The Ship Is Sinking, So Stay the Course

In his 1989 book, The New Realities, Peter Drucker wrote,

Above all, any government activity almost at once becomes “moral.” No longer is it viewed as “economic,” as one alternative use of scarce resources of people and money. It becomes an “absolute.” It is in the nature of government activities that they come to be seen as symbols and sacred rather than as utilities and means to an end. The absence of results does not raise the question, Shouldn’t we rather do something different? Instead, it leads to a doubling of effort; it only indicates how strong the forces of evil are.

“Despite a focus on luring drivers out of their autos,” Sacramento transit mainly carries people who “do not have access to an auto.”
Flickr photo by paulkimo9.

I thought of this quote when reading Sacramento’s 2006 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. In a remarkably candid review of the region’s previous transportation plans, this document states:

“Many expectations during the past 25 years have not worked out.
• Sprawl around the edges continues to out-pace infill into existing communities, and businesses increasingly prefer suburban locations.
• Even though gasoline prices are at an all-time high, the total amount of driving has more than doubled since 1980.
• Even so, total smog emissions from motor vehicles are now half what they were in 1980, because technology has reduced auto emissions by 98 percent from 1980 models.
• Lack of road building and the resulting congestion have not encouraged many people to take transit instead of driving, even at the extreme congestion levels seen in big cities like Los Angeles. Instead, drivers move onto neighborhood streets, seeking to avoid heavy traffic.
• A 1999 Sacramento Regional Transit survey showed that half of those who commute on transit, and three-quarters of those who ride transit for other reasons, do not have access to an auto. Furthermore, those percentages rose through the 1990s, so transit increasingly serves those who cannot otherwise choose to drive, despite a focus on luring drivers out of their autos.
• Shipping of goods by truck has ballooned, instead of shifting to railroads, with trucks serving as rolling warehouses feeding just-in-time manufacturing, and stores with computerized inventories”

The above is from page 3 of the plan; I added the bullets for clarity.

Despite a planning emphasis on infill development, Sacramento is still sprawling across the Central Valley.
Flickr photo by DFDuck.

In essence, the plan admits that past plans, which aimed to reduce congestion and air pollution by changing people’s behavior, have failed. Moreover, plans to create a more compact community failed. The only thing that succeeded was the technological improvements to autos that reduced air pollution. As the Antiplanner has noted before, behavioral solutions don’t work; technical solutions do.

So what does the plan propose to do? “The 2006 MTP continues the direction of the MTP 2025,” says page 4. This includes “transportation funds for community design, to encourage people to walk, bicycle, or ride transit” and giving “first priority to expanding the transit system.”

Despite the failure of past plans, Sacramento’s latest plan continues to put faith before reality and focus on transit, cycling, and walking rather than relieving congestion.
Flickr photo by innov8.

In short, exactly as Drucker describes, planners admit that their plans don’t work — so they are going to redouble their efforts. On one hand, it is too bad that planners in other regions are not more candid about the failure of their plans. On the other hand, it is too bad that planners everywhere take so long to learn the lessons of their failures.

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25 thoughts on “The Ship Is Sinking, So Stay the Course

  1. D4P

    In essence, the plan admits that past plans, which aimed to reduce congestion and air pollution by changing people’s behavior, have failed. Moreover, plans to create a more compact community failed.

    We don’t know what would have happened had there been no plan, so I’m not sure you can reasonably conclude that the plan failed. Maybe all of the factors the plan addressed would have been even worse had it not existed.

    Government has policies against murder and rape, but murder and rape take place on a daily basis. Should we conclude that government policies against murder and rape have failed, and that we might as well just eliminate such policies?

  2. Close Observer

    Almost a good point, D4P. Almost. We broadly condemn murder and rape, and we memorialize it in law. But the STRATEGIES and TACTICS change to adapt to the conditions, and responsible leaders take into account past as well as current results from previous efforts.

    So if murder is escalating in a big city, you bring in a police chief who will change perhaps the deployment strategy, invest in technologies, build neighborhood crime watches, etc. In other words – do something different! Those are tactical and technical changes.

    The analogy you’re suggesting would require a city witnessing an increase in murder rates to double-down on behavioral modification. Perhaps they would send flyers around reminding people than murder is bad – maybe using bold type and ALL CAPS when citing the Golden Rule – while leaving exactly as-is the same law enforcement strategies that have systematically failed. That would be the planner’s approach.

    So nice try. Almost a clever observation.

    Oh, and to specifically answer your rhetorical question. “YES.” If a city is seeing an increase in murder and rape, then you can – factually – conclude that government policies against murder and rape have failed! And you change your approach. This isn’t that complicated.

    The Antiplanner’s plainly obvious point is that the Sac planners have failed in their plans to accomplish their goals . . . so they’re going to simply do more of the same.

  3. Dan

    In essence, the plan admits that past plans, which aimed to reduce congestion and air pollution by changing people’s behavior, have failed. Moreover, plans to create a more compact community failed.

    No.

    The plans themselves didn’t fail.

    The Greek Club of 6 developers built what they wanted, and the electeds looked the other way.

    North Natomas is the exemplar – no homes were allowed in the floodplain, Tsakopolous whined, they raised the levees at taxpayer expense, built on the floodplain and only now is someone sounding the alarm.

    There were a lot of good planners eating Pepcid for a long time, as everything was waived for the Greek Club.

    An example of the area waking up to what the electeds wrought can be found here. This is a course change.

    Anyway, yet another example of Randal jumping to conclusions in an area about which he knows nothing, reads a bit, then pronounces the foregone conclusion (reached before he began).

    DS

  4. Francis King

    Antiplanner apparently missed this part on page 3 of the report:

    “Low-density suburban patterns mean people travel overwhelmingly by automobile: 47 percent of trips drive alone, 46 percent of trips go by auto with two or more occupants, 6 percent are bicycle or walk trips, and 1 percent of trips are by transit (with transit use reaching 3 percent into downtown Sacramento during commute hours).”

    The proportion of cycling and walking is very good (UK average only 4%), and 46% of people go in multiple occupancy cars. Cars in principle are very environmentally friendly (since they are small, and only travel when they need to – buses are large, fuel hungry, and keep moving, even when empty bar the driver). Unfortunately, most cars in the UK (and the US I should have thought) travel with only the driver in it. It seems that the best way to proceed here is through cars (in the budget) and walking and cycling (in the budget), but to hold back on transit (alas, also in the budget).

    There’s more right in the budget than there is wrong.

  5. D4P

    The analogy you’re suggesting would require a city witnessing an increase in murder rates to double-down on behavioral modification. Perhaps they would send flyers around reminding people than murder is bad – maybe using bold type and ALL CAPS when citing the Golden Rule – while leaving exactly as-is the same law enforcement strategies that have systematically failed. That would be the planner’s approach.

    So, instead of “doubling down on behavioral modification”, law enforcement agencies rely instead on a Big Government command and control approach that reduces people’s freedoms by punishing them if they don’t behave the way some people think they should…?

  6. Unowho

    More of interest to those with experience in elective politics, but there is a striking similarity between the Sacramento plans & this; none of them are likely to be implemented.

    BTW AP, thanks for keeping this blog unmoderated. Shrewd.

  7. Close Observer

    What’s in your latte? By command-and-control that reduced people’s freedom, do you mean arrest the bad guy?

    Duh!! Libertarians are against command-and-control big government when it comes to exercising freedom like mobility. Murdering or raping is not a legitimate form of free expression – it’s pretty sad that this has to be spelled out for you, D4P – insofar as it destroys (or seriously violates) someone else’s life.

    Let me make it simple for you, D4P.

    Behavior about where to live or what to drive = no command-and-control; use market incentives

    Behavior that kills another human being = yes command-and-control; go to jail and/or the death penalty

    Can you follow that, D4P?

  8. D4P

    But who gets to decide which violations are “bad enough” to warrant government intervention and which are not? Seems to me this is an inherently arbitrary and subjective process, such that libertarians are just as arbitrary as planners. You can’t criticize planning from the standpoint of “intruding upon people’s freedoms” if you’re gonna turn around and support the intrusion upon freedom in other areas of life.

    All laws intrude upon freedom, not just planning laws. But folks like the Antiplanner would have us believe that planning laws are unique in this respect.

    PS: “behavior about where to live or what to drive” can have significant implications for the health of human beings, not to mention other organisms.

  9. Builder

    D4P

    If I choose to kill you, I have infringed on your rights and government clearly has the duty to use force to stop me.

    If I choose to live in a type house you disapprove of, I am not infringing upon your rights and government has no right to stop me.

    If you decide that almost any lifestyle choice I make could have such terrible consequences for others that government must stop me and force me to live in a manner you approve of, then you really are a Fascist (or something worse) and I am very frightened of you and those like you.

  10. Francis King

    Builder – let me give you a test case or two.

    1. In the UK, a houseowner decided to build an extension. When complete, it was a mess. The planners took him to court, arguing that it damaged the value of the adjacent properties. The planners won the case. Were the planners right or wrong to intervene? Was the judgement just? (No-one was killed).

    2. In the UK, it is not unlawful to allow your garden to grow rampant. This can damage the value of a neighbour’s house, but it not in itself legal, nor, under UK law does it open the househodler up to civil law penalties. I think this is wrong, and unfair on the neighbours – am I right or wrong?

    You see, if it’s lawful and right for the state to intervene in these cases then the absolute libertarian arguments advanced above fall flat. If it is not lawful and right to intervene, then the neighbours have a problem.

  11. Builder

    I am aware that life is complex and not all instances are as clear cut as the ones I sited. However, I would be very slow to limit peoples freedoms in cases like you site. For instance, you say that the extension was “a mess.” Who decided that it was a mess? How come his or her judgment is correct and not the home owner’s who must have felt that the extension served some purpose?

    As all homeowners know, yard maintenance is a continuing task and sometimes we keep up with it better than others but there is always something that could stand to be done. Therefore, who judged when it is “rampant”?

    However, the main point I was making was that if I wish to live in a single family detached home and am willing and able to pay for it, I should be able to, not matter how much it offends some one elses sensibility.

  12. D4P

    The overall point:

    One cannot reasonably use “limiting freedoms” as a sufficient justification for opposing planning laws without also using “limiting freedoms” to justify opposing murder laws.

    In other words, if you support murder laws but not planning laws, you must either come up with another reason for opposing planning laws that is separate from “limiting freedoms”, or add additional language to the “limiting freedoms” justification.

  13. Francis King

    Builder said:

    “Who decided that it was a mess? How come his or her judgment is correct and not the home owner’s who must have felt that the extension served some purpose?”

    I’ve found it!

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/shropshire/3078500.stm

    In this case he didn’t have planning permission, which he needed. In the liberalist’s world, he wouldn’t have needed any. Suppose someone built that carbuncle next to your house. What would it do to the values of your property?

    “Therefore, who judged when it is “rampant”?”

    Well, that’s a tricky one. There was a case I was involved in where a drainage channel was overflowing because someone hadn’t looked after their garden, and foliage had blocked the channel.

    Another case, the foliage covered the part where the front lawn was supposed to be, and the gates were hanging off their hinges.

    I think there are some fairly obvious cases, and some borderline ones.

  14. Ettinger

    Plans, regulation, rapes and murders…

    “Give others freedoms even if they result in minor inconveniences to you”.

    That is the acid test of freedom. Freedoms that cost you nothing are easy to give. You don’t have to be a libertarian to do that.

    The test comes when your neighbor wants to build his house on the vacant lot next to yours. A house just like yours. What do you do then? You let him, or do you start campaining for smart growth? (as in “me smart came here first”)

  15. Dan

    What do you do then? You let him, or do you start campaining for smart growth?

    Someone is confused. Hopefully not willfully.

    In this instance, all too common in Murrica, the typical person – the vast majority – would not campaign for smart growth. That is: they would not campaign for smart growth.

    Instead, they would do just what Randal decries (as he references Glaeser so much when he complains about th’ regalayshun): appeal to the local electeds to either large-lot zone or deny the building permit.

    The markets are campaigning for smart growth, as many markets have tired of cookie-cutter McSuburbs that offer you the single transportation choice of: jump in your car for every d*mn thing.

    DS

  16. bennett

    I think that D4P’s insights are correct. Murder and land use choices are on two ends of the spectrum. There is a grey area, and this is something that Libertarians have a hard time accounting for. Lets compare apples to apples!

  17. TexanOkie

    As far as regional transportation goes, it makes perfect sense for center cities looking for alternative means of transit because they’ve already tried expanding roadways. It resulted in the widespread blight and exodus (not just of people) that happened between the 1950’s and the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. A local government has to look out for its own citizens above regional residents. That’s not to say local jurisdictions shouldn’t work together, it just can’t merely “take one for the team” and still support their respective region economically and culturally at the central city’s citizen’s dime. If taking care of their own involves not expanding roadways, voluntary suburban dwellers are just going to have to accept it. Sorry, but that’s reality. Again it highlights the role of American Federalism. AP: word getting to you yet? You know it would clear up a lot for you to think through the process, as well.

  18. prk166

    D4p —> We don’t know? That’s an incorrect statement. We do know. We know ridership on transit in Sacramento. We know what routes it was on. We know the numbers for the in-fill development, we know census number of how many people work and where, etc, etc. We can make some decent educated guesses on how much if at all these policies have affected potential problems like congestion and air pollution.

  19. Dan

    News flash, those tired cookie cutter suburbs are what most people want.

    Excellent! You have numerous survey results that show this, surely, because of the confidence in your words.

    Perhaps you can share these results with us so we can share your confidence too. You know: surveys that show people prefer auto-centrism to walkability, few amenities to more, cookie-cutter to variety, etc.

    Couple of links, plz.

    DS

  20. MJ

    It is surprising to see a planning agency be so candid about their failures. Generally that does not happen.

    I’m glad to see Sacramento is staying the course. The longer they persist in trying to turn the region into something its citizens do not want, the less chance planners and politicians will have to say “I know things aren’t working that well now, but just give us a little more time…”

  21. the highwayman

    Well the city can’t operate in a vacuum.

    Though there are plenty of problems here like the how many rail lines are missing, along with a transport policy that is very auto bias, so of course things are not working.

  22. the highwayman

    Also with that photo of the freeway, why not get rid of the 4 middle lanes and replace them with two railway tracks. Thus level the playing field a bit.

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