How to Cut Auto Usage without Social Engineering

Most Americans resist social engineering to pry them out of their cars.

Emily Badger, a perceptive writer for the Atlantic Cities blog, makes a number of excellent points in a commentary published today but manages to confirm conservatives’ worst fears that liberals and progressives are engaged in a war against cars. The libs may say they are “pro-transit,” “pro-bicycle” and “pro-transportation choice,” but when you scratch the surface, their real goal is to get people out of cars. It may be politically inexpedient to say so out loud — too many people like their cars — but that’s where liberals’ social-engineering instincts take them.

In the piece, Badger discusses the many trade-offs that Americans make when deciding which transportation mode to use on any given day. The implicit goal is to shift commuters out of single-occupancy vehicles and into other modes of transportation such as biking, car pooling, walking or transit. “We can incentivize transit by making all of those other options more attractive,” she writes. “Or we can disincentivize driving by making it less so. What’s become increasingly apparent in the United States is that we’ll only get so far playing to the first strategy without incorporating the second.” Then she writes:

The question is really how far we can get down the path of least resistance, pursuing only the politically easy tactics. If the goal at the end of the day is changing behavior, how much can you really achieve by showing people a nice new bike lane?

Ka-boom! With one phrase — “if the goal is changing behavior” — Badger triggers conservatives’ reptilian fight-or-flight instinct. You don’t change anyone’s behavior through the political process except by mobilizing the coercive power of government. In other words, Badger wants to force me to change my behavior to advance her vision of society.

Ironically, Badger dances along the edge of true insight. She alludes to important ways in which federal, state and local governments subsidize automobility — particularly through so-called “free” parking and gas taxes that fail to cover the full cost of building and maintaining roads. Then, for a brief, flickering moment, she really gets it:

“Behavior change” sounds vaguely manipulative. … But in this context, the disincentives are really about removing subsidies and distortions from the market.

Bingo! If Badger and her allies would re-frame the debate along those lines, they would make much bigger inroads with moderates, conservatives and others who resist social engineering at the hand of liberals. A couple of pointers for making Smart Growth palatable to conservatives:

Adopt mode agnosticism. Don’t make “getting people out of their cars” the foundational goal of transportation policy. People like their cars, and for good reason — they offer flexibility, convenience and privacy. Instead, make transportation policy mode-agnostic. Create a level playing field between cars, transit, bikes and walking by eliminating governmental carrots and sticks altogether. The message: You’re welcome to drive your car if that’s what you prefer — just don’t expect us to subsidize your preference.

End free parking. The way to curtail excessive car usage shouldn’t be to create artificial scarcities of parking, it should be to cease creating artificial surpluses of parking. Municipal policy subsidizes parking in many ways: mandating that property owners provide parking spaces, using tax-free municipal bonds to erect new parking garages and providing on-street parking for free, to name a few. Eliminating parking mandates and subsidies will increase the cost of car ownership, achieving liberal-progressive ends, but will do so in a way that deprives conservatives any philosophical basis for objecting.

Reform road financing. Motor fuels taxes once paid fully for roads and highways. Now they pay for less than half. In other words, the cost of building and maintaining roads is heavily subsidized. The principled conservative position, and one that liberals should embrace, is to shift all transportation modes to a user-pays system based on the fuels tax (and perhaps one day a mileage-based user fee) for cars and fare-box revenue for transit. (New transit construction could be financed through value-capture strategies, creating special tax districts to tax landowners whose properties gain value from proximity to rail, bus or streetcar lines.

That just skims the surface of a conservative Smart Growth agenda for transportation, but you get the idea. Stop subsidizing transportation. Let everyone pay the full cost of their transportation choices. And then let people choose freely.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


47 responses to “How to Cut Auto Usage without Social Engineering”

  1. Roadster Avatar

    Careful what you ask for – I can think of no other form of transportation that is so subsidized by others than bicycle paths. What would be the tax on 26″ inner tubes if it had to fund 100% of the right-of-way, materials, and construction of bike paths?

    1. larryg Avatar

      you know what’s funny… “sportsman” pay taxes on ammunition and other sporting things that then go into building boat launches and wildlife management areas, stocked fish, etc..

      why not bikes?

      Once you start paying, you can make demands.. legitimately.

  2. We are spending $5.6 billion on the Silver Line. Tysons’ target mode share for ALL TRANSIT, including many express bus routes, is 22%. That’s less than Bethesda and, of course, downtown Washington. Keep in mind the Silver Line did not meet the federal government’s funding standards even after Senator John Warner got them grandfathered. How do the anti-car people explain this one?

    1. Falls_Church Avatar


      The point of the Silver Line (and all transportation in general) is not to shuttle people back and forth mindlessly. The point is to enable economic growth and activity. The money spent on the Silver Line will increase property values and economic activity in the Tysons/DTR corridor far in excess of the cost of construction. The Silver Line isn’t a conspiracy of the anti-car folks, it’s a thoughtful investment by the pro-business folks.

  3. I have this argument a lot and I’m starting to wonder: what exactly is “social engineering” and why are we so down on it? Can’t almost every policy be chocked up to social engineering in some way? You are attempting to change the way society works. Cars cause x, y, z bad things so we want people to use them less.

    The phobia of “social engineering” seems to come from some kind of idea that government should be value-neutral when it comes to culture. There is a decent argument for this if you are a liberal or strict libertarian, but the argument is still problematic and possibly contradictory. There is certainly NOT an argument for this from a conservative position. The last thing any conservative can argue is that we have to be agnostic about the broader moral consequences of lifestyle choices.

    1. Well, people can try to impose their values on me, if they want. But they’d expect a lot of pushback!

      I pretty much hew to a “live and let live” philosophy. I don’t have any desire to tell you how to live your life, and I sure as **** don’t want you telling me how to live mine!

      1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        For too long the heavy car “freedom” folks have been imposing their culture on the rest of us who don’t care though. With the “needs” for highways, and more car lanes, and higher speed limits which make it impossible for those of us who don’t give a flying hoop about the 2 ton death machines to live our lives without them.

        I pay taxes, as do most walkers and bicyclists, because the reality is even pro-bike and pro-pedestrians are typically only car lite families.

        Also, you keep bringing up the cost of all the transportation etc etc.

        This is ignorant of what people actually pay in terms of gas tax. For the average Virginia driver the amount comes out to only double digit dollars. Compare that to registration fees as well as all the other taxes that are paid for by people who don’t drive as much or use as much gas.

        Now we have an additional regular sales tax instead. So again, your argument against ALL transportation issues is null and void because once again bicyclists and pedestrians ARE paying for the mega project highways for SOV users despite using them far less.

        Its sickening to read some of these comments knowing HOW MUCH I pay to help you people, and yet you don’t even realize that YOU are the ones being subsidized by those of us who make good life decisions.

        The only solution to the kavetching is to collapse the entire system back to local funding only, then perhaps Joe Smith in Roanoke will realize that the repaving every year, and new highway ramp, are all being paid for on the backs of urban residents. Or perhaps they can grow up and realize, just because you don’t directly use it, doesn’t mean you can refuse to pay for it. I’m anti war, does that mean I can have my share of the Iraq and Afghan wars back? I’m anti-highway, can I have my 3 billion in wasted funds on megaprojects in Virginia back? I’m childless currently, should this mean Virginia and the Feds owe me a ton of money for lack of use of the education system?

        Grow up people.

        1. the thing about roads – .. when you go to get your pizza, or get new carpet, or go to a college.. or anything.. whether you are in a car or not -you are “using” the roads.

          When Fed Ex and UPS show up at your door or the furnace or heat pump repair guy or the US mail – you are “using” the public roads.

          so my question is – if we support “user pays” – how do we pay for these uses that are not our personal driving?

          would it be better – if for every service you used – and paid for – that you get an itemized bill that shows the cost to use the public roads to provide you with goods and services?

          Maybe that’s what needs to be done to help remind everyone that roads are much more than driving a personal vehicle.

          1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
            Tysons Engineer


            There is no evidence that people who use bikes don’t pay for the goods traveled by freight, and people who use roads do. Freight fees and other commercial fees are assessed on those goods, so I do not agree with the assertion that somehow I am dooping the system despite my lack of personal road usage, not to mention, there is a sales tax in this state on those very things that I purchase.

            I’d also say that most people who live in urban areas, generally have less space, and therefore buy less things to fill that smaller space.

            Its a strawman, but even in this case it is another example of urban people being screwed over by the much louder, and much more annoying, suburban population.

  4. cpzilliacus Avatar

    Roadster is correct.

    “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”

    Without highway user taxes and fees paid by, well, highway users in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the Washington Metrorail and Metrobus systems come to a halt. Immediately. Metro cannot pay its employees and vendors without diverted highway user revenues, and it cannot make capital improvements and repairs (including replacement of its railcar fleet) to the existing system (I am not talking about the line to Dulles, but the rest of the system) without revenues from highway users.

    I do not know enough about the way that transit operating deficits at agencies like Hampton Roads Transit and GRTC Transit System to make such statements for them, so I won’t.

  5. cpzilliacus Avatar

    James A. Bacon wrote:

    Motor fuels taxes once paid fully for roads and highways. Now they pay for less than half. In other words, the cost of building and maintaining roads is heavily subsidized.

    Agree in part and respectfully disagree in part. Significant amounts of highway user revenue across the U.S. is diverted to non-highway uses by government, especially in tough budget years.

    The unwillingness of many politicians to raise per-gallon motor fuel taxes means that needed maintenance work does not get done, and system expansion (in many instances) does not happen.

  6. larryg Avatar

    re: ” Significant amounts of highway user revenue across the U.S. is diverted to non-highway uses by government, especially in tough budget years.”

    I’d have to see a credible site for that. Right now the Fed Transportation revenues are 1/2 general revenues .. because the fed gas tax is having the same problem that state gas taxes are having…

    and I’m pretty sure Va does not permit gas taxes to be used for anything else but transportation.

    the more you raise the gas tax – the less revenues you collect because people react by getting more fuel efficient cars.

    Right now in Va – just 15% of our transportation revenues come from the fuel tax. We actually get MORE from the 1/2% sales tax than the fuel tax.

    If the Conservatives in Congress get their way – they will stop all general revenue funding of transportation and if they succeed, you’ll see significant impacts not only to new highway construction – but transit and bike trails, etc.

    1. Roadster Avatar

      But one example:

      List of recent Virginia Transportation Enhancement Grants: Note the number of recreation trails, pavilions, battlefields, etc.

      Eligible Activities:

      Transportation enhancement activity.–The term “transportation enhancement activity” means, with respect to any project or the area to be served by the project, any of the following activities as the activities relate to surface transportation:
      1. Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles.
      2. Provision of safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists.
      3. Acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites (including historic battlefields).
      4. Scenic or historic highway programs (including the provision of tourist and welcome center facilities).
      5. Landscaping and other scenic beautification.
      6. Historic preservation.
      7. Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities (including historic railroad facilities and canals).
      8. Preservation of abandoned railway corridors (including the conversion and use of the corridors for pedestrian or bicycle trails).
      9. Inventory, control, and removal of outdoor advertising.
      10. Archaeological planning and research.
      11. Environmental mitigation–
      i. to address water pollution due to highway runoff; or,
      ii. reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity.
      12. Establishment of transportation museums.

      Many of these are nebulous enough to fund pet projects that have very little to do with the moving of people, services, or goods from one point to another.

      1. This gets back to Marohn’s point (which I emphasized in earlier post) that transportation funding creates a “slush fund” that can be used for a wide variety of things only tangentially related to roads and highways. Transportation museums? Good grief!

      2. larryg Avatar

        my mistake. I thought you were talking about fuel taxes being spent on things other than transportation .. for things that normally general revenues pay for.

        as opposed to those things that have been decided to be legitimate transportation expenditures.. as a policy – as opposed to grabbing transportation money for non-transportation purposes of any kind.

        Congress has agreed that TE and Transit are legitimate transportation to be funded from fuel taxes – of which I now know you disagree with that policy (as opposed to transportation funds being “raided” ad hoc for other things).

        Conservatives in Congress agree with you. They’d like to defund anything that is not directly road related… including transit.

        but TE is a tiny amount.. less than 1% I believe. Transit is about 3 cents of the 17 cents. 800 million out of a 70 billion budget. I think about 10 billion goes to transit.

        de-funding TE would be mostly a symbolic gesture as the money “saved” probably would not buy much additional road – on a national basis.. if you divvied it up by state – less than 20 million – about what you could buy one mile of a 2 lane arterial for.

        but I do not agree with the “slush fund” characterization because it implies some huge pot of money that gets spent for things that are not needs or priorities that could make a significant difference if we had it.

        Let me also point out that the states can opt out of TE.

        here’s what I advocate. I advocate that first we get numbers so we know what we’re talking about… so we understand how much money the 17 cent Fed Tax actually generates and then how much we actually budgeted – and then what it is spent on…

        when we talk about fuel taxes being spent for other things like TE and Transit – we need to keep in mind that 1/2 or more of the transportation budget comes from general revenues not fuel taxes.

        In Va, 15% of transportation funding comes from fuel taxes while more than 20% comes from sales taxes on everything that is not fuel.

        the question is – if you collect non-fuel taxes for transportation – does it have to be spent only on roads if there is no real nexus between fuel taxes and spending?

  7. larryg Avatar

    re: liberal and conservative social engineering.

    ever wonder why you get to deduct mortgage insurance but renters can’t deduct their rent? ever wonder why homeowners do not have to pay taxes on imputed rent?

    ever wonder why some folks get tax-free health insurance while those who don’t have insurance but do have significant out-of-pocket health care costs do not get to not pay taxes on that part spent on health care – like those who have employer-provided do not?

    carried interest?

    flood insurance?

    our whole frigging tax code is social engineering.. and much of it is “conservative” and you know that because the GOP won’t touch any of it.

    Imagine if the GOP cut the taxes of those who spend out of pocket on health care – by letting them claim the same credit that those with employer provided do.. it would have made an interesting alternative proposal to ObamaCare… something people could have supported! a tax cut for your health care costs!!!

    People who cannot itemize give thousands to charity and volunteer many hours to their community – and they get zippo for it…

    so yes… our tax system is one big social engineering critter and not necessarily moral about it at all.

    1. Interest became tax deductible when the income tax was first enacted in 1894. That tax was quickly declared unconstitutional. After the 13th Amendment was passed and the income tax reinstated, all interest payments were made tax deductible again.

      In 1894, the Democrats held both houses of Congress. And they did again in 1913 when the income tax was passed. I also believe the tax law changes of 1942 authorized the IRS not to tax health care benefits given by employers to employees (to skirt the wage-price controls). The Democrats controlled Congress in 1942.

      1. larryg Avatar

        but not all interest payments for any purpose, right?

        why is only one kind allowed?

        the tax code itself has changed many times since 1942.

        it’s not like it could not be changed and it was many times under both GOP and Dems.

        but why does the tax code favor those who have employer provided health insurance and home mortgages over renters and those that don’t have employer-provided HC but do have significant out of pocket costs?

        re: Perth

        Perth is often characterized as the most isolated city on the planet. It’s a fascinating place, (I think) that I want to visit some day.

        1. You need to ask those who were in Congress in 1942 why they did not want to tax fringe benefits. But they are all gone. We’ll just have to guess.

          1. larryg Avatar

            how about all of those in Congress AFTER 1942?

            were there no changes to the tax code or changes to things taxed or not taxed after 1942?

            Are you saying that 1942 was the only time it was allowed to make changes to taxing fringe benefits?

            remember when you could write off interest on a car? remember when they enacted that law and do you remember when they took it away?

            do you know how many times the percentage cap on what you can claim for health care expenses has changed since 1942?

            all due respect TMT… 1942 was not a date that things were written in stone…

            giving one group of people tax free benefits – was a bad thing..

            and the unfair treatment of people in the tax code, continues.

          2. Larry, obviously there has not been a majority in both houses in the last 72 years that believed the existing situation, when coupled with other relevant factors, felt the status quo needed changing.

            There are lots of unfair things in the IRC. There is a marriage penalty. The top tax rate applies to people in income of $500 K and $50 million. The Ford Foundation isn’t taxed when it lobbies, but Joe and Jane LLP is. A baseball team has unlimited deductions for player salaries. There are restrictions on what a corporation can deduct for top officers.

            Reagan and Congress created a much flatter tax system with fewer deductions and credits in the late 80s. Subsequent presidents and Congresses have changed it. NFL teams are taxed, but the league is a tax exempt entity.

            People are benefited and hurt by the Tax Code. I appreciate your position, but it’s far from the only unfair thing in the tax law.

            Fairfax County residents pay around 22-24% of the state income tax, but the LCI formula doesn’t adequately recognize our higher cost of living. The law also doesn’t require a minimum local tax effort with teeth.

            Why is the health care tax differences the most important?

          3. larryg Avatar


            ” Larry, obviously there has not been a majority in both houses in the last 72 years that believed the existing situation, when coupled with other relevant factors, felt the status quo needed changing.”

            the tax code has not been changed in 72 years?

            “There are lots of unfair things in the IRC. There is a marriage penalty. The top tax rate applies to people in income of $500 K and $50 million. The Ford Foundation isn’t taxed when it lobbies, but Joe and Jane LLP is. A baseball team has unlimited deductions for player salaries. There are restrictions on what a corporation can deduct for top officers.”

            agree.. and the folks who say we tax and spend too much already should realize that people who get away from paying their fair share – offload that burden to those who don’t benefit from loopholes.

            It’s not only a fairness issue – it goes to why we have deficits and debt.

            “Reagan and Congress created a much flatter tax system with fewer deductions and credits in the late 80s. Subsequent presidents and Congresses have changed it. NFL teams are taxed, but the league is a tax exempt entity.”

            so you do agree that there have been tax code changes all along, right?

            “People are benefited and hurt by the Tax Code. I appreciate your position, but it’s far from the only unfair thing in the tax law.”

            oh I agree.. and I’m making the point that for each one of these.. there are real impacts – to all of us.

            “Fairfax County residents pay around 22-24% of the state income tax, but the LCI formula doesn’t adequately recognize our higher cost of living. The law also doesn’t require a minimum local tax effort with teeth.”

            that’s not a proven position to start with. it’s a belief more than fact and it ignores the fact that much of NoVa “stolen” wealth was stolen from taxpayers across the country to pay for Govt spending in NoVa.

            Why is the health care tax differences the most important?

            because it directly affects so many individual people and penalizes the very people who cannot afford health care and are not lucky enough to work where there is employer-provided insurance.

            and it leads to efforts to provide health insurance to those that don’t have it – and the ensuing political kerfuffle over it…

            Clinton tried to do something about it and was shut down by the GOP who claimed they had a better alternative but then they walked away after shutting down Hillarycare.

            in the ensuing 8 years – the GOP did NOTHING about it .. when they actually had the chance to do something – they even passed additional entitlements – using last minute arm-twisting of their own party – at 3 am to do it.

            that gave the other side the idea that the only way to get something done was to ram it through Congress the same way.

            All of this goes back to the refusal to treat people equally fairly on health care and it leads to worst problems …

            we’ve benefited people who buy homes and have employer-provided health insurance – at the expense not only of those who can’t get the benefit but to the rest of us who end up paying for their health care anyhow – as an entitlement – and not as a consumer-driven product.

            providing half of our citizens with “all you can eat” health care while at the same time driving others bankrupt whose only crime was to not able to get employer provided health care is a bad tax code that should have been fixed – and had it been fixed – we would not be going through the problems we are now.

            it fundamentally altered people’s behavior through tax-code “social engineering”.

  8. Mr. Bacon: There is a wonderful worldwide program decreasing car usage and increasing bike/ped and transit. According to a 2000 study in one suburban area, the greater Perth TravelSmart project was increasing annually 4.2 million transit boardings and adding 7 million annual new hours of exercise while saving Perth-area citizens about $25 million Australian — and cutting annual vehicle kilometers traveled by 13 percent, which is a HUGE drop. I call the program “aggressive-passive” because it aggressively finds the people who do indeed care to change driving behavior and then passively helps them do so. Rather than “push” anyone out of cars during rush hours, it cajoles drivers to try alternative transport — including alternative times of driving — on non-commute trips FIRST which, after drivers realize alternatives work better than they thought and have their own built-in incentives, drivers gradually “learn” to try changing commute behavior.

    But because there is no TravelSmart project in Virginia, a couple years ago you didn’t care to discuss it on Bacons Rebellion.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: social engineering for “good purposes”

      another good example of “social engineering” is water/sewer.

      you have no choice. You are FORCED by the government to connect to city water and city sewer – and pay for it.

      you are not allowed to have a well and get rid of your sewage by dumping it in a pit in the back yard (which is how sewage was handled before sewers were built) and still is the way sewage is handled in some countries.

      but the point here is that you do not have the “freedom”, the “liberty” to do what you wish about water and sewer.

      so people can say they want to drive and it’s their right to drive but could they also say that the government should not be telling them whether they can drive or not?

      wanna burn your trash in your back yard? how about dumping your motor oil at the curb?

      what’s the motive behind forcing people out of cars?

      so what’s the difference between water/sewer and driving a car in terms of it’s impact that result in “social engineering”?

    2. Salz, the Perth program sounds like the kind of program I would totally approve of. It’s voluntary. No coercion involved. It raises people to a higher level of consciousness. Why can’t we do that in Virginia? (Arlington’s program comes pretty close, though the results may not be as spectacular.)

  9. larryg Avatar

    tax incentives to have

    health insurance,
    people own homes
    save into an IRA
    make charitable donations
    have kids –
    go to college
    buy energy efficient appliances, doors/windows, insulation

    and – in a way – the fuel tax is social engineering in that it encourages auto use and driving because it’s perceived as an “all you can eat buffet”.

    You pay your fuel tax – you then can drive anywhere you want at any time for any purpose.. .. you’ve paid your all-you-can-consume – fees – no matter whether it covers the transportation infrastructure necessary to support the any/all/everywhere at anytime consumption.

    this is why, for instance, water/sewer is sold with a pricing mechanism that allocates a basic level of use and if you use more – the RATE increases so that you’re paying more per quantity if you have already consumed your basic allocation.

    So we have this pricing model that is effectively “social engineering” as they are using price to convince you to alter a behavior that you’d otherwise engage in – like watering your lawn and forgetting to turn the hose off or having a serious faucet or toilet leak and not fixing it – or filling your backyard pool with municipal water… instead of a separate service.

    Electricity is starting to see pricing according to surges – because if you have to provide more power at peak hours – it costs more to do that so the Power companies are starting to use a municipal water type approach..

    the question is – why do they attempt to change your behavior?

    what’s the justification for it?

    that’s where the advocacy to penalize people for car driving.. sort of .. to use an analogy – the wheels come off – because unless you can tie that advocacy to a resource or pollution issue that affects everyone – then it becomes a bit more murky and more of a subjective argument about values.

    I don’t think you can win the car argument unless you can make it similar to the municipal water or electricity issue.. it won’t work if the motive behind it is to increase urban density or similar..

    just my view.. though a well-conceived argument could change my mind.

  10. If you divide the Silver Line’s construction costs (say $5.6 billion) by its expected 17,000 riders on an average work day, you get a capital cost of more than $329,000 per rider. Is that an effective use of capital? According to WMATA’s 2013 study, a lot of them will shift from the Orange to the Silver Line. WMATA has estimated that about one-third of the Silver Line’s ridership will be people shifting from the Orange Line.

    One of the biggest challenges is that, unlike downtown Washington, Tysons and points west will be served by a spur line and not a hub. But there will be substantial express bus service coming from other directions to Tysons and points west. Will these changes provide an incentive for commuters to get out of their SOVs to come to and from Tysons?

    1. larryg Avatar

      there are so many ways to to calculate costs and benefits on each mode transit or auto before you even get to how they might be compared.

      if you did capital costs per user – could you compare transit to roads on that basis?

      how about this – the economic costs of permanently dedicating land to a road instead of some economic activity on the same site? jobs lost.. taxes lost..

      in terms of directing growth – transit and roads do he same thing…where they go they direct where land will be developed and probably more intensely than where transit/road are not present or present but is a less functional way, i.e. spur vs hub… interstate vs secondary road.

      we seem to not be able to arrive at commonly-accepted standards…for measuring ….and comparing… and so the dialogue (in my view) often meanders mostly according to whatever perspective each author wants to pursue.

      I personally think subway systems define the difference between a first-world city and a 3rd world city.. but I’m sure there are views that would not accept that idea.

      1. Larry,
        The problem with the Silver Line remains it is not an economically viable project. As I’ve written many times, the Project did not meet federal guidelines for funding. Senator John Warner got the Project grandfathered under the old standards. But it still failed the test – it provided too few benefits (new commuter trips) for the cost. After heavy lobbying by both Parties, the Bush Administration caved and Phase 1 received $900 million from the feds.

        Keep in mind that the commuters who change from the Orange Line to the Silver Line (about 1/3 of the Silver Line’s expected passengers) don’t count as a benefit.

        Even though the feds funded Phase 1, it doesn’t change the fact the Project is not economically viable. And given the even higher demands placed on projects for federal funding that Obama’s DOT has made, it wouldn’t get funded now.

        Now, however, we have the Silver Line. So we need to push for as heavy of ridership as possible. But bottom line, the Silver Line is still a pig with lipstick on it. The $5.6 billion could have funded a lot of other projects, including BRT on the same route.

        1. TMT – how many transit, light rail, heavy rail, commute rail operations do you think _are_ financially viable?

          It costs about $20 per rider per trip on VRE and riders pay $6 and the rest comes from a 2.1% gas tax.

          Amtrak is characterized as a mullti-billion dollar boondoogle.

          my local transit operations – get less than 1/2 of their operational funding from the farebox and depend entirely on government “grants” for their rolling stock and other capital costs.

          I don’t think personalizing this in a partisan way – strengthens your argument guy.

          how many elected leaders in your region opposed what Warner did and insisted on what you say should have been done?

          we have too much blame game on these things in my view to start with. There is no one person either D or R that made something a “go” … it was and is an amalgamation of numerous public officials who, if they truly opposed it – did not at all make their opposition public nor active.

          but I totally agree with you on one specific point. Urban Areas are, by definition, “socially-engineered”.. including transit but extending to a wide variety of other things also including the idea that “density” is something government should encourage.

          I just think it’s a bizarre argument that you can have urban areas without social engineering and instead done with “conservative” principles – starting with the concept of why roads are “public” and how they got to be “public”.

          when a government creates “public” roads by the use of eminent domain and taxing people to pay for the roads – that’s the mother of all social engineering…

          anytime government – 1. uses eminent domain and 2. taxes people to pay for public facilities – that’s social engineering.

          Not even Ron Paul advocates that we sell public infrastructure back to the private sector and let them operate it on a business basis!

          1. Larry, there was a viable plan to build BRT in the Dulles Corridor, including Tysons. The plan was to have considerable dedicated RoW that could be converted to Metrorail as demand grew. It was supported by elected officials until the Tysons landowners decided that rail would give them much more density than BRT. Also, lots of citizens activists figured rail would fix traffic problems. The citizens were wrong. I was one of them until I read the December 2004 Final EIS that showed we’d get no traffic relief with Metrorail. At which point, I opposed Metrorail until the decision was final. Now I support making the best of what we have.

            My points are only to set the fact straight and to explain why there are so many financial issues associated with the Silver Line and Tysons/Reston redevelopment. It is possible to build the wrong transportation infrastructure and waste money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

            While I think markets make better decisions than the government, there is a need for government involvement in development. Tysons could not happen without the active participation by government. I don’t object to that. I do, however, get PO’d when people argue Tysons will provide measurable benefits for the residents of Fairfax County. I’ve spent hours with government people; read the documents; asked the questions; and know that, when all is said and done, Tysons and the Silver Line will be one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the average Jane and Joe to big moneyed interests in Virginia history. And neither party is willing to say the Emperor has no clothes.

          2. well I totally agree that it’s a very frustrating process for citizens to participate in… no matter the mode.

            but I’m not quite understanding how a rail that moves great quantities of people does not help traffic…

            does that presume that no drivers will take it and the only folks who will take it currently don’t drive but will take the train now?

            or are you talking about future projections where traffic is going to grow – and if you did not build the subway the increased traffic would be even worse than it would be if you cut some of it with rail?

        2. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          Please stop combining the silver line as 1 project. It is in two phases, and that is an important distinction. What I may agree about with respect to the phase 2 portion of the project, I think you are wildly inaccurate about with respect to the need for the first phase of the project. You yourself are one of the most vocal complainers about the traffic on local roads in Tysons, of which no amount of BRT would have solved. Not to mention you continue to fail to recognize the cost of a true BRT system much like your counterparts in Arlington who scream about BRT but really just want a cheap traffic non-separated bus system.

          A BRT would have also cost in the billions to address the connection between Reston, Tysons, and Arlington. If you disagree with that, then I can’t take you seriously.

    2. Falls_Church Avatar


      How about instead dividing the Silver Line’s construction cost by the 100K new jobs and 200K new residents it enables in Tysons alone. That’s the business case for the Silver Line and transforming Tysons.

      Also, by shifting riders from Orange to Silver, you create space for additional development along the “Orange Crush” corridor. You can’t have anymore development along the Orange line corridor without creating more space on Orange line trains.

      1. Falls Church, I think you can count the new jobs and residents, if you also count the additional transportation costs engendered by the re-planning of Tysons. As I’m sure you know, in January 2013, the Fairfax County BoS created a service district to fund 8% of the $3.1 billion of new roads and transit (beyond the Silver Line) needed for Tysons to redevelop.

        I agree that the shift of some passengers from the Orange Line to the Silver Line creates some additional capacity on the Orange Line. And it’s fair to count that, but the Silver Line is also responsible for the reduction in Blue Line service on the existing route. That should be counted as well.

        The Silver Line is here. We need to take as much advantage of it as we can. But the fact remains – it did not meet federal funding standards and was funded only because the federal government caved. The primary benefits go to those landowners located right by the new stations and they did not pay enough for their benefits.

        1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
          Tysons Engineer

          Those numbers are flat out lies by Mr. TMT. Those are not the anticipated ridership numbers for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 (the construction cost of 5.6 billion he cites).

          And then TMT goes on to lie about people who don’t know the reality by saying that only 8% of the costs are being paid for by the service district. This is pure and utter lie to push his agenda and constant railing of the Tysons process and the Silver line on this and other websites.

          He doesn’t tell you that 500 million of the 3.1 billion is coming from in kind construction of the road grid by those developers. He doesn’t say that 900 million of that 3.1 billion is for projects that are outside of Tysons, and are required due to commuters, and not due to people who live in Tysons, or the business of Tysons (like Route 7 widening which in of itself is $500 million in cost).

          When you actually look at it, the service district ends up paying for 90% of the construction within Tysons, and 10% of the construction outside of Tysons, as it should be, otherwise once again the people of McLean, and surrounding neighborhoods (of which TMT is from) will be double and triple taxing me as a resident of Tysons for things I don’t even use (like a widened route 7).

          His facts are misleading distortions of reality.

          He also ignores the fact that Real Estate Taxes for JUST current Tysons properties are $150,000,000 PER YEAR. And that the 3.1 billion in cost is anticipated to be spread of the course of 35 years. Some quick math leads you to know that even without any new construction that 3.1 billion is easily covered by Tysons by itself, over 5 billion dollars.

          Also, note that the 3.1 billion isnt for the silver line, its for the increase in density of many millions of square feet, which will effectively triple the real estate taxes coming out of tysons (up to 450 million) making mince meat of that 3.1 billion investment.

          If that development never occurs (not likely considering it already is) then the 3.1 billion in total won’t be required then right? Follow the logic. There is in NO WAY a dependence on people like TMT for their money. Their money is irrelevant and minuscule in relation to these things going on in Tysons. His taxes pay for things outside of Tysons, of which Tysons also helps subsidize.

          SO STOP WHINING ABOUT TYSONS, and look at your own community when wondering why taxes are high.

          If that doesn’t sell you, look at WHO the people who are pushing this “3.1 billion” in needs is, as I mentioned much of which is actually outside of Tysons. It is people like TMT who think that road widenings are the only way to address traffic. It is the commuters and suburban people who are demanding all of that money being spent. Most of us in Tysons, who are actually paying the ridiculously higher taxes, just want a few cross walks, bike lanes, and god forbid a reduction in the speed limit so that people can cross a road from the bus stop without being killed by you java induced commuters.

    3. Tysons Engineer Avatar
      Tysons Engineer

      Those numbers are flat out lies by Mr. TMT. Those are not the anticipated ridership numbers for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 (the construction cost of 5.6 billion he cites).

    1. I’m going through the 52 page slide show..

      one problem right off is using LOS without regard to how long LOS conditions occur. In other words – traffic counts are like a histogram with two peaks.

      the question is not only the counts but for how long those counts stay high.

      LOS F – is a sound bite approach in that it does not give a true picture of 24 hour conditions nor does it show how other roads might affect it.

      so you end up with statements like this: ” Wiehle Avenue
      Extension and the full LPA is small, it is expected that the increase in
      transit ridership associated with [Dulles Rail] would have very little
      effect on vehicle-trip reduction at the regional level.”

      on a REGIONAL level? good grief! how about a simple chart that shows traffic counts for the region ? 😉

      TMT – the further I read here – the more apparent it is that it’s an opposition viewpoint – one that seems to be opposed to growth no matter which transportation projects would be built.

      it’s basically an “ENOUGH” slide show..


      but again – I ask – if a bunch of people are going to ride – what are those folks doing right now?

      aren’t you looking at the projected traffic growth – downstream?

      if there was no METRO – wouldn’t the projected traffic growth downstream be even higher?

      here’s the key issue. If someone is opposed to this – what do they favor instead – if the area is still going to grow?

      being opposed to growth is not an answer -….. not an alternative…

      as more and more businesses locate in Tysons – you’re going to see huge increases in workers uses autos to get there.

      what do you do about that? outlaw businesses from locating there?

      1. The slideshow was paid for by real estate developers who did not want to pay the extra taxes to build Phase 1 of the Silver Line. They sure weren’t opposed to development, but resented paying higher taxes so a few select landowners could get mega density at Tysons. They were opposed to the big lie — the Silver Line will reduce traffic congestion. Keep in mind that the existing Comp Plan for Tysons contemplated more density, but no where near what landowners at the four stations received.

        If a grand jury would have been called to look at everything that occurred during the decisions to build and fund Dulles Rail and rezone Tysons, indictments would have been issued.

        Several years ago, I asked a VDOT engineer why the EIS showed no improvement in traffic congestion with the arrival of the Silver Line. The engineer told me that the added density triggered by the Silver Line would more than cancel any improvements in traffic flow caused by riders taking transit. If the Silver Line would not have been built, the density levels in both the 1994 and 2010 Comp Plans could not have been approved.

        Moreover, Tysons’ commercial real estate growth had slowed considerably as more and more businesses located west of Tysons. This is all slight of hand. We need to make the best of it, but it is still slight of hand.

        1. the slide show sounded a lot like that Metro would not solve congestion problems.. kind of an odd argument from property developers.. who likely see opportunity …

          the impression I got was that the folks who did the slide show had an agenda and that agenda was opposed to Metro.

          I still think when we talk about “solving” congestion with future projects – we need to be clear about current traffic levels versus projected future traffic levels.

          If the base case is to do nothing – then conditions will worsen for sure and that in turn points out the fallacy of using LOS F because LOS F can actually describe DIFFERENT traffic conditions – not only a range of traffic flows but how long a period the flows are maxed – and finally what exactly does LOS F means Basically LOS F means that people have to wait through more than one traffic signal cycle.. but it’s “F” whether they wait through one additional cycle or 5 additional cycles.

          In other words – “F” is not a very good way to measure DIFFERENCES in traffic conditions….

          a better but still not perfect way to measure is V/C ratio which is Volume divided by capacity. Again – this is not static measure – it’s a 24 hour running dynamic.

          at any rate – if Fairfax intends to have Tysons grow – they are going to zone that land for towers and similar and people are going to go there.. and it’s just a question of how…

          that’s the people who will ride METRO who are not there right now – and if there was no METRO if the future -they’d be driving to get there.

          Most places want the economic development.. except the folks who are being impacted by it or displaced by it – which I would totally understand but it’s a losing proposition. I don’t think people can effectively stop stuff like that – unless they throw out their BOS and vote in BOS that will not rezone. I don’t think anyone on the Fairfax BOS is opposed to growth but they’ll talk a good line about “minimizing impacts” …

          1. One of the biggest problems to come will be when people realize the Silver Line was sold through lies. A lot of people were led to believe the Silver Line would reduce traffic, especially when the HOT lanes were added. When the economy picks up; Tysons grows; and traffic balloons, there will be a lot angry people in the northern part of Fairfax County. Hopefully, that will put more pressure to develop and manage effective TDM programs. One good thing is we will likely see TDM consolidation under TYTRAN. That will produce a better result if the public demands it.

            I think it’s a debatable question as to how much Tysons would grow sans the Silver Line and the new Comp Plan that includes the additional roads and transit. Commercial real estate people tell me that commercial growth has moved west along the Dulles Corridor. Whether the additional housing in Tysons will make a difference will be interesting to see.

      2. Tysons Engineer Avatar
        Tysons Engineer

        God bless, you wrote exactly what I would have.

  11. Got a question for you TMT.

    BRT is just a fancy name for an express transit service – a shuttle service.

    with the advent of the HOT Lanes – what is keeping the creation of a BRT service from DC to Dulles right now?

    1. The plan I saw for BRT would run express buses on very short (say 3 minute headways) on dedicated RoW, quite similar to the facilities on which the Silver Line runs. BRT would stop only at fixed stations and riders would pay before boarding, just like on Metrorail. I’m told that the use of rubber tire vehicles versus trains are significant even for the same volumes. As I vaguely recall, BRT would have ended at East or West Falls Church. But it could be running from Dulles or further out in Loudoun County for several years now.

      There is no HOT Lane connection between DC and Dulles.

      1. yes.. sorry about my geographic ignorance.

  12. re: ” The plan I saw for BRT would run express buses on very short (say 3 minute headways) on dedicated RoW, quite similar to the facilities on which the Silver Line runs. BRT would stop only at fixed stations and riders would pay before boarding, just like on Metrorail.”

    that would seem to be a lot of buses and a lot of drivers.

    and it would see the primary benefit of BRT would not be cost but instead flexibility to alter, add, subtract routes.. vary them by day and hour, etc.. but BRT is sharing the guideway with other vehicles and users while METRO had a dedicated guideway.

    This goes back to a lack of an objective way to compare modes.

    we have advocacy but we have no real honest-to-pete data that clearly and honestly portrays the realities.

    it’s not like we cannot do this so it disturbs me that we don’t – when we can and should.

    how can someone, for instance do a powerpoint presentation advocating one mode over another -while never getting to the specific data and instead just engage in hand-waving?

Leave a Reply