Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Links – higher, faster, more conservative…

June 30, 2009

My Firefox browser is full of open tabs with sites I’ve been meaning to link to over the past few days, but haven’t had the chance – so here goes.

Higher (?) – Last week, there was an interesting back and forth between several DC bloggers over DC’s height limit.  BeyondDC and Ryan Avent had an interesting exchange, followed by Matt Yglesias chiming in, as well as the Tsarchitect citing previous posts about the very same topic – since it seems to pop up (heh heh) every few months or so.

My personal view sort of splits all of those presented.  I think the height limit has served DC well by ensuring that development achieves full coverage – downtown DC is virtually devoid of surface parking lots, something that’s rather uncommon for American cities.   At the same time, it’s not too hard to envision a future where all of DC’s developable lots are taken, making it difficult to both continue to grow AND maintain the character of some great existing rowhouse neighborhoods AND focus development around urban transit hubs.

I think an interesting solution might be to create a designated high rise district within DC, where there is no height limit.  Poplar Point might serve that role well – like London’s Canary Wharf, such an area would be a place to focus taller development, perhaps accompanied by a transfer of development rights programs from the high demand but height-restricted areas in downtown.  Of course, such a plan would necessarily require a much stronger effort in building up transportation infrastructure as well, but I think building heights there on the same scale as Rosslyn would preserve the form of DC’s monumental core, provide an area to grow the tax base, and bring some much needed amenities across the Anacostia.

Faster (?) – Several good reads on high speed rail planning:

I can’t argue with these points – upping the speed of these trains to 110 mph service isn’t really high speed by any definition.  The notion that travel time should be more important than top speed is actually correct, but of course the two concepts are linked very closely together.

At the same time, even the upgrades that allow for 110 mph service – things like grade separation, signalling systems, etc. – will offer tremendous benefits to current rail service and can also be applied to future high speed service.  Those grade separations may not work for true 220 mph TGV-like service, but they could very well take an Acela-like train, operating with a slightly slower top end, but still very fast.

In short, there’s no reason to not pursue both incremental improvements and also the ‘big’ plan.  However, what both of these efforts need is a unifying national strategic plan.

Transportation isn’t conservative or liberal – Two interesting items on the roles of conservatives in planning and funding transportation.  PBS has a long interview with Rep. John Mica (R-FL) on the need for transportation investments:

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: You are a Republican – and you support transportation and infrastructure spending?

REP. MICA: Well, I tell you though, if you’re on the Transportation Committee long enough, even if you’re a fiscal conservative, which I consider myself to be, you quickly see the benefits of transportation investment. Simply, I became a mass transit fan because it’s so much more cost effective than building a highway. Also, it’s good for energy, it’s good for the environment – and that’s why I like it.

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: If anything, you’d say that your time in Congress and on the Transportation Committee has brought you around to these ideas?

REP. MICA: Yes. And, seeing the cost of one person in one car. The cost for construction. The cost for the environment. The cost for energy. You can pretty quickly be convinced that there’s got to be a more cost effective way. It’s going to take a little time, but we have to have good projects, they have to make sense – whether it’s high-speed rail or commuter rail or light rail. We got to have some alternatives helping people – even in the rural areas – to get around.

Good stuff.  Always good to see these kinds of viewpoints from Republicans, as most of these infrastructure decisions really ought to (and have in the past) transcended petty partisan differences.

Mica also raised some great points about the need to reform the process of building infrastructure in the US:

REP. MICA: The second part is speeding up the process. Most projects that the federal government is involved with take an inordinate amount of time for approvals, and they cost much more because there are so many delays and hoops that people have to go through.

I offer what I call the Mica 437-day process plan, which is the number of days it took to replace the bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Rather than the seven or eight years it takes complete any other bridge, which would be the normal time frame.

BLUEPRINT AMERICA: And why did it just take 437-days to complete?

MICA: It was done on an expedited approval basis, which I think you could do with most projects that don’t change the basic footprint of the infrastructure that you’re rebuilding.

I was born and raised in Minneapolis – and was in the city during the immediate aftermath of the I-35W collapse.  When I went back to visit my family for the holidays, it was simply amazing to see the bridge complete and open so quickly.  I’d stress Mica’s point further – we need to reform the process in many ways, but the time delay for using federal funds is a high price to pay.

Along the lines of conservative stances on transportation, Infrastructurist has a nice interview up making the conservative case for public transportation.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that all forms of transportation are heavily subsidized.