Contriving Multi-Modal Contrivances

16 12 2009

Confucious says “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest.”

The Placemaking Institute notices it has been duly noted here that “the draft reauthorization of the Federal Surface Transportation Program in the House of Representatives is filled with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often by seeking to encourage compact development (smart growth) policies. Dr. Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation discovered an interesting definition in the House of Representatives’ draft of the federal surface transportation program: ‘sustainable modes of transportation means public transit, walking, and bicycling.'”

And it is also therefore argued that: “This definition …is irrational and the worst kind of ideology… The wording may betray an agenda more concerned with forcing people to accept the favored (and anti-suburban) lifestyles that an urban elite has long sought to impose on others than it is to reduce greenhouse gases…Provisions that pick particular strategies, without regard to their effectiveness, have no place in a crusade so much of the scientific community has characterized in apocalyptic terms. Moreover, such disingenuousness, in the longer run, could whittle away the already apparently declining support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions… It is possible, of course, that this is simply sloppy legislative drafting. But given the persistence of the compact development lobby and its contribution to pending legislation in Washington in the face of respected research demonstrating its scant potential, something else may be operating.” In sum, according to certain sources, The U.S. House of Representatives is outright “contriving sustainability” with this housing and transit program.

But our Most Senior Fellow feels he must broaden this contrivance that’s being contrived in this manner by oh so strenuously contriving his patented: “Bosh! Because in fact this fair country of ours is one great big legislative contrivance! Everything we contrive today results from contrivances; each of us are nothing but contrivances (some much more so than others) and, of course, the auto-centric U.S. housing/transportation system as we know it today did not always exist and was itself contrived. If one mode of contrivance is so great, why can’t another be?”

“In 1949, President Harry Truman convinced Congress to break with the past and inject the federal government into the process of developing cities and financing housing. The 1949 Housing Act expanded the availability of federal insurance for home mortgages, igniting the growth of new suburbs farther and farther from the centers of our cities. Together with federal highway funds that came a few years later, the 1949 law started what we now describe as ‘suburban sprawl.’ The two initiatives put Americans on the path of long commutes, heavy traffic, air pollution, water shortages, and a long-term increase in carbon dioxide emissions.” Or, unlike Truman, is one merely afraid of breaking with the past because he’ll lose some plum sinecure or fulcrum for emotional well-being? (Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”)

Because the whole Federal Housing Act (1949) plus Federal Aid Highway Act (1956) what can only be termed “experimental contrivance” has always been heavily subsidized (contriving schools on the fringe, contriving sewer and water lines to sprawling development, contriving emergency services to the fringe, and contriving direct pay-outs to developers; one case in point) and has only been increasingly unsustainably contrived, especially beginning in the early 1970s (which is when the U.S. production of oil peaked, forcing us to contrive ourselves farther abroad), and now we as a society can no longer afford contriving ourselves like this anymore – Just look at the costs being accrued in Iraq and Afghanistan over our ravening thirst-driven need for contriving our oil supply! One should consider that veritable payment in blood nothing but an American-lifestyle subsidy, no?

The former chairman of the Texas House of Representatives Transportation Committee Mike Krusee himself recently contrived this: “What we found was that no road that we built in Texas paid for itself. None.” And the Texas Transportation Institute contrives this: “If a region’s vehicle-miles of travel were to increase by five percent per year, roadway lane-miles would need to increase by five percent each year to maintain the initial congestion level;” (our) “analysis shows that it would be almost impossible to attempt to maintain a constant congestion level with road construction only. Over the past 2 decades, less than 50 percent of the needed mileage was actually added. This means that it would require at least twice the level of current-day road expansion funding to attempt this road construction strategy. An even larger problem would be to find suitable roads that can be widened, or areas where roads can be added, year after year.”

But let’s please never mind, dear audience, arguing about constructing new roadways; we can’t afford to maintain the already existing roadways. The infrastructure is quite literally falling apart, which means that among other things freight (one main component in the recent spike in freight costs is the increasing need to maintain eighteen wheelers and VMT upticks due to such things as dilapidated bridge closings) will no longer be able to move in its current manner. Nor will people. Furthermore, most of our foodstuffs are imported as are most other goods, and our whole global system of economic growth is predicated upon GDP (Simon Kuznets: “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income” ) and subsidized-so-it-can-be-cheap consumption of energy. The global production of oil has nearly reached its peak point (some illustrious thinking folk well-connected in the biz argue that it already has in Saudi Arabia), which is going to have extreme ramifications, one of the effects obviously being our society becoming much less global and much more local in nature.

Most economists are asserting that this young generation of ours will fare worse than their parents’ generation, the first time that that has happened in American history. (Thomas Jefferson: “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”) And it still amazes this Most Senior Fellow how entrenched plutocrats and their minions have been and are still willing to sacrifice another and yet another generation upon future generations (Henry Kissinger: “90,000 people, well, that’s not that many people in the greater scheme of things.”) even when staring at the End Game of this un-sustainably contrived, heavily subsidized contrivance our society calls “sprawl.” When oil production peaks then subsequently dwindles, our whole economy will also begin doing so as will thus our whole contrived so-called American Dream way of life.

It was nice seeing PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ recent market analysis: “Next-generation projects will orient to infill, urbanizing suburbs, and transit-oriented development. Smaller housing units-close to mass transit, work, and 24-hour amenities – gain favor over large houses on big lots at the suburban edge. People will continue to seek greater convenience and want to reduce energy expenses. Shorter commutes and smaller heating bills make up for higher infill real estate costs;” and Robert “Boom-burb” Lang’s recent observation that “bedroom communities now must rethink their future and become a little less sprawly, a little more village-like with clustered development, denser housing. The irony is that if they want to keep growing, they must grow as cities, which is diametrically opposite of how they got so big in the first place.” But and alas, however, we here at The Placemaking Institute wonder?

Even our starting to do something about rectifying these past mistakes first thing tomorrow may be a case of too little too late, which is a crying shame…It’s a shame, how those towns beyond a fifty mile proximity to Interstates have been allowed to die (i.e. America’s Heartland). It’s a shame, how both our domestic agricultural and industrial capacity has been so extensively desiccated via outsourcing. And it’s a shame, how our intraurban and Interstate Rail System was destroyed, an act that among others General Motors and Standard Oil were convicted for conspiring against the public’s welfare. At this point, arguing ourselves blue in the face about such things as which is better at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a gas-based tax or a VMT-based tax or congestion pricing or free public transit for all? (Malcolm X: “Don’t let the power structure maneuver you into a time-wasting battle with others when you could be involved in something that’s constructive and getting a real job done.”) We are very quickly nearing if not already beyond the point where those arguments amount to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs in order to keep this ship of ours from sinking. Because much sooner rather than later we the people are going to have no choice but more compact development.

And this session of ours shall close today with a quiet echoing of the words Truman used when signing the Federal Housing Act: “We must break from the past…”

… – But as always our Most Senior Fellow must get the last word: “Now. Either that or we should just go ahead and let the government dissolve the people altogether and then appoint another one.”  After ripping off Brecht in this manner, “That is all,” concludes he.



3 responses

16 12 2009

Addendum: Congress finds the following (i):

(1)Since the creation of the Interstate System, American surface transportation has been defined by the use of personal motor vehicles.

(2) The focus on automobiles has afforded Americans increased mobility and interconnectivity; yet has also lead to increased congestion, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and a reduced focus on other modes of surface transportation.

(3) Between 1955 and 2005, vehicle miles traveled in the United States increased fivefold, bringing with it an escalation in traffic congestion.

(4) Each year, Americans spend 4,200,000,000 hours in traffic congestion, burning 16 2,900,000,000 gallons of fuel.

(5) Wasted time and fuel result in a $78,000,000,000 annual congestion tax, creating a financial drain on individual passengers and the economy as a whole.

(6) The transportation sector accounts for 28 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted annually in the United States, with 60 percent of this coming from personal vehicle use.

(7) Transportation costs account for approximately 18 percent of an average household’s expenditures.

(8) Over reliance on automobiles can have adverse impacts on public health, both through lessened physical activity and from increased pollutants.

(9) In order to reduce the financial, environmental, and quality of life impacts of traffic congestion and to create modal choice for all users, our transportation system must include alternate modes of transportation to complement personal vehicle travel, including public transit, walking, and cycling.

(10) Public transit, walking, and cycling are sustainable modes of transportation that result in 5,600,000,000 gallons of fuel savings and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 49,000,000 metric tons each year.

(11) Sustainable modes of transportation can provide affordable transportation choices and have the ability to reduce the transportation cost burden.

(12) Cyclists and pedestrians are intended users of the surface transportation system, except where prohibited by law; and it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage maximum accessibility and safety of the surface transportation system for cyclists and pedestrians as intended users when designing and constructing surface transportation facilities.

(13) In order to provide access to sustainable modes of transportation, land use and planning decisions must include considerations about transportation options.

(14) A modally balanced surface transportation system will benefit all users through improved accessibility, mobility, and quality of life.

(15) Increasing the availability and use of sustainable modes of transportation and the development of livable communities are national priorities.

(i) § 331/Pg. 199-201 of

17 12 2009

Here’s hoping you won’t invoke Malcolm X again, but we have to say that free public transit is far superior to a VMT tax. You have to think about it a while, it is not intuitive. Free transit is a change in direction not a change in speed. Great post, btw.

28 12 2009

Thanks for the comment. By free public transit do you mean gratis free or do you mean that, instead of so heavily subsidizing roadways, we as a society should be heavily subsidizing public transit?

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