Monthly Archives: May 2007

Antiplanning Movement in U.K.

This year is the fiftieth anniversery of the Town & Country Act, which the British Parliament passed in 1947. The law set aside most rural land in Britain as “greenbelts” or otherwise off limits to development and built new homes in the form of high rises throughout the war-damaged country. The Town & Country Act also inspired similar laws in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several U.S. states.

Thanks to the law, Britain today has some of the least affordable housing in the world. For example, London realtors recently converted a 320-square-foot public toilet into a tiny house and sold it for $195,000, and converted a 6′x9′ storage closet into an apartment and rent it for $1,400 a month.

Townhouses in London typically sell for $600,000 or more.
Flickr photo by Sacred Destinations.

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Will Seattle Spend $10.8 Billion on 50 Miles of Light Rail?

Sound Transit, which is way overbudget in the construction of Seattle’s first light-rail line, now wants voters to approve a measure to build 50 more miles of light rail for the modest cost of $10.8 billion (in 2006 dollars). That’s a mere $216 million per mile, which is about four to five times the average cost of light-rail construction elsewhere.

I suspect this is going to be an uphill battle for the transit agency, if only because the Seattle Times article reporting this story emphasizes a much-higher figure of $23 billion (which includes projected inflation and some finance charges). Newspapers that want to promote light rail usually underplay the cost, but the Times feels burned by the last rail plan, which it supported, and which ended up costing far more than was projected.

Sound Transit, which wants to build 50 more miles of light rail, is also running commuter trains. Ridership proved so far below forecast levels that the agency ended up selling many of the commuter cars it had purchased for the operation.
Flickr photo by MGJeffries.

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San Jose BART Will Not Relieve Congestion

In preparation for my lecture in San Jose last week, I took a look at the environmental impact report for the proposed BART extension to San Jose. Even though rail advocates are telling people BART will take two freeway lanes’ worth of people off the roads, I was not surprised to find that, in fact, BART will do absolutely nothing to relieve peak-hour congestion.

Chapter 4.2 of the environmental impact report compares peak-hour traffic in 2030 with and without BART on all major freeways in the region. Without BART, these freeways are expected to carry an average of nearly 10,000 cars per hour. If BART is built, the report projects that it will take an average of 59 cars per hour off the freeways.

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In Memory of Our Freedom

Today we are supposed to remember the men and women who gave their lives to protect America’s freedoms. But I would also like to remember some of the freedoms that we have lost thanks to planning.


Freedom of Property Ownership

Who should get to decide how this land is used — the owner or the government?
Flickr photo by Kacey97007

First among these is the freedom to own property without fear that it will be taken without compensation. Though this freedom is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, it has largely disappeared thanks to the Supreme Court.

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Neil Goldschmidt’s Legacy Lives On

Chalk up another subsidy to Portland transit-oriented development. TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, bought a piece of land next to a light-rail station for $907,000. It is selling it to a non-profit group for $300,000 on the condition that the group builds a high-density project.

The project will actually be built by Walsh Construction, a company owned by Tom Walsh and his family. Tom is a member of Neil Goldschmidt’s light-rail mafia. They campaigned together for city council when Neil first ran for that office (Neil won, Tom lost), and years later Neil scored Tom the job of general manager for TriMet. From that position, he handed out all sorts of subsidies for transit-oriented developments, many of which were built by his family’s company.

Neil Goldschmidt is disgraced and out of power, but his legacy of subsidies and favored contractors lives on.

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Ashland Frustrated in Attempts to Make Housing Less Affordable

Ashland is second only to Bend in being the least affordable city in Oregon. This lack of affordability is welcomed by many of its residents, who want to keep their home values high so they can feel like millionaires, even if that wealth is only on paper.

Unfortunately, one important tool to make housing less affordable, inclusionary zoning, is not available to Ashland because it is illegal in Oregon. Despite lobbying by the city, it appears that the state legislature won’t change the law.

Downtown Ashland. Flickr photo by dolanh.

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Denver Rail Still on Track — Barely

The latest estimates say that Denver’s FasTracks rail projects are only $1.5 billion overbudget, not the $1.8 billion originally reported. The $300 million savings comes from such things as single-tracking light-rail lines that were originally planned to be double tracked.

Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) plans to make up the $1.5 billion by selling $800 million more bonds (thus making for a longer pay-back period), and asking the federal government for more money. But officials still expect a $400 million or so shortfall.

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Antiplanner in San Jose

I am flying to San Jose this afternoon for lectures and research. I expect to be there through the end of the week, so may not be able to get on line to moderate your comments. Remember, if you are making your first comment, it won’t appear until I approve it. After your first comment, all your comments should appear right away.

Fellow antiplanners (or loyal opponents) in the San Jose area are welcome to join me in a discussion of BART and transportation planning at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, May 23, at Santa Clara University. For more particulars, email Patrick Peterson.

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The Market Works

In my previous post on wildfire, D4P argued that government should require the use of nonflammable roofs and other firesafe practices on homes near wildfire-prone lands. I responded that this should be left to insurance companies.

It looks like the insurance companies are taking care of the problem. “Spooked by devastating wildfire seasons, the nation’s top insurers are inspecting homes in high-risk areas throughout the West and threatening to cancel coverage if owners don’t clear brush or take other precautions,” says the Associated Press.

Why didn’t this happen before now? First, less than 0.2 percent of homes burned each year are the result of wildfires, so it just hasn’t been important to them. Second, the Forest Service has always exerted enormous efforts to try to protect buildings, even if it means spending a million dollars to protect a $10,000 structure.

What is changing? Katrina, 9-11, and other disasters have forced the insurance industry to sharpen its pencils and insist that people make more effort to reduce risks.

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Portland Needs a Dose of Reality, Not Another Vision

Randy Gragg, the architecture critic for the Portland Oregonian, thinks that Portland “lacks a coordinated transportation plan” and needs a “grand vision” to deal with transportation in the future. In fact, what Portland needs is to deal with the reality of how people really live, not a vision for how some people think everyone else ought to live.

In 1992, Portland-area voters decided to create Metro, a regional planning agency that would create a vision for Portland’s future and implement that vision through land-use and transportation planning. Now, after fifteen years of expensive planning and increasing congestion, Gragg is effectively saying that Metro has failed.

Portland light rail and mid-rise development. Flickr photo by ahockley.

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