Friday, May 13, 2011

A Few Videos/Radio Spots Now that Blogger is Back Up

First is Angie Schmitt of and debating some economic development dinosaurs on the Civic Commons radio show. First, note the generational divide. As I've said before, the two diametrically opposed weltanschuungs of the two largest population bubbles this country has ever known are bumping into each other like plate tectonics. Second, note the patronizing tone of the status quo. "You silly girl. This is how things work in the real world." The real world. The only world they've known. Which also happens to be the same one collapsing all around them. Keep on rearranging those deck chairs fellas.

The entire concept of growth is a rather ridiculous one, especially when it is the equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Only if Paul (rhymes w/ sprawl) is a gambling addict. Moreso, as Schmitt correctly points out that when coupled with a falling population base AND falling employment base AND falling wages, that is a recipe for disaster.

Bringing it closer to home where (at least for now) we have a still rising population, we've just been rolling the externalized costs of subsidizing driving and sprawl off and off and off until "oh shit the bill is due. Hopefully, we'll be dead before we have to deal with it." We simply can't afford the level of infrastructure per capita that we've come accustom to. We've been able to avoid it, because of the supposed growth it allowed.

Relatedly, is this interview by Dylan Ratigan, himself a reformed skeptic of the proposal to remove cars from portions of Times Square. The result, as we've seen with nearly every other similar strategy is reduced congestion, increased pedestrian traffic, and more importantly increased spending and land values. Now, 360,000 people move thru Times Square each day:

The reason everybody is skeptical at first is 1) because efforts to add pedestrian malls in the US cities in the 60's failed because the cities were fighting uphill battles vs systemic issues subsidizing sprawl and gutting population base necessary for supporting pedestrianized areas, and 2) because we say, "OMG, cutting traffic lanes will result in chaos, pandemonium, ARMAGEDDDDDONNNNNN!!!!!11!!!"

This is partially a result of being told for all too long that to reduce congestion we need more and bigger roads. We're told this because the formulae say so. The formulae. Unfortunately, those formulae are broken. In fact, they're stupid. Like all statistics and economics, certain things can't be valued or measured. For the sake of making simple equations work (and making us stupid), is we throw those variables out the window. Magically, the formulae now work and invariably always say, "more capacity."

And since we're largely a stupid and lazy people, we wave statistics around as a substitute for actual intelligence.

What they don't take into account, is 1) the value of pedestrians to local economies and desirability of place and 2) even more importantly and directly related to the formula itself is that it is always wrong. It is always wrong because transportation demand is elastic and responsive to supply of capacity. Build more roads, you make driving easier (theoretically and only at first). That then, in effect, allows more people to live further away, because driving is now easy, making land at the edge more valuable, and putting more people on the road. The excess capacity is quickly filled up.

When you do the opposite, removing road capacity, you also reduce demand. This has been proven with every post-road audit. Take lanes away, not only does traffic spread out to other viable optional routes, but overall traffic drops.

Looking closer to home, the three block stretch of Main Street in downtown Dallas (that actually works) now has half the average cars per day than it did 20 years ago. Other parts of Main Street are only down about 10-15%. Yet, I would bet that MORE people are actually moving past this section of Main Street than when more cars did. Simply because more people outside of cars can fit into a space than people in steel and fiberglass boxes.

Lastly, these traffic capacity formulae don't understand human sociology. We are a social creature and like being around other people. We like more meaningful interaction than "beep beep, blink blink, honk honk, /finger." But yet, the all powerful traffic formulae make us anti-social creatures. Now that is some social engineering. So why do we even use them?