Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More Statistical Grist for the Mill

Some of the most useful transportation statistics are compiled by the Division of Motor Vehicles and updated annually. I haven't taken a look at them recently, and I haven't seen the 2004 numbers reported anywhere, so I thought they'd be worth replicating here.

2001 population... 7,196,800
2002 population... 7,293,500... +1.3 %
2003 populaton... 7,386,300... +1.3 %
2004 population... 7,458,900... +1.0 %

2001 licensed drivers... 5,100,631
2002 licensed drivers... 5,128,497... +2.3 %
2003 licensed drivers... 5,257,516... +2.5 %
2004 licensed drivers... 5,313,167... +1.1 %

2001 vehicle miles driven... nmf (different methodology for calculating VMT)
2002 vehicle miles driven... 75,263 million...
2003 vehicle miles driven... 76,830 million... +2.1 %
2004 vehicle miles driven... 78,877 million... +2.7 %

In summary, the population is increasing a bit faster than one percent per year, the number of licensed drivers is increasing at the rate of nearly 2 percent per year, and the Vehicle Miles Driven is increasing at the rate of roughly 2.5 percent per year.

Population growth reflects the superior economic opportunities in Virginia (a good thing).

The increase in number of licensed drivers reflects two things: spreading affluence and the ability of more people to afford cars (a good thing), and the autocentric design of new development, which forces people -- even poor people and students -- into cars as opposed to other modes of transportation (a bad thing).

The increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled reflects the scattered, disconnected, low-density pattern of development that makes people drive greater distances to reach their destinations (a bad thing).

Lesson of the story: Virginia transportation policy needs to do more than raise taxes: It must address the autocentric design of our communities and the scattered, disconnected, low-density pattern of development.


At 1:18 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

More licensed drivers may also be simply a demographic issue, a bump in the number of young people. These people are also likely to be more mobile than older and more settled people.

More VMT may be an issue of younger drivers. It is also a matter of lower real costs of driving, better cars, better tires, better gas mileage; even in the face of higher fuel costs.

But I object to the idea that a) autcentric design is responsible for more driving b) that it forces people to drive and c) that it is necessarily a bad thing.

It is entirely possible, and seems likely to me that we have autocentric design because people want to drive: they have figured out that it is the best, cheapest, fastest, most convenient, most comfortable, flexible, and freight, pet, and kid friendly means of transportation ever devised. We have this because most people (85%+) have concluded that other modes of transportation are a bAd thing, unless it is for someone else to use.

Nobody forces us to do this. We can, if we choose, trade our auto expenses and freedom for higher and more cramped living arrangements that offer us fewer choices in our activities at higher overall expense.

Furthermore, VMT is also driven by much higher delivery of goods over the highway, not just more drivers. In turn, each manufacturer or distributor chooses his location carefully, to minimze overall costs, not necessarily driving alone.

Finally more VMT is not necessarily bad if it produces more benfit than costs. If people in the suburbs drive farther, but save time and money, who are we to blame? It is proven that rural folks spend less on transportation than city folk.

The idea that the way we build controls the way we drive is simply unproven, and moreover, unlikely. What evidence we have is contradictory at best, and probably slanted against your argument.

When I look back at my own driving habits ove rthe last thirty-five years, I can't find any correlation between the kinds of places I lived and the number of miles driven. Consequently, I cannot believe your argument, and since you claim to be a free market guy, I don't know why you bother to make it.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Today's Post has a story that says Montgomery county is planning to raise $80 million for road improvements the state has failed to fund.

"When Metro was designed, the job center was the District of Columbia. People lived in the suburbs and went to work in the District," he said. "That has changed dramatically over the last 40 years. We've got to connect not just Bethesda, Silver Spring. We've got to connect into Prince George's and into Tysons and all the way around. Ultimately we need a subway Beltway."

That doesn't sound like more density is happening, but more spreading out, as I have argued with EMR.

But if we can't afford to pave our way out of congestion, what will be the result if we try to Metro our way out? I can see a string of satellite city pearls strung out on a purple line necklace. Funny thing is, every subway station will be surrounded by massive parking lots.

Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. Put the Metro only where it will do the most good, not where it competes with autos or causes more of them: it can't win the first battle and it is self defeating if it wins the second one.

And remember, Metro is paid for with 25% state money.

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I too am a bit skeptical that we assign settlement patterns as the primary reason for increasing VMT and further have decided that changing settlement patterns will change (lower) VMT.

However, I don't think there is any argument about the impacts of increasing VMT.

It means more people are driving further and longer and that translates into more cars on the transportation network - which, in turn, means more congestion and more air pollution, more bottlenecks and a more fragile network that can be systemically affected by isolated accidents on parts of it.

It also means that new construction does not remain uncongested as long as it used to before it uses that new capacity and that, in turn, means huge financial investments in new capacity do not result in effective gains for the network as a whole but rather isolated segments, that, in many cases, merely more quickly move the congestion from the new infrastructure to older, yet to be improved infrastructure.

In other words, we spend BIG money to move congestion around with little net effect on the grid as a whole - and pro road advocates will claim, in essence, that the answer is, in essence, to build MUCH much MORE before results will be seen. In essence, they argue that you CAN build your way out of congestion.

This is a realitistic approach?

This is WHY these folks are losing this argument. Their answer is dumb and totally ignores realities.

But back to VMT.

Are VMT trends uniform nationwide? Is it the same in say Portland as it is in Atlanta? Is it the same in New York City as it is in Houston?

How about in London.. Sweden, Austrailia, etc?

Do we have data that might correlate VMT with existing settlement patterns and existing mature transit systems?

Do you think VMT trends in New York City and Chicago are no different than No Va?

And with regard to the DC area, the Tranportation Planning Board of the MWCOG has done extensive studies on VMT and a recent study indicated that SUVs driven solo are a significant part of the increasing VMT in the Wash DC Metro Area.

But Ray hit the issue on the head when she suggested that the cost of driving is low enough that people do not find cost as significant factor affecting their decisions to drive solo, drive further and drive longer AND do it in cars that get poor gas mileage AND spew out higher levels of pollutants than smaller, more efficient cars.

BUT there IS a COST to people doing this and that is, IF one thinks the solution is MORE infrastructure (assuming for the moment that nonattainment would have no impact) then WHO should pay for the new infrastructure?

What amazes me is that we have millions of drivers in the Wash Metro Area who apparently want the State to "fix their problem".

Well, WHO do they think the State is?

Well, it's Virginia Taxpayers and the most obvious question is WHY should all Virginia taxpyers pay taxes to No Va rather than their own localitiy which also has road needs?

Why should folks who live in Spotsylvania or Wise County have their tax dollars diverted to fix the problems of the NoVa area?

So... yes.. let's seriously question whether or not settlement patterns... or the suggestion that some kind of enforcement mechanism might be used to change settlement patterns - as the answer..

.. but let's not take a total abdication of simple realities and responsiblities.

No Va's transportation crisis IS NoVa's problem AND responsibility. If the answer is more money, huge more money.. then I'd posit..
that .. folks in No Va need to be forking over the money required to build their way out of congestion.

I'm a bit frustrated with the basic dialogue which is.. "people need to be free to do their thing" and ... it's not their fault but it's Richmond's fault for not requiring all Va taxpayers to step up to the plate so that No VA drivers can continue to "be free" to "do their (increasing VMT) thing"

I think the solution is very simple. Put electronic tolls on No Va roads - set it to the amount necessary to "build their way out of congestion" and get on with life.

Do away with the dialouge about VMT and settlement patterns. Just cut to the chase and let people pay the true cost of their driving behaviors.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry, I often agree with you, but here I think you are wrong, or partly wrong.

Increasing VMT will increase pollution, all else being equal. But we could easily offset that (at least for a while) by not diving vehicles that are too large or overpowered for the job at hand. Travel creates benefits. If we arbitrarily reduce travel we reduce pollution and reduce the benefits: depending on the ratios, that may not be cost effective. We can reduce a lot more pollution a lot sooner by going after the cars and not their use.

The pattern of development has little to do with how many people drive: that is mostly a matter of demographics. We know as a matter of fact that although suburban people drive slightly farther, they do so in less time, and at speeds more closely matched to the auto's abilities. This results in less pollution, not more. It results in lower costs, not more. It results in pollution that is more widely dispersed, and therefore less dangerous. We know as a matter of fact that rural folk spend less on transportation than urban folk.

There is absolutely no connection between driving further and having more congestion. That is, unless we are all driving to the same places. This is a matter of job balance, more than distance.

Sure, we have a (relatively) fixed amount of roads. If everyone drives twice as far, eventually this will be reflected in more congestion. But that is not the case, my own driving history is relatively constant, regardless of where I lived or worked, and scholarly evidence suggests that this is frequently the case.

Our least used roads are our most rural roads, and these are the ones that have the lowest rate of return. Why shouldn't we get our money's worth by promoting more development where it can use (currently) uncongested roads?

I'll agree, isolated instances are a problem. Almost fifty percent of congestion is a result. We need to ask why it takes so long to clean up an incident. Could liability and lawyers be the cause? We have technology that can establish liability, ex post facto. Lets use it, push the junk off the road, and move on.

New construction gets clogged precisely because it is so popular. Again, it either means we have not addressed the problem sufficiently, or we have too much activity in one place. These are two sides of the same coin.

If we gave everyone in the US a one acre lot, we wouldn't even use up all of Texas. But we can't build our way out of congestion. Not because it is not possible, but because it is not cost effective. No more than it is cost effective to put enough cars on Metro to prevent crowding: it can't hapen as long as we are all going to one place.

Your argument that we merely move congestion from the recently repaired sections to older sections is exactly why land use controls won't solve the problem, either.

EMR will violently disagree with me, but the facts are, VMT goes up with growth in the economy, more than anything else. Yes, the trend is the same for every city, and internationally as well. Paris has a great subway, and also burgeoning suburbs. The most carefully planned cities have had hiccups in their planning. However, housing costs in Phoenix and Houston are much lower than in Portland, Boston, or Washington. More than enough lower to compensate for increased travel, and they have less congestion.

We do drive more if we can get the benefits of driving at lower costs, and this has been the case for many years. What this means is that the extra benefits will be lost if we artificially reduce driving, and those losses will show up in the economy.

I'm in favor of increasing the cost of driving to reflect it's true value. But this won't change the overall pattern very much. As soon as high driving costs cause people to try to move in, housing costs will increase and it will still be cheaper to drive.

Until we run out of oil and can't drive. But then you are talking about freezing, starvation, mass panic, and millions of deaths, until the surviving people re-settle the countryside. Fundamental Change.

One way or another, sooner or later, the answer to NOVA's problem is going to be to move to Wise.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Here is how crazy this is. Today I went to a meeting, in town. There were fifteen people there. During break I took a poll. Two from Fauquier (I carpooled) two from PW, two from Loudoun, one fom Centerville, one from Capital Hill, one from McLean, two from Montgomery County, the rest unknown, but take Fairfax as a guess.

Now tell me, what location would have minimized total travel for the meeting? Would that location have had a lower rent than a fancy downtown office building?

I struck up a converstion with a gentleman from PW. "What do you think about all the growth?" It's amazing, afew years ago it was a blue collar bedroom community, no more."

"What do you think about the rural crescent?" "It was a nice try."

"Their answers are dumb and ignore realities." I think we get a lot better, more livable, and more sustainable, answers if we start with the realities. We can't be environmentally smart and economically stupid, because conservation is expensive: a good environment is the province of the wealthy.


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