"No more cars" vs. "not more cars"
Advocates for more walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented places often face criticism that we "hate cars." Gary Imhoff assumes that "nothing makes [me] angrier than automobiles." And on yesterday's thread about "green" companies giving away gas and parking, Fritz wrote, "The majority of residents of the DC Metro Area aren't like you. It's perhaps the greatest weakness among the anti-car brigades on this website: the near impossibility of recognizing that not everyone wants to walk or bike as their main mode of transportation."
These responses rest on a logical fallacy. I've advocated for new development to minimize auto dependence. But many take that to mean that everyone ought to travel by train, bus, bike or foot. However, new living patterns need not resemble existing living patterns. New residents won't necessarily interact with communities in the exact same way as existing residents. We don't need to get rid of cars. What we need is to avoid adding many new cars.
Call it "low-traffic growth." Our population is growing, and our region will inevitably grow. The question facing leaders and planners is how and where that growth should take place. In the absence of infill and transit expansion, that growth will happen in Fauquier and Frederick Counties, in West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and southern Maryland. If people live there, they'll have to drive long distances, which means they will contribute more cars and more traffic.
Or, most new housing could add infill development to areas close to jobs and to transit. We could bring in new residents who don't commute by driving. That will enable the region to have more people, more jobs, and more revenue without more traffic. In DC, Arlington, Alexandria, southern Montgomery County, and other fully built-out areas, there just isn't room for more roads. We can either grow without adding traffic, as Arlington has so successfully done on the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, or see our roadways grow more and more gridlocked, lowering the appeal of jobs in our region.
We are in the middle of a paradigm shift in the design of our communities. The sprawl model of development that predominated for sixty years isn't sustainable and, more importantly, no longer what the market wants. Prices in established walkable neighborhoods are sky-high while nearby walkable neighborhoods are gentrifying rapidly. We have enough single-family homes for the next 20 years; in fact, nationwide, analysts predict we'll have 22 million too many.
There's nothing evil about wanting to live in a house with a yard and a picket fence. Some government policies may unfairly subsidize that form of living with cheap infrastructure, but it's still a totally valid way to live. It's just that there are lots of those houses. Meanwhile, there aren't enough condos and row houses in walkable neighborhoods. Many families want to live in them, but can't. But even without the families, there isn't enough supply.
Between empty nesters living longer and young people waiting longer to have children, the proportion of childless households is rising rapidly. As Christopher Leinberger explains, 50% of households had children in 1950, but only 33% do today. And in the next 20 years, only 12% of the additional households will have children. While there are 22 million too many "large lot" houses for 2025, there are 56 million too few "small lot" and attached (row house and apartment) dwellings for expected demand. If we spent the next generation building nothing but walkable urban development, there would still not be enough of it.
Sure, many singles in studio apartments will get married and move into two-bedroom condos, then have kids and move into single-family detached houses. But empty nesters will move out of houses and into apartments at an equivalent rate to the parents moving in, and new college grads will move here faster than couples with children will go to suburbs. Plus, many of the parents will stay in their walkable communities and raise their families there.
When Fritz wrote, "The majority of residents of the DC metro area aren't like you," he's missing the point. The majority of existing residents do drive to work. That doesn't mean the majority of new residents must as well. When Imhoff writes that "Bicycling and long-distance walks are the preferences of small minorities" to justify car-centric public policy in new development, he's making two unspoken assumptions. First, he's assuming that just because bicycling represents a small percentage of mode share today means that it always will. It's growing extremely rapidly. Second, he assumes that new residents will inevitably live the way he does, and so if he prefers to drive, so will they. But we already know, from the demographic data, that the relative proportions of people who move to the DC area in the next twenty years won't resemble those who moved here in the last twenty or the twenty before that.
Tom Coumaris recently suggested the phrase "no more cars," which I misinterpreted at first to mean "get rid of cars," but which he meant as "no additional cars." In effect, what advocates for livable and walkable communities want is "not more cars"
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