Monthly Archives: February 2007

Ottawa City Council Kills Light-Rail Line

In what I regard as a victory for common sense, the Ottawa city council has killed a planned light-rail line. Unfortunately, this may be a costly decision as a previous city council had signed a contract to construct the line, and the contractors say they want compensation for the cancellation.

The 18-mile line, which had been approved by the city council last July, was expected to cost CN$778 million, or about CN$43 million per mile. The Province of Ontario had promised to cover about CN$400 million of this cost, leaving the city to find CN$378 million.

Light rail passing high-density housing in Moscow. Photo by Lowell Grattan.

But after having spent CN$65 million on the project, a new city council elected in November decided light rail was a waste of money. In December, they voted 13-11 to cancel just before a contract deadline.

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Tax Subsidies to New and Old Urbanists

The subsidies mentioned in yesterday’s post about Denver were in the form of tax-increment financing (TIF). For those unfamiliar with the term, tax-increment financing is the principal method of funding urban renewal. An urban-renewal agency draws a line around an area to be renewed, and for the next twenty or so years all property taxes collected on any new improvements in that district — the “incremental” taxes — are used to subsidize the renewal program.

Usually, the agency estimates future tax revenues and then sells bonds to be repaid by those revenues. The bond revenues might be used for infrastructure such as streets, improvements such as parking garages and parks, or they might simply be given to the developer as seed money for the project.

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Portland Not the Only Place Subsidizing New Urbanists

New Urbanism, as everyone knows, is morally superior to old suburbanism. So New Urbanists are clearly entitled to huge subsidies to support their environmentally friendly lifestyles. Such as subsidies for parking garages near their subsidized high-density housing.

The Antiplanner has covered such subsidies to Portland developments. But other cities subsidize them as well. An op ed by Jennifer Lang in Saturday’s Rocky Mountain News describes some of these subsidies in the Denver metro area.

This parking garage in downtown Denver was built with a $2.1 million subsidy that planners said was needed so the New Urbanists living in subsidized downtown lofts would have a place to park their SUVs. Photo by the Antiplanner.

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Junk Science Week: #5 – New Urbanism and Crime

For my final essay during this Junk Science Week, I decided to focus on New Urbanism and Crime. If you’ve already read the article on this subject that appeared in Reason magazine two years ago, this will be redundant. But the story is so revealing of planners’ methods that it bears repeating.

In 2001, the American Planning Association published a book titled SafeScape that purported to show how certain urban designs can make neighborhoods safer from crime. Yet it was just junk science. In fact, to call it junk science might be too kind.

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Junk Science Week: #4 – Fuels and Wildfires

Today I am going to give urban planners a break and write about junk science related to western wildfire. In 2002, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon all saw the largest fires in their recorded histories. The national total number of acres burned that year was also a near record.

“Why so many large fires?” asks a Forest Service white paper. To answer, the paper quotes a General Accounting Office report: “The most extensive and serious problem related to health of national forests in the interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable and catastrophically destructive wildfires.”

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Junk Science Week: #3 – Obesity & Health

Everyone knows that the suburbs made us fat. How do we know this? Because some junk scientists at some pro-planning advocacy groups put out a press release that claimed they had proven that suburbanites were fatter than city dwellers.

In fact, their research proved no such thing. But they did not hesitate to argue that their “proof” showed that America needs “to to invest in making America’s neighborhoods appealing and safe places to walk and bicycle,” which — to planners’ way of thinking — means rebuilding suburbs at higher densities.

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Junk Science Week: #2 – Density & Congestion

I’ve previously discussed the myth that density relieves congestion, yet it persists. Most recently, planners in Fairfax County, Virginia say they want to put thousands of high-rise apartments in Tysons Corner in an effort to increase the density and relieve congestion around proposed rail stations.

Planners claim that Ballston, a rail station on the DC Orange line, proves that this strategy is successful. The opening of the Ballston station in 1979 led to a lot of transit-oriented development, and today many people in the area walk or take transit to work.

However, planners fail to mention that a major freeway, I-66, opened at about the same time, and it probably did more to stimulate development than the rail line. At least, other stations that were not close to new freeway interchanges failed to develop as planners hoped.

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Junk Science Week: #1 – A Sense of Community

This is Junk Science Week at the Antiplanner. Each day, I will present an example of how planners rely on junk science to justify some of their more inane ideas. Today, I will focus on New Urbanism and the sense of community.

First, it is worthwhile asking why planners seem to believe in so much junk science. In previous posts, I’ve presented reasons why planning can’t work: the systems planners want to plan are simply too complicated for anyone to deal with. Because there is no real scientific support for planning, planners instead turn to junk science.

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A Billion Here, a Billion There, Pretty Soon You Are Talking About Real Money

Portland-Vancouver are debating the replacement of the Interstate 5 bridges crossing the Columbia River. Cost estimates are now as high as $6 billion.

“The bridge is probably a billion,” says the project manager. “The transit piece, similar.” Plus various extras; it all adds up.

The original Columbia River bridge was built in 1917, and a duplicate bridge was added in 1958.

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Judging Planners by Their Intentions

A group called Sustainlane has ranked America’s largest cities for their sustainability. Which is number one? Why, Portland, of course.

But I have a few questions about how they calculated their rankings. Most of their data are based on secondary sources. Take public transit, for example, which, they say, is based on the “2003 Texas Mobility Study.” Based on whatever this study is supposed to say, Portland gets a greenish score of 20 while Honolulu gets a yellow 28 (apparently, smaller numbers are better).

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