In further response to Bubberella’s question under the Saturday 24 February post “Billions for Transportation – But How Much for Congestion Relief?”

It should be clear that the positions held by frequent BaconsRebellion contributors cover a broad range, and do not represent just one perspective. Here is a quick review:

EMR admits to holding down the True Conservative / Conservation / Science-Based Reality end of the spectrum.

Moving away from this anchor are more traditional conservation-oriented positions held by those who agree on many of the basic realities but fear that strongly advocating the transformations needed to achieve Fundamental Change will require them to give up some or all of what they have inherited and/or worked hard to achieve.

Next come a range of Centrists who see a stronger roll for government actions to achieve Balanced Communities in sustainable New Urban Regions.

These three categories represent the interests of about 80 percent of the population. See the 20% / 60% / 20% Guideline.

Beyond the Centrists are the Left WingNuts who vacation in Cuba and have recently bought stock in Citco.

Beyond the Left WingNuts near the bleeding edge are the Right WingNuts.

Right WingNuts are very vocal and occupy the majority of the space on most open fora. Here are some of their favorite positions:

Right WingNuts favor small government unless governmental expansion comes during Elephant Clan administrations. Most favor no government action except that which benefits the very wealthy.

Right WingNuts believe that accelerating Capital Accumulation for the benefit of a few does not threaten democracy and a market economy. They do what they can to support Mass Over-Consumption and thus hasten the slide toward entropy and Collapse.

Right WingNuts take positions favoring Business-As-Usual because they benefit, hope to benefit or recognize that fellow Right WingNuts and other Business-As-Usual advocates make the majority of the contributions supporting the current political party Duopoly.

Right Wing Nuts love to win and do not believe there is a need for a balance between personal rights and public responsibilities to maintain a democracy with a market economy.

Some Right WingNuts are said to hunt small animals with assault weapons. That fascination with firepower is reflected in their posts.

Finally there is one last group: The True WingNuts who have no moral or philosophical rudder right or left. This is a small fraction of participants but they devalue everyone’s views.

True WingNuts live under the assumption that “I live in a human settlement pattern and so I am an expert.” They structure their posts to obscure their true intent, what ever that is.

True WingNuts have no compunction about insulting the intelligence of readers by twisting comments and using misleading words to make what seem like rational points. We cite two examples from the above noted string which are the reason for posting this comment:

“… but the best evidence we have is that transit really works cost efficiently (and envirionmentally (sic) efficiently) for only around 2% of the population.”

The 2 percent is a low ball figure for the number of vehicle trips in a region that are taken on shared-vehicles vis private vehicles. If one considers peak hour vehicle trips the number goes up by a factor of 5 in regions with threshold shared-vehicle system efficiency.

If one considers the number of peak-hour trips where the origin and destination of the trip is within walking distance of a shared-vehicle station the number goes up by a factor of 4 more.

If one understands that the role of shared-vehicle systems is to support settlement patterns where citizens do not need to resort to any vehicle to access many of the elements of a quality life, the numbers are overwhelming in favor of implementation of shared-vehicle systems to provide citizens with mobility and access.

Or try this:

“since shared vehicle systems have an average speed half of that supported by the automobile.”

If one considers Autonomobile travel times in origin and destination rich places served by an efficient transit system the statement is absurd.

On a region-wide basis for the average 10 trips per household per day we know of no data that supports this assumption. The only data we have seen is that a careful cataloguing of trip speed for intra-New Urban Region travel puts the Autonomobile very close to shared-vehicle speed even in areas where there is little or no congestion.

Just as there are no Alpha Communities in the US of A, there are not New Urban Regions with a pattern and density of land use that would support efficient use of a creative mix of shared vehicle systems.

The amazing thing is that in some True WingNut comments two out of three sentences contain this sort of misinformation. One out of three is well founded or congratulates another poster to gain support for unfounded positions.


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  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    EMR – You indicate that there are no Alpha communities in the US today. With all due respect, what evidence is there that an Alpha community can be created and created at reasonable cost?

    I ask this not to provoke a fight or to take a shot at you. Rather, I ask this because I spent part of the week with start-up companies and venture capital investors. Every start-up company was able to demonstrate proof of concept for its product or service. A failure to do so would have eliminated any chance of obtaining investment. Shouldn’t your concept of settlement restructure be treated the same? If not, why not? If so, how do you demonstrate proof of concept?

    These are sincere questions. TMT

  2. I’m flattered to learn that you think I make what seem to be rational points.


    Talk about twisting words. I said NOTHING about how many shared vehicle trips are actually taken. My comment was directed towards how many are economically and environmentally efficient. (Thanks for correcting my spelling.)

    As for holding the science based reality chair, you make me laugh. Here is how I was taught that science works. 1)Postulate a theory or hypothesis. 2) propose and conduct an experiment to prove or disprove the theory. 3) invite your peers to repeat the experiment and see for themselves the results 4) repeat those steps in order to make increasingly accurate results. 5) Conduct the process objectively so that the results are not biased by the scientist’s interpretation.

    I propose a theory that says mass transit can economically serve only around 2% of the population. That theory is also proposed by Winston & Shirley in a book published by the Bookings Institute. I am not alone in my thinking.

    You propose to refute my argument by limiting the case to only those within walking distance and further by considering peak hour travel only. In doing so, you have effectively conceded my point, AS IT WAS MADE.

    Here is my proposed experiment: Take the Metro budget and divide it by the number of trains it runs. That is how much it costs to run a train. Calculate how many fares the train must collect in order to pay that cost.

    Then go find out how many trains actually carry that number of people.

    If it is more tha 2% of the trains run, I’ll buy you a vegetarian dinner at whatever Indian restaurant you can walk to from your home.

    As for the speed of travel, you can look that up, or compare it with your own experience. If I remember correctly, the published time for travel from Courthouse Square to the Pentagon works out to about 12 miles per hour, but that is door closing to door opening, not curb to curb. If you add in the walking time at each end, it is a lot worse.

    All I know is that if I miss my train, it is faster to drive than to wait for the next train, in fact, if I miss my train and drive, I generally beat the train I missed.

    If you have a problem with my statements, then prove them wrong using verifiable public data or peer reviewed research.


    Apparently you have a problem with understanding my motives.

    I am not an apologist for the automobile, nor am I an opponent of mass transit. What I am FOR is a clear eyed analysis of what works and what doesn’t, who benefits and who doesn’t, along with a workable and fair way to change the rules going forward.

    I believe there is a need for balance between public responsibilities and private rights. But public responsibilities are the responsibility of the public, and the public should pay for them. Especially when they impinge on private rights. The individual is helpless enough in the face of the public mass.

    Call me a fair market environmentalist. I believe that the environmental movement cannot succeed if it is based on half baked ideas, blatant and fallacious ideological arguments, spin, pseudo-science, and especially if it is not market based.

    My only true intent is to point out that any reasonably intelligent person can see half-baked ideas for what they are, and is likely to reject them.

    Trying to convince people that they should give up what they have inherited or worked for, supposedly for some unproven better world in the future is a sales pitch that worked for Christ. The rest of us are probably going to need a plan that is a little more earth bound.

    I don’t believe that plan has a single answer. If you think the only answer is to educate the entire population to accept your particular schism, according to your book of prayer, and written in a language only you can understand, then I’d say you have reduced your chances of success considerably.


    There have been some heated posts below, in which the participants have accused each other of ad hominemism. At least you and I have gotten past that, (After JB slapped us around).

    I have to hand it to you, though. By referring to me only in the third or fourth person you have attempted to create a new form of insult: non-hominemism. If you can’t attack the person, then dehumanize him, and discount him as valueless.

    I have never claimed to be an expert, not even in the professions for which I have trained or the ones I practice. When commentators here make a comment I believe is on target, I say so, whether I generally agree with them or not. It doesn’t mean that I have no moral or philosophical rudder.

    As a sailor, I can tell you for a certain fact that sometimes the wind blows one way and sometimes another. Whatever direction that is, is called the true wind. It is only the apparent wind that depends on the set of your rudder and the cut of your sails, but it is the apparent wind that determines your speed.

    If you wish to make the best advance in the direction you wish to go, then it pays to be a keen observor of the true wind.

    So, if you say that you cannot build (with road construction) your way out of congestion, and then turn around and claim you will support any road construction that reduces congestion and VMT, then I’m likely to raise the protest flag. To me, that kind of reasoning does not compute.

    I’m perfectly willing to accept that you cannot build your way out of congestion. Where is the true wind in this argument? Congestion isn’t our only problem. But even if you accept congestion as the limit to this argument, the solution cannot be that we will build no more roads. There must be some other solution, if the real goal is to “reduce congestion.”.

    If someone out there has a real hypothesis as to how to do this, and a real means to test it, well then, there are a few million guinea pigs out there who would love to see the results.

    As long as it doesn’t cost them too much.

  3. E M Risse Avatar


    Good questions and there are good answers.

    I tried to outline a quick response and it went to nine long paragraphs and was incomplete.

    I will try to answer at a later point.


  4. E M Risse Avatar


    Running out of gas for today and have a full week ahead.

    Best I can do in the time alloted is to say:

    In nearly three decades of planning large scale developoments, many intended to be, or be part of, what we now call Balanced (Alpha) Communities, we saw both the potential and reasons why that potenetial was not realized.

    We suggested in a chapter for a book on Planned New Communites that one of the key road blocks to the private sector developing Alpha Communities is scale and the time it takes to build large enough projects to have critical mass to achieve Balance.

    Your point of reference (start-ups seeking venture capital funding) is an interesting way to apporach the problem.

    Creating functional settlement patterns is a public responsibility. There is a private roll but in the end the role of governace is the very reasons the governments are created in the first place.

    Hope that helps.


  5. “There is no greater burden than great potential”

    Charles Schulz.

    It takes a lot of time to achieve the kind of balance you suggest, just as you say. The problem is that balance is a dynamic problem, not a static condition. If your control mechanism takes that long to respond to change, then it is doomed to fail, because by the time the response happens, the conditions are different.

    I may have no moral or philosophical rudder, but I do know two things: the rudder is a lot more efficient when it isn’t hard over, and a little correction sooner is a lot better than a big correction too late.


    Jim Wamsley also took me to task over my speed comment. He countered by saying that it isn’t speed but time that makes a difference. Come on, Jim. That is just weak. You know perfectly well that the unstated premise for my comment was that equal distances were involved. Even if they are not, speed and distance are still related last I knew. Any reasonable person would understand the trade off.

    But, if time is the issue, then why do we spend so much time worrying about long distance commuters who choose to trade time and distance for something else? JW’s argument is that the purpose of a transprotatation system is to connect destintions. OK, what connects more destinations, roads or transit?

    Before you answer, I’ll even give you this: count every apartment served by transit as a separate destination. Roads still win hands down.

    I’m sure the EMR will count this as one of the two out of three sentences I produce that contains misinformation. If he has the data to prove it, I will gladly add him to the posters that I congratulate for occasional perspicacity.

    I also think JW deliberately misread Bubberalla’s original comment, which was the cause of all this diatribe.

    He/she simply said

    “It doesn’t seem to be an adequate or realistic response to existing congestion transportation problems to say “not one dime more in road building until you reorganize urban society.”

    He/she also pointed out that she waa lurker, and had been following the action here for some time.

    My observation is that her observation of the tone here is pretty accurate, and her response is exactly what I have been predicting: people recognize nonsense when they see it. Especially when they think it might hurt them.

    Therefore we conservationists need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a product that will sell. And we will need venture capitalists to fund our ideas. We aren’t going to get them on board by berating the idea of short term profits, speculators, or capitalists.

    I’m sorry to see NMM give up. It isn’t those whose minds will never change that count: they are a dead loss in terms of intellectual honesty.

    The real audience is the lurkers like Bubberella, who get to make a choice in who to believe.

  6. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    EMR claims … “EMR admits to holding down the True Conservative / Conservation / Science-Based Reality end of the spectrum.

    Excuuuuse me !!! That’s more hogwash than this blog has seen for years. EMR’s political persuasion is fascism, pure and simple. That’s not an insult, it’s an observation. Singapore and other nations flourish under that political system and its people aren’t dissatisfied.

    But it’s an incredible, unbelievable distortion to call what you advocate ‘conservativism’.

    EMR said … “Creating functional settlement patterns is a public responsibility. There is a private roll but in the end the role of governace is the very reasons the governments are created in the first place.

    Wrong. THIS government was created to protect the inherent, God given, or Creator endowed rights and freedoms of individuals. ” —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, …”

    Governments’ role in this nation is to allow private, free individuals to settle and live as they see fit. If these settlement patterns EMR pushes are so superior (a big ‘if’ as RH points out) then free enterprise will quickly fulfill the need.

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim Patrick: I concur. Thanks.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    good discussion!

    I pose the following simple question of which the answer will tell you whether you really believe totally in the free market process with regard to settlement patterns or whether you believe that government is necessary.

    How do you feel about sidewalks?

    Yes… do you think each person who owns a parcel of land should decide by themselves what they will have in front of their home or establishment?

    If you are a true free-market person – the answer is obvious.

    However.. if you think there should be a standard of some sort.. then you’ve voted for “fascism”..

    The whole idea of “planning” is based on my sidewalk question.

    Do you want to outlaw planning or not?

    EMR’s treatise, in my view, is basically a planning advocacy.

    Some may agree or disagree with his treatise but do you really disagree with the fundamental premise about planning and government?

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: regional base level congestion vs peak hour congestion.

    Much discussion.. wide ranging… and I agree .. either accidental or on-purpose major confusion as to what the role/usefullness of transit is and is not and what overall transportation policy should be in general or should not.

    So I’ll ask the question.

    Should POLICY be to address PEAK HOUR Congestion or not?

    The answer to THIS question – I believe – clears out the not-on-point discussions with regard to transit and roads.

    NoVa does not have a road congestion “problem” at 8pm most days nor for the next 8 hours.

    And those miles of empty roadway are not “free”. It cost major dollars to maintain them … just as METRO has non-peak hour costs.

    But Transit precisely addresses peak hour congestion and in my view, it is on THAT basis that we should be comparing the cost and usefulness of transit verses new lanes and/or new roads.

    What, in the road world, TARGETS peak hour congestion?

    The answer MORE roads is no more intelligent in my view than the answer MORE transit.

    What we get… I feel.. is advocacy for new roads that are said to cost 10 million a mile and compared to transit at $150+ million per mile.

    The ICC will cost more than $120 per mile – and no where that I can find on their website do they claim that it will result in less congestion.

    METRO has a Federally-required cost-benefit ratio. Where is the equivalent road cost comparative?

    It seems to me – that either on-purpose or accidently or perhaps a bit of both – we continue to depict the issues on an apple verses orange basis..

    and that is not useful in achieving a better understanding of the issues IMHO (in my humble opinion).

  10. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Based on Larry Gross’ simplistic litmus test, the federal government doesn’t ‘believe that government is necessary’ since the major federal roadways —interstate highways— have no sidewalks at all! Gross is confused between anarchy (absence of any government), strong limitations on government (as in our Constitution), and totalitarian dictatorships ala 1984.

    Just goes to show that every problem has simplistic answers … that are simply wrong. Binary thinking (‘either/or’, black-or-white) doesn’t work very well with governments since there is no “true” democracy, no “true” communism, no “true” totalitarianism, no “true” republic. They are strawman arguments.

    Gross’s comments also highlight an interesting dichotomy he holds: Roadways are the province of government (transportation for public good) but sidewalks —those things that line suburban roads— aren’t seen as transportation at all. If they were, sidewalks would be designed and planned independently of vehicle roads. They aren’t of course, and the resultant substandard layout means sidewalks are inefficient and little used; but Gross still approves of their enforced installation.

  11. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Toomanytaxes asked about any ‘Alpha communities’. What fortuitous timing!

    Based on its size and age New York City would be an ideal candidate. Then too, EMR’s earlier work subverting property rights in the (NY) state for the benefit of New York City should farther qualify it.

    The NY Times recently reports that this ‘Alpha community’ has the highest taxes of any city in the nation

    In a comparison to all US cities over one million population, NYC taxes are 37% higher than the second highest in the nation “The comparable figure for local taxes alone, according to the new study, is 90 percent greater than the average in the next eight largest cities.”

    Also of note on transportation is that “Of the total state and local tax burden in New York, 62.3 percent went to the city or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and only 37.7 percent went to the state.” [emphasis added] EMR’s dream of Alpha can be reached … with enough of your money.

  12. E M Risse Avatar


    Your sidewalk question is a good one.

    The same is true for roadways. The founding fathers moved by articles of confederation to a federal consitution because the seperate states were building roads and canals and charging tolls to benefit themselves, not the whole.

    By the way sidewalks are heavily used where they are designed to serve the land uses, so are seperate pathway systems.

    Business As Usual types fear that intelligent use of foot travel will cause them to have to pay the fair cost of their Autonomobile addiction.


  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Gross is confused between anarchy (absence of any government), strong limitations on government (as in our Constitution), and totalitarian dictatorships ala 1984.”

    Note for your own edification that GROSS clearly understands the difference and his motivation is to ferret out those who who speak with forked tongues when it comes to Free Market verses Fascism.

    I know this sounds crazy but there are those who beat their chests about “free market principles” and who like to expound simultaeously that “planning” is inherently fascist.

    Most folks not hard right or hard left understand and accept the premise that planning and standards are useful things that are important – AND that it truly is a matter of opinion as to how much is “right”.

    It’s not about sidewalks – it’s about the PREMISE behind sidewalk STANDARDs.

    It works for Interstates also as well as hundreds/thousdands of other issues.

    Do you want a “different” Interstate every time you change jurisdictions?

    Do you believe that Federal Highways is FASCIST because they impose standards for design and functionality on the Interstates?

    The same process that governs Interstates also governs planning in general.

    If we truly had a truly free market – you wouldn’t have the subsidies that support and encourage scattered settlement patterns because then each person would have to make those economic decisions that directly affected the difference between a “want” and a “need”.

    If we did one simple thing and put the actual cost of maintaining a road for users on a per user basis – we’d have two things:

    1. – adequate infrastructure

    2. – people making decisions based on the actual costs that they incur.

    I always find it amusing that the folks who pound their chests the most about “free market” principles are usually also great supporters of taxing everyone for roads on the premise that roads serve everyone.

    Karl Marx and Free Market Principles. Zoweee!

  14. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Mr. Risse,

    You impress me as an intelligent individual. I appreciate much of your thoughtful efforts to help promote better “human settlement patterns”.

    I am therefore surprised at your use of name calling and attempts to label individuals as “wing nuts”. It not only fails your exacting standards for a strict taxonomy, but it seems to lower what you seem to hold as your personal high standards.

    As to the concept of why government exists, well, that depends on where you are and what government you are discussing.

    Our nation is founded upon many principles – they are found in our Declaration of Independence and our Federal Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Constitutions of our states and Commonwealths, and the charters of their subsequent political subdivisions.

    In our nation, in the simplistic of foundational premise is that our Federal government is exists to protect of Rights, the sovereignty of our borders, and to insure that we are governed with the consent of the governed.

    Over the years there has been a great deal of “requirements creep” that has expanded the role of government in our lives.

    Freedom is a precious gift we Americans fight and die for.

    The entire issue of “human settlement patterns” is a core element of our ability to choose freely where we live and where we go. It is also about the freedom to decide who we wish to “settle” with.

    Much of where many Americans choose to live has to do with where they can find a job or place to earn a living.

    Therefore discussing sidewalks might be an interesting intellectual exercise, but the theories of “balanced communities” and the need to “commute” from home to work are far more on point.

    This topic is discussing:

    In further response to Bubberella’s question under the Saturday 24 February post “Billions for Transportation – But How Much for Congestion Relief?”

    Congestion relief?

    I am guessing the author was discussing traffic congestion, not pedestrian congestion (sidewalks).

    Getting back to discussing HB 3202, I am not familiar with the NORVA or ROVA transportation needs, but I am well educated regarding the transportation needs of TW/HR.

    The highway projects listed in HB 3202 are designed as economic development investments far more than any reasonable transit/mobility improvements that will reduce existing traffic congestion.

    On this factor alone, HB 3202 is a failure.

    As far as offering TW/HR any innovative new approached to improve our current model used to expand population and the resulting “human settlement patterns”, HB 3202 appears to fail to bring any significant change to my region.

    As for one concept we should explore – our region has a natural asset that our regional planners ignore. We have we have coastal estuaries and canals. We have done nothing to investigate a greater use of our natural waterways as an untapped form of mobility.

    In our region we could begin to reconsider development to make use of waterways as a form of people movers. This might offer our region a natural advantage that many other regions cannot make use of as a way of moving people around without the use of a vehicle on a road or highway.

    Continuing with this thinking for a minute, I wonder if consideration has been given to constructing a deep draft canal with direct access to the port of Hampton Roads that could move the transfer of cargo from vessels to rail and truck located outside of our existing high density urban center? This could avoid the 5,000 additional trucks currently planned to further clog our region’s roadways. It would also help to reduce air pollution win our high density urban core cities.

    I am wondering what such an endeavor would cost compared to the $4.4 Billion Dollar 3rd Crossing the local business community is pushing so hard?

  15. E M Risse Avatar

    Mr. Greenmun:

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I am sure there are many things we agree on, given a more amenable forum.

    Several notes:

    Enhancing the opportunity to have efficient pedestrian movement is the very best way to reduce vehicle congestion. Having to resort to a vehicle deprives humans of much that make life enjoyable.

    An old friend who grew up in the 50s LA Hot Rod Culture says he decided to become a planner when he discovered that riding up and down the street was great for a while but for the real action one has to park and walk.

    My articulation of Left WingNuts, Right WingNuts and True WingNuts was intended to demonstrate that all of them are in a far corner of the universe of thinking that must be done to achieve functional settlement patterns.

    The sentence that is perhaps the most important is that too few understand … “there is a need for a balance between personal rights and public (community) responsibilities to maintain a democracy with a market economy.”

    Individual freedom for humans in an advanced society is possible only in the context of a supportive community with an effective government.

    One of the most memorable quotes from my years of working with John T. Hazel Jr. was, in response to a question about him spending thousands of hours as a volunteer on boards and committees: “There is a lot more eleemosynary in enlightened self interest than most ___________ think.” As I recall it was a political party but am not sure.

    Keep up the good work, such as good ideas about transport strategies and digging into bad legislation impacting Hampton Roads New Urban Region. Abandon the rest, no one can do it all.


  16. Tobias Jodter Avatar
    Tobias Jodter

    They do what they can to support Mass Over-Consumption and thus hasten the slide toward entropy and Collapse.

    Would EMR consider the current targeted relocation of millions of immigrants from low consumption countries to the US (presumably to attain the US Standard of Living – i.e. mass over consumption) to be a contributing factor toward this slide to entropy and Collapse?

  17. It is one thing to require sidewalks and curb standards, given that there will be sidewalks and curbs. I can remember the time before the Americans with disabilites act when sidewalks generally did not have wheelchair ramps, so that the curbs were an obstacle. The early wheelchair ramps were poorly designed and became a haven or trap for water borne trash – which then became an obstacle to wheelchair victims, and an unsighlty mess for everyone else.

    Standards eventually fixed all that.

    So, it is one thing to have a standard, but it is something else to require the owner to install a sidewalk for the public benefit at his own cost. My Alexandria neighborhood turned down sidewalks in a local referendum by something like ten to one.

    I thought it was a mistake, but I was far, far in the minority. Apparently, people had what they had, and didn’t want to change, or pay for the change, which they would have done through a temporary tax adder.

    To me, it was a clear safety issue. Should the county have imposed the sidewalks? I don’t think so, at least not unless the county wanted to pick up the tab. I guess the county doesn’t care about pedestrian safety, and the neighborhood cares even less.

    On the other hand, without transit to walk to, appropriate businesses to walk to, crossing places with signals, etc. the sidewalks are kind of superfluous. Panties on an elephant.

    But then you have the case of new construction in which the sidewalks will be required, even if they go nowhere. Would it be better to require a cash proffer equal to the value of the sidewalks and use it someplace where it is needed, like the homeles shelter, or schools? What is the point of a requirement that costs money and provides no benefit?

    Then, at some later time, when the need is evident, the county could come back and put in the sidewalks. But if that happens, someone will undoubtedly be screaming bloody murder that the developers are getting something for nothing, or some other anti-tax complaint.

    If the county wants sidewalks, and thinks they are needed for safety and drainage, then that is their call, and they should pay to install them, on a prioritized basis. That way they can avoid imposing standards on someone else, and the standards they impose on themselves are not quite so likely to result in sidewalks paved with designer bricks.


    As for the balance between personal rights and public responsibilites in a market economy, the answer is clear to me. Rights have a value in a market economy, and if the government finds a compelling need to have those rights, then they can damn well buy them at market value. That is how an effective government conducts its business and protects individual freedom.

    When we throw someone in jail, it might be for self protections and public safety, but it is often primarily to deprive them of their rights, and we recognize that as punishment. Yet somehow, it is becoming more and more the norm to chip away at those same rights, little by little, and not regard that as punishment at all, but instead, a matter of protecting the rights of some other group.

    If it keeps up, we’ll eventually get to the point of tossing people in jail prospectively, to keep them from becoming criminals and a danger to the state, just because we don’t like something they might do.

    I think some governments have actually done that.

  18. “If we truly had a truly free market – you wouldn’t have the subsidies that support and encourage scattered settlement patterns “

    Ah, yes. But if you truly had a free market, then you wouldn’t have 180 acre minimum lot sizes, either.

    Besides, what subsidies do we REALLY have, not EMR’s fantasy ones, that support scattered settlement any more than we have other subsidies that support dense settlement, like oh, say, METRO, to the tune of how many million each year?

    If we eliminate subsidies, it will hurt the urban areas far more that it will hurt the rural ones, without those subsidies, like rent control, people would flee the cities like rats.

    Give me a break.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I don’t think so, at least not unless the county wanted to pick up the tab.”

    Don’t you mean take the money from residents?

    (i.e. government imposed taxes).

    there are two issues here and they get confused.

    1. – governments CAN and DO tell you what you can or cannot build and what the designs and standards will or will not be without one word about government paying for those things.

    It’s called “Planning” and some folks say this is FASCIST except for then they, as individuals, approve of “some” but not all planning dictates.

    2. – taxes and proffers that government collects to pay for operations .. that .. include… infrastructure and facilities for the purpose of public health and welfare.

    The justification for government-imposed taxes for roads is an example.

    Both the Feds and the State (VDOT) impose specific (and expensive) standards and both of them collect taxes to administer and enforce those standards – as well as – pay contractors to build roads.

    In a true “free market” scenario – private investors would build TOLL roads according to their own standards without regard to whether the government thought they were adequate for health and welfare of those that used those facilities.

    I’m pointing out… that governments DO impose standards and that most folks do not consider this to be FASCIST but actually needed.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: subsidies

    The most harmful thing about subsidies is that they become rationales for other subsidies – to respond to some harmful aspect of the original subsidies.

    Take the home mortgage subsidies then look at the subsidies to provide “affordable housing” for folks who cannot take advantage of the home mortgage subsidies.

    Scattered developed is encouraged and acclerated by home mortgage subsidies and roads that are subsidized by those who don’t use them.

    If every home buyer could not claim a tax reduction for their home – the kind and type and location of that home might be different in some (not all) cases.

    DITTO – if, it costs $30 per driver per day to maintain a major commuter road and the driver pays only $1.50 per day it’s virtually no cost to them.

    But if they have to pay the $30 and it amounts to $600 a month – that’s big enough money for them to look twice at a mortgage on a home 60 miles away vs $600 more a month for a home close in.

    Subsidies are like Planning dictates.

    All or None are probably not a good thing.

    We should help those who cannot fend for themselves but when we extend that help to folks who make $70K a year and up to enable them to drive 100 miles a day to a home that has 1000 more square feet and 2 more bathrooms than they could normally afford… and is clearly a want and not a need – we’ve actually causing congestion problems in my view.

  21. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so blunt. I could have negated EMR’s claim to ‘true conservatism’ by using the term ‘corporatism-oriented’. Or something similar.

    Thinking posters here were mature, I didn’t do that, and Larry Gross had —and continues to have— such a violent knee-jerk reaction he’s splintered a tooth and is engaged in every logical fallacy [1] [2] [3] [4] applicable.

    there are those who beat their chests about “free market principles” and who like to expound simultaeously that “planning” is inherently fascist.
    if you think there should be a standard of some sort.. then you’ve voted for “fascism”..

    It’s all fabricated by Gross; not a single comment has even implied that. Nobody’s trying to “outlaw planning” like Gross accuses. Given a caution against binary thinking, Gross took it as advice. LOL

    An example:
    Risse: I’m an eleemosynary guy, let’s put straitjackets and shackles on commuters.
    Me: That isn’t benevolent like you say, in fact it’s oppressive.
    Gross: You’re trying to strip people naked! You want people to run wild!

    Let’s put this in perspective: EMR wants more and/or stronger government action compelling people to live in certain places. Wants radical, fundamental change to society and government. EMR then labels self “true conservative”. That’s incredibly false. EMR’s views are nothing close to conservative.

  22. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim P.

    Just settle down, you will feel better when your med take effect.

    “Let’s put this in perspective:”


    “EMR wants more and/or stronger government action compelling people to live in certain places.”


    “Wants radical, fundamental change to society and government.”


    “EMR then labels self “true conservative”.


    “That’s incredibly false.”

    HOW SO?

    “EMR’s views are nothing close to conservative.”



  23. “Scattered developed is encouraged and acclerated by home mortgage subsidies “

    Not proven. the same home mortgage “subsidies” apply to those who choose to live where you think they should as to those who choose to live where you think they shouldn’t.

    How does the mortgage favor those you don’t like more than those you do?

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t think folks should live in one area or another… I just think the costs of the decisions belong to those that made the decisions.

    The subsidies do apply to all housing near and far but the subsidies make it “worth” commuting for “more” house”.

    We have LOTs and lots of folks down this way that traded in their Fairfax home for a McMansion and a commute.

    but I’ll admit.. the subsidy itself is the same near or far.

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: planning and individual “rights” and GROSS exageration…

    Sorry about that JP. My bad.

    If I said something that insulted you, I offer a sincere apology.

  26. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    EMR, we’ll start with the easy part. EMR wants radical, fundamental change to society and government. Observed fact and admitted fact.

    conservative – 1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. 2. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit. 3. Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate. 4a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism. b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.American Heritage Dictionary.

    The definition carries into politics where conservatismis a term used to describe political philosophies that favor traditional values. … Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have different goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante [the way things were before].”

    For the irony impaired, Risse’s real agenda is the exact opposite of what he claims.

  27. I think we call those who favor the status quo ante reactionaries, not conservatives.

    Otherwise I think you are right. EMR would be more successful at selling his ideas, and to educating people as to what they are, if he just came out with a reasonable way to support his real agenda, and said as much in plain english. I believe that running full force in opposite spin mode simply makes him appear to be a fraud, and isn’t getting him where he wants to go.

    As far as I can figure out his plan is to save the open space by placing such high taxes on services there that people will flee to the more centralized areas. This will lower the value of open space to the extent that it can actually be used profitably for what he calls extensive uses: uses that depend on the land.

    The problem as I see it is that those same people fleeing to the central areas will make prices there even higher, the need for government higher, the need for services higher, the complexity of doing all this higher, and the congestion higher.

    Combined, it will make all that low-cost open space look even more attractive, and provide an even higher delta cost to promote longer commutes.

    I don’t happen to believe that his claimed “efficiencies” really exist, or not to the extent he claims. I also don’t beleive that efficiency ought to be all of what drives our lives. I know perfectly well that it is not efficient for me to grow my own vegetables, but it pleases me. but let’s accept, for the moment that he might be right.

    How efficient is it for the government to subsidize some people and tax other people into accepting what they don’t want? I submit that the costs of that, plus the costs of the changes, far outweigh whatever we might gain in alleged efficiency.

    He is correct, I think, in suggesting that eventually economic conditions will force us to change. Unlike him, I have no idea how those changes will work themselves out. Whatever happens, better or worse, those conditions will be faster, easier, and cheaper to adapt to if we don’t simultaneously have the government trying to impose some additional artificial conditions on top.

    That is why I say we will be more successful in our planning if we plan for what is happening, rather than planning for what we CLAIM is happening, and rather than using planning as a social engineering tool to plan what (some of us) would like to happen.

    If we are skillful, smart, and persistent in a socially and economically acceptable manner we can nudge things in a better direction as we go. For evidence, I’d suggest that new developments have better drainage control plans thon old ones. We should accept that and move on, rahter than continuing to insist that evey new development is going to fill in the last swamp or createthe next grand canyon.

    I view this like the martial arts where you use your enemies moves and turn them to your advantage. Except, in this case, many of those that are so often cast as the enemy, are really just our neighbors and sparring partners. We both have a better match, only if we see to it that both sets of skills and advantages advance equally.

  28. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “That is why I say we will be more successful in our planning if we plan for what is happening, rather than planning for what we CLAIM is happening,”

    I would posit that EMR believes that what he is espousing one or more steps beyond traditional planning.

    I didn’t do well with my sidewalk example but what I was simply trying to do was to get folks to think about what PLANNING is in terms of a function.

    In other words what do YOU think the PURPOSE of “Planning” is to start with?

    Do you believe that a Comprehensive Plan is a Legitimate government function – i.e. “planning”?

    What EMR is advocating .. in some respects is Comprehensive Planning for a Region based not on traditional political jurisdictional boundaries that really are quite arbitrary and could quite easily be viewed as obstacles to a more enlighted way to plan.

    I’m skeptical from a practical and pragmatic perspective that we can get there.. and perhaps that is why it has been characterized as fundamental change.

    But by no means… in my mind, should the word “Conservative” stand for holding on to old traditions just for the sake of them being traditions.

    When we find that older traditions don’t work well with a dyanamic and rapidly changing world.. we have a duty to adapt accordingly.

    We do need to know the difference between a tradition and a value and when change is necessary.

    So it boils down to something very simple in some respects.. which is.. does the Constitution say that you can build anything on any piece of land that you own and that any restrictions to your ability to do that are “wrong”?

    What EMR is advocating is that we designate land for uses… on a broader scale that is now done.

    He’s not advocating that this be done against the wishes of voters and even if he was – it would be futile.

    The irony is that many, many folks AGREE with the concept that our existing settlement patterns causes problems… with mobility.

  29. Anonymous Avatar

    Heavens, I should have checked back in earlier. Thank you for your response, EMR.

    I agree that market forces will take care of some of the issues. If “peak oil” is true and fuel prices are only going up from here on out, I would expect that some of the city and inner suburb neighborhoods that have been languishing will look more attractive than commuting 45 miles in bumper-to-bumper to the far hinterlands.

    But from my experience of the conservative mindset, old style, limited government) conservatives don’t expect much from government, but they do expect government to build and repair roads and other publicly owned infrastructure. I don’t think it’s politically feasible for elected officials to respond to gridlock by telling people, in effect, “you created this mess, you live with it.”

    There were more forces complicit in suburban sprawl than the individual homeowners. Government being representative, if your constituents are sitting in traffic for hours to go 15 miles, those representatives need to respond. “Move” isn’t a likely response.


  30. E M Risse Avatar


    Thank you for pitching in.

    We will have a new post in the AM on this topic in general.

    In the meantime do not give up on mortgage subsidy issue.

    It is clear that having a subsidized mortgage induces many to buy more house for the dollar (and spend more dollars to boot) that furthers scatteration.

    What galls me is that 80 percent of the mortgage subsidy goes to the richest 20 percent of the population. They do not need it and are the first ones to buy a bigger McMansion.

    Mortgage subsidy is a big driver of locational dysfunction.

    Bubberella, keep up your reading, I think you will see there are some better solutions than “move” or live with it.

    More in the AM


  31. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    So what you are saying is that it is the rich people who are the first to move out of town? The same ones who could most easily afford the places that you claim are most desired, based on their price per square foot?


    Planning is a relatively benign function by itself, and one that is pretty easy. All you have to do is think carefully about what should be done, and in what order. It is only when it is combined with coercion, force, and politics that it becomes dangerous.

    Then there is the matter of execution. That is when the power brokers, and moneymongers get involved, and it is then that the plan comes unglued, as EMR can attest.

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It is only when it is combined with coercion, force, and politics that it becomes dangerous.”

    which are all… subjective evaluations… correct?

    This is where we get from some quarters words that can be interpreted to mean that “planning in fascism”.

    Even if those words are stated in carefully wordsmithes phrases.

    On the other end of the scale -those who advocate using the Government and Planning to actually force people to do things against their will but phrased as “disincentives” is just as bad.

    The BIG DEBATE is somewhere in the middle – as you and I have clearly demonstrated with our jousting.

    Something tells me that you and I could sit in a bar in Key West and not take a break for days.. except to pee.

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “What galls me is that 80 percent of the mortgage subsidy goes to the richest 20 percent of the population.”

    Your new employees, your service workers, your teachers and police and a host of others cannot afford a house if they are single – even if they drive.

    The mortgage subsidy incentivizes behaviors that result in higher cost to those who cannot afford or who choose to not buy a home.

  34. Jim Patrick Avatar
    Jim Patrick

    All of the things Risse and Gross call “planning” involve some degree of government force. Even incentives are the use or reallocation of taxes. Like restrictions on speech (Fire!) and religion (child sacrifice), there are limits to rights that the government needs to put in place to protect others’ rights. Some amount of Planning is needed.

    Where Risse and Gross appear to disagree with the American concept of government is why Planning restrictions are put into place. Risse expounds on what is best for people, sustainable and efficient; Gross on the congestion and inconvenience caused by people’s voluntary choices to commute long distance.

    Both of you seem to prioritize the wishes of the majority —“the voters”— over the rights of individuals. Q&O has a primer on this.

    When combined with the attitude that government coercion and force are “subjective evaluations” (Gross) and that radical changes to society or government are in order; this way of thinking is downright scary.

    Gross also seems to think congestion is something new, which isn’t true. Both the Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes routinely had 2-3 hour delays in the 1960s; over forty years ago.

  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What is the purpose of planning?

    answer that question and then we can agree to disagree on the specifics.

    I don’t think congestion is new.

    What I think is that congestion is caused by a bigger demand that there is a supply whether it be roads, electricity, movie theatres, sports stadiums, etc and that the way that the marketplace deals with congestion is the correct response and that by continuing to subsidize roads for folks who would use them more and more intensively than others that you will continue to have congestion and continue to want to raise taxes on those who do or would not contribute to congestion if given choices.

    This is not about planning.

    This is about good old conservative principles of personal responsibility for the choice each of us makes and who bears the direct financial consequences of those choices.

    Roads paid for by all are socialist in concept – not conservative.

  36. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Both of you seem to prioritize the wishes of the majority —“the voters”

    Nope. You’d be wrong to make that statement.

    Your “rights” end where my “rights” begin.

    All of the words in the US Constitution and the State Constitution may or may not say that explicitly but that’s the basic premise that I support.

    Now, how do we decide where “rights” begin and where “rights” end?

    You could argue about what the Constitution(s) “meant” but in the end… it’s decided the good old fashioned way.

    You may have notice the word “we”.. in “how WE decide”?

    There’s a reason…

  37. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Larry, i still don’t buy it.

    If 80% of the mortgage deduction goes to the richest 20% of the people, it is because they buy more expensive homes. If it is true, as EMR claims, that the most expensive property on a square foot basis is in the urban areas, and this shows that it is the most desired property, then it would SEEM to follow that a preponderance of the high value mortgages are issued in those places that EMR favors, yet he claims just the opposite. Even if it is not the high dollar mortgages that are placed in those areas, it still must be the preponderance of total money in mortgages.

    WHERE the most high dollar mortgages are issued ought be something that could be researched fairly easily. Also the locations of the highest proportion of total mortgage money loaned.

    If I had to guess, I’d say the lowest amount of money loaned is on the older and close-in suburbs, where people have lived long enough to pay down their mortgage.

    The statement that 80% of the mortgage deduction favors the richest 20% is misleading, and it is typical of the kind of things EMR does. “The mortgage deduction subsidy” is not a fixed amount. No matter how much wealthy people borrow, or where they choose to invest their borrowed money, it has nothing to do with the ability of someone who earns less to borrow money for a lesser home in some other location. There are plenty of mortgage brokers out there eager to place loans.

    Wealthy people borrow more money because they can afford to make the payments. They are smart enough to understand the value of leverage (buy now with OPM wwhile it is cheap, pay off borrowed dollars with inflated dollars later, keep down payment small to increase the return on your own actual money.) Risky? Yes, but these are also the people who can afford the risk. If they have to they can raise the cash to pay off, or walk away without getting hurt. But none of that affects ordinary people with ordinary mortgages, (very much) because they are in different markets.

    And where do you suppose the money that mortgage brokers place comes from? It comes from investments that are made mostly by the wealthiest among us.

    We have plenty of mortgage money. What we don’t have is enough lesser homes for them to buy, and as long as we have everywhere a cry to prevent development, moratoriums on development, political meeetings packed with people opposed to multifamily homes in their area, and no plan to accomodate what is actually happening as opposed to what we would like to happen, there never will be.

    If we have lower middle class people doubled up in housing or on the streets, it isn’t the fault of some guy who bought a McMansion on 50 acres, and gobbled up all the available mortgage money.

    It is the fault of the government that has created a plan that results in an exess of fifty acre lots that can be bought at prices far below their true value, and simultaneously a dearth of small lots and multifamily structures because we (I think mistakenly) believe “they don’t pay” or they are undesireable.

    In other words, we have a plan to provide what we think we want, instead of what a free market would provide. I don’t have anything against planning unless it is a plan that creates uncompensated wealth transfer. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening as a result of much of our planning and zoning today, and this is because we do not have a strong and acute and enforceable vision of what constitutes private property.

    It is the wealthiest 20% who are able to game 80% of the planning system to their own advantage.

  38. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Okay – so I have a rather simple question.

    What would happen if the Mortgage subsidy went away?

    Would you think that would change anything?

    Do you think folks would still buy houses as investments for instance?

    Do you think people would then buy only “enough” house and “not too much” and put the money saved aside in investments?

  39. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    What would the investments they invest in be? A huge amount of investments boil down to either mortgages, or businesses that depend on homes.

  40. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Just to wrap up this post we will add a couple of notes:

    As our column of 5 March “Conservation and Fundamental Change” makes clear EMR’s position on Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns and Fundamental Change governance structure is compatible with the definition Mr. Patrick quotes from the American Heritage Dictionary:


    1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

    [In this case rapidly deteriorating and unsustainable settlement patterns. See the Access and Mobility Crisis, the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis, the widening gap between the most wealthy and the rest of the population, etc., etc.]

    2. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.

    [EMR has some nice dark sports coats.]

    3. Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.

    [Our observations are based on what has actually been built and what has sold the best over the past 50 years.]

    4a. Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.

    [Hard to be more conservative than the above.]

    4b. Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.”

    [Every organization we can find the is really conservative and not just a front for one of the two “Parties” in the current political Duopoly .]


  41. Groveton Avatar

    What would happen if the mortgage subsidy went away?

    1. Residential real estate values would drop across the board. Some categories of real estate would drop in larger percentages than others. Personally, I’d bet that homes worth between $500,000 and $1,500,000 would fare the worst. Since the mortgage deduction is capped at $1M of mortage the really high end homes would be realtively unscathed. Eventually, real estate would stabiliize at lower values than had been the case.

    2. A precipitious drop in all stock and bond markets would occur as people sold investments in these markets to raise cash to pay off mortgages. Eventually, the markets would stabilize at lower prices than had been the case.

    3. Interest rates would fall as the demand to borrow money also fell. This drop in interest rates would devastate the bond markets resulting in a sell off of US debt by foreign investors. This sell off of debt would crash the dollar.

    4. An alarming number of people would declare personal bankruptcy as they realized that they could not make their personal cash flow work without the mortgage deduction on their taxes. Their homes would be seized under foreclosure by the lenders and the sale of these homes would further exacerbate the real estate crash.

    5. Many financial institutions would fail as it became evident that their loans would not be paid and the collateral they had collected (i.e. deeds to the homes they provided mortgage money for) were not worth a sufficient amount to cover the amount of the debt.

    6. Various US government backed insurers of financial institutions would try to “bail out” the depositers in the failed financial institutions. However, there would be insufficient funds available to bail out everybody and the available monies would be doled out on a pro rata basis with smaller depositers getting a higher percentage of their money back than larger depositers.

    7. No longer buoyed by the foreign purchase of US debt, the American economy would fail with widespread domestic unemployment.

    8. Those with money would invest in gold or the debt and equity of stable foreigh countries.

    9. The 20% richest people would buy REITs which would, in turn, buy real estate at depressed prices with the intent of renting it to the people who no longer wanted or could afford to own homes. These same 20%ers would now take advantage of the tax deductibility of depreciation (of the costs of the purchased real estate) and would still legally avoid taxes.

    I think we’re far too far down the road of the mortage subsidy to recind it. Maybe over a 25 to 50 year perios it could be ended but no time soon.

    Our dependency on this “drug” may have fewer health consequences than the withdrawl symptoms of “cold turkey” sobriety.

  42. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, I don’t agree with your economic analysis entirely. For instance, if interest rates fell, you dwell on the negative impact of foreigner investors bailing out. But falling interest rates mean *higher* bond prices, which increases the value to bond holders, a bonus, and generally means *higher* stock prices as well.

    Be that as it may, let us take your argument at face value. Would it not be a reasonable solution to stop granting the mortgage deduction slowly. No *new* mortgage deducations, which would mean that we’d be reduction-free within 30 years.

    Alternatively, if you don’t want to wait that long, cap mortgage deductions, and slowly shrink the cap over time. As you observed, we already cap the deductions at $1 million houses. Why not roll that back to $900,000 next year, $800,000 the year after that, etc. If you’re in to social justice and redistribution of wealth, halt the phase-out at $100,000 so people of modest means could get a meaningful break, but the rich guys wouldn’t.

  43. Groveton Avatar


    Bonds would go up as interest rates fell. However, most bonds are callable so the issuer would have to decide whether to recall and reissue. Either way – the bond holder would make a lot of money until he / she had to buy new bonds.

    No “new” mortgage reductions is interesting. People with houses (and mortages) keep their houses and mortgages. New buyers are somewhat discouraged and considering renting a lot more carefully. I guess you get my scenario but in slow motion. Well, no doubt that slow motion is better tyan fast motion when it comes to things like this.

    Also, lowering the cap makes sense. It could be politically presented as a reduction of tax breaks for the wealthy. It would affect a smaller segement of the market first (relatively expensive houses). All in all – I like this idea.

    However, forgetting the possibility of ending unfair tax breaks, what are we really going to accomplish? Do you see the deductibility of mortgages as a reason for dysfunctional patterns of settlement? Doesn’t Canada follow this path already? As I recall they have no deduction for mortgages. Given their size and population density – do they have better patterns of development than in the US? Casual observation in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary (on my part) would say “no”.

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