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.