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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is Slow Growth The Answer?

In Northern Virginia, and many other areas around the country transportation issues abound for planners, at the state and local level. Development and growth have made traffic problems, especially in the "Beltway" area around Washington D.C. very close to intolerable.

One of the big catch phrases running around in Richmond right now is "slow growth", basically government trying to make it harder for new businesses and housing developments to open up in certain areas, and limiting density, to try and curb traffic.

As someone who spent a good part of his adult life living in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, I can tell them that it isn't going to work. Curbing growth in Fairfax, Alexandria or Arlington isn't going to make traffic clear up on the beltway around DC.

What it will do is push traffic farther away, to areas that are even less equipped to deal with it, and less likely to make mass transit a real option for getting folks to the city. Washington isn't going to quit growing. Because it's the hub of the federal government, there will always be a need for, and growth of industries that support, or depend on the government. Those industries want to be closer, not farther from where they do their business.

The other side of the slow growth option is that it immediately makes housing and commercial real estate costs go up in the areas nearer the jobs folks are already commuting to. Because many of those areas are pretty dense already the price increases have become very evident over the last few years.

San Diego tried the "out not up" strategy, mandating lower density developments in the county, restricting the numbers of multi-family units that could be built, and limiting the size of certain commercial developments.

The problem was, "out" wasn't developed to handle the influx of new residents, there wasn't sufficient mass transit, and the jobs were still in the city. Instead of 5 miles of backed up traffic from 7:30 to 9:00am they ended up with 10 miles backed up starting at 6:30.

My 11 mile drive to work took about 20 minutes if I left home at 6:10am, but if I waited until 6:30 to leave, it took between 35 and 40 minutes. And now, the county is chasing the "out not up" area with new roads, light rail lines, etc, but not keeping up to it.

L.A. was even worse, as early as 1985 I worked with people who were living 70 miles from work, and commuting two hours each way because of the lack of vertical growth in the city area.

In my humble opinion, Northern Virginia is in for the same kind of traffic disaster that Los Angeles and San Diego already experience, unless they look up, not out for their solutions. It's already begun, with traffic backing up for 20 miles south of Washington DC by 7am every weekday.

Encouraging growth closer to DC, but in an upward fashion makes more sense. Shorter runs to extend rail lines, which encourages more use of mass transit, shorter rides on buses to work, and less lane miles of new roads are required if they encourage vertical development.

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Track Back at Don Surber, who has a nice Alito rant up this morning, and Stop the ACLU.

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