Posts about Sprawl
Google's global 1984-2012 satellite timelapse shows remarkable growth in Northern Virginia. Take a look.
The most striking change is vast land development in Loudoun County, but that's not the only visible growth. You can also see expansion of Tysons Corner (lower right), construction of the Dulles Greenway toll road, the airport's new western runway, and at the very end, construction of the Beltway HOT lanes.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Prince George's County has diverged from its smart growth goals, says the county Planning Board in a searing assessment. The board says residents have a choice: push for more transit-oriented development and walkable communities, or "be resigned to business as usual."
The board released a policy paper called How and Where We Grow as part of an update of the county's 20-year plan for growth and development. It offers aggressive proposals to tame sprawling, scattered development and focus public resources at Metro stations and priority urban centers.
While official plans and rhetoric say transit-oriented development is important, land use trends show a different story on the ground. The county must recommit to managing its growth in a sustainable way by preserving open space and focusing development around Metro stations, says the board. Otherwise, the county will remain a place known for bedroom communities, underutilized Metro stations, and weak job growth.
Members of the public can offer their input on the county's future at a day-long town meeting next month.
Prince George's is at a crossroads
"Prince George's County is at a crossroads," the Planning Board states. "Will we choose bold action or business as usual?"
The document recounts how the 2002 General Plan vision for growth and land use fell short of its original goals over the years. Without commitment to a new direction, the county can expect more spread out development, continued failure to capitalize on the promise of transit-oriented development, and lagging investment to spark revitalization of communities inside the Beltway.
Between 2002 and 2010, residential growth in the county departed from the General Plan by spreading out into over 6,400 acres of the "Developing Tier," a rapidly suburbanizing area outside the Beltway. The lion's share of the county's development occurred there, including 73% of residential and 60% of commercial growth.
In the "Developed Tier," inside the Beltway, growth lagged. It fell short of goals by capturing 25% rather the hoped-for 33% goal. However, what was built there consumed just 5% of the county's land area.
Development in the pipeline, which has been approved but not yet built, promises more of the same. More than 79% of residential units in the development pipeline are single-family detached houses in the Developing Tier. Yet according to the Planning Board, demand forecasts show that more than 60% of the new housing units to be built should be multifamily units located in walkable communities at transit-accessible locations.
All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.
How and Where We Grow points to the costs of these growth patterns: spread-out development at densities that are difficult to support with quality transit or retail services, long commutes, and a future as a bedroom community to the region. Over the past 40 years, a third of the county's open space, agricultural, and forested land were converted to low-density residential development. The loss of open space has fragmented natural areas and undermined the agricultural economy.
Furthermore, the board notes that the county has attracted the fewest number of new residents of an area jurisdiction from 2000 to 2010. "Without recalibration of county priorities and policies that promote TOD [transit-oriented development] and high-quality, mixed-use development," the paper says, "it is likely that the county will be at a continued disadvantage to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide."
The county needs a unified vision
The board notes that the structure of county government undermines unity and fosters internal competition through the lack of at-large council members on the county council. "While the County Executive can focus and coordinate resources, the nine different Council members, oftentimes with nine different priorities, it is difficult to agree upon a single vision for the county," says the paper. "In practice this means that public dollars get spread across the county, instead of being concentrated in a few places to make a truly significant impact."
A "clear mismatch in stated goals and actual infrastructure investment" emerges when assessing the county's transportation spending priorities, the board finds. There's also far more commercial and mixed-use zoning than the market can support. The paper notes that the county's weak commercial tax base makes it a challenge to compete for employers or have the financial resources to address community needs, like crime and poor schools.
Given these tough observations, the planners put forth a realistic agenda for the future with this set of specific recommendations aimed at leveraging existing infrastructure:
- Define density targets and growth goals for the tiers to shift the focus of development to the centers and the Developed Tier.
- Make a stronger commitment by targeting new growth to the Developed Tier and increase the growth objectives for the tier.
- Locate the new hospital center and key government functions at a transit-oriented development location.
- Reduce the backlog pipeline development (which can linger for decades). Prioritize and phase development by requiring bonding for infrastructure improvements. Also use the water and sewer process to more aggressively discourage greenfield development.
- Prioritize and fast track building permits in targeted areas (County Council is currently advancing a bill to do this).
- Revise surcharge fees for schools and public safety, encourage development in the Centers and Developed Tier by reducing fees, and phase growth in the Developing Tier through fee increases.
- Adopt new zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. Ensure they are supportive of the General Plan goals, including encouraging transit-oriented development.
The planning board's honest, stern assessment of the county's challenges and practical list of reforms offer the chance for Prince George's County to change its ways. County leadership has shown some appetite for meaningful reforms. At the request of the county council and executive, the state delegation enabled the county to reduce fees for developments around Metro stations during the last Maryland legislative session.
The County Council is also advancing a bill to expedite development review for projects close to Metro stations. Meanwhile, the debate over where to locate the proposed Regional Medical Center has shifted away from expansive open sites to parcels around the Largo Town Center Metro station.
However, the county's spending priorities still reflect business as usual, with a focus on building costly intersections for new communities like National Harbor and Konterra instead of investments to enhance access to transit stations or improve bus service. Expensive sprawl-supporting highway projects remain high on the county's wish list for state funding, such as roads to support the 6,000-acre greenfield Westphalia development located outside the Capital Beltway and miles from the nearest Metro station.
Despite the mixed and sometimes contradictory priorities pursued by the county, the Planning Board and staff are making waves by pointing out the costs of continuing old ways that will allow the county to fall further behind.
Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.
We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."
There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?
While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.
(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.
It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)
Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.
As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.
Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.
An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.
We hope you enjoyed yesterday's April Fool joke posts on Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. Our April 1 edition was a true team effort, with significant writing, editing, and image creating by Andrew Bossi, Jessica Christy, Tim Krepp, Dan Reed, Miriam Schoenbaum, Jim Titus, and Steven Yates.
Many, many more contributors and volunteers also assisted with ideas to flesh out the articles, concepts for breakfast links, or even helpful submissions we weren't able end up using. Thanks go to Agnès Artemel, Matt Caywood, Shree Chauhan, Neil Flanagan, Steve Glazerman, April January, Matt Johnson, Tracey Johnstone, Sarah Lewis, Dan Malouff, Michael Perkins, Alex Posorske, Ben Ross, Matthew Rumsey, Mitch Wander, Abigail Zenner, and anyone else I've forgotten.
A lot of other local writers had some excellent April Fool articles. John Kelly wrote a fantastic fake history article about a subway in the mid-1800s, called the "Mole Way," which had "stops near the Capitol, the White House, each of the city's markets and an adults-only nude beach near the Tidal Basin" as well as Georgetown and Tysons Corner.
Instead of escalators, people used rotating spiral "spinners" to get down to the stations. But trains entering the station blew off people's hats, which made people stop riding and the system was ultimately abandoned.
UrbanTurf broke the news of Donald Trump's planned design for the Old Post Office. New Columbia Heights reported that DC USA would place a curling rink in the underutilized parking garage. (Hey, maybe not a bad idea!)
Kaid Benfield announced that sprawl will no longer happen, Southwest TLQTC posted plans to redevelop Greenleaf Gardens, a public housing complex, and Alan Suderman discovered Marion Barry is running for mayor.
Finally, DC's elections board sent out a postcard telling residents they can only vote on April 23 at One Judiciary Square, nowhere else. Oh, wait, that last one wasn't a joke; it was just a really poorly-written note that conflated early voting and regular voting and will confuse residents.
What other local and regional April Fool posts did you especially like?
After years of rapid population growth, greater Washington might be slowing down. However, the real story is where most regional growth is happening: in and around the Beltway, not on the fringe.
Yesterday, the Census Bureau released population estimates for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Statistical Area, which encompasses the District and 27 surrounding counties and independent cities in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
While the Washington Post focused on slightly slower population growth than in previous years, there are much more interesting trends occurring.
Regional growth is still among the highest in the nation
The Census Bureau estimates that the region had just over 5.8 million residents in 2012. If you include Greater Baltimore (the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area), the larger region has 8.6 million people, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Greater Washington added 89,000 new residents between July 2011 and July 2012, which the Post notes is fewer people than we added the year before. It calls this the "twilight hour of a remarkable phase in the Washington region" during which Americans flocked to the area in search of jobs, adding to the area's population. Yet we've still had the fifth-largest increase in population of any metropolitan area in the country. We added more people than traditionally fast-growing Sunbelt cities like Atlanta and Phoenix.
Inside-the-Beltway communities among the nation's fastest-growing
Our region is also home to several of the nation's fastest-growing counties and independent cities, notably the District of Columbia, which after decades of population loss is now growing rapidly. It's now the 61st fastest-growing "county" in the United States, having grown by 5.1% and adding over 30,000 residents between 2010 and 2012.
The District now has 632,000 residents, about what it had during the 1980's. For the first time ever, Washington now has more people than Baltimore City, which has also started gaining residents for the first time in decades.
Joining the District on the list are several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, including Arlington and Loudoun counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fredericksburg, which grew at a rate of 12.44% between 2010 and 2012, making it the region's fastest-growing community.
Places like Loudoun are no stranger to the list of speedily-growing counties, having transitioned from farms to suburbia in less than a generation. However, the addition of inside-the-Beltway communities like Arlington and Alexandria is impressive. DC, Arlington and Alexandria have all sought to encourage smart infill development around Metro as a way to revitalize older neighborhoods, and it's clear they've been really successful.
Meanwhile, first-ring suburban counties haven't been slouching. Between 2010 and 2012, Montgomery and Fairfax counties grew by 3.39% and 3.41%, respectively, just below the region's average of 3.98%. In 2012, Montgomery's population topped 1 million for the first time, making it and Fairfax the only jurisdictions in the region with a 7-figure population.
Majority of region's growth happening in and around the core
Not only are the core and inner-ring suburban counties continuing to grow, but they're carrying most of the region's growth. Of the 224,000 people who moved to Greater Washington between 2010 and 2012, 62% of them moved to the city and inner suburbs. As a result, the core and inner ring now contain 69% of the region's total population.
Roughly 1 in 7 new residents moved to the District of Columbia, while 22% moved to either DC, Arlington or Alexandria. Though the inner suburban counties, Montgomery, Prince George's and Fairfax, are growing at a slower rate than both the core and "second-ring" counties like Loudoun and Prince William, they received about 40% of the region's population growth. Another 30% occurred in the second-ring counties, while 7% went to rural counties in Maryland, Northern Virginia and West Virginia.
We don't have any data for where growth is specifically occurring in the inner ring, but judging from the building boom in places like Silver Spring in Montgomery and Merrifield in Fairfax, it's likely happening in the same kinds of places and for the same reasons as in the District, Arlington and Alexandria.
Growth is uneven
While most close-in communities are growing at a fast clip, Prince George's County isn't doing as well. It grew at a rate of just 2% between 2010 and 2012, placing it among the region's slowest-growing counties. This is not only unfortunate for Prince George's, which for decades has lagged neighboring counties in drawing people and businesses, but for the region as a whole.
DC's resurgence and the continued growth of older suburban counties like Montgomery suggest that people want to live close in. Presumably, Prince George's should benefit from that demand, but for a variety of reasons it's being directed to farther-out areas, which results in more traffic, more destruction of natural or agricultural land, and the ongoing disinvestment of older neighborhoods. Directing more investment to Prince George's should be a regional priority, as it will further add to the strength of other communities around the Beltway.
Yes, Greater Washington is growing a little more slowly than it used to, and that's okay. The big news is that unlike many metropolitan areas in the United States, we're growing at the center, not at the fringe. Not only does it make our region stronger and more sustainable, but it shows that other places around the country don't have to accept unending suburban sprawl as a given.
Outer Beltway lobbyists will say and do anything to unlock new land for sprawl in Northern Virginia's rural areas. The latest bizarre claim comes from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, whose email alert this week bore the title, "Save the Planet. Expand the Highway Network."
Sometimes, you just can't make this stuff up.
NVTA claims that a Fairfax County energy task force recommended a massive highway-expansion program as the solution to energy issues, and suggests that the county Board of Supervisors endorsed the idea.
There are only at least 3 problems with this: That's not what the task force report says, the statement NVTA quotes isn't even one of the recommendations, and the board didn't endorse anything about road expansion. Not to mention it's a terrible idea.
Highway-building won't save the planet
NVTA has been pushing for an Outer Beltway through the rural piedmont for decades, and apparently believes we should widen every other highway ad infinitum. Landowners at the edges of the developed region fund NVTA, and the edge highways they constantly lobby for will open up opportunities to create large subdivisions of single-family homes (exactly the types of housing in the locations the region doesn't need right now).
That certainly won't decrease congestion in the medium or long term, though. It will probably increase it, because thousands more commuters will then joint the predominantly east-west commuter routes to jobs.
Even if it does reduce congestion for a short while, that doesn't save the planet one bit. A review by Portland State University found congestion reduction programs often don't reduce emissions. While cars do pollute less when not in traffic, any congestion reduction also entices people to drive more, adding new emissions as well.
Transportation made up 36% of Fairfax's energy use in 2006. The national report "Growing Cooler," by Smart Growth America and the Center for Clean Air Policy, and "Cool Communities" by the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the DC region, demonstrate convincingly that smart growth and transit-oriented development are the best tools to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. The compact development of smart growth also contributes to better building energy efficiency as well.
NVTA alert warps reality
NVTA's "Save the Planet. Expand the Highway Network" alert cites Fairfax County's Private Sector Energy Task Force, which, it claims, concluded:
Due to the need for transit to use highways and the need for most trips in the County to continue to use individual vehicles, a highway program to eliminate or at least drastically reduce congestion, provides the county with the largest opportunity for transportation energy reduction in the short and medium-term.The NVTA alert also notes that "The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently endorsed unanimously its Private Sector Energy Task Force's recommendations." That certainly implies the board endorsed the above statement.
Besides the fact that the recommendation is dead wrong, NVTA is misleading on several fronts. This isn't really a recommendation of the task force at all, the county board certainly did not endorse this statement, and the report doesn't really only recommend highways as the solution to all problems.
The statement that the county should fix congestion with indiscriminate road-building appears nowhere in the task force's presentation to the Board of Supervisors or its formal recommendations. It does appear in a long document of "supporting material" which makes a very large number of different and sometimes conflicting suggestions.
Fairfax supervisors don't agree with highway agenda; neither did the task force
At Fairfax County's annual Revitalization Conference on October 22, Fairfax Chairman Sharon Bulova offered a very different vision than the one NVTA claims to ascribe to her. Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth attended, and reports that Chairman Bulova opened the conference with a strong statement that the county must focus addressing traffic congestion through land use policy, in particular by revitalizing and redeveloping its old commercial corridors.
The task force's membership happens to include people like Lon Anderson from AAA Mid-Atlantic, and Leo Schefer of the Washington Airports Task Force, who has long lobbied for the Outer Beltway. It's little surprise that a long list of supporting information from a task force containing professional road lobbyists and longtime road boosters includes a few road lobbyist statements. It also contains a great many recommendations that contradict the wider-roads-everywhere agenda.
Even in the congestion section, the supporting information document's long list of suggestions includes making it easier for people within 1 mile of rail stations to reach transit, and using road elements like roundabouts to improve flow without widening roads. The document advocates for tax credits and parking incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, and encouraging more children to bicycle to school.
It's actually more telling that the task force demurred from endorsing the bad idea of focusing on expanding capacity to reduce energy use. Instead, there's a very vague recommendation asking the board to "review the transportation report" and possibly convey some findings to the Council of Governments.
Besides, the task force wasn't supposed to be about country transportation policy. A Fairfax County official said the goal was to find ways the private sector could help improve energy efficiency within the private sphere. It wasn't a transportation panel and its charge was never to try to set the county's priorities on transportation.
But for the people in Northern Virginia who single-mindedly pursue the Outer Beltway year in and year out, any task force seems to be an opportunity to push their same ideas. The Board of Supervisors should be cautious about these task forces or permanent panels, like the task force's suggestion to create a Public-Private Energy Alliance, if some members constantly try to hijack such forums to serve their own transportation and development ends.
In July 1861, the Union and Confederacy met at Manassas (Bull Run) in the first great clash of armies in the Civil War. On August 28-30, 1862, the armies clashed in the Second Battle of Manassas. Exactly 150 years later, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is proposing a highway through the historic landscape of Manassas, with particularly harmful impact on the landscape of that second battle.
But the draft agreement and the Tri-County Parkway are a bad deal for the historic landscape at Manassas and for area commuters. VDOT and NPS failed to study a lower-impact alternative that would protect the battlefield and focus resources on the area's most pressing transportation needs.
Slated to run through the Manassas Battlefield Historic District, the new Tri-County Parkway would open up rural land to development, multiplying the already-major traffic woes on major commuter routes like I-66 and Route 50.
More harm to a historic land
Controversy over unwanted development in the area is hardly new. Manassas has been the scene of some of the nation's biggest preservation fights. Many longtime area residents will remember the 1994 fight to stop Disney's theme park just west of the Battlefield, which drew national attention.
Fewer may recall the fight in the late 1980s when local residents stopped developer John 'Til' Hazel from building a new shopping mall on then-unprotected battlefield land. Federal taxpayers paid an astounding $134 million to buy the Battlefield land and keep Hazel from building the mall.
VDOT now proposes to run a highway past that same land acquired at such financial cost in the 1980s and contested at such personal cost 150 years ago.
According to documents related to the 2006 expansion of the historic district surrounding the Battlefield, "The battlefield retains integrity of location, setting, feeling, and association with the historic events that occurred on the property during the Civil War. With reference to the man-made resources, such as the dwellings, military embattlements, and the Unfinished Railroad, Manassas Battlefield has integrity of design, workmanship, and material."
Map of proposed Outer Beltway routes. The current Tri-County Parkway plan follows the western alignment.
The Tri-County Parkway would cut directly through that historic district, taking up 20-35 acres of land, running past the August 28, 1862 position of the right flank of Confederate troops led by Stonewall Jackson and the left flank of the Union General Pope's troops. It would also cut off the August 29 approach path of General Longstreet, which led to the largest massed counterattack of the entire Civil War. Longstreet's approach path across Pageland Lane would be replaced by a 4-6 lane highway and major intersection.
This battle at Manassas enabled General Lee to march into Maryland, led to the Battle of Antietam, and played an important role in the series of battles that led President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Perhaps the Post misquoted Manassas Battlefield Park Superintendent Ed Clark when he reportedly questioned the historical value of the western edge of the battlefield. From our reading of history and the 2006 expansion of the historic district, the historic district and its rural landscape are indeed important to the setting of the Second Battle of Manassas and the critical strategic positioning of the Confederate army that led to their victory in that clash. The land in the historic district merits permanent preservation.
VDOT's own letter to reviewing agencies confirms the damage the new highway would likely bring. The letter states that the Parkway will "convert a portion of relatively intact rural landscape" into a highway, "introducing into this setting an increase in traffic-generated noise and visual elements that will alter and potentially obscure significant battlefield viewsheds. These direct and indirect effects will result in a diminishment of the integrity of setting, feeling and association of [Manassas National Battlefield Park] and the [Manassas Battlefield Historic District] [the adjacent land not formally in the park]."
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, Piedmont Environmental Council and Southern Environmental Law Center carefully reviewed the draft agreement between VDOT and the NPS, and submitted strongly critical joint comments.
In our view, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration were obligated by law but failed to study prudent and feasible alternatives that could avoid harm to a historic resource like Manassas Battlefield. The composite low-impact alternative that we have repeatedly offered during both the Tri-County Parkway and Manassas Battlefield Bypass studies would not only preserve the historic landscapes of the battlefield, but also meet the National Park Service's goal of closing the roads through the Battlefield.
A misallocation of resources
By focusing on north-south highway movement in this particular area, the Tri-County Parkway also represents a misallocation of scarce transportation dollars. Expert review of the Tri-County Parkway study and our review of the most recent traffic counts based on VDOT's numbers show that the vast majority of traffic in the area of the new highway is moving east-west on I-66 and Route 50 to reach jobs. We also show that much less costly local road upgrades including roundabouts will address local trips, moving them efficiently around the Battlefield.
VDOT needs to husband every last dollar to invest in road and transit improvements in those corridors, including Virginia Railway Express, dedicated express bus and HOV lanes, parallel local roads, and fixing intersection bottlenecks. For those trying to reach Dulles Airport, the expanded I-66 and upgraded Route 28 offer the fastest route to the terminal and will continue to do so. The Tri-County Parkway and connecting routes west of the airport would be about three miles longer than these existing routes.
The development link
It's not surprising that advocacy for new highways follows speculative acquisition of land for development. Til Hazel's original purchase of battlefield land for a shopping mall strategically secured a site next to the future interchange with the 234 Bypass, the former name of the Tri-County Parkway corridor. VDOT constructed a section of the 234 Bypass from southwest of the City of Manassas up to I-66 based on a 1988 approval with the hope by proponents like Til Hazel that it would be extended northward past the Battlefield. Land records show that today others are hoping for a windfall, including an entity named "Route 234 LLC" farther north along Pageland Lane, reflecting an expectation of the extension of the Route 234 Bypass.
Loudoun County recently approved the southward extension and expansion of "Northstar Boulevard" and "Belmont Ridge Road," denying that these were connected to the Tri-County Parkway even as they plotted these roads on the same exact route as the Tri-County Parkway. The highway also corresponds with the 1997 proposed route for the Western Transportation Corridor and forms part of an Outer Beltway.
According to the Post, VDOT Secretary Connaughton says he might change the name of the highway to "234 Extension," the name it had back in 1988. Intentional or not, the many names for the road corridor can get confusing, and make it difficult for the public to track and evaluate the proposals.
Just a week after the Loudoun Board's decision on Northstar and Belmont Ridge roads, another Board matter proposed authorizing eminent domain proceedings to acquire land from two developers along the Northstar Boulevard/Tri-County Parkway corridor.
Secretary Connaughton told the Post that the Tri-County Parkway "could be financed in the future traditionally or through public-private partnership," which could involve proffer trade-offs with developers or private builders who collect tolls. This certainly indicates the continued close tie between development and new highways.
Simply put, the Parkway and connecting roads are about opening rural land in Prince William County's Rural Crescent and Loudoun County's lower density Transition Zone to much more development. This development would mean thousands more cars commuting on Route 50 and I-66.
In addition, Dulles Airport boosters have campaigned to create a freight warehousing and distribution center around Dulles Airport and want the highway in order to draw thousands of trucks into Loudoun County and western Prince William County. This proposed economic development strategy and related truck traffic would seem to undermine the quality of life for area residents, including those who were attracted to work in Virginia's knowledge economy.
A better way
Preservation of the historic district around Manassas National Battlefield and the associated rural lands would ensure less traffic from this area in the future. Conserving our scarce transportation dollars to invest in commuting options for the Route 50 and I-66 corridors and funneling growth to the right places would better address the priority needs of commuters.
Adopting a lower impact alternative and winning legally-binding commitments to close the roads through the Battlefield would preserve the Battlefield for future generations. But conceding to VDOT's highway and the draft agreement would destroy our history and waste our tax dollars.
If you're interested in learning more about the Tri-County Parkway and the Outer Beltway, visit the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Outer Beltway Resource Center. Convinced the new highway is a bad idea? Sign the Coalition's petition to Governor Bob McDonnell asking for the real transportation choices northern Virginians deserve.
If there's a problem connecting workers with workplaces, it stands to reason that there's a problem connecting workplaces with workers. A new report from the Brookings Institution has teased out the subtleties of this side of the transit/jobs equation.
Transit access to employment is especially weak in the Midwest and South. Image from the Brookings Institution.
Last year, Brookings found that, on average, 70 percent of jobs in a metropolitan region are inaccessible to a typical resident via transit. Or at least, it would take over 90 minutes each way to get there.
This time around, Brookings looked at how large a pool of potential employees each employer has access to, assuming those employees would use transit to commute to work. And just as only 30 percent of jobs are accessible to most workers, only 27 percent of workers are accessible to most jobs, they found.
In terms of general access to transit, 70 percent of people in metropolitan areas live in neighborhoods that are served by transit and more than 75 percent of jobs are served by transit. Not surprisingly, the big divide is between suburban and urban locations within those metro areas. In cities, 95 percent of jobs are in transit-served neighborhoods, while in suburbs, only 64 percent of employers have transit service.
The Northeast and the West have better-connected job centers, while the Midwest and the South have more job sprawl and less transit access. In the Northeast, almost 100 percent of city-based employers can take advantage of transit. In southern suburbs, that figure falls to 52 percent.
"The suburbanization of jobs obstructs transit's ability to connect workers to opportunity and jobs to local labor pools," the report concludes. "As metro leaders continue to grapple with limited financial resources, it is critical for transit investment decisions to simultaneously address suburban coverage gaps as well as disconnected neighborhoods." The authors elaborate:
For example, consider the cases of San Jose and Richmond. Both metropolitan areas offer transit service to over 97 percent of city jobs. But while San Jose's suburban transit routes extend well beyond the city core, offering service to 84 percent of its suburban jobs, Richmond's suburban routes stop close to the municipal borders, offering service to only 29 percent of suburban jobs. The end result is that San Jose's overall transit coverage rate ranks fourth and Richmond's ranks 94th. And Richmond isn't the only metro that registers this extreme city/suburban dichotomy. Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and McAllen all show near-ubiquitous transit coverage in their primary cities and limited suburban coverage, pushing their overall coverage rates to the bottom quintile.
This report, like the last one, will likely invite observers to wonder whether it's incumbent on transit systems to undo their hub-and-spoke models and sprawl along with jobs using less efficient service patterns
Brookings provides a reminder that one way or another, there's a problem that needs fixing: Unemployment is stubbornly high, while in some places there's a shortage of skilled and educated workers. Clearly, there needs to be a better way to connect jobs and people.
After all, commutes have grown longer and longer over the years, and a continued dependence on single-occupancy vehicles is simply unsustainable. The report says:
The nation's average distance to work jumped from 9.9 miles in 1983 to 13.3 miles in 2009.6 Meanwhile, as solo drivers topped 74 percent of all commuters, the average number of hours wasted in traffic increased from 14 hours in 1982 to 34 hours in 2010.7 Just as importantly, there is still a sizable portion of Americans that confront longer commuting distances without a vehicle. The costs of owning and operating a vehicle are such that ten percent of American households in the nation's largest metro areas do not have access to a private vehicle.
Transit can be part of the solution to these problems, and can provide employers with a more reliable way to bring their workers in to work on time every day. But whose job is it to make sure more workplaces are on the transit map? Does the transit system have to build a new line every time some company opens up shop in the exurbs?
Brookings suggests that both public and private sector leaders need to take responsibility for enhancing transit accessibility to jobs. They should route transit to where the jobs are, including in the suburbs, and do a better job of collecting and analyzing data so they can make good decisions, the report says.
But those are all tasks for public officials. What responsibility should private employers take in addressing the accessibility crisis? By locating in a city, an employer will have access to an average of 38 percent of available workers. That same job in a suburb will have less than half the labor pool to choose job candidates from via transit
That doesn't necessarily mean there's no transit stop near the employer. But if it's so far out in the suburban hinterland that it would take the average resident more than 90 minutes each way to get there, it doesn't count
So in addition to its list of recommendations to public officials, Brookings should add one addressing employers: Locate where your labor pool is. Don't make them drive alone for 13.3 miles each way to get to work. You'll suck their souls and waste their money and end up with a less healthy, less reliable workforce that shows up in the morning with a fresh case of road rage (or road fatigue).
Sure, transit agencies need to make sure their expansions are keeping pace with development and that their service is staying relevant. But employers need to realize there are good job candidates out there without cars, and those people won't work at a place that's inaccessible to them.
Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.
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