This week Chuck Marohn sits down with Edward Erfurt, the Restless Urbanist, to talk about New Urbanism, fiscal conservatives in planning and how we built strong towns.
The Restless Urbanist (64 MB)
Strong Towns Network
The discussion about rail and transit bothers me. Edward talks about how many of these transit projects aren't taking into account the fiscal realities of their construction and operation, and all the while Chuck is nodding and saying "uh huh." Well ok, that's fair I guess, but why wasn't there any comment about all the road and highway projects that get a free pass? That's been one of the main Strong Towns focuses, all these super expensive road and highway projects that completely ignore their own fiscal realities.
I'm getting tired of hearing that transit operations need to be handled like a business with a focus on return on investment and profitability while roads and highways don't. Transit projects must endure huge amounts of scrutiny through all the studies and public participation and political shenanigans they must satisfy, whereas many DOTs are given carte blanche to build as much gold-plated road infrastructure as they can, simply to keep the LoS from going down.
If transit is going to be held to such a high standard of fiscal responsibility, then roads and highways must be as well. This double standard needs to be fixed, and I'm saddened that it didn't come up in the conversation.
Yeah, we didn't talk about roads, streets and STROADs mostly because we have a consensus within the community of people listening to this podcast that these are ridiculous expenditures. I certainly would have pursued that if we were speaking to an audience to which that would be a new concept. I hate to continually cover the same ground, you know?
Thanks Jeffrey. I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.
I understand what you're getting at Chuck, but it leaves the discussion open to misinterpretation. Two or three sentences are all it would take to clarify the Strong Towns stance. That's especially important for a topic like this where you're trying to bring in people and opinions from outside your usual sphere of influence. I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing this podcast with with other conservative types because I'd have to preface it with some caveats, and that never seems to work.
I get where you are coming from Chuck in not wanting to retread old ground. However I tend to agree a bit with Jeffery as well. While we do need a more rigorous analysis of transit costs and benefits, there is such a rabid community of transit haters looking for any numbers or quotes they can pull out of context to kill transit projects, that I do believe prefacing with the fact that road spending in our country is a giant cluster f*#k waste, is helpful for context for fresh audiences that get exposed to things through links but which may not read or listen to prior content.
And about the questioning of the origins of the marketing and nonsense that went into modern traffic engineering brought up late in the conversation, I highly recommend Peter Norton's book Fighting Traffic (he was a CNU20 speaker) if you have not read it yet. I had been searching for answers for sometime as a bike advocate , trying to understand why did the car become such a dominant mode of travel for nearly every trip type here in America, and no other source of information I could find dug as deep and conclusively as Fighting Traffic to tell the story of the early years of American car culture, the upheaval that turned traffic engineers from managing transit service to building new road capacity for the growing number of cars, and the fierce but ultimately failed fight and protests to resist the sweep of change.
Great conversation though, and I love the bit about changing back in parking to front out. Genius move that I must tell my city's planners to take note of as we begin having that debate with some upcoming street redesigns.