Strangled by the Beltway

DC Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott wanted to find out what transportation officials in DC's big suburban counties - Fairfax Co, VA and Montgomery Co, MD - thought of the Reason Foundation's research on suburban congestion. So he put it in their hands.

The Washington Examiner sent a copy of “The Road More Traveled” to each member of the Montgomery and Fairfax boards. We asked them to read the book — which is well-written, factual and concise — then tell us their reaction. The deadline was Friday and we said their responses or lack of would be published.

The book was written by Ted Balaker and Sam Staley. They uncovered mountains of data and other evidence that discounts most conventional wisdom on transportation policy among federal bureaucrats, state functionaries in Richmond and Annapolis and the Fairfax and Montgomery fiefdoms.

The book has been widely praised by this newspaper and The Washington Post, plus a rapidly growing list of government officials, academic experts and private sector executives looking for new approaches to reduce or even eliminate traffic congestion. (Yes, it’s been done in major cities elsewhere and it can be done here, too.)

In short, “The Road More Traveled” is chock full of fresh thinking about one the biggest worries facing most of us living in the Washington region — what’s the traffic like out there today. It’s a significant book that local officials need to read, just as many elsewhere already have.

Despite several follow-up reminder calls and e-mails, only [Phil] Andrews read the book and then told us what he thought of it. One other official — Penelope Gross of Fairfax’s Mason district — sent a single snarky sentence instead of a serious response.

In the bureaucrats' defense, it can take about a month for a mail truck to get from downtown DC over to Fairfax's county offices if the delivery starts at rush hour.

Reason published some of Staley and Balaker's research in our April issue. George Will and Fred Hiatt praised their studies in the pages of that other Washington crossword puzzle-dispenser. And the full book's available at Amazon.

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  • VM||

    "Penelope Gross of Fairfax's Mason district - sent a single snarky sentence instead of a serious response."

    ah! she must be a HnR poster.

    hmmm. which one.....?

  • ||

    Staley and Balaker penned an editorial in the Boston Globe on this subject. They looked at the budget of the one agency in the state that was charged with funding public transit, the regional transportation autority, and reported that public transit was being funded out of proportion to its usefulness.

    Now, you might think that an investigation into the the question of how much of the transportation funding in Massachusetts was going to transit vs. roadways would look at the budget of the Highway Department, the local DPWs, and the state budget as a whole - unless you were familiar with the Reason Foundation's work, in which case, you wouldn't think that at all.

  • ||

    That sentence caught my eye also. I didn't see the "snarky sentence" itself anywhere in the article. Reporters shouldn't say something like that and then not provide the words themselves. Damn journalists!

  • ||

    Well, joe, if you are looking at the amount being spent on public transit, then looking at the amount spent by the agency responsible for funding public transit seems a reasonable thing to do.

    If I'm trying to figure out if the Rangers are spending too much on pitchers, I don't look at what the Cowboys are paying their punters.

  • ||

    joe,

    You're cranky today.

    Have a bone:
    You have a legitimate point that state spending on public transportation should be viewed in comparison to state spending on roadways.

    That does not mean, however, that neither issue can be examined independently.

  • ||

    R C,

    They aren't looking at the amount spent on public transit - how much is A?

    They are looking at the proportion spent on public transit - how much of A to Z is A?

    Except they don't. They look at A, B & C, find the % of that subset that is A, and report that % as if it represented A's portion of the entire alphabet.

    If you want to make a claim about how much of transportation spending is public transit, you don't limit your definition of "transportation spending" to the one agency that funds public transit. You look at the other pots of transportation money, too.

  • ||

    highnbumber,

    gnaw gnaw gnaw gnaw gnaw grrr gnaw gnaw gnaw

  • ||

    RC Dean: Are you talking about funds dedicated to improving the public's transportation abilities, or traditional "public transportation" (like the bus)? Why wouldn't a study want to look at both the transit authority's money and the highway money?

  • ||

    you know, if a reporter sent me a *book* at work and said "why don't you read this by this deadline and tell me what you think of it? if you don't you must be a slacker! and i'll tell on you!" i'd probably tell him where to put the book also.

  • ||

    of course highway money should be considered.

    i can't understand why highways/roads aren't considered traditional public transit. to not consider highway and road construction as public transit projects seems to excuse them for being the massive boondoggle/handout/land-grabs that they are.

    i tend to support alternatives to road construction as they create choices for the commuter and are more sensitive to property rights than taking property to add lanes.

  • ||

    David,

    While I agree with you, the fact is that these people are charged with creating policy that costs a lot of money and affects a lot of people. If there's literature that can have an impact in my professional duties, I am unofficially required to read that ASAP.

  • ||

    Downstater:

    You've never had a Demon Dog, huh?

  • ||

    Lamar,

    Should employees at the Fed go out of their way to read the latest economics book put out by the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League?

    The Reason Foundation is not a serious policy shop. They're a political outfit.

  • ||

    From the other article:

    A 2004 study sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) cautioned against the tendency to "overemphasize vertically mixed uses such as ground-floor retail and upper-level residential." In particular, it noted that "outside of dense urban locations, building mixed-use products in today's marketplace can be a complex and risky proposition; few believe that being near a train station fundamentally changes this market reality."


    Oh..this explains why my supervisors in Fairfax County wouldn't read it...their plan for Vienna, Virginia is described perfectly above.

  • ||

    Eric S.,

    He is a downstater.

    'nother Chicagoan, eh?
    Hi-de-ho!

  • ||

    The Reason Foundation is not a serious policy shop. They're a political outfit.

    This sentence makes me want to see Joe flayed alive.

    Fuck policy, and fuck politics too.

    "Have you ever lived a day in your life?"

  • ||

    Just yankin' your chain joe. Its just that the way you wrote it initially above, you were a little less than clear.

    Sure, the first thing they should do is figure out the baseline cost of transporting peopel and stuff around, and see by how much public transit exceeds that cost. Dunno how well they did on the first step.

  • ||

    The Reason Foundation is not a serious policy shop. They're a political outfit.

    And who do you regard as a serious and non-political policy shop writing on this topic.

    Note: no one budget is controlled by politicians can be considered non-political.

  • ||

    PIMF: Note: no one who's budget is controlled by politicians can be considered non-political.

  • ||

    PIMF: Note: no one who's budget is controlled by politicians can be considered non-political.

    "who's" = contraction of "who is"

    "whose" = possessive form of the pronoun

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The Reason Foundation is not a serious policy shop. They're a political outfit."

    Yeah.

    Like the Economic Policy Institute and the Brookings Institution.

  • ||

    Man, if they really wanted to get told off, they should've sent it to Loudon or Arlington County. That's where the really dumb "smart growth" is.

  • ||

    Anyone who disagrees with me is a shill, physically repulsive, and a Nazi/Communist. If I don't mention that in any of my postings, please incorporate this posting into those postings by reference.

  • ||

    You've never had a Demon Dog, huh?
    He is a downstater.

    'nother Chicagoan, eh?


    oh, phew - it's a chicago thing. i was worried for a second because i seriously have no idea what you're talking about.

  • ||

    downstater,

    Some of the tragic story can be gleaned here.
    Venerated Chicago hot dog stand (is there any other kind?) was kicked out by the CTA for a station renovation.

  • ||

    So, where's the link to the Fairfax County memo response?

  • ||

    R C,

    "And who do you regard as a serious and non-political policy shop writing on this topic."

    Wholly non-political is a pretty high bar, but there are groups that are more and less objective in their work. The Surface Transportation Policy Project and Triple A put out pretty good wonky stuff.

    "Note: no one budget is controlled by politicians can be considered non-political."

    Oh, OK. It must be nice not to have to know anything about a group or its work to judge its output. If UMass gets funding from the state, and then gives some institute a budget, and the institute gives a researcher a grant, everything he writes can be dismissed as "political." Whatever.

  • ||

    highnumber,
    thanks for the background. but just to clarify, i find alternative transit projects more sensitive to property rights than road projects - not completely sensitive.

    one building for a bigger station is less intrusive, imo, than a complete row of buildings being taken to widen a street.

  • ||

    From http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bosclerk/summary/2007/07-03-12.pdf, the Clerk's Board Summary of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from March 12, 2007:

    32. STAFF REVIEW OF THE BOOK THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED
    (12:32 p.m.)

    Supervisor Smyth referred to the book The Road More Traveled and asked unanimous consent that the Board direct staff to report by April 8 with a comprehensive look at what the County is doing about transportation and review some of the ideas and generalizations in the book. Without, objection it was so ordered.

  • ||

    Anal Guy:

    Aargh. I know, I though "who's" looked funny, so I pulled it out of the first post, then clicked submit, then panicked.

    It must be nice not to have to know anything about a group or its work to judge its output.

    Hey, you were the one who threw out "serious policy shop" and "political outfit" as mutually exclusive, not me.

    I'm merely pointing out that, if this dichotomy is valid, it rules out any state-controlled research. The state being the ultimate political outfit. You made your bed, and now you don't want to lie in it?

    If UMass gets funding from the state, and then gives some institute a budget, and the institute gives a researcher a grant, everything he writes can be dismissed as "political."

    Two observations:

    First, at three levels of remove, you might be sufficiently insulated from your political masters to be adequately objective.

    Second, remove "the state" and "political" from that sentence, insert "Exxon" and "bought and paid for", and see how you feel.

  • ||

    If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go drive somewhere on my taxpayer-funded roads. :()

  • ||

    joe,

    My original hometown of Detroit used to have a very extensive public transit infrastructure (far better than most modern cities), prior to the 1950s... and the entire infrastructure was built without any government subsidies (in fact, the private electric streetcar and passenger rail companies PAID taxes, generating a small income for the city).

    Now, the state spends several hundred million for public transit, in addition to the city budget. The city also recieves millions from the federal government every year in grants for new public transit. Even adjusted for inflation, the government is spending way more (considering the government spent $0 back in the day). Yet, despite the huge amounts of spending on mass transit, the city can barely keep up a feeble network of buses, let alone the fantastic system it once had.

    You need to accept the facts, joe. The problem of lack of mass transit isn't a lack of funding.

  • ||

    I dropped a note to Fairfax County supervisor Smyth whether she read the book, about a problem that everyone agrees is pressing, and why her office didn't see fit to respond. To her credit, she asked that I call her to discuss it.

    Her "transportation aide" sent me a copy of the County analysis/rebuttal. To their credit they acknowledge that some of these points are right on, but a lot of it is classic "nuh unh"-style refutations of the book's premises.

  • ||

    Rex Rhino,

    You missed the part where Detroit and Michigan deliberately blew up the public transit system, while subsidizing development and road policies to ensure that the city would develop in a manner that made it better-designed for cars than for pedestrians and rail transit. Gee, he asks, why would Detroit and Michigan do that?

    Absolutely, the way metropolitan regions like Detroit have developed over the past half century is the biggest reason why transit isn't popular. Efforts to graft more transit onto this existing landscape aren't going to work very well. Transportation and land use policies need to cooperate with each other.

  • ||

    You missed the part where Detroit and Michigan deliberately blew up the public transit system, while subsidizing development and road policies to ensure that the city would develop in a manner that made it better-designed for cars than for pedestrians and rail transit. Gee, he asks, why would Detroit and Michigan do that?

    So you admit then, that mass transit funding has nothing to do with mass transit? The government deliberatly destroyed mass transit, which was the natural product of the free market.

    The only only thing we disagree on is a future solution. You would like to see the people who destroyed the mass-transit to get vast more money and power... and the people who created cheap and ubiquitious mass transit dominated by the people who destroyed mass transit... and that is your model of how the mass transit problem can be fixed.

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