Work' that challenges many notions about property rights: 'Goverment is often thought of as a parasite on free enterprise, or at least as dependent on it. But the reverse is more true. To paraphrase architect and organizationall theorist Ted Goranson, behind Adam Smith's invisible hand is an invisible arm - government.'

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Bob Burke: A lot of truth to that. For example, Fairfax County taxpayers fund the Economic Development Authority to the tune of $6.8 M annually. The EDA advertises the county as the place to operate businesses and, ultimately, to live. The stated rationale for the EDA is to bring in more tax dollars from commercial tenants to relieve residential real estate taxpayers.

It doesn't seem to be working well, as the percentage of the real estate taxes paid by businesses has fallen to 17% or so from 27% or so in the late 1980s. Also, real estate taxes are up some 80% or so in the last five years, with more to come.

Many, but not all, people see the tax-payer-funded EDA as a direct subsidy to those who build and operate commercial buildings, the segment of the economy that is local business and, to some extent, residential developers and builders. Not exactly pure Adam Smith economics.

There are also some concerns about advertising for more growth in the face of an inadequate infrastructure. Some also believe the taxpayer funding violates the First Amendment right not to be compelled to fund speech with which one disagrees.

At 10:58 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

TMT: You are putting me in a real dilemma here. I would actually prefer to agree with EMR that the best place to put development is in the locations that are beyond saving. the problem is that he doesn't back up his arguments with verifiable facts, like yours.

Bottom line is, that based on the evidence, I'd have to side with you, even though my conservationists side says, whoa there.

In one respect you are a breath of fresh air here, where the overwhelming prejudice appears to be for conserving open space, even if you have to steal it.

You provide the sticking point on this nonsense about linking transportation with land use.

If infrastructure is inadequate in Fairfax, arguably one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation, and if it is nonexistent in most of Fauquier, Western Loudoun, and other less populated jurisdictions, and if as EMR claims it is ten times as expensive to put it in PW as it is within R15, then the only conclusion you can draw is that we need to spend a lot more money onj infrastructure.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Ray Hyde: Aren't we back to the win-lose question: If the predicate for more development, be it in Fairfax, PW, Loudoun or points west and south, is a substantial increase in public infrastructure and likely tax increases to funds the additional public facilities, isn't there a strong argument that development is not in the public interest? At least in NoVA, under the existing ground rules, it is likely that more people lose than win from development.

Is it possible to build enough infrastructure to meet the added development? ($150-to-$175 per square foot to remodel or build classrooms in Fairfax County, for example.) If so, at what cost and who pays?

How much investment in public facilities would it take just to catch up with today's growth? What if the goal was to bring the major roads in NoVA to LOS C, assuming a total moratorium on rezoning applications? What would that cost? Now, let's assume that we continue to build and rezone, what would it cost to provide the additional infrastructure necessary to support the added growth?

What enrages many people in NoVA is that none of our elected officials are even harboring a thought about these questions. That is also why Tim Kaine's message, "don't build more where transportation is inadequate," resonated with Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

These questions must be verbalized and then answered. If the answers are unacceptable, then we need to think of ways to change the win-lose to a win-win. Change the ground rules. That might involve shifting a lot more state money back to its source - NoVA - with significant local tax increases in many parts of the state. It could mean APFs and impact fees. It might mean channelling development to Southwest VA. Etc.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

There you go, channelling development to SW VA. Isn't that what I have been saying: we need more places.

Apparently, transportation is inadequate everywhere, so under Kaine's strategy we won't have development, which as you point out is costly and not in the public interest anyway.

I think we ought not only to channel development to SW VA, but we ought to take 15% of what is laready in Fairfax and move it to SW VA, as well.

Won't that result in still more transfer of wealth from Fairfax to the rest of the state? If people come to the conclusion that living anywhere else in the state means they get less tax and more subsidy, won't they want to be somewhere else?

Problem is, every single one of those places has someone like Ed Risse who's sole object in life seems to be preventing anyone else from moving out and wrecking his piece of the planet. He thinks R15, mostly in Fairfax or some other state, should take the brunt of the damage. Never mind what the people who live there or own property there think.

Let's look at the development doesn't pay argument. Prior to the recent 122% re-assessment, Fauquier officials were claiming that any home that costs less that $710,000 dollars wasn't paying its own way. I live in a modest home, so I'm offended by having my public servants tell me I'm as moocher, but the well-off othe there are saying here-here.

Based on that argument the officials denied the construction of around 500 homes, which at that time might have sold for $350,000. Based on the county's argument, not building those homes save county taxpayers a little over a million a year.

Here's the problem. At the time, the average home in the county was only worth a little over $260,000. If on average, no one is paying their way, how are the bills getting covered? There has to be something wrong with the $710,000 argument.

The homes that were denied might have sold for around $359,000, but today they would be valued at $796,000. So even if you accept the counties argument, they are still wrong, just four years later.

In saving taxpayers a little over a million a year, the county eliminated over $200 million in prospective taxpayer wealth. I live in a modest home, every time someone builds a more expensive one, it shifts more of the burden away from me.

Considered on a regional basis, that is what drives the argument that EMR makes. If we can make NOVA bigger and more expensive, it will shift the burden away from us, as you noted.

So you are 100% correct, we only need to do two things. Figure out whare to put the next 2 million people and how to make them pay for it, or figure out what the win win strategy is.

If we decide that development is no longer in the public interest, then Students of civilization will be puzzled when they try to figure out why we let the richest county in the nation turn into a squatters nest like SAO Paulo.


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