Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Smoking Gun: Level of Service and the Tension of the Illogical City

Traffic drives land value.  The amount of people moving past your property means the more amount of potential transactions.  Commercial properties are in the position to benefit most from this, therefore they pay the most, traffic = value.  Ideally, this traffic isn't moving past your property in a way that degrades the quality of place therefore "driving" people away.

The auto-dependent city yields two types of places:  the INVADED and the ABANDONED.  Typically, the congested streets outnumber the abandoned ones "100 to 1" as my friend Chuck Marohn estimated.  It's those abandoned places that lack the energy to sustain themselves or the infrastructure.  They die a slow death.

It's better to have traffic than no traffic.  No traffic equals no value.  No life.  And it's best if that traffic is primarily not in cars.

Here is the smoking gun, found in a lecture to potential Minnesota transportation engineers:

This is one of the primary formative genetic codes that results in the places around us: Level of Service.  As you can see, traffic engineers grade roads based on the density of the traffic by lane.  Low density, low traffic gets a passing grade.

It only measures cars.  Pedestrians are ignored.

If there is density (like in desirable places), the road gets an 'F' and must be improved.  And by improved, I mean widened.  Pedestrians and other forms of transportation are further marginalized.  Even worse, often private property is eaten into and buildings are knocked down to make room for ever-expanding rights-of-way.

But traffic still drives value.  It's just that big, wide roads, full of cars (especially when they're moving fast as in free-flow traffic (grade A!), are sociofugal.  It drives people away.  Therein lies the tension of the auto-dependent city.  You want to be close to traffic, but not too close.

Commercial properties need people to get out of their cars eventually so they use the parking as both interface and buffer, shielding the pedestrian zone from those busy roads.  The resultant form is even worse, but make no mistake, a direct phenotypical response to the genotype of Level of Service as God.  That tension, combined with inevitable poor quality of place, is what opens the door to cannibalization, rampant in commercial real estate, where place and location no longer matter.  Everything is placeless.  Virtually valueless.  The illogical city embodied.

Perhaps here is where it is important to point out that Champs Elysees moves TWICE the people per day (~600,000) that 635 moves (DFW's busiest road, our Champs Elysees, aren't you proud?), in half the right-of-way width.  It just does so by making room for all forms of transportation, it doesn't undercut its long-term value by sacrificing quality of place for speed of movement (as speed =/= efficiency, nor safety, nor comfort).  Oh, and the real estate values are much higher.

It's proper networks that drive value, create for healthy cities, and logical, healthy real estate markets.  Where value is created by traffic, not repulsed by it.  And increased value means increased opportunity and an empowered real estate market where many hands can build and shape the city, not just a few as the result of charity, goodwill or subsidy.  Then, we can grow (inward, with infill development) south, east, or west.  And all of the above.