The Shape of the Future

E M Risse


Were they Listening?
Or Was it Just Luck?


Nah, they weren't listening. Still, the inability of the General Assembly to raise taxes for transportation gives Virginia one more chance to get things right.


Virginia's tax reform/budget nightmare is over for two years. It is time to get up and get to work.

For now, there will be more money for the functions of government in the Commonwealth. There are, however, no Fundamental Changes to make education, safety and security, health care and other responsibilities of government more efficient or effective.

In mobility and access (aka, transportation), there is some good news! Without new money for more transport facilities, citizens have the leverage to implement the changes in human settlement pattern necessary to secure mobility and access. For years, it has been obvious that without Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns, building more facilities just makes transport more dysfunctional.


(See "What's Next?" Nov., 25, 2002; "Wrong Solution, Wrong Problem," Dec. 9, 2002; "Too Little, Too Late," "Smoke and Shadows," Jan. 13, 2003; "Access and Mobility," June, 30, 2003; "Five Critical Realities," Dec. 15, 2003; "Clueless," Jan. 19, 2004; "The Shape of Richmond's Future," Feb. 16, 2004; "Delusional Thinking," March 1, 2004; "Tax Deform," March 15, 2004; and my backgrounder, "Anatomy of a Bottleneck".)


Now is the time to step forward to insure that the right development is carried out in the right places:

  • Ensure optimum return on the public investment in shared-vehicle systems like METRO by concentrating the right land uses in the station areas. The goal of all station-area projects must be to balance transit system capacity with the ridership demand generated by station-area land uses.

  • Recycle vacant and underutilized land to create Balanced Communities in sustainable New Urban Regions.

  • Guard against "innovations" in funding that result in new transport facilities that generate more peak hour/peak direction demand by encouraging the wrong land uses in the wrong locations. 

The first two strategies are straightforward. They can be achieved by carrying out real regional planning and avoiding the traditional practice of municipal planning. (See "The Shape of Richmond's Future", Feb. 16, 2004 and my backgrounder "The Role of Municipal Planning In Creating Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns.") 

The third strategy requires new thinking: For years, the sages have opined the "problem" is that municipalities and the private sector are responsible for land use while the Commonwealth is responsible for mobility. Ideas for "innovative" solutions (aka toll roads and special tax districts) have come mainly from private sector engineers, contractors and landowners who benefit from the construction of new transportation facilities. In the future, such proposal must be accompanied by land use changes that will ensure that the entire Region's mobility system -- and not just the facility the petitioners want to have built -- will become more balanced. By "more balanced," we mean the creation of Balanced Communities which reduce total travel demand, especially intraregional peak hour direction and congestion. (See "Rail to Dulles Realities," Jan. 4, 2004.)

The Commonwealth is faced with two varieties of mobility dysfunction:

  • "Intraregional" congestion in the Virginia portion of the Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region and in the Hampton Roads and Greater Richmond New Urban Regions; and

  • "Interregional" congestion, especially in the I-95 and I-81 corridors.

The intraregional congestion must be addressed by regional strategies to create Balanced Communities for the reasons Jim Bacon spelled out in his column in the last edition of Bacons Rebellion. (See "The Vision Thing," April 30, 2004.)

Interregional congestion is the result of interstate subsidies that make it cheaper to ship commodities long distances via truck. The answer here is to make it more attractive to use rail for long-haul freight and medium-haul passengers.

Neither intraregional nor interregional mobility problems can be solved by just throwing money and asphalt at them.


-- May 10, 2004































Ed Risse, and his wife Linda live inside the "Clear Edge" of the "urban enclave" known as Warrenton, a municipality in the Countryside near the edge of the Washington-Baltimore "New Urban Region."


Mr. Risse, the principal of

SYNERGY/Planning, Inc., can be contacted at [email protected].


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