Thursday, September 28, 2006

ADC Has a New News Blog 

The American Dream Coalition has reformatted its news blog. The new one can be viewed here.

Hood River Tackles Affordable Housing Problem 

Hood River, Oregon, which calls itself the windsurfing capital of the world, is dealing with the unaffordable housing issue that is caused by Oregon's strict land-use regulation. How is it dealing with it? By passing a bunch of new regulations.

First, the city is allowing homeowners in single-family neighborhoods to build "accessory units," i.e., apartments in or adjacent to their homes. These are very popular with New Urbanists and unpopular with residents as they add density. This will help make housing more affordable as it brings down the value of adjacent homes.

Second, the city tightened the rules for how big a house can be on a lot and to encourage garages in the rear. This means alleys, which increase crime, another sure way to make housing more affordable.

A third new rule would require bed & breakfasts to screen parking in back instead of allowing it in front where it is less vulnerable to crime. As more and more visitors suffer break ins, they will be less likely to want to move to Hood River, thus making it more affordable.

Just another productive day in the planner's paradise called Oregon.

Portland-area Schools Suffer Density Dilemma 

School districts in Portland suburbs that have followed the density fad are learning that it is very expensive. Land for new schools is hard to find, and more expensive when you find it. Packing students into small areas means there is no room for things like gym -- one school offers gym glass to its students just once per week.

"We've learned, along with everyone else, what density means," says one local school board chairwoman. "It can't mean dense schools. There are certain limits to adequate play space for kids."

But why should schools be exempt from the density problems facing families and businesses? Maybe if schools shouldn't be dense, neither should anything else.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Clearing the Air in Atlanta 

Some timely reading for those of us going to the PAD Conference in Atlanta next weekend. Courtesy of Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, through his Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter (issue 33, August 2006), a link to this 2003 study of transportation and land use in the Atlanta region. The author, Alain Bertaud, concludes that the region¬â¬€ˆ†s strategy for addressing congestion and pollution problems through the typical smart-growth strategies of increasing densities and the supply of transit cannot succeed. Even if draconian land use measures were successfully implemented, ¬â¬€ˆæit is a geometrical impossibility for Atlanta to increase its density to reach the threshold level which would allow an effective operation of transit.¬â¬€ˆø He concludes that, ¬â¬€ˆæOnly after we abandon the illusion that new transit and innovative land use planning will decrease pollution and congestion, is it possible to look at more realistic solutions. We should look for solutions in areas that have a proven track record: technology and traditional economics, i.e. pricing.¬â¬€ˆø While Atlanta may be at the low end of the density scale, these conclusions would also apply to most other U.S. cities.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Reason Foundation Introduces Mobility Project 

In twenty-five years, says the Reason Foundation, commuters in Denver, Portland, Seattle, and eight other urban areas will face congestion worse than is found in Los Angeles, the nation's most congested region, today. To prevent this, the Foundation's Mobility Project estimates that 104,000 new lane-miles of roads will be needed.

The full report details just where new roads will be needed, how much they will cost, and how they can be financed. A state-by-state analysis is included in an appendix.

The Mobility Project was covered in a USA Today story. Several contributors to the project will be speaking at the Preserving the American Dream conference in Atlanta on September 16.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Commute Times Getting Shorter 

Journey-to-work data from the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey indicates that average commute times have fallen by 48 seconds since 2000. This flies in the face of those who claim that urban sprawl makes commute times longer.

The data also reveal that the share of commuters who usually take mass transit to work has not changed and is about 4.7 percent. Carpooling and walking to work shares declined but the share of people who work at home increased from 3.3 to 3.6 percent. The share of people who drive alone to work increased from 75.7 percent in 2000 to 77.0 percent in 2005.

The Census Bureau asks people how they "usually" get to work. A Department of Transportation study (scroll down to table 1.22) found that people who say they usually take transit often drive, while people who say they usually drive almost never take transit (you can also download the full report and find table 1.22). To correct for this, transit numbers need to be reduced by about 23 percent. So on any given day, only about 3.6 percent of commuters actually take transit to work.

Atlantic Yards: How Dense Is Dense Enough? 

Atlantic Yards, a proposed development in Brooklyn, raises the question, "How dense is dense enough to satisfy 'smart-growth' planners?" The answer, unfortunately, is that no density appears to be too great for these planners.

Atlantic Yards would be a Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use development that would include 6,800 residences, a basketball arena, and various businesses all located on 22 acres. Assuming a little more than two people per residence, this works out to about 400,000 people per square mile, which is twice as dense as the densest census tract in the United States. (By comparison, the Los Angeles urban area, which is the densest urban area in the U.S., has 7,000 people per square mile, and most urban areas average about 2,000 to 3,000 per square mile.)

Won't this density create too much traffic congestion? No, say developers Forest City Ratner, because everyone will take the subway. Not surprisingly, New York's transit agency, the MTA, strongly supports the proposal, as does Mayor Bloomberg. To generate additional support, the developers gave $5 million to a "citizens' group" known as BUILD.

However, most residents of Brooklyn oppose the plan, at least according to the Wikipedia article about it. The leading opponent is called Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. There are also numerous bloggers writing about it.

Does this plan respond to market conditions? Hardly. Total subsidies are expected to be close to $2 billion, including $200 million in cash grants, $360 million property tax waivers, more than $600 million in below-market land sales or leases, and much more. In return, half the housing units are supposed to be sold or leased at "affordable" rates, meaning (for at least 900 units) rates affordable to people who earn $70,000 to $113,000 per year. That works out to a subsidy of about $567,000 per affordable housing unit.

It all sounds familiar only on a much grander scale than anything in Portland, Denver, or other cities that subsidize transit-oriented developments. Forest City (which is one-half of the developer team behind Atlantic Yards) has built some of the high-density developments in Denver and no doubt in other cities as well.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Op-ed in N.Y. Times: Things Fall Apart: Fixing America¬â¬€ˆ†s Crumbling Infrastructure 

Nicholas Kulish of the N.Y. Times has an interesting op-ed about infrastructure in the United States, and the need to repair and renew and upgrade it. Unfortunately, the op-ed is in the TimesSelect (pay) part of the N.Y. Times Web site, so I can provide a pointer to it, and some of the better comments here.

Things Fall Apart: Fixing America¬â¬€ˆ†s Crumbling Infrastructure $

From the article:

Whether it¬â¬€ˆ†s the roads we drive on, the pipes carrying our water, or the power lines humming with the electricity that lights our homes, America¬â¬€ˆ†s physical networks are falling apart.

That¬â¬€ˆ†s bad news for those of us spending hours a day in traffic caused by road-repair bottlenecks, or sweating through prolonged summer blackouts. But it¬â¬€ˆ†s also a substantial drag on our economy and on our businesses. And it will be a competitive challenge for this country in the years to come.

Infrastructure ¬â¬€ˆ§ the catchall term for the backbone of our nation ¬â¬€ˆ§ is the kind of word that makes taxpayers want to roll over, hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. We ignore it and only complain when something breaks. No dummies, our lawmakers react accordingly. They approach the underpinnings of our nation¬â¬€ˆ†s future like school nurses, applying the equivalent of Band-Aids and aspirin.

This problem goes well beyond southern Louisiana. Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation¬â¬€ˆ†s infrastructure. The group looks at 15 categories, from aviation to bridges, from waste water to public parks. Last year they handed out a D, down from the D+ in 2001. The report noted different problems in every sector, but a few kept popping up almost across the board: A growing population, and growing demand that is overtaxing aging, inadequate systems.

In some ways, America¬â¬€ˆ†s low-grade infrastructure is to be expected. Much of the physical stock we rely on today was built either under the public works programs of the Great Depression or in the boom following World War II. For instance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act on June 29, 1956, making our interstate highway system 50 years old this summer. It may be happy birthday for the highways, but it¬â¬€ˆ†s sad news for the drivers.

In 1982, the average American could expect to spend 16 hours a year staring at brake lights and bumper stickers. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, that figure rose to 47 hours by 2003 (pdf), the most recent year for which figures are available. The institute calculated that during those two days of traffic jams drivers burn 2.3 billion gallons of gasoline in their idling vehicles. The total cost of all this congestion is $63.1 billion a year.

These nightmare commutes are not caused only by bad infrastructure. In this age of the exurb, people are moving ever further out from cities and job centers for a variety of reasons, including soaring home prices in cities and older suburbs. But the time Americans are spending with their foot on the brake is a good indicator that America¬â¬€ˆ†s physical plant is not in good working order.

Of course, our goal should be more than just keeping up. If America were a company, and it refused to invest the necessary money on new technology and an improved physical plant, it would become less competitive, slipping further and further back until it went out of business. America won¬â¬€ˆ†t go out of business, but if it wants to remain a leader in the global economy, it has to act
like one.

That means not just fixing the roads we have, but investing in better ones. We should be building smart roads that give advanced navigation systems up to the minute information on traffic and accidents. (Yes, we could do better than those electronic ¬â¬€ˆætraffic ahead¬â¬€ˆø billboards that are occasionally deposited on highway shoulders.) Once adopted, intelligent transportation systems would help drivers use the roads effectively, rerouting as traffic patterns change. California already has pilot programs for so-called variable pricing of tolls. In the San Diego area, drivers on I-15 normally pay anywhere from 50 cents to $4 for driving in special fast lanes, depending on the time of day. New Yorkers are talking more about ¬â¬€ˆæcongestion pricing,¬â¬€ˆø which would provide a financial disincentive for people to drive into midtown Manhattan. The possibilities ¬â¬€ˆ§ not with future inventions but today¬â¬€ˆ†s technology ¬â¬€ˆ§ are boundless.

One of the biggest factors in America¬â¬€ˆ†s infrastructure decline is politics. Because there is no national vision of how money should be spent to upgrade America¬â¬€ˆ†s physical plant, the money that is allocated for it is being spent piecemeal on dubious projects. Money gets doled out in earmarks that are stuck into budget bills by congressmen looking to win favor back home. A $223 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska is not the right way to spend America¬â¬€ˆ†s limited infrastructure funds, but if the senator presiding over the allocation is an Alaskan who wants the bridge, it may end up being how the money is spent. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, roughly $1 out of every $14 from last year¬â¬€ˆ†s highway bill was earmarked for special interests ¬â¬€ˆ§ $20 billion out of a total $286.4 billion.

Capital projects are among our most important priorities, but they are also tailor-made for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other photo opportunities. ¬â¬€ˆæIf you¬â¬€ˆ†re a member of Congress and have an Army Corps of Engineers project, you can point to it,¬â¬€ˆø says David E. Williams, vice president for policy at CAGW. ¬â¬€ˆæYou can say, ¬â¬€ˆ¼I did that for you.¬â¬€ˆ† That¬â¬€ˆ†s why infrastructure pork is really so popular.¬â¬€ˆø

But average citizens are far from blameless. The reason congressmen love to bring home pork to their districts, in the form of dubious government projects, is that their constituents love them. Voters need to make clear to elected officials that genuine infrastructure improvement is a priority.

We also need to move beyond the "not in my back yard" mentality, which blocks worthy infrastructure improvements. There is a great deal of consensus that the electrical transmission grid is overtaxed and new power lines are needed, but try finding property owners willing to take the new power lines nearby. The nation should be rallying around alternative energy as a way to cut our fossil fuels addiction. But when a site is proposed for building a wind power project off the coast of Massachusetts near Martha¬â¬€ˆ†s Vineyard, or in other affluent vacation areas, there is a stiff breeze of opposition.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Va.: Gov's Aides' involved in Traffic Study 

E-Mails Reveal Kaine Aides' Hand in Loudoun Traffic Study
Political Agenda in Play, Pro-Growth Group Says

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006; Page B01

High-ranking officials in Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's administration personally managed a traffic study that predicts severe gridlock if Loudoun County officials approve the controversial Dulles South building proposal, according to government e-mails released yesterday by a pro-growth advocate.

Also, see the Right Growth Policy Institute Web site for more on Loudoun County, Va. growth issues.

More shilling for transit from Portland 

On Portland's Commissionersam blog is even more recycling of the old Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind "study" promoting urban transit here.

If you have not already done so, I suggest you take a look at Peter Gordon's response to Weyrich and Lind here on the RPPI Web site; and at the brief that Wendell Cox posted on the Public Purpose Web site here.

Virginia's Senator George F. Allen, Jr. Pushing Anti-Property Rights Initiative 

Here at ADC, we don't take a position on "macaca" and the related controversy involving Senator Allen (R-Va.). You can read a news story about that here.

What's of much greater concern is Allen's involvement in (and support for) the so-called Journey Through Hallowed Ground, which would establish new and intrusive federal land use controls across a swath of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. We posted a story about this in April 2006 - you can read it in this blog entry.

Read more about Allen and the so-called Hallowed Ground project here on the American Policy Center's site.

Here are several paragraphs from the above pages:

Washington, D.C. - Nearly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court's shocking Kelo v. New London decision touched off a firestorm of bipartisan support for stronger property rights protections, some anti-property rights groups are receiving support from a surprising source: Senator George Allen (R-VA).

Senator Allen is the chief sponsor of legislation that would create a massive federal "National Heritage Area" that would stretch from Charlottesville, VA, through Frederick County, MD, and end in Gettysburg, PA. Such areas are best described as heavily regulated corridors where property rights may be strictly curtailed.

Allen's bill would deputize special interest groups -- many with clear anti-property rights agendas -- and federal employees to oversee land use policy in the corridor.

"Senator Allen often describes himself as a 'Jeffersonian' conservative, which he defines as someone who doesn't like 'nanny, meddling, restrictive, burdensome government,'" said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs at the National Center. "However, if you fail to support your rhetoric with substance, you're all hat and no cattle."

Sen. Allen's initiative in some ways resembles a pork-barrel earmark, as it disburses funds to pre-selected preservationist interest groups. Unfortunately, it is even worse than an earmark, as it would threaten property rights by:

1) Creating a "management entity" to oversee land use policy in the area composed of groups that have a record of being hostile to property rights.

2) Directing this management entity to create an inventory of all property it wants "preserved," "managed" or "acquired."

3) Giving the management entity the authority to disburse federal funds for the purpose of land acquisition and restricting land use - an enticement for such activities.

"This is a transparent effort by ¬â¬€ˆ¼not in my back yard¬â¬€ˆ† elitists to milk millions of dollars from the nation's taxpayers to mandate gentrification of their rural landscape. These bluebloods want their pretty views and bucolic fields preserved in perpetuity at the expense of property rights, small landowners and farmers, and taxpayers," said Robert J. Smith, a senior fellow at the National Center.

D.C.: A Soapbox on Wheels 

This transit bus driver was promoting participation in the D.C. primary election in September, but may have gone a little too far (and as is the case with quite a few transit routes in the Washington region, it also serves Maryland patrons, who don't have much interest in D.C. politics).

Apparently promoting candidates in partisan election races is not allowed, as this follow-up story explains.

[Letter] Va.: Buses Beat Trains 

Here's a letter from a person that switched from the VRE commuter rail line to the PRTC OmniRide bus service.

See also this post from earlier in August.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Strip Developments "Keep City Honest" 

Carl Abbott, a Portland State University professor of urban planning, praises 82nd Avenue, a Portland strip development. Far from being an eyesore, he says, it is a "vital artery" that provides "things no city can do without." In this case, 82nd avenue is home to numerous small businesses, many of which serve Vietnamese, Latino, Russian, and Ukrainian immigrants.

This op ed was published by the Oregonian, which is better known for praising yuppie-type New Urban developments. Abbott's unimpeachable analysis in some ways resembles my own much longer (and possibly more boring) review of Portland's McLoughlin Boulevard.

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