Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Road building is to sprawl as blood supply is to tumor growth ... by gimleteye

In case you missed it, the economic calamity casting its long shadow over the United States has abruptly changed the relation of anti-government zealots to government. There is no Wall Street, no insurance industry, and no automobile industry without the intervention of US taxpayers. So if taxpayers are in charge, why aren't we more assertive in bringing to heel the forces that wrecked the economy in the first place?

Detroit automobile executives are responsible for running their industry into the ground. They now claim in respect to mileage standards that all along they just wanted a clear roadmap. They had a road map, and so did the financial industries and the supply chain of suburban sprawl: it lead exactly to this mess.

This recession/Depression is not over by a long shot. "Green shoots"? I think not. What concerns me most is that the application of fiscal stimulus is a temporary patch on a suite of problems that industries refuse to acknowledge: the old economy is not coming back. Jim Kunstler has it right: the days of Happy Motoring are over.

What comes next, if we are lucky and resourceful, is a new economy based on manufacturing energy efficient products, reforming our transportation system, and rebuilding power generation and distribution along lines that don't spew toxics into the air and water. Doing this will require the application of fiscal and monetary policies to stop the sprawling and unsustainable growth that was the hallmark of the housing and construction asset bubble.

It will take more, a lot more, than increased mileage standards for autos (in fact, what President Obama has proposed for mileage standards for 2016 is already being met by Japanese manufacturers) to get us from here to there. The big obstacle to the new directions for our national economy is not the failure of "free" markets or the intervention of federal authority in industrial policy: it is the likelihood that absent attention to controls and coordination, that local government will take two steps backward for every step forward by the Obama team.

Who of our readers doubts that local government is fully capable of such tactics?

Eyeonmiami has chronicled at length on the terrible mistakes made by local government in Miami-Dade, the epicenter of the national housing bust. This is the epicenter because the politics all lined up here first, in the rush to convert farmland and open space to suburban sprawl. Those politics still dominate Miami-Dade county government and especially the decisions about new infrastructure based on suburban sprawl.

Along the lines of taking corrective action at the local level, I came across a very well-reasoned plan by Dover, Kohl and Associates-- offered to the Miami Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force. It takes a point of view that is well-accepted by planners across the nation: that sprawl and climate change folly follows road building. It is another way of saying that road building is to sprawl as blood supply is tumor growth. Here is the text of the Dover Kohl recommendation. As you read it, you have to understand that its well-reasoned recommendations are contrary to what the county commission wants to do, to please powerful campaign contributors from the development industry.

The Obama team should reflect and quickly act to ensure that its broad-stroke approach to reforming the US economy is not undermined by local idiocrats. They will take every dollar of federal money and plow it into enterprises that are antithetical to creating the new economy. When their enterprises fail, they will ask-- again-- that the only accountability should belong to the taxpayer. Haven't we had enough?

"I am very grateful to have been invited to the Transportation Subcommittee meeting last week. Because most of our GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions emanate from the transportation sector (37%), I think the MPO 2030 LRT Plan presented by Carlos Roa may be one of the most important documents that will determine if we succeed or fail in our assignment to drastically cut our GHG emissions. As I understand, the 2035 version is currently being drafted, and we have only a few months to influence the plan. I became increasingly concerned as I studied the projects contained in the 2030 version, many of which will carry over into the next version.

While I was encouraged that almost half of the funding is going toward mass transit improvements, I think that this percentage is probably too low in order for us to make a significant reduction in our county-wide transportation sector emissions. As Carlos Roa mentioned, many of the projects are prioritized and included based upon their upfront costs. While they may be "affordable," these auto-centric, asphalt-intensive projects will be costly too us in that they are bound to degrade our air quality (increased VMT-vehicle miles traveled), social fabric (car infrastructure that thwarts pedestrian vitality and divides neighborhoods), economy (guaranteed traffic jams that will arise due to latent demand, combined with the burden of fuel and car operation costs), and even our public health (more driving implies less walking).

These are general criticisms, but I'd like to offer some specific constructive criticisms to make the MPO 2035 LRT plan mesh with our goals (and the global, urgent need) to reduce our CO2 emissions:

1. Remove Arterial Improvement designation from Krome Avenue. Although officials have said that the goal of this project is to improve safety, I believe that it should be thought of as a capacity expansion project, and therefore it has the potential to induce sprawl to a degree that we may not have ever imagined. In fact, while applying to the County for a land-use amendment for their Parkland development, which would have developed 1000 acres of prime agricultural land and water recharge areas, representatives of Lennar quoted several routes illustrated in the MPO 2030 LRT plan as proof that capacity would be in place to satisfy concurrency. This illustrates how sprawl follows road building.

2. Remove Freeway Improvement designation from SR 874, and SR 826. It would be appropriate to finish existing repairs, but we should not proceed with additional capacity expansions or the reconstruction of the Palmetto/Dolphin expressway interchange. The cost of this single interchange ($500-600 million) is more than enough to establish an extensive streetcar system throughout central Miami.

3. Remove Highway Improvement designation from I-395 and SR 836. Along with I-95, the construction and subsequent expansion of these elevated freeways has eviscerated Historic Overtown. It is well-documented that the socio-economic disruptions caused by these divisive freeways are one of the major forces of decline that are at work in this and nearby neighborhoods. Not only do these freeways hinder pedestrian and vehicular circulation at the level of the city grid, but they also damage the addresses of a large swath of the central city. Why is this a problem? The renaissance of Overtown represents one of the greatest opportunities to increase the population of the center city (an antidote to suburban sprawl) and offer a low GHG emissions lifestyle to hundreds of thousands of new residents. As other cities around the country are doing, the goal should be to eventually remove or reconfigure parts of this freeway so that the social and urban fabric can once again flourish in the once-prosperous Overtown.

4. Remove Interchange and Freeway Improvement designations from both Krome Avenue and the Turnpike. It makes little sense to pour money into the expansion of the most low-lying, sprawl-inducing roadways in our region. Sea-level rise will slowly make these investments worthless. Ironically, they will make it easier to put more residents in harm's way by enabling residential densities to increase near or within agricultural or environmentally sensitive lands that are not more than a few feet (or inches) above sea level.

5. Remove Highway Improvement designations between the Turnpike and Hialeah. Same reason as the previous point. These improvements will hinder our efforts to make our Metropolitan region more compact and will ultimately lead to more driving and more sprawl in low-lying areas.

While not perfect, we believe that our "Dover Kohl Hypothetical Regional Transportation Plan" can be used to inform the MPO LRT Plan. We believe that it differs from the MPO LRT Plan because it depicts the transportation infrastructure that would allow us to reduce GHG emissions rather than increase them. It also depicts a future in which most residents would not need to satisfy all of their daily needs by car, one in which walking, transit usage, and other modes of mobility can be activated. We have very little time to address this ominous threat of climate change, so it would be a shame if we squandered our diminished resources on pursuing infrastructure that promotes extreme automobile/fossil fuel-dependence rather than a plan that improves our air quality and our quality of life.

Please let us know how we can be of further assistance."

Andrew Georgiadis
Dover, Kohl & Partners


swampthing said...


So if taxpayers are in charge, why aren't we more assertive in bringing to heel the forces that wrecked the economy in the first place?


In a word... mainstreamedia.

Face it, TV engineers consent to a somnambulant public that is up to their eyeballs in debt and paralyzed by fear thanks in no small part to the past 8 years of the bush/cheney predator culture that is today poised in the shadows ready to plunder again at the first opportunity.

Anonymous said...

You mean like Eliot Rodriguez shilling for the 4-laning of Krome?
Have to go faster and kill more people. Andrew makes such sense, is anyone listening? Rodney Barreto sat on the committee to 4 lane the north section of Krome, right by his property that he is trying to develop. What a coincidence.