There are some who believe it is worth the effort to educate citizens about the importance of evolving more functional human settlement patterns. These patterns and densities of land use could spur the evolution of Balanced Communities in sustainable New Urban Regions.

One of the major problems these educators face is the ease with which some who have nothing to contribute but their personal opinions can present unfounded material. These “views,” “comments” and “observations” unfortunately impact rational thinking. The Internet makes this problem much more critical.

A perfect example is the second comment following the post “METRO WEST – 22 YEARS TOO LATE” below.

Let us start with Geographic Illiteracy and Spacial Ignorance:

The most important land from the perspective of recovering the cost of building a shared-vehicle system is the land within ½ mile of the station platform. The use of this land is also critical in balancing the ridership of any shared-vehicle system to help offset the operating cost.

There are 500 acres in each R= ½ mile station area. 45 acres is less than 10 % of that area.

There are 125 acres within 1/4 miles of the platform and 45 acres is less than 36 % of that area.

The 45 acres in public rights-of-way at Vienna / Fairfax / GMU are the most important because they are closest to the platform and thus the place to focus transit oriented development. See our backgrounder “It is Time to Fundamentally Rethink METRO” at for details.

How about economics?

The cost of site per square foot of building on a platform vs a non-platform site balances out around FAR 4. This is the case if:

The developer can eliminate much of the need for parking due to distance to METRO platform and take advantage of the reverse ridership potential.

It also helps to not to have to pay for getting rid of the prior site uses. The cost of recycling underutilized development on the site can be significant.

Also important is the fact that there are few site holding costs because the public already owns the land. Interest costs for land holding is a huge factor on big / complex / multi-phased projects.

Last, the rents on the resulting development are much higher because the market documents that this is where tenants want to be.

Data on air rights over the Dulles Toll Road confirm the intelligence of platform development. They also support S/PI’s suggestion for putting the Purple Line under the Beltway to take advantage of urban density economics in Maryland. Running down I-66 with METRO might not be such a bad idea if the potential of METRO capacity was utilized.

“Who in their right mind would want to live on a concrete slab?”

One might ask who in their right mind would want to look at an expressway and parking lots?

In fact, most of the residential area of a balanced station-area enclave would end up on the “other” 455 acres. See above re the precentage of the site on a platform over the rights of way. teh

By the way there was a great stand of mature oaks and poplars with a splendid understory of American Holly that would have been saved by Virginia Center. It was cut down to make room for uninspiring garden apartments. There is almost nothing but ashalt and buildings on the site now.

But that is not the end of the “in their right mind” story.

There are a many of “out of their right mind” folks who pay premium dollar for employment, service and residential uses in and near the Prudential Center / Copely Place in Boston (over I-90 / Mass Pike and railroad lines). You may have heard of Back Bay? There are others who have paid premium dollar per square foot for a lot of years on Park Avenue in New York City (over the New York Central lines into Grand Central Station).

In the National Capital Subregion, how about the Air Rights buildings in Bethesda?

Development on a platform could look a lot better than the best of the Rosslyn / Ballston Corridor or Reston Town Center.

When we were planning Virginia Center the Fairfax County planning director suggested we check out Nordvest Stadt in Frankfort. It was not the staff of 25 years ago that lacked vision, it was pandering politicians who were concerned about the next election. They are the same ones who cite “input” from the likes of the “who in his right mind” poster who were and are the problem. They will not change until citizens demand intelligent decisions.

A lot of the “public opposition” to the Airport Authority taking over METRO to Dulles is created by the contributions from adjacent land owners who know that there is enough land over 500-foot wide right-of-way of the Dulles Toll Road to adsorb all the employment land uses for the northern part of Virginia for decades. If the Authority is as smart as we think they are, they will build platforms at the three Reston stations because they already own the land.

There are engineering problems with platforms but they are solvable.

The engineering problems are a lot easier to solve than keeping those who know absolutely nothing about the topic and / or have an economic dog in the fight from distracting rational evolution of human settlement patterns by broadcasting their opinions.

As careful readers of our work know, we have no problem with those who want their urban dwelling to be on one, five, ten or 50 acres — so long as they pay the full cost of location variable goods and services.


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7 responses to “HOWLING IGNORANCE”

  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I’m not a BR contributor anymore, so maybe I don’t have any standing, EMR, but post #2 you criticize is not from some anonymous, flame-throwing nobody. This comment is from a regular contributor to the comments section of this blog and others. To purposefully not even mention his name seems very petty.

    The comment was from Ray Hyde.

    You may not like what Mr. Hyde has to say, but I suspect that you can count on one hand the number of people besides Mr. Hyde who engage you intellectually.

    Although I cannot prove it, I suspect that one reason people read your posts is for the back and forth between you and Mr. Hyde. It’s a tiny gem in the blogosphere and you ought to nurture it, instead of showing contempt.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Thank you, Will.

    EMR and I believe many of the same things: the difference is one of degree. I don’t think there is a thing wrong with wanting to get the most efficient use of our resources, within reason. Unlike him, I believe there are many complementary ways to do that, and none of them are ever 100% optimal and none of them will solve either all of anybody’s problems or any of everybody’s problems.

    The reason I take the time to do this is that I believe he is doing more damage than good by virtue of the way his message is delivered. It reminds me of Razzo Rizzo in that line from Midnight Cowboy: he is ribbing John Voight for his filed attempts at street prostitution, “They are laughing at you out there, boy.”

    I’ve never seen a 45 acre elevated slab with a city on it overlooking a subway and freeway. I wonder if it is possible and cost effective. Seems like a reasonable question.

    The proposed reason for doing this is to save open space. Given the cost of constructing the slab and the purpose and value of the open space, might there be a better way? We could buy an awful lot of park land for what that slab is going to cost.

    It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me that I am spacially [sic] ignorant.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “The most important land from the perspective of recovering the cost of building a shared-vehicle system is the land within ½ mile of the station platform. The use of this land is also critical in balancing the ridership of any shared-vehicle system to help offset the operating cost.”

    It seems to me that a basic premise around here is that those that use, pay. Here we have a case where we are going to build a shared vehicle system, at public expense. Then to recover the cost we are going to build a city to support it on this highly valuable land that we have just created at public expense. Then to make sure people want to live in the city in order to support the shared ride system, we are going to effectively prohibit or disincentivize people from living anywhere near the open space we have just sqaved at collosal expense. We are purportedly doing all of this for the public good.

    What is wrong with this picture?

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    How many of the sites you mentioned are 45 acres?

    It seems to me that first you would have to go find some open space and mine it for the aggregate. You’d have to mine some more open space for the lime, the the ore and the coal to smelt the steel, not a low energy prospect. Then you would have to cook the lime for cement, one of the most energy intensive ndustrial process there are. You would need an oil well to produce the energy to run the kilns and thousands of trucks to haul all the material. You would have to find some place to put all the infrastructure that is usually buried.

    All of that to allegedly save some energy on a shared vehicle system and save some otherwise unused land. How can creating, moving and building 45 acres of artificial land compete with the cost of 45 acres of natural god-given land?

    Ahh, yes. That’s the kind of environmental economics that warms the heart. After all, I don’t have any problem with someone who wants to live on a 45 acre concrete platform – as long as he pays the full location variable cost, including the cost of the subway.

    As for the Prudential Center, I remember the huge hole in the ground that was dug for the foundation because they couldn’t find any solid ground. It was built on a filled in swamp, so its construction today would be prohibited by wetland rules of the type promoted by PEC. And I remember when hundreds of blocks were closed because of the danger of glass coming loose from the building and sailing like enormous fragile frisbees across the city. I remember when it was fitted with huge shock absorbers and steel bracing to lessen the nauseating sway and keep it from tipping over. I remember when (I. M. Pei?) got an architictural award for that disaster, which suffered tremendous cost overruns.

    I had relatives that lived in Back Bay, and it is a high rent slum, in my opinion. Four story walk up flats are not very appealing at those prices.

    Frankly, I don’t think any site in Taxachusetts is a good example of economical city living, unless of course you are looking for a good example of having to pay your own location related costs. Except that the Governor is finally taking the counties to task because of their long standing antigrowth ordinances. After Glaeser’s Harvard study came out people began to realize what the true cost of anti-growth ordinances is.

    If those poplars and oaks were mature, they probably needed to be harvested, poplars in particular don’t do well when they are old. I recently took one down that was 4 feet in diameter and 120 feet high, because it was a rotten hazard. I didn’t get a single stick of useful wood out of it. I hope someone put them to good use building something worthwhile and beautiful.

    Finally, I don’t know why you consistently accuse me of having an economic dog in the fight: I’m not the one that gets paid for writing this stuff.

  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Mr. Vehrs:

    You reinforce our points.

    It is far easier to solve the engineering issues and address intelligently the economic, social and physical ramifications of creating functional human settlement patterns than it is to stem the flow of misinformation and intentional distortions from those who do not like the processes or outcomes we suggest.

    Almost no one with knowledge and experience in actually building and managing functional human settlement patterns comments on our posts on this Blog. We do hear from them in private communications. Most, but not all, are supportive. We try to clarify our positions in subsiquest columns to reflect their input.

    I know you like the Blog media but I have not found a way to effeciently or effectivly use it to discuss human settlement pattern issues.

    Surely you do not believe the above three posts are an attempt to “intelectually engage” anyone or anything in the context of the years of filabuster.

    You seem not to like the processes and outcomes we discuss and support any who will toss bricks.

    For the record again, we advocate free markets and democracy to create functional human settlement patterns. That is not possible without informed citizens.

    If you read with care the above comments about the 45 acre issue in the context provided by the original post, you will understand what we mean about intentional distortions.

    We cannot shape the future based on the personal likes or dislikes of a vocal individual conserning Back Bay or the Commonwealth in which it is located.

    If the market indicated many others believed as the poster does, the prices would drop.

    The problems with the Pei tower (we watched as windows poped out on a visit to Boston years ago) make our point, not the commentors. They did not tear the Prudential building down and move it to Ficthburg. The Pei tower is only a small part of Prudential Center / Copely Square and the whole project knitted back together and provided a context for a very functional piece of urban fabric and determined by the market.

    That same thing could be done with a 45 acre platform over I-66 and the METRO station. With the 300 to 500 acres that have already and will in the future transition to METRO supporting denisities, this could evolve into a great place to live, work and play. Not for everyone but for many.


  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    You have avoided the question, has such a 45 acre site ever been built? In fact, nothing in your response engages.

    I’ll concede I exaggerated the difficulties to make a point, but building 45 acres of poor soil suspended in mid air still strikes me as totally nutso. But, as you say there are many different kinds of tastes. I’m willing to let them do as they please, if they let me.

    I’ll agree population trends are an important indicator of urban dynamism. In the decades since 1950 Bostons polation growth is
    -13%, -8%, -12%, +2%, and -2.8%.
    And Boston has done well, compared to St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. Just because people still live there, doesn’t mean they like it.

    The market, ah yes, the market. Look at it any way you like, far more people live outside of Back Bay than in.

    Since the outlying communities have erected strong antigrowth barriers the choice of places to live is artificially low and the prices artificially high. High as they are, prices in real dollars have been dropping because of population decline. (People like me moved elsewhere because the prices were too high.) The state of Massachusetts is now working to break those anti growth barriers because they recognize it distorts the market. People aren’t paying their true locational costs as you would say.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    IM PEI designed the John Hancock Tower, not the Prudential Center. It was the Hancock that had the problems to which the previous poster stated, not the PRU.

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