To dedicate or not to dedicate

19 04 2011

In our last blog posting the following sentiment was relayed: “…in proper locales like Congress, streetcars sharing lanes would reactivate the streetscape.”

That incited this expected reply from Mike Dahmus: “Nonsense. What it’ll do is prevent any more people from GETTING downtown, which will mean our level of activated streetscape will be stuck at its current, fairly low, ceiling. Please don’t fall for the Condonite slower-is-better theories – they work ONLY in cities where huge employment centers exist in the core that cannot go anywhere else. Even here in Austin that’s not true – the university and the capitol aren’t going to a suburban office park, but a lot of state workers could (already do in some cases), and most of the private sector employers could as well.”

We here at The Placemaking Institute very much anticipated these remarks and, although we’re not going to argue with you, Mike, we’re not gonna agree with you either. Here’s why: You’re position is quite honorably predicated solely on solving congestion while ours embraces the fact that one hallmark of a successful city is congestion; the more successful a city becomes, the more congested it will be. And, thus, congestion can never be solved but only managed.
In other words, those who try solving congestion are being Utopian which, when broken down phonetically in Greek means “no place,” something ultimately unachievable – leaving one jousting with windmills and/or borrowing Thomas More’s horsehair shirt for daily martyr usage. Because here in the real world “condoites” (or, as Faulkner called them, “cubic euphemists”) have been among some of the main players behind both keeping the rail discussion in general going over these past several years as well as the current “urban rail”/streetcar proposal being discussed. An argument can be made that, without their efforts, it wouldn’t even be on the table right now.
As all of us should know by now streetcars do virtually nothing in the short-term to mitigate congestion; rather, more than half of the reasoning behind implementing streetcars is to spur economic development via increasing density along targeted transportation corridors. If implemented successfully, this will help expedite a much needed generational shift that will better manage congestion in the long-term. With that said, the City should work with the cubic euphemists in order to come up with some sort of TIF program ASAP, which would go a long way towards having rail pay for itself, making it much easier to implement additional phases.
But the fact of the matter remains that anybody’s argument regarding any of this may be moot: because that Red Line albatross plus the general sociopolitical tone of this country in no way bodes well for the 2012 bond’s passage.



One response

19 04 2011

No, you misunderstood the argument completely. I agree cars will fill up whatever space we allocate to them. But if the transit alternative is stuck in the same traffic as the cars are, it will, by obvious objective fact, perform N% worse on speed and reliability – and will, thus, be quite a bit less effective at attracting riders than it would otherwise be.

In a city where employers cannot feasibly pick up and move outside the core, this is not an issue (or not as much of one). But this is not that city; and this will never be that city. We are always going to be fighting for employment density against the 183 and 360 corridors and other ghastly sprawl strips.

And I said “CondoNites” – i.e. Patrick Condon. It’s THAT position which is the most utopian – arguing we can convince people that being slow and stuck in traffic with no better options is good for them.

Finally, ALL of the development-promoting activities supposedly generated by slow, stuck-in-traffic streetcars, are actually produced even MORE by good light rail (in reserved guideway) all over the country. And one could argue Austin doesn’t need any more density promotion on any close-in corridor; the market is already demanding it – it’s neighborhood associations in the way, not the lack of a streetcar or light-rail vehicle.

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