Berkeley CSUA MOTD:Entry 52955
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2017/11/23 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
11/23   

2009/5/6-9 [Transportation/Car, Transportation/Car/RoadHogs] UID:52955 Activity:nil
5/6     http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=a_tale_of_two_exurbs
        \_ Nice article.  -tom
        \_ Starts slow but the comparison between the two towns is nice.
           Nothing new, but re-affirming. -op
2017/11/23 [General] UID:1000 Activity:popular
11/23   

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www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=a_tale_of_two_exurbs
A Tale of Two Exurbs Most outer-ring suburbs are being developed into unwalkable sprawl. Ben Adler | April 27, 2009 Leesburg, Virginia, is the archetypal American exurb. Named after an ancestor of Robert E Lee, it is the seat of Loudoun County, 35 miles northwest of Washington, DC -- the farthest true suburb west of Washington. to its east are highways lined with chain hotels, mega-malls, and the office towers of the defense contractors powering the recent growth in Northern Virginia's economy and population. In 2004, Loudoun was the nation's fastest-growing county, and median home prices were rising by about one-fifth every year. Ask denizens of Leesburg what they love most about the town and they are almost certain to mention the downtown -- a quaint outpost of the antebellum South, with the requisite ancient diner known for its peanut soup. Downtown Leesburg is a small warren of narrow streets laid out at right angles with brick buildings housing shops on the ground floor and offices above. It evokes such devotion because it offers something in very short supply in Northern Virginia and completely absent from the rest of Leesburg: walkability, a mix of uses and, therefore, character. The downtown is surrounded on all sides by an incoherent network of strip malls and subdivisions connected by mostly unwalkable roads. This is not an accident, and it is not just the invisible hand of the market at work. It reflects political decisions to zone residential and commercial space separately, to require that every new house have a parking space but not necessarily a sidewalk, and to build at low densities. In fact, without rezoning, it would be illegal to build the beloved downtown in Leesburg today. Americans use cars for almost 90 percent of their trips -- with some unfortunate results. The decline of walking as part of Americans' daily routine has contributed to the obesity epidemic. The high cost of buying, maintaining, insuring, and gassing up a car for everyone over the age of 16 is a burden on American households. Our oil consumption amounts to an enormous foreign-aid package for Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and the Saudi royal family. Transportation accounts for 32 percent of total carbon-dioxide emissions in the US There is a large unmet demand for walkable urban living. While less than 10 percent of the housing stock is walkable -- meaning that you can safely walk to shopping and mass transit -- in most metropolitan areas, academic research has found that roughly one in three Americans would prefer to live in a walkable urban environment. That is why housing in places such as San Francisco, New York, and Leesburg's neighbor, Washington, DC, is so expensive and has been relatively insulated from the dramatic recent drop in home values. By contrast, the automobile-dependent Washington exurbs and even inner-ring suburbs have seen dramatic drops in housing prices. "The indications seem to be that the bulk of this housing crisis is on the fringe," Leinberger says. "The rule of thumb is that if the average of housing in an area has dropped X, then the walkable urban places closer in have been flat over the last year or two, and the fringe has gone down 2X." But America is still overwhelmingly a nation of drivers. Most communities are simply not designed to allow, much less encourage, any other means of getting around, and mass transit alone will not solve the problem. The way streets and neighborhoods are designed can make walking even short distances impossible. To free Americans from their cars, governments will have to implement a different set of rules on land use, parking, zoning, and other sexy topics -- and not just in the bastions of bike paths where progressive leaders tend to congregate. As Joel Kotkin notes in Next American City, "Since 1950, more than 90 percent of all the growth in US metropolitan areas has been in the suburbs." If the next few decades look anything like recent ones, the suburbs are where most of the new construction will be built. The Washington, DC, region demonstrates how suburban development can be managed -- or mismanaged. Many of the inner-ring 'burbs, such as Arlington, Virginia, and Silver Spring, Maryland, have areas with mixed uses and ample mass-transit links. While their residents generally own cars, many commute to work and even go shopping without them. Farther out, into newer suburbs, transportation without a car becomes increasingly impossible, as giant parking lots and wide roads that lack sidewalks predominate. Regional, state, and even federal transportation policy has created towns like Leesburg throughout the country -- towns that are simply unwalkable. After taking the commuter bus to Leesburg from Washington, DC, I arrived in a massive gravel parking lot. Everyone jumped into a car and drove home, except for one or two bicyclists and a few people waiting to be picked up. For the car-less, these commuter buses are the only way into or out of Leesburg, save for one "reverse commuter" bus that goes to the nearest Metro station, roughly 40 minutes away. No trains stop here, no Greyhound station is in sight, and no buses come on the weekends. The sidewalks are narrow and poorly lit, and cars whiz by without a buffer lane of parked cars to slow them down. Even as Leesburg notionally committed to a more responsible land-use pattern in its 2005 town plan, it continues to zone undeveloped land at low densities. The standard in Leesburg is four units to the acre, although it is sometimes lower -- in contrast with a typical city block, which would have approximately 25 buildings per acre and possibly far more units if they were subdivided into apartments. Yet Leesburg actively discourages developers from building more sensibly. That is because the Town Council fears that dense plans will bring costly infrastructure needs, such as sewers, and that great suburban boogeyman, traffic. In 2007, one developer bought the right to build a mix of town homes and detached houses on an undeveloped property by paying to expand the arterial road that will serve it from two lanes to four. So to build denser in Leesburg, you need to give the town exactly more of what it does not need: wider roads. The roads are already so wide that crossing any one of them is a life-threatening act -- a game of waiting for the right moment to run out into the road when no cars are coming, then stopping midstream and dashing back as gigantic pick-up trucks and sport-utility vehicles emerge from around the bend at alarming rates. The problem of pedestrians attempting to cross these roads in Leesburg is so severe that the town government has taken up the issue. The main strip-mall shopping area -- home to a Wal-Mart and outlet stores -- sits on a six-lane highway bypass with vast distances between pedestrian crossings. People who live directly across the road have been known to run across the street rather than hike to the nearest crosswalk. The town decided to curb this threat to public safety not by making it safer to cross but by putting up a roadside fence. So now people jump over the fence to get to the Wal-Mart across the street. This non-solution is what people want, at least according to Leesburg's mayor, Kristen C Umstattd, a red-haired, bespectacled attorney who has been on the Town Council since 1992. "Making Leesburg denser, while it is something that is promoted by a lot of urban planners, is something that citizens of Leesburg have been very much opposed to," she says. They come here because they don't want to live in a highly dense urban area." It is an article of faith among right-wing ideologues that the growth of the exurbs proves that Americans are a lawn-loving people. As David Brooks writes in his 2002 Weekly Standard essay, "Patio Man and the Sprawl People," people move to cities like Leesburg "for the same reasons people came to America or headed out West. They want to leave behind the dirt and toxins of their former existence. They want to move to some place that seems fresh and new and filled with possibility." Demographers and economists will tell you that main drivers of exurban growth are market pressu...