Omaha’s Unlivable Plan

Three years ago, the Antiplanner reviewed the regional transportation plans for the nation’s 70 largest metropolitan areas and found that 40 of them had some form of “smart-growth,” anti-auto policies built in. One that did not was for Omaha.

Omaha planners are eager to rectify that situation. Perhaps in response to Ray LaHood’s direction that all metro areas incorporate “livability” into their next round of long-range plans (which are revised every five years), Omaha’s new plan, which is now being prepared, has an unhealthy dose of this inane idea.

So far, the planners are merely at the PowerPoint stage. The most offensive part of their presentation is page two of this show, which says they want to “manage congestion.”

How will they manage it? First, they will increase the amount of time people waste in traffic in the hope that a few people will find alternative modes of transportation. Second, they will increase the cost of sitting in traffic in the hope that people will drive less and own fewer cars. Isn’t it wonderful to know that government officials care about us so much that they will waste our time and money not simply out of carelessness but as an intentional policy?

Another PowerPoint show focuses on the idea that “design matters.” It has all the usual New Urbanist prescriptions: stores fronting on sidewalks instead of parking lots; wide sidewalks; dense development; quotes from Richard Florida.

News flash to Omaha planners: Design doesn’t matter, at least not much. You can change the design all you want but it will have little effect on people’s travel habits; instead, it will just piss them off. They won’t respond by complaining about stupid plans. They will simply leave, just as people today are leaving California.

A third PowerPoint show has the usual pseudo-science about induced traffic (no such thing), suburbs making people fat (numerous studies show this isn’t true), and peak oil leading people to drive less in the future (we have both plenty of oil and plenty of alternative sources of energy). These things are simply fantasies. How did people who are so out of touch with reality manage to get control of the future of our cities?

Omaha residents still have a chance to fight this plan. If you don’t live in Omaha, better check with your nearest metropolitan planning organization to see what kind of unlivable plans they are cooking up for you.

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24 thoughts on “Omaha’s Unlivable Plan

  1. metrosucks

    Oh boy, I can just see the attacks by Dan and others, calling Randall a liar, and worse. Yet the proof is right there, albeit buried deep inside the city’s website (probably in the hope that someone like Randall, or the public at large, would not find these anti-livability plans).

    For anti-livable is exactly what these plans are. The planners want to take away the city people happily live in right now, and remake it in their image of how it should be and how it should work. Years of disastrous consequences have failed to stop the planners. They truly believe that if they keep repeating the old progressive, anti-car lies, and keep building these dumb growth disasters, that maybe one of them will one day be successful, and serve as “proof” of viability.

  2. Cville

    Study after study shows that buses are far superior to trains in effectiveness for passengers and costs for taxpayers. I’m not sure how that makes me sleazy, crooked, sadistic, or ideological.

  3. msetty

    Study after study shows that buses are far superior to trains in effectiveness for passengers and costs for taxpayers. I’m not sure how that makes me sleazy, crooked, sadistic, or ideological.

    What studies? E.g., NOT written by denizens of conservative or liberal think tanks, biased anti-rail academics, or other ilk like Pickrell?

    Actually, I know the answer to this. Low cost rail (e.g., mostly surface) generally “breaks even” in terms of economics compared to buses at around 4,000-5,000 daily passenger miles per route mile. I haven’t pulled this number out of the air, either. This is based on a review of studies from various countries and various times, as shown here: http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/specialreports/sr2.trafficdensityretrospective.htm“.

    Of course, if you have specific documented facts and analysis that debunks these findings, I’d like to see it. Of course, I expect the crickets to keep chirping for a long time before any anti-rail types actually produce any credible work.

    BTW, my associate and I at Publictransit.us quite familiar with the works of Pickrell, Kain and similar anti-rail analysts, and have produced analysis debunking their “work” as well.

  4. Andrew

    Randall:

    we have both plenty of [cheap] oil

    Really? Where is it? After 7 years of sustained record oil prices, why isn’t it being pumped out of the ground and brought to market? Why is world crude oil production flat since 2005? It seems like there may be a fair amount of oil left, but that it is mostly very expensive to produce oil, and can only be produced in relatively limited quantities compared to the demand for oil at the break-even price of production.

    Do you even realize that the additional 2 million barrels of oil per day we were using pre-2008 is no longer available to us unless we are willing to pay much higher prices?

    The paper you link to is funny. A lot of what he decried as fantasy came true almost immediately in the years after it was published.

    “still had 22 billion barrels of proven reserves. The USGS’s 1920 estimate was off by a mere 2900 percent”

    Proven reserves are reserves economically and technically recoverable with current technology and market conditions. We all know there is more oil out that, but that does not mean we can get at it, even at today’s prices. Proven reserves have been slowly declining for many decades now as annual production has outstripped the discovery of new supplies and the increase in recoverable reserves from existing fields.

    “Given that there is a fixed amount of oil in the world, someday we will doubtless see prices increase due to disappearing supplies. But that hasn’t happened yet, and probably won’t happen for at least thirty to a hundred years.”

    Seems like it has happened just as predicted during the last 7 years. Prices on the world market have quadrupled to $120 per barrel versus flat supplies brought out of the ground in the face of these prices. The most likely scenario for the immediate future appears to be annual price increases of ~$20 per barrel (50 cents per gallon) to destroy the amount of demand required for the free market to balance demand to actual product supplied.

    “Virtually all fluctuations in gasoline prices to date have been due to political events and natural disasters, not to actual shortages of oil in the ground.”

    That isn’t true. The Texas Railroad Commission lost control of the world oil price around 1971 when Texas no longer was the marginal producer of oil in the world because its oil production was entering terminal decline. Their position in controlling the market was taken over by OPEC, who ramped up production around the same time to feed the world industrial boom of 1972-present. The OPEC position is now really controlled by Saudi Arabia alone – they are the only ones with spare pumping capacity to enable them to set market prices by marginal control of product supplied. Every other member of OPEC is pumping flat out to make as much money as possible right now.

    “‘More expensive to refine or extract’ does not necessarily mean significantly higher prices at the pump. … But when they start on the more expensive sources, they usually quickly develop techniques of extracting and using the resource much more cheaply. As long as cheap Saudi Arabia oil is available, there is little incentive to find ways to cheaply refine heavy oil or extract oil from tar sands or shales. But when the incentive arrives, expect the costs of refining and extraction to drop.”

    This is simply laughable compared to what is going on in the oil market today.

    “In short, there is no clear proof that any shortage-induced price increases will happen soon. For the next 30 years, at least, oil prices will depend more on political events and natural disasters than on natural supplies or extraction costs.”

    The last 7 years are a clear example of shortage-induced price increases. No increase in supply versus signifcant exponential supply growth during the previous 35+ years, and rapidly increasing prices to balance demand with actual supply.

    “We can get some idea of the effects of high prices by looking at Europe … As it is, they drive about two-thirds as much per capita as Americans, and their growth in driving is faster. High prices don’t seem to slow this growth down.”

    The growth in Europe is mostly in eastern Europe coming off a very low level in the Communist area to something closer to the level seen in the less developed parts of Western Europe, and in Italy and Spain as they give up scooters and move to cars with their growing prosperity. Recent statistics indicate a per capita level of driving in Europe around 40% of the US, and that only gets to about 45% in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK.

    “Moderate- and high-income families will respond by making other changes in their transportation expenses, most likely by keeping their cars a little longer and, when they do buy new cars, buying more fuel-efficient or less luxurious cars.”

    We got a clear indication of what this does to the US economy with the industrial sector collapse caused by the contraction in auto buying in 2008-2009. You might have noticed that aside from the real-estate induced collapse in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida, the worst hit portions of the US with unemployment have been the auto manufacturing states roughly along I75 – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, etc. The reason places like Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York are doing relatively well economically and fiscally is that they are not economically dependent on real estate development or auto manufacturing.

    We could go on and on, but it is pretty clear the “refutation” of Peak-Oil paper you cite has been soundly thrashed so far by actual market events.

  5. Sandy Teal

    “Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980′s the world will be demanding more oil than it can produce.”

    “World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970′s and 1980′s by 5 percent a year, as it has in the past, we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

    “Each new inventory of world oil reserves has been more disturbing than the last. World oil production can probably keep going up for another 6 or 8 years. But sometime in the 1980′s, it can’t go up any more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.”

    - President Carter’s Address to the Nation (April 18, 1977)

  6. Dan

    It has all the usual New Urbanist prescriptions: stores fronting on sidewalks instead of parking lots; wide sidewalks; dense development

    These ideas are much older than CNU. They are the basics.

    the usual pseudo-science about induced traffic

    Randal, your link to a post presumably ‘debunking’ doesn’t debunk induced demand. Nonetheless, induced demand is well-established. As we’ve shown here every time Randal mentions it.

    DS

  7. Andrew

    Sandy Teal:

    The 1979-1981 oil crisis provoked a significant destruction of demand world-wide and especially US demand through price increases, which was matched by Iran and Iraq permenantly destroying each other’s supply capacity so that they have yet to return to their peak production of the 1970′s. The US did not meet the consumption level it had in the late 1970′s for another 20 years, and the temporary peak in the 2000′s over 20 million barrels per day has not been sustained.

    1978 consumption 18.847 million barrels per day
    1983 consumption 15.231 million barrels per day (-19.1% from 1978)
    1998 consumption 18.917 million barrels per day (match 1978 high)
    2005 consumption 20.802 million barrels per day (all-time peak)
    2009 consumption 18.771 million barrels per day (-10.2% from 2005)
    2010 consumption 19.148 million barrels per day
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MTTUPUS2&f=A

    President Carter was correct – oil demand was unable to increase by 5% a year through the 1980′s. The new norm high prices of over $1 per gallon shocked the excess demand out of the system and permanently limited the supply available to America.

  8. TMI

    It was heart-breaking to see the final frame in the presentation.

    “Look, a graph! Q.E.D., better living!”

    This is how we’re teaching our kids in our public schools.
    .

  9. metrosucks

    Andrew, why do you hate mobility?

    To the other leftists, watch how you scurried away from Randall’s points and moved to attacking from the edges instead of facing his arguments head-on. How very liberal of you. And I gotta love the mentally ill planner who insists that “induced demand” is a real phenomenon. But provided no links to any legitimate studies that backed him up.

  10. Andrew

    metrosucks:

    Where did I say I “hate” mobility? “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4.16) Do you have something to say about the factual observations I provided about oil supply, US oil demand, and world oil prices?

    And have you considered that maybe I don’t face Randall’s argument’s head on because I am not entirely in disagreement with Randall?

    For the most part, I stick to trying to provide some facts and contextualization aroudn the edges of Randall’s arguments. I think he is perfectly well aware of that.

    I gotta love the mentally ill planner who insists that “induced demand” is a real phenomenon.

    Of course its real. Its Economics 101. Any time you provide a desired product at below market costs (for example, free road capacity), you induce an excess of demand through the subsidization of the product. This is nothing more than the obverse of the observation that you can discourage demand for a product by raising its price, i.e., by taxation or a minimum sales price, or in the case of roads, through tolling or gas taxes or personal property taxes on cars. Induced demand through the provision of free roads is simply the obvious observation that providing more road capacity encourages people to take more trips. Isn’t that the whole goal of providing improved roads – to get people to take more trips and ship more goods by road? If it wasn’t, wouldn’t dirt roads have been just fine, like they are in some backwards craphole like the Congo or Burma or Bolivia?

    Why would you even bother supporting improved roads if you weren’t inducing demand for their use?

  11. msetty

    Metrosucks, I suppose you’ll think me “mentally ill” because “induced demand” is something quite real. But then, I don’t really give a damn what you “think” (you have some gall to consider your brainfarts to be “thought” but I digress…)

    Here is what I wrote to some of my colleagues earlier today about L.A.’s “Carmegeddon,” which didn’t happen unless you think scenes through most of L.A. resembling outtakes from “On the Beach” was Carmageddon (e.g., what would happen with tons of Ronnie Reagan-style “neutron bombs”…

    The most interesting thing to me is that “Carmageddon” didn’t actually take occur. The videos of traffic on Saturday morning showed like everyone had cleared out, even on roads far away such as the Hollywood (US 101) and Golden State Freeways (I-5).

    Proof positive of the fact that traffic expands to fill the available space sans road pricing measures, even in so-called “car crazy” LA. This is an even more pronounced result from all the scare headlines than the traffic that (temporarily) disappeared during the 1984 Olympics.

    Something of a black eye for traffic planners, I’d say. Hopefully the experience will open the eyes of some–particularly business types–to the merits of optimizing what they already have with road pricing measures and improved transit options.

  12. metrosucks

    I don’t think you’re mentally ill, msetty. And I still don’t believe in “induced demand”. I read about Carmageddon. I am not impressed about your portrayal of it as evidence of induced demand. The closure was over the weekend. People had many options, from avoiding the area, to not driving at all on those days. For most people, required commuting (ie, work), wasn’t an issue over the weekend.

    I still think Dan is mentally ill, for the record.

  13. msetty

    MJ: Counterpoint to your link (Michael Lynch, oil “analyst”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-romm/michael-lynch-who-predict_b_269877.html.

    A guy who has been wrong on oil prices longer than most has managed to convince the New York Times to give him some of its precious Op-ed space to issue yet another sure-to-be-wrong prediction. That would be energy consultant Michael Lynch, with his remarkably content-free piece, “‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy,” asserting:

    “Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward….”.

    This article dates from August 2009, several months after the short crash in oil prices at the height of the financial scare in late 2008.

  14. C. P. Zilliacus

    Wonder where the data for that graph came from? Sure would have been nice if they had given a page number and edition, and not just an image of a cover of a Highway Capacity Manual.

  15. Dan

    Are there any sane oil analysts/firms any more that assert there is plenty of oil to be discovered? Is this why the tar sands are being slobbered over like some tart on a pole and our military races to efficiencies and alternatives and develops scrnarios for post-peak oil?

    DS

  16. Andrew

    Dan:

    I’m a stock investor in the oil and gas production and pipeline industry, work for a company involved in engineering for the oil and gas industry (50% of our business), and am a landowner involved in shale play developments in Pennsylvania and New York.

    I think I have enough skin in the game to make an informed comment although I have no doubt some people here don’t want to hear it.

    1) Despite much crying on the part of certain fanatics, the domestic+Canada oil industry is much more interested in “right-sizing” its refinery infrastructure to the realities of North American production and available imports than in “building new refineries” it cannot use. This is why you see major refineries (140,000+ BPD) idled (for example, Delaware City, DE), or being permanently closed (for example, Sunoco Eagle Point, NJ and Shell Montreal, PQ). No sane investor is going to put money up to build a new refinery to refine non-existant oil. No company is going to employ workers to run an refinery which has no oil to refine.

    After many decades of rapid growth, domestic oil use in the US plateaued in 1978 at around 19 million BPD and has remained around there since, forcing efficiency into the economy with ever higher oil prices. This is why no new domestic refineries have been brought on line in about 30 years, and only one permit has been filed in the entire US for construction (in Arizona) since 1975. The US is producing around half the crude oil it did at its peak around 1970, and it can only afford so much of the oil produced by the rest of the world before prices are driven up so high that it destroys domestic demand and crashes the economy, as seen in 1981 and 2008. This is a relatively simple self-limiting economic system.

    2) There are undoubtedly major oil fields yet to be discovered or fully explored, but the rate of discoveries has not kept pace with the rate of production since around 1960. So as major fields like East Texas or the North Slope go into terminal production decline, they are only partially being replaced by new fields like the Bakken Shale or Eagle Ford Shale.

    Supposedly unexplored major fields like in Alaska’s North Slope have been known about for decades. There is a reason much of that region is labeled the “National Petroleum Reserve” and that is because the US made a concious decision back in the 1920′s to purposefully withold some of its possible producing areas until they are desperately needed in the distant future, as also today with ANWR. Conspiratorial notions that these areas could produce millions of barrels per day into the far future and thus drive down prices and enable to us to freely waste oil again are rather silly – they don’t have that much oil. We are hearing the same thing about the Bakken today, even though the Bakken is being freely drilled as fast as landmen can obtain mineral rights from the owners.

    3) The Tar Sands are being slobbered over (as will be Venezueala’s heavy oil) because that is all there is left to get excited about – they are very expensive to extract and so can only be economically developed with high oil prices caused by restricted world supplies. Venezeuala’s oil sands are not being developed yet because they have less desired heavy sour crude full of sulfur that is more expensive to refine, as does the spare oil able to be produced by Saudi Arabia. Only a limited number of refineries can handle the sour crude products.

    4) American total petroleum liquids output is only being propped up by the ever increasing use of biofuels (ethanol is now close to 1 million barrels per day of our total use), natural gas liquids (propane, butane, and pentane derived from wet gas production), and increased refinery gain from ever more efficient refinery production equipment.

  17. Andrew

    mj:

    Supply curves slope upward.

    Logarthimic supply curves don’t, and oil production has been observed to follow a logarithmic supply curve.

    You do recognize we live in a finite world so that exponential supply surves are ultimately impossible to sustain?

    Crude oil supply (i.e. the source of refined gasoline, diesel, bunker fuel, and jet fuel) increased at 6% annual rate from 1960 up to 1977 flattened out to a 1% annual gain through 2004, and has been flat since.

    Most major oil suppliers peaked their production a long time ago. US in 1970 (-45%), Iran in 1974 (-33%), Iraq in 1979 (-31%), Saudi Arabia in 1980 (-17%), Venezuela in 1970 (-39%), Indonesia in 1977 (-44%), Libya in 1970 (-50%). What has propped up world production is new non-OPEC supply in Canada, China, Mexico, and the North Sea and some smaller OPEC nations like Nigeria. Unfortunately, Mexican and Nigerian production peaked in 2004, North Sea production in 1999, and Chinese production is obviously not available on the world market. Thus as Dan noted, everyone is slobbering all over Canadian Tar Sands production. What else is left???

  18. MJ

    @msetty “Data” is not the plural of “anecdote”. I linked to a peer-reviewed article providing evidence of a long history of downward-biased production forecasts. You linked to a HuffPo hatchet job by a climate alarmist who wishes to quibble over a few years’ worth of data points and still thinks we are headed off a cliff within the next 10 years.

    Real supply decisions are made over long periods of time, as such investment takes considerable time to put in place. It is best to find lengthy time series to try to prove/disprove hypotheses about growing or declining supply and prices.

  19. MJ

    Logarthimic supply curves don’t, and oil production has been observed to follow a logarithmic supply curve.

    Logarithmic curves do slope upward, albeit at a decreasing rate. Provide evidence that production follows a logarithmic curve.

    What has propped up world production is new non-OPEC supply in Canada, China, Mexico, and the North Sea and some smaller OPEC nations like Nigeria. Unfortunately, Mexican and Nigerian production peaked in 2004, North Sea production in 1999, and Chinese production is obviously not available on the world market. Thus as Dan noted, everyone is slobbering all over Canadian Tar Sands production. What else is left???

    Most new discoveries in recent years have come from locations other than traditional OPEC powerhouses. African countries like Ghana, Uganda and Angola have seen recent exploration initiatives and off-shore discoveries in places like Brazil (not to mention the known US reserves) have been substantial. One reason that new discoveries keep appearing in places like these is that in the past they have not devoted much effort to identifying potentially valuable resource deposits, at least not to the extent that other advanced countries have, especially in Europe and North America.

    My point is that supply curves need to reflect real economic processes and the incentives that price systems provide, rather than physical estimates of supply at single points in time. Estimates of “proven reserves” typically reflect technological and economic conditions (including prices) at a particular time point. If prices really do trend higher, we should expect to see new resources devoted to identifying new sources of reserves. Many exist, but have not been profitable to investigate until recently, and are now becoming much more feasible.

    And all of this ignores the fact that even with “proven reserves”, many major oil producers are not producing efficiently and could do much more with their existing resources. Iraq is still producing well below levels that prevailed before we started bombing their country. Inefficient state-run oil companies in places like Mexico, Venezuela and Iran produce well below their capacities. So there is much more that can be done to increase supply even if few new holes are actually drilled.

  20. Frank

    “Are there any sane oil analysts/firms any more that assert there is plenty of oil to be discovered?”

    “Thus as Dan noted, everyone is slobbering all over Canadian Tar Sands production. What else is left???”

    Aside from the loaded question and overuse of question marks, the crux of the issue is not undiscovered oil; it’s about what’s left and the time and cost to extract it. There is still a lot of oil left in proven reserves. According to Wiki, “Oil reserves in Iraq will be the largest in the world according to recent geological surveys and seismic data. The Iraqi government has stated that new exploration showed Iraq has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, with more than 350 billion barrels. Officially confirmed reserves rank third largest in the world at approximately 143 billion barrels (22.7×109 m3).”

    Thankfully, we liberated Iraq so that oil will make it to friendly markets. Once you realize the shampoo bottle is under half full, you stretch it out, using less and less, even adding water and swishing it around to get the last.

  21. Andrew

    MJ:

    Logarithmic curves do slope upward, albeit at a decreasing rate. Provide evidence that production follows a logarithmic curve.

    I should have said a logistic supply curve. My mistake.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logistic_distribution

    And example for oil here in US oil production:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hubbert_US_high.svg

    Most new discoveries in recent years have come from locations other than traditional OPEC powerhouses. African countries like Ghana, Uganda and Angola have seen recent exploration initiatives

    The problem is these discoveries are not making up for the decline in other locations any more. So while Brazil grows, Venezuela and Mexico shrink, and Latin American production remains stuck at 9 million barrels per day where it has been since 1997. China grows production, but Indonesia and Australia shrink, and East Asia+Australia remain stuck at 6.7 million barrels per day since 1996.

    The growth seen in oil production from 1995 where we finally breached the 1978 peak, to 2004 occured from Angola and Canada (1M BPD each)and restoration of lost production in Iraq and the ex-USSR (2M BPD and 4M BPD), and increases in Kuwait, the UAE, Iran, and Qatar (500K BPD each). Every other region of the world was static, with every success story balanced off by a field in decline. This also occurred against a backdrop of very low prices over much of the period.

    Now with sustained high prices, no extra supply is coming forth in net. That is the key warning sign of what is going on, as it is the classic behavior of a valuable commodity with few substitutes in the face of heavy demand and constrained supply – the market response is that the price goes up very high to balance demand with supply, as the high price fails to call forth any additional supply and so all the balancing is done by demand destruction by pricing marginal users completely out of the market.

    Demand is crying out for the equivalent of a new North Sea field or a new US in terms of production – 5-6 million barrels per day, but there is nothing there other than some nice discoveries covering up some troubling declines.

  22. metrosucks

    I think your metaphor is too simple and clear, Frank. Dan only understands sophisticated code words that are generally used to bamboozle his audience at planning meets. Stuff like “livability”, “transitioning to a carbon-free economy”, “managing congestion”, and so forth.

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