Greater Greater Washington

Virginia turns back toward the 1950s by weakening road connection standards, neglecting populated areas

Virginia took a huge step forward in 2009 to make its sure its new suburban areas included the connected street networks that made older suburbs less congested, safer to walk and bike, and cheaper for local governments to maintain. But it's making a U-turn as the Commonwealth Transportation Board threw out the new standards at a meeting last week.


Photo by La Citta Vita on Flickr.

This step is just one of many from Virginia statewide agencies in recent days that decisively push toward a 1950s view of growth, one which neglects established communities and crumbling infrastructure in favor of brand-new sprawl in the farmlands which ultimately creates even more traffic.

State officials are giving the thumbs down to Metro, light rail and bus transit in favor of highway lane expansion, skipping small but significant improvements that help neighborhoods or key growth areas like Tysons Corner to instead spend billions on megaprojects that drive the region farther apart, and lose focus on key repair needs while weakening the street connectivity standards.

If you live in Virginia, please speak up at a hearing tonight at VDOT's (non-Metro-accessible) Northern Virginia office in Fairfax, or send in written comments.

The connectivity standards reformed a key mistake in suburban development: building neighborhoods composed primarily of cul-de-sacs. In many neighborhoods, there's just one way in and out for any homeowner, to one or maybe two major arterial roads.

While this gives many homeowners the ability to live on a quiet street, it creates problems for everyone. With few entry and exit points, all the traffic gets focused on single intersections at the arterials, causing significant congestion. Kids can't walk or bike to school or even friends' houses when the only route involves going out to the busiest part of the neighborhood and along a wide road designed for high-speed traffic.

And it costs taxpayers. These neighborhoods are very expansive to plow for snow and time-consuming to navigate for ambulances and fire trucks. Subdivisions in Virginia had to wait days or weeks for plowing during the major snows last year because of the way the plows had to constantly backtrack, and people couldn't get out of their neighborhoods without any alternate routes.

Older suburban areas still primarily comprise single-family houses while providing a grid that spreads traffic around and offers many safe routes for non-motorized users. Areas like Columbia, Greenbelt and Reston win constant plaudits for designing suburban areas that lack these shortcomings, with paths to walk and bike that also build community.

The connectivity rules revolved around a simple premise: Once a developer builds a subdivision, VDOT (except in a few counties) then takes over responsibility for maintaining and plowing the roads. Therefore, they should be able to require certain standards to avoid developers pushing all the costs off onto the taxpayer. The General Assembly in 2007 authorized a change, and Virginia briefly jumped far ahead of most states with this progressive policy.

Last week, however, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, a policymaking body appointed by the Governor, voted to drop the old standards, especially the "Connectivity Index" which created a score based on the degree to which a street network was connected or isolated.

Instead, they set some rules for the number of connections out of a subdivision and onto main streets. A development of 200 homes needs 2 connections, though 1 can be a "stub end" road which connects to an as-yet-undeveloped area. Each additional 200 homes will only require one additional connection. It's better than nothing, but still means a new 200-house development can have just 1 way in and out.

Also, a subdivision can add a "collector road" which gives double credit if that road is part of a county transportation plan. So a developer could build 400 houses, all on cul-de-sacs off one major road through the center, and connect that road only at 2 points to major arterials. A typical suburban house can generate about 10 car trips per day, so there will be 4,000 turning movements onto and off of those 2 arterials every day. It's a recipe for major traffic that will harm every other resident who uses those roads.

While Virginia is weakening rules to create better road networks in new suburbs, it's neglecting established areas in favor of greenfield development and traffic-inducing megaprojects. Governor McDonnell and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton have made it clear they don't want to contribute to the Silver Line Phase II, even if the federal government, Fairfax, and Loudon all put in more money.

Meanwhile, but McDonnell and Connaughton are eagerly borrowing money to build large freeways like the damaging bypass around Charlottesville or to push an Outer Beltway. Much of the region's future growth will happen in Tysons Corner, but it's not getting transportation improvements it needs. And transit along the Route 1/Richmond Highway corridor is nowhere on the agenda.

Virginia could get far more bang for its precious transportation buck by focusing on local street connections, and most of all repairing crumbling roads and bridges. Instead, the McDonnell administration seems bent on repeating the mistakes of the 1950s: building unsustainable transportation networks at the periphery while letting a more central economic engine sputter. Then, it was center cities across America; now, it's Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons Corner which state officials are looking past instead of toward.

Tonight is an important meeting where Virginia residents can speak up about priorities. VDOT is having a public meeting to hear input on its 6-year priorities tonight, at the VDOT Northern Virginia District Office, 4975 Alliance Drive in Fairfax. Sadly, VDOT doesn't seem to think it's a priority to locate a meeting near Metro. An open house format starts at 6, and presentations by local officials at 6:30 followed by public testimony.

Bob Chase's Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group funded by greenfield developers in Virginia to lobby for roads that would feed suburban development on their land, has been pushing its members to attend and push for an Outer Beltway. Chase even argued, with an apparent straight face, that new highway lanes were more important than repairing crumbling bridges during a round of news stories last week concerning the dire condition of the nation's infrastructure.

It's important to get more residents who support good road connectivity, local street improvements, repairing crumbling infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle projects, and local transit improvements to counter the sprawl lobbyists. If you can't attend, you can also send in written testimony at this Coalition for Smarter Growth page.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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This is a good post marred by personal attacks. McDonnel's position on the Silver Line? Who knows. The state was never close to being the primary funder, and the sticking point is the MWAA. Talk about wasteful megaprojects....

I don't see the point of talking about "6 year" priorities if the rule you are complaining about has been passed last week. Virginia adminstrative law is a bit opaque, but I'm sure there was a notice and comment period on new changes.

In terms of the connectivity indew, GGW has a good article here:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/1847/virginias-new-street-connectivity-regulations-the-specifics/

I'm to all famiiar with regulations, but I think connecting cul-de-sacs is a good thing.

But all of this smells like a jihad against McDonnel. Do we need an outer beltway -- no. It will never happen. Do we need more N-S roads -- yes. Do we need more small projects -yes. Does the VDOT list of proposed road projects look good -- yes. Is it disappointing there isn't more transit? well, you've only got two: Silver Line Phase II and the Arlington Columbia Pike line. I don't think either are going to get funded with McDonnel's credit card binge, but I don't think in either case the state was expected to be a large funder.

by charlie on Oct 25, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

But its also a shame that two good projects are moving forward without even assuming support from the state. Much like how any initiative in a lot of municipalities (even very innocuous and/or beneficial ones like new parks and bike share) have to start from a point that the city or state won't have to put up any money for it.

Anyway,

One of the reasons I like living in an urban area is the connectivity of the street. I have a lot of options to get to places. Conversely, it was one of the infuriating things living in the suburbs that there was often only one way of getting somewhere. Yet my friends who stay in the suburbs still don't believe me when say that I worry less about traffic where I live closer to the center of the city than they do on the periphery and the connectivity is one of the major reasons why.

by Canaan on Oct 25, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

Just another reason to never enter virginia.

by greent on Oct 25, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

McDonnel's position on the Silver Line? Who knows.

...and that's a HUGE problem. The Virginia governor need to play politics to appease the Northern Virginia voters, and given that NoVA is unlikely to like what McDonnel has to say, he keeps his mouth shut, and policy decisions are made with little to no discussion beforehand.

Most folks have absolutely no idea that Silver Line Phase II might not happen.

by andrew on Oct 25, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

But all of this smells like a jihad against McDonnel.

Actually, if there's a jihad going on, it's McDonnell's well calculated holy war against people who are unlikely to vote republican. There is a high degree of correlation between land use and voter affiliation (just look at a red/blue map of precincts or counties). Republicans don't want the kind of land use that results in more Democrats living in VA.

A great example of that is the multi-year delay in the Vienna West condo development at the metro. That development would add a significant number of Democrats to a swing area of the county, which was a significant unstated reason for Republican opposition.

Also, I don't know what McDonnell' position is on the Silver Line but it's pretty clear that the CTB's position on transforming Tysons (which is the bigger issue here) is that they aren't going to do much to support it. The improvements needed to put in a street grid and make Tysons more bike/ped friendly (which while expensive only amount in cost to a few Gainesville interchanges) got no funding in the recent Six Year Investment Program.

by Falls Church on Oct 25, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

McDonnell's been very clear. His vision for transportation revolves around road projects alone. He's not interested in more transit. Biking and walking is an afterthought.

There have been plenty of individual policy decisions he's made that have made this clear. We've had numerous articles on examples of that. It's not a personal attack to point out this fact.

He happens to be a good politician who's pretty popular and so he's not quite so blatant about his lack of enthusiasm for transit as to say it in a way that hits you over the head with it, but to those paying attention, it's totally clear.

by David Alpert on Oct 25, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

He is doing exactly what the voters of Virginia elected him to do. He is doing a good job focusing on OUR priorities.

by PJB on Oct 25, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport

Have you ever been to Reston? It is in no way laid out on a grid. The few blocks of the Town Center yes, but the bulk of Reston is all cul de sacs and collectors. It's full of sidewalks to nowhere and paths/sidewalks with no street lights. Take a look at a map.

Just try walking from the north side of Reston to the south side. It's technically walkable, just not a pleasant walk.

by Tom on Oct 25, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

"There have been plenty of individual policy decisions he's made that have made this clear."

Yes, and he was pretty clear about this during his campaign and prior to the election, and VA still elected him.

So, while Virginia's transit policy may not fit the approval of some District transit idealogues or their NOVA counterparts, it is what the voters of VA wanted.

As we've learned with Gray, elections have consequences. You can't vote someone into office who spent all his time beating you over the head with his agenda, then be shocked that he actually carries through with his agenda when elected. At the end of his term, VA voters will have another bite at the apple. Until then, they are getting exactly what they wanted.

by freely@yahoo.com on Oct 25, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

@PJB nails it:

He is doing exactly what the voters of Virginia elected him to do. He is doing a good job focusing on OUR priorities.

So true, and compelling evidence that the suburbs have very little chance of unshitting the bed. Far too much cultural inertia and investment (both concrete and emotional) in a self-defeating growth model. Of course, the proponents of suburban sprawl will counter with "But people *like* this lifestyle!" And while this is true, people also like the convenience of not every taking out the trash... Doesn't mean it's sustainable.

Oboe-Schiller Index up 3.5%

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

"Yes, and he was pretty clear about this during his campaign and prior to the election, and VA still elected him"

Elections with minimal turnout, held in off years precisely to encourage minimal turnout, do have consequences. As do early poll closings that impact northern virginians in particular.

And of course even given that, the vote for McConnel was driven by a weak democratic candidate, and a general backlash against Dems based on the UE numbers.

Its POSSIBLE that the majority of Northern Virginians prefer extra highway interchanges outside the beltway over transit and/or improvements to support the Tysons transformation. But McConnels election by no means proves that. IIUC Fairfax county gave the majority of its votes to McConnel. Yet it has also elected Sharon Bulova, and in all likelihood is about do so again, and her transportation priorities are rather different.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

[M]y friends who stay in the suburbs still don't believe me when say that I worry less about traffic where I live closer to the center of the city than they do on the periphery and the connectivity is one of the major reasons why.

I used to travel to the rural cotton belt for work many years ago. I would often run into some transplant who'd moved down there "from DC" and inevitably, they'd steer the conversation to the Hellish traffic as the main reason they left and would never return. When I explained to them that I didn't have to worry about traffic because I live in DC, they'd look at me like I had three heads. Absolutely did not compute.

With this pattern of half-steps towards "smart growth", followed by full-steps backing away to the dysfunction of the past, it's hard to see how there's any way out for the exburbs.

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

"Far too much cultural inertia and investment (both concrete and emotional) in a self-defeating growth model. Of course, the proponents of suburban sprawl will counter with "But people *like* this lifestyle!" And while this is true, people also like the convenience of not every taking out the trash"

The cultural inertia has not stopped the voters of FFX county from electing a County board and board chair who, for a suburban county, have been very supportive of transit, bike/ped, and TOD.

Fact is the 2009 gubernatorial election was not a referendum on TOD or on bike paths - like most gubernatorial elections it dealt with management of the state, education, etc, etc.

Thats the way elections work in this country, you vote for one guy - you dont get to vote for one candidate on taxes, one on education, one on transportation, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

So, while Virginia's transit policy may not fit the approval of some District transit idealogues or their NOVA counterparts, it is what the voters of VA wanted.

Actually, what voters want is easy and convenient access to the places they want to go. McDonnell has managed to convince a majority of them that his roads based plan will get them there but it will invariably fail as most road based plans in VA have done. What we're trying to do here is educate voters in something counter-intuitive. Building more roads doesn't solve our traffic problems in the long run. The problem in VA is NOT lack of execution but the strategy itself.

by Falls Church on Oct 25, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

"With this pattern of half-steps towards "smart growth", followed by full-steps backing away to the dysfunction of the past, it's hard to see how there's any way out for the exburbs"

Fairfax is the exurbs? What does that make Ashburn, countryside?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

Can anyone explain to me how Montgomery County's road system differs in any substantial way from the model that this blog is criticizing, and also explain why this blog does not take Maryland's governor to task for it. Thank you.

by PJB on Oct 25, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

"McDonnell has managed to convince a majority of them that his roads based plan will get them there but it will invariably fail as most road based plans in VA have done. "

Has he? Are Bulova's relatively proTOD policies unpopular? The way she talks about them, I dont think so. Here in Mason District (Annandale and Lake Barcroft) the GOP candidate claims to be pro transit, the Dem incumbent is calling him a liar.

If national UE had been trending down hard in Nov 2009 would McConnel be Governor?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

"Can anyone explain to me how Montgomery County's road system differs in any substantial way from the model that this blog is criticizing, and also explain why this blog does not take Maryland's governor to task for it. "

They didn take ehrlich to task over the ICC?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

A shame the 2009 campaign turned out the way it did. McDonnell may have won votes touting his Northern Virginia native credentials, but clearly he hasn't had to commute there.

by Omar on Oct 25, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

"Actually, what voters want is easy and convenient access to the places they want to go."

And what makes you think that easy and convenient access you mention isn't driving the 5 minutes to the nearest 500K foot big-box strip mall with ten acres of easy parking for some convenient one-stop shopping?

The fault in your logic on a transit friendly blog is thinking that everyone living in NOVA who doesn't post here, thinks exactly the way you do when in fact, they don't. How do I know? The recent string of County Execs, Govenors etc. VA leans urban and blue for national elections, but as the track record proves, lleans the opposite way on issues closer to home.

This is fundamental cognitive dissonance between hardcore transit idealogues and everyone else. It may be hard to believe, but there are people who really like living in their 2500 sq/ft ranchers on 1/8th of an acre in some nameless and faceless cul de sac, being close enough to everything they need in their lives to be able to drive there in 5-10 minutes, but far enough away from everything so they aren't living in condo buildings on top of the metro within a block of a thousand people.

And yes, Virginia has tons of those people.

by freely on Oct 25, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

"How do I know? The recent string of County Execs, Govenors etc."

Fairfax countys last two county execs were Sharon Bulova (running for reelection) and Gerry Connolly.

VA may have lots of folks who dont love the GGW agenda. However they not only dont win local elections in Alexandria or Arlington, for some years now they have not won local elections in Fairfax County.

Even Loudoun is making hesitant noises toward smart growth.

Fact is that in large parts of FFX a "quick drive" the big box takes 20 frustrating minutes to go a few miles. People have to avoid the beltway half the time, and avoid 66. Congestion and failed growth patterns are a threat to FFX's success and drive jobs out to Loudoun, PWC, and beyond.

Fairfaxs future is with smart growth, and the county is placing a huge bet on it.

For some reason both the parochial urbanites and the anti urbanites are ignoring the social and political realities of Fairfax County.

oh, and the standard lot size for a SFH in NoVa is 1/4 acre/ 1/8 acre lots are neo tradional leaning.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

freely - do you live in Fairfax County?

by AWalkerInTheCityq on Oct 25, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

No, I live in DC.

And you clearly have one way of thinking. I get that. What you have to understand is that there are lots of other Virginia voters who disagree with you, and they too vote their minds.

You will have a chance to vote your transit agenda next time. This time, the other folks got their say. It is the nature of elections.

by freely on Oct 25, 2011 4:58 pm • linkreport

Fact is that in large parts of FFX a "quick drive" the big box takes 20 frustrating minutes to go a few miles. People have to avoid the beltway half the time, and avoid 66. Congestion and failed growth patterns are a threat to FFX's success and drive jobs out to Loudoun, PWC, and beyond.

True.

There are people who really like living in their 2500 sq/ft ranchers on 1/8th of an acre in some nameless and faceless cul de sac, being close enough to everything they need in their lives to be able to drive there in 5-10 minutes, but far enough away from everything so they aren't living in condo buildings on top of the metro within a block of a thousand people.

Also true.

Problem is, voters very seldom vote in a way that preserves the quality of life for the next generation, or even for a decade from now. Pissed off that your commute just keeps getting longer? Vote to defund Metro, and move that money into just one more travel lane! That'll show those effete liberal urban-dwellers!

If voters were rational actors, it'd be one thing, but the thing that seems to drive our elections nowadays seems to be cultural resentments.

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 5:05 pm • linkreport

"It may be hard to believe, but there are people who really like living in their 2500 sq/ft ranchers on 1/8th of an acre in some nameless and faceless cul de sac"

I LIKE to eat donuts and oreo double stuff cookies, but if I ate them for every meal, I'd weigh 300 lbs in no time flat. I don't think spending my grocery money on donuts and oreo double stuffs is a good investment in my health.
Not the best analogy I've ever come up with...but apropos none the less.

by thump on Oct 25, 2011 5:09 pm • linkreport

"No, I live in DC"

that may explain why you are, to put it politely, a tad uninformed on Fairfax county politics.

The masses of status quo loving anti TOD suburbanites may be a good talking point for national conservatives, but they do not dominate elections in Fairfax county.

I know there are virginia voters who disagree with me. They have not managed to elect an overtly anti TOD/smart growth/Bike+ped candidate to board chair since at least when Connoly was elected back in 2003. Thats 8 years, and if Sharon wins again, that will be 12 years.

My fellow FFX voters voted for Mconnell, as I did not, but I dont think thats proof of where they stand on TOD, smart growth, or transportation - if it is it wildly contradicts their votes in local elections.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

"Problem is, voters very seldom vote in a way that preserves the quality of life for the next generation, or even for a decade from now. Pissed off that your commute just keeps getting longer? Vote to defund Metro, and move that money into just one more travel lane! That'll show those effete liberal urban-dwellers!"

FFX countys elected board voted to SUPPORT Dulles rail phase 1 and 2.

The reality runs against both feelers "the common folks hate TOD" and your "Cultural inertia means urbanism can only happen in actual urbs" memes - it may be different elsewhere in the country, it may be different in Prince William or Loudoun (actually I dont think its THAT different in loudoun) but in FAIRFAX county, the common folks really arent so hostile to rebalancing transportaton and development priorities. And lord knows the pols who get elected arent.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

In addition to the voter ambivalence towards more sustainable growth models, you've got this:

Suburban municipalities — once concerned with policing, putting out fires and repairing roads — are confronting a new set of issues, namely how to help poor residents without the array of social programs that cities have, and how to get those residents to services without public transportation. Many suburbs are facing these challenges with the tightest budgets in years.

(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/us/suburban-poverty-surge-challenges-communities.html)

As we see a spreading outward of the social ills that were once the exclusively "urban issues", it's not entirely clear that in a decade, the suburbs will be able to afford this reconfiguration. At that point "what people want" will be largely irrelevant.

You may not be interested in the dialectic, &tc...

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

"...in some nameless and faceless soul crushing cul de sac"

you left out an adjective.

by soul defender on Oct 25, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

True, but it's extremely difficult to decouple Fairfax's interests from downstate interests. This mirrors the political scene in the US actually. The areas of the country that generate GNP are largely urban and liberal. The areas of the country that set public policy are largely rural and ultra-conservative.

In a nation where the 600k South Dakotans get two senators, and the 8 million in New York city barely get one, it's hardly a matter of democracy.

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

on the contrary, the social problems are in good part whats impelling the change. Counties with lots of vacant land can grow by sprawl (see Loudoun). Counties without social problems can just choose to not grow.

Fairfax which is mostly built out, and which has a significant disadvantaged population, one likely to grow as the legacy sprawl housing stock ages, has no choice but to redevelop. FFX isnt (I believe) adding massive density in Tysons because they have read Bill McKibben and are want to save the planet, or because they have read GGW. Its because they do not believe FFX can afford to stop growing, and the only way to grow is to densify, and the only way to densify without creating chaos is to do smart growth.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:35 pm • linkreport

@Oboe,
And who made you the overiding authority on what constitues "quality of life" for everyone? Perhaps you should take a step back and consider, just for one milisecond that those folks already have the quality of life they, as independant adults decided they wanted.

No Thump, not apropos at all.

So what you are saying is that despite what those suburban people want, you and you alone are the ultimate authority over what they "need" and come hell or highwater will force them to "eat their carrots" and move off the culdesac and into some random apt building at the metro?

Man...the ego here is hilarious. People who don't or can't live your perfect life, carless and shoehorned into a 200 unit condo building on top of the metro aren't kids who need to be told to eat their veggies. They are adults who, for one of 100 reasons decided thats where they wanted to live. Just like you, they went through the mental calculus weighing pros/cons when deciding where to live. I know you "think" you live better, more productive or responsible lives, but you don't. You just live a "different" life.

If you as a taxpaying 9-5'er adult want to eat yourself into an early grave by consuming a metric ton of oreos every week, thats your right and your business. I don't agree with it, but it is none of my business to force you to live the life I want you to life.

It isn't your right to be telling everyone else how they should be living theirs.

If they wanted to live with you in your metro accesible apt, they would but they don't. You can ridicule it all you like, just like they can and do ridicule yours, but unless you've elected yourself "Decider in Chief of the Communist States of America" while I wasn't looking, then thats the end of it.

by freely on Oct 25, 2011 5:36 pm • linkreport

"True, but it's extremely difficult to decouple Fairfax's interests from downstate interests. "

its true that Richmond can get in the way of what Fairfax (and Arlington and Alexandria) want. That BTW is true of CITIES located in conservative states as well - its not just a suburban thing.

And here in VA its not like the GOP is always in power. The two governors before McConnel were Kaine and Warner.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:38 pm • linkreport

"So what you are saying is that despite what those suburban people want, you and you alone are the ultimate authority over what they "need" and come hell or highwater will force them to "eat their carrots" and move off the culdesac and into some random apt building at the metro?"

You live in DC and seem to abysmally ignorant of life in Fairfax county. No one is building cul de sacs in Fairfax in any number. Its not possible. The county is built out. Building more houses on cul de sacs in Loudoun or PWC, while building nothing in FFX is a formula for decline in FFX.

and of course there is huge demand for housing near metros in NoVa - they sell/rent at a premium. What we need is infrastructure to support it.

If McConnel truely does ignore the needs of the existing inner SUBURBAN communities in favor of more interchanges in Loudoun and PWC, and an outer beltway that will suck jobs from FFX into Loudoun, the GOP will have a major rebellion on its hands in FFX county in 2013.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:43 pm • linkreport

AWalkerintheCity is nailing it time after time on this thread.

It's not that we suburbanites don't mind the heads-ups or criticisms of VA politicians on GGM, even if they are more condescending than they might be if Maryland were involved; it's fine and undoubtedly to be expected from the true believers.

It's just that we also know what the emerging and recently demonstrated local (if not state) priorities are, and have some confidence as to the significance of NoVa votes to getting elected in Virginia.

by JEB77 on Oct 25, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

"People who don't or can't live your perfect life, carless and shoehorned into a 200 unit condo building on top of the metro "

Most TOD in NoVa, townhouse and condos, comes with parking. TOD can reduce car needs without making people be carfree - it can mean one car per household instead of two, or two instead of three. It can mean driving the car less, or not as far.

And not having TOD doesnt mean no condos. There are condos scattered across NoVa that predate metro and TOD - many of them absurdly located.

Perhaps you should spend some time at Fairfax towers or in the high rises of annandale. I suppose living in DC you are too good for that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 25, 2011 5:46 pm • linkreport

VDOT will spend the same on plowing regardless of the configurations of developments. If it takes longer to plow any particular development, then it will take longer to plow all of them.

When I first moved here, a bit over thirty years ago, there was a big snow storm. The morning news shows got all excited. They called the DC DOT and asked about their plans: these many plows already positioned, these streets having priority. They called Maryland DOT: these many plows working, these highways already cleared, these roads next. They called VDOT: the guy put on his best southern drawl, "Ain't it purty?"

They're a bit more city oriented these days, but not much.

by jim on Oct 25, 2011 5:46 pm • linkreport

I don't buy it that people want to live in car dependent suburbs. Suburbs perhaps yes. But not necessarily car dependent ones. Its just that that is our dominant built form and so most people conflate the two "if I want to live in a SFH on 1/8-1/4 acre it means no mass transit", and give up something they'd like (an alternative to driving everywhere all the time even for trips <1 mile) for something else they want b/c pretty much there's not much choice in suburbs that aren't built around historic street cars e.g. Hyattsville.

If there were more examples of suburbs with policies that include mass transit and mixed use, i.e. grocery stores and schools close enough and on safe streets so kids/adults can walk/bike to those destinations IF THEY CHOOSE, and mass transit for teenagers to get around in, I think that would be a desired model over the car dependent suburban form that most people think of when they think "suburb".

We need a paradigm change so people can really choose what they want. Even in suburbs that aren't car-dependent one can choose to drive everywhere if s/he wants. This car dependent nonsense really limits personal freedom and personal choice and constricts people in choosing what they really want

by Tina on Oct 25, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport

So what you are saying is that despite what those suburban people want, you and you alone are the ultimate authority over what they "need" and come hell or highwater will force them to "eat their carrots" and move off the culdesac and into some random apt building at the metro?

Take off the tri-corner hat and put down the musket for just a moment, and hear me out. No, I'm not saying that they shouldn't get what they want. I'm saying they're not going to get what they want. Two different things.

And in pursuing their dream of a Ponzi scheme that really pays off this time, they're going to injure not only themselves, but impoverish those who come after. I understand why they want to live the way they do. I also understand why Japanese whalers want to continue hunting blue whales on an industrial scale, and have their children do the same.

At some point the bill comes due.

by oboe on Oct 25, 2011 5:53 pm • linkreport

@freely -I don't see how you're any more of an authority on what others want than thump - or me -who is saying there's a third way-something between a condo on top of a bestbuy and metro stop and a SFH car-dependent suburb. That is, a SFH suburb thats NOT car-dependent. Why does it have to be either/or?

by Tina on Oct 25, 2011 5:56 pm • linkreport

..and of course what @WalkerInCity said,

... there is huge demand for housing near metros in NoVa - they sell/rent at a premium. What we need is infrastructure to support it.

by Tina on Oct 25, 2011 6:02 pm • linkreport

I'm all for people getting what they want as long as it doesn't significantly affect their neighbors. Ultimatley though, this lack of a street grid and connectivity will continue to lower the quality of life for those choosing to sequester themselves from their neighbors. Eventually, people will opt for having neighbors walk and drive past their house to have more time with their families and therefore chose different neighborhoods like they have been doing for the last 10 years, as prices show. But beyond all the sensible reasons Alpert has laid out, when it starts to affect their pocket book again, maybe they'll turn back to a smarter way to grow. For now though, Virginia's loss will be Maryland's gain. You can only keep your head in the sand for so long.

by Thayer-D on Oct 26, 2011 7:49 am • linkreport

@Tina, Awalkerinthecity, Oboe,

I am not saying it is an either or scenario. In fact, all of you folks waxing poetic about the SFH on a 1/4th of an acre with mass transit options seem to ignore the fact that those options already exist for each and every one of you.

Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, Tenley Town, Bethesda, Columbia Heights, Clarendon, etc.

Walkable, SFH's on their patch of grass.

And a Walkerinthecity, I've lived here likely longer than you, and in my 30 years as a resident here I've seen tens of thousands of suburban SFH's go up in nameless culdesacs in Arlington, Ffx, Alexandria, Loudoun etc.

And you know what else I saw over those 30 years? Buyers for each and every one of them. They could have bought anywhere, but the decided to buy a car dependant lifestyle in some "insert homebuilder name (Pulte, Centex, Brookville). Why? Because they chose to. Maybe it was what they could afford, maybe it was close to family, or the job, or the school, or the Wegmans they like, so on and so forth.

As I said before, any of you or any of them could have decided to buy/rent/life in anyone of a couple dozen transit savvy places. They didn't.

by freely on Oct 26, 2011 8:26 am • linkreport

@walkerinthecity does make some good points.

Howver, instead of looking at raw electoral politics, I'd look at the actors. Planning and other transporation issues aren't issue that inviddual voters are pushing -- besides complaining. They are being pushed by various actors. Key among them in NorthernVirginia are developers. SmartGrowthers are another set of actors. I don't think McDonnel's victory is automatically a victory for the developers. The transit plans mentioned so far (silver line ][, the Columbia Pike streetcar, and Rt. 1) always has a small state componenet or aren't ready for prime time.

Rather than a jihad against McDonnel, I'd suggest the real strategy is to keep pushing Fairfax to take control of its VDOT money. The idea that Fairfax doesn't have the power to do so is silly. Fairfax politicans don't want to touch that, because then they wouldn't have VDOT as a whipping boy.

And to go back to the orginial post, I see very little to hear in the changed rules for cul-de-sacs. Will it impact Tysons? From the plans that have been aired so far, it looks as most developers are going a modified corporate campus route anyway.

by charlie on Oct 26, 2011 8:52 am • linkreport

@freely: "In fact, all of you folks waxing poetic about the SFH on a 1/4th of an acre with mass transit options seem to ignore the fact that those options already exist for each and every one of you."

No, they don't exist for me. And the reason they don't exist for me is that lots of other people also want to live there, and many of those other people have a lot more money than I do.

Which suggests that demand exceeds supply for walkable, transit-accessible, single-family houses with a patch of grass.

Until supply and demand are balanced, we won't know whether people are living in their drive-everywhere cul-de-sacs because that's exactly what they want, or becaise that's the least bad option in their constrained list of choices.

by Miriam on Oct 26, 2011 9:03 am • linkreport

Miriam,

Exactly my point. Please show me one place in the world, one of the frequently used examples of TOD nirvana where that isn't the case.

Can you afford to live (current job/salary) in downtown London, Paris, Brussels perhaps?

Ok, more to home, can you afford to live in NYC, downtown Seattle/Portland/Boston?

Ok, now walk this thought process out. If someone built a new Metro line right past your front door, what do you think happens to all the land around it? All of a sudden your house and all the ones around it double in value and becomes unaffordable to a large portion of the population.

What makes you think you will be able to afford anything thats built. There has been more TOD built in Metro DC the past 15 years than was built in total before it, and yet you and lots of other people still can't afford it. Why?

Because someone always has more money Miriam. True for all of us and I don't know where you think this fictional places is that has the combined transit options of Clarendon, the housing stock of Oakton, the retail options of Tysons all for the price point of Stafford VA, but it doesn't exist.

If it does, please point it out because most of us would like to know.

by Freely on Oct 26, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

WRT 1/4 acre cul de sacs walkable near transit

Given that walkable tends to mean within half mile or so of the station/bus stop, there are inevitably going to be very few of those - and they dont have the density to support rail, or even frequent bus service. There will be anomalies, that some folks will pay a very high premium for, but for the most part being walkable to rail or frequent bus will mean multifamily, townhouse, or SFH's on very small lots.

WRT to past developments and everyone finding a buyer

I think folks have gone over and over issues about why the suburbs developed the way they did from 1945 to 1995 or so. There are all kinds of arguments people make about subsidies. Clearly the SHFs did find buyers. Also cleary there were few walkable transit options in the suburbs, certainly in NoVa in those days - NoVa has few metro stations or high frequency bus lines. When the stations were built and economic conditions made possible redevelopment, almost all took off with a vengeance.

If everyone prefers SFHs on 1/4 why were SO MANY townhomes and apts built from 1960 to 1995 in NoVa in places nowhere near any decent transit? People keep ignoring this.

I can't speak for all GGW people, but I am sure that large numbers of people will live in SFH's on 1/4 acre lots in any realistic scenario. But we can and should accommodate the demand for TODs, for well located TH's and multifam units, and maybe even for SFH's on smaller lots. That will help the folks on the 1/4 lots as well, in many ways - which is one reason many of them vote for it.

AFAICT the "urbanists want to eliminate all SFH's" meme is a straw man.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 9:29 am • linkreport

@freely:

As I said before, any of you or any of them could have decided to buy/rent/life in anyone of a couple dozen transit savvy places. They didn't.

What Miriam said. All this misses the point, though. The decisions that folks make have consequences. Some have positive externalities; some negative. And the folks who are looking for housing in 10, 15, or 30 years are going to have to live with the myopic decisions that people today make.

If this were just a matter of people stuffing their faces with Double-Stuff Oreos, and keeling over in their backyards, we wouldn't be having this conversation. People have the right to slowly (or quickly) kill themselves, in my opinion. But this isn't a case of that. This is a case of people making decisions that gratify them in the short-term at the cost of screwing over themselves and others in the long-term.

Hell, I'm not even arguing that we should compel people to change, only that *not* changing is stupid and short-sighted. Given what pretty much every expert says--and what's glaringly obvious to anyone who's lived in the area for even ten years--that's obviously true.

These folks are trashing both the built environment, and the natural environment in a way that will deeply and adversely affect the lives of everyone who's a child today. Leaving aside the question of whether there's sufficient political muscle to compel them to change, the idea that even opprobrium is out-of-bounds is, frankly, ridiculous.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

@oboe

The problem with opprobrium is that it tends to get peoples backs up. It lends support to straw man arguments - "they want to ban SFHs" "they want to ban cars". It tends to lead to arguments about who is better "i live on a cul de sac, but I have all efficient light bulbs, appliances, insulation, i drive a prius, etc, while Joe Blow lives in town and has an SUV, or Joe Blow lives in a leaky energy wasting old place in the city" or whatever. It also tends to ignore the ways that people can live less VMT intensive lives in the suburbs - some live very close to where they work, some bike, etc.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There is so much to like about the new approach to developing suburbs, and so many voters who are drawn to it, that you can get considerably more momentum that way than by lecturing at people

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 9:41 am • linkreport

And you know what else I saw over those 30 years? Buyers for each and every one of them. They could have bought anywhere, but the decided to buy a car dependant lifestyle in some "insert homebuilder name (Pulte, Centex, Brookville). Why? Because they chose to. Maybe it was what they could afford, maybe it was close to family, or the job, or the school, or the Wegmans they like, so on and so forth.

Suburbia was overbuilt. Zoning regs prevented new places like Alexandria from being built. Therefore, the middle-class largely was funneled into the cul-de-sac if they wanted to buy a house. The fact that new developments were designed to be homogeneously middle-class--coupled with the de facto school segregation enforced by the "local school district"--meant that suburban schools excelled at the expense of urban schools.

If you talk to any parent about why, in decades past, they moved from the city to the suburbs once their children reached school age, the idea that there was any sort of "choice" in the matter quickly becomes ridiculous. Heck, even today, the first response to anyone touting urban living is "just wait til your kids hit school age!"

We found a loophole in Brown vs BOE, and exploited it to the hilt. Obviously that led to the collapse of urban school districts and the rise of the suburban school district. Everything else is a rationalization.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

I love how people who call themselves conservatives don't oppose the way the state has a disproportionately high amount of authority over local jurisdictions in Virginia relative to other states. I was somewhat skeptical about the conspiracy that people would insinuate between developers and politicians with respect to suburban development, but I believe it now. There's little to lose and more to gain by developing in a way where we do have good street connectivity and orderly planning. There are so many issues related to transportation and planning that have become politicized and made into right vs. left that it's become ridiculous.

by Vik on Oct 26, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

Good article. I think it's important, especially in NoVa, to have new housing developments be as connected as possible. It's understandable that families would prefer the peacefulness of cul-de-sacs, but those preferences need to weighed against other factors that may be more important to sustained growth.

There's a lot of good comments in this thread too regarding how NoVa has developed. I can't quantify this, but I don't think that some advocates of TOD and Smart Growth give enough credence to the housing interests of families with children. Their preference for housing is far and away the detached SFH (according National Realtors Association survey, which I'll look for later). There's not a lot of areas in the core of the region where their preferences can be adequately met within certain limitations (chief among those, price).

Remember the firestorm of comments ginned up by this GGW post:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12419/write-about-education-and-other-family-issues-for-ggw/

by Fitz on Oct 26, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

The problem with opprobrium is that it tends to get people's backs up.

I agree with you in general, but I think folks act in naked self-interest. Things will go on until they can't anymore, then they'll change. As far as "vinegar versus honey", I think both have their uses. There's a lot of dissatisfaction in the suburbs--and many people can't unpack what it is that makes life suck. So they focus their ire on things like immigrants, or people on bicycles, or the fact that this road only has six lanes. Sometimes explicitly naming names can have a positive effect.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport

Remember the firestorm of comments ginned up by this GGW post...

Okay, that was funny, but a bit unfair. The post was essentially a request for volunteers to write two articles a month on education and family issues. Is it any wonder everyone took one giant step backwards?

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

Folks, your arguments are all over the place and change with the hour so this will be my last comment on it.

You guys seem to think that "suburbia", which I'm not a member of was conceived, planned and built in a vacumn, and that after all that, people just moved in because they had no choice. Obviously, this isn't the case.

Zoning regs? Conceived, guided, written, edited and changed by elected officials... people local residents voted in and out of office over the decades. If Zoning regs are to blame (the 3rd or 4th strawman of this particular thread) then fine, the blame really then falls on the folks living there and voting for those officials.

The DC Metro suburban expanse, and the expansion of suburbia nationwide wasn't an evil plan hatched 50 years ago by those evil oil companies. It was a long, methodical process put into effect by thousands of elected officials, voted into office by complicit purposeful votes by millions of people. If suburbia is to die, fine, but it is going to involve a long process with the majority of residents being complicit. It may bother you now, but the simple truth of the matter is the awalkinthecity,oboes, Miriams etc are outnumbered at the polls by people who disagree with you. Its the nature of the beast.

All those people could have lived anywhere they wanted. All of you can choose to live in any existing TOD area you like, but you have to choose because urbanists wet dream of a cheap hybrid of both I mentioned above doesn't exist now and will never exist in the future.

Virginia has gotten in the past and will continue to get in the future EXACTLY what it votes for.

by freely on Oct 26, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

Folks, your arguments are all over the place and change with the hour so this will be my last comment on it...

Shorter @freely: "Why can't you people who are making differing points get together and make one argument!"

Anyway, I'm not even sure we disagree: your argument is that the majority of voters voted for suburban sprawl over a long period of time. No argument here. The question was whether people had "a choice". We can conceive of a case where 51% of voters did, which means that 49% didn't. But thousands of small choices (guided by non-transparent economic interests, and recently further clouded by cultural tribalisms) don't necessarily compose themselves into a single Grand Choice. People's choices led to Tyson's Corner. You'd have to be pretty naive to think that meant they wanted Tyson's Corner as such.

It may bother you now, but the simple truth of the matter is the awalkinthecity,oboes, Miriams etc are outnumbered at the polls by people who disagree with you.

Doesn't bother me in the least--other than in the sense of evoking a natural human sympathy. As I like to point out (hopefully with rueful humor) to the extent that exurbia fails in its grand retrofitting experiment, the value of my urban townhouse goes up. If they succeed, that makes the region stronger, and gives people more market choices which hopefully will make them happier.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 10:40 am • linkreport

@oboe,

How do you define exurbia?

by Fitz on Oct 26, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

A few things:

First off, the notion that "just you wait and see, there will be a revolution of sorts where the suburbs will have an economic collapse because their model is unsustainable" is pretty laughable. The two strongest major economies in the country, year in and year out, are Texas and Virginia. Not exactly urbanist paradises. There may be a lot of problems with the suburban sprawl model, but economic sustainability isn't one of them.

Second, the idea that suburbanites live lives of "quiet desperation" is literally an urban legend. Here are the facts:

Suburbanites are significantly more satisfied with their communities than are residents of cities, small towns or rural areas, according to a Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey that explores what Americans like -- and don't like -- about the places where they live.

The survey asks respondents to rate their community on eight characteristics: job opportunities; cost of living; a place to raise children; recreational and outdoor activities; shopping; the climate; cultural activities; and opportunities to meet people and make friends. It also asks for an overall rating.

Responses to all nine questions were aggregated into a single scale. Overall, 42% of suburban residents give their community high marks on this combined scale, compared with just 34% of city residents, 29% of rural residents and 25% of small town residents.

Third, Virginia voters are NOT getting what they want from their politicians. That's why they constantly complain about the traffic. The problem is that Virginia is pursuing the wrong policies to alleviate this traffic and voters don't realize this.

by Falls Church on Oct 26, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Freely, do you think the Dillon Rule makes sense and that the state gov't should be meddling in decisions that you could argue should be left to the local gov'ts to make? Yes, local gov't do things wrong, but it doesn't help when the state's bad decisions get lumped on top.

by Vik on Oct 26, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Oh, and just in case you're thinking that suburban happiness is skewed by East Coast suburbs like Arlington and Cambridge which are more urban than suburban, here are further results from the Pew survey:

Residents of communities in the South or West are more satisfied than those living in the Northeast or Midwest. And the suburbs of the West and South are among the most satisfied places in America. Nearly half of residents living in western suburbs (48%) and southern suburbs (46%) are highly satisfied with their communities.

However, the suburbs clearly have an image problem. Everyone THINKS they are soul-crushing horrifying places to live when in reality that's not the case:

The same survey also asks people whether, if they could live anywhere, they would prefer to live in a city, a suburb, a rural area or a small town. On this measure, the suburban "good life" is a bit of a flop. Just 25% of the overall public says the suburb is their ideal community type. In fact, a higher share (30%) of the public says that small towns are their ideal community type -- this despite the fact that the people who live in small towns are much less satisfied with their communities than are residents of suburbs.

by Falls Church on Oct 26, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

@Fitz,

It's like pornography.

Obviously "the suburbs" is a pretty meaningless phrase. When we talk about how "the suburbs" don't work, inevitably someone says, "Ah ha! Bethesda (or Silver Spring, or Old Town) is highly walkable! And it's over the DC line!" The distinction I'm trying to make is between the urban core, traditional streetcar-suburbs and close-in urban areas on the one hand, and suburban sprawl on the other. Generally speaking, if you need to get in a car in order to drive to public transportation, you're in the exurbs.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

"The DC Metro suburban expanse, and the expansion of suburbia nationwide wasn't an evil plan hatched 50 years ago by those evil oil companies."

Actually, it was the evil coalition of General Motors and the "highway lobby" that conspired to kill off streetcars so they could sell cars and build highways to destroy cities and force people to live in sprawl suburbs and depend on cars to get there.

by ceefer66 on Oct 26, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

It's a bit amazing that in all this analysis that not one person has mentioned that McDonnell benefited enormously by running against a simply awful candidate, Creigh Deeds, a "twangy" downstate Democrat who was basically a weak-tea me-too conservative wearing a "D" label. Enthusiasm for Deeds among liberal NoVa Democrats was barely detectable. At the same time in the minds of independents statewide Deeds was inescapably tied to a brand in free-fall in late 2009, the national Democratic party. McDonnell turned out all the conservatives and independents. Liberals stayed home. That's what wins elections, not local zoning and transportation issues. McDonnell also does his best to sound pragmatic and non-ideological. That's always a winner in Virginia, especially in the suburbs.

by Paulus on Oct 26, 2011 11:35 am • linkreport

@Falls Church:

There may be a lot of problems with the suburban sprawl model, but economic sustainability isn't one of them.

Sure, and Madoff was doing great until he wasn't. Suburban infrastructure is at the end of its life-cycle. Someone needs to repave all those roads. The suburbs share of poverty is increasing compared to the city. The reponse to this over the last thirty years has been to move outward. In '68, people were moving to Silver Spring; in 78, Aspen Hill; in 90, Gaithersburg. Now Frederick and beyond. Where next? WV? At some point a major reinvestment in infrastructure has to happen. You can only kick the can down the road for so long. Of course, the aging of the infrastructure is coinciding with the aging of the housing stock, which coupled with the recession and the success of housing voucher programs is driving the growth of the suburban poor.

“What we have found is that the underlying financing mechanisms of the suburban era -- our post-World War II pattern of development -- operates like a classic Ponzi scheme, with ever-increasing rates of growth necessary to sustain long-term liabilities . . .

“In each of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange -- a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation -- is one element of a Ponzi scheme.

“The other is the realization that the revenue collected does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance . . .

“We've done this because, as with any Ponzi scheme, new growth provides the illusion of prosperity. In the near term, revenue grows, while the corresponding maintenance obligations -- which are not counted on the public balance sheet -- are a generation away.”

(http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/6/13/the-growth-ponzi-scheme-part-1.html)

More:

http://www.businessinsider.com/suburban-america-ponzi-scheme-case-study-2011-10

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/10/trouble_in_the_suburbs.html

What's a bit silly is saying, "Texas and Virginia are suburban, and they're doing great!" America is suburban. Michigan is suburban. PG County is suburban.

This kind of argument is no different than the guy buying into the falling real estate market in DC in 1965. No where to go but up. After all, the city has always been, and thus will always be, the place to be.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

Sure, and Madoff was doing great until he wasn't. Suburban infrastructure is at the end of its life-cycle. Someone needs to repave all those roads.

If physical infrastructure is the suburbs only problem, it's a challenge they can surely meet. The infrastructure that's going to matter most in the future is educational as the march toward the knowledge economy is the primary factor that will discern winners from losers. The suburbs have educational infrastructure in spades, while cities continue to try to build it in fits and starts (by "infrastructure" I don't mean so much the physical kind like schools which is easier to build but the intangible infrastructure of an educational system and teachers that work).

Sure, you're constantly hearing how cities are going to improve their educational systems but progress is made at the same pace on that count as progress on transpo infrastructure and better land use is made in the burbs. There's a lot of inertia that makes it hard to reform urban educational systems.

Further, the importance of transpo infrastructure is going to matter less and less as technology (like telecommuting) replaces some of the need for transpo and as economies become less intensive users of physical assets in general.

by Falls Church on Oct 26, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

"All those people could have lived anywhere they wanted."

No, they are constrained by workplace location, budget, schools, etc. Some folks by ethno-religious preference, desire to live near family, etc, etc.

"All of you can choose to live in any existing TOD area you like, but you have to choose because urbanists wet dream of a cheap hybrid of both I mentioned above doesn't exist now and will never exist in the future."

I think its only Miriam expecting cheap SFHs on 1/4 acre near transit. Im not.

"Virginia has gotten in the past and will continue to get in the future EXACTLY what it votes for."

Will Fairfax? Because fairfax has been voting for TOD and a moderate version of the urbanist agenda since 2003.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

"So they focus their ire on things like immigrants, or people on bicycles, or the fact that this road only has six lanes. "

most folks in Fairfax I know like biking, or say they do, - some oppose road expansion and those who support it want SOME road expansion AND transit AND urbanist development (like I said a moderate urbanist agenda, which you may not agree with, but thats something else)

As for immigrants, I think there are legitimate arguments about the impact of immigrants on communities that are completely orthogonal to issues of urbanism.

Its reasonable to suggest to people that there are problems with older development approaches - its NOT helpful to lecture people about how their 1/4 acre lots are killing the planet. Sure, changed development patterns would help fight Global warming somewhat. So would hybrid cars. So would solar power. So would backyard gardens. So would more efficient appliances. So would a lot of different things. When you lecture someone who just MIGHT be a prius driver, or have rooftop solar, or whatever, on how they are evil cause they live in Prince William County, you come off as the stereotypical ignorant hipster.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

@ Paulus; the problem with Deeds wasn't just his issues; he was a terrible campaigner.

And don't forget Tim Kaine. 4 years of his mediocrity sourced Northern Virginia voters. Thanks Timmy -- for endless construction on the beltway and those giant pylons in Tysons.

by charlie on Oct 26, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

"The two strongest major economies in the country, year in and year out, are Texas and Virginia. Not exactly urbanist paradises. There may be a lot of problems with the suburban sprawl model, but economic sustainability isn't one of them."

Virginia includes Arlington one of the best urbanist paradises in the USA, some fine urbanist places in Richmond, etc, etc.

State wide economies are seldom driven by these kinds of urban form issues. Its local economic sustainability thats at issue. Right now Arlington County is in much better shape, AFAICT, then Prince William.

Now Loudoun is doing fine of course. Its also not completely traditional surburbia - its heavily planned communities, which are low density, but at least try to accommodate bikes and peds to some degree, they have a growth boundary, they have two heavy rail stations in pipeline, and they seem to have a goal of making Dulles Town Center area into a mixed use higher density area.

And I think they are doing that because they think they need to. The older SFHs in Sterling are already starting to present social problems, and all those 400 to 500 k SFHs are selling that high because they are new. They have vacant/rural land (even with growth boundary) that they can keep building on, they arent built out like Fairfax, but I think they dont want to put all their eggs in that basket.

For Fairfax the future is rather more imminent. Fairfax faces competition from Loudoun AND from Arlington. I dont necessarily see Fairfax going the way of Detroit, but the image of going the way of Prince William County is probably scary enough to the movers and shakers (and property owners) in FFX county.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

I dont think its yet possible to say what the impact of telecommuting is on the established suburbs. What does it mean for fairfax? folks picking it over DC cause an hour commute one day a week isnt so bad? Or folks choosing to live in West Virginia instead of FFX?

why do i get the feeling that you guys want to debate generic "suburbs vs cities" more than you want to debate the issues actually facing counties like FFX or MoCo right now?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport

State wide economies are seldom driven by these kinds of urban form issues.

I don't know about that. I think the whole point of this article is that this misguided state-wide policy (or lack of standard) will likely have a significant state-wide impact.

I dont think its yet possible to say what the impact of telecommuting is on the established suburbs.

Telecommuting is definitely a wildcard. But it's representative of a broader point which is that you can't always exptrapolate based on past history because innovation has a way of changing the game entirely. Telecommuting is just one possible way that the suburbs manage their infrastructure deficit without collapsing like a Ponzi scheme.

by Falls Church on Oct 26, 2011 12:51 pm • linkreport

"why do i get the feeling that you guys want to debate generic "suburbs vs cities" more than you want to debate the issues actually facing counties like FFX or MoCo right now?"

Because culture war is so much more fun!

by charlie on Oct 26, 2011 12:57 pm • linkreport

@oboe,

Generally speaking, if you need to get in a car in order to drive to public transportation, you're in the exurbs.

I think that's a good rule of thumb.

@AWalker,

Fairfax faces competition from Loudoun AND from Arlington.

How so? Arlington seems like it caters more towards yuppies while Fairfax seems like it caters more towards families.

why do i get the feeling that you guys want to debate generic "suburbs vs cities" more than you want to debate the issues actually facing counties like FFX or MoCo right now?

I think that the "burbs vs. cities" debate comes up because some on this blog who are zealous advocates of the urban, Smart Growth model can come across as dismissive of the suburban lifestyle.

by Fitz on Oct 26, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

"How so? Arlington seems like it caters more towards yuppies while Fairfax seems like it caters more towards families.

i meant mainly for jobs. If FFX becomes an undesirable places for firms to locate, jobs will leak both out the dulles corridor to Loudoun and in to Arlington.

Also there are LOTS of single folks, DINKs, etc, in Fairfax.

Fairfax isnt Mayberry RFD, and hasn't been in decades.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

"don't know about that. I think the whole point of this article is that this misguided state-wide policy (or lack of standard) will likely have a significant state-wide impact"

I thought the point was that some policies involved wasteful spending, and lowered quality of life. Not that the impacts were big enough, statewide, to really impact relative state vs state economic performance.

I mean Ive heard Texas is doing well cause its pro business, cause its got great values, etc (as well as the counter that its growing cause it has lots of cheap labor, and oil) So now its growing because of its sprawl?

yet that sprawl doesnt seem to be helping nevada or Florida so much, and Massachusetts has been doing as well as Texas - id heard that as a defense of Mass on taxes and social services - is it now also evidence for the desirability street car suburbs?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

It is simple really: the taxpayer subsidizes sprawl.

As someone mentioned earlier, suburban sprawl does not pay for its negative externalities. The taxpayer subsidizes the lifestyle now and later pays again to repair the damage. Unlike the bag tax to clean up the river, we are not seeing higher gas or vehicle mileage taxes to cover the maintenance and construction of thousands of miles of roads. History has shown us repeatedly that building new roads never alleviates traffic for long; induced demand rapidly fills the space.

If everyone paid their fair share and covered the negative externalities they produce by living their preferred lifestyle, many people would rush back into the city, demanding congestion taxes and the like.

Here’s another reality: Demand is up in walkable neighborhoods and down in car-dependent neighborhoods. The market will find the equilibrium price, but people are starting to regret their 60-90 minute commutes.

by cmc on Oct 26, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

@AWalker,

Also there are LOTS of single folks, DINKs, etc, in Fairfax.

I cannot find a breakdown of married couples, singles, families w/ or w/o children on a county basis, but I did find this, the percentage of persons under age 18.

Virgina: 23.2%
Fairfax County: 24.3%
Arlington County: 15.7%

Found here: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/51000.html

I don't know if that is sufficient information, but I think that lends more credence to the idea that Arlington has quite a bit more singles and married couples w/o kids than Fairfax.

by Fitz on Oct 26, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

If everyone paid their fair share and covered the negative externalities they produce by living their preferred lifestyle, many people would rush back into the city, demanding congestion taxes and the like.

------------------

Does "everyone paying their fair share" include transit users? Fares hardly cover the cost of providing a ride.

by ceefer66 on Oct 26, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

@ceefer, cmc mentioned specifically negative externalities. Those are much greater in car-dependency that in walkable/bikable/transit rich forms. one might even justify the subsidy of transit as prevention of the negative externalities created by car-dependency.

by Tina on Oct 26, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

Does "everyone paying their fair share" include transit users? Fares hardly cover the cost of providing a ride.

Excellent point. Also, I have noticed that municipal garbage collection does not pay for itself, either.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

Excellent point. Also, I have noticed that municipal garbage collection does not pay for itself, either.

==============

My point exactly.

ALL public services are subsidized to one degree or another.

The car-haters are frankly tiresome with their "roads are subsidized by us all" lies and nonsense. Frankly, if you don't and buy gas, pay tolls, or register and insure a vehicle, you aren't paying a substantial share of the cost of building and maintaining highways.

Local streets are another matter but I'm sure you'll agree that Whole Foods and Harris Teeter don't get their IPA beer delivered by Metro.

by ceefer66 on Oct 26, 2011 5:44 pm • linkreport

The car-haters are frankly tiresome with their "roads are subsidized by us all" lies and nonsense.

I don't doubt that folks telling you unflattering realities rather than pleasing lies are "tiresome". But the numbers are what they are. The idea that the gas tax, tolls, and registration somehow covers the cost of the easy motoring crowd is a fairy tale that even a four-year-old would scoff at. Once upon a time when most people's information was limited to the local newspaper and a monthly subscription to Reader's Digest, such ignorance might be understandable. But there's really no excuse in the second decade of the 21st century. In real dollars, you drivers *are* the welfare state. Certainly in a way that dwarfs the population of people on public assistance. The term "welfare queens" is eerily apropos.

This is one of the reasons I'm starting to hope the Teabaggers win. You've been scarfing at the trough for far to long.

And frankly, the freight angle is a hilarious dodge. If we're talking about getting freight from Point A to Point B, it's hard to conceive of more overkill than the current road infrastructure. Why not just argue that the taxpayers need to buy you a pickup truck for personal use? After all, produce gets to the market in trucks.

Actually, much of America's freight is delivered by train. Shouldn't government be buying individuals private rail cars? Clearly otherwise we'll all starve to death.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2011 9:07 pm • linkreport

@oboe,

I'm not sure that I would call freight delivered by rail as much. Per the department of transportation, it looks like rail transports approximately 15% of goods on the basis of weight and 3% on the basis of value of the good. See Table 1070 here:

http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/12statab/trans.pdf

by Fitz on Oct 26, 2011 11:12 pm • linkreport

@oboe

I don't doubt that folks telling you unflattering realities rather than pleasing lies are "tiresome". But the numbers are what they are.
---------------------

What "unflattering realities" and what "numbers"?

OK, a lot of people have bought into the urban concept and the increased property values are proof positive that it is desirable - for a certain, very narrow segment of the overall market.

Don't let the new neighbors and the increase in your property value fool you. MOST people STILL prefer the suburbs for a number of reasons I won't bother to go into here because we've been over this before.

The simple fact is, as others have pointed out, the "sprawl" people like you hate so much has occured over nearly 70 years, starting with the Levittowns of the mid-1940's, through the white flight of the '50's (EVERY one of the 50 largest US cities lost population from 1950-60 and most, including DC have never regained their 1950 population), up to now. And it will take at least as long to reverse that trend.

Whether you like or nor, the majority don't want to live in a 500 sq ft apartment (call a "condo" if you want to) in a building with 500 other people with thousands more within eyesight of the balcony just so they can be near a metro station and ride a train or a bike to work and walk to the corner for groceries. It might be nice for some. I loved it when I was doing in it NY. But it doesn't suit everyone.

And that's the rub, obeo. Your urban utopia doesn't suit everyone. Most people, especially those with children, either can't afford it or simply don't want it. It doesn't make them bad, or ignorant, or selfish, or irresponsible, or wrong. They've just made a different choice. And like someone else has pointed out, you're not better than they are simply because of YOUR choice.

So face it, oboe. Your "numbers", wherever you got them from, are MEANINGLESS. Until you can create a large-scale Clarendon or Paris, or Copenhagen right here in metro DC at a Prince William County - and somehow force the masses to accept it (good luck with that) - your fantasy of enough people preferring and buying into into "walkable transit-oriented density" to make "the surburban model become undesirable and unsustainable" will be nothing more that what it is now: wishful thinking. Not "realities". Just wishful thinking.

Have a nice day.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

@freely -you disparage me and others with an immature vulgarity for suggesting that creation of SFHs in walkable areas accessible to transit is an unrealistic vision and not a form valued by home buyers, yet you gave extant examples of those areas. Since you know those types of areas exist and are so knowledgeable of the metro area you must also know the SFH walkable-transit accessible nieghborhoods you cited have among the highest sq. ft. value in the metro area. That doesn't suggest to you that homes in those types of neighborhoods are more greatly desired than newer homes in newer car-dependent neighborhoods?

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

@ceefer66 - re: walkable-transit accessible neighborhoods, you wrote, most people...can't afford it... and decribed a small apt. in a huge bldg. There are many examples of neighborhoods of SFHs that are walkable and transit accessible. The notion that 'walkable-transit accessible' ONLY means small condos in huge buildings is erroneous and denying evidence to the contrary.

Thats the point. If more neighborhoods of SFHs in walkable-transit accessible form existed then more people could afford to choose it. There's no reason to NOT build and/or retrofit neighborhoods to this form that clearly there is a demand for. Why would you argue against creating forms that clearly are desired, the evidence of which is that, in your own observation, many people currently cannot afford?

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

at a Prince William County PRICE.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

So why can't Prince William Co. have walkable and transit accessible neighborhoods?

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

@Tina,

Your intelligent response covers only half of the matter. If you can somehow build the urban communities on a large enough scale to make them affordable - and that's a big "if", you still have to get ovet the hurdle of making enough people WANT to live in them to make them economically viable.

Simply wanting and wishing isn't enough. And oboe's snarkiness and bad-mouthing only makes him look angry and silly.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 11:31 am • linkreport

@Tina,

"So why can't Prince William Co. have walkable and transit accessible neighborhoods? "

I thought the object was concentration. PW is 20 miles from the core. And how are people supposed to get from those neighborhoods to the rest of the world?

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

@Tina,

Thats the point. If more neighborhoods of SFHs in walkable-transit accessible form existed then more people could afford to choose it. There's no reason to NOT build and/or retrofit neighborhoods to this form that clearly there is a demand for. Why would you argue against creating forms that clearly are desired, the evidence of which is that, in your own observation, many people currently cannot afford?

All things considered, you're correct. This is reflected both in surveys of home owners and in the prices of housing. In reality it's much more complicated than that. There is a larger incentive for developers to build condos than SFHs. What is the realistic capacity to build and retrofit SFHs given the current layout?

by Fitz on Oct 27, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

I do not believe people in "traditional" car-dependent suburban neighborhoods in PWC drive 20 miles to get a bottle of milk. These are suburban neighborhoods not rural isolated homes.

I thought the object was concentration.

Look at those neighborhoods in Dale City, Woodbridge etc. They are already concentrated.

Build those neighborbors with a connected street grid, zoning that allows for some mixed use, ie. nighborhood ammenities like shops and schools, road designs that facilitate instead of create barriers to walking/biking to destinations within 1 mi (shops, schools),

PW is 20 miles from the core.

You mean downtown DC? Every neighborhood has its own core. I'm saying design around that core and at the same time invest in transit to downtown DC/other areas to eliminate the strict car-dependency; restructure transportation policies so there is more emphasis on making transit available.

There's no reason why these neighborhoods couldn't have been built with these amenities in the first place and the only thing stopping their creation now is lack of vision -that is, thinking there is only one way to do a suburb, e.g. with total car dependency. It doesn't have to be that way.

There is another way to do it that gives people more personal choices and freedom in their lives as well as helping to mitigate the undeniable negative externalities of strict car-dependency.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

@Fitz-There is a larger incentive for developers to build condos than SFHs.
Apparently not in places like PWC. But they (the neighborhoods of SFHs) don't have to be accompanied by designs and zoning/policies that create total car dependency.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

@Tina

"ats the point. If more neighborhoods of SFHs in walkable-transit accessible form existed then more people could afford to choose it. There's no reason to NOT build and/or retrofit neighborhoods to this form that clearly there is a demand for."

But at what price point? The homes I see going up in TOD areas are out of reach for 90% of the market. That's the rub. They ARE desirable and they do sell like hotcales - to a SMALL minority of the market.

now the fact that such neighborhoods fill up quickly can be quite heady- I suppose that's why so many of the urbanists jump to the conclusion that "everyone wants to live here". But that simply isn't so. There's a reason why most people live in the suburbs. And housing avaialbility/affordabily is only one factor.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

@Tina,


Apparently not in places like PWC. But they (the neighborhoods of SFHs) don't have to be accompanied by designs and zoning/policies that create total car dependency.

I thought you were referring to areas inside the Beltway and part of the core of the region like MoCo, Arlington, DC, etc, since you mentioned retrofit.

For example I know that Arlington wants to retrofit Crystal City and Falls Church wants to add a new development to the East Falls Church metro. How many SFHs do you think we'll see in those two ares in the future? I don't know for sure but I'd reasonably guess that developers would rather build condos and apartment buildings there.

by Fitz on Oct 27, 2011 12:25 pm • linkreport

"EVERY one of the 50 largest US cities lost population from 1950-60'

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Cities like LA, San diego, Houston, Dallas, Kanas city, Denver among others actually gained population during that period, but most - especially the dense, transit-centric cicites in the East and the Rust Belt, lost population and have never again reached their 1950 figure.

It can be safely said that most of the largest US cities suffered huge population loses during white flight. Even now, it will take significantly more than gentrification of a few close-in neighborhoods and housing built for a narrowly-focused demographic to make the still-growing suburbs "obselete", no matter how "unsustainable" a relatavely small group of people have decided they might be.

(BTW, what's the deal with the CAPTCHAs? They're getting more and more ridiculously hard to decipher).

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

@Fitz-ceefer66 specified PWC so thats what I was responding to. WRT retro fit-retrofit happens all the time unless we're allowing entropy to have its way, and I guess that is happening a lot. But if not there is always retrofit/ renovation/rebuilding going on. Why not, in the process, start making changes that clearly are in demand?

@ceefer66-again, it is not mandatory that these types of suburbs be zoned, designed and built so to be strictly car dependent.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

@Tina,


Why not, in the process, start making changes that clearly are in demand?

I'd agree but given the incentives for developers in the region to build condos over SFH's in the region, how do you make the change?

by Fitz on Oct 27, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66- But at what price point?

it doesn't cost anymore to build streets in a connected grid than it does to build them in disconnect like in the photo illustration. Its doesn't cost anymore to allow zoning for some mixed use so schools and some stores/cafes can be located within walking/biking distance, and perhaps more importantly on streets designed to be hospitable to walking and biking.

Thus the only "cost" is car-dependency versus access to choices. "Choices" includes driving everywhere if one wishes. Investing in some transit mitigates the costs of the negative externalities created by strict car-dependency; that is, driving everywhere b/c its the only reasonable choice. The money is going to be spent. Its a matter of choosing how; in greater costs later to try and respond to negative effects created by car dependency, like ignoring primary prevention care and instead waiting till a situation is acute or chronic (Secondary and tertiary care are ALWAYS more expensive than prevention), Or spending it now in ways that can help prevent or mitigate the crises later, thus actually saving money while at the same time enhancing the quality of individual lives by allowing some more choices in where and how to live and spend ones money, i.e. on BRT passes and reading Smillas Sense of Snow during ones commute or at the gas station and getting really stressed driving b/c there is always some a**hole taking a chance that will surely kill you if you happen to sneeze at the wrong time.

These suburbs don't have to be car-dependent. It doesn't cost more to create forms that allow more personal freedom.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

@Fitz- but given the incentives for developers in the region to build condos over SFH's in the region, how do you make the change?

I'm thinking...I think a developer needs to weigh in... I'm not a developer.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 1:09 pm • linkreport

it doesn't cost anymore to build streets in a connected grid than it does to build them in disconnect like in the photo illustration.

Actually, I would imagine new infrastructure costs are less. Certainly maintenance--though who really cares about that? After all, that's our children's concern.

by oboe on Oct 27, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

@Tina, “it doesn't cost anymore to build streets in a connected grid than it does to build them in disconnect like in the photo illustration. Its doesn't cost anymore to allow zoning for some mixed use so schools and some stores/cafes can be located within walking/biking distance, and perhaps more importantly on streets designed to be hospitable to walking and biking.”

It’s not that simple. Factors such as the cost of land, design, labor, materials, financing, taxing, etc. must be taken into account. And - as I’ve been saying all along – even if all things are equal, you have to sell the concept to more than a small segment of the market to make it viable on the grand scale you apparently desire.

It is true – a very specific demographic has bought into the model you describe. But how do you make it affordable – an appealing to the majority? No one here has answered that with anything more than wishful thinking and snarkiness.

You have some great ideas. But how do you make them appeal to the majority?

@Tina, “Thus the only "cost" is car-dependency versus access to choices."Choices" includes driving everywhere if one wishes. Investing in some transit mitigates the costs of the negative externalities created by strict car-dependency; that is, driving everywhere b/c its the only reasonable choice. The money is going to be spent. Its a matter of choosing how; in greater costs later to try and respond to negative effects created by car dependency,…”

What “negative effects”?

It’s all relative. I doubt if many people who are “car dependent” really think they are at any great disadvantage.

I honestly think your comments are being driven by a personal dislike of cars and a disdain for what YOU consider to be an undesirable or “bad” lifestyle choice. That makes as much sense as finding fault with people who like licorice simply because you DON’T like it. It’s frankly ridiculous.

@Tina, “These suburbs don't have to be car-dependent. It doesn't cost more to create forms that allow more personal freedom.”

What gives more personal freedom of movement than one’s own vehicle?

I can use my car anytime I choose to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I’m not restricted to areas served by transit nor am I constrained by train and bus schedules. I can listen to an audio book or whatever music I chose and play it as loudly as I want. I can listen to NPR or to an incredible variety on Sirius satellite radio. When I was a smoker, I had that choice. As for the cost of maintaining a vehicle, the freedom it provides is well worth it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do use transit when it makes sense. I wouldn’t dream of driving to a game at the Verizon Arena or Nationals Stadium and driving to New York is no longer an option now that the Acela and the Megabus are available. But the often-expressed desire of limiting an area’s drivability to “allow more personal freedom” smacks of Orwellian double-speak (“we want to implement policies to make driving difficult, unpleasant, and expensive to provide you with more choices”).

It’s frankly ridiculous. And it won’t change the fact that MOST Americans have chosen to live in so-called “car dependent” areas.

I know you don't it. But that's the reality and wishful thinking won't change it - unless we can adopt Soviet/Chinese-style land use and relocation policies.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

@oboe,

"Actually, I would imagine new infrastructure costs are less. Certainly maintenance--though who really cares about that? After all, that's our children's concern."

--------------------

Who do you think will be footing the bill for the perpetual operating subsidies (estimated to start at $150 million annually) to run the Silver Line?

It's not just roads that cost us.

by ceefer66 on Oct 27, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

It is true – a very specific demographic has bought into the model you describe. But how do you make it affordable – an appealing to the majority? No one here has answered that with anything more than wishful thinking and snarkiness.

The funny thing is, even you know you haven't come anywhere near to making the case that people prefer a cul-de-sac to a walkable streetcar suburb. These places--with small SFHs or townhouses, walkable street grids, and transport are vastly preferable to traditional car-dependent suburbia. It's reflected in their pricing since building codes preclude their being built anymore.

So you have to use words like "wishful thinking" in order to wave away what's obvious to anyone with an internet connection and zillow.com. What's worse, you repeatedly compare McMansions on a cul-de-sac with "500 sq ft apartments in a 500-unit building."

It's laughably transparent. Come on, at least if you're going to keep this plate spinning, let's have a real good-faith argument.

by oboe on Oct 27, 2011 4:27 pm • linkreport

You have some great ideas. But how do you make them appeal to the majority?

I often think about this when pondering vacations: it's clear most people prefer Ocean City to Tahiti. Why? More people go to the Delmarva beaches each summer month than Tahiti.

Some would naively think that this is because the Delmarva shore is accessible, cheap, and commonplace--at least in comparison to Tahiti. They'd be wrong. It's because Delmarva beaches are the highest expression of what the majority wants--in and of itself.

Imagine hypothetically, that you could build a sufficient number of Tahitis that were just as accessible as the Delmarva beaches, and as cheap. Well, people would still flock to Ocean City.

The Tahiti experience only appeals to a very small number of beach goers. Eerily enough, this small number just happens to be the *exact* number that currently go. If more "Tahiti" were available, the price might go down, but the exact number of beachgoers would choose the Tahiti option.

[Strangely, beach vacations and neighborhoods are the only two commodities where the rules of the free market are strangely completely inverted. But that's a story for another time...]

by oboe on Oct 27, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

Are you an elitist? Take This Simple Test!

Which is more appealing? Choose from one of the below:

Beach A

Beach B

If you chose "A"...YOU ARE CORRECT!

by oboe on Oct 27, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66, Have I made a moral argument? No, I have not.I have tried to focus on pragmatism.

I can only interpret this comment: I honestly think your comments are being driven by a personal dislike of cars and a disdain for what YOU consider to be an undesirable or “bad” lifestyle choice as an indication of your adherence to the either-or paradigm and way of thinking by attempting to project it onto me, or as your belief in your ability to be clairvoyant, or as your own over-defensiveness. I have expressed ideas that are sound and reasonable and do not call anyone names (excpet for the archetypal a**hole driver) and honestly seek to solve a real problem: that certain types of forms are clearly in demand because so many people are priced out of them.

You really don't know what the negative externalities of car-dependency are? I'm not getting into that. And you keep accusing me of being simple-minded...

I'm finding you're stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there is greater personal freedom in having a choice to walk, say 4 blocks to a store or school on a street that feels safe for walking -if you feel like walking, or driving if you want- as opposed to being barred from walking b/c even though the store/school is 4 blocks away by the flight of a crow the streets are not connected so it would be a 12 block walk on streets that are inhospitable to walking, just stubborn for the sake of stubborness.

I can use my car anytime I choose to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I’m not restricted to areas served by transit nor am I constrained by train and bus schedules.
Exactly. I never suggested anything other than this. Connected street grids and closer neighborhood destinations make it easier to drive to get around.

But the often-expressed desire of limiting an area’s drivability to “allow more personal freedom”

I never expressed an idea to limit an areas drivability. If you are honest you will acknowledge this. The fact that in your mind making a place easier to walk is tantamount to limiting driving clearly illustrates the problem of seeing only either/or.

Factors such as the cost of land, design, labor, materials, financing, taxing, etc. must be taken into account. ..as I’ve been saying all along... –

Me too. I've been saying this all along. Again, it doesn't cost more to build a connected street grid than a disconnected pattern. It doesn't cost more to re-write zoning to allow schools and some neighborhood businesses to be closer to residences; it doesn't cost more to design streets so that its hospitable to walk around.

Look, people who bought houses in suburban PWC didn't have anything to do with the designing or the form, the land use policies that shaped the form and other factors. It was already there when they got there. They didn't have a choice. As you say, the walkable neighborhoods were too expensive. Do you really think a neighborhood would be rejected if it had some features of the more expensive neighborhoods? I think you're just hanging on to this either/or pardigm in your mind out of stubborness.

by Tina on Oct 27, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

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