Monday, December 14, 2009

Person without Veins?

Frankly, I don't know enough about the Vancouver Sun to tell whether or not it is a reputable rag. Articles like this one aren't helping however.

Some parts of their "Rethinking Green" series come off as purely contrarian (I too questioned recycling, focused on the dirtiness of the toxins in the materials getting recycled and the pretense of "doing something good,"), and then others like the linked above are just outright self-serving propaganda. I say that because of the singularity of opinion of those quoted in the article.

There are a million terrible definitions and interpretations of sustainability out there. What sustainability implies a system, one built upon a foundation of both economics and ecology, both of which are systems that are not fully understood. So therein, one can see the incredible difficulty in boiling down to what is sustainable and what isn't without a more wholistic view.

Not to take this into an ad hominem direction, but to only quote Cox and O'Toole is some shallow and self-serving "journalism." Neither are credible, on the payrolls of the road lobby, and are incredibly deceiving will their well-framed "statistics." Cox and O'Toole are notorious for taking incredibly narrow (and increasingly shrill) views of statistics that are intended to dumb down the debate into something little more than "OMG! Transit is so expensive!" So is caring for children, should we stop that?

My point isn't that transit is a magical panacea, nor that it is appropriate for cities of all shapes, sizes, and geographical contexts. It is that the debate is well beyond their, or this authors, scope. And to further narrow the stance to only include essentially two hucksters is to further drown the level of dialogue in the puddle beneath are feet (or tires if you wish). Why not include a real academic from your own neck of the woods like Tod Litman from VTPI?

The real issue that Cox, O'Toole and any other well-heeled faux libertarian simply cannot understand or argue with any sort of rigorous rhetoric effectively on their narrow view of statistics. Which is why you are seeing transit pick up steam the world over, and ironically generate more press for these two for anybody desperate for a sound bite in opposition.

"OMG, it's expensive!"

Simply put, car only subsidization has led to car only usage. Car only usage has led to incredibly wasteful projects like the high five in Dallas. While these types will argue that it improves economic development because it created jobs and improves connectivity and reduces traffic, , while it may temporarily reduce traffic (with nothing to say about the several years of construction and the resultant delays) the reduced traffic then has a negative effect by actually inducing more traffic b/c of the temporary gains, thus spreading people apart further. It also wrecks real estate values within any vicinity of it, because frankly, it is attrocious to be near (also, with nothing to say about the increased stress, birth defects, and respiratory issues by proximity to freeways).

Transportation can never be looked at in a bubble. You can't isolate any particular system and suggest definitively whether it is "green" or not, whatever that means. The reason is because transportation, of any form, is inextricably linked and largely responsible for the resulant built-form of the city. The built form then interprets how the city functions.

To isolate the pro forma of any transportation system is like removing the arteries, veins, and capillaries from a human being and then wondering why the blood discontinued to flow. A doctor has to examine the health of the entire patient, to determine the health of the cardiovascular system and vice versa. If the City is unhealthy, the cardiovascular system (its transportation system) has to become more healthy.

Second, no form of transportation has ever "paid for itself." What these biased takes fail to understand is that the more governments subsidize road construction and sprawl, the more they have to subsidize transit, b/c the excessive road construction leads to fragmented, sparse, and disconnected land use, unsuitable for transit use, and therefore a failing transit system.

Relatedly, as transportation has a direct effect on land use, density, and the interrelationship between land uses, forms of transportation have multiplier effects that are incalculable in terms of sustainability and economy. The way to measure the "greenness" of transport is not in the functionality of transit systems but the built form and the emergent operations of the city sprung from it.

Car only-based transport policy leads to low density development which is more energy-consumptive, generates incredible amounts of waste thru increased air pollution from the car use, reduced water quality and environmental degridation from runoff, waste of man-hours in traffic jams, as well as increased refuse from a low-density lifestyle, and waste in supply-chains having to diffuse the distribution of goods to sparse, low density development.

This is bad for the economy as well for a number of reasons. The government builds roads that creates a low density form of development that, in turn, can not pay for the upkeep of the over-extended infrastructure. Furthermore, because of the fractured and disconnected development that emerges based on car-dominated transport policy, people think they are getting cheaper goods.

But, the fact of the matter is, extra costs have been externalized to the consumer and siphoned off every single trip by way of car ownership/maintenance, road construction and upkeep, health and productivity losses due to traffic and collisions. While creating a highway that links the Houston area to the Dallas area is a good thing, forcing all trips throughout the day to the confines of a car is wasteful and exclusionary of proportions never seen on this earth.

(Once again, with nothing to say about the 1.3 million people killed per year in traffic related collisions.)

Lastly, and unfortunately for them, the ultimate decider in human decisions tends not to be an altruistic sense of right and wrong, and fortunately not even of $1 and 2$ but what makes life better? Would you rather live in a place like this?

or a place like this?

One could say, "how can you compare those two things? Of course, I'm going to pick the pretty picture!" The reason is because these are the two end states of the divergent policies being debated. Should we craft policy that supports only the car, oil, and gas industry or one that the end result is people places?

A complete street, equitable to all transportation types and attractive enough to be livable, and in turn, entice density. The density then reduces Vehicle Miles Traveled, which reduces pollution, reduces the need for context-coerced car ownership, and reduces traffic. The density also makes business and retail more successful because there is a customer-base within a short distance at all times. A business can easily market from its storefront to a hundred residents that live above, or 500 pedestrians that walk past each day.

That is why THIS will eventually win the debate, suggesting it is time to the afforementioned cast of characters on IGNORE.