Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links and video: Much to scrutinize


Photo by afagen on Flickr.
DC shorted millions in fees: Housing officials have not effectively collected housing assistance fees from apartment-to-condo conversions, costing the city an estimated $30.6 million. (WBJ)

Alarms raised at youth program: Staff at the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp had raised concerns about suspicious earmarks that turned out to be fronts for Harry Thomas, Jr. to steal from DC. (Washington Times)

Lotto contract's strange dealings: DC's lottery contract was not properly awarded, according to the inspector general's office, and some on the DC Council want a deeper investigation into how it was awarded. (Washington Times)

A two-term Virginia?: Virginia is the only state in the union to place a one-term limit on its governors, and Governor McDonnell thinks this is too few. (National Journal)

Travel model incorporates science: Researchers found that the population of a city has far more influence on the number of intercity trips than distance. They've made that part of a new travel model that is far more accurate than previous models. (Physorg)

Smart growth gets its day: Randal O'Toole and Todd Litman debated the merits of transit and smart growth. Litman, who argued for smart growth, came away from the experience with some advice for fending off critics like O'Toole. (Planetizen)

Raleigh steps backward: Raleigh residents posted some guerrilla wayfinding signs that garnered great acclaim, but were technically illegal, so otherwise supportive officials had to take them down. The city council will consider how to restore them. (Atlantic Cities)

Reauthorization on video: Jay Mallin has created a video about the transportation reauthorization fight, and the clear message from House Republicans: Don't walk, bike or ride transit, just get a car.

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast living in Mount Vernon Square. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin

Comments

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Most of the pro-smart growth arguments stated in the link are weak.

What people really want is bars and restaurants they can walk to. He does make that point in the end.

Smart-growth seems to work well for upper middle class people. Not sure it scales out very well. Nothing wrong with making living in Clarendon aspirational -- with the understanding that a single family house there starts around 800K. But certainly not for everyone.

Using Vancouver as a model for anything looks pretty silly.

by charlie on Feb 28, 2012 9:13 am • linkreport

@charlie

Why does smart growth only work well for upper middle-class people? For decades the poor in our country have been concentrated in dense urban areas because it's cheaper to live there than in sprawl.

by MLD on Feb 28, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

@Charlie

Most if the world's poor live in"smart growth" areas as walking is their primary means of transportation. More than bars and restaurants, people want to be able to walk to jobs.

by Falls Church on Feb 28, 2012 9:26 am • linkreport

@MLD, falls church; and that is exactly why people don't want density.

by charlie on Feb 28, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

What people really want is bars and restaurants they can walk to. He does make that point in the end.

So, by extension, they want density.

Manhattan has lots of bars and restaurants you can walk to, too.

Smart-growth seems to work well for upper middle class people. Not sure it scales out very well. Nothing wrong with making living in Clarendon aspirational -- with the understanding that a single family house there starts around 800K. But certainly not for everyone.

Not sure why you take the above point and then conclude that the answer is to try to cram more people into Clarendon. Rather, the answer is to build more Clarendons.

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

RE: McDonnell wanting two terms - IMHO, that would be a bad idea for Virginia and one that I'm surprised more states haven't adopted. He says: "The problem is, there's a lack of continuity. After two years in office, I've already got people in the press worried about the next chase, the next election." Yes, that's true. But they would still be worried about the next election even if the incumbent was running. And we (well, Virginia) would be consumed with a year or two of nothing happening due to that election. I would think someone like McDonnell - someone who (G-d help us) is being vetted as a possible VP - would be able to look past the distraction of a primary race (not even the general race yet) and still govern. I guess that's asking a lot.

Also, wasn't it the idea of the Whigs - the group that became the Republicans - that the legislature should control things and the President (or Governor) should be a mere figurehead and rubber-stamper (hence why they chose such strong executive luminaries as William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore)? Or in more modern times, kind of like how the Texas governorship works? (And I don't mean that as a dig or joke.)

Maybe a happy medium would be one six-year term. Though the prospect of possibly giving Bob Cuccinelli (Rick Santorum on super-steroids) six years of power is so utterly scary that I retract that recommendation.

by Shipsa01 on Feb 28, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

@AlexB; I'm not suggesting we cram more people in Clarendon, although Arlington seems intent on it.

There is a limited pool of people who can pay for single family houses near that level of density. That is going to be premium housing -- ones who can walk to bars.

given the hostility people give to bars/restauratns (even in Clarendon, aka american flatbread) I'm not sure there is a way to sqaure that.

After 15+ years of urban living, I don't worry about freedom. Noise, however, is a huge concern. Traffic and congesion is one too.

by charlie on Feb 28, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

Heck even if you take out the high-rises of Clarendon. (rather, took out the metro) it is still be a good pattern for laying out a neighborhood. Having things to walk to shouldn't be a marker of class. O'Toole's general argument is to basically argue that people who like to walk to things are snobs.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

What if VA governors were allowed to run for 2 extra years, or we changed term lengths to allow 2 terms, but shortened the terms to 3 years each?

I'm absolutely no McConnell fan, and Cuccinelli scares the willies out of me.

I kind of see where McDonnell is coming from though; the state seems to suffer from whiplash after every new administration (McConnell's very guilty of contributing to this), though the limits actually seem to keep the residents of the state engaged in state politics, and seem to have been a net positive for the state as a whole.

I'd honestly rather see more states adopt a 1-term limit. I think it's worked very well for Virginia, and Bob McDonnell isn't remotely popular enough to warrant changing the rules on his behalf.

I wonder if we could come up with a compromise that would allow a bit more continuity...maybe we could use some sort of European-style procedure, where the legislature gets to decide when to call an election; if the legislature does nothing, the term automatically expires after 4 years. On the other hand, a large referendum or legislative action could be used to extend or prematurely terminate the term by up to 1 year.

by andrew on Feb 28, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

right now most poor people in the suburbs of this region do NOT live in SFH's on one quarter acre lots - more typically they live in aging low rise apartment complexes. Those complexes are not cheap (for the most part) because there is something magical about low density, but because they are old. When enough new high density housing ages, it will provide housing for the less affluent too (but don't tell the NIMBYISTS that).

High density housing MAY not be suitable for families with children, regardless of income level (I would dispute that, but thats a question of taste, and really not an urgent one to fight out) at this point there is so much demand from those who dont have children of an age to need a lawn, for high density, that it really doesnt matter much to demand.

We probably will never be able to provide moderately prices SFH's within 1/4 mile of heavy rail stations. But that neednt be the goal - instead we can have suburbs that are still heavily auto dependent, but have either walkable village centers, transit access via park and ride to job centers, or, preferably, both - many older suburbs in greater NY, Boston, chicago, already are built like that. Similarly we can do more with light rail, BRT, etc, to bring transit access to semi dense areas. Also by providing, not hi rises, but THs and SFHs on smaller lots with relatively good transit access, we can give more people uninterested in hirise living a somewhat more TOD like experience

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

@Charlie

There is a limited pool of people who can pay for single family houses near that level of density.

Sure, but of course those single family homes don't make Clarendon work - the apartments and condos do. They provide the density.

You can't keep insisting that you get density within walking distance of SFHs, and then claim that the SFHs are overpriced or elitist or whatever. Or that no one actually wants that density (unless you're Yogi Berra - nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded).

How about letting the market build the density that the prices clearly indicate there is support for?

Say there were no SFHs around Clarendon, but instead there were nothing but 3-4 story walk-up apartments. Big change, huh?

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

Clearly GGW has far too many people who are living in or otherwise fixated on Clarendon. perhaps, it's a generational thing, as there are any number of older walkable areas that are quite multi-functional, including many DC neighborhoods, Takoma Park, downtown Bethesda, etc. generally, these (as well as Clarendon) were built at streetcar influenced densities, with initial development between the World Wars. neighborhoods that are relatively affluent now like Adams-Morgan weren't so well off 20 years ago, but still had supermarkets, hardware stores, etc., as well as the bars.

by Rich on Feb 28, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

Virginia is hobbled by the term limit. What McDonnell doesn't say is that it favors conservatives, because of the make up of the legislature. The Dem governors in recent times have been center-right to centrist and the state has not had a figure who could move the political discussion in a different direction. Virginia is increasing fractured politically by geography, but will never really be a purple state, let a lone a blue one (despite what journos living there claim) until it is more able to have real debates about policy.

by Rich on Feb 28, 2012 10:04 am • linkreport

@Rich
I think it's just that there are far too many Clarendonians who get up early enough or who have enough time at work to comment on a links post.

by OctaviusIII on Feb 28, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

"neighborhoods that are relatively affluent now like Adams-Morgan weren't so well off 20 years ago, but still had supermarkets, hardware stores, etc., as well as the bars. "

the issue, I think, is that the demand has increased so much (due to general growth in the region, due to fuelcost/congestion and due to changed preferences) that hirises, esp new ones, are equated to luxury and affluence. The good thing is that makes TOD with hirises irrestible to jurisdictions in search of revenue - the bad thing is that it makes such development appear the enemy of affordable housing. The "nimbyists" (for want of a better word) will seize on either outcome - "densification means yuppification, where will the poor people go, its destroying our diversity, we will get another clarendon" OR "densification means blight and crime, you are going to make our livable auto oriented suburb like the south bronx" so while eventually hirises will be more affordable, as they are A. less scarce and B. older that may not make the job of persuasion easier

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

I get Litman's take on the benefits of smart growth as a policy. But in practice, I don't think most people would consider the lack of traffic accidents as a convincing argument as to why they should choose smart growth communities.

ThomasGate: Well at least they can't blame this one on Brown nor Gray...

by HogWash on Feb 28, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

Actually its a testament to our auto-dominated society that we find it acceptable that a given percentage of people (many of them teenagers) are due to die every year due to automobile collisions.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

Every VA governor laments the 1 term. Kaine and Warner wanted to get rid of it too. I think the problem has been that the VAGov cycle ends the year after a Presidential Election, kinda leaving the incumbent in the cold politically. The system does seem to lend the governor to seek the next practical office which is US Senator (see Allen, Warner, Kaine). I guess the question is the motivation behind the 2 term push; is it better governance or enhance their political profile.

by RJ on Feb 28, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

@HogWash

But in practice, I don't think most people would consider the lack of traffic accidents as a convincing argument as to why they should choose smart growth communities.

Makes sense to me. Lots of parents claim you "can't raise kids in the city" because they're afraid their child will be shot in some sort of crack deal gone wrong. Meanwhile per the CDC "car and other transportation-related accidents are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S."

If you're concerned about the safety of your kids, and are risk-averse, you should raise them in walkable "smart growth" communities.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

Hey, that article doesn't say a thing about gorillas walking in Raleigh. Boy, was I disappointed.

by ksu499 on Feb 28, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

@Oboe, a lot of things make sense. But that doesn't change the fact that suggesting if you live in sprawl, you're more likely to be involved in a traffic accident" is not a convincing argument for most people.

by HogWash on Feb 28, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

And why not? I'm of the opinion that it probably should. It shouldn't be so normal to accept the degree of loss of life from automobiles that we do. Governments have made strides in improving this (teens get liscenses later, better DUI laws) but eventually there needs to be a nationwide discussion on why we drive so much that focuses on issues other than gas prices.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

@Hogwash-Maybe we should talk about it more then? I hear more about Diabetes and Alzheimer's than I hear about car accidents yet accidents kill far more. Maybe it's time to treat it like the public health crisis it is? I get where you're coming from, I do, I just don't accept it should be that way moving forward.

by thump on Feb 28, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

@Oboe, a lot of things make sense. But that doesn't change the fact that suggesting if you live in sprawl, you're more likely to be involved in a traffic accident" is not a convincing argument for most people.

Sure, but as @thump says, that's a function of what we talk about as a people. "If you live in the city, you're child is more likely to be shot by some scary marginal character" is hugely influential (if you wonder why, watch your local news affiliates), and people don't think twice about the very real dangers of driving your kids around for hours a day at 40-50 mph--and by dangers, both the danger of accidental collision and the danger of growing slowly obese through the sedentary lifestyle.

And, given the fact that a middle-class return to US cities is an accelerating nationwide phenomenon, I think many people are starting to find that argument compelling.

Anyway, even if "fear of accidents" doesn't find as firm a purchase on our collective imagination as "fear of stranger abduction" or "fear of random shooting", it only takes small shifts around the margins to precipitate larger cultural shifts.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

a lot of things make sense. But that doesn't change the fact that suggesting if you live in sprawl, you're more likely to be involved in a traffic accident" is not a convincing argument for most people.

It's kind of like how all the statistics showing that flying is safer than driving don't make an ounce of difference to someone with a fear of flying. People feel like they're in control when they're driving and (wrongly) believe they are better than average drivers who can avoid a crash. The feeling is that crime is a lot more random and scary.

by Falls Church on Feb 28, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

@Falls Church: People feel like they're in control when they're driving... The feeling is that crime is a lot more random and scary.

It may not be popular to say in these quarters, but encouraging people to be trained in the safe usage and storage of firearms and then to carry those weapons for self-defense can be an effective antidote to the feelings about crime that you (accurately) describe.

by Arl Fan on Feb 28, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

It may not be popular to say in these quarters, but encouraging people to be trained in the safe usage and storage of firearms and then to carry those weapons for self-defense can be an effective antidote to the feelings about crime that you (accurately) describe.

Without a doubt. Of course, whether that's effective at all is an open question. Perhaps in response to fears of traffic accidents we could issue everyone a NASCAR replica team jacket and gloves.

That should put to rest any fear that one might get in a serious crash.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

@Canaan, look at it this way, we are nation of meat eaters. Study after study has shown that going vegeterian/vegan is waaaaaay much healthier. But we're still a nation of meat eaters.

Sure, we can talk ad naseum about the fact that we should all move toward a more vegeterian diet. But we'll still be a nation of meat eaters.

Cars kill more in the suburbs just will likely never be a convincing argument since people will still continue to prefer "sprawl."

by HogWash on Feb 28, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

Perhaps in response to fears of traffic accidents we could issue everyone a NASCAR replica team jacket and gloves. That should put to rest any fear that one might get in a serious crash.

You apparently missed SportsCenter this morning.

by dcd on Feb 28, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

right now most poor people in the suburbs of this region do NOT live in SFH's on one quarter acre lots - more typically they live in aging low rise apartment complexes. Those complexes are not cheap (for the most part) because there is something magical about low density, but because they are old. When enough new high density housing ages, it will provide housing for the less affluent too (but don't tell the NIMBYISTS that).

Low-density housing tends to be cheaper than high-density housing because land costs are lower (lower-density = fewer people competing for each square foot) and because construction costs are lower. In addition, high-density housing is associated with mixed-use development, where housing is mixed in with commercial businesses. This further increases the price of housing, since homeowners have to compete for land with commercial businesses that can generally afford to pay more.

We probably will never be able to provide moderately prices SFH's within 1/4 mile of heavy rail stations. But that neednt be the goal - instead we can have suburbs that are still heavily auto dependent, but have either walkable village centers, transit access via park and ride to job centers, or, preferably, both - many older suburbs in greater NY, Boston, chicago, already are built like that.

People don't want that kind of suburb. "Walkable village centers" have been replaced with malls and big box stores. And the old model of suburb-to-inner-city commuting is increasingly giving way to subub-to-suburb and intra-suburb commutes as jobs increasingly migrate to the suburbs along with people.

And, given the fact that a middle-class return to US cities is an accelerating nationwide phenomenon

No it isn't. Suburbs continue to grow faster than cities. Domestic migrants continue to migrate from cities to suburbs. What's been sustaining cities is immigration. Cities are magnets for new immigrants.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

How about letting the market build the density that the prices clearly indicate there is support for?

No, because high density has negative externalities -- congestion, crowding, noise, pollution, loss of privacy, etc. These costs are imposed on the entire community, not just the parties involved in a particular market transaction. Hence the need to limit density through regulation.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

Hilarious how--pollution aside--all of @Bertie's "negative externalities" are essentially neutral features which culturally determined to be positive or negative.

Here's where he responds, "It may be a cultural preference, but everyone in America *prefers* sprawl! That's what they choose!"

It's like a question-begging merry-go-round!

As far as pollution goes, he's mistaking total pollution generated--which is greater in the sprawl-zone--with concentration of pollution. But even that isn't accurate: there's some research that suburbs tend to have as high, or even higher a concentration of pollution than the cities. http://www.nature.com/news/1998/030707/full/news030707-6.html

Finally, if pollution is a negative externality, the solution to that would be to enact policies that encourage modes within the city that favor folks who live in the city, and discourage modes within the city that favor folks who live outside of the city. Subsidize buses, car-share, bike-share, reduce car lanes, reduce available parking and tax it at a higher rate, charge much more for municipal parking, levy stealth commuter taxes like automated speed camera enforcement, etc, etc,...

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

No it isn't. Suburbs continue to grow faster than cities. Domestic migrants continue to migrate from cities to suburbs. What's been sustaining cities is immigration. Cities are magnets for new immigrants.

You hear this a lot, and it's actually quite comical if you unpack it even a little. "X is undesirable because most people choose Not X" may make a kind of sense if X is Coke, and Not X is Pepsi.

If X is "cities" (or "beach property" or "picturesque mountain towns in Colorado") it kind of comes apart.

Yes, more people move to "the suburbs" than "the city" but that's because, as far as available housing units "the city" is one particular neighborhood in a large metropolitan area. So it's the equivalent of saying that Montgomery County is more desirable than Falls Church because more people move to Montgomery County every year than Falls Church.

Heck more people move to Ward 8 every year than move into the Kennedy-Warren.

Respect The People's Preferences!

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

The suburbs vs cities growth things is based on jurisdictional definitions, not built form.

Auto centric suburbs continue to grow. Reinvented suburbs are growing MUCH faster (from a smaller base). Downtown and similar convenient walkable neighborhoods are growing like gangbusters. Most OTHER neighborhoods in central city jurisdictions - both auto centric ones within city limits, and some more walkable ones in less accessible, often still high crime areas, are declining - in some areas rapidly.

In our region, North Arlington is undoubtedly growing faster than Deanwood. That would count as "suburbs growing faster than cities" which shows the issues with that factoid.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

I was going to say walk AWITC said but he beat me to it thus saving me from repeating myself already today.

by Canaan on Feb 28, 2012 1:12 pm • linkreport

"People don't want that kind of suburb. "Walkable village centers" have been replaced with malls and big box stores. And the old model of suburb-to-inner-city commuting is increasingly giving way to subub-to-suburb and intra-suburb commutes as jobs increasingly migrate to the suburbs along with people."

yeah, I know of lots of towns that are bull dozing their village centers for malls. Well actually, no, I can't think of any. Instead I can think of malls which are being bulldozed, and attempts from Seattle to Denver to Washington to create new more walkable suburbs, attempts that have been mostly succesful.

Suburb to suburb commuting remains a challenge - to some extent that will always give the single occupant vehicle a role in American life - though there are many other ways to address pieces of that - including carpooling/buses on hot lanes, other forms of BRT, and, in select places, rail transit.

by AWalkerInThe on Feb 28, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

Just to speak to the "cities are polluted" argument:

Urban core:
http://www.stateoftheair.org/2011/states/district-of-columbia/district-of-columbia-11001.html

"Streetcar" suburb:
http://www.stateoftheair.org/2011/states/virginia/arlington-51013.html

Sprawl-zone:
http://www.stateoftheair.org/2011/states/virginia/fairfax-51059.html

If you look at the numbers, Fairfax comes out the worst, then DC, then Arlington. My guess is that places like Brookland or Capitol Hill would have a similar profile to Arlington rather than Fairfax.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

"No, because high density has negative externalities -- congestion, crowding, noise, pollution, loss of privacy, etc"

Loss of privacy only really impacts the adjacent land owner. With good planning involving step down heights, buffers, etc there neednt be much. Theres probably more loss of privacy to SFH's due to McMansions on teardowns than due to urbanist densification.

Perhaps bertie misread the free market question as a call to laissez faire - some here may want that, but its not necessary, nor IMO desirable in order to have market driven densification. Proper zoning to create buffers and step downs and to focus densification in areas that are already commercial or have other compatible uses, mitigation for noise, etc, adding to transpo infrastructure to help address congestion, etc, are all needed, IMO.

I have all sympathy with folks who dont want a 15 story hi rise in the middle of a neighborhood of SFHs. I have less sympathy for people who ignore that that is NOT how densification in this region, or most other regions, is taking place.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Bertie has to be trolling with those responses.

by NikolasM on Feb 28, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

@NikolasM:

I prefer to think of it as playing the "straight-man" in a Socratic dialogue. I've learned a lot about comparative pollution levels in the DC metro area today, and I've been enjoying @AWITC's responses, which I agree with wholeheartedly.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

"Perhaps in response to fears of traffic accidents we could issue everyone a NASCAR replica team jacket and gloves.

That should put to rest any fear that one might get in a serious crash."If it would make people feel safer, I would suggest doing just that for bicyclists. (I'm glad WABA is doing the free, easily-accessible, "how to commute in the city" classes, like the one in Alexandria tomorrow -- but more would be better!)

by Arl Fan on Feb 28, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

Bertie is Randall O'Toole, right?

by MLD on Feb 28, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

Unlikely. I would think that, as a professional researcher and nationally recognized expert on these issues, Mr O'Toole would have a deeper set of arguments. Plus less free time on his hands.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 2:02 pm • linkreport

Mr O'Toole would have a deeper set of arguments.

i don't think there's any evidence of that, unless by "deeper" you mean "better writing". E.g. George Will is an excellent writer but he often ignores evidence and asserts unfounded assumptions as givens. He just does it with very well crafted sentences and paragraphs.

by Tina on Feb 28, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

Hilarious how--pollution aside--all of @Bertie's "negative externalities" are essentially neutral features which culturally determined to be positive or negative.

Good luck persuading people that they shouldn't object to congestion, crowding, noise, pollution, etc. on the grounds that they are "culturally determined."

As far as pollution goes, he's mistaking total pollution generated--which is greater in the sprawl-zone--with concentration of pollution.

No, I'm not mistaking anything. Pollution is measured as the concentration of a contaminant in the environment. Pollution tends to increase with density. That's why New York City has some of the worst air pollution in the country.

Finally, if pollution is a negative externality, the solution to that would be to enact policies that encourage modes within the city that favor folks who live in the city, and discourage modes within the city that favor folks who live outside of the city.

Reducing travel by motor vehicles would certainly reduce pollution from motor vehicles. But it would also impose costs in terms of time, comfort, convenience, etc. That's why the far better and more popular solution is cleaner vehicles and lower density.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

yeah, I know of lots of towns that are bull dozing their village centers for malls. Well actually, no, I can't think of any.

Huh? All over America, for decades, traditional shopping districts ("main street" and the like) have been declining, unable to compete with malls and big box discount retailers like Walmart and Best Buy.

Suburb to suburb commuting remains a challenge - to some extent that will always give the single occupant vehicle a role in American life - though there are many other ways to address pieces of that - including carpooling/buses on hot lanes, other forms of BRT, and, in select places, rail transit.

Transit is hopelessly uncompetitive for suburb-to-suburb and intra-suburb commutes. Rail is far too expensive and buses are far too slow and inconvenient.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

Dude, are you living in 1995?

by NikolasM on Feb 28, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

People don't want that kind of suburb. "Walkable village centers" have been replaced with malls and big box stores.

If only more people would take Bertie's word for this, and go live where Bertie thinks they want to live instead of where they actually do want to live, then maybe I could afford to live in that kind of suburb.

by Miriam on Feb 28, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

If you look at the numbers, Fairfax comes out the worst, then DC, then Arlington

No, it appears that by two of those three measures DC comes out worse than Fairfax. DC has higher 24-hour and annual particle pollution. DC is worse than Loudon by all three measures.

Bertie is Randall O'Toole, right?

No, Bertie is Bertie.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport

Ah, Bertie. Throwing a bunch of unverified garbage against the wall to see what sticks. 1. Your perfect solution (lower density sprawl combined with cleaner cars) is breezy and unrealistic. After all, even if every car in America were electric, by what kind of power plant is the electricity generated? Coal? That's a problem. Also, I'd love to know how McMansions use less energy than apartments or smaller single family homes. 2. Are you sure that mass transit imposes convenience & time costs? Sitting on Metro and enjoying a usually hassle-free trip into work is certainly faster and more convenient than driving would be for me. So don't speak in absolutes when trying to make a conditional argument. For some, driving certainly is more convenient than a bus or train, but that is not universal by any means. 3. You're way off base about total pollution. According to the American Lung Association, Bakersfield, CA leads the nation in year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution (2nd behind L.A. In ozone). Bakersfield is not dense. The competitors for the top spots in these rankings are such dense cities as Visalia, CA, Phoenix, AZ, Fresno, CA, Hanford, CA, and Sacramento, CA. New York is #21 in year round particle pollution and #17 in ozone. So, about your contention that density creates more pollution than suburbia...

by The Heights on Feb 28, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

No, it appears that by two of those three measures DC comes out worse than Fairfax. DC has higher 24-hour and annual particle pollution. DC is worse than Loudon by all three measures.

Of the three metrics listed, Fairfax has the higest number of damaging "High Ozone Days" than DC. Both get "F" grades.

Particle pollution over 24 hours is virtually the same between DC and Fairfax (e.g. both get "passing" grades at 2.3 and 2.7)

Particle pollution annually is virtually the same between DC and Fairfax (i.e. 12.1 in DC versus 11.7 in Fairfax).

Your claim was that concentration of pollution in "the city" is significantly higher than in "the suburbs". Perhaps you have evidence for that claim somewhere, but it's not in the links I provided.

Now, if what you're suggesting is that we should transform the Greater Washington area into Loudon County levels of development, that's another thing entirely. But it would be very difficult to do so. Pol Pot tried and failed spectacularly.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

Pollution tends to increase with density. That's why New York City has some of the worst air pollution in the country.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1985453/most_polluted_cities_not_necessarily_the_largest_cities/

(I bet this kind of argumentative style was much more effective in the pre-Internet era.)

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

Reducing travel by motor vehicles would certainly reduce pollution from motor vehicles. But it would also impose costs in terms of time, comfort, convenience, etc. That's why the far better and more popular solution is cleaner vehicles and lower density.

Nope. Once you're dealing with a substantially non-rural metropolitan area, density doesn't factor in to it. I agree that stricter emissions controls should be mandated by the government, but that will have as much of a positive effect on the urban core as it does on "the suburbs" where everyone is so keen on moving.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

One last thought: we haven't really gotten into the significantly higher per capita emissions. The reason folks like @Bertie are obsessed with concentration of a contaminant is that the sprawling suburbs fail miserably when it comes to total emissions per capita versus dense urban areas.

In other words, the total amount of pollution that is released (and goes on to exacerbate global climate change, leeches into the global water supply, etc, etc...) is significantly higher.

Imagine that my neighbor Ray-Ray and I both had two monster trucks. My truck had a single 2" diameter exhaust pipe; and my neighbors had a dozen 3" diameter exhaust pipes arranged in an intimidating array of chrome. Even if my truck emitted a fraction of the total pollutants as Ray-Ray's, by @Bertie's measure mine would be more "polluting" since the pollution would be more concentrated.

Of course, at the end of the day, that pollution goes into the sky, the water, the soil, etc...

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

"Huh? All over America, for decades, traditional shopping districts ("main street" and the like) have been declining, unable to compete with malls and big box discount retailers like Walmart and Best Buy."

Im not speaking of declining small towns, but suburbs of major cities. In general you will find them doing well - personally i have lately been in a few village centersin Nassau county, and close in Suffolk county NY, and they were doing quite well. My undersanding is that ones greater Boston, Southeast PA near philly, westchester NY, and the suburbs of chicago are as well.

As for malls, they are majory declining. http://deadmalls.com/

"Transit is hopelessly uncompetitive for suburb-to-suburb and intra-suburb commutes. Rail is far too expensive and buses are far too slow and inconvenient"

buses running in HOV/HOT lanes can match the speeds of the cars in those same lanes, and can exceed the speeds of autos in the conventional lanes.

Rail is likely to be a less common mode, but were local infrastructure makes possible a cheaper rail line, it can be used. Our local example is the purple line. Theres also a proposal in chicago.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

Sorry, when I say "total" above, I mean to say "total per capita". And as always, I freely admit I may be looking at this ass-backwards.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

1. Your perfect solution (lower density sprawl combined with cleaner cars) is breezy and unrealistic.

No one said it's "perfect." There is no perfect solution. It's certainly not "unrealistic." What IS unrealistic is the idea that densification or shifting from cars to transit could provide anything more than negligible environmental benefits in the foreseeable future.

After all, even if every car in America were electric, by what kind of power plant is the electricity generated?

Coal, gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar... And, increasingly, local residential and commercial solar installations.

Also, I'd love to know how McMansions use less energy than apartments or smaller single family homes.

McMansions don't necessarily use less energy. You keep responding to statements I didn't make. I'm not advocating "McMansions." I'm explaining why car-based, low-density lifestyles are far more popular than dense urban lifestyles, and are likely to remain so indefinitely into the future.

2. Are you sure that mass transit imposes convenience & time costs?

Yes, of course. The average transit commute takes more than twice as long as the average car commute. For non-commute trips, the time advantage of cars is even greater. Cars provide fast, comfortable, on-demand, door-to-door transportation. Transit doesn't. It'll never be able to compete effectively against cars for the vast majority of trips.

3. You're way off base about total pollution. According to the American Lung Association, Bakersfield, CA leads the nation in year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution (2nd behind L.A. In ozone). Bakersfield is not dense.

The issue is the effect of density on pollution. You can't determine the effect of density on pollution by comparing total pollution, because other factors also influence total pollution, most importantly climate and geography. Bakersfield and other westerm cities tend to have high levels of particulate pollution because they are in arid areas with lots of dust. The point is that their pollution would likely be higher if they were denser. The more people, motor vehicles, appliances, factories, etc. per unit area of land, the higher the level of pollution is likely to be.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

"The average transit commute takes more than twice as long as the average car commute."

That includes suburb to suburb trips on local buses, made almost entirely by captive riders. That does not address either transit times on congested suburb to city routes, nor the potential of bus rapid rapid transit for suburb to suburb commutes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

Bertie,

Disparate and sprawling (not dense) cities such as Houston, TX, Detroit, MI, Cincinnati, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, Birmingham, AL, Louisville, KY, Steubenville, OH, and massively dense Wheeling, WV all have more polluted air, in terms of year round particle pollution (as per the American Lung Association). Hagerstown, MD comes in one spot above New York as well. Hagerstown! We can all agree that The New York metro area (which is what is measured) dwarfs all of these cities in population and density (probably bigger than all of them combined). Additionally, they represent varying environments and climates. So, how do you explain that all of these cities have dirtier air than massively dense New York City?

Shifting from cars to transit provides a "negligible" environmental benefit? What data supports that? After all a full Metro train (8 cars) would take scores of cars off the road. How could that not reduce pollution?

From what source have you derived the statement that the average transit commute takes more than twice as long as the average car-based commute? Is that measuring commutes of the same distance?

Please elaborate on your claims.

by The Heights on Feb 28, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

Of the three metrics listed, Fairfax has the higest number of damaging "High Ozone Days" than DC. Both get "F" grades.

But Fairfax has lower 24-hour and annual particulate pollution. And Loudon is lower than both Fairfax and DC.

Now, if what you're suggesting is that we should transform the Greater Washington area into Loudon County levels of development, that's another thing entirely.

I'm not suggesting we should transform anything. I think that the long-standing trend of increasing sprawl and suburbanization is likely to continue and that low-density, car-oriented forms of urban development will be even more dominant in the future than they are now. As cars become even more affordable and even more sophisticated, it becomes increasingly difficult for mass transit to compete. And when self-driving cars become widely available, I think virtually all mass transit will disappear.

I bet this kind of argumentative style was much more effective in the pre-Internet era.

From the Wikipedia entry on environmental issues in New York City:

According to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment study[25], residents of New York County, NY (Manhattan), have the third highest cancer risk (per million) caused by airborne chemicals of all counties in the United States

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

I think that the long-standing trend of increasing sprawl and suburbanization is likely to continue

Actually, the trend is towards urbanization. As people move to the suburbs (which as AWalkerInTheCity pointed out, is a jurisdictional label, not a description of the built environment) the suburbs are getting denser and more urban. Case in point is Tysons Corner, White Flint, Rockville, etc, etc...

Again, the suburbs are becoming denser and more urban because that's what happens to neighborhoods where large numbers of people move to.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

But Fairfax has lower 24-hour and annual particulate pollution. And Loudon is lower than both Fairfax and DC.

But the difference was negligible. Certainly less striking than the difference in the number of "High Ozone Days"

And Loudon is a rural enclave of the wealthy, so it's not comparable. Unless you're planning on killing off a large portion of the population and sending them out to work the fields.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

@oboe

much as i tend to agree with you, Loudoun in fact has lots of townhouses in the 300k to 400k range, and indeed older ths under 300k. were it not for its dulles driven concentrations of tech employment (on commercial properties that pay property tax but do not directly send kids to school) and its vacant land on which new (and hence more expensive) houses can be built, it would be a good candidate for your proposed suburban death spiral meme.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

That includes suburb to suburb trips on local buses, made almost entirely by captive riders. That does not address either transit times on congested suburb to city routes, nor the potential of bus rapid rapid transit for suburb to suburb commutes.

It's the average for all commutes. Transit makes even less sense for suburb-to-suburb commutes because people and workplaces are more dispersed. BRT, like rail transit, works best where lots of workers are converging on a small geographical area, typically a central business district. Suburb-to-suburb commuting isn't like that. It's lots of dispersed people traveling to lots of dispersed workplaces.

Additionally, they represent varying environments and climates. So, how do you explain that all of these cities have dirtier air than massively dense New York City?

Your source compares only particulate air pollution, not all air pollution, so I see no basis for your claim that those cities have "dirtier air." See my last comment citing Manhattan's airborne chemical pollution (third worst in the nation for cancer risk). As for particulates, the cities you list may have high particulate pollution because of local heavy industry or natural environmental conditions. Again, the issue here is the effect of density on pollution.

Shifting from cars to transit provides a "negligible" environmental benefit? What data supports that? After all a full Metro train (8 cars) would take scores of cars off the road. How could that not reduce pollution?

Mass transit accounts for a little more than 1% of total passenger-miles of motorized transportation in the U.S. So even a doubling or tripling of transit's share of the market would be only a tiny shift in overall travel patterns. The potential reduction in emissions would be negligible, even if transit were much cleaner per passenger-mile than automobiles.

From what source have you derived the statement that the average transit commute takes more than twice as long as the average car-based commute? Is that measuring commutes of the same distance?

The National Household Travel Survey. Average commute times and distances, 2009:

Private vehicle (auto or motorcycle): 23 minutes, 12 miles
Public transit: 53 minutes, 10 miles

That's an extra hour per day, on average, that transit commuters spend getting to and from work. An extra 5 hours a week. An extra 250 hours a year. Little wonder that transit is so unpopular. And it's even slower outside commuting hours, when buses and trains tend to run even less frequently.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

Actually, the trend is towards urbanization.

Your wording is confused. Yes, the trend is towards urbanization (urban vs. rural). But within urbanized areas, the trend is towards suburban, low-density, car-oriented urban forms. Not high-density, walkable or transit-oriented urban forms. The latest census confirms that suburbs, especially outer, low-density suburbs, had much higher rates of population growth than cities. And cities would be doing even worse were it not for immigration. Between 2000 and 2010, New York City lost more than a million domestic migrants. The only reason its population increased was because of immigration and the birth of children to recent immigrants.

Again, the suburbs are becoming denser and more urban because that's what happens to neighborhoods where large numbers of people move to.

Suburbs are becoming denser, but except in small, isolated pockets, not remotely dense enough to be "walkable" or to support extensive transit systems. To be "walkable" you need population densities in excess of 10,000 people per square mile. Only a tiny fraction of suburban areas are even close to that. The average suburban density is less than 1,000 people per square mile.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

Little wonder that transit is so unpopular. And it's even slower outside commuting hours, when buses and trains tend to run even less frequently.

Little wonder indeed that few people use transit to go from here to there, when it doesn't go from here to there.

by Miriam on Feb 28, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

The latest census confirms that suburbs, especially outer, low-density suburbs, had much higher rates of population growth than cities.

Strange, maybe I'm being provincial, but I'm not sure I understand how you get extremely high population growth in suburbs without resulting in more dense populations. Perhaps in areas like exurban Los Vegas, or Phoenix, or the like. But growth in those areas has largely stalled--largely because the economy seemed to consist almost entirely of residents selling houses to one another at inflated prices.

In any case, a link to "the latest census" confirming this would be an interesting addition to the debate.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 5:54 pm • linkreport

"See my last comment citing Manhattan's airborne chemical pollution (third worst in the nation for cancer risk). As for particulates, the cities you list may have high particulate pollution because of local heavy industry or natural environmental conditions. Again, the issue here is the effect of density on pollution."

Bertie, according to you, density breeds pollution. So wouldn't New York have the highest cancer causing particulates in the air if density were the cause? Who has the first and second highest totals? Alternatively, I could just adopt your dodge that environmental factors, not density, are the cause. After all, you still have not shown why Hagerstown, MD, not a center of heavy industry, has higher year round particulate total than NYC. According to your uncertified theory, New York should have exponentially more particulates in the air than Hagerstown.

Also, saying that transit is a small part of the transportation network so changes would be negligible is neat but circular reasoning. After all, if you created more transit options, the only limit to the gains you could make in cleaner air would be the number of cars coming off the road. If transit (buses or trains) served more areas, then the gains would expand. By your logic, cars were a "loser" technology when they were invented because there weren't enough good roads for them to drive on. Therefore, putting people in cars would have had a negligible effect on transportation. Instead, we builtmore roads, which expanded the car's usefulness. A similar situation exists for transit in urban areas.

by The Heights on Feb 28, 2012 5:59 pm • linkreport

As for malls, they are majory declining. http://deadmalls.com/

No, they're just changing. Older, enclosed malls have been closing in some places, but new types of mall are appearing to take their place. There are lots of new overgrown strip malls, which typically have a large "anchor store," like Walmart or Target, plus a bunch of smaller chain stores and restaurants. Another big trend is the open-air "lifestyle center" or "power center" mall that combines lots of shopping, restaurant and entertainment facilities in one location. These are sometimes designed to mimic the layout of traditional downtown or small town shopping districts, with faux "streets," "sidewalks" and "plazas." But they're still malls. People still access them primarily by car. They still have giant parking lots. They still don't have much, if any, adjacent housing.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 6:07 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand how you get extremely high population growth in suburbs without resulting in more dense populations.

By building on previously undeveloped land, of course. Most of our major metropolitan areas have vast areas of adjacent undeveloped land that suburbs and exurbs can expand into. Only 3% of the land area of the United States is urbanized at all. The rest is still rural. But I already said that suburbs ARE getting denser. Just not nearly dense enough to be walkable or transit-oriented.

Perhaps in areas like exurban Los Vegas, or Phoenix, or the like. But growth in those areas has largely stalled--largely because the economy seemed to consist almost entirely of residents selling houses to one another at inflated prices.

Yes, growth in those areas stalled in the wake of the housing crash, but they had been growing dramatically before then and will likely resume that growth as the housing market and economy recovers. U.S. population growth is still dominated by the low-density, car-oriented metro areas of the south and west.

In any case, a link to "the latest census" confirming this would be an interesting addition to the debate.

http://www.newgeography.com/content/002070-the-still-elusive-return-city

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 6:32 pm • linkreport

After all, if you created more transit options, the only limit to the gains you could make in cleaner air would be the number of cars coming off the road. If transit (buses or trains) served more areas, then the gains would expand.

You don't seem to grasp just how enormous the shift to transit would need to be in order to produce even a small environmental benefit. What plausible actions are you proposing to achieve a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by, say, the middle of the century through a shift from automobiles to buses and trains? Where's the demand for this enormous expansion of transit? Where's the money going to come from for all the new buses and trains and stations and railtrack? Transit agencies struggle just to get enough money to keep their existing services running and hold on to their existing ridership. You'd need to increase ridership by an order of magnitude just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a few percentage points. It's just not going to happen. The only way to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation is through cleaner automobiles (and perhaps cleaner airplanes).

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 7:21 pm • linkreport

Yes, growth in those areas stalled in the wake of the housing crash, but they had been growing dramatically before then and will likely resume that growth as the housing market and economy recovers.

The only way that's happening is if the disastrous housing bubble can be re-inflated.

In any case, a link to "the latest census" confirming [that the growth has been in outer, low-density suburbs] would be an interesting addition to the debate.
http://www.newgeography.com/content/002070-the-still-elusive-return-city

But the link shows nothing of the sort. It's a breakdown of relatively tiny and already densely populated "urban cores" versus "the suburbs"--which is as large as you want to make it. As several people pointed out upthread, that's a facile comparison.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 8:18 pm • linkreport

One last thing about urban population growth: as cities gentrify, large families tend to be replaced by small families and singletons.

The interesting thing about the city of Chicago is that, like most of the successful urban areas that folks actually want to live in (think DC rather than Detroit) the population decrease has gone hand in hand with a sharp increase in median household income.

Of the municipalities with population decline between 2000 and 2009, 37 of them experienced higher MHI growth than the region experienced. Although the population of these municipalities has been declining, their residents -- which account for 13.3 percent of the municipalities in the region -- may be better off economically than in 2000. All but five of these 37 municipalities are within 20 miles of Chicago, and 28 of them, including the City of Chicago, are located in Cook County. Despite a 2.5 percent drop in Chicago’s population since 2000, the city has seen its MHI grow 21.1 percent since 2000. The following map illustrates how population and MHI patterns changed in the region between 2000 and 2009.
(http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/policy-updates/-/blogs/shifts-in-population-and-household-income-in-metropolitan-chicago)

The only way this trend makes sense is if larger, poorer households are moving out to the suburbs ("More people!") whereas smaller, wealthier households are moving into the city ("Shrinking population!").

In any case, looking at pure population growth as some sort of "scoreboard" that shows "what people want" is not particularly effective. Median household income is a good barometer of "what people want absent economic restraints", and shrinking population is just a sign that we need to provide more of it.

by oboe on Feb 28, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

The only way that's happening is if the disastrous housing bubble can be re-inflated.

Huh? The housing bubble caused a rapid growth in housing prices in those cities between the late 90s and the mid-00s. But their economies and populations had been growing rapidly long before that.

But the link shows nothing of the sort. It's a breakdown of relatively tiny and already densely populated "urban cores" versus "the suburbs"--which is as large as you want to make it.

I wrote "suburbs, especially outer, low-density suburbs, had much higher rates of population growth than cities". I'm not sure why you think the link does not support this. What the link refers to as the "core municipality" is in all or most cases exactly the same thing as the "city." And as you can see, in every case the suburbs grew more than the city, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage.

In the Washington DC area, for example, the suburbs added twenty times as many people as the core municipality (the District of Columbia), and the suburbs grew at three times the rate of the core municipality. The population distribution shifted massively in favor of the suburbs.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 8:51 pm • linkreport

The only way this trend makes sense is if larger, poorer households are moving out to the suburbs ("More people!") whereas smaller, wealthier households are moving into the city ("Shrinking population!").

No, it doesn't mean that "wealthier households are moving into the city" at all. The city lost 200,000 people. All that is necessary for the MHI to increase is for more poor households to leave than rich ones. Undoubtedly, *some* wealthy people have moved into Chicago over the past 10 years, but whether they outnumber wealthy people who have left Chicago is an open question. What we do know is that the city overall lost 200,000 people, while the suburbs gained over half a million people. That's not a good outcome for proponents of dense urbanism, walkability or mass transit.

In any case, looking at pure population growth as some sort of "scoreboard" that shows "what people want" is not particularly effective. Median household income is a good barometer of "what people want absent economic restraints", and shrinking population is just a sign that we need to provide more of it.

Another conclusion that simply doesn't follow from the premise. Beverly Hills is full of rich people. That doesn't mean we should provide more cities like Beverly Hills. We can't afford to do that. Some rich people like to live in (or, at least, to maintain a residence in) dense cities. That doesn't mean we should build more dense cities.

by Bertie on Feb 28, 2012 9:14 pm • linkreport

1. How is it that charlie is always the first person to respond?

2. The proposal to allow for two terms for the VA governor doesn't go far enough. The correct response is to remove term limits all together. Elected officials is the only situation I can think of where people wish they had fewer choices. We have term limits, they're called elections.

3. Not to get into the whole 3-week long, fight to the death battle with Bertie, but one problem with this claim:

"Mass transit accounts for a little more than 1% of total passenger-miles of motorized transportation in the U.S. So even a doubling or tripling of transit's share of the market would be only a tiny shift in overall travel patterns."

Is that it is not a 1 to 1 transfer. Getting a person to use a mile of transit does not equal a 1 mile reduction in car use. It is more like saying that nuclear fuel makes up a very small amount of our power input by mass, and so nuclear is a very small amount of our total power generation.

Transit can give a bigger bang for the buck. Suburbanites who drive 30 miles a day balloon the stats compared to urban residents who use 7 miles of transit and walk 2 miles. Doubling transit use, will result in an even larger decrease in driving and an increase in walking and biking. That's where it makes its difference.

London, btw, is coming out with driverless trains, so soon transit will becoming cheaper.

by David C on Mar 1, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

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