Under the tread “Empathy is not Enough” by Will Vehrs (20 April 2005) and in response to question by Paul, EMR suggested that the way to reduce travel demand and travel costs would be to follow The Third Way and create “functional, balanced regional plans.” (New Urban Regions consisting of Alpha Communities each with a relative balance of jobs/housing/services/ recreation/amenity.)

This application of Fundamental Change was outlined in our column “The Shape of Richmond’s Future” 16 February 2004.

In a subsequent post in this thread Ray Hyde dismissed this strategy in a single paragraph. This dismissal was based on his statement that the strategy would:
“reduce the eventual (sic) traffic demand by 15 to 20%. The demand meanwhile will have grown by 50%, even considering steep gas prices.”

Our calculations suggest that at the Alpha Community scale the total cost of the (40 +/-) location variable services would be reduced by from 50 to 67 times these rates.

While the total trip demand in the community would remain the same or grow (to maintain or enhance the quality of life), the vehicle trips and the VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) would be greatly reduced. This has been demonstrated in study after study.

Since mobility is one of the most costly components of contemporary urban services, the cost reductions should be at least as high as the overall average for all services.

Perhaps Mr Hyde could provide the calculations upon which his “traffic demand” numbers were based.


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  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Ed, I’ve meant to ask you this question for a long time. Can you list those 40 or so location-variable services? A number are fairly obvious:

    * Transportation: roads, rail, mass transit
    * Utilities: water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, cable, telephone and wireless
    * Public services: police, fire protection, rescue services, schools, libraries
    * Public works: curbs, gutters, sidewalks

    That gets met to about 17. As far as I’m concerned, those 17 are important enough to justify more rational human settlement patterns. But I’m obviously missing some, and I’d like to know what they are.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Right, and I don’t get water, sewer, natural gas, cable, wireless, curbs, gutters, or sidewalks.

    I get police protection by extension, but I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve actually seen a police cruiser in my neighborhood. Fire protection, for me, consists of an insurance policy until I get a fire pump installed in the pond. Satellite is not location dependent.

    If I take may trash halfway, the county will take it from there so that’s one service I halfway get. My electricity and phone are spotty – I’m usually out of service five or more days a year, and cell towers are frowned on here, so I don’t have that either. I also don’t have elevators, air conditioning, storm drainage, doorman and security system, parking tickets, or many other urban related expenses.

    The biggest expense, 60%, is schools and I don’t hear Ed claiming we can reduce that cost by half. I can’t complain about school cost, even though I have no children, because I once benefited from a school I didn’t pay for.

    As far as transportation is concerned, are we talking about travel demand, travel cost, travel value, VMT, or congestion?

    Ed answered the question himself: the trip demand per household is relatively static or increases: we have to go to work and the grocery. However, in recent years women entering the workplace and increasing affluence have caused above normal growth, temporarily.

    When the number of households goes up by 50%, so will the number of daily trips, and maybe more. At present between 5 and 7% of people, nationwide, walk to work, according to the NJ DOT. That number is higher than I would have guessed, but I’ll accept it as a surprise. Even areas with the best transit, it only accounts for 9% of trips.

    Suppose that through prodigious effort and enormous expenditure
    we manage to double the non-auto percentages in 40 years. By then the total trip demand will have gone up by 50% of which we would have moved 15% to other modes.

    Today’s travel is 100: 85 car, 6 pedestrian, and 9 transit. In 40 years it will be 150: 18 pedestrian, 27 transit, and 105 auto. The reduction in VMT over no increase in walking and transit is from 127.5 to 105, which equals 17.6%.

    We will still need 20% more auto capacity, plus our present shortfall. We will need three times as much Metro capacity as we have now, since it is nearing peak capacity. Metro cost $12 billion thirty years ago. Think we could duplicate it twice over today for $40 billion? And remember, transit causes “induced travel” too.

    Reducing VMT reduces fuel use and pollution, but it does not reduce congestion. Congestion is a function of traffic density or VMT per square mile as compared with the road capacity per square mile, of which there is an obvious limit. But economic support of transit requires higher population density. Even at reduced VMT rate higher density means more VMT per square mile, more congestion, more pollution, and more wasted energy, not to mention dragging around half empty transit vehicles most of the time.

    Remember, that “reduction” in VMT is actually an increase from 85 to 105. We are in deep doo-doo.

    Here is the problem in a land use nutshell “For example, at 1997 per capita land consumption rates, Washington’s urbanized area will climb to 1,800 square miles by 2025. Yet even if we could reduce per capita land consumption 25% below the 1997 rate, Washington’s urbanized area would reach the same 1,800 square miles by 2063” – Edwin Stennet on the Grinning Planet website. He goes on to say “There simply is not enough space in already dense communities to build roads to fit the huge number of cars demanded by large populations.”

    Today’s sprawl is tomorrow’s infill, even with balanced communities we will need to spread out – build more balanced communities – from scratch.

    For the traveler time of travel and value of travel are more important than VMT. Academic studies in Pennsylvania and Colorado confirm that despite higher VMT the transportation costs for rural residents are actually less than for urban residents. And the pollution they cause is lower because the cars are operating at their design speed.

    Suppose that in a half hour I can either walk two miles, if I’m not carrying anything, or take transit ten miles, or drive 20 miles and carry a ton of stuff, if I need to. Even in a balanced community, walking offers me many less job or commerce opportunities than driving, therefore its value is far less to me. Transit is even worse because it costs more and only buys me opportunities that are within walking distance of the stations, only on their schedule, and I still can’t carry much stuff. Supporting transit and pedestrian friendly design is fine but we need to be realistic about their costs and effects.

    Try thinking out of the box. My use of VRE costs me around $2000 out of pocket every year, in addition to my car costs. The subsidy paid by others is nearly twice that. That means that if we just shut down VRE and gave the present riders the amount of the subsidy they currently use, then they could afford to take a lesser job closer to home for $6000 less money. That would promote balanced community more than VRE does and eliminate VRE pollution and the additional cost of future VRE expansion.

    Initially that idea sounds crazy, but people go to the city because there is no money in the country. It is probably cheaper to send the money to the country than to move 3.5 million people every day.

    Is it any less crazy to pay subsidies to send people to the most expensive, dirty, dangerous, place on the planet than it is to pay them to stay away? Why should urban landowners get all the subsidies? They both cost the same money, they both reduce VMT and one promotes balanced community.

    To answer Ed’s question, my numbers originally came from one of the more realistic Smart Growth web sites that does not predict that Smart Growth and New Urbanism are the single cure to all evil and also the last free lunch. I’ll post the reference as soon as I can find it again.

    In the meantime check out In it you will find: “Last, we ran a transit-only scenario with the pricing policies and with a UGB. It reduced VMT 20% in 2025 and 25% in 2050.”

    This was the most extreme and costly of the five smart growth scenario studies published, the others showed much smaller savings. These are reductions below the baseline increases, not reductions from today’s rates. The pricing policies mentioned are a $1.00 per gallon gas tax and a $5.00 parking surcharge.

    Here is a plan that reduced VMT by 20% by increasing the cost of driving by 40%!

    Not included in the report, but included on internal staff memos I found elsewhere were notations to the effect that increasing central density reduces VMT but increases congestion, the fact that the pricing values chosen were politically unrealistic, and travel times using transit are predicted to 1.85 times slower.

    Those are just two examples, but nowhere do I see suggested savings like 67%. I believe that much of EMR’s “savings” actually represent a reduction in value or a transfer of costs elsewhere but I can’t tell based on the information provided.

    I believe those balanced communities will look more like Warrenton than Ballston. Urban areas are enormously expensive to build, run, and maintain. Such infrastructure as they have is frequently insufficient and out of date, and they are energy hogs and pollution sinks, and social disasters, yet Ed claims they will save us money. His plan might save the countryside, but to do so will come at enormous cost otherwise.

    Rather than fiddling on one string, what we need is a symphony, and it is going to require a lot more instruments and a lot more money and a lot more cooperation. We are going to have to do everything at once, and no option is
    off the table, not even sprawl and extensive rural urbanization.

    The fact that study after study produce the same result proves nothing – you can get the wrong answer every time if you use the wrong algorithm, the wrong assumptions, or if you want to get the wrong answer to prove a point.

    If we actually generated that kind 67% savings it would probably result in another Great Depression, we need work for people to do. The last Bureau of Labor Statistics report says construction will continue to be the fastest growing industry for the next 20 years, which ofers another solution.

    If Government buys Pulte, Hovnanian, Ryan, and NV Homes stock, they’ll probably make enough money to pay for the transportation costs.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Good question. The original “40 +/-” we use in the 10X Law discussions came from the work of graduate planning students during the 90s when the first Five Natural Laws of Human Settlement Pattern were developed. Students came up with lists that varied from 30 + to around 50. There was much debate as to what was separate category and I choose “40 +/-.”

    Your list of 17 catch many of the big ones. Here are some details:

    Technology. You listed “cable, telephone and wireless” but there were a half a dozen communication alternatives that had different costs, etc. You recall when MCI was Microwave Communications Inc. Fiber Optic was in its infancy, direct satellite was very expensive, there was no XM or Sirus etc.,etc. We find all these still in flux and a standard level of service is much different in an urban enclave within Warrenton-Fauquier (much less 10 miles outside of a town) than it is in Fairfax Center. (Recall our efforts to get high quality HDTV service here.)

    Some topics that you list as one are more complex. Schools for instance. We would list nursery school, preschool, k-2, 3-8, 9-12 and community college as different services. Schools are a big cost so this level of detail is useful. Bussing is big but if parents can walk to school there are opportunities for much bigger contributions from volunteers to lower staff costs. The potential for shared facilities is also very big and varies with each level of “school.”

    Library is another example. Bookmobiles jumps to mind but location impacts the level of service, volunteers and donations. There is also overlap with other facilities.

    One category you missed was mail and package delivery. UPS and Fed EX are starting to vary rates not just by large zone but by 9 digit ZIP based on the cost/time to deliver. Remote grocery shopping, internet and catalog shopping have expanded the volume of deliveries since the 90s.

    Storm water management is significantly less expensive for shared facilities unless it is just dumped in the creek as an externality. The health of the Chesapeake Bay and of the Susquehanna River Basin indicate that scatteration of urban land uses is not a solution. Neither are “free” septic tanks vs public sewer systems.

    Finally there are all the private retail, service and repair functions where the service varies by location but are charged a flat fee. We address this with the Wal*Mart parking tax (aka, Multi-Objective Tax Policy). The farther customers drive to get to a Wal*Mart lot, the higher the tax Wal*Mart pays.

    Two years after publishing The Shape of the Future not a single person had come forward to challenge the basic assumptions in the Five Natural Laws. Facing a need to move/store 10 filing cabinets of backup data we recycled it all. That is not a loss now since in science if you want to challenge or endorse a conclusion you need to replicate the experiment.


  4. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Mr Hyde:

    Just as we feared, you do not understand the question, much less have a relevant response.

    You confuse projected regional growth in population with the potential for change in VEHICLE travel demand within a single Balanced Community.

    None of the studies you cite assume any change in human settlement pattern more significant than a shuffling of the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. None of the case studies approach the scale of Fundamental Change and none address the question we raised about your comments on our work.

    Bopping around the internet grazing for unrelated quotes to support your superficial misconceptions is a waste of your time and that of the readers.

    In spite of our repeated attempts to help you come to understand the nature and importance of creating Balanced Communities and the scope of Fundamental Change, you continue to grasp at straws that you hope will confirm the wisdom of your past actions and justify your current activities and future plans.

    We can only suggest again that you try to understand the backgrounder “Geographic Illiteracy” and the second backgrounder “Five Critical Realities That Shape the Future” to which it refers.

    Best wishes for a successful farm season.


  5. Ray Hyde Avatar


    You yourself said trip demand per household remains the same or goes up. While “Bopping around the internet” However, I found several studies based on different communities that suggested VMT decreases of (depending on local characteristics and how optimistic you are) of 15 to 25% are possible. As stated those are reductions in the amount of baseline increase. I have yet to find any documentation of any community that has actually achieved such reductions.

    The transportation plans published for New Brunswick, Canada specifically stated the reasons they have not chosen higher numbers: they are unlikely. Therefore, I stand by my analysis.

    All I point out is that even if you reduce VMT, and vehicle trips you don’t necessarily reduce either congestion, or pollution. That contention is borne out by statements of professional traffic planners.

    In addition, if you replace a vehicle trip with a walking trip, then you are accepting a trip with lesser value, even in a balanced community. It is important to include pedestrian features, but they are not free and considering the value they bring, may not always justified. These factors imply a hidden “cost” in walking, and consequently property values that your calculations apparently don’t consider. A recent study by a realty group concluded that sidewalks decrease the value of your home by 2.5%.

    I’m in favor of balanced communities; all I’m saying is that we are going to need a lot more of them in a lot more places. When city employers have to have to pay 40% more in wages to attract workers, then that is exactly what happens. (See today’s paper on extreme commuting.)

    They have to pay 40% more because no one in their right mind would go there otherwise. (See today’s blog comments about Tyson’s) Even when they do go, people frequently plan it to be a temporary condition. Those increased pay levels are a recognition that urban living is less desirable.

    I see no evidence that your plans will for increasing urbanization will reduce, congestion, or pollution, result in lower civic costs, or a more desirable life. If you compare the recent increases in assessments with the recent increases in taxes paid (in dollars not rate) you will find no evidence that more urban jurisdictions are more successful at increasing value more than they do costs.

    The balance problems most expensive to fix are those closest to the cities. I’m simply asking the question of whether it is reasonable to triple (or more) the expenditure in transit in order to achieve a partial reduction in VMT that doesn’t solve the problems of congestion, or pollution. Transit makes the problems of unbalanced communities worse, not better, because of the large transfer of wealth associated with subsidies to the small areas that benefit.

    Also peak demand is a much greater problem for transit systems than it is for highways, because they not only have to have the capital investment, they have to invest in labor to meet that demand as well: “Any large increases in ridership, especially in the peak hours would severely erode the financial picture of the transit operators.” – from a study by the bureau of transit statistics. The same report points out that an increase in gas prices of $.50/per gallon increases transit use by 5%, and in increase in transit fares of $.05 reduces transit use by 5%.

    Congestion is both a peak demand problem, (everyone at the same time), and an area problem, (everyone at the same place). Given that we have expanded rush hour in time as much as we can, we now have to consider place, technology, and every other solution that offers promise, including building more balanced communities from scratch.

    It may very well be that the figures I quote are irrelevant, however, they are not my figures, I don’t invent this stuff. I found no information that would support your claim of 67% reduction in infrastructure costs or travel.

    I simply can’t find any evidence to support your idea that a more highly ordered and compact state is easier to achieve or requires less energy. That strikes me as a violation of natural law.

    As for the farm season, thanks: I’ll need all the help I can get. I’m all in favor of preserving the countryside, but the situation in farming is entirely unbalanced. Only a small fraction of farms anywhere around here have income that exceeds expenditures, and that usually involves federal money of some sort. Most farmers make more than 75% of their income from off farm sources. If we are going to spend enormous sums to construct urban systems in order to “save the family farm”, we are going to have to find a better way to balance the cash flow.

    The most successful farm season I can possibly have is valued at far less than other activities I might conduct here, absent the interference of misguided people intent on “saving the farm” without a balanced plan to do so.

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