Riding the Screed

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The epochal Fairfax (VA) County chairman race between Democrat (and incumbent) Gerry Connolly and Republican environmental lawyer Gary Baise has taken a dark turn after Baise relied on a certain mystery-cloaked tome for much of his transportation plan. From a blog that recapped a recent candidate forum:

[Baise] comes from the private sector, will scrub the budget and get spending of enormous revenues under control, is outraged that the Dulles Rail initiative isn't competitively bid, and claims "as we all know, the government doesn't have any priorities—it just spends on everything". There's not only a "lack of, an abdication of leadership..it's simply lunacy" (regarding the Dulles Rail contract). All in all, very thoughtful and instructive narrative—but must be getting proceeds from the book "The Road More Travelled", which he constantly quoted from and suggested.

That's The Road More Travelled by Sam Staley and Ted Balaker, the incisive book by the Reason foundation that we excerpted earlier this year. According to Howard Mortman, Connolly is trying to use Baise's reading against him. Not by attacking the substance of the book or anything, mind you.

Connolly also criticized Baise for relying on "The Road More Traveled," a book he described as a "right-wing screed" against mass transit, as the basis for some of his transportation positions. The book, written by two scholars of the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to free markets and limited government, emphasizes adding lanes to existing roads, eliminating parking subsidies and increasing the efficiency of traffic signals to check congestion.

As a former resident of Fairfax County under the Connolly regime I'd really like to know what his problems are with this research. I'll give him credit for widening West Ox Road: Seriously, good job. But why are Baise, Staley and Balaker wrong about the way to untangle NoVa's transportation issues? Is clicking your heels together and wishing for a lengthened metro line a better plan? Are bonds that basically pay for road upkeep going to help with the flood of priced-out people moving into Prince William and Loudon counties but commuting to DC?

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  1. But why are Blaise, Staley and Balaker wrong about the way to untangle NoVa’s transportation issues?

    They are against mass transit.

    Is clicking your heels together and wishing for a lengthened metro line a better plan?

    So it is written. Thus shall we have a great new society deal.

  2. It is all well and good to give Connolly credit for widening a road, but the real question this post brings up is how much credit does Eno get for TLLDOB?

  3. Reason’s coverage of transportation always ignores or denies the (there’s a name for it; joe?) effect you get with increased road capacity attracting new users and becoming even more congested as a result. I don’t know about the specific research in question, but if it advocates only more road construction as the one and only solution to traffic woes then I could see a problem with it. Also, if these counties are getting a “flood” of priced-out commuters, one would think a rail connection is more justified, not less.

  4. Also, if these counties are getting a “flood” of priced-out commuters, one would think a rail connection is more justified, not less.

    Trying to work to a rail schedule is one thing that keeps me from moving out further, where I could actually afford a reasonably sized house in a decent neighborhood.

    As it is, I always see co-workers scrambling to get the last train out, which is rarely beyond 7 PM. Like post offices and banks, mass transit sysytems think that everyone works the same schedule.

  5. Reason’s coverage of transportation always ignores or denies the (there’s a name for it; joe?) effect you get with increased road capacity attracting new users and becoming even more congested as a result.

    I mean, we wouldn’t want to put up infrastructure that people actually want and use, would we?

  6. Reason’s coverage of transportation always ignores or denies the (there’s a name for it; joe?) effect you get with increased road capacity attracting new users and becoming even more congested as a result.

    An important part of the solution offered by Staley and Balaker is market pricing. The effects you’re referring to are only relevant when the built out resources are provided at no cost to the end user.

  7. and DW sneaks in yet another Genesis reference.

  8. I mean, we wouldn’t want to put up infrastructure that people actually want and use, would we?

    RC, the point is that there is no solution to traffic. Build outs without user fees (whether via roads or transit or whatever) simply attract more users. They don’t, ever, reduce the net traffic burden of a particular area.

  9. mass transit sysytems think that everyone works the same schedule

    Well, most people do. If you’re working an unusual schedule your traffic problems probably aren’t that bad, anyway.

  10. MP | October 23, 2007, 11:13am | #
    RC, the point is that there is no solution to traffic.

    Outlawing cars?? I mean, they are harder to smuggle and use than dope. Clearly this problem calls for a War on Wheeled Vehicles, known on the streets as “The Devil’s Conveyance”.

    See: Red Barchetta / Nice Morning Drive

  11. First the Gentle Giant post, now this headline. Dave, did your older brother Emilio Estevez get you into this stuff or what?

  12. Well, most people do. If you’re working an unusual schedule your traffic problems probably aren’t that bad, anyway.

    You must not live around DC. Rush hour runs until well after 8 PM, traffic wise. I can leave my house at 9:30 in the morning and still run into huge backups. Morning rush can last until 10:30.

    Of course, the city thinks that rush hour still ends at 9:30 and we start losing lanes to parked cars on main arteries. I should mention that I currently live close in to the city and mass transit takes a full half-hour longer than driving in.

    I also need my car some days to haul equipment or to leave early at times to deal with kid stuff. Mass transit is very unfriendly to anyone that doesn’t conform to its idea of “normal.”

  13. “…ignores or denies the (there’s a name for it; joe?) effect you get with increased road capacity….”

    the “convenience” effect, perhaps?

  14. “…how much credit does Eno get for TLLDOB”

    Not much, he’s only on one track, “The Waiting Room”. OTH, Genesis paid Eno by lending Phil Collins to him for the Another Green World sessions, so it’s all good.

    Oh yeah, were we talking about roads or something?

  15. Same problem in the Twin Cities. I quit work, went on welfare. I look at it as my contribution to reducing traffic congestion. Recommend it for everyone. Working sucked. !!

  16. No, I live in NYC where the rush hour is just as long. One difference is we have mass transit that runs 24 hours (even to the suburbs). And it’s not just buses so it’s usually faster than driving.

  17. Keep the prog-rock references coming…maybe use “Return of the Giant Hogweed” if Al Gore decides to jump into the prez race.

  18. You must not live around DC. Rush hour runs until well after 8 PM, traffic wise. I can leave my house at 9:30 in the morning and still run into huge backups. Morning rush can last until 10:30.

    Man… I used to commute 75 miles into DC each day to work for a dot-com. We were allowed to come in at 10:30 or 11:00am and leave at 6:00 or 6:30pm. Nonetheless, it sometimes took me 3 hours one-way. I had a co-worker who lived about 10 miles from the office, yet it took her an hour to make it in every day, even at 10:30am. It was *horrendous*.

    Around 9:15 at night, I often see I-70 filled bumpter-to-bumper with commuters returning home. I’m glad I’m no longer among them.

  19. Mass transit is very unfriendly to anyone that doesn’t conform to its idea of “normal.”

    While a lot of people do work downtown, my guess is that the majority of people around here are commuting from one place to another in the ‘burbs. More subways won’t help one little bit for the more typical problems like West Ox or the Fairfax County parkway.

    OTOH, I would certainly use the Dulles Rail connector for my occasional visits downtown. Hopefully it will be paid for with the tax dollars of people in Idaho who owe me transportation to Reason affairs.

  20. “…ignores or denies the (there’s a name for it; joe?) effect you get with increased road capacity….”

    the “convenience” effect, perhaps?

    The Field of Dreams effect?

  21. (there’s a name for it; joe?)

    “The Yogi Berra Effect”?

  22. I think the problem with people who have problems with increased road capacity and traffic-management, and congestion pricing, is that they think everywhere is like NYC, and if it isn’t, we can build it to be.

  23. RC, the point is that there is no solution to traffic.

    Damn those people for wanting to travel when and where they want! Damn them all to hell!

    Seriously, I’m not particularly opposed to “user fees” (also known as “toll roads”). I would point out that Dallas has a toll road running parallel with its major north/south artery. My informal observation is that both are equally congested.

  24. I think the problem with people who have problems with increased road capacity and traffic-management, and congestion pricing, is that they think everywhere is like NYC, and if it isn’t, we can build it to be.

    The problem I have is this failure to shake the notion that something can be done about traffic. It can’t. Infrastructure improvements lead to population migration and/or usage pattern changes. They do not mitigate traffic issues.

    I’m not suggesting that we abandon infrastructure improvements. I simply pointing out that traffic mitigation potential should not be a component in the decision making process on whether or not to implement such an improvement. There is only one question to answer…How much do we want to spend in order to attract more people to such and such area?

  25. Todd Fletcher,

    Do you have a cite for that? The issue of what Eno did on the record has, it seems to me, always been somewhat controversial, with Wikipedia crediting him for working on “Grand Parade” and this webpage suggesting he also did things on “In the Cage.”

    http://www.rawbw.com/~marka/music/lamb.html

    I also vaguely recall someone speculating that he did something with “Riding the Scree,” which was the genesis, as it were, of my comment.

  26. The problem is that a traffic network providing anything like sufficient convenience for the 99.99% of Americans who want their own spread and a car or two take them everywhere cannot be built. Not for what they’re willing to pay, anyway.

  27. The problem is that a traffic network providing anything like sufficient convenience for the 99.99% of Americans who want their own spread and a car or two take them everywhere cannot be built.

    OK. Most people dreams of material well-being are beyond their means. So?

  28. RC,

    You don’t seem to be approaching this from the perspective of a cost/benefit ratio (which surprises me). What is your method for determining if infrastructure improvements are justified?

  29. Connolly is running for an office, not writing a doctoral treatise.

    He’s staking out a position during a political race, not writing a book.

    As much as it might momentarily serve the Reason Foundation’s interest to pretend this is just a technocratic goo-goo issue, it’s not. The decision about providing different modes of transportation touches on all sorts of issues other than the efficiency of mobility for the people using it tomorrow – issues like land development patterns spurred by the transportation funding.

    Connolly is denouncing the radical right, libertarian policy prescriptions because they would further a radical right, libertarian regional development agenda, and he doesn’t agree with that vision.

  30. Most people dreams of material well-being are beyond their means.

    So… you agree with me that suburban America’s desire for congestion-free driving which is at complete odds to the way it is designed, is a pipe-dream?

  31. Rhwuyn,

    I’ve heard it referred to as the “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon.

    A lot of these comments about the limitations of mass transit seem to assume that rail would REPLACE the road system for commuters. It wouldn’t – it would supplement it. If you have to drive around gear, for example, wouldn’t it be easier to do that if some % of commuters weren’t also driving? If you’re commuting from Fairfax County to PGC, wouldn’t it be easier to do that if some % of the people going downtown were in the Metro instead of trying to merge ahead of you on the Beltway?

  32. Damn those people for wanting to travel when and where they want! Damn them all to hell!

    No, no, damn those people who want to go into an area served by transit! Damn their black commie sould straight to hell!

    Unless they’re willing to drive there. Then they’re ok.

  33. This talk about “people going where they want to, when they want to” – ie, the unpredictablity of transit demand – requires a willful ignorance of the fact that a great deal of the morning commute IS, in fact, very predictable.

  34. It wouldn’t – it would supplement it.

    And that’s the problem. From a cost/benefit perspective, it’s really really hard to justify that expenditure.

    I understand totally your desire to optimize transportation flows by supporting high-density related initiatives. The problem I have is in determining if that optimization is worth the cost, particularly in a 10 year post-construction time frame. It may be worth it in a 100 year post-construction time frame, but that’s really hard to justify for present-day taxpayers.

  35. I used to live in Fairfax, and traffic was murder. When I bought a house Fairfax was out of the question, so I moved out to Manassas, and driving was a living hell. My final solution was to move to Wichita. It’s traffic Shangri La.

  36. The problem here in N. Virginia is that the mass transit groupies don’t want to build out any more road infrastructure, and the highway types don’t want rail. Both are clearly necessary in this area. And users of each should clearly pay a higher percentage of the costs.

    N. Virginia is very spread out and decentralized, with a large percentage of commuters NOT going downtown anymore.

  37. Jackson, MS has the wierdest law n order type now at large. He makes Sherif Joe Arpayo [sic] of Phoenix, Maricopa Co, AZ look like a coddle the criminals, ultra left wing liberal & a moderate. The writing of this blog goes far beyond the usual vivid writing on finds on REASON. You must be a clone of the late, great Dr Hunter S Thompson. I bow to your great gonzo journalism technique.

  38. MP,

    Differences in our timeframes are probably a big part of why we’re on different sides of the issue. Present-day taxpayers still use the MBTA in Boston.

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