We're now at the end of June, the part of Minnesota's summer where I ask myself why I don't own a boat (or live on a lake, although there i$ a very good rea$on why I don't live on a lake). I know it is not hot here by anyone else's standard but ours, but for Minnesotans, it feels hot. And while our house not only lacks air conditioning (by choice), it is in the woods and this is about the time when the mosquitoes reach unbearable levels, making our front porch uninhabitable. This is why I have started my annual three week search for a boat, one that ends when the weather turns or the mosquitoes subside. What would my wife say if she came home and this was in the driveway? Yeah, you know what she'd say....

Enjoy the week's news.

Basically, he’s saying that PennDOT sucks and these ramps are just the latest proof of that.

Can the next Democratic administration please please overhaul PennDOT so that it is primarily tasked with maintenance and enhancing transportation infrastructure in and around existing large clusters of development?

  • Also, for those of you that have not listened to the podcast this week (and why is that, really?), here is a video I came across of the PennDOT Secretary of Smart Transportation that, in light of our research and post, is more than a little ironic. I realize the Smart Transportation division of PennDOT is actually trying, but come on.... Is this just cheap rhetoric?

  • A little closer to home, the Minnesota DOT has finished their draft of the Statewide MultiModel Transportation plan. I've been asked to comment (not a huge honor -- I'm sure they would accept comments from anyone) and so have printed out a copy to read. If you have any thoughts, pass them along.
  • And this out of Europe, which of course has no application to the United States: Induced demand is real and is not factored into cost/benefit analyses. For those of you not familiar with the concept of induced demand, it is essentially the foundation of our system of growth. If you build it, they will come, the self-fulfilling prophecy of traffic projections. If you've ever driven one place over another because it was a quick drive, you are induced demand.

Although the phenomenon of induced traffic has been theorized for more than 60 years and is now widely accepted among transport researchers, the traffic-generating effects of road capacity expansion are still often neglected in transport modelling. Such omission can lead to serious bias in the assessments of environmental impacts as well as the economic viability of proposed road projects, especially in situations where there is a latent demand for more road capacity.

  • Unfortunately, nobody in my twin hometown of Baxter, MN, has a clue about the idea of induced demand. We just keep building more and more and more roads. Everyone is driving around more --- you know, "demand" --  although I'm sure a new Costco and Olive Garden won't mean just locals switching from Walmart and Applebees but all kinds of new growth.

Baxter recently received an update to the city’s transportation study looking at traffic changes anticipated with the Costco’s addition. The store is expected to draw customers from a wide area. The transportation study area looked at current traffic patterns from Highway 371 going down to Highland Scenic Drive (also known as County Highway 48) west toward Perch Lake and north to Highway 210. Inside the study area are roads with growing familiarity because of past development with Walmart and current construction — such as Glory Road, Isle Drive, Elder Drive and Forthun Road. In addition to the retail stores in play, Essentia Health’s Baxter Clinic is adding to the mix along with Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s purchase of land nearby with plans to build along Isle Drive in the future.

Currently the average daily traffic (ADT) volume amounts to 47,000 vehicles per day meeting at the intersection of highways 210 and 371 in Baxter. In three to five years, based on construction patterns and expected development, the ADT volume is expected to climb to 55.500. And when the project area around Walmart and Costco reaches what is considered “full build-out” the ADT volume at the 371/210 intersection is expected to be 72,500 vehicles.

  • This week a new initiative called A Better Brainerd was launched in my other twin hometown. Not many details to discuss yet (although if you are from Brainerd and attend Arts in the Park, check out the location for the new reflecting pool), but the entire effort was inspired by Tactical Urbanism. Here's a great interview with the guru of Tactical Urbanism, Mike Lydon, along with this video of our favorite project from Memphis, Broad Avenue.

  • While the fact that core cities are going to grow more quickly than areas on the periphery is self evident to anyone who understands the economics of the suburban experiment (we call it a Ponzi scheme here) it is still interesting to see it showing up in statistics. Note that things aren't usually self evident to economists.

While economists tend to believe the city boom is temporary, that is not stopping many city planning agencies and apartment developers from seeking to boost their appeal to the sizable demographic of 18-to-29-year olds. They make up roughly 1 in 6 Americans, and some sociologists are calling them "generation rent." The planners and developers are betting on young Americans' continued interest in urban living, sensing that some longer-term changes such as decreased reliance on cars may be afoot.

  • In the U.S., our political season is about to get crazier. Elections are a little over four months away and I am still waiting for someone to run as the "rule of law" candidate. I fear I may be waiting still come November. If you want to understand why I think establishing the rule of law is essential to solving our nation's problems, just read this Matt Taibbi article explaining how the big banks conspired to fraud cities and towns across the county. Remember when your local muni financial advisor told you they got three competitive quotes and you were getting a great deal (the same statement I have heard dozens of times at city council meetings)? Well....

The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from "virtually every state, district and territory in the United States," according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What's more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street's secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves' cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about "getting a button man to clip the capo," on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like "pull a nickel out" or "get to the right level" or "you're hanging out there" – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds.

  • To what extent will we go to continue propping up the suburban experiment? How about advertising on everything the city owns or operates? Yes, my friends, this is a sign that the end game is near.

Such marketing schemes have long been used by sports teams and some arts organizations. But now, straphangers in Philadelphia buy fare cards blazoned with ads for McDonald’s and ride the Broad Street Line to AT&T Station (formerly Pattison Station), where the turnstiles bear the company’s familiar blue and white globe.

KFC became a pioneer in this kind of unconventional ad placement earlier in the downturn, when it temporarily plastered its logo on manhole covers and fire hydrants in several cities in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee after paying to fill potholes and replace hydrants.

  • I have to say, this was a great high school prank. Maybe not as good as good as dropping fake snow on the high school band during the Christmas concert (they were unaware this would be occurring, as was the director), but good nonetheless. My hat is off to you, Garfield High.

  • And finally, I love the group Improv Everywhere. If we can't all laugh a little, then why are we here?

Have a great weekend everyone. See you back here on Monday.

 

Strong Towns is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support this blog and our other efforts to build a stronger, more resilient America.