Triple Aces for Toll Lanes

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Finally, after years of stubborn opposition to the very idea, AAA of the Mid-Atlantic region now reluctantly backs a plan for toll roads in the traffic-choked Washington, DC area. The state of Maryland—with its first GOP guv in a billion years, hint hint—has noticed that charging people for road use makes a lot of sense and dollars.

As usual, the smart growthers are appalled. Some things never change. Still, this a big, big development.

NEXT: From Coase to Hos

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  1. I don’t think smart-growth advocates have a problem with toll roads. In fact, don’t they prefer them, the higher the tolls the better, over highways without user fees?

    It’s building more low-fee highways, toll or otherwise, that’s anathema to smart growth, because adding to total road capacity is a catalyst for yet more sprawl development and brings a return to the very congestion levels that the additional highway was supposedly built to address.

  2. toll roads. sounds like another tax to me.

  3. Yes, sm, JAT decided once against that truth and fairness shouldn’t stand in the way of a good smear against people who give a shit about development and the environment. One smart-growther is quoted, and he’s opposed to the idea of using the additional money to fund new highways – NOT to the idea of collecting tolls for highway use, which is a longstanding goal of the smart growth movement.

  4. jeff,
    Another tax is just what they are. Albeit, of the more efficient user-fee variety. Folks around here like the market forces approach to congestion. Of course, what would really uncurl our pubes would be complete privatization. But for now, as Mr. Taylor said, “this a big, big development”

  5. It would only be a “development” if the tolls were to replace other taxes – but they won’t.

    They’ll be in ADDITION to the ever increasing other taxes.

  6. Maryland would be better off going the Dulles Greenway route. The Greenway is a privately-owned and -operated toll road which extends VA267 — the Dulles Toll Road — far into Loudon County, and it’s been enormously successful. If they’re going to look into market solutions, why not go all the way?

    HOT lanes, on the other hand, will do nothing to alleviate the 495/395/95 traffic in Virginia. (Just as the gazillion dollar Mixing Bowl snafu has done nothing to alleviate traffic there.) In fact, it will make it worse, as people who were previously taking Metro will decide to drive instead, especially as Metro rates continue to rise.

  7. “Tolling carpools sends the wrong signal and will significantly cut back on carpooling in the region, worsening our air quality,” Schwartz said…

    Are they going to toll carpooling or just charge for lane useage? If it’s the latter, then the average cost per trip would be lowered because more people would ride in one vehicle instead of taking their own vehicles.

  8. my doctrinaire side says just sell off every single freaking road… people will then drive as they see fit

    as for smart growth… politicans that claim to believe in smart growth typically think of negative growth as the only smart option. NIMBYs pandering ensures you can’t build high, smart growth means you can’t build out, so therefore… you drive out past the city limits/county line/state line and start the sprawl again. if you abolished dev charges, environmental assessment, and zoning in the inner city, people wouldn’t need to move out… but that would reduce the growth rate of property values and spoil someones sunshine… the horror! (btw, enviro assessment in the inner city.. wtf? “this plot of horrible concrete is actually home to the rare species of homo sleepsoncardboard, the “endangered psychotic drunk who needs a shower” and thus can’t be developed)

    grrrrr

  9. hey,

    Just as “politicians who claim to support capitalism” does not equal free market libertarians, neither do “politicians who claim to support smart growth” equal “smart growth advocates.”

    Smart Growth criticises NIMBYs just as much as it criticises the sprawl lobby.

  10. The average tax subsidy per passenger mile of highway travel is less than a tenth of a penny. The average subsidy per passenger mile of transit is 47 cents.

    When calculating the cost of adding capacity recently, the state of Arizona calculated the per passenger mile cost of building new urban highways at 6 cents per passenger mile, and the cost of light rail at $2.75 per passenger mile.

    The reason is simple. People buy their own cars, and drive themselves. No need to pay for trains, buses, or drivers. There is no need to go into why the automobile is a much preferable means of conveyance.

    The truth is that in many places, the gas taxes paid by the users of highways fund public transit, and the highways.

    I don’t know why any smart growther would oppose tolls. They can, and will, just raise the fees to make highway travel arbitrarily painful for people until they do their betters’ bidding.

    Other people who know better than to trust a ranting leftist to be reasonably objective about urban planning, whatever his profession, can find more trustworthy info at rppi.org, or any number of other places on the Internet I suppose.

    joe, they even have a blog with a comments section:

    http://www.rppi.org/outofcontrol/

    Give em’ hell.

  11. “they actully managed to use transit to make traffic congestion worse.”

    Transit usually does. The truth is that of the 20 cities with the fastest growing rates of highway congestion, 16 have rail. The incredible expense of rail transit causes 50 to 80% of transportation dollars in rail areas to be used for a mode of transportation that only about 5% of travellers use, causing a shortage in funding for highways.

    Rail isn’t even necessarily more energy efficient. Many rail systems use more energy per passenger mile than typical automobile travel, which is inflated anyway by conjestion caused by a lack of new highways, the money for which is being spent on rail projects. If you are smart enough, you can apparently talk your way into thinking anything makes sense.

  12. JDM,

    That’s not really a sound argument because the users of light rail are boarding the trains without paying a toll, the passenger pays for the buses, trains, and drivers rather than paying for his own car and fuel. Now, if the cost per mile is such that the toll that must be charged is too high to attract enough customers, then the argument is sound. I know that in some areas the fare-box subsidies are so high that automobile drivers do get shafted, but it’s not the same in every area. In Chicago, the city transit is expected to recover over 50% of its budget via the farebox, whereas the suburban bus system has to cover less than 40%, and that is a system that doesn’t even require any construction or infrastructure maintenance. Which means the suburban areas are getting more subsidization percentage-wise.

    Why should I care if someone by their own volition opted for the most congested form of transportation? Or for that matter, the most congested form of housing? If you choose to live in less congested housing, the price you pay is extended travel times. Since when are congestion-free roads an entitlement?

    I’d like to see that study where 6-cents per passenger mile was calculated. That seems low for the 1960’s. Unless they’re counting on congestion. But then, those caluclations never take into account the cost of time, which all drivers and bus riders do take into account when they make their choices.

  13. Dammit. “aren’t boarding”

  14. Russ,

    By “costs” of the Arizona study, I meant cost to the government, or the subsidy per passenger mile. That was unclear, I think we agree that the amount of subsidy is the important number.

    “If you choose to live in less congested housing, the price you pay is extended travel times. Since when are congestion-free roads an entitlement?”

    The government has appointed itself sole proprieter of a transportation monopoly. Why should you care if the government, at the prodding of joe and his ilk, throws away billions of dollars in that crucially important role, rather than serves the market efficiently?

    “I’d like to see that study where 6-cents per passenger mile was calculated. That seems low for the 1960’s. Unless they’re counting on congestion.”

    6 cents was an Arizona study. The actual subsidy is less than a tenth of a penny per passenger mile nationwide in 1998, while transit, which includes buses, which are much much more efficient than rail in terms of subsidies, is subsidized at a national rate of 47 cents.

    Here’s an page where you can track down the original sources:

    http://www.rppi.org/ps245.html

  15. JDM, didn’t the drubbing you took in the “congestion causes highway deaths” debate suggest that dismissing out of hand my remarks might not be a good way to go about analyzing the issues?

    Gil, suburban snob zoning is indeed preventing people from being able to make their choices in a free market. People in the Detroit metro area get to choose between slummy urban neighborhoods, or well-capitalized suburbs. Developers are simply not allowed to build urban developments. Your claim that the two styles are equally available ignores that fact that the choices are not really equal. When urbanist developments are allowed, or when older cities are revitalized to the level that the urban and suburban choices offer similar levels of quality, urban neighborhoods (from high rise to reuse of industrial buildings to traditional apartment-house neighborhoods) hold their own against sprawly suburbia.

    You are presuming that the revealed preference for the suburbs represents a preference for pedestrian-hostile, long commute, anti-social environments. In fact, studies of why people choose where to live show that, by far, the biggest motivators are good schools and low crime (or the perceptions thereof). Now, neither of these items are necessarily attached to any particular development style. There are many reasons why denser, more urban neighborhoods tend to have higher crime and worse schools than new sprawly suburbs, but none of them have to do with the building patterns themselves. There are plenty of cases, such as South Los Angeles, in which neighborhoods with single family homes on sizeable lots have bad schools and high crime, and plenty of examples in which urban neighborhoods have good schools and low crime.

    “My neighborhood’s great! Crossing the street is like playing Frogger! And I don’t even know what the people who live in the next house look like!” I never hear people brag about those things. Do you?

  16. “Subways are the dreams of technocrats, not the dreams of travellers.” That must be why New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo/Yokahama and Washington saw such feeble growth after building their transit systems.

    JDM’s comments represent a static line of thinking, one that leads to reactive policies that can never hope to achieve their goals. Transit systems are built for the future, to foster efficient growth patterns, just as they did in Manhattan and Paris. Look at the high rise nodes stretching out from Toronto – land around subway stations is the preferred location for development. As for efficiency, you would have to be an idiot to believe that it is more efficient for 20 people to drive 20 cars from Point A to Point B, than to put them all on a bus or railcar. Running a transit line from A to B makes travel between them so efficient, that both locations become centers of economic activity.

    Any transportation investment is going to promote development in areas that it opens up access to. Highway spending fosters one style of development, rail another. And we’re supposed to believe that the massive growth of sprawl development around highway interchanges is the consequence of transportation-created incentives?

    Choosing to put money into highway projects rather than rail is an attempt to promote one set of values about development patterns. Read the sprawlers’ statements above, and tell me they’re not motivated by ideologies about development patterns. Putting money into rail is an attempt to promote another set of values. The attempt to define suburban sprawl, created by highways, as the natural American preference will forever founder on the billions of dollars that had to be spent incentivising that prefence in order for it to become widespread.

  17. “JDM, didn’t the drubbing you took in the “congestion causes highway deaths” debate suggest that dismissing out of hand my remarks might not be a good way to go about analyzing the issues?”

    I wasn’t aware that a debate happened, I even found an urban planning professor from Harvard who admitted that no good multivariate studies of congestion vs. fatalities existed. The ones that exist are all confounded by the fact that non-congested travel occurs at night, when the incidence of drunk driving, which roughly doubles the risk of fatal accidents, is much much higher.

    If you need to call my guess, which was always intended to be seen as a guess, being shown to be inconclusive a drubbing, go ahead. I can tell you’re a fragile guy. But I’m not sure what that makes your contention, which was just as unknkown, and pretends to be authoritative. Nor do I know why that is more importatnt than the drubbing you are taking today on the facts.

    So how about the facts here, quoted from outside sources? You don’t have an answer? What a surprise.

  18. “Putting money into rail is an attempt to promote another set of values.”

    At least you’re admitting it. I’d be perfectly happy to end all subsidies, and live where I want, and where I can afford.

    “Read the sprawlers’ statements above, and tell me they’re not motivated by ideologies about development patterns.”

    This is just a baffling attribution. For all I care everyone else in America can pack themselves into a single 100 foot square tower. I’ll be located 20 miles west, and get to work in my H2. The more people who leave suburbia, the better it is for me. My choice of housing would decline in cost. Do you actually believe that yourself, or is it impossible to honestly state your thoughts outside your assumed role as spreader of the great leftist gospel?

  19. “Gil, suburban snob zoning is indeed preventing people from being able to make their choices in a free market. People in the Detroit metro area get to choose between slummy urban neighborhoods, or well-capitalized suburbs. Developers are simply not allowed to build urban developments. Your claim that the two styles are equally available ignores that fact that the choices are not really equal.”

    I never said the two styles were “equally” available. I said new urban style developments are being done all the time. If the availabilty is be “equal” the solution is to increase the supply of the style lagging behind – not prevent the increase of the supply of the style that’s ahead. If there were really that much overwhelming demand for urban living, it would have been done already.

    “You are presuming that the revealed preference for the suburbs represents a preference for pedestrian-hostile, long commute, anti-social environments. In fact, studies of why people choose where to live show that, by far, the biggest motivators are good schools and low crime (or the perceptions thereof). Now, neither of these items are necessarily attached to any particular development style. ”

    I am presuming nothing. You are the one making all the presumptions – that people were “engineered” into the subuurbs against their “real” preferences, what their “biggest motivators” are (based on “studies”), etc.

    The people have indicated their preferences with their actions. Government has acted to accomodate those preferences – it did not create those preferences. Government isn’t competent enough to engineer that many people into doing something they didn’t want to do anyway.

  20. In Illinois, the Toll Authority is pretty much controlled by Republican interests (they need a source for patronage too).

    The Libertarian Party candidates here usually are in favor of abolishing the tollway system. They believe that it is our God given right as motorists to get a free ride on government provided roads.

  21. Well, JDM, you could try this.

    http://www.disastercenter.com/traffic/tpe.htm

    Nope, no inverse relationship between traffic congestion and fatality rates there.

    For someone who wants to eliminate all subsidies, you sure do like to whine about the government not spending enough money on roads.

    “where you want and can afford” is determined to a large extent by the publicly funded transportation network in hour region, as much as you may hate to admit it.

    “Leftist gospel” = “educated statements of fact” I always suspected as much, but didn’t want to appear too haughty.

    Your denial that you aren’t arguing from a belief in what constitutes a better built environment is too obviously refuted by your previous statements for me to waste my time with. When you’re opponent is committing suicide, don’t step in and murder him.

  22. “If the availabilty is be “equal” the solution is to increase the supply of the style lagging behind – not prevent the increase of the supply of the style that’s ahead. If there were really that much overwhelming demand for urban living, it would have been done already.’

    By eliminating the snob zoning/sprawl zoning that forbids the construction of rental housing and corner stores on your street, that is exactly what the Smart Growth movement is trying to do.

  23. Gil, since you’re at such obvious pains to avoid addressing my arguments, I won’t bother repeating them again.

  24. Obviously at some point congestion causes fatalities to decline. It’s tough to kill yourself at 10 mph. But the figures you cite are not relavant to what I was contending. All of the fatal accidents I hear about are either drunks, kids racing, or someone on a cell phone plowing into the back of stopped (congested) traffic at 70 mph.

    Fatalities in rural states are increased by the fact that much more driving takes place on secondary roads, which are far more dangerous than highways. There are studies that show that urban interstates have a higher fatality rate than rural interstates, which may have something to do with congestion. If you have some data that shows fatalities declining more rapidly over the years in areas where congestion is increasing more rapidly, it would make your point.

  25. “By eliminating the snob zoning/sprawl zoning that forbids the construction of rental housing and corner stores on your street, that is exactly what the Smart Growth movement is trying to do.”

    Nonsense. The only “snob” here is you -trying to use govt to force everyone into YOUR preferred lving style. You are indeed trying to forcibly restrict suburban development to leave people with only the style choice YOU happen to prefer. “Smart growth” means nothing more than “what I like”. There is plenty of land available for both urban and suburban type developments to be built. I know of one high-rise condo development that will have retail shops in the same building being developed in Nashville – the area where I live.

    “Gil, since you’re at such obvious pains to avoid addressing my arguments, I won’t bother repeating them again.”

    You’re at such obvious pains to project your own preferences onto the motivations of suburbanites that you have no argument to begin with.

  26. “By eliminating the snob zoning/sprawl zoning that forbids the construction of rental housing and corner stores on your street, that is exactly what the Smart Growth movement is trying to do.”

    Nonsense. The only “snob” here is you -trying to use govt to force everyone into YOUR preferred lving style. You are indeed trying to forcibly restrict suburban development to leave people with only the style choice YOU happen to prefer. “Smart growth” means nothing more than “what I like”. There is plenty of land available for both urban and suburban type developments to be built. I know of one high-rise condo development that will have retail shops in the same building being developed in Nashville – the area where I live.

    “Gil, since you’re at such obvious pains to avoid addressing my arguments, I won’t bother repeating them again.”

    You’re at such obvious pains to project your own preferences onto the motivations of suburbanites that you have no argument to begin with.

  27. Gil, you got nothing. I offer ideas, you call names. I say I want to reduce the regulation of land in the suburbs, repeatedly, you accuse me of wanting to increase the regulation of land in the suburbs. I explain the ideas and facts behind my thinking, you ignore them then say I have no facts behind my statements. I don’t think you even know what zoning is. I’m embarrassed that I thought I could have a mature discussion with you. Go play in the sandbox.

  28. “Leftist gospel” = “educated statements of fact” I always suspected as much, but didn’t want to appear too haughty”

    I’ve always known this. I have a hard time parsing this statement in a way that comes out positive for you, however. As for not wanting to appear haughty, that statement is absurd on its face.

    “For someone who wants to eliminate all subsidies, you sure do like to whine about the government not spending enough money on roads.”

    Yes. But this comment makes little sense, since I don’t have a choice to spend my money on private highways. If they are going to take my money (which they are), they ought to do what makes sense, and build what people want. My gas taxes, which are an approximation of a user fee pay for roads. Standing by while the government spends that money on less efficient alternatives makes little sense in the real world, where there is no choice but to play politics.

    “Your denial that you aren’t arguing from a belief in what constitutes a better built environment is too obviously refuted by your previous statements for me to waste my time with.”

    Actually, you shouldn’t waste your time with it, because I never made it. I don’t care which mode people choose, as long as they aren’t herded into it by the likes of you. You are ideologically motivated, as you’ve admitted, whereas I would prefer the government spend people’s money more for sensible uses than for your ideology.

    The sum total of your agenda is to make single family housing on large lots more expensive than in a free market, and your preffered mode of living less. In your perfect world, no one would choose to live in a suburb. In a slightly less perfect world from your viewpoint, those who do would be forced to subsidize those who don’t. In my perfect world, neither would subsidze the other, and people could choose as they wish. In my less perfect world, I would rather end the subsidizing (including land use laws, taxes, etc.) in either direction when I see it.

  29. errrr… “I’ve always known this.” should be “I’ve always known you thought this.”

  30. “Gil, you got nothing. I offer ideas, you call names. I say I want to reduce the regulation of land in the suburbs, repeatedly, you accuse me of wanting to increase the regulation of land in the suburbs. I explain the ideas and facts behind my thinking, you ignore them then say I have no facts behind my statements. I don’t think you even know what zoning is. I’m embarrassed that I thought I could have a mature discussion with you. Go play in the sandbox.”

    Calling names? You’re the one mouthing off about the “snob” suburbs.

    Go play in your own (urban) sandbox. YOU are the one who has nothing but your presumptions – your assertions as to people being “engineered” into suburbs from the get go against there own preferences is not a fact – just your opinion. Your assertions as to the motivations of why people live in the suburbs is not fact – just your opinion. In fact the whole labeling of so-called “smart growth” as smart to begin with is not fact – just the opinion of those who happen to like that way of living.

    Your claim that you want to reduce regulation is disingenuous. The fact is that you want to selectively alter regulation to push ALL development in the direction that you want it to go rather than allowing people to have a choice between traditional suburbs and the urban living style you happen to like.

  31. “If they are going to take my money (which they are), they ought to do what makes sense, and build what people want.’ So how did that vote on the Seattle monorail turn out?

    I’ll give you one last chance to admit your ideological preference for sprawl before I start pasting embarrassing anti-urban insults you posted in previous discussions.

    Actually, much of my ideology amounts to making housing costs, including single family, more closely approximate what they would be in a free market. My method of doing so primarily involves eliminating the regulations that drive up the cost of multifamily housing and small lot single family housing by reducing its supply via zoning regulations.

    In my perfect world, there would still be plenty of people living in suburbs. Those suburbs would just have a better design, resulting from the elimination of the land use regulation you depend on to keep non-rich people from living next door to you.

    If you read Peter Calthorpe’s “The Next American Metropolis,” or any of the New Urbanist literature, you’d notice that most of the places they describe are suburban in character, though of a different variety than are common now.

    “You are ideologically motivated, as you’ve admitted, whereas I would prefer the government spend people’s money more for sensible uses than for your ideology.” This is always fun; conservatives claim that what exists now is “natural,” while any alternative vision is ideological. Your vision of the good life is just as ideological as mine. The only difference is, I’m aware of where mine comes from, you’re just following some dead guy’s dream without knowing it.

  32. “Gil, you got nothing. I offer ideas, you call names. I say I want to reduce the regulation of land in the suburbs, repeatedly, you accuse me of wanting to increase the regulation of land in the suburbs. I explain the ideas and facts behind my thinking, you ignore them then say I have no facts behind my statements. I don’t think you even know what zoning is. I’m embarrassed that I thought I could have a mature discussion with you. Go play in the sandbox.”

    Calling names? You’re the one mouthing off about the “snob” suburbs.

    Go play in your own (urban) sandbox. YOU are the one who has nothing but your presumptions – your assertions as to people being “engineered” into suburbs from the get go against there own preferences is not a fact – just your opinion. Your assertions as to the motivations of why people live in the suburbs is not fact – just your opinion. In fact the whole labeling of so-called “smart growth” as smart to begin with is not fact – just the opinion of those who happen to like that way of living.

    Your claim that you want to reduce regulation is disingenuous. The fact is that you want to selectively alter regulation to push ALL development in the direction that you want it to go rather than allowing people to have a choice between traditional suburbs and the urban living style you happen to like.

  33. I was right, you don’t know anything about zoning. You think I made the term “snob zoning” up today?

    BTW, traditional suburbs are those located along extant and former trolley lines, streetcar suburbs like Arlington and Milton in Massachusetts – look at 1900-1940 era neighborhoods, with their Victorian homes on 4500-7500 square foot lots, one car detached garages, lanes running between back yards, sprinkling of apartment houses, street trees, useful sidewalks, corner stores, neighborhood commercial nodes, and outbuildings converted to rental units. It is this form of traditional suburb that lies at the heart of the smart growth pardigm. The sprawling monstrosities created by snob zoning and highway projects are anything but traditional.

  34. “I was right, you don’t know anything about zoning. You think I made the term “snob zoning” up today?”

    It doesn’t matter who originally made it up or when. You accused me of using pejoratives and that’s exactly what you’re doing.

    “BTW, traditional suburbs are those located along extant and former trolley lines, streetcar suburbs like Arlington and Milton in Massachusetts – look at 1900-1940 era neighborhoods,…”

    What’s “traditional” is a matter of opinion depending on what time period one wants to start the clock running.

    “The sprawling monstrosities created by snob zoning and highway projects are anything but traditional.”

    “Monstrosities” and “snob zoning” eh? No facts there – just your personal opinions – just like all the rest of your posts.

  35. “I’ll give you one last chance to admit your ideological preference for sprawl before I start pasting embarrassing anti-urban insults you posted in previous discussions.”

    I’ll save you the bother:

    You can keep your filth ridden hell holes. Just stop making me pay for them. I will continue to think they suck, whether I am forced to live in one at gun point or not.

    How’s that? I don’t like cities. I don’t want to live in them.

    “This is always fun; conservatives claim that what exists now is “natural,” while any alternative vision is ideological. ”

    Again, you are just making things up. Why is it never possible for you to argue with what someone has actually said? Do you notice the number of times you are accused of this, by myself and others? At no time do I contend that what exists now is natural. As always, I contend that the sum total of market distortion caused by government interference, and you, is to make my preffered living environment more expensive.

    “The only difference is, I’m aware of where mine comes from, you’re just following some dead guy’s dream without knowing it.”

    Please stop pretending that you (or any other new urbanist) are as ideologically neutral as I am on the environment other people live in. I have a preference for rural suburbs, because I like the be outside, and I grew up in one, right across the stone fence from a working farm. I spend most of my weekends wandering around in the mountains. I don’t care if you grew up in a city, have a tumor, enjoy the stench of urine, suffer from crushing white guilt, like to go to blues bars, or have any other reason at all to want to live in a city. I’m fine with that as long as you pay for it.

    People move out of cities, I think, in large part because they attract people like you to vote for monorails and anti-smoking laws for public parks at the same time they try to control regional growth to the extent that no one can own their own peice of property to smoke on.

    (You’re slow, so I’ll point this out – I don’t smoke. Smoking is just an example. Making all spaces public forces me to have to contend with the likes of you over way too many decisions I don’t have to in less crowded areas.)

  36. “The government has appointed itself sole proprieter of a transportation monopoly.”

    JDM, that’s probably more of the reason for congestion than anything else. The government monopoly can’t serve the market efficiently, so the arguments become “just gimme what I want and I’ll make up some reason for why it’s more efficient for everyone even though it’s really just more efficient for me.” This takes place on both the pro-transit and anti-transit side. I’m not suggesting that we’re ever going to have a world where the government gives up the monopoly. There’s gonna be subsidies, and everyone’s gonna get screwed and a few people are gonna make out like bandits (road builders, transit planners, etc.). People already know that when they make their decisions on where they’re going to live and where they’re going to work.

    People have been bitching about road congestion since the horse and buggy days. The government should respond to requests as best it can, those requests come from people who want to drive cars (and are willing to pay for their own cars as well as rent them) and from people who can’t afford cars but are willing to rent the use of a bus or train. Road building (of all types) begets eminent domain takeovers, something I’m not about to just take lightly since they are themselves an avoidance of the market (a subsidization, in effect).

  37. “JDM, that’s probably more of the reason for congestion than anything else.”

    Agreed. The government monopoly leads to waste, which is identical to saying that it serves the market inefficiently. Since we are stuck with it, when I see that money is being wasted, I point it out. One of the ways it is obviously wasted is in the construction of rail boondoggles. The city of Seattle is building a 14 mile (I think) light rail system at a cost of a few billion dollars. Bad enough? Of course not. The light rail is displacing buses from an existing bus tunnel that carries more passengers than the light rail ever will, which was admitted by Sound Transit (the authority responsible for building the thing) at a town meeting. What possible justification was offered for this? “This was never about increasing capacity, this is about giving commuters options.” That doesn’t make any sense, I have to assume that there are other motivations here besides reasonable execution of duties.

    Not to say that rail never works, it actually pays for itself in the northeast. But most of the country has better options.

  38. Perhaps I can give a real-world example of what Joe is talking about, stating up front that I have no dog in this fight on either side.

    The Orange Line Metro in Virginia has nine stops: Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, East Falls Church, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna.

    The first five are underground, spread through Arlington County. At each of them, you’ll find a combination of high-density mixed use: Corporate, retail, residential — both single- and multi-family, some of the single-family on big lots, some on small. From any of these stops, you’re never very far from things you need to get to, and you don’t have to drive far if you are. The Ballston neighborhood in particular has been a big success.

    The last four are above ground, in the middle of nowhere. Or, to be more specific, in the middle of I66. You have to drive to get to the stations, and they aren’t really near anything. Traffic congestion along the 66 corridor is terrible — it takes me about 15 minutes to travel 5 miles in the morning. It only loosens up when you get inside the Beltway, where 66 1) is HOV-2 only in the morning, and 2) happens to parallel the areas where the underground stations are, so fewer people need to drive. Either that, or they’ve already driven to the aboveground stations outside the Beltway, because they can buy bigger houses on bigger lots in Fairfax County.

    They’re starting to wise up, though; a bunch of new townhome projects have gone up in the last few years around the Vienna station.

  39. In a sane world, any politician who used terms like “Smart Growth” or “Traffic calming” would be tarred, [with environmentally correct tar] feathered [with non-endangered species feathers] and riden out of town on a free market rail.
    I do not schedule a trip into a traffic jam, given a choice. I will not have an office where I need to get into a traffic jam, also given a choice.
    We should eliminate known safety hazards and known choke points like toll booths, and then allow every driver to determine whether he or she wants to go somewhere enough to join the traffic. This ignorantly arrogant idea that public “servants” had a right to prioritize access to public facilities based on their own goal system should have been strangled in the cradle.

  40. Personally, I think this is a good idea. There ARE quite a few groups against it, including those who generally throw in with the ‘Smart Growth’ (note also the capital letters) crowd (but are really BANANA’s). Personally, I think the idea of ‘Smart Growth’, at least in Maryland, was to be a chance for the previous governor to reward or punish areas based on politics.

    The fact is that the roads they are considering for these upgrades ARE in dire need of more capacity. And that expansion of these roadways has been fought when one mentions ‘tolls’ on the grounds that it will provide ‘Lexus Lanes’ and as the Post article says ‘create 2 roadways, one where rich people drive fast, and one where poor people are stuck in traffic’. I personally think that more capacity will help EVERYONE, and that the toll lanes will end up being clogged as well (I’ll BET they won’t price it high enough to prevent that). And truthfully, the only way any capacity will EVER get built is with bonds and toll repayment.

    s.m., the history of the Democratic governors in Maryland has been to deride tolls as a source of funding general roadways. Many proposals have been shot down with class warfare. I think here it’s just who the politicians feel is their constituency. There are quite a few toll facilities, but they are either at special structures (bridges, tunnels) or in the middle of nowhere (I-95, north of the Susquehanna River, far north of Baltimore).

  41. Since you’re against traffic calming, techniques employed to slow traffic and reduce its impact in neighborhoods, it appears that you’re perfectly happy to prioritize access to neighborhood streets by cut-through traffic, over access by neighborhood residents who walk and kids who play in the road.

    You wouldn’t happen to live on a cul de sac, would you?

  42. Growth that I like = Smart Growth

    I’m smart because I don’t want you to have a yard. I’m also smart because I don’t want you to have a house that only one family lives in. Clearly, smart people want to take the subway. What kind of moron wants to live in a quiet suburb? Smart people know that only by standing on each other’s feet can we come to appreciate the value each of us provides to a vibrant Society. Smart people believe that you can express your preferences, as long as they aren’t STUPID preferences.

    This all so easy …

  43. “The fact is that the roads they are considering for these upgrades ARE in dire need of more capacity.”

    This is inexact thinking that misses a couple of steps. The roadways are operating at or above capacity. The people who are using these roadways are experiencing diffculty getting to work. This barrier to job access is harming the residents of these areas, the employment centers (by reducing their access to employees) and the suburban areas, by squeezing additional economic and residential growth.

    Adding road capacity might increase current residents’ access to their jobs, and employers’ access to workers. It will also make the suburban communities more attractive for new residential and commercial growth – particularly those styles of development that depend on highway access (big box stores, housing developments with no pedestrian or rail access). So far, so good. However, the new residential and commercial growth will add additional demand to the expanded road system, which will soon be at or above capacity. This includes not just the highway that was expanded, but also the local roadways that were not, and that now have to handle all of the shopping trips, school trips, recreational trips, etc. generated by the new development.

    So is there a way to improve the access of the residents now sitting in traffic jams to their jobs, and improve access to suburbs’ businesses, without fostering development patterns that quickly overwhelm the expanded roadway. There is; public transit. The same money spent on a transit system will help get those commuters to their jobs. It will also attract new residential and economicd development, like roadway expansions. However, the type of development it attracts (urban scale, within walking distance of the train station) will not put nearly as much new traffic on the road.

    It is the plans to spend the money on self-defeating road projects, not the collection of tolls, that Smart Growthers object to.

  44. Rats, I had a great response all typed out and then realized joe was talking to Walter about Traffic Calming. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don’t know if Walter is rebelling against the buzzwords or their actual meaning, but I sure can’t figure out what he’d want to do with the roads, except let them pile up with traffic. “Priority” for new capacity is based on demand, for the most part. The public ‘servants’ are determining those locations in ways that are defensible, because that’s what they get checked on. Perhaps it’s not exactly the way you like it, but they do strive to have it based in reality.

  45. Of course, all of the above is bogus. Jason’s right, it’s all about telling people what to do. There certainly haven’t been any studies done of development patterns and roadway projects to help make informed decisions.

    It’s sort of amusing to read comments by people who don’t know a damn thing about development and the functional patterns of cities, except that they know better than people who try to understand these things.

  46. JDM,

    you don’t have to convince me of the existence of transit pork projects. Do I have to convince you of the existence of asphalt road pork projects? joe and I argued about that recently on another thread.

    I am neither pro-transit nor anti-transit; public transit would save me money even if all the transit subsidies in my area were removed. But that’s because cars, even if you exclude the cost of gas, are expensive to own and operate. But if you are willing to pay extra for convenience even when you don’t need the coveniennce, that’s your business, it’s neither right nor wrong.

    A couple transit stories I can relate. One subway line here in Chicgao has seen increased ridership to the point of congestion. One logical approach to ease the congestion is to RAISE THE FARE. Some people will opt for an alternate line, thus reducing the congestion AND increasing the farebox revenue. Some would choose to drive, which might reduce ridership, but that’s what premium service is all about. Figure out the right fare and it’s less customers to serve for the same revenue. Naturally, being a government enterprise, adjusting fares to the level of supply and demand is never an option; they are spending a few hundred million to make the platforms longer so more subway cars can be accomodated on the trains. I don’t know if it’s a boondoggle, it sounds a lot like adding capacity to a road to ease congestion. I don’t use that subway line very often, so it sounds like a rip-off to me that the line I use has to cover part of the cost of another line. But its functionally equivalent to adding a highway lane. Sounds stupid to me to add supply without expecting it to increase revenue.

    The main toll road around here was capacity-expanded by 25% a few years ago. It’s more crowded now than ever, and there’s no room to widen it anymore. But the fare hasn’t risen in 20 years! Seems like one way to reduce congestion is to raise the fares, but like public transit it is political poison suggesting changing fares to the level of supply and demand as a valid option. (When the tollway authority suggested raising the fares, it became an intra-party Republican cat fight. And it wasn’t even framed as a capacity issue, it was a cost of maintenance issue.) “Don’t raise my fare, increase capacity instead.” Fine, but increasing supply costs money, where’s it gonna come from? The same level of traffic? Or enough new users to cover the cost (thus doing absolutely nothing to change the level of congestion)?

    Meanwhile, the city of Chicago is now considering SELLING the skyway toll road because it is finally making money after 40 years (thanks to Indiana casinos). Rather than keep a small profit and set it aside for a rainy day, the city apparently is only interested in money-losing operations.

  47. There’s a reason you think it’s easy, Jason: you’re willfully ignorant. Develop at least a high school understanding of the issues, and you’ll be amazed how complicated it is.

  48. And as for the topic at hand, efforts to eliminate the tolls on the Mass Pike have been led by a succession of Republican governors, with smart growth advocates leading the opposition.

  49. “There is; public transit.. . will also attract new residential and economicd development, like roadway expansions.”

    Joe where has this happened? I can’t think of a city where building a subway worked in attracting development.

    It’s sort of amusing to read comments by people who don’t know a damn thing about development and the functional patterns of cities, s, except that they know better than people who try to understand these things.

  50. Off the top of my head? Alewife in Cambridge/Arlington (outside of Boston). Crystal City in Arlington County, Virginia. A quaint neighborhood I’ve heard of called “Brooklyn,” which was the first suburb in America. All up and down the BART lines.

    Shall I go on?

  51. Alewife – I don’t know about that, so I won’t comment.

    Crystal City? (I grew up in Arlington) Hardly. The development of Crystal City had nothing to do with the Metro, and everything to do with the Beltway. Just like every burb on the ring: Fairfax, Tyson’s Corner, Falls Church. (and Dale City, etc, from I95)

    Brooklyn? Nope. Pretty sure a bridge had something to do with it.

    Subways come after development, not vice-versa.

    Lets look at some notable Subway failures (in use as well as “promoting” development):
    Atlanta.
    Los Angeles.

    The benefits gained from building those useless systems are only a fraction of the costs incurred.

  52. “There’s a reason you think it’s easy, Jason: you’re willfully ignorant. Develop at least a high school understanding of the issues, and you’ll be amazed how complicated it is.”

    A highschool understanding of the English language tells me that there is a difference between “X is smart” and “I prefer X.” The whole capacity argument you raise is a prime example. If more capacity results in more use, doesn’t that mean that people are expressing a preference to use the friggin road? The uncongested road is not an end. The end is, do people get what THEY want? The road, or the rail, is only one variable, and eventually you run into the fact of American life that people like to have yards, and if I have to drive to the train station from my nice suburban neighborhood, I’d rather drive the whole way to work. At that point, the people spending the tax dollars should be saying “Yes, Mr./Mrs. Taxpayer, I’ll create the capacity to facilitate your wishes.”

    “There certainly haven’t been any studies done of development patterns and roadway projects to help make informed decisions.”

    Informed by what? Our preferences, maybe? I don’t want to live in a shitty cityscape. One person looks at a city congestion and says, why don’t more people take the subway? Others look at it and say, “damn, it is too bad that I can’t drive where I want around here.” The subway people aren’t ‘smart’, they just don’t care as much about the ability to come and go on their own schedule, and all of the other things that come with driving.

  53. “The end is, do people get what THEY want? The road, or the rail, is only one variable, and eventually you run into the fact of American life that people like to have yards, and if I have to drive to the train station from my nice suburban neighborhood, I’d rather drive the whole way to work. At that point, the people spending the tax dollars should be saying “Yes, Mr./Mrs. Taxpayer, I’ll create the capacity to facilitate your wishes.””

    Exactly so, Jason.

    Government is supposed to be the servant of the people – not the other way around. If people prefer to live in suburbs, then it’s government’s responsibilty to accomodate that – not try to engineer all of them into some self-appointed elitists preferred alternative way of living. Busybody leftist types are always trying to pass off their personal preferences as “smart” as a justification for wanting to force everyone else to live according to them.

  54. Jason, “If more capacity results in more use, doesn’t that mean that people are expressing a preference to use the friggin road?” Not if there aren’t any other options it doesn’t.

    “The uncongested road is not an end.” No, the enhanced access to job centers and the increased potential for development are the ends. Did you read what I wrote, or just assume you knew what “people like me” always write?

    What, other your fear of being on a train with “those people,” makes you assume that highways are the only transportation wish of Americans? Given the strong public support of transit initiatives in places like Seattle, Portland, Houston(!), and car-loving LA, and the 90% rate of transit use for NY suburbanites going into Manhattan, you seem to be talking out of your ass. But I’ll keep your support for spending tax dollars on whatever services the public wants in mind for future discussions.

    The studies I was referring to were studies of increased development and property values around transit stations, and studies of transportation efficiency across modes. But as far as neighborhood preference surveys go, traditional neighborhoods – houses on small lots on small streets with corner stores and pubs – typically score higher than late 20th century sprawly suburbs.

    You think there are morning and evening peak hours because 200 million people’s “own schedules” just happen to coincide?

    Ironchef, Brooklyn pre-subway (and Manhatten pre-subway, for that matter) were built to a maximum of 3-5 stories. How do you think the real estate market was able to enjoy the levels of demand that made New York a booming highrise city by 1940? Similar effects are seen in Arlington, Rosslyn, and other DC Metro stops. Of course the stops are located in established centers; they serve to make those centers bigger and more successful. Ditto with Brooklyn. Although, if a subway station were built in the middle of a cow pasture, that cow pasture would soon be full of jobs and homes.

    The failures you mention are notable for one thing – government policies forbidding development patterns that are able to take advantage of the transit access. Things are changing though – the NY subway is over a century old, remember. You know what Route 128 was called when it was first opened? The Road to Nowhere.

  55. The transit angle is an easy one to stick out there, but we’re also talking about an area that has a fairly well developed transit system (the Washington Beltway), has already used every trick in the book to spread demand (different business start times, flex time, HOV – reduced to 2 in many places and still relatively empty, telecommuting, etc.). Plus the previously mentioned transit system has frequently eschewed the exact type of neighborhood planning you (and I) support – putting the stations within walking distance of homes and businesses – in favor of putting it where they can try to draw people out of their cars. The ridership is then limited by the size of their parking lots, which are never big enough, yet the trains are still full at peak hours. It’s also a very extended system for the amount of lines it has (see http://www.fakeisthenewreal.org/subway/ for a same scale comparison of world subway systems), and still a high percentage of traffic on these roads comes from outside the limits of the transit system. This leaves the choice of spreading outwards, taking stabs at where you think development should happen, or infilling the system to provide better service to existing neighborhoods and businesses, as these lines are too far apart as they are now to provide that sort of walking service to the businesses in the Washington DC suburbs.

    Additionally, this thread is about roadway pricing, as that’s the idea behind variable tolls and peak premiums. The idea behind these lanes is to build them where the tolls would pay them off. However a transit plan could never hope to pay off investment and operating costs through fares. Yes, yes, I know that ‘roadways get subsidies too’, but isn’t that what this plan is at least trying to reduce?

    Rail can be a mode used to reduce construction. So can roadway expansion. But when your mindset is that roadway expansion is always ‘self-defeating’ and therefore shouldn’t be done at all, that doesn’t seem to be a fair place to start out from.

  56. Gilbert, if you did an afternoon’s worth of research, you’d discover that the suburban sprawl you take for granted is itself an exercise in social engineering, produced by a dizzying array of government incentives and regulations. You’re lifestyle has been engineered by Robert Moses and you don’t even know it. A good libertarian take on this issue is found in the book “Geography of Nowhere.”

  57. Crystal City? (I grew up in Arlington) Hardly. The development of Crystal City had nothing to do with the Metro, and everything to do with the Beltway. Just like every burb on the ring: Fairfax, Tyson’s Corner, Falls Church.

    Erm . . . This is not exactly right. Crystal City is not exactly what one would consider “Beltway-accessible”; one has to either travel south down Jeff Davis Hwy. through stoplight-laden Old Town Alexandria, up or down the GW Parway for several miles, or down the length of Death Race 2000 395 to reach the Beltway. There’s a reason why the Crystal City Metro stop is at the mall, and why there’s underground shopping.

    On the other hand, most of the rest of the Yellow and Blue lines south of the airport are not near anything anyone cares to try and reach without a car, with the exception of the King St. stop.

  58. That last paragraph should have started with ‘reduce congestion’ not ‘construction’.

    I really shouldn’t get into these threads at work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  59. Highway (I know this is a sensitive subject for you;-))

    A blanket policy based on that statement would be unwise, yes. But the dynamic is a real one that has to be taken into account, and the idea of collecting toll revenue just to add lanes to congested roads is dumb, reactive thinking that can’t hope to solve the problem. There needs to be more careful planning in the areas of land use and transportation if Maryland hopes to make a dent in the problem. Either Erlich doesn’t know this, or he’d prefer to spend money on band aid fixes whose pointlessness will become apparent just as his term as governor comes to an end.

  60. Phil,

    Ever take the Greenbelt line? Greenbelt is a pedestrian-oriented planned community, built at the density of small city, located in the suburbs of a commuter city. Perfect transit territory. So where do they built the station? A couple miles outside of the town center, surrounded by acres of surface parking, near the strip malls. Aaarrgggghhhhhhh! By making sprawl more attractive in the towns north of Greenbelt, they actully managed to use transit to make traffic congestion worse.

  61. “Gilbert, if you did an afternoon’s worth of research, you’d discover that the suburban sprawl you take for granted is itself an exercise in social engineering, produced by a dizzying array of government incentives and regulations. You’re lifestyle has been engineered by Robert Moses and you don’t even know it. A good libertarian take on this issue is found in the book “Geography of Nowhere.””

    Yeah right.

    I’ve heard that nonsense from you before. All the people living in the suburbs don’t REALLY wnat to live that way – they were “engineered” into it. People don’t REALLY like to own and drive cars – they would much prefer to walk. That’s why everyone buys the cheapest and most utilitarian vehicle they can get since they all consider cars to be nothing more than a necessary evil to get from point A to point B.

    NOT!

    The government couldn’t “engineer” that many people into living in a way that they didn’t want to live. Government policies developed to accomodate the preexisting desire to live that way not the other way around.

  62. But isn’t the administration of the State of Maryland in somewhat of a bind in these situations? We’ve already got the businesses located in the NoVa, DC and I-270 corridor, with very little hope of moving them. They’re still outside the area that I think can realistically be served by MARC and Metro in walking distance, and people already live in the fairly dense suburbs of DC and the less-dense suburbs in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, Frederick, and Carroll Counties. I would LOVE to and do encourage people to live closer to where they work as you and I do (you moreso than me, but I don’t think 3 miles is bad), as that is the best solution to traffic congestion. But as has been pointed out, people can’t afford to, or don’t want to, live near where they work in those high-density areas. And while I’m certain that Ehrlich would LOVE to move some businesses from NoVA to MD, I don’t see that happening to a significant degree. Yet doesn’t he still have some responsibility to his constituents that voted for him on his platform to reduce traffic congestion?

    Perhaps you, as a planner, look at things from a perspective of planning, while I as a roadway designer look from a construction perspective. I think the planning has its uses, and should be used to change the demand patterns. But I don’t think it can be accomplished by planning alone within a time frame shorter than 20+ years. For there to be any relief in that 10-20 year time frame that it would take for zoning and planning to really take effect, I think there has to be some of that ‘band-aid’ work.

  63. And joe, I have the exact same problems with the whole Green Line that you do.

  64. I can’t argue with that, Highway. But the issue here is lost opportunities. If the resources all go into band aids – and there are clearly more booboos than resources available to cover them – then there will never be any progress made to address the underlying causes. At a certain point, the government has to start saying no to the asphalt lobby.

    Gilbert, “Yeah right.” Good one. I’m at a loss.

    The facts on my side. The evidence is well documented. You can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, or you can choose not to. Whatever.

    “Government policies developed to accomodate the preexisting desire to live that way not the other way around.” And that’s why people like you are so supportive of sprawl zoning – because you’re certain that there’s no demand to build in any other manner.

    People like to live in good neighborhoods. They buy houses where the nice houses are. The engineering determines where the capital to build and maintain nice houses in nice neighborhoods is going to be spent – and the current situation pushes it out of traditional neighborhoods and into new communities where zoning laws forbid building in traditional patterns. I’ve never heard anyone brag about their neighborhood, “There isn’t a store for miles, I have to drive the kids all over town, and you can’t walk anywhere!”

  65. Oh, and one more thing for Mr. Taylor. Besides that ignorant misrepresentation of the smart-growth viewpoint, what’s with the “first GOP guv in a billion years, hint hint” thing?

    Democrats are by and large not in favor of highway privatization and are of mixed opinion on contracting out toll collection operations, but since when are they an anti-toll party? And since when is the GOP seen as generally pro-toll with or without privatization? I’ve never noticed any party laying claim to the question of whether to have tolls in general or not. Isn’t it one of those local cities-vs.-suburbs-vs.-exurbs political calculations?

    Is London mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, who’s pulled off the most audacious toll hike anywhere in years, a font of conservative policymaking these days?

  66. “The facts on my side. The evidence is well documented. You can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, or you can choose not to. Whatever.”

    There are no “facts” or “evidence” that could ever prove that people don’t REALLY want to live in a suburban environment. Citing someone’s book on the subject certainly doesn’t constitute it. That author can’t speak for the desires and motivations of millions of other people any more than you can.

    “”Government policies developed to accomodate the preexisting desire to live that way not the other way around.” And that’s why people like you are so supportive of sprawl zoning – because you’re certain that there’s no demand to build in any other manner.”

    People who want to live in an urban environment are free to do so. No one is stopping them. There are urban type developments being started all the time in various places around the country. If there is demand for it, they will do well. Those that DON’T want to live that way can choose a suburban development. YOU are the one who doesn’t want them to have that choice – not me.

  67. “you don’t have to convince me of the existence of transit pork projects. Do I have to convince you of the existence of asphalt road pork projects? joe and I argued about that recently on another thread.”

    There are indeed road pork projects. The distinction is that drivers are paying for them because road projects are paid for from highway trust funds. Those funds should presumably be used for other more legitimate road projects.

    Rail projects are often financed, at least in part, by diverting money from highway trust funds paid by drivers. This should not be the case regardless of whether one considers any particular rail project “pork” or not.

  68. There’s nothing magical about the northeast’s lattitude and longitude that make rail work here. We just have a land use pattern that was largely developed before the government imposed distortions of zoning, highway projects, and redlining. This traditional land use pattern allows for the more efficient use of land, which makes it possible to walk to many of the destinations you need, including to some kind of transit that can get you to the rest.

    But since so much of the rest of the country (and much of our post-war development) was dictated by progressive-era, anti-urban, anti-street life, cars are the future laws, rail projects in other areas have to operate with a larger subsidy initially, until the infill and redevelopment can occur to make them function more like traditional neighborhoods/cities/metropolitan areas. Where this has been allowed to happen, it always has. The only danger is that people like JDM will continue to cling to the obsolete zoning and community development principles, rather than allowing the dynamic growth around transit that has proven itself, when allowed, for the past two centuries.

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