Wednesday, July 11, 2007

They still want to believe

My June 30 blog mentioned the LA Times' front-page story about the failures of transit-oriented development. Silly me. I thought that they had finally succumbed to evidence.

Just ten days later, their editorial gets them back on track. No matter the cost or the findings or whatever, they still "want to believe."

From the Los Angeles Times
Smart growth? Wise

Though the concept hasn't delivered on its promise of getting
us out of our cars, that doesn't mean it's a failure.

SMART GROWTH, we want so badly to believe in you. You were
centrally planned by the greatest minds of our time, conceived in an atmosphere
of collective purpose and self-criticism, built to the greenest specifications
and fired by a bold vision: victory over the individual will and the creation of
a new citizenry for a new century. If only you would work.

A recent Times look at how four "smart-growth" or
"transit-oriented" developments (TODs) have transformed local traffic patterns
raised the dismaying possibility that they may be doing the opposite of what
advocates promised. New Urbanist planners have long hoped that building
high-density, mixed-use, multiple-unit developments on or near public transit
lines would encourage Angelenos to leave their cars and start taking buses and
trains. Instead, the properties that Times reporters studied have substantially
increased vehicular traffic.

Evidence for TODs' ability to reduce congestion has been
failing to pile up for quite some time. According to Federal Highway
Administration statistics, between 1990 and 2000, during which time the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced the Blue, Green and Red lines,
the percentage of L.A. residents taking mass transit — bus and rail combined —
increased from a paltry 4.5% to a measly 4.6%. Since then, statistics haven't
been much more encouraging. The best evidence is that TODs may produce some
marginal percentage increases in transit ridership — and these percentage
increases are swamped by the large numbers of new residents and shoppers
attracted by high-density, mixed-use developments.

A growing region needs housing, and this alone may be
justification for the billions of public and private dollars that are being
spent on new multi-unit developments. But the magical thinking that has informed
so much of this development — the belief that, in the words of one New Urbanist
manifesto, "transit, pedestrian and bicycle systems should maximize access and
mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile" —
has failed, at least so far, to prove itself on the ground.

Still, if the TODs that are radically transforming Hollywood,
downtown and other neighborhoods have not compelled people to change their
behavior, they do have the potential to attract the kind of residents who seek a
traditional walking-around urban experience. Reducing the rate of congestion
growth will require a vast array of policy solutions and options for residents,
and smart growth may be part of that.

We still want to believe.

I recall the first lunar landing in 1969 and how the astronauts were prepped to immediately put some moon soil into a special pants (?) pocket so that they had something to bring home if they had to abort the mission before they could fill their larger specimen bags.

Likewise, many econ professors know that some students only pay attention for the first few minutes of any course. So, some immediately tell them that it all boils down to three imperatives (ten litte words). 1) at what cost? 2) compared to what? and 3) how do you know?

Now, if we could only find a way to make it simpler.