Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sprawl promoting economists choose to ignore key economic principles when it suits them

Optimal
Definition: Best, by whatever criterion decisions are being made; thus yielding the highest level of utility, profit, economic welfare, or whatever objective is being pursued.

(This is from an e-list so it repeats some thinking from an earlier blog entry.)

Sam Staley, the Reason Foundation economist whose work isn't all bad, had a not very good op-ed in the weekend Washington Post calling for market pricing of transit use of the region's subway specifically, but failed to address any of the subsidies provided to automobile use. See "How Metro expansion might make sense."

But the thing about Sam that gets me is that as an economist he ought to be concerned foremost about optimality, which in the case of transportation is mobility throughput (and could also take into consideration the maximization of throughput at the least cost).

Mobility efficiency of various modes, one hour's travel. (From the 1977 study, Central Washington Transportation and Civic Design Study.)
Mobility efficiency -- Passonneau

Any basic analysis of mobility can't help but come to the conclusion that automobiles aren't very efficient collectively in terms of moving large numbers of people, especially during short periods of time such as during rush periods.

E.g., on two of DC's major bus routes (X bus lines on H Street-Benning Road, 70s bus lines on Georgia Avenue NW), more than 1/3 of the people moving through the corridor do so on buses--about 300 buses in a 22 hour day, a mix of 40 foot and 60 foot vehicles. The rest move through the respective corridors in about 20,000 to 25,000 motor vehicles (although this includes truck traffic).

Think of the space consumed by the buses vs. the other motor vehicle vehicles, and the number of people transported and it's obvious what type of movement should be prioritized. Of course, this is even more pronounced for underground (or aboveground) rail transit services.

Having been in NYC a couple weekends ago, staying in Astoria, Queens which is something like 5 subway stops to Manhattan, I kept thinking about how NYC would be totally incapable of existing the way it does if it didn't have the subway system--imagine all that movement attempted instead by car?

Obviously, the places where this type of system works, like NYC particularly and DC somewhat, are outliers, but only because they have the right conditions to demonstrate how a mobility system more focused on optimality works. They are called outliers, but they aren't outliers in terms of behavior so much as the land use and transportation development paradigm.

Funny that economists promoting sprawl focus on "choice" and attitude rather than the normal type of economic thinking they employ in their other work.

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