Potts Elevates the Tone and Elaborates on His Plan

“Independent Republican” Russ Potts spoke in Northern Virginia yesterday and received favorable coverage in the Washington Post. For those who are tired of “Accent-gate,” Potts offered new heights of substance:

Potts railed against what he called the “free lunch bunch” and “flat-earth crowd” in the Republican Party that he said have not acknowledged how much it will cost to improve the state’s transportation network.

He excoriated conservatives for what he called their “obsession” with social issues. And he blasted a Kilgore proposal for a constitutional amendment that would require a voter referendum before raising state taxes, calling it a way to avoid leading.

“Let me spell referendum for you,” he said. “It’s spelled C-O-W-A-R-D.”

Demonstrating his wonkish streak, “Potts vowed to let local governments reinstate the car tax to pump more money into state services.”

He laid out his complex transportation plan:

Potts promised to put together a blue-ribbon panel to consider ways to improve transportation, with all ideas on the table, including a gas tax increase. As governor, he said, he would hold a special session of the General Assembly to pass a transportation plan and travel the state to sell it.

Of course, one idea is apparently off the table: referenda. Potts wasn’t asked about that. He also wasn’t asked about his past support for referenda. Had he once been a C-O-W-A-R-D?

Obviously, at this stage of the campaign, with reporters trying to make the race more interesting by boosting the Winchester “straight-shooter,” questioning Potts on the details just isn’t newsworthy right now.

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  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I guess I’m one of those in the “free lunch bunch” who thinks it’s possible to ameliorate traffic congestion in Virginia without raising taxes and building more roads and boondoggle rail projects. I object to Potts’ simplistic characterization of those who oppose his tax-and-build strategy.

    In fact, if you’re looking for a pithy bumper sticker label, I’d refer to Potts as one of the “raise taxes, ask questions later” bunch. Or, maybe, to stick with his metaphor, he’s one of the “gourmet lunch bunch” who doesn’t care what the lunch will cost.

    In my columns, I have systematically explored a wide variety of alternatives to Potts’ tax-and-build strategy. Options include investing in intelligent transportation systems, redistributing demand for transportation capacity, promoting telework, and, most fundamentally, reforming our dysfunctional land use patterns. On a macro scale, that entails promoting communities with a balanced mix of places to live, work, shop and seek amenities; on a micro scale, that entails designing communities that are more hospitable to pedestrians, bikes and mass transit. This is not crackpot thinking. I am pleased to note that among the most consistent readers of my columns are employees of the Virginia Department of Transportation. Much to my amazement, I’ve been asked to address two upcoming transportation conferences later this year.

    I have never once read of Potts alluding to any of these alternate strategies. For a guy who says he’s willing to put “all ideas on the table”, he doesn’t seem capable of articulating any idea but raising taxes. The only reason he is taken seriously is that the reporters covering him are as uninformed about transportation issues as he is, so his I-G-N-O-R-A-N-C-E goes unrevealed.

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Jim, that you’ve been invited to speak to upcoming transportation conferences is big news and a possible breakthrough in the efforts of your and others to bring some “new thinking” into the mix.

    Plug the blog while you’re there, too ….

  3. I’m one of those pro-road people who has one foot on the pro-road side and one foot on the smart growth side. There are roads that we need, regardless of whether we change our land planning methods or not. I guess we could pay for them out of the surplus…but how long will that last? And with healthcare costs continuing to spiral out of control and multiple property tax relief plans in the works, can we really count on the general fund?

    Regional tax increases are fine, until the very same people who are bankrolling Kilgore’s run for governer bankroll the opposition to regional tax increases and hamstring the localities once again! And does anyone really think these regional transportation authorities will be staffed with anyone other than the developers and road builders?

    In other words, here’s the plan: sit on our hands for 2 more decades while we continue to sprawl and sprawl and sprawl.

    I don’t think Potts gets the full picture but at least he sees the need for a few roads.

  4. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Paul, what roads has Potts come out in favor of? Does he favor widening Rt. 66 in Arlington County, for example? There’s a perfect example of the Virginia transportation conumdrum.

    I guess his “Blue Ribbon Commission” will decide which of those “few roads” we need and tax us all accordingly.

  5. I have no idea. I have no idea which roads (or rails) anyone supports. It’d be nice if they’d tell us.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    We’ve talked about those “other than road” issues before, and all of them are useful, and important. None of them are free or even close to it. The best estimates I can find, so far, indicate you might conceivably reduce the increase in road requirements and land use requirements by around 20%. But we are growing so fast that a decrease of 20% just puts us back in the same place five years from now.

    Since these balanced community plans will take more than five years to emplace, their current marginal value is near zero. No matter what you do you still need more roads.

    Having said that, I must say I hate marginal financial arguments because they make it hard to ever get anything new started. We have to start all of these things all at once, and push hard now in order to get that 20% reduction in the increases we face.

    Then, of course, there is the 20% shortfall we have now.

    The city of Vienna, Austria studied altering transportation demand through land use in detail and came to the conclusion that the amount you can reduce traffic demand through land use is limited because you develop a U shaped demand curve – above a certain density the demand goes back up.

    Balanced communities seek to offer a variety of transportation options. By itself, that means more money for transportation, not less. Even if my local community has a balanced mix of work, shopping and amenities, my options to choose among them is always larger with a transportation system that works. Just because a balanced community is designed with plenty of options, it does not guarantee that the options provided will meet everyones needs or desires.

    Not every community will have an opera or symphony, but every community will have some people who enjoy those things. I have a local hardware store, but if I’m buying more than a couple of items it pays to drive 40 miles to buy elsewhere. Therefore, if you want to make an argument based on options, you have to argue for more roads and not less.

    Walking and bicycling are pleasant, quiet, and free relative to autos or transit. Clearly we could do better in these areas, but we must recognize their many limitations.

    Mass transit is much harder to figure out, although it shares with bicycles and walking the problem of freight. No matter what we do, we will have congestion as long as we all want to go the same place at the same time, walking, bicycling, transit, and autos included. On the other hand, congestion in Washington would be a lot worse without Metro. But Metro has the same induced traffic problem that roads have – everytime someone rides Metro, it makes another peice of road available for someone else to use.

    To the extent that you have congestion anyway, the costs have to be ascribed to autos. But Transit has congestion as a prerequisite, as well as increased density over what makes cars work. To the extent that you engineer additional density and congestion in order to justify Transit, those costs have to be ascribed to Transit, not autos.

    Some people claim that urban living economizes on infrastructure, but Ross Perot, Jr. a major developer said “We thought our projects in the suburbs were complicated, until we went into an urban project.”

    Increased density to make Transit viable makes everything more expensive, so those costs have to be ascribed to Transit as well. Since Transit is already, slower, more expensive, less convenient, and less comfortable than other modes, it should be on the bottom of the list, all thngs considered.

    Because Transit has congestion as a prerequisite, promoting transit is equivalent to throwing in the towel on congestion.

    But this argument started with the premise you are going to have congestion anyway, so why not add Transit to the mix? Well, the answer to that is cost – unlike bike trails, it doesn’t buy you much for the money, and the subsidies go on forever. Even you refer to boondoggle rail projects. I’m not convinced they are not ALL boondoggle rail projects, but there may be exceptions for balanced communities if we ever build one.

    This argument also started with the premise that you will have congestion anyway, AS LONG AS WE ARE ALL TRYING TO GO TO THE SAME PLACE. So the alternative to Transit is to use a lot more land, which is also not cost free. Of course, if you are Howard Kunstler and believe we are facing the end of oil, then your vision of the likely future alternatives is forty acres and a mule anyway. That vision at least puts our farmland back in service, which is the best way to protect it.

    I’m pretty sure that your idea of redistributing demand for transportation capacity will boil down to using more land away from where congestion now occurs.

    Like I said, just figuring out the true impact, benefits, and costs of Transit alone is a hard problem. The circularity of the arguments here shows that the idea that we are smart enough to design whole balanced communities and somehow keep them balanced is simply not yet proven.

    As it is, our urban areas now consist of millions of people struggling mightily to obtain the “balance” that suits them best. An awful lot of brainpower goes into struggling for that balance. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a handful of planners can do better.

    Even the best application of pie-in-the-sky, free, no-cost thinking eventually leads to the conclusion we need more roads and more land and more money, call it sprawl if you like.

    Rather than being in the free lunch bunch, I think you are in the free gourmet smorgasborg lunch bunch.

    We may think we are getting a free lunch, but whoever is supplying that smorgasborg is going to need a lot of money.

  7. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Is there any particular reason to assume that growth will continue indefinitely?

    I’m inclined to think it won’t; it’s simply not sustainable. Land availability is a big factor, especially in the counties closest to DC; a shortage of buildable land puts hard constraints on what’s physically possible, and drives up prices.

  8. “Increased density to make Transit viable makes everything more expensive, so those costs have to be ascribed to Transit as well. Since Transit is already, slower, more expensive, less convenient, and less comfortable than other modes, it should be on the bottom of the list, all thngs considered.

    Because Transit has congestion as a prerequisite, promoting transit is equivalent to throwing in the towel on congestion.”

    Well put. I hate public transit. I take it every day. Occasionally, I drive to work and pay $11 dollars for parking just so I don’t have teo deal with it. The day I move out of NOVA and into a city with a drivable highway system will be one of the happiest days of my life.

    Why would I want to foist this upon anyone? If traffic gridlock is in the cards in every conceivable scenario (balanced communities, doing nothing, paving the eastern seaboard) then I’d take some mix between paving and an attempt at balanced communities. The balanced communities will draw in the people who choose to walk to work, and the extra roads (not sprawl inducing roads – connectors without sprawl inducing exits every mile) will make travel a BIT easier. And some of these roads are needed and make sense!!!

    The western bypass (north south connector) around the city. The widening of the beltway with HOT lanes. The widening of 95 (one of the 3 major exit points from a possible terrorist strike point, DC). HOV to fredericksburg. to name a few

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde


    I’m not sure what you mean about growth. We know we will have another 20 million people, we know that 2 million will be in the Washington area. Beyond that, who knows.

    The question isn’t whether we will have those people, it’s where.

    Some people claim there is plenty of land close to the city and another 1.5 million people in Fairfax is not unreasonable, is entirely physically possible and will save money, land, and energy. Everybody will be happy and have all they need, the children wil be above average etc.

    I don’t think so. I also don’t think it will fly politically. In the near term we have to spread out. I agree that prices will drive people and businesses out of the densest areas. We will need more space.

    Some people think that is not sustainable either. In the end, they are probably right. We Americans cannot continue to consume the resources we do, and we will be competing for them with people who outnumber us.

    Absent miraculous technologies, the likliehood is that our grandchildren will have to settle for a lot less.

    In the meantime… we’ve got work to do, and I think Paul’s view is correct. However, there are more than 11,000 jurisdictions that have passed laws to control growth. The people who promote this are adamantly opposed to roads, even if it means using more of the ones we already built.

    Those 20 million people are still going to happen, laws or no laws.

    As I see it Transit has the same problem as roads – you can’t afford to build enough of it everywhere you want to go. It suffers from the exact same congestion problems as roads.

    This week I waited for four jam packed trains to go by until one showed up with enough room that I could stand. Our planners intend to multiply the number of riders by four or more.

    Even in rush hour conditions, you can drive a considerable distance in the 20 minutes I was waiting for trains. And you would be sitting down.

    Transit is a lot more expensive than roads, so if we can’t afford enough roads, we surely can’t afford enough Transit. Why plan to spend 60% of our budget on a system that carries 10% of the people, and 5% of the trips?

    We either dilute or congest, period. Now, does sprawl have to look the way it does, no of course not. But instead of trying to prevent the inevitable we should be working toward making it as livable as possible. The Virginia Trails idea on Bacon’s Rebellion is an example.

    Someday we would like to be able to look at society and the places we built and say “YES!”. I don’t see how we get there by saying NO!

    The real starting argument here is the premise that the job centers will remain always remain downtown. Here is a place where Jim’s Ideas comes into play. We can move jobs easier than we can move people, we just need the will.

  10. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Is it really quite accurate to claim that transit has congestion as a prerequisite? Isn’t it more accurate to say that it has a certain population density as a prerequisite? I’m reasonably sure that even if I-66 was widened to 10 lanes so that congestion wasn’t an issue, plenty of people would still want to take the Metro from Vienna into DC.

  11. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Oh, and Jim, is there such a thing as a model community — one that’s close to what you would like the Metro DC to be in terms of land use, transportation systems etc?

    By the way, I’m very much part of DC’s problems with congestion; I work in Greenbelt, MD but live in Sterling, VA. I hate my commute (big surprise), but don’t have much of a choice short of changing jobs; there is no viable transit alternative, and with one kid and another on its way, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of leaving Loudoun county (low crime, good schools) for Prince George’s (high crime, bad schools).

  12. In theory, if the free market works, employers will continue moving towards where people live. Sterling, Springfield. This will help them attract a larger pool of happy workers who don’t need to commute 2 hours.

    This of course doesn’t bode well for business in Prince George’s County in the long run.

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Fredrik, The Washington metro area has no balanced communities, not even Arlington, which has done as good a job on a micro level as anyone I can think of. Arlington has a huge surplus of jobs, which means tens of thousands of people have to commute there from somewhere else, which throws regional traffic flows out of whack.

    The problem is systemic. All localities like to recruit jobs and business because commercial businesses pays far more in taxes than they demand in services. Localities are ambivalent about-and often hostile to–residential development, especially “affordable” residential development, because the households cost more in services than they pay.

    As Paul says (following your post), in a “free market” jobs will move out to where the workforce is. But there is no such thing as a free market in housing. The supply is largely controlled by the locality. Thus, households with purchasing power bid up the prices of property in the most desirable locations (i.e. in proximity to the jobs). Conversely, the working class and middle class moves into exurbia where real estate is cheaper. But they still pay a “price” in the form of longer times spent commuting.

  14. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Well, the whole “free market” thing isn’t really applicable to the Metro DC area job market because so much of it is related to the federal government. Political decisions, not market forces, determine how many people work at/for NASA, the USDA or any other agency.

  15. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Thanks, Jim! So are there any communities outside this area that come close to your ideal in terms of balance?

    I agree with you about the area’s systematic problems; both what they are and what the causes are. What solutions exist, long-term and short-term?

  16. Abitmorered Avatar

    This has been great stuff. Good intelligent and thought provoking blogging debate. And then you have Potts, I’m going to fix it [transportation]. You’re going to know exactly how we’re going to do it. We’re going to tell you the roads we’re going to build. Where we’re going to build them. And how we’re going to pay for it. No gimmicks. Isn’t it nice that he seems to have all the answers…?

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Demonstrating his wonkish streak, “Potts vowed to let local governments reinstate the car tax to pump more money into state services.”

    Everybody else has done such a great job talking about high and lofty things. But not me.

    Local government never lost their ability to charge a car tax, nor was the car tax ever revoked. So it makes no sense to say he will “let them reinstate it”.

    What he is actually saying is that he wants to take the car tax money being sent back to the counties, and keep in in Richmond. Which means the people IN the counties won’t get the rebate back from the state.

    But he sure came up with a really clever way to say it.

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Fred, nope, congestion is pretty much a prerequisite. The free flow drive time from my house to my office is 55 minutes, congested flow drive time varies from between one hour 15 minutes to two hours. The same commute via VRE is routinely two hours. The cost of VRE is in addition to the cost of my car. That’s why parking costs almost exactly what it costs to either take VRE or park and take Metro: the parking operators are smart enough to know that the marginal cost of each trip is low, considering you hae the car anyway.

    My office mate lives in Centreville and takes Metro from Vienna – because he gets an additional pay subsidy to do so. The subsidy is not enough to pay for a whole month, so he drives the rest of the time. By the time you exit the highway, queue up for the garage and walk to the station, you can drive halfway to town.

    That situation is common, most people surveyed say that even as things are now, it’s cheaper to drive. The only difference is the aggraation of driving vs the aggravation of Metro.

    Given free flow traffic, almost no one would choose to stop at Metro. Check out the Vienna Metro inbound at 8:00 PM and see how many people get off the highway to wait for a train.

    Those who want to “promote transit” usually look at things like various ways of restricting parking and road user fees to reduce the competition. Usually, things that need to be promoted are those things that aren’t good enough to sell themselves.

    The other way transit is promoted is by pointing to all the externalities or unpaid costs of driving: everyone who gets on the road causes a marginal disbenefit to everyone else. Since we all share the costs and the benefits that argument is partly a wash – even if you don’t drive, your food comes on the highway.

    But if Metro riders had to pay the full costs it would close tomorrow. If you want to make that argument, both sides need to be taken into account.

    Density does play a role in supporting Transit. If density is too low, so is congestion and no one will use it, except those that cannot drive. But density and congestion are necessarily related: even if you reduce the miles driven and increase local opportunities, the miles driven and the amount of time spent in vehicles goes up if you count traffic density: which is miles driven per square mile. If the density is high enough, you eventually get enough riders to make a go of it, if the subsidies are high enough or the penalties against the competition is high enough.

    Jitneys would go along way to help the situation, but they have been lobbied out of existence by the cabbies. A Jitney is part cab, part bus: it runs a specified route, more or less, but it is allowed to deviate from the route to offer door to door service. Van pools are similar in some ways, but they suffer from high liability costs. In both cases legitimate partial answers have been litigated away.

    We’ve been working on this for thirty years, and as Jim points out we still don’t have a single example of a balanced community, let alone enough of that to help out on a regional basis.

    The idea that housing doesn’t pay it’s way is widely repeated, and probably mostly wrong. The idea is based on cost of community services studies of which thousands have been done, using a formula invented by the American Farmland Trust. Under that formula Fauquier County claims that any home vlaued at less than $750,000 doesn’t pay its own way. Since the average home was only $260,000 (now $400,000) there is obviously something very wrong: how are the blls getting paid?

    There are two things wrong. First it’s a snapshot, if you calculate the costs and income over the lifetime of the house, you get a different answer. The $500,000 house you turn down today is a $750,000 hose in a few years.

    The problem is like the marginal costs I mentioned above: that kind of reasoning makes it hard to start anything. Second the calculation figures all money comes from real estate tax, which is wrong. Real estate tax accounts for only one third of the county’s income. (Notice the relationship between $260,000 and $750,000).

    But all of the other income comes, one way or another, from someone who lives in a house. If you take that into consideration you get a different answer. Remember, the Farmland Trust has an agenda.

    Right now, Fauquier is planning to raise the cost of their “suggested” proffers from $14,000 to $25,000. That money tacked onto the cost of new homes will absolutely be reflected in the assessment of every home four years from now. This is a back door, unadvertised tax increase. It will suck far more money out of existing owners than it will from those rapacious developers.

    But Paul is right, commerce follows housing first, then jobs. PW suffered a long time as a bedroom comunity, but now it has the fastest job growth in the nation. (A little deceiving because it’s measued in % from a low base.) As I see it, we are victims of our own misguided policies, and we plan to fix it with more of the same.

    I’ll wager that Fredrik didn’t PLAN to live in Tterling and commute to Silver Spring, but got that way through circumstances that are just too expensive to fix.

    Somewhere I have a set of maps that show the job density, housing density, and traffic density for a German city. Comparing the maps you can almost see how desperately people are trying to avoid the CBD.

    If the government actually moves 50,000 jobs on account of security concerns, we have a once in a liftime chance to make big transportation changes, but I’m not the least bit sangine that we will be able to do so.

    There is too much power, politics, and money involved.

  19. Fredrik Nyman Avatar
    Fredrik Nyman

    Thanks, Ray!


    And yeah, where I live and work isn’t entirely by choice; I moved from MD to VA to take a new job. A year later, I bought a house. Then the dotcom boom went bust, and I ended up going back to my old job in MD. I didn’t want to move back though; I love my house and the neighborhood, and like Virginia a lot more than Maryland.

    Getting back to the transportation and land use discussion, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned so far is that many jurisdictions have power over transportation and land use here; the feds, DC, MD, VA and a half dozen counties. How much does that contribute to the current mess?

    I’m not too hopeful about the federal government moving 50,000 jobs out of the area, and even if that was to happen, I doubt they’ll take the opportunity to make big transportation changes. Not even 9/11 was enough for that to happen, even though the attacks made it obvious how vulnerable the area is.

  20. Now you’ve touched on another topic that I find fairly silly:

    terrorist preparation:

    we can prepare to evacuate. we can prepare to deal with some sort of big attack. But we can’t stop them. We can’t.

    Let’s say a terrorist put a powerful bomb in a backpack and went to a minor league baseball game on a Saturday night (maybe July 4th weekend). He’d kill 10,000 people or so. No security at those things.

    There are a hundred other scenarios where terrorists could hit soft targets in the same way. This whole “let’s move jobs out of DC to protect against terrorists!!!” thing is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. And, honestly, my paranoid side thinks this is all about moving jobs into GOP congressional districts/red states. Who knows, maybe the red states will cut back on their abortions/divorces if they get some more jobs.

  21. Abitmorered Avatar

    Back to 9:26PM-Anonymous, excellent point. Counties never lost a dime. Potts is just trying to pull the wool over our eyes. MSM will not point it out, but the blogisphere will help expose Potts for what he really is….

  22. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Jitneys! That’s an interesting thought, Ray. Jitneys could be one more small part of the solution. As you’ve observed, they’ve been lobbied out of existence by the cab companies. Maybe a market-oriented approach to transportation reform would allow them to come back in business. Combine jitneys with Internet access and the ability to easily schedule ahead day by day, and then allow jitneys to use the HOV lanes, and you could have a viable enterprise!

    Even if jitneys capture only one percent of the NoVa commuter market, that would save tens, maybe hundreds, of millions in construction dollars.

  23. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    We agree with Abitmorered that there is some very good “stuff” in this thread. Let us hope someone to whom Potts (and the others running for state-wide office) listen reads it. (It is assumed that no one who runs for statewide office reads anything but polls.)

    There are also some opinions parading as fact and some bad assumptions parading as “research.”

    We will address these later today in a separate posting.


  24. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Hi, Fredrik, You’ve asked such an open-ended question that I can’t possibly answer it here. I would refer you to my columns at the Bacon’s Rebellion website, as well as Ed Risse’s columns, also to be found there. Click on the “Wonks” button, scroll down to where you see our names, then click through to our profiles, where you’ll find all of our back columns.

    Ed and I don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on about 90 percent. Between the two of us, we’ve systematically explored the nature of the congestion crisis and various solutions. Then, to read a critique of our writing, just return to this blog and read Ray Hyde’s posts.

  25. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Sorry about that, CBD is Central Business District.

    I’ve seen Jitneys in service in the Caribbean and I think GUTS, the Georgetown University Transportation System works on that model.

    Jitneys have a lot of advantages. They are smaller and more agile than buses so they don’t screw up the rest of the traffic. They offer door to door service, and with modern communications you can arrange pick-ups and dispatch more easily. Being half the size of a bus or less, you need more drivers, but that’s not a bad thing.

    It would be better for everyone if we used mor van pools. I’m surprised they are not more popular. Since they are run for profit, they are more expensive than you would think, and there’s the liability thing. Also the schedule, once you sign up, you are locked in. I think the problem is criticcal mass: if enough van pools were available you could always catch another van. That is what makes the slug lines work.

    Why is it slug lines work on 395 and not I-66?

    Jurisdictional issue are screwing up land use and a lot of other things around here. On the other hand there is a certain amount of healthy competition between jurisditions, too.

    Local governments want more control over land use, but they won’t step up to the plate on infrastructure. It’s a fox and chickenhouse thing, if you were a business you wouldn’t put accounts receivable and procurement in the same department.

    Oregon had statewide land use oversight and it caused so many problems the voters finally had something to say about it. I don’t see that central or regional control solves the problem until we agree on what the problems are, which ones have priority, how many solutions we can afford, and who pays, and how to measure success.

    Any one of those topics would keep this blog busy for a long time.

    Security brings up a lot of thoughts: if we can’t get people into the city on a normal day how will we get them out in an emergency? That is part of the U-shaped traffic demand curve I mentioned previously.

    Chernobyl, Space Shuttle, 9-11, the Cole, Kybar towers, Recent Train Wrecks, etc. etc. tell me that when complex systems fail, they fail spectacularly. So what do we do? Build an 800 seat airplane. We don’t refer to bad events as “a train wreck” for no reason.

    The government has decided that it must place it’s employees in more defensible buildings. When I was working with energetic materials, we didn’t do it all in one building: we had a bunch of little shacks remotely sited, and we watched the operations on TV. If we lost one it wasn’t such a big deal.

    It’s not clear what the government’s plan will be. The Pentagon was heavily constructed because it was slapped up in a hurry with minimum engineering. Government might take that approach and put everybody in one huge fortress they can defend with missiles, open space, and access control.

    They’ll deny it, but if they really wanted to, they could give everyone a home office and have their meetings by teleconference. Then there would be no “place” to attack.

    Probably, they’ll put out specifications for office leases that are guanteed free money for the winners. Developers will scramble around for the best sites and maybe rebuild some existing ones.

    But actually plan something that makes sense in a coordinated manner? Probably not. Moving jobs out to protect against terrorists is probably not the right reason to do it, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

    If the developers scrable around for the best sites, it will be interesting to see what they choose. Boston is losing people and businesses wolesale becaus their costs are so high.

    Jim says people bid up the prices in the most desirable locations near jobs, while others have to move out and commute. As he says, they still pay a price.

    The market sets one price for homes in Cleveland Park and another for homes in Anacostia, equidistant from the job centers. Either home would be less expensive if it was located the same distance from the job centers in Hardscrabbble, Ark., so there must be factors in play other than proximity.

    The market sets a range of prices for homes with proximity, and it sets another range of prices for the combination of home and commuting costs. And it’s not only the middle class that move out – I’m surrounded by people who spend more for lunch than I earn.

    For every one who elects to live the condo-no car-walk to work- exercise in a gym – high social life- living condition, some other person will elect the Tractor Supply-barbecue in the back yard- RV to NASCAR lifestyle. And that occurs in all price ranges.

    Who is to say what is “better” or promotes the greatest social good?

    Then there are people like Fredrik and I, who made our choices mainly through default. Even so, you make the best of choices available. Where I get my back up is when someone proposes to limit those choices. It’s even worse when it happens and the cost is buried or shifted.

    Some people openly say that congestion is our friend. They believe it gets people out of nasty cars and into eco-friendly condos and transit, and preserves the countryside.

    Now, in a market economy, the usual deal is that if you want somebody to do something they don’t want to do, you pay them. That is why we subsidise Transit.

    There are people who want to buy houses, people who want to build houses, and people who want to sell land. It’s a ready made market and all we have to do is let them. So what we do is hobble the process with every kind of restriciton, meeting, review etc., then we ask them to pay us proffers, because “we” want “them” to save the countryside for us. “We” don’t want to pay infrastructure for “them”.

    This is upside down. If what we really want is to save the countryside, if transit, new urbanism, road prevention, and all the rest is just a smokescreen to that end, then it’s the wrong approach and hopelessly expensive. If we want farmers to preserve famland for us, then we should just pay them to do what we want. Or, we can buy the land and pay park rangers to take care of it.

    We are not going to do that because it is way too expensive, so instead we come up with an elaborate scheme to fundamentally change everything, and kid ourselves into thinking that is cheaper.

    I’m no friend of Potts, but if he’s up front then that’s a preferable choice to Fitch who presided over an ARB that wouldn’t let a church choose their own steeple and thinks we can solve our problems for free.

  26. El Equipo Progresivo Avatar
    El Equipo Progresivo

    Would you bloggers help me with something?

    I think I count possibly eight individuals posting on this topic.

    Would each of you post your year of birth?

    I’m working on an idea and your help would be greatly appreciated.

  27. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    El Jefe:

    I’m 56.

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