Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Urban vs. Rural = Infill vs. Sprawl?

A partisan spat erupted in the Senate yesterday over a bill introduced by 6th District Senator Chris Marr, according to this morning's Spokesman Review and the newspaper's Eye on Olympia blog. (see story here )

Marr's bill is designed to create incentives for city or county jurisdictions to plan for denser developments linked to mass transit as way to reduce traffic in our state. The new program would provide grants to those cities and counties that participate.

Republican’s, on the other hand, said the bill goes too far in prescribing what landowners can do with their land. And while the original proposal is entirely voluntary, some of the opponents feel the legislation could be amended later to make it mandatory.

What do you think of Senator Marr’s proposal? Does it go too far, or is this incentive package address a real need in our region?


Contrarian said...

Such proposals "go too far" the moment they are uttered. The gummint has no business either encouraging or discouraging any particular mode of transportation. It's job is to configure public right-of-ways to accomodate the modes preferred by the public, as revealed by their individual transportation choices. They don't need to be herded in any particular direction by bureaucrats sold on Utopian schemes they learned in planning school, or pursuing Green ideology.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the comment Contrarian. You might be surprised that I agree with you to some degree -- me being a bureaucrat for the last two years and all. (I also worked for the chamber of commerce for six years prior to this).

I agree that planners should not be in the business of telling a community how to grow or what mode of transportation one should use to get around. They should (and usually do) wait for direction from their elected policy makers.

In all reality most of the planners I know wouldn't want that responsibility even if it were granted to them. Land use decisions are waaaay to political.

Sure, I suppose there are planners out there who would like to impose their utopian ideals on others, but I have yet to meet an elected official who would be willing to take the heat for that planner's actions.

For the most part, land use desicions rest soley in the hands of our elected officials, who can be held directly accountable. They set the policy and direct staff to plan accordingly.

The way I read this piece, our state representatives are merely providing incentives to our local policy-makers to encourage transit-oriented planning.

It is voluntary -- for now, at least. And I think that is where the rub comes in. There is a potential for this to become a mandate on all jurisdictions.

Still, no matter what side you are on when it comes to the urban vs. rural debate, there is one fact that is indisputable. When it comes to moving people, transit projects cost far less than roads.

So, from a fiscal standpoint, in my opinion transit-oriented development makes sense -- but, as you point out, that's only true if people choose to use transit.

Sheesh, is it any wonder that this erupted in the Legislature?

MK 4 GTI said...

How about taking the transit to the people? There are over 20,000 people in the north county. Many of these people don't have a car, or are driving without a licence. STA should consider expanding service to the north county, using a bus that loops up hy 395 to Deer Park, accross to Riverside, and down HY2 to hastings park N' ride. This would help with trip reduction, and provide nessisary services for the transportationless of the north county to go shopping, ETC.
There are no taxi cabs available up here.

Contrarian said...

Well, Jeff, after being involved in planning in Spokane for several years, I learned how the process works. Elected officials, especially at the local level, are entirely dependent on their bureaucrats for the information upon which they base their decisions. So are the members of the numerous citizens' committees who have nominal input in most planning processes. The bureaucrats produce the tables, the data, and the snazzy drawings the politicians peruse; they articulate the arguments and point out the great benefits of adopting their plans, or the dire consequences of failing to do so. They usually get their way (not always, of course).

Land use planning is the bane of cities in the modern world. Land uses can no more be effectively planned by bureaucrats than could steel or wheat production in the Soviet Union. The highest and best uses of land can only be determined via market processes, responding to price signals, just as can the amount of steel or wheat to be produced, and the methods for producing them. Land use plans merely create obstacles which entrepreneurs trying to meet market demand must overcome in order to proceed, usually at great expense. And after spending that money and wasting a year or two jumping through bureaucratic hoops, they find that the market has changed; their project is no longer viable.

"Transit-oriented planning" is entirely the brainchild of planning professionals, who are engaged in a crusade to replace privately owned, personal transportation -- i.e., the automobile -- with gummint-owned mass transit systems controlled by bureaucrats. Their motivations are the same as those of the Soviet commissars of wheat, steel, housing, etc., and the results will be the same: shortages of goods in demand, and surpluses of unwanted commodities (you can see the latter any day by looking at Spokane's buses, which more often than run empty, or nearly so).

How to finance the N/S freeway? Easy --- abolish STS and reallocate its entire budget to the freeway.

BTW, transit projects do not cost less than roads. Bus transit systems require those same roads. Rail systems cost less per mile to build, but their cost per passenger mile is many times higher.

About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.