Monday, March 27, 2006

Washington and Richmond New Urban Regions Meet in Caroline

Caroline County is the new frontier for what the Washington Post calls "sprawl," what Ed Risse terms "dysfunctional human settlement patterns," and what I describe as "scattered, disconnected, low-density development." Whatever you call it, it's heading south from Washington down Interstate-95 where it is meeting north-bound "sprawl" from Richmond.

Here's the WaPo's take. The WaPo features Gail and Brent Heppner whose neighbors usually commute to jobs in the Washington New Urban Region (NUR) but shop in the Richmond NUR.

Scary quote:
"I don't know," said Brent Heppner, a Marine Corps pilot, sitting in his freshly painted, potpourri-scented living room the other day, considering his whereabouts. "Is Richmond part of Northern Virginia? Maybe the question is not what we think we are, but what do we want to be?"


At 10:06 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

What is happening in Caroline county isnt sprawl: it is infill. Infill between Richmond and Washington/NOVA.

Get used to it.

At 11:42 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Why is that quote scary, rather than simply real?

Hallucination is seeing things that aren't there. Delusion is seeing things that are there and denying them. Lying is seeing things that are there and calling them something else.

At 3:08 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

interesting definition of "infill".

I think when you cannot agree on basic definitions - then there is no chance to engage the broader issues - on their merit.

Most folks on both sides of the issue view "infill" as redevelopment of existing developed land - not greenfield development.

At 3:45 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

"infill" ?????

gee.. how can any discussion on it's merits take place if we cannot agree on basic definitions?

most folks use the term "infill" to describe redevelopment of existing previously-built land parcels - not greenfield development in the exhurbs.

Ray's novel "interpretation" of the term infill... tells me that perhaps thats his way os saying he is opting out of any meaningful future that true?

what I DID find "scary" was trying to reconcile that clear trend in Caroline and other rural exhurbs with the fact that I-95 is experiencing peak-hr loads of more than 200K cars per day.

It is clearly near to its practical functional capacity.

Where do we go from here?

How will folks in Caroline get to their NoVa jobs when I-95 becomes a parking lot?

How long before that 2-hr commute becomes a 3 or 4 hr commute?

Is this sustainable over the long run?

How much money will it take to add significant capacity to I-95 and where will it come from?

Will taxpayers across Virginia from the most rural corners of the state agree to fork over tax dollars to upgrade I-95 so that folks can drive 4 hours a day to get to a home in the country with a picket fence?

With that coal miner down in Wise county agree to pay higher taxes to expand I-95?

Inquiring minds would like to know?

Ray.. you're at bat... educate me.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Sooner or later, businesses will wise up to the ever-increasing cost of doing business in this state and begin to move elsewhere. It's happened in New York and California. Why do we think that we are immune? It's already getting harder for companies to persuade some employees to move here on transfers. Over-development causes higher taxes and a decline in the quality of life. The Golden Goose is not immortal.

As Ray Hyde has pointed out on several occasions, we need more places. Not every new job needs to be located in NoVA.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

LOTs of questions!

What specifically are the COSTs of doing business in NoVA?

Why does a business locate in NoVa instead of Caroline County where they could easily save on the costs of doing business?

I think the conversation has finally turned to THE issue which is WHY the jobs are in NoVa are not in "other places".

If business is to flee NoVa because the cost of business is "too high", where WILL they go to? Certainly not Caroline County - right? :-)

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

What you describe as infill, I would call redevelopment. Redevelopment usually entails seriously higher costs than greenfield development, because you have to ether repair or remove and replace much of what is already there. It is easier to dig a new post hole than it is to try to remove the existing one and dispose of the chunk of concrete around it.

When I think of infill I think of developing existing space that was previously undeveloped when new development hopscotched over it for some reason. Richmond and Washington wer both built at the fall line of the rivers for a reason, hence the original hopscotch. They have been infilling toward each other ever since.

It is just a question of scale, and time.

Does it make any sense? Not to me, or I might be doing it. But who am I to say that it doesn't make sense for the pleasant young couple described in the article? they put money in their pocket, got a bigger house that they enjoy. I'm not smart enough to place value judgements on how they choose to compete for resources.

Notice that she is not going all the way to Crystal City or DC. Her job is in Springfield which was once a suburb and now an edge city. I suspect we might find that many (not all) F'burg commuters work at Quantico, Belvoir, and other locations not necessarily central. The ones that don't work relatively near by might change jobs if there were enough of them available closer.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

Appreciate the "infill" perspective from your point of view.

It's different from what most "Smart Growth" folks use as a working defintion though and I suspect an underlying reason why dialogues diverge.

Their "infill" concept is that redeveloping existing parcels to result in more dense settlement patterns would allow population growth to occur without requiring more land or more commutes to outlying areas.

Like you, I don't consider myself smart enough to judge for others what values are important to them.

And I'm also not convinced that folks will choose a close-in dense home over a home much further out but with "space" around it. Those seem like very different things to me.

It's sorta like someone who wants an SUV deciding that they'll "settle" for a econo-box.

Some will. Some won't.

However, money does affect both the home, where it is and the transportation parts of the equation and most of us are not financially able to pay for the "if I had my dreams fulfilled" ... values.

If TOLL roads become a reality, people will have more decisions to make and compromises to consider.

It also clear - at least to me - that I-95 cannot support the current trends of folks moving to outlying areas. Sooner or later, it maxes out.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Redevelopment is almost impossible to justify economically, on its own. Consider, you have an aging, four unit apartment building in an ethnic area of Arlington, paid off and returning $2500 per month each apartment before taxes. If you tear it down and build new, you may eventuall get more rent but you will be cash negative for five or more years. You are out $600,000 dollars before you spend the first penny on restoration. Assuming you have additional money to invest, you are better off keeping the $600k coming in and investing the new elsewhere.

Redevelopment requires government support, usually massive government support as in baseball stadium. That is why a) it doesn't happen and b)it may be smart growth or not, depends on whether you factor in all the costs. c) old homes in decaying cities like detroit are still occupied.

There is a blog out there where urban pioneers who are redeveloping old homes in gentrifying neighborhoods with sweat equity share their triumphs and horror tales. I wouldn't go through it on a bet: far too risky for my tastes. Financially and Physically.

I'm obviously taking the infill case to the extreme, but I find it helps clarify the thought about what is happening and how long it has been going on. About what is reasonable and what is extreme, and where the middle ground is.

But I stick to my definition and the difference between infill and redevelopment. Anybody else?

But here is the thing: if I-95 cannot support the current trends of folks moving to outlying areas, then what in God's name would make us think that, say, Columbia Pike can support all those that moved out in addition to those already there? If we keep adding people and refuse to add resources, anyplace will collapse.

Whatever we do is going to take a lot of money, folks. I believe it will take a lot more money the closer in you try to do it. That is if you actually take the full locational costs involved into account. I base this on observation and my own personal experience: every job I do at my Alexandria house costs more and takes longer than a similar job in Delaplane, sometimes a lot more.

Think about the Metro West situation. What is the allocated cost of providing Metro service for 2500 households, whether or not they actually use it. Then figure out that the original investment was made decades ago, and has returned nothing since (with regard to Metro West). Yet that investment is a prerequisite for the idea of Metro West to even be a glimmer of hope. Metro West is going to have to be a stellar economic performer for decades to dig its way out of that ROI hole, and that isn't even including all the other new or refurbished public investment that is going to be required.

So what do we do? We jam Metro West down the throats of the neighbors who have told us they are opposed, partially at the insistence of people like EMR who live far away and aren't directly affected. We do this so we can recover more of the losses we have been taking on Metro, lo these decades, thinking that since we are taking a loss on every rider, we can make it up in volume. Kinda sounds similar to the pave your way out of congestion argument, doesn't it?

Did Pulte pay for putting Metro there? Did they acquire the properties on a voluntary basis? (I think, yes.) Did government help convince the sellers? did government use incentives to draw Pulte in? Who paid for those efforts? How much of Pulte's proffers are cash money and how much is for promises that might not work out? How much of the homeowners equity is being taken out up front? How long before their rate of appreciation catches up with the rate on surrounding (real) homes?

If we expect those that use the roads to pay for them (which I support), why am I paying for Metro, too? How much would the full locational costs of Metro rise if the people riding it had to pay? If that was the case would Metro West still happen?

If we are going to provide incentives to get people to change their behavior, or accept something they don't want, that is going to make building roads look like a give-away. We are already doing that, and it is costing us a bundle for dubious, unproven or even subjective value returned.

I think there is a natural flux to things, an ebb and mutual reliance between countryside and cityside. Trying to stabilize that is like putting levees on the Mississippi: expensive and ultimately futile. Why not accept the flooding and build house boats? Plan for what you are likely to get, and you will be happier and more successful, and spend less, than if you try to change the world.

If the anti-tax crowd wants to make a supporter out of me, look no farther than stop making me pay for stuff I don't get and don't use. In particular, stop making me pay for stuff that someone else thinks some other people ought to want to use.

But, realistically, if we go down that route we really won't like the result. In fact, all the rules we have that we think are so screwed up are there precisely because of previous excesses in the opposite direction.

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: redevelopment -

I thought the idea would be to replace the 4-unit apartment with say a 16-unit apartment or more.

Wouldn't that favor investors?

re: I-95, et al

"But here is the thing: if I-95 cannot support the current trends of folks moving to outlying areas, then what in God's name would make us think that, say, Columbia Pike can support all those that moved out in addition to those already there? If we keep adding people and refuse to add resources, anyplace will collapse."

a fundamental precept that I think everyone can agree on.

Population growth - no matter where - requires infrastructure.

People need, schools, libraries, parks, roads, et al.

The basic premise of the "smart growth" movement is not to claim that more infrastructure won't me needed but instead that HOW you design settlement patterns for new people can be done either efficiently or inefficiently.

People moving further out require not only the same infrastructure that folks who don't EXCEPT for roads, water, and sewer.

In other words.. the further you extend this infrastructure, the more expensive it will be.

That's the entire concept of water/sewer to contain your costs by keeping it compact in size as possible and to use higher densities to leverage costs.

People ARE free to move to outlying areas but there IS a huge road infrastructure cost - and in the end - the argument is what should public policy be with regard to who should pay for such roads?

Should it be those that use those roads or should it be all taxpayers including those that do not use those roads?

So we're talking about EQUITY with regard to individual choices and who bears the financial responsibility for individual choices.

We don't require taxpayers to subsidize Volvos for all of those who prefer use them to more comfortably commute as opposed to to Corollas so why should taxpayers fund commuting roads for those that commute?

This is what it is all about in the General Assembly.

One side wants all taxpayers to fund all roads and the other side wants to assign and allocate costs to users.

One side wants to tax all Virginians no matter what their commuting behavior is and the other side wants those that want to commute to pay for their commute.

Roads are not free - they never were free - but instead hugely expensive.

The reason we ran out of road capacity more than any other reason is a factor called VMT - which stands for Vehicle Miles Traveled.

Folks who travel 100 miles a day use 5 times more road capacity than someone who travels 20 miles a day.

The average VMT has more than doubled in little more than a decade in the Wash Metro area because more and more folks are choosing to commute 100 miles a day.

Again, it is their perfect right to drive as far and as long as they wish but that driving comes at a huge cost and it basically boils down to who pays.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Yes, you would eventually make more money, but you would most likely take a near term loss. EMR keeps beating up on short term profits, but you can't have long term profits without them. Assuming there is some other place for your 16 units, why not put it there and keep the money coming on your four unit? Socially and conceptually, you are right, but it isn't supported by cash flow.

I think we make a mistake when we focus on VMT: it isn't that important. There are different qualities of VMT, and different values for VMT. What is the value of the traditional Sunday drive in the country?

Time is what counts to people. That is why transit consistently fails to achieve it's goals. Those in the suburbs may drive slightly further, but their actual travel time is often shorter. It takes me less time to drive the six miles to IGA in Marshall than it did to drive the two miles to Magruders in Alexandria, and I'm sure my car pollutes less in the process. I know my travel expenses are no more now that then, so I'm not convinced that more density is always better.

On the other hand, there are those such as described in the article who have decided that space is more important than time. We can argue that those of us who don't travel so much should not have to support those who choose differently. In turn, they should be free not to pay to support Metro and government sponsored ball parks. It is unreasonable to make demands that we are unwilling to see reciprocated.

We might get what we wish for, only to find out that turnabout is fair play and wind up with a net loss. Maybe the value of allowing people to choose is greater than the value we would save by forcing the costs of our (current) desires ontto others.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, you would eventually make more money, but you would most likely take a near term loss. EMR keeps beating up on short term profits, but you can't have long term profits without them. Assuming there is some other place for your 16 units, why not put it there and keep the money coming on acher?n=10

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I guess we all pay taxes for things to benefit us. But taxpayers might find paying (for instance) a very expensive posh ball field when a perfectly good one could be had for 1/2 the money.

Ditto for other infrastructure.

And usually, folks are okay paying taxes for a local library but not so paying into a state-wide fund for each locality to build a posh library.

I think we get on a very slippery slope when we say we should all pay for all public infrastructure no matter what scope and scale.

What happens then is that every locality tries to get as much as it can out of the state fund - more than they paid into it.

That's what happened with roads.
VDOT tried to put every localities
"priority" roads on a state-wide wish list until the list totaled more than 100 Billion dollars and every locality was essentially believing that the funding would come from the state.

The GA is trying to come up with one (yes ONE) Billion for the entire state.

The Springfield Bypass cost in excess of 700 million and the Wilson Bridge cost a Billion.

So... should the Wash Metro area taxpayers pay for the infrastructure for it's own area or do folks believe the rest of the state should?

Tell that to Va Beach... or to Richmond, Charlottesville or Roanoke, Harrisonburg... who are thinking the same thing that NoVa folks are thinking.. that the rest of the state should pay.

Time for a reality check.

The other areas in Virginia are not going to agree to pay for NoVa roads - not if it means they don't get money for their own roads.

NoVa is going to have to fund its own roads from local taxpayers.

How much are they willing to pay for?

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

re: 4units -> 16 units.

Well, there are mechanisms such as CDAs and TIFs that can be used as incentives for investors but really this is the basic "Smart Growth" proposition.

Basic Reality:
NoVa is going to gain population.

Basic Dilemma:
Where should they go live?

"Smart Growth" advocates building in the existing region - but more dense - up rather than out.

In other words, "stack" the new people - up .. rather than out.

"transit oriented development" says: "stack the people" and let them use transit rather than cars to get to work.

It's not an either/or replacement of autos but more along the lines that Peak-Hr auto use is mitigated because it's peak hr when the roads are most jammed.

Folks will still use their cars
for recreation/shopping/etc.

The theory behind transit is:

Roads that have to be sized for peak-hr are much larger and more expensive because they have to be big enough to handle peak-hr capacity - which is twice, three times normal useage.

There are folks who disagree - more than a few.

But clearly, this is the way that NYC, Chicago, Boston et al function.

Trying to use a car in these cities at peak hr - for normal daily work commuting is a big NO GO for most work-a-day folks.

Most employees basically have one choice if they want to work in the city - transit. Those with cars are doomed in bumper-to-bumper.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"transit oriented development" says: "stack the people" and let them use transit rather than cars to get to work.

It's not an either/or replacement of autos but more along the lines that Peak-Hr auto use is mitigated because it's peak hr when the roads are most jammed.

Folks will still use their cars
for recreation/shopping/etc.

The theory behind transit is:

Roads that have to be sized for peak-hr are much larger and more expensive because they have to be big enough to handle peak-hr capacity - which is twice, three times normal useage.

Well, I agree, but differently.

We have two problems, peak hour problems and all the rest. All of the rest is 80% of travel. To me, that means there is a real limit as to how much you can stack people up, even assuming that they will go along with it.

As it is Saturday in Fairfax is and all day rush hour: if anything it is worse than rush hour because it is unpredictable. Cherry blosssoms one weekend, football another. So we are focusing on peak hour travel, and that is the smaller part of the problem. It turns out that we know almost nothing about the other larger part.

If we magically solved the peak hour problem tomorrow, we might very well find out that because of the 80/20 rule we can only increase density a few percent before we run smack into the problem you admit: they will still own and use cars for shopping etc.

I have said right along, that Metro is not a substitute for roads. It is not intended and does not reduuce congestion. Its purpose, as you say, is to provide added peak hour capacity. So we need to justify it on that basis, and not as a congestion reducer.

Not only is Metro not a congestion reducer, but it has congestion problems of its own, not only on the trains but between trains. Same for VRE.

As far as peak capacity is concerned, meeting peak capacity via transit is far more expensive for transit than for highways because of the labor involved and because of hugely expensive idle equipment and because of signalling and track maintenance etc. Cars sit empty at little cost, and when they do move the labor is provided free.

Cars use a lot of passive space because of parking lots, but they don't go anywhere unless they have at least one passenger. Trains go in full, and then either park (VRE) or go out empty, for which you pay labor and expenses.

The overall load factor for trains and buses is not much better, and sometimes worse than cars for which it works out to 37.5%. Even the load factor by weight is not very attractive, and so the energy costs are out of whack.

Cars get beat up because of other expenses like parking, but train stations are enormously expensive, and trains don't go uphill well, so they need a lot of grading or stilts; both expensive. In fact if you caculate the total energy costs including construction, trains don't look so hot.

So, we cannot afford to build out peak capacity for either cars or trains

We have spent billions on transit and even in NY it carries only 10% of trips, nationally it is 6% of trips, and if you exclude NY its only 2%.

So we have to ask ourselves 2 questions.

Why are we spending billions for peak hour transport when we know both roads and Metro cannot do the job? The answer is jobs. Smart growth says the answer is to uproot and change the living habits of millions of people and spend billions more to provide still more failed transit that is slow inconvenient and expensive. We will do that by incentivizing them to get out of their cars, which we admit they are going to own and use anyway. After we move them into compact living arrangements, assuming they agree, we'll run smack into the other 80% of the driving problem we conveniently ignored in our quest to save some open space. And, we'll justify it by claiming that all of this is going to save us money on infrastructure, most of which we are going to have to build anyway.

That sounds insane to me.

2nd qestion. Since the peak hour problem is primarily because of jobs, are we building these billions of dollars of infrastructure for homeowners or is it really for job providers? Why do we say that the infrastructure costs are supporting bad choices an the part of homeowners rather than blaming it on bad choices on the part of job providers? Why should they expect us to provide Billions in infrastructure and uproot millions of people in a smart growth campaign just to provide them with employees?

If that is the requirement, then they should be footing the bill. If they had to foot the bill, they would change their bad choices.

Sound familiar?

My real beef is that I don't think the economies are there to justify it, even if I thought it would work. DC has higher living expenses and taxes than Arlington has and Arlington is higher than Fairfax. Where did the efficiencies go?

I take my own garbage to the dump on my way to do something else. When was the last time you saw someone taking their garbage on Metro? When I have a tree problem, I trim the branches and make a pile in the corner or woods and let them rot. That Metro guy is going to have his lawn cared for in the form of parks, etc. There will be a full time arborist for the trees and a $400,000 machine to grind up the limbs. Fifteen years ago the Fairfax arborist was being paid $90,000 per year.

Trains are so cost ineffective that in order to support them we have to custom create a high density market for them to serve. And high density markets, we know for a fact, don't work well, people don't want, and they are expensive.

I have a cottage on the farm I rent to a low income tenant. It is almost pure profit. My house in Alexandria barely pays its own way because the expenses and taxes are high. I can't charge more because the tenants don't have and can't pay it. Despite what EMR says, prices are higher there, not because that what the market wants, but because that's how much it costs. The fact that 80% of our growth is outside those areas shows what the market wants.

If it tkes CDR's and TIF's to create more dense housing, what does that tell you? This is going to cost a lot of money, even if you can get people to agree to it, and the cost efficiencies just are not there.

As I see it, on the one hand people will own and use cars, as long as they can afford to. That problem isn't going away, and even if smart growth succeeds beyond its wildest dreams, traffic and VMT will continue to grow. On the other hand, employers have no incentive to move out any farther than where the employee density is reasonably high, so employment always follows housing and we have a built in feedback loop to continue the congestion problem.

The 80% problem suggests there is a maximum usable and acceptable road/auto/residence limit. Expensive, slow, and failed transit aside, we have little real or workable incentive to exceed that limit. Even if people will stand for it.

We need a place where we can compromise. Everybody has to give a little. We don't save quite as much land, employers have to spread out a little, homeowners have more general congestion and less specific congestion, our road network has higher use factor so overall costs are lower.

But the intransigent, winner take all, positions taken by EMR, Schwartz, and Miller are just laughable, and the equally intransigent positions taken by developers are equally laughable.


And let's make sure we are not just wasting one person's resources in order to save another's. The market is the best leveler in that regard and nearly any policy we make is likely to go south in unexpected ways.

I have said before, that if the real issue behind smart growth is to save open space, then what we need to do is go buy open space. It would be a lot cheaper and more effetive than spending millions on smart growth propaganda, millions more on different housing incentives, billions more on more transit, only to find out that it won't work.

Maybe my view of things is utterly twisted, but I consider myself an environmentalist, and Smart Growth is the dumbest idea I've ever heard of.


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