Saturday, January 28, 2006

House GOP's Plan: Make Them Pay

GOP leaders in the House of Delegates have laid out some proposals - here's the WaPost take on it:
'The Republicans' bills would allow more local governments to receive payments from developers to ease the impact of building. Localities would be required to review the potential cost of new roads in their long-range planning. Lawmakers said that would lay the foundation for increasing the amount of money local governments could expect from developers.'
Would someone please defend this idea. The strategy of dumping the costs for infrastructure improvements on homebuilders reeks of shirked responsibility. Is that what frustrated suburbanites are telling their legislators? 'It's not my fault that traffic is bad, it's those new people.'

Homebuilders lobbyist Mike Toalson's quote at the end of the story is entertaining: ""We are concerned that some of these measures might result in higher housing costs," he said." I believe he meant to say, '...these measures might result in lower profits,' but no matter. How does making this industry and its customers pay more change the pattern and density of development?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sidewalks to Nowhere

One of the bizarre phenomena I've observed about life in suburban Henrico County is the episodic nature of the sidewalks. You see short lengths of sidewalk -- the equivalent of two or three city blocks -- running along roads with high-speed traffic. These sidewalks proceed for a distance, then end. They don't connect to anything. Naturally, with all the fast traffic whizzing by, and the fact that they don't go anywhere, and the fact that the distances between destinations are so far apart, no one actually uses them.

Aggregate all of Virginia's suburban sidealks to nowhere, link them end to end, and they'd probably stretch from the Fairfax County Courthouse to the Mississippi and back. (I made up that factoid, but you get the idea.) Yet, to borrow a rustic metaphor, all that sidewalk is more useless than teats on a boar hog.

It appears that the residents of Fairfax County have made much the same observation. The Washington Examiner runs a brief story about a report filed by the Fairfax County Pedestrian Task Force. The report recommends some $60 million in pedestrian improvements over the next decade. Says the Examiner:

"Included in the report are recommendations to repair specific areas, such as a 2.5-mile stretch of walkway along Route 1 between Alexandria and Fort Belvoir and a 2.5-mile trail along Route 7 between Alexandria and Falls Church. Other improvements include a countywide plan to complete walkways that now end abruptly and improve bus stop safety and access." (My emphasis.)

That's why I keep hammering home the importance of pedesrian-friendly urban design. If you wonder why suburbanites seem to addicted to driving their cars everywhere, just read this anecdote the Examiner tells fo Fairfax Supervisor Sharon Bulova:

"I remember a time when my car was in the shop and I thought, 'Well, I'm just a mile away from the government center, I can just walk up the road,' " Bulova ... said of her short journey along Lee Highway.

"It was quite a walk, and you go through brush and brambles and down into a gully, and you can see where people have tried to make their way," she said. "This is a main road ... and we shouldn't have difficulty for pedestrians getting back and forth."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Loudoun's Extreme Makeover

Back again to Loudoun County with a Weldon Cooper Center report estimating population there grew 49 percent since the 2000 census. The Washington Post has the story, about growth in Loudoun and other counties (here's the chart.) In fact Northern Virginia's growth accounted for 60 percent of the state's overall increase of about 500,000 people.

It's worth looking at the chart to see the raw numbers, and get a sense of how much faster Loudoun is growing than other parts of the state - Hampton Roads' growth, for example, looks tame by comparison.

It wouldn't be surprising if the county matched this rate of growth when the 2010 census comes along. There's really nothing like it.
'In the past 15 years, the county has doubled the number of schools and more than tripled the number of students, to about 47,000 this year. Six more schools are scheduled to open for the 2007-08 school year.
Scott York, chairman of Loudoun's Board of Supervisors, cautioned that the surge in population means that county leaders need to rethink whether they want to continue on the same path.
"What it means is that our roads are going to get further clogged, we'll continue building schools, and it will mean higher taxes," he said. "That's why we need a change of attitude from board members and need to start doing more with smart-growth policies as opposed to no-developer-left-behind policies."'

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Abusing the "Abuser Fee" at the Daily Press

In the same editorial noted in the post below, The Daily Press in Newport News took a dislike to one of the few positive proposals on transportation reform to emerge from the House of Delegates: to charge "abuser fees" to help pay for roads. (Click here and scroll down to "Some Ideas to Be Resisted.") Says the Daily Press:

The legislation - embraced by [Gov. Tim] Kaine, too - also implies that Virginia will begin doing what it does not do now: enforce traffic laws. It's a hit-or-miss
proposition these days, and mostly miss.

But let's say battalions of ticket-issuing gendarmes descend on the commonwealth's highways, blue flashing lights and all, in search of "abusers." What will happen? Likely, drivers will amend their behavior - which is the only beneficial prospect in this.

When that occurs, what happens to the revenue stream? It peters out, that's what. Until, of course, legislators broaden the definition of abuse. See how this works?

You can usually count on the Daily Press to totally miss the point. Yes, abuser fees may raise a small amount of money to fund more road improvement projects. But the real benefit is to change motorist behavior. The worst traffic congestion on the Interstates is caused by wrecks -- wrecks often caused by speeding or reckless drivers. The way to reduce the most painful incidents of traffic congestion is to reduce the incidence of wrecks.

Of course, that opens up an entire range of policy options that appear to be anathema to the Daily Press editorial writers and their colleagues in Norfolk, Roanoke, Washington and elsewhere: One way to ameliorate traffic congestion is to create incentives for people to change their behavior. Congestion pricing is one such solution. Paying for road maintenance through a user fee like a gas tax, as opposed to revenue sources that have no connection with Vehicle Miles Driven, is another. And, of course, altering land use patterns -- an option that the Daily Press never acknowledged until it was legitimized by Tim Kaine -- is yet another.

Daily Press Nails the House GOP

The Daily Press has an editorial today that works through the strategies for transportation funding being floated in Richmond, and includes this shot at the anti-tax House, which seems to me to have some traction:

'The worst proposal of all, however, is another cooked up in the House, and that's to rob the state general fund. House members apparently believe that the average voter does not understand how Virginia organizes its finances (general fund revenue for education and public safety; other specific taxes dedicated for transportation), and, so, why not exploit that condition?

What the House wants to do, basically, is grab the money that was raised by the 2004 tax increase - money meant to straighten out the state's finances and ensure a sufficient flow of revenue to education, public safety and other vital state responsibilities - and simply redirect it toward transportation.

This is the same money, of course, that many House "conservatives" said over and over that Virginia didn't need, but now they find they do need it, only for a different purpose: to have something to throw at transportation.'

In Loudoun, Less is More

Speaking of property rights - here are some residents in Loudoun who would like the board of supervisors go with a lower-density zoning in the the western parts of the county. This story doesn't say much but it's evident that many in Loudoun, including the more developed eastern part of the county, think adding thousands of households in the west will make traffic in the east even worse. After all, none of those potential new residents would be commuting to West Virginia..

The current zoning permits one house per three acres - the proposed new zoning would reduce that density... by a lot. Densities would be 20 acres and 40 acres for a house, with rezoning options as low as 7.5 acres and 15 acres.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lock Box Skeptics Emerge

The Washington Post writes this morning about resistance to Gov. Tim Kaine's goal of locking up the transportation trust so others can't dip into its reserves, as they have five times in the past.
'Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland), who backs a plan that would raise more than $1 billion a year in new revenue, has argued that the money should remain available for the next emergency, or at least be accompanied by a similar measure regarding the state's general fund, the main source of funding for other services, such as education.
"If you're going to lock one, you ought to lock the other," Chichester said. "A constitutional lock on either, however, I perceive as a cluttering of the constitution."
Chichester also said a lock has the potential of tying legislators' hands in years to come.'
Tying their hands is the idea, isn't it? But this is starting to sound like a proposal that will fade to nothing.

'Property Rights' in James City County

With residential growth apparently becoming a pressing issue in James City County, leaders there are looking for ways to protect the county's rural open space. Which has some landowners worried that they're going to lose out. The Daily Press has a story, which has this quote:
'"Once they tell you what you can and can't do with your land, that's very frightening. We've got the land, and that's all we've got."'
The speaker is a woman named Pam Moore; her family owns a few hundred acres it currently rents to a hunt club. But the government already tells her what she can and can't do with her land.

Tim Kaine's Tax Increase - Another Broken Promise?

Over on the Bacon's Rebellion blog, I note that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's proposal for $1 billion in new transportation taxes is inconsistent with his campaign rhetoric. I raise the question of whether he had hidden his intention to raise taxes from the voters. Read the post here.