Planning and Density: Who’s Forcing Whom?

Today we’re talking development and density. Greater Greater Washington has a post about zoning policies and traffic congestion in Montgomery County, Maryland, where a debate over growth policy that would encourage in-fill development near existing transit is getting heated.

David Alpert’s post asks why planning for "low-traffic growth" is so often seen as coercive, whereas policies that encourage sprawl and car dependency are not:

18464893_57a2ebdbce.jpgPhoto by Dean Terry.

Somehow…the way elected officials, reporters, and
others discuss development has become turned around. Instead of
worrying about policies that force people to live far away, they worry
that accommodating more people near their jobs will worsen congestion.
And when anyone dares to suggest that that ought not be the overriding
public policy consideration, they’re accused of trying to "force people
out of their cars."

If an airline sells more seats on a flight so you can’t get an empty
seat next to you, should we ban that because it’ll "force people out of
their extra elbow room"? When stores have special Thanksgiving sales
that bring a lot of people to the store, do we decide to ban them
because it would "force people out of the aisles"? Do we outlaw special
events like inaugurations because the extra people drinking will "force
people out of their bars?"

Where did we get the idea that people in a neighborhood have
an inalienable right not to share their roads with anyone new, but new
people don’t have a right to live where they want to? Well, we got that
idea because the existing residents vote and the new ones don’t. But
the whole idea is fallacious. The new residents are going to clog up
the roads just the same. Instead of driving from a house near Rockville
to a job in Bethesda, they’ll drive from a house in Clarksburg to a job
in Bethesda, which is worse. Plus, they really have no choice but to
drive, unlike the person living in infill development.

Ryan Avent and Matthew Yglesias address similar issues as they’re playing out in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Better news from the D.C. area comes from The WashCycle, which has a sneak preview of the city’s forthcoming Bikestation.

  • DJB

    It’s a basic choice:

    Suburbia – Very little is within walking or biking distance and transit service is infrequent because of the lack of density. Destinations are spread out, trips are long and almost all of them are by car.

    Cities – Things are within walking and biking distance, better transit service can be supported, and trips are shorter. Significant numbers of people use more than one mode of transportation.

    People don’t behave the same way in cities as they do in suburbs. It’s not that urban people are that different, it’s that they face a different set of conditions that are built into the urban form. Cities make it easier to use a car less, or do without it altogether.

    As far as I’m concerned, building suburbs is like saying “please drive as much as possible”.

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