Monthly Archives: June 2007

Our Highways and How They Got That Way

The Reason Foundation has just published its latest report in its series on congestion. The new report compares the performance of the state highway systems.

Flickr photo by VirtualEm.

According to this interactive Google-type map, my home state of Oregon actually has one of the best highway systems in the nation. And it’s true that, if you avoid the Portland area, you won’t find much congestion, the roads are generally in very good condition, and (unlike California’s twisty mountain and coastal roads) they get you where you want to go in a reasonable amount of time.

Portland, however, is a different story, one that focuses on regional planners’ refusal to do anything that would relieve congestion or even fix bridges that are falling down.

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150 Years of Mismanagement? Or Seven Years of Misplaced Priorities?

When I drafted yesterday’s post about the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe, I almost included speculation that local rules might have prevented residents from making their homes firesafe by removing the vegetation from around their homes. But I took it out before posting — this, after all, was a high-fire-risk area. Nobody could be that stupid.

Fighting the Angora Fire.
Flickr photo by joyseph.

It turns out you rarely lose by underestimating the intelligence of government planners. Local residents say that rules issued by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a federally chartered group, prevented them from making their homes firewise. One local resident says that he cut trees and shrubs in violation of those rules, and his house survived while his neighbors did not. Of course, the agency denies that the burned homes are its fault.

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Will Anyone Learn the Lessons from the Tahoe Fire?

At the risk of premature judgment, it appears the Angora fire that destroyed hundreds of Lake Tahoe homes will provide a classic example of what is wrong with federal wildland fire policy. As of Tuesday evening, the fire has burned more than 3,000 acres, and managed to destroy more than 200 homes and scores of other structures. (Get the latest official report here.)

The Angora Fire on Sunday.
Flickr photo by Steve Wilhelm.

As those who have read my most recent fire paper know, the standard story is that a century of fire suppression has led to a build-up of fuels in the forests. The standard solution is to allow the Forest Service and other agencies to spend close to half a billion dollars a year on fuel treatments.

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Hot Ziggety — Jobs for Oregon!

Thanks to Portland’s reputation as a streetcar pioneer and a Congressional earmark made by a Eugene politician, a Lake Oswego company looks set to get federal funds to start manufacturing streetcars.

Boondoggle coming soon to a city near you.
Flickr photo by functoruser.

To get those funds, the company only had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying. This doesn’t count thousands of dollars in campaign contributions made by company officials to said Eugene congressman and other members of Congress.

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Anybody Know Any Rich Oil Companies?

Trial attorneys have a saying: “When you can’t win on the law, argue the facts. When you can’t win on the facts, attack your opponent.” So we antiplanners always feel a bit vindicated when someone responds to our data with ad hominem (Latin for “against the person”) attacks.

For example, the Reason Foundation has been doing some excellent research lately on mobility, highways, and toll roads. This prompted an ad hominem response from Railway Age magazine.

According to William Vantuono, the magazine’s editor, the Reason Foundation “would like to pave over every square mile of the U.S. that isn’t already paved.” Why? Because it is “heavily funded by Exxon, General Motors, and several other large corporations with a vested interest in selling either automobiles or gasoline.”

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Housing Boom or Bust?

Last March, I criticized the National Association of Realtors for spinning the data (really, for lying) to make it look like the housing bubble wasn’t bursting. It turns out that the Realtors’ economist who wrote that paper, David Lereah, has been widely criticized for such things.

Some call him the realtors’ equivalent of “Baghdad Bob,” the guy who claimed that American soldiers were losing to the Iraqi army.

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More on North Bethany Subsidized Development

I got so involved in writing about the history of San Jose last week that I neglected to make some important points about the planned development in North Bethany, near Portland, that set me off on that rant. Fortunately, some of these points are brought out in an article in the Beaverton Valley Times.

First, planners are projecting that North Bethany will have about 10 homes per acre, which is fairly dense considering that a lot of acres will be devoted to streets, parks, etc. “Net” density — the density of the land actually used for residential — is generally about 25 to 50 percent denser than “gross” density, which means planners are thinking of average lot sizes of 3,000 to 3,400 square feet. Nearby developments built in the 1970s average 6 units per acre, while more recent developments have 7 to 8 units per acre.

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People Don’t Plan

A news item refers to a recent research study that asks how far ahead people plan. The experiment asked people to make decisions at two points. Those who made what appeared to be the best decision at the first point found that they lost out at the second point. Only those who looked ahead to the second point would make the best decision at the first point.

The study found that 36 percent of people made the wrong decision at the first point. People wanted to make the right decision; at the second point, 97 percent made the right decision. But more than half failed to look ahead to see the effect of their first decision on the second point.

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Bad Bicycle Law

The Oregon House of Representatives has approved a law intended to promote bicycle safety. In fact, it will simply create more hostile conditions for auto drivers.

The law would require autos to pass cyclists with enough clearance that they would miss the cyclist if the cyclist were to fall over into the traffic lane. This is an amendment to an existing law that simply requires drivers to pass cyclists “at a safe and reasonable distance.”

Give me room.

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Vancouver Presentation

I am in Vancouver BC this week, where I will give an antiplanning luncheon presentation on Wednesday, June 20, at the Fraser Institute, 1770 Burrard Street. It is open to the public (click the above link for registration information).

On a personal note, I am on a quest to find the best artisan or Neopolitan pizza in North America. So far, the top contenders are Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix and 2 Amy’s Pizza in Washington, DC. Nostrana, in Portland, is also pretty good.

Neopolitan pizza at Pizzeria Bianco.

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