Jim Bacon will be staying on top of the “transportation / land use” issue with blow by blow postings. The MainStream Media and those standing for election in November call this “solving Virginia’s road crisis.” Others call it “the mobility and access crisis” which, along with “the affordable and accessible housing crisis,” have the potential, if not intelligently addressed, to continue the Commonwealth’s citizen on the path to economic, social and environmental Collapse.

The scope and details of the proposed “road” solutions will change from day to day during the current “short” legislative session. So will the arguments for and against each part of the ghastly omnibus / compromise package. Perhaps what is most useful at this point is a fresh way to present the true nature of the current “solution.”

Lets try this:

Suppose everyone in the Commonwealth depends on the Big Barn to shelter their resources and to provide for continued economic prosperity, social stability and environmental sustainability.

Lets us further assume that everyone agrees the Big Barn is in grave disrepair and if the political leadership of the Commonwealth does not do something they will be thrown out of office come November.

Upon careful review it is determined that just making the Big Barn bigger will not solve the problem. The Big Barn needs to be better and more resource efficient, not just bigger. The Big Barn needs a new foundation, better structural components and there must be a way to reduce the amount of stuff the Big Barn is expected to shelter for citizens, their enterprises and their institutions.

The reasons that these Fundamental Changes are necessary are based on the physical laws of barn construction / capacity, the economic laws of cost / availability of resources and democratic reality:

In a democracy with a market economy it is not sustainable for the Big Barn to only shelter the resources of those at the top of the economic food chain.

It turns out that the deterioration of the Big Barn has gone unaddressed because fixing it will gore the ox of those who make a big profit from Business-As-Usual. Anyone who puts forward a proposal for Fundamental Change in Big Barn management faces opposition from the special interests that pay for the political process. (See PROOF POSTIVE posting)

Any Fundamental Change proposals, and the those who make them, are doomed because education of the voters about the realities of the Big Barn have been thwarted by the Business-As-Usual interests.

In this context we can see how the legislative compromise to solve the mobility and access crisis looks a lot like a wonder cure for the Big Barn.

The grand compromise package for fixing the Big Barn is:

Charge all citizens a lot more money regardless of how much stuff they put in the Big Barn – a pure case of the tragedy of the commons.

Use taxes, fines and borrowed money to make the Big Barn bigger, using the same materials and the same designs that are now failing.

Paint the Big Barn a high tech color so it will look really good in November.

Add a new roof fabricated by the mobile home industry and paid for with the naming rights acquired by a smokeless tobacco product – in other words, a real public / private partnership.

Who will profit from the Big Barn repair job? The ones who have been kind enough to provide the bull for fund raising bull roasts.

Who will get hosed by the Big Barn repair job? In the long term every citizen of the Commonwealth.

It is very clear that without fixing the underlying problems and addressing the need to cut demand the whole New Big Barn will collapse. But not to worry, it will happen after the November election.


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46 responses to “REBUILDING THE BIG BARN”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I have always enjoyed your comments and commentary because I feel that you have a grasp of the problem. You need to add, however, that regardless of whether you add or build a new “barn” the repair of the existing structure is desperately needed. Further, your rich Uncle Sam wants to give you money to enlarge the barn, but all your money is being spent on fixing the barn, so you have to tell Uncle Sam, no, sorry. You also try to distract your family from the fact that your barn is falling down by saying if only your neighbor would take care of his dog house, your barn would not need fixing. And that instead of using money that you should have saved to fix or enlarge the barn, you want to use the money that your family needs to buy groceries and pay the light bill.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    following the analogy….

    The barn is often empty except at certain hours when there are lines of folks trying to use the barn.

    The barn was originally built piecemeal with little rhyme or reason and far more money spent than should have been for things that while useful where not the most important priorities.

    The decisions about how to improve the barn.. and what specific things to do to improve the barn … were never done with a rational and objective process but rather an arbitrary process determined by folks whose interest was not in the barn but how that barn would benefit them.

    Now that the barn is in bad straights – the same folks who did a crummy job of taking care of the barn in the first place … want to take others money to continue the same process.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear EMR:

    Until all of the stakeholders in Virginia
    come to grip with the need for us to take
    a dramatically different long-term view
    about our growth patterns and transportation
    needs, our state is going to continue to have
    the same problems with these issues, regardless
    of the amount of new money we pump into our
    transportation budget. I enjoyed the “barn
    yarn ….”

    Rodger Provo

  4. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    In addition to all said here I would like to add:

    Everyone knows the barn actually needs more capacity and has been neglected and needs repairs.

    Everyone knows this will cost a lot of money.

    The farmers knows he will have to live within his budget/means. He will borrow when he has to – but he understands that pay as you go costs less than borrowing money, and paying a bank interest.

    So the farmer goes ahead and to one or more of the following: he decides to either grow more crops (e.g. grow the economy) so he has more money to pay for needed repairs, or he sells off some of his land (to raise money for needed repairs), and he decides to stop putting more stuff in his barn (it is full – and he can’t afford to build another barn right now), he also begins his long range plans to build a new barn to accomodate more stuff. He sighs and knows he is forced to go to a bank to take out a loan to pay for the new barn. He understands that he is also forced to cut some of his spending to make ends meet.

    He only has so much money.

    But then the General Assembly gets involved – they decide that they will appoint new a “authority” that will raise the farmers taxes, add new fees to the farmer’s home, to his neighbor’s home too, add tolls going in and out of the barn – and tolls for any new barns that might be built in the county too. Then, these folks that don’t care what the farmer needs turn around and spend new money by buying things not related to the barn at all – but on what the new authority thinks are good economic “investments” . . .

    So, the farmer and his neighbors are now poorer due to the new taxes/tolls/fees; none of the farmers can afford to have the local mechanic fix their tractors anymore – because it costs too much with the new tractor repair sales taxes added, all the farmers have new business taxes to pay – along with the new tolls and new increased tractor registration fees, new gas taxes, etc … and the barn finally falls down while the new authorities spends the new money on “other stuff” instead of the repairing the barn – and instead of making it a priority to go ahead with building the new barn needed to accomodate more stuff.

    The farmer goes out of business, loses his farm – and the happy DEVELOPERS fall all over themselves to build new Condos and high density, taxpayer subsidized “affordable housing” and “mixed use retail”.

    The banks and real estate folks make more money on the sales and mortgages the new condos and everyone on the authority is happy – richer – and life is food – for them.

    The farmer is too old to be hired for any decent job and ends up working as a minimum wage Greeter at Wal*Mart.

    The folks that grew mega-wealthy from developing the farmers land build new HUGE homes far away in the country – on HUGE multi-acre lots. They drive HUGE new SUVs in the new HOT lanes they are allowed to pay to drive in. They build new “summer homes” along new gated communities along the coast.

    Everything is technically “owned” by their corporations and their accounting firms figure out how to avoid paying any taxes at all.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I am 100% with Rodger’s statement.

    We have this basic … fundamental issue.

    Some folks are convinced that the problem is money – and finding more money is THE solution.

    Other’s (myself included) believe that the reason WHY we are out of money is because of how we spent the money previously.

    I agree with EMR but I think the argument gets more subtle in terms of the problem and the response.

    We’re in a vicious cycle where – until we can accomplish major land-use reforms (I mean MAJOR – systemic), we WILL continue to have more people and more cars and as long as people are free they will locate where they want with respect to work and home doing whatever they can in their own self interests.

    My basic theme is that until/unless major land-use/transportation reforms start to truly change that we absolutely must charge what it costs to maintain and improve our infrastructure.

    “Improve” means just that – not necessarily build new – unless the new incorporates direct user fees rather than funded by everyone regardless of where they live, how far they commute or WHEN they commute.

    “NEW” infrastructure is NOT in the cards in non-attainment areas UNLESS it incoporates HOV/HOT – and it’s really not an arguable choice.

    Congestion pricing, in my mind, is a “bridge” solution much like hybrids are a “bridge” to other future technologies.

    What it does – it ties use to cost – directly. If you want to travel a great distance at rush hour – you will pay for what it costs, in essence, to provide you with adequate infrastructure.

    If you choose to NOT commute long distances at rush hour – you will pay less.

    This is a direct allocation of locational costs and it is the explicit goal of the major land-use reforms espoused by New Urbanist principles.

    I simply do not think we can get there by mandate – that the way to get there is by taking the first step – which is to more fairly align costs with useage – not only use – but WHEN you use – BECAUSE – the “crisis” that is often referred to – does NOT exist at 4a.m. and everytime we expand existing infrastructure – we are adding more roads that will not be used at 4a.m.

    I actually believe that electronic tolling and congestion pricing will ENABLE and incentivize New Urbanist land-use directions but there will ALWAYS be people who can afford to pay hefty tolls to get to a 1/2 acre lot 50 miles away.

    We cannot outlaw this choice – either directly or indirectly by attempting to remove that option. We can only fairly allocate the costs of making that choice. (my opinion).

    For NoVa – build the extra lanes but charge for them fully – not only what it costs – but what it takes to keep manage congestion.

    For I-95 commuters – ditto.

    For HR – build the tunnels and connecting roadways that people need at rush hour but use the same congestion pricing strategy with the goal to helping the traveling public which includes work-a-day citizens as much or more than PORT interests.

    I just don’t think the folks in NoVa/HR want any more general tax increases to go into essentially a trust fund to be administered by unelected people utilzing policies and processes that are NOT … FOCUSED on congestion management.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Note WaPO this morning:

    “Elected leaders of two of the fastest-growing counties in the region say they are unlikely to approve the transportation plan proposed this week by Republicans in the General Assembly, which would raise taxes and fees to pay for road and transit improvements.

    Members of the boards of supervisors in Loudoun and Prince William counties said they would not vote to raise taxes locally — especially if they don’t control how much of the money would be spent, as the plan dictates.”

    This is WHY the Republican proposal will ultimately FAIL in my opinion.

    This is WHY I think many of the guys in the GA – STILL – “do not get it”.

    Neither ordinary citizens/voters NOR their local elected are going to go along with new taxes – that are turned over to unelected VDOT and Regional MPOs to fund THEIR priorities – which many folks strongly suspect are DRIVEN by business interests rather than focused on congestion relief for citizens.

    The “middle ground” compromise that while hard to swallow – is generally acceptable is electronic tolling where there WILL BE a direct connection between congestion and fees – AND … CHOICE about use.

    Let me rephase … either they “don’t get it” or business intrests have such a strangle-hold over the GA that they will not let anything go forward unless it continues the process of slush-funding transportation in Virginia.

    That’s what I see this as about… a struggle about who will spend the money and for what purposes.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Simple solution, amend the plan such that, unless the elected officials of a local jurisdiction vote to the contrary, all money raised within a city or county stays in that community. Money raised in Loudoun County stays in Loudoun County, etc. Either that or require elections for the regional boards.

    We wouldn’t need to have a new set of politicos. The voters could simply select representatives from their current BoS/City Council. If, for example, Fairfax County has 3 seats, voters can elect 3 of the 10 supervisors to the regional board.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    TMT … an OUTRAGEOUS comment!!


    why the nerve…. actually let the unwashed have a role in decisions?

    what the heck is Virginia coming to?

    Next thing you know.. folks are going to be asking for the right to initiate referenda…

    TMT – you are RIGHT ON in my view.

    People WILL vote for Regional Projects IF there is a clear and honest plan put forth with no goofing around underneath the covers… and people can see that it has merit.

    The problem with the current players is that they don’t buy into the idea that taxpayers are … ohmygod…
    Customers…. who actually expect something in return for their taxes…

    one day.. I’m going to convince you TMT that the way to change this system is to give Virginia citizens the right to initiate referenda… carefully crafted to exclude crazy ideas but enough of a door opening to allow citizens to actually have a co-equal role in decisions…

    It’s actually the same idea behind local referenda…. the problem is that politicos have to initiate the referenda and if they fear the public won’t support an initiative.. they find a back door way of doing it…

  9. E M Risse Avatar


    The allagory of the Big Barn seems to have generated more agreement than is usually exibited on this Blog.

    The Loudoun and Prince William County stance in today’s WaPo indicates that there will be a twisted path ahead for any proposal.

    Mobility and access is too complex for a “short” session or a “long” session. Perhaps voters need to string up (they used to do that in barns :>) those who submarined last years special session so that they could control the process and play brinksmanship.

    Mobility and access is too complex to hash out behind closed doors by the “leaders” even when some of apparent good will are starting to emerge. Private e-mails and converstions in our studio with elected officials indicate that there is growing awarness but it takes time for real solutions to gestate.

    All there is time for in a short session is a shoddy paint job.

    Let me make our position clear, the Big Barn does need new revenue. It is just as clear that without addressing the fundamental problems, new money just makes regional mobility and access worse and postpones real solutions to the point that it may be too late.

    The path to new money is to have a way to identify real needs, have an intelligent list of the places money would be spent and a way to be sure it is spent there.

    It is also clear that the most important basic strategy is to reduce the demand for vehicle (especially single occupant vehicles) travel.

    The second most important strategy, as Jim Bacon states over and over, is to create a tie between the amount of travel as well as the time one chooses to travel with the amount one pays to travel.

    Too many are still in the grips of the Autonobility Myth. That myth holds that is is possible to build a transport system such that one can live where they want, work where they want, shop where they want and travel when you want and arive in a timely manner.

    As noted above by Larry, there is plenty of capacity in the Big Barn if everyone did not want to use the capacity at the same time. Did someone say “Balance?”

    In a democracy with a market economy no one should say “you have to share a wall” or a stairwell. The market will take care of that and it does now. A lot of our friends have sorted out what is important and they have established the market for houses near METRO stations, etc.

    We do not need more scattered places we need more great places. Developing them under the current conditions does not make those in the building delivery industry as much money as the least common denominator, scattered places. It is also true that those who have places that are worth a lot because they are rare do not want their values reduced by building other great places and they make political contributions too.

    Fianally, creating great places is a matter of design at the unit, dooryard, cluster, neighborhood, village and community scale. It is what makes Balance not only attractive but a better value.

    For example, I have been bothered less by 5 different dooryarders on the other side of a wall in a townhouse over 14 years with a shared wall than in a single family detacthed dwelling with a “side yard” over four years.

    In the former I had the privilage of participating in the communtiy, village scale design and management and in supervising and managing the neighborhood, cluster and dooryard scale design and construction.


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    People often make decisions about where to live NOT on what they WANT but PERCEPTIONS about what they DON’T want or cannot afford.

    It’s the less of the two evils.

    They DON’T want their family exposed to an unsafe living environment and they don’t want their kids in schools where they will not get a good education and/or are vulnerable to predatory classmates.

    These two things – just the perception of them – drive people to places without “shared walls” that are “rented” rather than owned.

    People that grew up in the suburbs that pursue careers in urban centers are not likely to go against their own roots (and perceptions that drew their parents to the surburbs in the first place) ….

    … if NEARBY safe, affordable compact development near good schools is a reality and not a marketing claim, the market will work.

    If that compact development is 50 miles from a job… it’s going to canabalize it’s twin up in NoVa if it competes “better”… is cheaper, is safe and has good schools.

    This is why I’m a skeptic. The market will provide all kinds of housing if left alone. If GOVERNMENT concentrates on safety and good schools – then the market will provide what customers want.

    I’m convinced it’s much more than just the type of development.

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I have a fabulous old barn that is in grievous need of repair. The reason is that it long ago stopped serving the needs for which it was built. Modern times made it obsolete, along with the silo and the draft horse.

    If any Fundamental Change proposals, and the those who make them, are doomed they have been thwarted by the Business-As-Usual interests, then maybe Fundamental change won’t work. Maybe we need mor incremental changes that we can actually achieve rather than planning on educating the entire populace about a revolution that is doomed from the start.

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Pay as you go costs less than borrowing money, and paying a bank interest only so long as the opportunity costs of not borrowing the money don’t exceed the cost of the interest.

    A new tractor might cost $30,000, but if it saves you that much, per year, in mule feed and hard physical labor then it is well worth while to borrow the money.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    The auto mobility myth holds that is is possible to build a transport system such that one can live where they want, work where they want, shop where they want and travel when you want and arive in a timely manner.

    The reason it is a myth is that we can;t do that: we can’t all live and work in compact areas without vbeing in each other’s way.

    It makes no difference whether that area is designed for pedestrians, autos, or public transit. When there are too many people in that place then accessibility and mobilty declines, no matter what the mode is.

    Rome had traffic jams.

    Ww don’t need more scattered places, we need more great places, but great places are going to need a fair amount of room, empty space. It is only partly the monuments and museums that make the national mall popular, it’s the empty spaces, as well.

    So what, exactly, is the difference between scattered places and places with enough spaces?

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    one of the biggest obstacles to new urbanist developments is.. in my view… the mortgage and the traditional family.

    The mortgage is like having a defined benefit pension…. once you’re vested – you suffer financially if you leave.

    What leads people to commute – and twice as likely if they are couples is changing jobs – which happens much much more often since companies have switched to defined contribution pension plans. (note that State jobs including schools have not even though most Fed jobs have).

    For those with portable pensions, if you don’t like your job.. find another… take your pension with you.

    If you rent, no problem.. just move to where your new job is.

    For those on fixed pensions and/or big mortages – BIG PROBLEM… not near as easy to pick up and move.

    An Associated Press article on Mixed-Use development said that it has become very popular with two demographic groups – young, often single folks early into their careers… and retired folks.

    Take a POLL on I-95 or other major commuting roads and I’m betting you’ll find that a very high percentage of the long-distance commuters .. ARE people with families AND a mortgage.
    (often referred to as the American Dream).

    I think the LOW-HANGING fruit for New Urbanism/Compact Development/Mixed-use IS young folks and retired folks.

    However, New Urbanism for retired folks I would think would be VERY DIFFERENT than for younger folks especially those interested in “workforce” housing.

    Older folks don’t mind “sharing” a wall if there are other like-minded folks who are QUIET with reasonably calm lifestyles.

    Put an older person next to a young hellraiser.. and instant problems.

    This is also an interesting demogaphic aspect worth observing….

    Workforce housing and “Affordable housing are NOT the same thing by a LONG short though many think they are.

    “Workforce” housing is for younger folks with entry level jobs…

    whereas “Affordable” housing is not what it’s name implies… it’s not apartments and it’s not, in general New Urbanist development – it’s rather 3 bedroom SFH in subdivisions with larger front/back yards as opposed to smaller front/back yards and common areas.

    To a certain extent – the pursuit of “Affordable Housing” for families is what is driving the rush hour congestion because it is THESE folks who have fairly rigid schedules .. driven, in part by School System schedules.

    “Workforce” housing also travels at rush hour – but it is usually closer to the job… one might think.

    “Affordable” housing though is only available by employing the strategy – “drive til you qualify”.

    I think it is important to think about demographics because New Urbanism is no more likely to be “one size fits all” any more than any other option.

    But also important – New Urbanism itself is not one sterotypical template. There has to be different flavors that cater to different demographics.

    Finally try this on for size:

    Suppose it cost 20 bucks for a 50 mile commute .. no matter whether you drove or took commuter rail.

    Either 20 bucks in tolls on the road or 20 bucks for a one-way commuter rail ticket.

    What would the “split” be and why?

  15. E M Risse Avatar


    I think we are closer to the same wave length than you think. You seem to believe that I think that the private sector and the market ALONE can create functional human settlement patterns and Balanced Communities. Not so.

    You have not read a broad cross section of our work. In this fora there are some who love to pounce on any suggestion that planning for the future is a good idea. In their eyes is is just Big Brother. For that reason I stress the role of the market.

    A strong public role is esential. Recall that the two causes of Collapse are:

    Failure to plan for the future (a public function that has been hamstrung by being converted into a political function)

    Failure to reconsider traditional values when conditions fundamentally change.

    On the one hand public agencies have stood in the way of functional settlement patterns and provided the wrong incentives. The parking issue explored by Jim Bacon recently is a good example. So was badly mananged Urban Renewal, extending radial roadways and urban serving rails past the Clear Edge, etc, etc.

    On the other hand public invovement is absolutely essential to provide / ensure the provision of schools, healthcare facilities, public utilities and to ensure safety.

    But on the third hand (government is not anthorpromorphic), there are no governments that match the organic structure of human settlement.

    In this context there is no way for the services needed by the seven levels of settlement pattern components to be provided by three and a half levels of governance.

    No one would go to the grocery store, hardware store or drug store and wait while a clerk writes down in a ledger:

    1. What they want to take home now,

    2. What they want to order and take home in two weeks (not available in the store but avaliable in the region)

    3. What they want to order now and take home in three months (not in the region but avaliable in the Untied States)

    4. What they want to order now and take home in 18 months — special orders from China or England.

    But they are willing to rely on a govrnance structure that was designed to meet citizen needs when the retail trade was as noted above.

    That is why we say that in order to have Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns there must be Fundamental Change in governance structure.

    Two other points.

    You need to get an ADC 50 mile from Washington Radius Map and plot our the numbers from our Backgrounder “Five Critial Realies That Shape the Future.” There is a lot more room a lot closer to the centroid of jobs than you might think from reading MSM.

    Fianlly “New Urbanist developement” and “New Urbanism” are interesting and complex topics but have little to do with the scale of the message we articulate in our work.

    That is why we said “New Urban Regions” have nothing to do with “New Urbanist regions” what ever they might be.


  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray – I concur with your proposal that we need more “great places.” The idea that every good job in Virginia must either be in NoVA or HR is absurd. Both of those places will always be large centers, but it serves no one’s interest but those who own land or buildings in those locations for all growth to be in those communities. While the Fairfax County “business community” is still enraged that the FBI is moving to PWC from Tysons Corner, that move will serve the public interest.

    Someday, the powers that be will even open Fauquier to a bit of development.


  17. Ray Hyde Avatar

    If it was the same price, my guess is that it would be 95% +, in fqavor of the auto.

    It is almost 50% faster.
    It is more conveneient.
    More useful.
    and more comfortable.

    And, the train isn’t available to 95% of the population.

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar

    What do you suppose the percentage of people is that live in a home with no mortgage on it? Even if they are renters, the home probably has a mortgage.

    If we build roads with private capital, they will have a mortgage, too. I don’t see that mortgages or lending is the problem. If it really was a problem, banks would not take the risk, or they would demand higher rates.

    I think you are right. Part of our commuting problem is that jobs have no longevity associated with them. No matter where you chose to live, you are likely to come up on the long end of the commuting stick, eventually.

    I lived in town, to be close to my job. Then my job moved, and I moved. Then my job disappeared, after 18 years. Since then I have changed jobs six times, but I have never moved again.

    There was no point, and no gain to be made. And that is with just one job holder in the family. With two it is even worse.

    However, I don’t think it is the mortgage that keeps people from moving. Nowadays, you can get a new mortgage in 6 hours.

    Instead, it is all the other costs of moving. Investigating schools, $5000 to move your stuff, 6% to the real estate agent, transfer taxes, the hit to your credit score, and all the other costs and headaches of moving.

    And, as you point out, no guarantee the move is worth the effort.

    So, how high would you have to make the tolls, to make the move worth the effort? Most of the places that are really congested are not going to get any more roads. Considering the costs of Metro, they most likely aren’t going to get that either, at least not for a few decades.

    So, If you charge tolls and can’t provide the infrastructure, where does the money go? My suggestion would be to buy up some of the places that are causing excess travel, and then evict the tenants. Turn it back into public open space.

    It is the only method that will actually reduce congestion to the point that the tolls are no longer needed.

    I went to work on Monday, a government holiday. The building was open, the heat and lights were on, the guards were in place. The parking attendant was gone, so parking was free, and the trip to town took half the normal amount of time.

    EMR points out that there is a lot of space still left in the urban areas. What he doesn’t say is that a lot of it is already being used for something.

    Roads, for starters.

    By taking gross averages he is grossly distorting the true picture. If all the destinations are clustered in one place, then you can’t get to them and they are expensive. If all the destinations are scatttered over all of Nevada and Utah, then you can’t get to them, don’t want to get to them, and they are cheap.

    Somewhere in between is a happy medium, but stacking the next two million people up in the air rights over 18 metro stations isn’t the answer.

  19. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, I will concede that you raise a valid point regarding the ever-shorter longevity of jobs. The United States has greater labor mobility than almost anywhere else in the world. People don’t just change jobs — they change careers — with incredible frequency. Lifetime employment is dead. Job-hopping is all-pervasive.

    It once made sense to buy a house close to your job location on the assumption that you were likely to work at the same place for a long time. That assumption is decreasingly valid. Factor in the job hopping in two-income families, and the calculus totally changes.

    What is the new housing-proximity-to-jobs calculus? I would hypothesize that people look for locations that have ready accessibility to a wide range of employment centers and job opportunities. Transportation options, both in terms of roadways and availability of mass transit, would be at a premium.

    Does the job-hopping trend undermine the logic behind creating balanced communities, mixed use developments, transit-oriented communities, etc.? I’m still trying to think through the implications of this insight, but my gut tells me that “smart” development still makes sense.

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Bacon:

    You should concede nothing to Mr. Hyde. Your comments when translated into a set of equations proves exactly what Dr. Risse has been arguing for years:

    Auto dependent mobility is dysfunctional, it cannot serve contemporary travel demands. It is a physical imposiblity.

    We are forwarding an antidote for Mr. Hydes Geographic Illiteracy.

    Alpha Zeus

  21. E M Risse Avatar

    Thank you AZ.

    I hope it works. The world will be a better place.

    Two big ommissions from my 4:15 post:

    On the list of roadblocks that least-common-denomiator municipal goverment has thrown up are Euclidian Zoning and creating “comprehensive” plans that end at municipal boundaries.

    Also see “The Role of Municipal Planning in Creating Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns” at

    Nearly all the acts that have created dysfunctional human settlement patterns have been made by well meaning persons who think they are acting in their own self-interest. Geographic Illiteracy is a major driver of self inflicted wounds.


  22. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “…as long as people are free they will locate where they want with respect to work and home doing whatever they can in their own self interests.”

    As long as people are free.

    Isn’t that the whole point?

    If they are not working in their own self interest, then whose interests ARE they working for? Three and a half more layers of government?

    Are they supposed to give up their self interests in favor of some larger interest? Do we really think that we can lose a little on every self-interest transaction, and then make up the loss by doing it in volume, with seven layers of government sticking their fingers in the pie, all along the way?

    At at the end of all that we are going to come out ahead, somehow?

    Show me the metrics, show me the numbers.

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “If you want to travel a great distance at rush hour – you will pay for what it costs, in essence, to provide you with adequate infrastructure.

    If you choose to NOT commute long distances at rush hour – you will pay less.”

    Nice try, but I don’t think so.

    Right now, I drive a long distance to work. It sucks, and I’m trying to fix that problem, the sooner the FBI and some others move to Manassas, the more chances I have.

    But, the first thirty miles are on uncongested interstate. Your plan would have me paying tolls for that trip. I can avoid the tolls and pay less, you say, by choosing not to commute.

    Let’s say that the tolls are so onerous, that everyone who lives out here either, stops commuting and works locally for half the money, or moves to Centreville, or closer, if they can afford it.

    What will happen then? 1) you won’t collect the tolls you wanted, or not nearly as much. 2) the interstate will still be there and it will still have to be paid for. 3) the roads from Centreville in will be just as clooged as before. 4) home prices in the area will go out of site, but home values in the hinterlands will fall. 5) Inner area employers will have to pay more and be less competititive in order that their employees can either pay the tolls, or move and pay higher rent.

    You will have an even greater differential between the rural and urban areas, and even more incentive to move out, whether you are a worker or an employer.

    I can avoid the tolls and pay less only if I decide it is worth it to earn less. If I earn less, I will never be able to repair my real barn, not the allegorical one, and then the picture Reid Greenum paints becomes entirely too real.

    It is not a direct allocation of locational costs. It is the reverse. The locational costs are higher where the roads are clogged, close in, not out here. They are going to be clogged, whether the cars come from out here, or not.

    The roads from Centreville east will still be clogged. The roads around me will still be unclogged, and they will still be paid for. My home will cost no more and no less to operate and serve. The reason this is an explicit goal of those that espouse New Urbanists priciples is that they think it is a direct subsidy to their ideas. They will be more than happy to make their ideas more economically palatable by doing the same thing the rest of the urban area does, push the costs off on the rural areas.

    That isn’t allocating locational costs, unless you want to allocate them backwards, in order to subsidize both new urbanism and the new country elite.

    The reason it isn’t a problem at 4 AM is that most people are in bed then. Your argument that we don’t have a crisis just because the roads are vacant at 4 AM is just as silly as saying that we don’t have a housing “crisis” because we have plenty of beds that are unused in the middle of the day.

    NOVA isn’t going to build any more lanes. Those lanes are going to be built 30 and 40 and fifty miles away. Even the Metro is going to be built 35 miles away, when it still isn’t serving the original area adequately.

    The people who CAN pay those hefty tolls, won’t be living on a half acre lot, because the minimum will be 25 or fifty acres. In my case, 160 acres. The people who CAN’T pay the tolls will be their servants. Just like in the old days when there were no roads and no opportunities.

    Meanwhile, the roads will still have to be paid for, and a lot of people will have fewer opportunities. I fail to see how this is a win-win if it works, and it probably won’t work.

    I’m afraid Reid Greenum’s prediction is far mor accurte than EMR’s.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: tolls

    I’m not advocating tolls to penalize commuters.

    Should I repeat the above statement?

    I’m advocating tolls because…

    TOLLs will bring in the funds needed to upgrade/improve/optimize the transportation network – BECAUSE our current approach has FAILED.

    Everywhere you look – there are projects delayed not for months, for years, for decades. A 100 Billion dollar backlog – and that does not count the clock ticking from now to the future.

    We are all in denial about how do deal with it. Stopping growth is not going to work and even if it did – it would not fix what is already broken.

    Congestion Pricing Tollng will ADD CAPACITY to the existing network by better managing the flow.

    You’re not going to get there from here if you do not

    1. have the money for upgrades and

    2. optimze the network where major road expansions are not likely feasible due to air quality regs nor reasonably possible geographically.

    The unstated .. aspect of tolling:

    how to assign toll costs is obvious…

    we should not charge everyone the same toll no matter how far they travel or at what hours s.

    In fact Congestion Pricing is the opposite of that concept.

    The most fair and equitable way to assign toll costs is by:

    1. – charging for the time you use pavement

    2. – charging for peak hour

    the “side benefit” to this is allocation of costs according to far you drive.

    Now a truly dysfunction modification could be made. We could give “bulk users” of the road a “break” on their tolls if there was public support for that – but I’d point out that then – the shorter distance folks would have to pay more to equalize the overall revenue – right?

    That argument – is not germane to the overall concept of a VIABLE funding mechanism for transportation.

    If one thinks this is not very desireable.. I’d point you back to what the current financing proposal is… which is truly dysfunctional.. and I believe the last twitches of a system that can no longer be sustained.

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: settlement patterns … new urbanist, new urbanism, government roles, et al.

    I admit it. I’m pretty ignorant. What I view as nuances… EMR see’s as chasms in the settlement landscape pattern issues.

    I’ll go off and read.. as has been suggested.

    My Defense though is twofold:

    I’m not completely unfamiliar and I probably have as much knowledge or a tad more than average folks and the only way .. change happens … is when enough people understand… and buy into what is proposed.

    Changes in huge scope – like aligning government with more enlightened settlement patterns has absolutely no chance in my view if folks don’t understand it and more important, if there is not an incremental path to it.

    We’re not going to turn a light switch overnight and change things.

    This is, in fact, what is going on with Transportation reform.

    We know what we think is wrong but there is no way it’s going to change in one fell swoop…

    an incremental path has to be laid out – a roadmap if you will –

    the same thing needs to happen with reform of settlement patterns in my view.

    1. – know/identify what is wrong
    2. – recommend specific reforms
    3. – advocate for change
    4. – educate, get buy-in on concept
    5. – show how change can happen – incrementally .. step-by-step…

    With Transportation – JLARC and APA have done 1. and 2.

    We’re still arguing about 3 and 4.

    5. is playing out…

    I’m still confused about where we are on the continum with regard to settlement patterns.

    If my own lack of understanding needs correction… there are a LOT of the public and public officials whose perceptions about specific distrinctions with respect to “smart growth”, New Urbanism, New Urbanist, New Urbanism/Urbanist Regions, et al… in the same boat.

    If you took a POLL of all the BOS in NoVA and adjacent exurban communities – ALL of those that attended REALTY CHECK with respect to the principles being advocated here – how many would “pass” the test?

    How about if we POLLED every Planning Director in the Region? What would those results show?

    I’m not being critical..

    My gut tells me you are right EMR.

    But I don’t have a roadmap in my mind yet…

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    For many years, I lived in a 1-BR apartment in Alexandria, where I walked to a grocery store, restaurants, a dry cleaners, drug store, and most importantly to a bus stop where I rode a bus to a metro stop and the metro into DC. I did this for around 35 years and didn’t even OWN a car for most of those years. The car I did own for part of that time I drove into DC only on weekends and put an average of 3200 miles a year on it for 15 years.

    I now live in a 3-BR single family house in Blacksburg, VA with a garden out back and a park on one side. Guess which I prefer?

    Alpha Zeus may know geography, but I’ll stick with Ray Hyde on human nature.

    BTW how many of you pitching “sustainable living” live in such communities?

    Deena Flinchum

  27. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    I live in a high rise in Alexandria. I would be one of those who would change travel times to avoid congestion tolls.

    Those who are worried about a toll for of traveling 30 miles on the interstate before the get to congestion are missing the point. Congestion tolling is by definition, tolls where there is congestion. The toll the interstates version sets the price based on congestion on the link being tolled. Not the number of miles you drive. The cordon pricing version only charges one toll. The toll for crossing the cordon line.

    I hope that these comments will allow the conversation to move forward. We seem to have too many comments that just rehash previous comments that are factually wrong. Yes, someone can propose a mileage based toll, but objection to a mileage based toll has no place in a discussion of congestion tolling. It should be saved for a discussion of user fees.

  28. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Hi, Deena, Interesting observation. I have no doubt that most people would prefer, like you, to have a Blacksburg lifestyle rather than an Alexandria lifestyle…. But, then, most people probably would prefer to drive a Lexus instead of a Hyundai, take vacations in the Bahamas rather than Philpott Lake, and hang a Renoir in their house rather than a velvet Elvis. But we can’t all afford what we want.

    Here’s the problem. For every job that exists in Blacksburg, there are 100 jobs in the Washington metropolitan area. If people want to work, they’re far more likely to find opportunities to do so in Washington than Blacksburg. Trouble is, the difficulty of providing access and mobility increases exponentially as metropolitan areas get larger, for reasons of geometry and physics, as Ed Risse has pointed out. One solution that the marketplace has devised is to build “up” rather than “out,” build mixed-use communities, and provide mass transit as an alternative to the single-occupancy vehicle. That’s not as desirable, perhaps, as living in Blacksburg, but it’s the price that must be paid to live in proximity to certain kinds of jobs.

    It would be nice if we could just “create new communities,” as some readers of this blog have advocated. That may indeed be part of the solution. But there are limits in a knowledge economy to the extent to which the workforce can be distributed across many communities. The irony of the Internet Age is that *more* work is collaborative, and *more* work requires face-to-face interaction, and the employers of primary industries such as the Washington region’s IT sector seek access to large pools of talent, access to customers and access to strategic partners — all of which requires close physical proximity. That is the reason that Washington’s employment is growing far more rapidly than Blacksburg despite the charms of the Blacksburg lifestyle.

    Given the compelling economic reasons for clustering knowledge workers in concentrated geographic areas, we have no choice but to find access and mobility solutions in those areas. Wishing that everyone could live in a place like Blacksburg is not a realistic option.

  29. nova_middle_man Avatar

    k time to rain on the parade (with some hope in the parenthesses ?)

    It’s time for a reality check.

    I think the idea put forth in building balanced communities in general might work

    The holes have already been discussed

    The challenge of having work in your balanced community compounded with two income households (solution greater telework)

    The challenge of finding individuals outside of singles and retirees to participate in this master plan which dovetails into the challenge of convincing people to give up the suburban dream and a lawn/privacy and the freedom/reliance of a car (proof of concept pilot areas similar to 3&4 Larry talked about)

    A quick question too how would the serive industry fit into this. Would there be a plumber, maid service, in every balanced community. Would the service workers at the gas station and the mcdonalds live in the community.

    This fits into a final issue imho which is an ugly stain but true. Are people willing/want to live in areas that are mixed income and mixed racially?


    Now NoVA a unique area with unique problems

    The land/affordability issue

    The land that would be used to build these mixed communities is very expensive. The residential components of this would arguably price out many individuals. (I would argue a large section of the population (not the population of this blog :)) would love to live in Fairfax county if they could afford it) For this to realistically work some sort of workforce housing component would be needed IMHO. Then the question becomes where is the cutoff and then arent you just moving the burden from the lower class to the middle class aka you now have a set of reduced housing stock and to make up the average price of other housing stock increases pricing out a different section of individuals. So, you could easily get stuck in a recursive workforce affordable housing loop.

    The challenge of telework as a viable soultion

    This area has many jobs that require security clearances that cannot be done from home. Additionally the consulting industry is rather large which relies on client interaction and face time for maximum results. This also adds more strain to the transportation network

    The politics issue

    No poltician in there right mind is going to sign off on additional development given the current political climate.

    We will look at Fairfax, Loudoun and PW. Going on with what has been stated above. The BoS in these counties are loath to approve of new development especially residential development

    Fairfax is fairly built out but could be built up in many areas. However, the majority of current residents dont want this to happen

    Prince William and Loudoun have no desire for any development unless it is pay your own way.

    In closing, I think on paper the theory of mixed use balanced communities would be beneficial as opposed to the current sprawl phenomona. This might work in a Fauquier or Caroline county. However, inner NoVA is a unique case.

    So then Nova_middle_man what is the solution for DC/NoVA. I admit I don’t really know

    Should we build up I think so but I don’t think there is political will. The glimmer of hope possibly is the redevelopment areas which could be used as test beds for balanced communities and could convince politicians and the general public to embrace the balanced community idea.

    However these redevelopment areas have additional hurdles such as “school quality” which may be used as a crutch for the racial/socioeconomic issue no one likes to talk about.

    Here is a link to the redevelopment areas in Fairfax county.

    Here is a link to a redevlopment concept in Western Alexandria near Landmark mall which looks to me like a balanced community but has the challenges of affordability. If this plan works it could be used as a model potentially

  30. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Jim W.

    I agree. We seem to have a disconnect over congestion tolling, which is one thing, and generalized electronic tolling as a means of raising highway revenues. Sometimes we aregue about one thing and sometimes another. When we mean congestion tolling we should specify as such. When we mean general tolling we should specify.

    I have no problem with congestion tolling, but I don’t think it will have the predicted result. And since congestion tolling will occur in exactly those non-attainment areas where new roads are not going to happen, then where will the money go?

    Any way you look at it, this is going to break the rule about paying for what you get. Either the money collected will be used for roads someplace else, or it will be used to promote other modes of transit. That’s OK, but then we need to give up the rhetoric about motorists not paying their own way.

    The only way you can look at this as paying for what you get is that you are essentially buying a reserved seat on the highway. The thing you are buying that you get is exclusionary privileges over the riff-raff.

    Congestion tolling works because it is focused on a constrained area. When you shift to generalized tolls, then I think you are required to have them be equal across all classes of citizens. I don’t know how you make this work, unless it is satellite based.

    Otherwise you have toll sensor every mile or every five miles or something. That is a huge waste in the countryside, and insufficient in urban areas. Urban streets cost a lot more than rural streets, are you going to charge the same price per mile?

    My comment above was based on thinking about generalized tolls. I don’t think it matters where the money comes from, the 3X rule means that it is going to hit us all, one way or another. The real problem is that we can’t agree on the priorities of how to spend it.

    However the money is collected, most of it will come from NOVA and HR. Where will it be spent? On the other hand, if you had a real, flat, generalized toll, then the rural areas could wind up paying more because they drive farther. How is THEIR money going to be spent? Their roads are not congested.

    Maybe you spend it in such a way as to get ahead of the infrastructure curve, so that you do not have to make (or cannot make) the argurment about preventing growth on account of traffic. If that happens, then we will here more about roads being built to promote the interests of developers, and we will have to find some other argument to prevent having new neighbors.

    This goes round and round with no exit on the happiness ramp for anybody.

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “it’s the price that must be paid to live in proximity to certain kinds of jobs.”

    This is where we disagree. Surely we have the technology and skills to put the jobs wherever we want. I worked for a virtual company. Management was in Texas, accounting in Tennessee, Operations in Ohio, Research in Md. and cusxtomer support was across the country.

    I knew a guy on Martha’s Vineyard who was a hydro electric engineer. There are no hydro dams anywhwere near there.

    We can make the jobs have a lot more proximity to more places a lot easier than we can make a lot of places have proximity to the jobs.

    And, it isn’t proximity that counts: it is time and money. That is why transit fails in all but the most specialized circumstances. EMR’s view is that we should go out of our way to create those specialized circumstances. My view is that such a policy would be socially and politically unacceptable, hideously expensive, and entirely non-sustainable.

  32. nova_middle_man Avatar

    “it’s the price that must be paid to live in proximity to certain kinds of jobs.”

    Agree with ray easier for more job places than piling residents near existing jobs

    Thats why balanced communities are so desireable job and place at the same area and a balacned community could coneivably be placed almost anywhere.

    However once again pesky NoVa rears its ugly head and flips the view back to EMR’s theory. Why, the federal government isnt moving anytime soon. Even if you don’t work with the federal government you propably work for a conractor. That contractor wants to be close to the action so they can zip over to the Pentagon or Health and Human Services whatever to negotiate contracts.

    In the end however aren’t we talking about the same thing. EMR wants the balacned communities closer together which is more realisitic given the NoVA/Fed government business relationship and others like Ray argue for more places which can also work and is faciltated by plopping down balanced communities wherever you want say in Manassas, Gainsville, Fauquier, Culpepper. The net effect in both cases is a reduction in miles traveled and sprawl which is a good thing

  33. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, I am not suggesting that everybody in NoVA move to SW VA. Far from it. The last thing we SW Virginians want is NoVA recreated down here. I left it in 2002 for a reason.

    I also know where the jobs are. That’s why I left SW VA for No VA in 1967. I am, however, gratified to read that SW VA is trying to lure its exiles back because, believe it or not, technology and its jobs are expanding here as well as in NoVA.

    My point is that people, especialy those with children, prefer to live with back yards, decent schools, room to breathe, and a bit of distance from the neighbors. These things are not the same as a Lexus, vacations in the Bahamas, and expensive art. The latter are luxury items and the former is culture – and human nature.

    And my question still remains: Where do those of you advocating these “new communities” live? Do you live in them or are you advocating them for other people?

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not smart enough to understand everthing that Jim W sez (or for that matter EMR)… but

    congestion pricing is about regulating/managing congestion.

    open-road electronic tolling is about the same thing in a roundabout way and that is to have the infrastructure available for the traffic that needs to move.

    You CAN .. CONVERT any electronic toll to congestion pricing when/if it becomes appropriate.

    For instance.. I-95 south to Fredericksburg.

    Tell me WHERE it might convert from a standard TOLL road to where it is Congestion Tolled.

    I’d posit that the WHERE will SHIFT depending on how traffic evolves and grows.

    WHERE the money goes (or NOT) .. is NOT a reason for NOT TOLLING.

    Serious policy discussions DO need to take place on what the spend the money for or we’ll end up like West Virginia that uses it’s tolls to fund an Arts and Crafts center – for jobs… that have nothing to do with improving the road itself.

    NoVa has thousands of untimed signals, poorly designed intersections and ramps, bridges that need replacement… overpasses that need to have wider legs if the roads underneath are going to have additional lanes… etc, etc..

    Ray.. I don’t think we need to worry about the money other than not letting the development community get their hands on it.

    The money can be put to very, good use to improve mobility on a comprehensive basis….

    This is something that I’ll be you a nickel just about everybody would support in terms of TOLLs and what they would be used for.

    People WANT to see improvements.. MORE than they don’t want to pay tolls.

    The POLLs prove this.

    75% want to spend more money on transportation.

    75% are OPPOSED to higher taxes

    50+% FAVOR TOLLS

    It’s a no brainer…

  35. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “The net effect in both cases is a reduction in miles traveled and sprawl which is a good thing. “

    I think it will be some of both, but EMR says there is only one answer.

    What I can’t figure out is how to fix congestion in the inner areas. here isn’t eneough Metro money in the world to do it.

    The other thing I can’t figure out is the housing problem, which I see just as you described: more and more help, higher and higher upt the ladder with more and more people passing their true locational cost off on others.

    You say the Federal government isn;t moving any time soon. Of course not. The White House, Supreme Court, and Congress are not moving. But BRAC, FEMA, and the FBI are. We could do a lot more in making discerning decisions about where things need to be done. We can have satellite secure offices, the military has a secure version of the internet.

    I don’t see that having good or efficient government means we have to attempt the impossible task of moving 3 million people every morning, or the congestive effects when the process fails. We have a system that fails every morning, and we can;t see that the government is responsible: we want to blame it on long distance commuters and developers.

  36. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, I don;t get it.

    The whole (bad in my opinion) argument for tolls is so that people will have to pay to use and maintain the roads.

    Then you turn around and say it doesn’t matter where the money goes.

    If it doesn’t matter where it goes, why does it matter where it comes from? Isn’t this the whole reason you are against generalized taxes? That there is no nexus between who pays and who benefits?

    Yet now you are proposing the same thing based on tolls: it doesn’t matter where the money goes.

    If we pay for roads with an income tax the janitor will pay less than the executive he serves. But there won’t be any connection between whether they drive ten blocks or ten miles.

    If we pay for roads with tolls there will be a nexus between distance traveled, but no connection to the utility function (how valuable is the trip?)

    I’d suggest that the utility function is a more important driver than the distance. If I could only get half my salary in the city, then I’d look locally. If I could get my city salary here, then I wouldn’t look in the city.

    That’s the (admittedly unobtainable) beauty of the gas tax. The executive is likely to drive a high powered heavy vehicle and the janitor an econobox and they will pay at least something that relates to both distance and utility. The freight truck may carry more utility value than the executive and janitor combined, and he will pay for it in the fuel tax.

    I’m convinced a fuel or carbon tax is coming. It will affect all fuels, including home heating, and by extension, electricity.

    If that’s the case, then the question is whether we want a fuel tax AND taxation through tolls.

    And after we have all that money, we still have to agree on where to spend it.

    Harking back to your previous question about how to spend a hypothetical $20 a day toll, I’d suggest splitting it according to the amount of time spent traveling in each district. For me that would mean $2 to Fauquier, $4 to PW, and the rest to Fairfax and Arlington.

    But, I nearly always buy my gas in Fauquier, so that is one place the gas tax falls down: allocation of funds.

    But then, that’s the real bugaboo we are chasing here, isn’t it? Where are we taking the money from, and who are we sending it to?

  37. Anonymous Avatar

    “I don’t see that having good or efficient government means we have to attempt the impossible task of moving 3 million people every morning, or the congestive effects when the process fails.”


    Uncle Sam should condition most federal contracts given to businesses in the Greater Washington Area on meeting a 20% telecommuting requirement. (The 20% is arbitrary, but good enough for disussion purposes.) In order to maintain its contract, a business must have 20% of its employees not in the office over each 30-day period. If the VP Marketing is in Dallas for a week on business, she/he counts. Some workers could probably telecommute 3 or 4 days each week; others one day at most. Business would figure out how to do this & would love the savings in rent and utilities.

    Give it three years and many other businesses would follow suit. The reduction in demand at peak hours would make a difference. Does it mean that VDOT would never need more money Certainly not, but we need to address the demand side as well as the supply side.

  38. Anonymous Avatar

    “I don’t see that having good or efficient government means we have to attempt the impossible task of moving 3 million people every morning, or the congestive effects when the process fails.”


    Uncle Sam should condition most federal contracts given to businesses in the Greater Washington Area on meeting a 20% telecommuting requirement. (The 20% is arbitrary, but good enough for disussion purposes.) In order to maintain its contract, a business must have 20% of its employees not in the office over each 30-day period. If the VP Marketing is in Dallas for a week on business, she/he counts. Some workers could probably telecommute 3 or 4 days each week; others one day at most. Business would figure out how to do this & would love the savings in rent and utilities.

    Give it three years and many other businesses would follow suit. The reduction in demand at peak hours would make a difference. Does it mean that VDOT would never need more money Certainly not, but we need to address the demand side as well as the supply side.

  39. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Then you turn around and say it doesn’t matter where the money goes.”

    It DOES matter but what it is spent on is separate from the purpose of congestion pricing.

    Congestion pricing is NOT to raise money per se but rather to manage congestion.

    Money is sort of a side benefit but yes.. ANY revenue from ANY source be it tolls or taxes SHOULD go to maintain and optimise the existing network FIRST before we go spending it on other purposes including new roads.

    You seem to be worried about the money and whether or not it might be spent for .. HORRORs transit.. or some other “foolish” in your mind scheme.

    It might end up that way – but again – it’s NOT a reason to NOT utilize congestion pricing to manage congestion.

    They can and do use taxes for not good purposes also… right?

    In fact, if they had spent taxes to optimize the network FIRST – there probably would be LESS congestion.

    How many times have you sat at a signal.. too “dumb” to adapt to conditions?

    How many times have you heard VDOT say that they’d “like” to do something but they dont’ have the funds..

    … at the same time.. they’re expending funds on studying something like the Western Transportation Bypass that they’ll NEVER have the money for to start with?

    Indeed.. if the proceeds from congestion pricing are not watched with vigilance.. they could well be scooped up for purposes that neither you nor I would agree with.. perhaps.

    But again.. the best way to Manage congestion… is to put a price on it.

    To some extent there is already a price – people’s time – but congestion pricing actually frees up additional capacity that you did not have because it improves the flow dynamics.

    Even if money were not involved at all – congestion pricing would make sense.

    JW talks about “Fare Roads”… ways for folks to “earn” credits if they drive outside of rush hour… credits they can use later to drive inside of rush hour.. if they need to.

    This is the kind of focus that lacking in my opinion.

    Congestion will never go away. It’s actually “normal” but we don’t need to have gridlock-like conditions and where we are really vulnerable is when a major wreck or bad weather has a cascading..systemic impact on the network.

    Not quite gridlock.. physically but virtually….

    There are two sides to the equation.

    1. – the demand side – manage the demand

    2. – the money side for optimization of the network…

    You cannot get #1 from raising taxes

    #2 doesn’t work as long as we have a process that prioritizes new construction .. over network optimization.

    Congestion pricing fixes 1 but #2 can still fall prey to not being used effectively.

  40. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I don’t think transit is necessarily foolish, only that the places whrer it really makes economic sense are very narrowly defined.

    Winston and Shirley think the economically viable portion of all transit for rail transit is only about 2%.

    Optimizing the network will result in a little less congestion (if you mean motor vehicle congestion) in a few places. Otherwise, there has never been any evidence anywhere in the world, that transit reduces congestion – even if it is free.”

    I have been highly critical here. To the point that people accuse me of having a hidden agenda, or even being on someone’s payroll.

    It isn’t true.

    My beef is simply that we, as conservationists, present lousy and inconsistent arguments. Not to mention arguments that are environmentally uneconomic.

    One of them is the “user pays” argument. I could only wish it was true. This week, Hope Porter once again made the argument that Fauquier needs to preserve its open spaces, because they pay the taxes for everyone else.

    I think that is a terrible conservation argument. I can’t believe anyone is stupid enough to accept it.

    Logically speaking, if the premise is that user pays, locational costs, and all that, then I can’t see any difference between arguing for general taxes to be spent willy-nilly, real estate taxes, to be spent willy-nilly, gas taxes to be spent willy-nilly, or tolls to be spent willy-nilly.

    All of them violate the given premise.

    It isn’t my premise.

    I don’t have any agenda. If EMR can prove his position irrefutably, beyond any reasonable objection, with verifiable numbers, then I’ll accept it.

    I don’t have any agenda. If PEC or American Farmland Trust, can show me in cold hard verifiable dollars and cents that their plan makes economic sense for me, that I am not paying 3x to suppor t the developed areas, then I’m willing to listen.

    I agree that the goal should be network optimization. Therefore we should cut out this nonsense about user pays, since it clearly isn’t what we mean. We should recognize that network optimization means that only a small percentage of travel will be via transit.

    We should create radial roads that terminate at the railhead, and provide plenty of parking, not do what is happening at Metro West.

    Metro West is not Ballston. It might be, someday, if the railhead shifts farther west. But, having ridden VRE from Manassas, and having taken the van pool from Haymarket, the van pool is a superior bargain, faster, less expensive, and more congenial. And you get a seat and a seat belt.

    As far as I am concerned the answer is jitneys: van pools times a thousand. The problem I have with the van pool is that the schedule is rigid, and mine is not. When I look at the thousands toodling along in their 350 HP SUV, frankly, I want to vomit.

    Surely, there is enough market to create enough van pools so that many people can go many places on multiple schedules. If we really want smart highways, this is the information system we should focus on, not simply more signs that say ” Congestion ahead, tough luck.”

    You cannot manage the demand. Give it up. As Nova Middle Man says, and as EMR says, Govt. is not moving any time soon.

    But, there are 300 million people out there, and each of them is justifiably looking out for their own interest. If you think that there is some overarching interest that trumps their personal interests, whether that is Fundamental Change, or a rational multimodal transportation network, then you are going to have to convince a majority of them that your arguments are based on more than ideology and dogma.

    People are not stupid.

    So, if you are going to make the argument that “we are going to charge you the full cost” for where you live or where you drive, or where you park, or where you work, then you need to be prepared to show them how the money wil be spent for their benefit.

    And you better have cold, hard, solid numbers to back your argument up.

    “Too much traffic” is not a cold, hard, solid number.


    Some people are seriously arguing that as much as 50% of our transportation budget should be for “alternative” modes. Not only do I think those “alternative” modes are really additional modes, I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest they will represent 50% of our tansportation needs, absent a major catastrophe.

    When that happens, all bets are off.

  41. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Here’s another demand #1 solution

    New shifts instead of cramming everyone into 9-5:30

    Have a 6-2:30 and a 10:30 to 7. Heck this would even go along with the metro incentive for offpeak hours on at least one leg and you could use all the lanes on the highway as a single driver for at least one leg too. Even further incentives with lower prices on the HOT lanes for offpeak usage as well. So 3 positives built in already just have to convince the bosses and management.

    DoD already does the early one the last placed I worked at had people doing the second one.

  42. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “I don’t think transit is necessarily foolish, only that the places whrer it really makes economic sense are very narrowly defined.”

    okay Ray. I’m going to put you on the spot.

    You say that transit is legitimate then you say it won’t relieve congestion so I have two questions for you.

    1. – What is the benefit of transit?

    2. – what criteria would you use to determine WHERE .. NEW Transit should go? i.e. what is the criteria for expanding transit.

    No rope-a-dope.. .no dancing around.. no changing the conversation.

    fess up!

  43. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “”user pays” ….I think that is a terrible conservation argument”

    Ray – you keep linking the land conservation argument with “user pays” and worse.. you claim that reform of our transporation system to be more oriented to a “user pay” system cannot go forward until the wrong stuff associated with land-conservation is fixed.

    Again.. your plan .. is that NOTHING can change unless EVERYTHING changes.

    It’s a non starter guy.

  44. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Logically speaking, if the premise is that user pays, locational costs, and all that, then I can’t see any difference between arguing for general taxes to be spent willy-nilly, real estate taxes, to be spent willy-nilly, gas taxes to be spent willy-nilly, or tolls to be spent willy-nilly.”

    Ray – do you see a difference between one price for stadium seats no matter where you sit?

    Ray – do you think someone that uses 30,000 gallons of water a month should pay no more than someone who uses 5,000 gallons a month?

    How about electricty?

    “Willy-nilly” taxes do not allocate your tax based on what you use.

    In fact, taxes, encourage you and others to find ways to “get your money back” through gaming the system and other schemes.

    User Pays means .. you cannot evade the cost – it costs what it costs and if you want it and/or you want more of it – it YOUR cost.

    That’s why I feel it is better than taxes.

    Not ALL taxes. Some must be collected for things you would not pay for but are determined to be needed by society.

    Prisons, schools, health services for those who are not capable.

    In these cases – you are not paying for a service and it’s not “user pays”.

    Anything that YOU Consume – discretionally – you should pay and what you pay should be tied to how much you consume.

    There is a natural balance to this because it is NOT in your interest to consume more than you need (not want) because it will cost you more.

    User Pays ALSO limits what those that collect the funds can use them for.

    If you pay for water/sewer and the folks in charge use it for other purposes – they can lose their jobs and go to prison.

    The truth is.. when you pay gas taxes – the same thing happens. The money gets “diverted” by unelected folks who won’t lose their jobs for misusing the money because the process actually invites them to do so because there is no process for ranking and prioritizing the expenditures of those funds.

    At least with TOLL roads.. if potholes appear.. or guardrails are not fixed.. there is a direct quid-pro-quo relationship.

    You don’t have to go on a hunt to find out WHO did not FIX the road.. because those guys are the same ones taking your money.

    Same deal with water, electricity, cable, etc.

    When you don’t get service you not only know who to call but you have a recipt in hand of money paid for that service.

    The MORE we Don’t do this and the more we collected from “everyone” and then let “someone” decide how to spend it behind closed doors, the more we have potential for abuse of those funds.

  45. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    IRT: “we have potential for abuse of those funds.”


    We have a long, documented HISTORY of abuses using that flawed decisoon-making process.

    HB5056 and SB 1415 both continue to promose MORE of that same flawed decision-making process.

    More “regional authorities” and more politcal appointments to the CTB – changing from the Gov. maiking appointments to the GA appointing people to the CTB.

  46. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    how to fix it?

    how to restore trust and confidence to citizens that these functions are done honestly and to the benefit of citizens and not monied interests?

    solutions please.

    If the only response is condemnation.. the guys running loose in the Ga are going to have one good laugh as they go about figuring out even better ways to stick it to taxpayers.

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