Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Link/Study/Map Dump

So I never forget where they are...

Average Commute Length by Census Tract:
http://project.wnyc.org/commute-times-us/embed.html#12.00/32.7939/-96.7843

Data Tables of Commute Modes for Texas Census Tracts:
https://www.google.com/fusiontables/data?docid=1VWQGB7sbPTHInLHl0Wsgmsctd5mYi5Y1_5DcPU6n#rows:id=1

Color-coded map of Texas Commuting Patterns:
https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col2%3E%3E1+from+1xepWszP5okdwD1noeup0WW9_V09YVCBMj_bGQQn-&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=47.614183482152285&lng=-122.31846861816396&t=1&z=11&l=col2%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=GEOCODABLE

Wages/Income by Census Tract:
https://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer.html

On The Map Commuting Patterns:
http://onthemap.ces.census.gov/


Uptown Commutes vs Downtown Commutes

This is pretty fascinating.  The top 5 sources (homes) for downtown jobs by census tract:












The top three are all outside of Dallas: 1) De Soto 2) Rockwall 3) Cedar Hill then we get to Main Street in downtown at 4 and Lake Highlands at 5.

Then we look at uptown jobs, which are far less, about 29,000 compared to the 114,000 downtown, but still...













All of the top 5 are in uptown stretching from Victory to Knox.

When expanding downtown jobs to top 10, it's still only those two census tracts.

Does or Should East Dallas Use 345?

Nope.













After looking into South Dallas commuting patterns yesterday I wondered, "maybe East Dallas (and points further east for a big catchment area) might need to take 30 east to 345 then 75 to get to jobs up and down 75?"

So I drew a big ol' study boundary from the Grand/Garland road SW/NE axial to include Rowlett, Rockwall, and Sunnyvale down to 30.  Turns out only 1 of the top 50 job destinations for this area is on 75 between downtown and 635 and it's on loop 12 which is practically a highway itself east of 75.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Researching the South Dallas Commuter

Before I get into the details of South Dallas commuting patterns it is worth reminding about the nature of inner-city freeways and their propensity to suck up all traffic in the vicinity.  This is Braess' Paradox in action where everybody seeking their own best interest doesn't achieve Nash equilibrium.  The reasoning is largely because our travel patterns are based on optimal conditions and the optimal condition for a road is no other traffic.  However, that is rarely the case and if it ever were then you might've woken up 28 Days Later.



In the case of 345, that means much of the energy and vitality that would be on the city street grid gets vacuumed up onto the limited access highway.  Because of the limited access nature of highways, you have little option to re-route if the highway is already congested, which it invariably is at peak hours.

It's important to understand all of the different types of traffic that end up on 345 competing for the same limited space.  As I've outlined before these are 1) long haul freight - which should be re-routed outside the city, 2) long trip commutes - say 15 miles and up, which we'll get into, and 3) short trip commutes which shouldn't be on a highway to begin with.

Using the handy dandy mapping tool from the census that tracks origins, destinations, and commuting patterns I wanted to get a better look at where South Dallas commuters were actually going and how far they were going.  Further, we tend to treat origins and destinations as gospel and something that must be catered to when in fact they are the product of current infrastructure and are incredibly malleable.

Basically, the bigger and faster you make infrastructure the further people end up traveling because the further apart destinations became.  You stretch out the tax base while larding up tax burden for that heavy infrastructure.  It's incredibly costly to spread apart destinations on both the public sector and private sector.  Effectively, distance between things is an extra tax to participate in the local economy.

Furthermore, while we confuse highways as convenient or as mobility, it's also worth noting these are only the case when everything must be accessed by car.  That also means only those of driving means, age, and ability can take advantage of that subsidy.  We're subsidizing those that can afford driving the most while punishing those that can afford driving the least, or those that can't drive at all.


The first map above shows the top 50 job destinations by census tract for the entire southern sector, ie everything south of I-30 within Dallas County.  You'll see that a whopping 6% of all jobs for those that live in this huge area are in the very large census tract that incorporates the hospital district (UTSW, Parkland, Children's, etc).  Interestingly, very few of the top 50 census tracts for jobs are east of 45/75 corridor.  Oddly, Travis County is the third highest job center.



Next I'm zooming in just on SE Dallas County, the area between the Trinity around to I-30 including Pleasant Grove, Seagoville, Balch Springs, Mesquite, and South Dallas.  Again, most of these jobs are in the hospital district and extend up the 35 corridor from downtown to 635.  Other than 35 the jobs also cluster along 635.


I wanted to zoom in a bit more on the downtown and hospital district map because for these jobs it is worth noting that 345 is never the most convenient route to reach these according to google maps.  It's either to take 45 to 30 to 35 through the downtown mixmaster (and who wants to do that?) or exit 45 to Cesar Chavez to Pearl to Harry Hines.  The city streets.  However, I'm guessing many take 345 despite the inevitable backups on Woodall Rodgers and 345 because it seems like it 'should' be faster.


The above graphic shows where all the jobs are for SE Dallas County where people are commuting 10-24 miles to reach.  The software segments commuting length into the following dimensional categories: 0-10, 10-24, 25-50, and over 50 (like woah).  I selected 10-24 because this is the most common distance for SE Dallas commuters, accounting for 46% of total jobs.  


Above is all commutes from SE Dallas County.  The question we should be asking is why must this area commute to the opposite end of the county for jobs?  And, why are 68.6% of commutes over 10 miles?  We should be able to re-create many of these jobs 1) closer to downtown and South Dallas.  By re-orienting downtown as the center of job growth, rather than up and down 75 and 35 the by-directional traffic between jobs and homes isn't competing for the same space.  In other words, South Dallas and North Dallas shouldn't ALL be commuting on 75.  But it is.


Above is a zoom in on those jobs under a 10 mile commute.  The two hotspots are Mesquite and downtown Dallas.  


Above is all of the jobs people are commuting from SE Dallas between 25 and 50 miles to reach.  They're mostly west or northwest


Lastly, are the jobs people are commuting over 50 miles to reach.  These are in Austin and to a lesser extent, Waco.  

So who would actually use 345 that should?

Looking at the top 10 zip codes for jobs of those living in SE Dallas County, none of them are up 75 until you reach 635.  Every time I've input commutes emanating from SE Dallas/Pleasant Grove to Richardson and points north 635 is always the recommended route not 345/75.



If we're assuming that 345 makes the most sense for the jobs south of 635 but north of Woodall Rodgers, that's only 3 zip codes of the top 25.  The are as follows:

Zip code      Jobs    % of Total Jobs
75206           1733        1.2%
75081           1634        1.2%
75204           1449        1.0%

75204 is the uptown/cityplace area, which could be reached easily with a conversion to a grid.  Even so, that's a total of 3.4% of the SE Dallas County resident job commutes that would find 345 convenient.

First, we should be bringing more jobs closer to SE Dallas by removing the highway.  Second, we shouldn't let 3.4% prevent bringing those jobs closer because they're dependent upon a section of road where the dirt beneath is now worth far more to the real estate market (and its ability to supply affordable housing and job creation) than the cost of maintaining that infrastructure.

Jobs, Businesses, and Income (2001-2011)

For DFW area counties, taken from US Dept of Commerce census data:

Dallas County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 1239445 68003484 61034 $54,866.08 $57,269.21 20.3074516
2001 1505640 63999089 63613 $42,506.24 $56,350.52 23.668747
Net -266195 4004395 -2579 $12,359.84 $918.69 -3.3612954
  -17.68% 6.26% -4.05% 29.08% 1.63% -14.20%
Collin County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 304938 16770189 18207 $54,995.41 $57,404.20 16.7483935
2001 207894 9127395 11855 $43,904.08 $58,203.64 17.5363981
Net 97044 7642794 6352 $11,091.32 -$799.44 -0.7880047
  46.68% 83.73% 53.58% 25.26% -1.37% -4.49%
Tarrant County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 687510 30348511 37210 $44,142.65 $46,076.09 18.4764848
2001 635894 21094910 33748 $33,173.63 $43,978.28 18.8424203
Net 51616 9253601 3462 $10,969.02 $2,097.82 -0.3659355
  8.12% 43.87% 10.26% 33.07% 4.77% -1.94%
Kauffman County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 19594 645775 1635 $32,957.79 $34,401.34 11.9840979
2001 18554 453531 1462 $24,443.84 $32,405.20 12.6908345
Net 1040 192244 173 $8,513.95 $1,996.15 -0.7067366
  5.61% 42.39% 11.83% 34.83% 6.16% -5.57%
Denton County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 166739 6620563 11449 $39,706.15 $41,445.27 14.56
2001 113375 3371726 8277 $29,739.59 $39,425.77 13.70
Net 53364 3248837 3172 $9,966.56 $2,019.50 0.87
  47.07% 96.36% 38.32% 33.51% 5.12% 6.32%
Rockwall County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 19861 627747 1721 $31,607.02 $32,991.41 11.54
2001 11640 286390 1076 $24,603.95 $32,617.46 10.82
Net 8221 341357 645 $7,003.07 $373.95 0.72
  70.63% 119.19% 59.94% 28.46% 1.15% 6.68%
Ellis County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 32677 1110570 2455 $33,986.29 $35,474.89 13.31
2001 28669 769775 2062 $26,850.43 $35,595.62 13.90
Net 4008 340795 393 $7,135.86 -$120.73 -0.59
  13.98% 44.27% 19.06% 26.58% -0.34% -4.27%
Parker County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 24484 895671 2217 $36,581.89 $38,184.18 11.04
2001 15083 366537 1562 $24,301.33 $32,216.28 9.66
Net 9401 529134 655 $12,280.56 $5,967.90 1.39
  62.33% 144.36% 41.93% 50.53% 18.52% 14.37%
Johnson County
Year Jobs Payroll Biz Salary 2014 $ Jobs/Biz
2011 32937 1221068 2510 $37,072.84 $38,696.63 13.12
2001 26995 651704 2216 $24,141.66 $32,004.59 12.18
Net 5942 569364 294 $12,931.18 $6,692.03 0.94
  22.01% 87.37% 13.27% 53.56% 20.91% 7.72%

The most interesting data from the above is that Dallas County is the only one that lost jobs during the period of 2001-2011.  I chose 2001 because that was Dallas County's peak number of total jobs.  Also worth noting that in 2014 dollars Dallas and Collin make by far the most on average, but Collin and Ellis were the only two to see reductions in payroll per job based on 2014 dollars.

*cut n pasted straight from excel, excuse any formatting issues.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Bilbao Spain Removes an Elevated Inner-city Freeway

I love the tone of optimism in this beautifully shot video of Bilbao Spain deconstructing an elevated inner-city freeway.



And here's your annual reminder that the Bilbao Effect is a myth insofar as you assume it was all due to the Guggenheim.  Instead, their revitalization began 15 years prior to the museum, when they focused on expansion of their port, the airport, and linking those to the city with a new subway network.

Cross-Post: A Reaction to DMN Editorial on 345

The following is a cross-post from anonymous sage, Wylie H. Dallas responding to the DMN editorial board on 345:

Irritating, flawed editorial from DMN:
1) They start with the premise that I-345 is an "invaluable piece of community hardware" without providing any support for that claim... intellecutally lazy. 
2) They say that "other city leaders" support this plan... but the only ones I know that have come out in support are Vonciel Jones Hill and Sheffie Kadane. Neither of their districts are in close proximity to this structure and few of their constituents have any reason to use it. 
3) The falsely characterize TxDOT's plan as a bridge "stabilization," rather than a tear down and rebuild. I'm guessing they call it that because if they accurate describe what's going to happen: they are going to close major sections while tearing the thing down and subsequently rebuilding it, that would allow for a reality in which the thing is going to be closed and gone for a period. They don't want the intellectual "anchor" to be a closed torn-down, under construction highway--- they are trying implying that this is going to be a relatively seamless repair. Very clever on the part of the DMN Editorial Board. 
4) They say this has to be done for the purpose of "safety,"--- but safety for who, exactly, and how is that defined? They say to not do the work would be "irresponsible." But... the City of Dallas urban street grid has BILLIONS of dollars in unfunded needs... the traffic signals are obsolete, roads and sidewalks are crumbling/missing and feature numerous poorly configured, dangerous intersections. 
Given all of the above, wouldn't we being doing more for "safety" if we devoted resources to fixing the City's street grid? Isn't it "irresponsible" to waste money tearing down and rebuilding a redundant link in the City's extensive highway grid rather than addressing more pressing needs?

The only thing that I could add, besides the fact that the DMN is short-sightedly hung up on traffic, origins and destinations (which are malleable), thus forgetting the problem of why South Dallas must commute 15+ miles to jobs, the reality of Dallas County losing jobs and investment, and the long-term financial viability of the current transportation paradigm, is that the new tax base and redevelopment allows us to re-think what infrastructure, mobility, and connectivity means while modernizing it.  What if the tear-out and reconstruction of the grid would also allow us to lay giga-bit fiber networks throughout the area, linking Baylor, downtown, Fair Park, South Dallas, and the Cedars?

I hope the editorial board can find time to show up to the DDI screening of The Human Scale on April 24th at 8 pm in Main Street Garden.

New City Manager Gets Transpo/Land Use Relationship

In an interview with Rudy Bush of the Dallas Morning News, new city manager AC Gonzalez says some smart things about 345:
One thing that is more topical is how transportation plays a role in the development of the city. The recent conversation about I-345 is part of a larger narrative: To what extent can transportation be approached in a way that is not just about moving cars but how the solutions for moving cars can be done in a way that promotes economic development and enhance quality of life?
That’s a tougher question, but it’s not impossible. As it was done before, there was focus on one aspect of the equation — moving cars. That’s something that I’m looking to be more about — a transportation aspect that is not just about cars. It’s about streetcars and high-speed rail. If at the end of the day we’re still talking about more cars, we are not addressing what needs to be addressed. That’s how we design our region so that cities are built in such a way where people don’t need a car.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

345, The Funnel, and The Paths Less Traveled

Peter Simek has a good piece on frontburner yesterday if you haven't yet read it, where he encompasses the bigger picture that I don't often talk about, but is absolutely at stake:
More than tearing down I-345, it is a conversation about rethinking the macro-planning of North Texas. The inertia of suburban growth will continue to incentivize regional planning organizations, supported by their multitude of nodal constituents, to sustain the status quo that supports the continued spread of the “anti-city.” It is incumbent on Dallas to seize this opportunity to take control of its own future.
I would hesitate to say that we're at an impasse, however.  Only publicly.  With that said, I'm often reminded of the time the very first story on 345 was published in D Magazine.  It seems like only yesterday, I was having lunch with Zac and Tim from D in KWPark and pitching them the idea.  They'd heard it a million times already because I'd been harping on it for 3-4 years before we even got to that point.

By the time it was published and I started receiving email/phone call responses to the piece, one stood out.  It was from a friend and former co-worker who still worked downtown.  He mentioned that very day he and another co-worker who both live east of White Rock Lake in the Garland Road area decided to have a race to the office (they must really like their job).  They would leave at the same time.  One would take I-30.  The other would take the city streets.  It might've been Gaston or Live Oak or Columbia.  The grid, as it is, has choice built-in.

The result?  They tied.  The highway, despite its promise of speed and inefficiency, when everybody is trying to take advantage of that same promise, is not actually more efficient (less so when you factor in the delayed land use impact they have).
-------------------------
From about the middle of the 20th century until recently, we've prioritized the presumed efficiency of car travel.  The form is dendritic or branching structure rather than a grid.  Instead of allowing for choice and filtering traffic, it funneled traffic into increasingly large corridors.  It didn't understand the point of the city which is fundamentally about congestion, bringing people together to facilitate social and economic exchange.  So it's been fighting the very nature of the city from the onset of the modernist traffic planners.

The result, as I often and Peter quoted from Mumford, anti-city.  Further, as NCTCOG's own documents have referenced, their models don't understand the impact on land use.  Why do we need models to understand what is as plain as day if you just look around at the impact modern transportation planning has wrought.

In my presentations I've begun comparing the two North American cities that have best 'defeated' the bogeyman of congestion.  They are Vancouver and Detroit.  They've done so in two entirely different manners.  I point to Vancouver and Detroit because Dallas has a predilection for these two ends of the spectrum.  Our planning efforts and visions show imagery of Vancouver, meanwhile we build the infrastructure of Detroit.  You can't have both.  So I take the time to dissect the two.














The conventional, modernist, American version of traffic planning funnels all cars into a single corridor.  Thus, due to the "projections" in denser environments that corridor has to become ever larger.  As it transitions from countryside to city, you can see how it gets bigger and bigger.  Too note, what happens when it enters the city.  It rips apart the area, displaces entire neighborhoods and reduces overall connectivity while favoring the person who lives far away and drives in.

The result in the land use market that transpo models admit they don't understand is that eventually that person who realized it was convenient to live outside the city eventually will realize it's also more convenient to work closer to where they live.  Thus, job sprawl follows the housing sprawl.



Vancouver, which never allowed freeways into the city, and subsequently and to the astonishment of all didn't fall into the sea, approaches traffic in a different way.  They valued their neighborhoods so they decided back in the 60s and 70s to protect them.  Thus, the rural highway as it approaches the city doesn't get larger.  It actually gets smaller, transitioning into a boulevard as it enters the suburbs (true sub-urbs, mind), and eventually as the corridor enters the city, it disappears into the grid.  The grid actually has far FAR more implicit capacity than a single highway corridor (and that's before we actually start calculating the increased trips of alternate forms of transpo and the shorter average trip length).















The job sprawl ultimately displaced the center of the city.  It is a delayed reaction.  The highways shifted the neighborhoods out of Dallas and eventually the jobs followed.  Jobs in Dallas county peaked in 2001.  Since then they've fallen 266,000.  That's an incredibly bad number.  The new center of town is now an amorphous T-shaped blob along 635 and 75 from North Dallas to Plano, based on traffic counts.

One might say, so?  Now let's compare how we build our infrastructure to that of another city center, Champs Elysees.  Champs Elysees moves 80,000 cars per day.  But a third of 635.  However, and this is harder to determine, but those 80,000 are in all likelihood several multipliers of 80,000 because you're not counting the same car over and over again.  More importantly, Champs Elysees accommodates 500,000 pedestrians per day.  They say traffic equals value and they ain't kiddin'.

Champs Elysees moves twice the people (at least) in half the right of way, on less costly infrastructure, and has 10x the real estate value per square foot.  And you thought Dallas was a smart business town.  Well, it could be if we started thinking about infrastructure from an economic standpoint.  But maybe that's why TxDOT is so broke.  It's not their spending that's the problem, it's how they spend it and what they build generates no value.
-------------------------
I think of this each time we hear about the moving target that is just exactly who uses 345.  First, it was how do people of South Dallas get to jobs in Far North Dallas.  Then it was Pleasant Grove.  It seems logical.  They could cruise Cole Haan to SM Wright around Dead Man's Curve to 45 to 345 to 75.  Only problem, that's not the most convenient way to get from Pleasant Grove to the job sprawl up 75 once Braess' Paradox takes effect.

Now, after receiving the origin-destination study from NCTCOG, the new belief is that 64% of travel is from Dallas to Dallas, from the Pleasant Grove area to jobs in downtown, uptown, and Parkland area.  We'll get back to that.  It should be noted is theoretical based on census data and suburban transportation patterns rather than real world, thus making it a self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling agent of entropy, continued inertia, and increased car-dependence.

First of all, during peak times, when 345 is typically moving at barely more than a crawl due to Braess Paradox in action (the funnel sucking up all the traffic from the area), google maps will tell you that there are very few destinations where 345 is the most convenient route.

Going to Richardson or points north due to the job sprawl that we've subsidized and incentivized, best to take 635:

Embedded image permalink

As shown in the variety of options, even taking loop 12 is often more convenient than taking 345.  However, because 345 is most convenient when driving is at its optimal condition (when no other cars are on the road), we wrongly assume it will always be the most convenient route, thus clogging and congesting the system.

Then we're told, hey people have to get to Parkland.

Embedded image permalink
Google maps suggests not even getting onto 45, but taking 175 to Cesar Chavez to Pearl to Harry Hines, ie city streets.

So I started to wonder, where exactly is the threshold where 345 is optimal during peak periods?

Embedded image permalink





















Turns out that 345 isn't even convenient for going to Central Market at Lovers Lane and Greenville.  Instead, Loop 12 is preferred.

Embedded image permalink




















SMU appears to be the tipping point where it takes equal amount of time to reach whether by city streets or the highway.  We can assume that 345 is really only most convenient, as it currently exists, to reach points between CityPlace and SMU, areas that are already some of the most walkable in the city, want to become more so, and are so valuable BECAUSE of the value premium of walkability.  An improved grid could reach these destinations just as well as a highway.  Hardly worth the cost of exporting 266,195 jobs in a 10-year span when we could re-build the grid, recapture some of the lost jobs, people, and tax base.
------------------------------

Finally, as we fret, "what about the traffic," we must realize that there are a variety of forms of traffic.  Because of the highways through the core of the city, we end up having different types of traffic competing for the same space.  Voila, congestion.  We have to better design our city for the appropriate type of traffic.  When we think about 345 and traffic, think about differentiating types of traffic.

They are:
1) long haul/interstate/NAFTA freight - as Mayor Rawlings rightly said, this traffic only serves to pollute and congest areas we're trying to densify as people space.  This shouldnt be cutting through downtown, but instead ought to be taking 635 and the eventual loop 9 connection to 190.  We believe this to be about 10% of the traffic.

2) long commute (15+ miles) - the key statistic here is that according to census data Dallas County lost 266,000 jobs from 2001-2011 (latest available data).  We shouldn't be asking how to accommodate this traffic but instead asking how we reverse this northward job spillage and bring jobs back to the center of the city.  This is where the land use impact of transportation investment and subsidies are misapplied to incentivizing the wrong thing.

3) short commute - the latest models from COG show the majority of the traffic demand is Dallas to Dallas (64%).  If this is indeed the case, then this shouldnt be under the jurisdiction of USDOT, TxDOT, nor NCTCOG.  Furthermore, the grid in the area is 250,000 cars/day below the capacity it's built for. During peak times, the grid is just as if not more convenient because it provides route choice and adaptability.  In long term, an improved grid also shorten trips by stimulating economic development, relocalizing destinations and making alternate, and more business friendly, modes of travel more convenient.

Congrats.  If you made it to the end of all that you care enough about this city (or your city wherever that may be) to make a difference.




Thursday, April 10, 2014

Meat Ax and the Evisceration of Cities



Robert Moses planned two cross-town expressways through Manhattan that were never built in large part due to neighborhood opposition.  One of those proposed highways was the Lower Manhattan expressway through SoHo and West Village area of Manhattan, essentially isolating the financial district from its surrounding neighborhoods (much like 345 did to Dallas).

In support of his proposed highway he wrote:
You can draw any kind of pictures you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra and Brasilia, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis you have to hack your way with a meat ax. 
First, you can see his vision of modernist utopias: Canberra and Brasilia, both of which are soulless, lifeless places.  Second, you see what he thinks of cities, that they're in need of a meat axe, which is appropriate considering that true cities achieve a higher order of complexity, essentially a consciousness, due to their high degree of local connectivity, much like the human brain.  Imagine if you took an axe to a brain.  This is your brain on traffic engineers.

Key opponent of Robert Moses and godmother of cities and a lot of complexity science and mathematics today, Jane Jacobs responded:
Expressways...eviscerate great cities. This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seoul, SK - 16th Freeway Removal

The Forgotten Cities of the "Texas Miracle"

There has been plenty of talk promoting more highway investment so those in South Dallas can get to jobs in North Dallas, a long commute indeed.  The question is, "are those expenditures worth it?"  And won't they actually exacerbate the inertia built-in to the system of subsidizing long commutes?

I just looked into Dallas county job data from 2001 to 2011, a similar time period from the 2000 to 2011 census data that shows while the DFW metro grew by 1.2 million people, the city of Dallas gained only 9,000.  Or less than 1% of regional growth.  And it ain't because of lack of land either.  That is the least the city of Dallas has grown since 1880 when it grew from 3,000 to 10,000 people.

In terms of percentages, it's the least Dallas has ever grown and in all likelihood would be in complete freefall if it wasn't for the changing demographics favoring walkability and the investment and people pouring into uptown.

I've heard some that don't care about the loss of people.  "People just require services," they grumble.  We want jobs.  The problem is that jobs follow people.  Retail follows rooftops as the saying goes.  We need rooftops.  We create rooftops, we create jobs.

Even if we bought into the residential loss being 'ain't no thing', let's look into job numbers for Dallas County from the US Census

Year              Jobs             
2001              1,505,640
2011              1,239,445

Yikes.  That's a net job loss of -266,195.  You can't claim recession either.  Even though there was a minor blip in 2001/02, the economy picked right back up until 2008 when it crashed.  2001 was the job peak for Dallas County and it has been bleeding ever since.

How about total companies:

Year              Biz             
2001              63,613
2011              61,034

Double yikes.  That's a loss of 2,579 businesses or almost 260 per year, shuttering or moving out of Dallas County.

How about payroll:

Year              Payroll             
2001              $63,999,089
2011              $68,003,484

Aha!  We've got it now.  Payrolls are up!  Until we calculate inflation. /sad trombone

Year              Payroll per job     Inflation       2014 $            
2001             42,506                 1.3257        56,350
2011             54,866                  1.0438        57,269

A 1% difference in average salaries.  And given the way the highest salaries have risen, we might infer that the majority of jobs are in all likelihood paying less.

How about Jobs per Business

Year              Jobs/Biz             
2001              23.66
2011              20.03

In summary, total job numbers in Dallas are plummeting:

  • near 20% drop in jobs over 10 year span. 
  • A 4% drop in total businesses. And 
  • a 14% drop in jobs per company.  So those that have remained are shrinking.
Keep in mind, these losses are all while the region has GROWN more than 20%, making the net differentials look even worse.  All because we're subsidizing the exportation of jobs from the urban core, which we need to be healthy, to distances increasingly far apart.  The 21st century city needs the efficiency of agglomeration economies and employers big and small know it.  In fact, my company sat in a meeting where office brokers representing major corporations explicitly stated, "they want office space in vibrant, mixed-use communities."  

The market values bear that out as well.  There is a premium strictly because of the lack of supply.  Everybody wants walkable communities.  Shouldn't we be building and investing in them for everybody?  That's growth I can believe in.



Grow South Dallas, Local Banks, and Stimulating Opportunity

You've undoubtedly seen TimmyTyper's excellent piece on Frontburner where he interviewed long-time South Dallas leader, Reverend Peter Johnson.  If you haven't, let me point you in the direction and you can do the clicking, reading, and learning:
“The solution to unemployment and underemployment in the black community is not jobs in Frisco, hear? If you really want to address that problem, build a TI over here that employs people. People driving 60 miles to work and making $30,000 a year? That’s stupid. Why do we have so many people in the black community going to Plano and Frisco at 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning? Because there are no jobs in our community. If you have jobs in our community, with people making a living wage, economic development is going to happen around those jobs.” 
Johnson didn’t have kind words for the city’s efforts to this point. “To show you how stupid the city of Dallas is, they gave a black man who fries chicken over here $200,000. Rudy’s Chicken. [Ed: it was actually $890,000.] I’m not mad at Rudy. But the black community is not suffering from a lack of fried-chicken places. You know? For the city to think that that’s economic development, they ain’t got a clue.”
Preach, Reverend.  Of course, this article has stimulated some discussion on the A New Dallas facebook page about stimulating jobs, growth, and opportunity, all of which A New Dallas is focused on.  Our bylaws specifically state "promote economic development and transportation alternatives in and around downtown Dallas."  345 is just the start.

Dallas May, which is his actual name rather than a fragment of a sentence that could simply be finished with "or may not," added that we need local businesses and entrepreneurs in South Dallas.  That sounds great and is correct, but it is more difficult than that.  In my conversations with various South Dallas leaders, the problem is the banks.  The banks are only as smart as their computerized criteria, which is to say very, very dumb.

The result is unofficial redlining based on demographic data and socio-economics.  The neighborhoods can't get loans because the incomes aren't there for the computer to say, "yes.  Loan approved."  It's no different than grocery stores pouring over census data for incomes and seeing high incomes and saying, "yes, let's open a store there."  Then certain parts of the city are so incredibly over-burdened with grocery stores while other parts of the city have none.  It's all inertia, man.

If the Mayor is serious about Grow South Dallas and from what I understand, he is, hoping to raise $100 million for investment.  The problem is what to do with all that money.  The modus operandi for too long has been about throwing money at the problem the only way the status quo knew how, big unnecessary infrastructure and suburban schools, community centers, and the like.  Not real places of activity and opportunity.  A community center without being a center of community is no community center.

Instead, I propose we take whatever money is raised for Grow South Dallas and create a local investment bank for 1) small scale infrastructure re-knitting of neighborhoods that the big infrastructure tore apart and 2) low-interest and/or micro-loans for start-up local business and entrepreneurship in conjunction with those targeted infrastructure investment areas.  However, the key is the design of that infrastructure.  Is it to unite and facilitate social and economic exchange or to divide and disperse?  That is the key.  It is necessary to coordinate the infrastructure with the economic development component in a positive manner.  In other words, you can't let the city of Dallas, NCTCOG, or TxDOT have anything to do with it based on their track record.






Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A New Dallas DMN Op-Ed Response

Brandon Hancock, co-founder of ANewDallas along with yours truly, has penned an excellent op-ed in response to the recent quotes by Michael Morris about Morris' incorrect top-down, rich, white, and privileged perception of A New Dallas. A snippet:

The whole idea for A New Dallas started as a way to bring investment to areas that have long been neglected; removing I-345 would allow East and South Dallas to be sewn back into the fabric of downtown. 
The people most affected by a car-dependent society are those who can’t afford — or are overburdened — by the cost of owning and maintaining a car. By adding 20,000 residents to the east side of downtown, there are more opportunities for people to live closer to jobs and public transportation infrastructure. Residents in all areas of the city, especially in the southern portion, with no other option but to own a car, will benefit most from Dallas taking a step to a less car-dependent society. 
A New Dallas welcomes the opportunity for the citizens of Dallas to determine the fate of I-345, and not the bureaucrats in Austin or Arlington.
I'll be responding to Morris and Hale's own op-ed in the next day or two.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Shape-Shifting Rhetoric of Convenience

Earlier today I posted a memo from NCTCOG about the urgent need for the Trinity Toll Road written in 2007.  Interestingly, the world has not collapsed into chaos and anarchy in the subsequent seven years.  However, in this post I will discuss why this 2007 memo is relevant to the 345 discussion as well as why it is factually incorrect on a point-by-point basis which ought to call into question the competence of those planning our infrastructure and spending the $$ to build it.



First thing's first.  Nowhere does it suggest there will be an impact on 345 if we were to build the Trinity Toll Road or if we were to not.  However, it is interesting that today NCTCOG is claiming that if IH-345 were to be removed, it can't possibly be done without a Trinity Toll Road in place.  They are highway builders, plain and simple, that are stuck in the 1960's not understanding the complexities of the 21st century city.  Let this document (and another we'll publish this week) serve as exhibits A and B as to why we need new, competent leadership and direction of our transportation officials that understand the differing needs of and for mobility in the urban cores from that of the region.

The explicit suggestion in this memo is that if we don't build the Toll Road immediately, $5 billion worth of "improved" highway projects couldn't go forward.  Why exactly, is beyond me.  Apparently, we can only add more highway capacity when we add more capacity so that we can add more capacity.  It's circular logic intended to scare with the bogeyman word of "congestion" all in pursuit of more unnecessary spending and construction through our urban core, which has since and continues to decimate the vitality of the most important economic asset in DFW, which is the Dallas urban core.

First, let's talk about the need to add capacity in order to do any kind of other work.  This is a threat.  However, it's a hollow threat when presented with all evidence that reduction in capacity (both temporary - such as with Carmageddon (LA's 405 work) and permanent - highway removals around the country and world) doesn't in fact lead to carmageddon.  People adapt.  Behavior patterns change.  Carmageddon never materialized on the 405, which is the busiest highway segment in the country.  Something our transportation officials will make happen with our highway corridors if we let them.  More highway capacity simply means more driving on highways.  They never calculate other forms of travel nor properly activate the inherent capacity of the grid.  Vancouver, which never allowed highways, has more capacity in its intact grid than all the highways that were proposed for Vancouver could've managed.

Now, onto the bullet points:

1.  Mobility benefits - $66 million reduction in cost of congestion delays

You're telling me we need to spend $5 billion in order to save $66 million?  And that's just to build the roads, let alone the life cycle costs.  This math and logic is why TxDOT is $35 billion in the hole right now.  Congestion can't be fought with more highway capacity.  It can only be diminished by getting people out of cars and building more walkable communities.  DFW is tied with Detroit for most car-dependent major city in the country.  Meanwhile, cost of congestion for the entire country is $120 billion.  That seems like a big number until you look at that on a per capita basis, $400.  That's it.  $400.  And it really can't be reduced that much.  So we spend and spend and spend countless billions on a number that is the cost of doing business.  Meanwhile, the cost of car-dependence is $2 trillion nationally.  In Houston, they spend $33 billion unnecessarily on making the exact same trips that occur in Copenhagen.  But in Copenhagen, they're far more efficient and cost effective.

2.  Included in Regional Plan Since 1974

So that makes it a good idea?  Bell bottoms and butterfly collars were the rage in 1974, but were they a good idea?  We should totally get rid of all modern technology and go back to the good old days of 1974.

3.  Project Unlocks Downtown Congestion Nightmare - Third Most Congested Bottleneck in US

NIGHTMARE!  This is the fear mongering and rhetoric that is typical and highly inappropriate for what ought to be technical language.  However, once you start down the path of making shit up, when do you stop?    This bottleneck is precisely because we built so many highways to intersect so closely together.  It's a "nightmare" of their own creation.  NCTCOG is Freddy Kruger.  Lastly, it's worth pointing out that congestion is inevitable in cities.  The fundamental point of cities is to bring people together.  That, in a manner of speaking, is congestion.  We get to decide whether we want the good kind (people on foot, bike, transit) or the bad kind, when everyone is induced into cars because there is no other way around it.  Follow me to freedom.

4.  Safety Benefits - Downgrade SM Wright

Linear thinkers operating only at the highest level of the transportation hierarchy (highways) can only see a simple world of 1 to 1 trade-offs.  SM Wright downgrading to surface street from elevated highway means it's no longer part of the system that they have to worry about.  Therefore, every bit of lane and traffic must be replaced by another highway.  That doesn't take into account the capacity of the grid, nor the demographic demand-shift towards density and other modes of travel.

Lastly, what the hell does that have to do with safety?  More speed, more cars only means less safety.

5.  Creates Opportunity to Re-Build Canyon/Mixmaster

Well, that's going ahead already without the Tollroad.  A ding to the ol' credibility.

6.  Air Quality Benefits - Trinity Parkway will reduce approximately 84 tons of nitrogen oxide, a 10 percent reduction.

Ok.  Bullshit.  More cars and more driving never means less pollution or airborne particulate matter.  They arrive at this number assuming increased capacity means reduced congestion.  They problem with that line of thinking is the fact that for every 10% increase in highway capacity 4% is usurped immediately with new cars and the entire 10% gain is gone within 10 years, with what?  That's right, new cars and trips that otherwise might not have been in cars and therefore not polluting.  So this is, in fact, a lie.

7.  Reliability Benefits

Whatever.  This is basically stating that sometimes highways are backed up and unreliable.  So what could be more unreliable than one highway?  Two highways!

8.  Regional Project for Dallas Residents - 44% of road users live in city of Dallas

So?  And our grid is 1) tragically under-utilized leading to unmet potential economic development opportunities for local businesses 2) is irreparably fractured and fragmented by the regional transportation system, leading to disinvestment and decay of the urban core, and 3) doesn't allow for the kind of density Dallas needs to survive and thrive.  We're equally disconnected as the suburbs through one-track minded regional transportation that is destructive and inappropriate for urban development, which is what the market desperately wants.

9.  Recreation + Flood Control + Mobility = Dallas Economic Development Winner

1 + 1 + 1 equals eleventy bazillion and free ponies for all.  Do they think we're children?

10.  Appropriate Need for Appropriate Facility/Thoroughfare Street Near the Park Would be a Disaster

This isn't even in English.  Really had to stretch to get a top 10 list I suppose.  I think I found Letterman's replacement.




2007 NCTCOG Memo Really Wants Trinity Toll Road, Cares Not About 345

More comment coming momentarily...click to embiggen





Braess' Paradox Might As Well State 'Why Do We Listen To The Same People That Caused The Problem?"

A common refrain from the opponents of 345 has been that the majority of the traffic represents drivers going from southeast Dallas to jobs in far north Dallas.  This is undoubtedly true.  Mostly because the presence of 345 subsidizes and induces that behavior.  It appears to be a straight line connection and thus many people end up competing for the same space.  This is Braess' Paradox in action, where people acting in their own perceived self-interest (free road, straight line) end up reducing the overall performance and capacity of the road.

However, despite the patronizing, father knows best tone of the 345 opponents pretending to be looking out for the common man, when in actuality they're mere defenders of the status quo, it turns out that 345 is not, nor is ever, the most convenient route from the Pleasant Grove area to Richardson and points north, the direction of the job spillage and inertia out of Dallas.


































The above shows a typical google maps suggested routing.  Using 345 at this particular time did also have some "normal traffic" at the time where 635 loop had light traffic.  However, that doesn't change things significantly when there is even light traffic on 345 as the distance is in fact longer.  Further, when is 345 ever actually light traffic?  345 itself is the segment between two choke points next to downtown Dallas where we've induced local and regional traffic to compete for the same space, therefore it's nearly always congested.

Of course, it's also worth noting why that job spillage and inertia is occurring in the first place.  Why there aren't jobs closer to downtown and thus closer to South Dallas.  Because we subsidize the long trip and the congestion it brings.  And we're really listening to the same people that created this inertia and entropy?

Patriot Crossing

Hooray!  I'm going to write a quick little ditty on something other than 345.  Today, it's the presumptive dead deal that is Patriot Crossing, a proposed affordable housing/mixed-use project on Lancaster Boulevard across from the VA Hospital.  What I'm not going to write about is what everybody else is writing about, the details of the financials that are murky, mysterious, and ultimately doomed the project (which I presume was HUD's concern).  Instead, I'm going to write about the design of the proposed development and how that plays into the economics of the deal.

PatriotsCrossingRender.JPG

Also, I'm going to judge everything from this singular conceptual rendering.  Because it seems there were several ways to save money.  Based on this rendering, it seems costs might have been unnecessarily inflated.
The first and most obvious thing that jumps out is the sky bridge.  Based on the depth of the hospital from the right-of-way and the depth to which it extends into the Patriot Crossing site (then cants to link directly to both projects), there might be 500 to 600 feet of span.  Obviously, spanning such distances is exceptionally expensive.  The first question however isn't whether the span is necessary, but instead is the sky bridge necessary.  That answer gets a bit murkier because often hospitals need that universal accessibility.  However, when I see them I can't help but see them as a clumsy necessity borne out of our inability to design a halfway decent street, let alone transit boulevard.  We end up with a rube-goldberg style urbanism that is high on cost and low on elegance AND accessibility.

Second, is the structured parking for what is affordable housing on a transit line.  Not only is there one garage, but two garages.  Having two separate garages is expensive enough, let alone having the structure in the first place.  This is a low density area that can't support structure parked building at market rates let alone at affordable rates.  In low density projects, we should be designing urban projects without structure parking in order to keep costs under control.

On the other hand, for affordable housing projects in higher density areas (and with transit access), we very well might need to use structure parking.  The market-rated apartment components can help pay for that extra cost for structure parking, however we should also be looking to drastically reduce the parking minimums because 1) high density areas have less need for car trips 2) transit and 3) low-income people have less ability to own and maintain a car (provided they still have access to jobs and transit, which is half the point of high density areas.  Availability and access).

The last thing I mean to point out is the curb cuts.  All those curb cuts.  I think I count 8 curb cuts on Lancaster alone, serving the garage (from every conceivable angle possible), the off-street parking bays in front of the retail (which appears to only be single loaded parking - meaning it's better off just being on-street parking), some catastrophically over scaled porte cochere/turn-around/drop-off thing with a giant presumed fountain in the middle (more cost), and then repeat all of that again for the mirrored phase.

Rather than 8 curb cuts and a tray of parking off Lancaster, the site should've been broken up into two sites with a mid-block street or alley with access off the alley and side streets.  All of those curb cuts create unnecessary, pedestrian-unfriendly breaks in the sidewalk and too many conflict points on Lancaster itself, reducing its efficiency.

Not only has this project failed from a deal/partnership/financing standpoint, perhaps that's for the best, because it also fails miserably from a walkable urbanistic standpoint as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Brief Study in Costs, Will & Power

As you've undoubtedly seen, Mayor Rawlings announced that the plan to remove IH-345 in order to bring much needed investment to downtown and expand the urban core through market-oriented investment has to be put on hold for a time.  The reasoning is suspicious however.  Sure, safety is most definitely an issue.  As it should always be.  The road is literally falling down as I write/you read this.  Red flag one.  Keep in mind that this area is in the 2nd deadliest US congressional district (TX-30 in the entire country).  I'm not sure NCTCOG nor TxDOT are experts in safety.  Killing people while on spending sprees, sure.

Speaking of spending sprees, the other reason given is that it's just too expensive.  Which is rather absurd when you start looking at comparable costs.  The floated number plucked from thin air is $1.9 billion.  It's not completely out of the realm of possibility when you listen to Michael Morris ramble on about how it would require multiple, complete interchange redesigns, plus city street reconstruction (which 1) shouldn't be of their concern anyway, 2) is pennies on the $ compared to the numbers they're used to, and 3) can be financed via future development, ie TIF or TIRZ).  It's a question of will.  And this is designed to mislead.

Let's look at some recent comparable costs.  345 is 1.4 miles of elevated freeway.  635 completely reconstructed more than 10 miles of the busiest highway in DFW for $2.6 billion (probably under some entirely Orwellian name like Super Happy Freedom Trail).  How is a project several times the size only cost slightly more?

Remember Lee Myung Bak?  He was CEO of Hyundai who ran for mayor of Seoul on the platform of removing the Cheonggye expressway through the heart of that city.  He won the race and they had a groundbreaking the first day he took office.  After 4 years of work, they replaced an 8 mile stretch of elevated freeway and completely restored a stream and linear park for $350 million in today's dollars.  Not only that, but for that cost, they replaced 160,000 cars belching and wheezing through their city with 113,000 new jobs, 500,000 new visitors to the park each week, 7 degree lower ambient temperatures, 21% less airborne carcinogens, and an expected return of $25 billion in created value for the city and its citizenry.  Not bad.  Maybe that's why South Korea elected in president.

TxDOT's words through Mayor Rawlings are a sign of one of two things.  Either it's a number designed to deter.  People don't like doing what they don't know how to do.  And frankly, they're still in the 1960s.  In that sense, they're not working in the public interest.  On the other hand, if that's the number they think it would really take, then it's clear that NCTCOG and TxDOT have no control over their own costs.  $35 billion in debt can attest to that.  Don't worry about TxDOT.  Ultimately that's not their debt.  That's YOUR debt.  Maybe it's time for an audit of their practices, procedures, and procurement.  As long as you're aware of the revolving door between DOTs and their consultants, then we at least have some level of transparency revealing what's really going on here.

Lastly, expensive is relative.  It takes money to make money.  And if there is a return, then it isn't a cost.  It's an investment.  It can be financed, cost is of little concern.  It just means a bigger windfall.  When there is no return, it's all cost.  So what exactly does it mean to be costly?  Remember, cities only exist throughout the course of civilized history because they're profitable.  For the short-time being, we'll continue to listen to anti-urbanists who, for the last fifty years have been systematically working to the detriment of the city.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Definition of Insanity

Small. Petty.  Cynical.  Tiresome.  Another day, another DMN blog piece seemingly spoon-fed from our very own Machiavellian Robert Moses attempting to drive a riff between various anti-highway groups in Dallas.  No worries, Dallas has fought every single highway ever proposed with varying degrees of success.  Further, we will all have long careers undoing all the harm he's inflicted upon this city.  I look forward to erasing history to build a prosperous future.  Every urbanist in Dallas should be excited by the possibility.

Speaking of urbanists, the particularly blog post in question rhetorically posits, "why oh why hasn't the SM Wright/Dead Man's Curve highway tear-out received similar publicity in urbanist circles as 345?"  The answer they're looking for is race.  However, that isn't the correct answer.

Their false assumption is that those of use behind the 345 tear-out had nothing to do with fighting SM Wright.  And that the well-heeled money left the poor black community out to dry while 'heroic TxDOT and NCTCOG saved the day with a "grassroots" campaign to remove a highway from South Dallas.'  The reality is that the neighborhood fought the re-design.  There was nothing grass roots about it.  There was also nothing urban about the design either, which is why it wasn't cheered from coast to coast.  It's yet another suburban six-lane arterial.  Urbanist circles aren't very fond of suburban design when urban design is called for.  I guess the opposite of an urbanist is an anti-urbanist.  Are those really who we should be listening to, especially as we're trying to steer investment back towards the core and then points south?

Here is some of what I provided to local neighborhood fighting against the proposed "Turtle Creek-ing" of the road:
First, if 175 (SM Wright) carries at its highest 78K vehicles per day, and a 4-lane boulevard could handle 31K, that leaves 47K we have to find a home for (nevermind the principle of induced demand and real world data suggesting up to 25% just disappears to other forms of transportation). Adding up how far under capacity I-45, Lamar, RB Cullum, Malcolm X, 2nd Ave equals a shortage of 132,000 cars per day in relation to capacity or 281% more than we need (if we calculate the 25% of reduced demand, that's 374% more than we need). In other words, you could say South Dallas is vastly "over-infrastructured" and there is plenty of room for the excess theoretical vehicles to find other routes. 
And I'm not counting all of the perpendicular routes like Grand, MLK, Pennsy, Metropolitan, Pine, or Hatcher. Throw those into the mix and that's another 161,000 of empty capacity, 293,000 in total that the area's arterial grid is able to absorb." 
So that puts us up net +258,000 vehicles per day, still not being utilized in South Dallas after we take SM Wright down to 4 lanes. Of the map above (I forgot to show Pine), that's roughly 32 excess lanes more than we need. That means every single one of the eleven roads used in this study could afford to have two lanes removed (one in each direction). Time to get dieting. 
Ultimately, TxDOT was quoted saying they would re-visit their plan to do six lanes if the city backed the neighborhood.  The city did not.  Traffic won out over economic development, which is a failing up and down the political food chain.  Hilariously, the blog post mentions that TxDOT isn't in the business of "tooting their own horn."  But that's exactly what they're doing feeding these pieces to the DMN, disingenuously posing as working with 'grass roots' groups to promote economic development, but they've done and are doing nothing of the sort.  They don't even know what or how economic development works.  And by all evidence nor do they understand the role of transportation within a city.  Instead of serving the needs of the city, the city has to contort itself to bend around transportation.

The best politician is the one who gains the most power without ever running in an election.  In DFW, the most power shaping the form and function of our cities lies in transportation policy.  Maybe Dallas ought to threaten to withdraw from NCTCOG for its own sake, if NCTCOG only shows the capacity for suburban transportation thinking where an entirely different mindset is called for.  We're letting the same people and logic that created the disintegration and disinvestment of South Dallas try to fix it with the exact same conclusions.

I've joked about various plans around the city that if you let an architect plan a city you'll get proposals for buildings.  Landscape architect?  You'll get nothing but parks.  Well, we've handed the keys to the future of our city to a traffic engineer.  Guess what we get...

Guess what every decision revolves around...


The Thirty Minute City and the Futility(or Stupidity) of Endless Highway Building

The following are a series of graphics from the recent presentation I gave at the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference in Fort Worth.  This is just a sub-set of the 100 slides and hour long talk I gave about "Breaking the Cycle of Auto-Dependence," but I think the crux of the argument is found in the following graphics and parallel narrative.




















First, is the now infamous graphic from the USDOT showing how every two years or so, despite all evidence to the contrary, they project a return to rising national Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).  Unless they are truly insane (possible), there has to be some kind of underlying logic (which may very well lead to this demonstrable version of insanity).  What could that underlying logic be?  I for one believe it's more about inertia than corruption.  Though, like all forms of infrastructural overshoot, there is certainly some of that to be found as well.

















I think the primary reason that we keep projecting higher VMT is that we believe that VMT is tied to GDP.   Rising VMT means rising GDP and vice versa.  In fact, the two have risen in lockstep since the advent of the automobile age.  It makes some sense, buying cars, building roads, paying for gas, killing and maiming each other on the road, all is some form or fashion of economic activity happening.  Therefore, if we're optimistic (and this is a political process, which it is), we like to make the numbers look good.  Back to growth!

Unless it isn't needed of course.  What if it actually makes us less mobile?  What if more big road money actually hurts us economically?

Two problems with the above theory that a Back to the Future of GDP growth = VMT growth...

















First, is that despite the 08-09 recession, GDP has begun to climb again, completely independent of VMT, which has peaked and is beginning to fall (for a number of easily explainable reasons).  Furthermore, if you look at NYC or Copenhagen or Vancouver, their specific citywide GDPs continue to spike despite reducing VMT far more quickly than nationwide statistics.  Which leads to the second problem with this logic:



















It only deals with nation-wide trends, not city by city.  Find me the pattern above comparing VMT per capita to GDP per capita of the top 25 US metros.  There is zero pattern.  In other words, the amount people drive has ZERO to do with GDP.  There is even some evidence that GDP per capita is growing fastest where they've spent the least on highways in the last 10-15 years.



What is becoming evident is that the value created by more highway capacity is approaching an ROI of 0 to 1.  In other words, there is literally no gain from any highway spending, a tell-tale sign of systemic overshoot, ie infrastructural over-build.  We're simply investing in future relics that we can't maintain, don't need, don't alleviate capacity, but only serve to disconnect us further.


















The reason for this is rooted in Prof Peter Newman's theory of the hour-wide city, which states, in effect, that every city throughout time is rooted to half-hour commutes from edge to core as residential patterns orbit polycentric employment centers.  Thus, the velocity of the transportation infrastructure and technology we build dictates the form and density of the resulting city.  In other words, form does follow function as long as that function is movement.  Fast travel just spreads us out, thus re-inforcing the cycle of car-dependence.

However, not every can afford a car.  Not everyone can drive a car.  Not everyone is of age.  In other words, car-dependence that is rooted in transportation policy is highly inequitable, punishing the poor, the old, and the young, particularly.  The invisible brain of policy moves the invisible arm of infrastructure, which then moves the invisible hand of the real estate market.  Unfortunately, our policy is antiquated and frankly, malicious.



















Above shows Average Commute Time by city across the US in relation to the amount of highway lane miles built per capita.  This shows irrefutably that highway capacity through the city is ultimately meaningless.  Build more highways, land use and city form adapts by spreading out.



















Density also doesn't make a different.  People like a certain amount of space between where they live and work.  Call it preparation/decompression space, the push/pull tension inherent in groups of people hold all cities throughout time in equilibrium.  After all, the one constant in all cities is people.























Meanwhile, as we chase the bogeyman of congestion because it costs the country $120 billion a year, we're inducing car-dependence, which costs a mere (don't look behind the curtain) $2 trillion per year.  I said don't look behind the curtain.  The interesting side of this is that on a per capita basis, congestion costs $400/year and is remarkably consistent across cities large and small.  This is the cost of doing business.  Spending hundreds of billions to save a billion or two is flawed policy.

Meanwhile, we should be getting more mobile and more economically empowered by investing in reducing that $2 trillion number, investing in unleashing citizens from car-dependence.  That's where the ROI is.  That's where the successful cities of today and the future are investing.  Because cost of infrastructure is relative to returns.  But we're investing in zero returns, thus, it seems expensive.  Takes money to make money.