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, January 31, 2007

The Real Congestion Coalition

Matthew Clark draws our attention to this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Decongesting America." From the article:

Q: Who is the "Congestion Coalition," as you call them?

A: The Congestion Coalition is a group of special-interest groups that really are hostile to automobile travel and want to promote public transit even though that means it will take longer for people to get where they want to go and they are going to waste more time stuck in traffic. What we have seen empirically in the United States is that in order for people to use public transit, they need to live in very congested urban environments. That is the most effective way that public transit can compete with the automobile. The result is, transit agencies are in favor of congestion because as long as it takes longer for us to drive our car to work, that means people are more likely to get on a bus or train. There also are environmental groups that are just hostile to the automobile and professional planning groups that are hostile to the automobile because they think it's anti-social. They believe congestion is a good thing because it's more likely to force people off the road.
GE Streetcar ad, 1940
GE Streetcar ad, circa 1940.

The interview is with Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, the same authors of the piece that ran in Sunday's Post Outlook section, "5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture."

As I said before, pro-mobility, pro-mode shift, pro-transit think tanks need to be more focused on generating the same kind of op-ed campaign.

I wrote this to Matthew:

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is an interesting paper. As you probably know, it's owned by Richard Scaife, who through the Sarah Mellon Foundation, funds a lot of signficantly conservative organizations. These organizations include those that promote the sprawl agenda, although termed in favor of property rights (and usually supported by the Growth Machine).

The real congestion coalition are the organizations they support. However and ironically, Mr. Scaife is a strong supporter of historic preservation, and has been a strong supporter of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. So he isn't fully terrible.

Back to the other, remember those numbers?:

one lane of road can move in one hour about 2,000 cars, about 6,750 people on buses, 10,000 people on bus rapid transit, and 15,000-60,000 people on light rail to heavy rail.

I am taking a class on Transportation and Land Use taught by one of the co-authors of a book of the same title, and as an economist he makes the point that people individually make sound decisions to drive due to the relative time efficiency, but that in the aggregate, what works for individuals doesn't work collectively. The reality is that lane capacity is constrained, and automobiles don't measure up in terms of efficiency on the road, or in terms of the use of land when parked.

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