Antiplanner’s Library: Triumph of the Cities

The ideas of many urbanologists are heavily influenced by the cities in which they lived or grew up. To defend her mid-rise Greenwich Village neighborhood from “urban renewal,” Jane Jacobs extolled the virtues of such neighborhoods and excoriated both high-rises and suburbs. Many urban planners today, fresh out of college, remember the lively streets of their university neighborhoods and don’t understand why residents of quiet suburbs don’t want to see their own streets turned into such neighborhoods. I myself have been focused by my revulsion to the authoritarian dictates of “smart-growth” planners in my home state of Oregon.

“One’s own tastes are rarely a sound basis for public policy,” says Harvard University urban economist Edward Glaeser. “For the government to mandate a single style of urbanism is no more sensible than for the government to enforce a single style of literature.” While I completely agree with this point of view, his new book, Triumph of the City, is strongly colored by his own upbringing in a 1,300-square-foot high-rise apartment in Manhattan (p. 147).

Glaeser has done some excellent work in urban economics, and many of his prescriptions against government regulation sound fairly libertarian. Yet his book contains disappointing economic errors that lend support to those who favor government social engineering programs aimed at herding Americans into dense cities. The New York Times called Glaeser a “public advocate for urbanism,” but his new book presents him more of a public advocate for an increasingly obsolete form of living.

The street where he lived: Glaeser grew up in one of the high rises on 69th Street in Manhattan between 1st and 2nd avenues. In addition to mid-rises on the left, the street has lots of ground-level businesses, including (according to Google maps) a grocery, pet shop, and pizzeria.

Glaeser left Manhattan (density: 60,000 people per square mile in 2000) at age 17, but continued to live most of his life in high-density cities, including Chicago (13,000 people per square mile), Washington (9,000), and Princeton (8,000); and he currently works in Cambridge (16,000) (p. 166). He seems to think that high densities are the norm and much of his book is a love letter to high-rise living.

Less than 10 percent of Americans live in densities as great as or greater than Princeton; the average density of American urban areas is less than 2,700 people per square mile. Except for a brief fellowship at Stanford in Palo Alto (2,500), Glaeser has never experienced such densities—never, that is, until seven years ago when he and his family moved to a 6.5-acre lot next to a 600-acre conservation area in Weston, Massachusetts (less than 700 people per square mile). He is very apologetic about this, suggesting he might rather raise his children in the same high-rise environment which he enjoyed as a youth. But, you see, the government made him move to the suburbs.

The government did that, he argues, through “anticity” policies, including the mortgage-interest deduction (most urbanites rent, he says, so policies favoring homeownership are “anticity”), better-funded schools in the suburbs, and the Interstate Highway System. None of these arguments hold water. Homebuyers in most major cities can get their mortgage-interest deductions by buying low-rise, mid-rise, or high-rise condominiums. Many states have equalization policies that guarantee the same funding per pupil to all schools, yet those states still have disparities in city vs. suburban high school graduation rates.

Glaeser’s claim that the Interstate Highway System that allows him to drive 15 miles to work in 25 minutes was “generously subsidized by the federal government” (194) is particularly ironic. In fact, the highway he takes most of the way to work is the Massachusetts Turnpike, which was entirely paid for out of tolls. Other interstate highways were 100 percent paid for out of federal and state gas taxes. The interstates represent just 2.5 percent of roadway lane-miles yet carry 24 percent of traffic and therefore generate close to 24 percent of the gas taxes used to pay for roads. Though interstates cost about twice as much, per lane mile, as lesser roads, they could cost eight times as much and the gas taxes they generate would more than pay for them.

If the federal government had not used gas taxes to build the interstates, someone else—either the states, cities, or private parties—would have built them using gas taxes or tolls. On the other hand, according to the Federal Highway Administration, Massachusetts dedicates 44 percent of its state gas taxes and 20 to 30 percent of its share of federal gas taxes on transit. So it is the suburbanites who are subsidizing the city transit riders, not the cities subsidizing suburban drivers, as Glaeser seems to think.

Part of Glaeser’s problem is that he never really defines what he means by “city.” Much of the time, he distinguishes city from suburbs, but other times he includes the suburbs.

Census data offer three units that might be called “city” or “urban,” but only one of these is valid for most economic analysis. First are the political jurisdictions called “cities,” of which the oldest and/or largest in a region is sometimes called the central city. Many cities in a region economically interact with one another, so it makes no sense to single them out one at a time.

A second choice is metropolitan area, which includes the central city, all the land in the county in which the central city is located, and all the counties surrounding it that send a significant number of commuters to the central city. The problem with this definition is that huge portions of some metropolitan counties are actually rural. The Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example, extends to the Nevada border and includes the entire Mohave Desert.

The only valid unit for most economic analyses is the urbanized area, which includes the central city plus all contiguous incorporated suburbs and unincorporated land that is developed to densities of at least 1,000 people per square mile. This is often significantly smaller than the metropolitan area.

Glaeser makes the mistake of confusing metropolitan with urbanized areas when he tries to explain why few people in some regions ride transit. Santa Clara County (which is the San Jose metropolitan area), he says, has only 1,400 people per square mile, and “car-based living goes together with low density levels.” In fact, thanks to urban-growth boundaries, only 20 percent of Santa Clara County is urbanized, and at 6,000 people per square mile the San Jose urbanized area is actually denser than the New York (5,300), Washington (3,400), Chicago (3,900), and Boston (2,300) urbanized areas, all of which have much higher transit usage.

Because of this mistake, Glaeser misses a key insight: it is job density, not population density, that leads to high transit usage. San Jose’s jobs are distributed throughout the urban area, while transit regions like New York have high concentrations of jobs at their core. Yet Glaeser seems to think that increasing population densities alone will reduce auto driving.

In taking this position, Glaeser is on the wrong side of a debate between those who believe in mobility vs. those who want the government to favor smart growth. Smart-growth advocates say Americans drive too much and the solution is to pack people into denser cities where they can reach destinations by transit, walking, or cycling. Smart-growth prescriptions include urban-growth boundaries and other policies to limit low-density development combined with subsidies to transit and high-density housing. Mobility advocates oppose mandates and subsidies and say that government should either spend highway user fees on highways, not transit, or get out of the way and let the private sector build new roads.

Glaeser doesn’t support mandates or subsidies, but many of his arguments parallel those of smart-growth advocates. This wouldn’t be bad if the arguments were valid, but too often they are not.

For example, Glaeser, along with many smart-growth advocates, seems to regard the automobile as a pure social bad, since cars led people to leave the dense inner cities (p. 179). He never mentions the huge benefits provided by automobility, including large increases in personal income, access to better housing and consumer goods, and innumerable social and recreational opportunities.

On the other hand Glaeser does endorse the “induced-demand” myth, that is, the idea that there is no point in building more roads because it simply leads to more driving. “Building more roads almost never eliminates traffic delays,” he says (105). Though this idea is much beloved by the anti-mobility school, it is completely absurd. There is no economic good that people will consume in unlimited quantities no matter how much is produced.

Glaeser’s answer is that highways are “free,” but this is far from true. Americans spend an average of 35 cents per vehicle mile driving, of which 2 to 3 cents are paid in gasoline taxes and tolls to support road construction and maintenance. What Glaeser fails to recognize is that American roads became congested because gas taxes were not indexed to inflation. During the inflation of the 1970s, many states virtually stopped road construction despite continuing growth in driving because they couldn’t afford to build them.

What is true is that roads are poorly priced, and tolls or vehicle-mile fees are now technologically feasible and would make more sense than gasoline taxes. Glaeser supports congestion pricing of roads, though he confuses true congestion pricing with the cordon charges used in London that are more aimed at raising money for the city than at reducing congestion. But even with the best pricing system, many cities are so congested that users would benefit from (and willingly pay for so long as they know their fees weren’t diverted to non-highway programs) highway expansions.

Glaeser’s economic argument in favor of dense cities relies on the notion that face-to-face contact is more valuable than contacts by phone or even video (34–37). But thanks to the automobile, we can have such face-to-face contact with far more people, and a greater diversity of people, than those who are within walking distance of a Manhattan high rise. Thanks to the Internet, we can dispense with face-to-face contacts when doing such routine things as shopping and many types of work. In other words, the economic forces that built dense cities such as London and New York are far weaker today, while the decentralizing forces of automobility and telecommunications are only getting stronger–facts that Glaeser fails to acknowledge.

Glaeser responds that dense cities, especially those with high-rise apartments, are “greener” than the suburbs, but there are many reasons to think this isn’t true. First, his sole measure of “green” is carbon-dioxide production, but there are a lot of other measures that would not favor dense cities, including concentrations of air pollution, noise, and light pollution. Beyond that, as I showed earlier this week, densifying cities is not a cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions.

Glaeser has a useful analysis of why government regulation has made housing less affordable in cities like Boston and San Francisco than in, say, Atlanta or Houston (188-193). But he blames housing affordability problems primarily on NIMBYs. This misses an important insight: the key to affordable housing is giving developers access to abundant amounts of vacant, unregulated land. Potentially, Texas has nearly as many NIMBYs as California, but Texas counties aren’t allowed to zone, so builders can easily meet market demand for whatever kind of housing people want. (Instead of focusing on distant parcels of land, Texas NIMBYs can use their homeowner associations to concentrate on their next-door neighbors.) While Texas cities can zone, they won’t heavily regulate builders for fear that the builders will simply cross the city line.

NIMBYs can only have an influence if there is no unregulated land nearby. California cities have urban-growth boundaries that cannot be expanded without the consent of a majority of cities in each county. So even if a county wanted to allow development outside of a city, it could not without the cities’ agreement. Massachusetts, along with several other New England states, has mostly given up on county governments, turning all land over to the cities, so again, there is no supply of unregulated land.

Glaeser’s prescriptions for urban areas are, for the most part, similar to those of mobility advocates: reduce or eliminate land-use regulation, let people live where they want to live, but make sure they pay the costs of their choices. His book would be much stronger if it did not contain so many erroneous ideas that are used by big-government, anti-mobility advocates.

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44 thoughts on “Antiplanner’s Library: Triumph of the Cities

  1. metrosucks

    Where are the mouthpieces (Dan and Highwayman) with their Koch smears? Come one libtards, we’re counting on you for illogical insults and slander.

  2. Borealis

    The ideas of many urbanologists are heavily influenced by the cities in which they lived or grew up. To defend her mid-rise Greenwich Village neighborhood from “urban renewal,” Jane Jacobs extolled the virtues of such neighborhoods and excoriated both high-rises and suburbs.

    As a child growing up in the suburbs, I remember watching “Sesame Street” and feeling so very sorry for the children who had to live in that wretched neighborhood. They had no grass to play on and even had to play games on asphalt dirty grimy streets. No wonder the few animals there were genetic mutants. I also wondered what they ate since the tiny store only sold a few items. That was so depressing.

    I guess planners who grew up in the cities have similar views of suburban life. But it is interesting how overall there is a huge flight to the suburbs of families once they start having children.

  3. Dan

    A similar situation occurs here where those who like their subsidized low-density SFD think everyone is like them – this is called the human condition, as is the failure to consider or know that life-stages also drive your choice of preferred (or forced) housing.

    Nonetheless, eliminating the HMID subsidy and rising gas prices will be a fine experiment to see if the vaunted American Dream Coalition-type picket fence housing will continue, or if folks will sort to more efficient neighborhoods. The market is already responding by building such neighborhoods – these neighborhoods didn’t take the hit that the ADC-preferred homes did overall. And they still have higher equilibrium rents (indicating demand). I suspect in less than a generation the defenders of the picket fence will wonder what happened.

    And Randal, you didn’t show anything like what you claimed you did earlier in the week. Cities are lower CO2 emitters overall.

    DS

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    The government did that, he argues, through “anticity” policies, including the mortgage-interest deduction (most urbanites rent, he says, so policies favoring homeownership are “anticity”), better-funded schools in the suburbs, and the Interstate Highway System. None of these arguments hold water.

    President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law on 1956-06-29. That meant that development of post-World War II single-family detached housing developments (including the Levittowns of New York and Pennsylvania) had been under way for more than a decade. Levittown, N.J. (in Willingboro) came a few years after 1956 and near I-295, but perhaps more to the point, with easy access to the completed New Jersey Turnpike, which was not built with Federal-Aid dollars.

    Homebuyers in most major cities can get their mortgage-interest deductions by buying low-rise, mid-rise, or high-rise condominiums.

    Correct. In most cases, I don’t believe that the home mortgage interest deduction rules concern themselves with the type of home.

    Besides, there are plenty of single-family detached neighborhoods inside the corporate limits of central major cities, including (but not limited to) Washington, D.C.; New York; Baltimore; Los Angeles; San Diego; Atlanta; Toronto; Montréal; London (areas inside M25 motorway); Helsinki; Stockholm; Copenhagen and many more.

    Many states have equalization policies that guarantee the same funding per pupil to all schools, yet those states still have disparities in city vs. suburban high school graduation rates.

    And in more than one big city school system, the historic first priority has been the hiring of adults to work for the system, not the education of children.

    Because of this mistake, Glaeser misses a key insight: it is job density, not population density, that leads to high transit usage. San Jose’s jobs are distributed throughout the urban area, while transit regions like New York have high concentrations of jobs at their core. Yet Glaeser seems to think that increasing population densities alone will reduce auto driving.

    I got news for Mr. Glaeser – densities don’t ride mass transit (not my words, but instructive).

  5. Borealis

    The CO2 “saved” by forcing millions of Americans to live in higher density areas than they want to is so trivial that it would not be measurable 100-200 years from now. It probably would not even offset the CO2 emitted by global warming/climate change/weather chaos conferences.

    Planners have a long record of building high rise apartment buildings in urban centers using lots of government money. Every generation of planners can point out all the terrible mistakes of their profession before them, but can now reassure you that they have figured out the human condition and will spend lots of new government money in a scientifically efficient manner.

  6. Dan

    The CO2 “saved” by forcing millions of Americans to live in higher density areas than they want to is so trivial that it would not be measurable 100-200 years from now.

    Comical sterotyping and impressive foretelling aside, evidence please for your assertion of triviality. Numbers. Comparatives. Of course, per capita is best.

    TIA.

    DS

  7. Andrew

    CPZ:

    That meant that development of post-World War II single-family detached housing developments (including the Levittowns of New York and Pennsylvania) had been under way for more than a decade.

    That was being driven by the acute shortage of housing created by thehousing bust of the Depression, mass immigration of European refugees before, during, and after WWII, the Federal Housing Acts of 1934, 1937, and 1949 and policy level national defense decisions made to empty out cities into the countryside to spread out American population and industry and enhance national survivability in the event of a nuclear attack on urban areas. The Interstate System was a result of this initial top-down pressure to decentralize, not the driver of it.

    The pattern for these suburbs was set by the early-modern suburbs constructed during the great expansion of the 1880-1930 era following the depression of the 1870’s. Many of these suburbs were built purposefully by railroad executives like Henry Houston and interurban/streetcar magnates like Samuel Insull as a means of making money through land development, sale of electricity, and increased transport of people and goods. This time period saw the invention of modern pattern books for constructing tract housing, innovations such as central coal heating plants for neighborhoods, generous streets wide enough to accomodate parked cars on each side and two lanes of traffic, and electricity, phone, sewer, and running water incorporated into new construction.

    The Levitt’s took the thoughts of this early work and adopted it to the post-war motorized environment which could be detached from proximity to rail lines, allowing for suburban infill between the old commuter suburbs and streetcar suburbs.

  8. Borealis

    CPZ and Andrew make an important point. There is a very significant difference between an organic social trend that politicians scramble to have government respond to with government programs verse a government program that politicians design to reverse a social trend.

  9. bennett

    Borealis says: “But it is interesting how overall there is a huge flight to the suburbs of families once they start having children.”

    Dan saya: “…that life-stages also drive your choice of preferred (or forced) housing.”

    Perhaps there is some consensus amongst you two yet. As a kid whose parents divorced when I was 4, I had the privilege of growing up in both urban and suburban settings. Before I could drive, I much preferred the city. As an athlete both the park (pool & soccer) and the YMCA were within a walking distance and what wasn’t was accessibly by transit. In the burbs, I had a great yard but had to wait on parents to take me somewhere to do anything else. Once I was 16 I was rather indifferent because I could drive and my range extended.

    It has also been my observation that parents of young schoolchildren move to the suburbs, not because of a dramatic preference of the suburban form, but the preference to “better preforming” schools. Prep schools in the city are full of kids that would be in suburban public schools if their parents couldn’t afford private school tuition.

  10. FrancisKing

    Takes a deep breath –

    “In fact, the highway he takes most of the way to work is the Massachusetts Turnpike, which was entirely paid for out of tolls. Other interstate highways were 100 percent paid for out of federal and state gas taxes.”

    http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.org/assets/28b773b9f18cdb23da3e48a8d7884854/Do-Roads-Pay-for-Themselves_-wUS.pdf

    In particular I would refer Antiplanner to the end of the summary on page 2.

    “Highway advocates use the “user fees/highways pay for themselves” myth in an effort to secure access to scarce government revenue for their desired public policy ends—distorting transportation decision-making.”

    Discuss.

    “He never mentions the huge benefits provided by automobility, including large increases in personal income, access to better housing and consumer goods, and innumerable social and recreational opportunities.”

    What Antiplanner has ignored is the reaction of businesses to the increase in mobility. As people buy cars and become more mobile, their accessibility is no better, or becomes worse due to congestion, and the fact that businesses can now afford to be further from their customers and employee’s homes. This is why, in extremis, people now need a car to get a better job, because the better job is now further away and harder to access.

    Those who do not have a car are the ones who lose out as opportunities become harder to access. How this is a triumph for the car is hard to see.

    As for the idea that commuting longer distances makes for more affordable housing – the amount of money a person can spend is finite, as is the length of the commute in hours and minutes. So a comparable house without the commute will always cost the same as the affordable house + commuting costs. The free market will maintain this. For my money, not having to drive to work every day is worth having, especially since it did not cost more to buy the house given the lack of commuting costs. In the UK, planning laws have made it more practical to get to work by a non-car method. This is especially true in Bath, UK, as the local planning laws protect local businesses from out-of-town shopping malls.

    “On the other hand Glaeser does endorse the “induced-demand” myth, that is, the idea that there is no point in building more roads because it simply leads to more driving. “Building more roads almost never eliminates traffic delays,” he says (105). ”

    Induced traffic is a major problem that more than makes up for the extra capacity provided. It comes about in four ways: 1) people who didn’t previously drive because of congestion now do so, 2) people drive further, and therefore appear on more road sections and junctions, 3) people on more crowded roads move to the new capacity, and 4) businesses want to develop there and claim that they can do so given the new capacity. In the classic example of Newbury Bypass, UK, these effects together locked up the new road in a matter of a few years.

    My observation is this: although car drivers may start off in many different places, by the time they reach their destination they are travelling one after the other down the same small subset of roads, at the same speed. Commuters should be compelled to leave their car at the park and ride site, instead of inflicting their car on the neighbourhoods through which they drive. In that way, the benefits of the provision of extra capacity would be maintained, and in many cases, the cost of the extra road capacity would not be necessary.

  11. Borealis

    To #3,

    First shalt thou take out thy own evidence. Thou shalt thou count to #3, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. #8 shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Eight is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy evidence towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff you.

  12. Dan

    You provided exactly zero evidence when asked.

    I, OTOH, refused eactly zero requests to repeat info I’ve already provided in the past on this site.

    Thank you for the excellent demonstration of typical hand-waving to distract away from the fact that the claim cannot be backed.

    Thaaaanks!!

    DS

  13. Dan

    Randal, I trust this post will be one of the tipping points that turns the small minority away from selective quoting a particular economist. And let us hope that the current debt theater eliminates the HMID so we can see which idea plays out in a non-subsidized land use space.

    DS

  14. Andrew

    Antiplanner:

    Glaeser has never experienced such densities—never, that is, until seven years ago when he and his family moved to a 6.5-acre lot next to a 600-acre conservation area in Weston, Massachusetts (less than 700 people per square mile).

    Glaser is just a very wealthy hypocrite. 95% of Americans could never afford to live where he is living, so obviously there were other choices because the rest of us live there – no one held a gun to his head to make him buy his probably $750K or more house. He could always have found a town to live on along MBTA Fitchburg line with its convenient transfer at Porter Square to the Red Line subway running under Harvard had he any care at all about his commute.

    The interstates represent just 2.5 percent of roadway lane-miles yet carry 24 percent of traffic and therefore generate close to 24 percent of the gas taxes used to pay for roads.

    Not true, because of the vast fuel efficiency differentials on highways versus local streets. My Sienna gets in real life about 14 mpg in driving on local streets and about 23 mpg on the expressway. That is 0.071 gallons per mile versus 0.043 gallons per mile. The expressways are only revenue at 60% of the rate of local streets when I drive on them. Many other cars and trucks have similar differentials in real driving.

    Though interstates cost about twice as much, per lane mile, as lesser roads, they could cost eight times as much and the gas taxes they generate would more than pay for them.

    That is a complete misrepresentation. Interstates cost orders of magnitude more than local roads. Its probably closer to $15-25 million per mile for a lane couplet on an interstate (use the Intercounty Connector figures), while a local 2 lane street (your typical non-expressway road) can probably be built for at most $2-3 million per mile since it is essentially 6″ of pavement laid over a small subgrade without major earthwork or bridges and which is lucky to be reconstructed maybe once in 50 years other than a 2″ milling every couple of decades. My city of Philadelphia is full of streets which have not been totally rebuilt since the time the streetcar tracks were laid in them in the 1890’s – the bricks, coble stones, and tracks are just under the paving.

    If the federal government had not used gas taxes to build the interstates, someone else—either the states, cities, or private parties—would have built them using gas taxes or tolls.

    Many Interstates were in planning as toll roads when the Federal Free Lunch came along in the 1950’s.

    On the other hand, according to the Federal Highway Administration, Massachusetts dedicates 44 percent of its state gas taxes and 20 to 30 percent of its share of federal gas taxes on transit.

    Masshole is unusual in this arrangement. Most transit systems are funded from general revenues like sales taxes.

    So it is the suburbanites who are subsidizing the city transit riders, not the cities subsidizing suburban drivers, as Glaeser seems to think.

    Not true. Interstate lanes are used an average of 13 times as intensively as local road lanes so they obviously need much more maintenance and more frequent rebuilding, all of which is orders of magnitude costlier than rebuilding local roads.

    As I also repeatedly mention here, most Interstates come nowhere near producing the $50+ million per mile (for a 4 lane interstate – more for a 6 or 8 lane one) in revenue needed to pay for their maintenance. 200,000 cars per day per mile @ 20 mpg to be generous and $0.40 tax is $1.32 million per year at a daily annualization of 330 days to account for weekends. The roads typically last 30 years before requiring total rebuilding, require an interim resurfacing, and require annual maintenance. At the ICC’s $75 million per mile, 200,000 vehicle miles per mile (which is very heavy for even an urban interstate will produce $40 million in revenue in 30 years to cover a cost of construction almost 2 times that amount + financing + maintenance + administration + inflation.

    Obviously from the above, Interstate users, except where they are on toll roads, are subsidized by local road drivers. The numbers are inescapable. They are hardly subsidizing anyone since their pitiful level of gast tax revenue they generate comes nowhere near to covering the cost of their precious super highway, and in fact is close to a mere 25% as seen by typical tolls of $0.08 to $0.10 per mile. And that of course ignores societal costs such as the cost of the highway patrol and the social destruction of human life from the carnage of tens of thousands of annual deaths on the road which is so studiously downplayed.

    Because of this mistake, Glaeser misses a key insight: it is job density, not population density, that leads to high transit usage.

    This is why the real tragedy of the entire discussion is ignoring this truth. The decentralization of offices and jobs into suburbia is the real cause of America’s vast oil consumption for transportation, not suburbanization which proceeded for 80 years from 1880 to about 1960 using railroads and rail transit. If many or most jobs were still in old downtowns, more efficient rail and bus transit would still dominate commuting patterns and would have developed along with new suburbs, freeing families from needing two, three, or four cars, meaning that they would have thousands of dollars per year in additional disposable income to put to purposes other than owning and maintaining extra cars. Most cars simply sit alongside the road all day long in a parking spot, some for days at a time. But they have to be there because mobility is now impossible without them.

    The PATCO rail line developed in the 1960’s was able to generate an operating profit in the early 1970’s. Privately owned commuter railroads like the Chicago and Norhtwestern were still making a profit on their operations and buying their own equipment, and private transit companies were still the norm. Then the vast Nixon inflation from oil prices and the delinking of the dollar from gold on account of the current account deficit being driven by oil imports and the drain of American gold reserves happened, vastly inflating the costs of energy and building materials. This was driven by increased motorization caused by businesses moving to the new suburbs. This also had its effects on American trade competitiveness by forcing salaries artificially higher (in addition to the push caused by the cost of buying and operating excessive numbers of cars just to get to work and get around) and so ending the competitiveness of entire sectors of the American economy.

    The influence of this movement of jobs was not the free market but the planning profession – driven by the vision of the French Communist Le Corbusier in his “La Ville Radieusse” and the dictates of socialism. Planners created the ghettoes which made cities uninhabitable for civilized people with their government forced redlining and disinvestment, planners demolished urban neighborhoods for public housing disasters and urban freeways, planners implemented zoning which made the construction of traditional cities and towns illegal.

    “The cities will be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree. We shall both have our own car. We shall use up tires, wear out road surfaces and gears, consume oil and gasoline. All of which will necessitate a great deal of work … enough for all.” (Le Corbusier, La Ville Radieusse, 1935)

    What is truly frightening is to stop and think of how much of the American economy is now given over to the construction care, and feeding of the automobile, in line with Le Corbusier’s socialist utopia of what the future of work should be. When American auto production crashed in 2008 and dropped off a cliff, 20-25% of the American industrial economy literally evaporated overnight (as readily seen in the huge drop in freight rail carloads originated through early 2009), with sectors like primary metals and plastics hit especially hard with up to 55% declines due to the drop in demand by auto companies. Unemployment quickly zoomed to 10%+ depending on what number you would like to believe. Had it gone on much longer, you can bet that the ubiquitous gas stations, car repair shops, body shops, fast food restaurants, insurance offices, truck stops, and the rest of the detritus of the modern American road would have soon followed behind as their source of dollars vanished. This dependence of the modern American economy on auto production and maintenance is a direct result of the encouragement of motorization and suburban job flight.

    We can correct it naturally any time we want by getting offices back into the city (which would be greatly encouraged by eliminating the red tape and bureaucratic hassles associated with attempting to build on private property in this country under the purview of zoning and community boards and the like) and letting everything else sort itself out on its own.

  15. FrancisKing

    Andrew wrote:

    “If many or most jobs were still in old downtowns, more efficient rail and bus transit would still dominate commuting patterns and would have developed along with new suburbs, freeing families from needing two, three, or four cars, meaning that they would have thousands of dollars per year in additional disposable income to put to purposes other than owning and maintaining extra cars.”

    This is what always surprises me – the way in which ordinary and reasonable people think that having a car is a human right, rather than a ball and chain.

  16. Borealis

    I am very sorry that Americans want the right to work where they want, live where they want, and in the houses and densities they want. I am sure that makes the lives of planners much more difficult. Just think how easy it would be if life was like Sim City.

    Its not our fault; its that darn Constitution. People just have that irrational sense of “freedom”. Sorry planners.

  17. Dan

    I am sure that makes the lives of planners much more difficult

    Only if you live in a fantasy world where people try to dupe a few into believing planners are trying to force th’ soshulizm down everyone’s throat.

    Here in reality, as long as the permit conforms to the zoning, the project will get built. It’s the durn Constitution that we uphold.

    DS

  18. FrancisKing

    Borealis:

    “I am very sorry that Americans want the right to work where they want, live where they want, and in the houses and densities they want. I am sure that makes the lives of planners much more difficult. Just think how easy it would be if life was like Sim City.”

    To whom are you responding?

  19. Dan

    Aside from the fact that we’ve discussed this several times here and already pre-bunked the false assertion of no induced demand, and the paper has inherent flaws and didn’t survive peer review after publication, here:

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/lse/jtep/2002/00000036/00000003/art00005 [Cervero 2002 simultaneous models predicting demand and elasticity]

    http://escholarship.org/uc/item/05x370hr;jsessionid=F8B40DE178428CCBEFA9153799592F5C#page-2 [ Cervero 2001 demand, but elasticities lower than pvs studies]

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VG7-423HHW2-3&_user=10&_coverDate=01%2F31%2F2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1688971896&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=46a12579d4ffd09b9659efd4c8234dc0&searchtype=a [Noland 2001 calculated elasticities for short and long term]

    http://www.brookings.edu/views/papers/winston/200605-aeijc.pdf [Winston and Langer 2006 calculated that road pricing more efficient than adding lane miles]

    HTH.

    DS

  20. FrancisKing

    Dan wrote:

    “Winston and Langer 2006 calculated that road pricing more efficient than adding lane miles”

    Winston and Langer have eloquently explained how limited their knowledge of transport planning is. They are clearly determined to deter some car drivers from driving at certain times – where in fact it is the dominance of the car in the UK and USA which is causing congestion. Cars are simply too inefficient in terms of road space per person.

    Park and ride is a better option than tolls. By the time that cars arrive at a site, they have been travelling along with their work colleagues in the same direction, on the same road, and at the same speed. So we could remove 50 cars (300m of queue) and replace it with one 50-seat bus. Repeated enough times, the traffic on the roads just disappears.

  21. MJ

    Aside from the fact that we’ve discussed this several times here and already pre-bunked the false assertion of no induced demand, and the paper has inherent flaws and didn’t survive peer review after publication, here:

    Actually it did survive peer review. The paper has not been retracted. Goodwin and Noland offer criticisms, but nowhere do they provide evidence that the authors’ estimates are wrong, either using the authors’ data or their own.

    And what do the other papers have in common? They all use data sets which are insufficient to measure “induced demand”, however defined. Their data sets are aggregate, usually county-level or higher, and do not measure individual-level expenditures of travel time or distance. Thus, they tell you very little about how individuals adjust their behavior in response to changes in highway capacity.

    Oh, and the Cervero papers cited are just as old as the paper I linked to, so I guess we should disregard them as well.

  22. MJ

    …where in fact it is the dominance of the car in the UK and USA which is causing congestion. Cars are simply too inefficient in terms of road space per person.

    I’m not sure what you mean by efficient. It seems difficult to have a notion of efficiency in the absence of a price system to ration goods, including road space.

    Park and ride is an inferior option because it simply relocates the congestion. It also attempts to substitute a static, mechanical view of travel behavior and traffic flow for a price system, which is how you end up with claims like:

    So we could remove 50 cars (300m of queue) and replace it with one 50-seat bus. Repeated enough times, the traffic on the roads just disappears.

    I haven’t seen a lot of sound evidence on the effects of such proposals on congestion, but what little has been made available is not encouraging.

  23. Dan

    MJ: You don’t have to retract your (obscure) paper to have it fail peer review.

    Thanks!

    Francis: I’m not really interested in their policy prescriptions, just whether induced demand is still a robust theory.

    DS

  24. t0wnp1ann3r

    I apologize if I was unclear. I’m not asking for analysis of whether road building induces demand. I’m asking for examples of where a new road was built or an existing road was widened that did not increase congestion over time (I don’t know… maybe a 15-year timeframe…)

  25. metrosucks

    I’m asking for examples of where a new road was built or an existing road was widened that did not increase congestion over time

    Is that a loaded question? I apologize if you’re just curious about the issue. Note that induced demand has never been proven in a scientific fashion. People don’t increase their driving with the purpose of simply congesting roadways. That’s a planner’s delusion.

    There’s all kinds of issues at stake, more than just counting cars on the roadway in question:

    1. Population/business growth in the area vs growth in congestion?

    2. Alternate routes?

    3. Does the local government employ practices that cause drivers to choose a particular road or highway? Case in point: both the Seattle and Portland areas employ embedded sensor-equipped traffic lights to maximize the number of red lights that drivers encounter. This causes drivers to choose freeways whenever possible, increasing congestion on those roads.

  26. t0wnp1ann3r

    @metrosucks
    Yes, it was a loaded question. I’ve read lots and lots of stuff about how induced demand doesn’t exist or it hasn’t been proven, but I’ve never seen an example of a road that was widened and then didn’t have more traffic and more congestion than before.

    I understand that it comes from lots of little decisions by the local governments about their particular land uses, and they’re trying to maximize their tax base to compete in a regional market, and the state is trying to keep up with increasing demands for roadways…

    I find it odd that induced demand needs to be proven or in some way validated through a systemic study. I doubt that I could prove that the sun rises every morning, but I sure expect it to be there tomorrow, bright and early. The same with increased congestion after road widenings, whether it makes sense or not.

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