Monthly Archives: February 2010

Mark Steyn: Roundabouts and Decline of Civilization

“I Correlate the Decline of Civilization to the Incidence of Roundabouts.”

(Audio Only)

To be fair, a well-designed roundabout can handle a modest amount of traffic more smoothly than an intersection with stop signs or traffic signals. But too many roundabouts are designed more to obstruct traffic than to facilitate it.

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Tossing the Neocons

It is amazing how few people understand the tea party movement. The movement is portrayed as fringe right wingers, radicals, conspiracy nuts, and so forth. Yet extremism has nothing to do with what the movement is all about.

What is really going on is that conservatives are throwing out the neoconservatives. Neocons aren’t really conservatives, yet they managed to hi-jack the Republican party after the 2000 election. The Bush administration betrayed the conservative movement by going neocon, and the leaders of the tea party movement are fighting to retake control of that movement.

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P.J. on Government & the Auto Industry

P.J. O’Rourke has some pithy and insightful comments about the auto industry and government regulation in this interview conducted by faithful Antiplanner ally Ted Balaker.

In part 1, O’Rourke blames Detroit’s problems, in part, on “volatile government regulation,” which made it hard for car companies to predict what kind of cars people will want to buy.

Part 2 is less oriented to transportation and more to O’Rourke’s path from a left-wing student to a libertarian adult. This interview is nearly a year old, but it provides nice filler while the Antiplanner is on the road.

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Strong Towns Rebuttal

I want to begin my rebuttal by expressing my condolences to the Antiplanner, Randal O’Toole, for the pain and suffering he endured reading more than seventy metropolitan transportation plans. It is quite a price to pay for insight. I am happy he survived the ordeal, although it seems Mr. O’Toole may now be suffering from an intellectual form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that has biased him against planning. I’m gently teasing, but let me offer some “treatment.”

I don’t know what will happen on my way home from work today. I may be killed in a car accident. I may stop and help a woman deliver a baby on the side of the road. Or I may stop and buy milk before heading home. Using Antiplanner logic, I should not bother to call home to see if anything is needed at the grocery because I am not sure I’ll even make it home. In contrast, Strong Towns would argue that I should buy life insurance and carry a cell phone for the first two possibilities, but should assume I will make it home for dinner.

To be fair, O’Toole has indicated that he is not opposed to short-term planning. But short-term planning is an oxymoron commonly known as “reacting.” The fact that we don’t know what will happen in twenty years is the exact reason we should plan.

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Antiplanner Rebuttal

Charles, you agree with me that most of the long-range transportation plans written by states and metropolitan areas are “dismal.” But you imagine that planning is necessary for all sorts of reasons — efficiency, meeting national priorities, measuring results, and promoting innovations. Just because you think those are necessary goals, you insist that we must plan.

I submit to you that no long-range plan has ever met any of those goals, nor will one ever do so because they are impossible to meet over the long run. Efficiencies? When we don’t know what the future will bring or what people will want, we can’t imagine what will be efficient. Priorities? How can people today dictate priorities for the future, and how can Congress — where “all politics is local” — set national priorities anyway? Measuring results? When have government agencies ever bothered to follow up to see if their plans produced the results they claimed? And, by their tedious and time-consuming nature, long-range plans are much more likely to stifle innovations than promote them.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is spending most of this week in Colorado speaking to several audiences about Gridlock. Tonight, at 7 pm, the Antiplanner will speak to the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.

On Tuesday, the Antiplanner will speak at a Food for Thought Luncheon in Colorado Springs. The doors open at 11:30 am at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

On Wednesday, the Antiplanner will return to the Independence Institute (scroll to bottom) in Golden. A reception begins at 5:30 pm and the presentation begins at 6:00. If you are in Colorado, I hope to see you at one of these events.

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Where Do We Want to Go?

Note: This is Charles Marohn’s argument in favor of federally mandated transportation planning.

“Would you tell me which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get,” said the Cat.
“I really don’t care where,” replied Alice.
“Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

The Federal government spends tens of billions of dollars annually on transportation infrastructure. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we maximizing our return? Are we building on our assets to create a strong, competitive nation? Are we accomplishing anything productive?

These are critical questions. The only way we know the answers is to set objectives, coordinate actions and measure results. In a word: plan.

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Federal Funding & Transportation Planning

Note: This is the second of a series of interblog debates between the Antiplanner and Charles Marohn of the Strong Towns Blog.

Should Congress require cities and states to do transportation planning in order to be eligible for federal transportation funds? Under current law, states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are required to do two kinds of plans: long-range transportation plans that look ahead for about 20 years, and transportation-improvement plans (TIPs) that focus on projects that are going to be funded or partly funded in the next year or two.

The Antiplanner has always believed that short-term, mission-specific planning is a necessary part of any program or activity. We plan our days, school teachers plan their lessons, and highway departments plan road maintenance and bridge construction. So I don’t have a lot of objections to TIPs, though I think the legal requirement is unnecessary — it’s going to happen whether the law requires it or not.

But the Antiplanner has always objected to long-range planning. Two years ago, I sat down and read more than 70 long-range metropolitan transportation plans (and if you don’t think that was painful, try it sometime). I found that they all failed to do a good job of setting goals, developing alternative ways of meeting those goals, and fairly evaluating those alternatives.

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TIGER Rips Through Dallas, Detroit, and Tucson

With typical fanfare, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $1.5 billion in “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery” (TIGER) grants to 51 cities. The complete list of grants includes new “modern streetcar” (isn’t that an oxymoron?) lines in Dallas and Tucson, plus an extension of the existing streetcar system in New Orleans.

“In an overwhelming show of demand for the program,” said LaHood, US DOT “was flooded with more than 1,400 applications.” What a surprise to find that there is an overwhelming demand for free money.

Among the lucky winners was Tucson, which received $63 million toward the $150 million cost of a 3.9-mile streetcar line between the Arizona Health Sciences Center and the University of Arizona. So now students can take the streetcar to the hospital when they are too drunk to walk. (Sorry, that’s an insult: most students are too smart to ride streetcars.)

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Bozeman Presentation

You can download the Antiplanner’s presentation at the Montana Property Rights conference in PDF or PowerPoint formats. Both photo-heavy files are about 15 MB and include notes indicating the gist of my narrative.

Those who are interested can also download the Antiplanner’s recent Wichita presentation in PDF or PowerPoint formats. The Wichita presentations, which are about 25 MB, deal with downtown revitalization, while the Montana presentations deal with the effects of smart-growth planning on property rights.

I also have posted last November’s presentation in Boise, which concerned streetcars, in PDF and PowerPoint formats. These are about 10 MB and, as with the Wichita and Montana files, include the core of my narrative in notes.

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