Matt Yglesias linked to this Streetsblog interview with John Norquist (this is a great one, read the whole thing if you can) about efforts on the Federal level to improve road planning. Both pieces are very interesting, Norquist knows what good roads are and Matt Yglesias understands what good policy is. They also both include this graphic, from here.
It’s clear that in the first image, you can’t cheaply build effective bus service for all residents of the culs-de-sac: no one bus stop can serve all culs-de-sac, and if you build many bus stops, the service slows and the bus becomes a poor alternative to driving. What may not be as obvious at first glance is the hidden costs of the roads pictured in the for image for local governments. Those culs-de-sac roads go no where, and therefore dump all drivers and pedestrians onto major arterials. Short trips like the one above can no longer be easily made on foot, and then even more cars are pushed onto the arterials. Those arterials become more congested and require more maintenance, more traffic mitigation infrastructure and the occasional widening project. Other hidden costs are the problems ambulances would have getting out of the culs-de-sac, and the costs of salting and paving these semi-private roads.So that second image is better not just for pedestrians, it’s also better for cars and much better for taxpayers.
Yglesias rightly points out that the place to make changes in the rules that allow for the creation of these “bad” roads is in the state or local level. Well, Virginia has made a huge move here, stating that it will only provide maintenance services for roads in new sub-divisions that meet new guidelines for narrower roads and more connections to the larger road grid. For the state of Virginia, it has become too expensive to continue widening and the maintaining the major arterials and has developed a “connectivity index” framework for judging whether a new development will get maintenance help from the state or not. Virginia will not only refuse to fix pot holes on new roads that don’t fit within their system, they will refuse to plow those roads for snow. The Greater Great Washington post linked to has details on the specifics.
Personally, I’d be happy if no new exurban developments whatsoever were started in Washington State, but I know that’s not realistic. We need to find a similar street-design framework for Washington State that encourages or requires new subdivision developers to build roads that connect commuters and are accessible by bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as cars. Of course NIMBYs and developers will complain, but that’s their job, and we’ve done it their way long enough. If a relatively conservative state such as Virginia can pass legislation like this, we can do it in Washington, too. It wont be easy, considering that even the Democratic leadership in Olympia is beholden to the irrational subdivision developer group the BIAW, but with the state look at an ever widening deficit, the time may be right to pass progressive transportation legislation that saves the taxpayers, and their local governments, money.