Tag Archives: Washington DC

A Study on Regional Governments

I’m finally finished with the regional governments project that I’ve been working on for something like six weeks and that has kept me from writing in that time.  In the future I may want to use more accurate measures and publish this, so I’m going to practice by presenting this as scientific research.  So here goes.


I wanted to study the possibility of creating regional governments in the United States for three reasons.  First, because I agree with The Charter of the New Urbanism when it states that “The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.” Also, I feel that the lines that divide government designations in America are arbitrary at best and, in many cases, don’t reflect reality on the ground.

It is interesting to compare government designations in Europe and America.  If you look at a map of Europe, you will notice that none of the boundaries are straight lines.  This is because the boundaries do a much better job of reflecting things like topography and real cultural divides.

The US, on the other hand, was drawn up for ease of division by immigrants who considered it to be essentially uninhabited.  Many counties, particularly in the Midwest, are just boxes laid out along the survey lines created by Jefferson, regardless of the topography on the ground.  There is only one state in the US that doesn’t have a straight line for a boundary, and that is Hawaii.  I don’t believe that this is advantageous.  Take my hometown of Pittsburgh, for example.  Pittsburgh is within the state of Pennsylvania, which it shares with Philadelphia.  This is about all the two cities share.  Their economies, populations, ethnic groups, and cultures are very divergent.  When the two cities are thrown into competition, often for State funds, Pittsburgh, with its lower population and generally higher standard of living, often does not get as much as Philadelphia.  According to Pittsburgh Quarterly, “It is often lamented that the Pennsylvania legislature tilts to the east, favoring Philadelphia over Pittsburgh.”  It would be advantageous to Pittsburgh to not be as closely linked to Philadelphia, which it in reality has little relation to.  At the same time, there are areas in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland that are closer to Pittsburgh than to any major city in their respective states, and would do well to be involved with the politics of that city.  At a lower level, there are people who live just outside of Alleghany County, where Pittsburgh is, so that they don’t have to pay the higher taxes in that county, yet they still use Alleghany County roads and services without paying their fair share.  I believe that, along with state borders, county borders should be amended to reflect the reality on the ground of how central city services are used.

This brings me to my third point: I don’t think, in many parts of the country, that county governments serve a needful purpose in the way that they did in the past.  When the country was made up of many small, independent towns, counties worked to unite them in common purpose.  Now, in our metropolitan world, counties are often used as tax havens or otherwise don’t serve their original purpose.  Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts have done away with their county governments, streamlining political processes and ironically creating “small government” in some of the most liberal states in the Union.

But how does one define a region?  For an answer, I turned to Christopher Alexander, as I often do, who, in A Pattern Language, encourages us to, “Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries.”  With that in mind, I began my research.


I relied heavily on Wikipedia and Google for this research, which is why it isn’t publishable in its current state.  To begin, I set benchmarks for regions.  I wanted to make three maps to visualize regions of different sizes, so I decided that, so as to be in line with Alexander’s requirements, I would have one map with a minimum population of 2 million per region, another map with a minimum of 5 million per region, and a third with a minimum of 8 million.  Then I got a list of cities in the US with a population of over 100,000.

I went through every county in the country and measured the distance from the county seat to the nearest city of over 100,000, marking them on a map with a different color to designate different cities.  I used Google Maps’ walking distance feature because I felt that it would do a better job of reflecting topography than simple as-the-crow-flies measurement, while at the same time being more accurate than the car distances since cars are expected to travel on highways over large distances, which may be faster but not as direct.  Also, I wanted to measure it as if some sort of catastrophe happened and people were unable to use cars, thus being forced to walk.

After finding out which counties were closest to what cities, I counted up the population of the counties that were marked for a given city based on the most recent data on Wikipedia.  Some of this information was as recent as 2009 estimates, while some was as old as the 2000 census.  Hopefully when the new census comes out I can redo this project with better results.  If the population of the area was below the population benchmark that I had set, then the city was removed from the list and the counties were remeasured and marked for the next closest city.  I then mapped them out on large national maps.


This work generated three maps with corresponding lists of cities and the populations of the regions based on these cities.

This first map is based on regions with a minimum population of 2 million, with the following cities anchoring the regions and their given regional populations, from highest to lowest population of the central city:

  1. New York City, NY (10,861,700)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (11.624,092)
  3. Chicago, IL (7,312,584)
  4. Houston, TX (5,807,864)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (6,662,822)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (7,398,857)
  7. San Antonio, TX (3,836,400)
  8. San Diego, CA (3,322,432)
  9. Dallas, TX (3,742,720)
  10. San Jose, CA (3,329,396)
  11. Detroit, MI (2,384,057)
  12. San Francisco, CA (4,318,813)
  13. Jacksonville, FL (3,040,268)
  14. Indianapolis, IN (3,652,091)
  15. Austin, TX (2,079,499)
  16. Columbus, OH (3,736,506)
  17. Fort Worth, TX (3,586,057)
  18. Charlotte, NC (3,878,660)
  19. Memphis, TN (2,502,573)
  20. Boston, MA (6,831,829)
  21. Baltimore, MD (4,243,534)
  22. El Paso, TX (2,874,140)
  23. Seattle, WA (7,070,662) (This includes both Alaska and Hawaii, as will be explained below)
  24. Denver, CO (5,896,137)
  25. Nashville, TN (2,909,035)
  26. Milwaukee, WI (3,184,691)
  27. Washington, DC (3,031,043)
  28. Louisville, KY (2,949,715)
  29. Portland, OR (4,607,152)
  30. Oklahoma City, OK (2,542,568)
  31. Atlanta, GA (6,151,488)
  32. Kansas City, MO (3,814,650)
  33. Fresno, CA (3,032,183)
  34. Sacramento, CA (5,691,903)
  35. Omaha, NE (2,506,874)
  36. Miami, FL (2,785,746)
  37. Cleveland, OH (2,249,989)
  38. Raleigh, NC (2,252,861)
  39. Tulsa, OK (2,843,868)
  40. Minneapolis, MN (4,490,267)
  41. St. Louis, MO (5,069,109)
  42. Tampa, FL (5,049,680)
  43. Santa Ana (Orange County), CA (3,121,251)
  44. New Orleans, LA (2,534,949)
  45. Cincinnati, OH (3,472,024)
  46. Pittsburgh, PA (4,470,907)
  47. Riverside, CA (2,088,322)
  48. Toledo, OH (2,019,458)
  49. St. Paul, MN (2,573,057)
  50. Buffalo, NY (2,782,734)
  51. Greensboro, NC (2,678,241)
  52. Madison, WI (2,070,908)
  53. Orlando, FL (3,625,795)
  54. Birmingham, AL (2,896,134)
  55. Baton Rouge, LA (2,841,516)
  56. Arlington, VA (2,615,764)
  57. Akron, OH (2,307,186)
  58. Montgomery, AL (3,057,149)
  59. Richmond, VA (3,725,124)
  60. Shreveport, LA (2,146,547)
  61. Des Moines, IA (2,092,903)
  62. Augusta, GA (3,286,871)
  63. Grand Rapids, MI (2,311,561)
  64. Little Rock, AR (2,377,037)
  65. Knoxville, TN (3,215,185)
  66. Fort Lauderdale, FL (3,511,282)
  67. Salt Lake City, UT (4,773,812)
  68. San Bernardino, CA (3,454,754)
  69. Fayetteville, NC (2,047,029)
  70. Aurora, IL (3,986,086)
  71. Springfield, MA (3,183,813)
  72. Paterson, NJ (2,285,085)
  73. Syracuse, NY (2,641,398)
  74. Bridgeport, CT (3,876,777)
  75. Warren, MI (2,393,541)
  76. Elizabeth, NJ (4,235,727)
  77. Lansing, MI (2,543,980)
  78. Manchester, NH (3,289,238)
  79. Allentown, PA (2,559,796)

This second map shows regions with a minimum population of 5 million.  They are listed below in the same manner that they were previously.

  1. New York City, NY (15,100,008)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (12,213,121)
  4. Houston, TX (6,568,198)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,490,543)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (10,845,050)
  7. San Antonio, TX (5,398,906)
  8. Dallas, TX (5,916,711)
  9. San Jose, CA (9,241,701)
  10. Detroit, MI (8,757,618)
  11. Indianapolis, IN (7,153,419)
  12. Columbus, OH (7,066,082)
  13. Fort Worth, TX (6,422,682)
  14. Charlotte, NC (9,064,119)
  15. Memphis, TN (5,335,220)
  16. Boston, MA (9,275,561)
  17. Seattle, WA (8,755,217)
  18. Denver, CO (10,039,895)
  19. Nashville, TN (5,631,919)
  20. Milwaukee, WI (6,167,922)
  21. Washington, DC (11,269,595)
  22. Portland, OR (5,263,530)
  23. Atlanta, GA (11,943,974)
  24. Kansas City (9,015,985)
  25. Sacramento, CA (6,370,171)
  26. Miami, FL (6,297,028)
  27. Cleveland, OH (6,605,216)
  28. Raleigh, NC (6,911,460)
  29. Minneapolis, MN (8,704,527)
  30. St. Louis, MO (5,438,438)
  31. Tampa, FL (11,235,143)
  32. New Orleans, LA (6,317,469)
  33. Pittsburgh, PA (5,274,967)
  34. Riverside, CA (9,002,191)
  35. Springfield, MA (5,943,610)
  36. Paterson, NJ (6,595,744)

This final map is for regions with a minimum population of 8 million, based on the following cities.

  1. New York City, NY (24,002,264)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (17,521,680)
  4. Houston, TX (14,995,203)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,493,518)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (11,376,896)
  7. Dallas, TX (12,594,912)
  8. San Jose, CA (15,669,851)
  9. Detroit, MI (10,047,016)
  10. Indianapolis, IN (14,442,659)
  11. Charlotte, NC (14,787,271)
  12. Memphis, TN (9,796,539)
  13. Boston, MA (12,318,503)
  14. Seattle, WA (13,493,324)
  15. Denver, CO (10,100,944)
  16. Washington, DC (13,875,208)
  17. Atlanta, GA (15,249,097)
  18. Kansas City, MO (10,585,310)
  19. Cleveland, OH (14,161,269)
  20. Minneapolis, MN (9,192,555)
  21. Tampa, FL (17,532,171)
  22. Riverside, CA (9,044,828)


There are a number of inferences that can be made from these findings.  The first that I would like to discuss is that, despite using county data, there are still a lot of straight line boundaries.  This is going to be the case as long as counties have boundaries as arbitrary as states.  A more thorough and accurate analysis would include a municipality-by-municipality, rather than county-by-county, analysis, but that would take more time than I am willing to put into this project at this juncture.  The arbitrary straight lines on the map can lead to some unusual results.  For instance, Grand Junction, CO, the county seat of Mesa County, is closer to Salt Lake City and to Denver on the first map, while most of the rest of the counties on the border follow the state line, leaving Mesa County jutting awkwardly into Denver’s region.

Another odd effect is what happens when water transportation is a factor.  Google’s walking directions take regular ferry service into account, so areas such as San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Lake Michigan and Massachusetts Bay have many more connections than areas such as Chesapeake Bay.  While in all reality the residents of Northampton County, VA may be more willing to ride a boat to Virginia Beach than to walk to Philadelphia, this isn’t taken into consideration here.  Rivers with infrequent bridges, or at least bridges lacking in pedestrian walkways, also pose a problem.  There are many counties in Arkansas, for instance, that are much closer to Memphis, TN than to Little Rock; however, the lack of bridges and regular ferry service across the Mississippi River made it so that the Google analysis gave many more areas to Little Rock.  Also, Google’s directions from Honolulu to the Mainland included “Kayak across the Pacific Ocean,” and no matter where you wanted the final destination to be, it went through Seattle, thus making Hawaii, as far as this discussion goes, a part of Seattle.

Another issue is the methodology used in selecting which cities would anchor areas.  After having attempted this analysis before with a top-down approach and being unsuccessful, I tried a bottom-up approach, starting with the smallest cities on my list and moving up.  This creates some situations that are somewhat awkward; for instance, Newark, NJ is much more of a population center than either Elizabeth of Paterson, NJ, yet it didn’t make the cut.  Tampa, FL, is another example; it is more likely that Jacksonville and Miami would split the state, rather than Tampa eliminating both of them.  I may in the future consider another top-down approach to see how the results differ.

There is also the fact that this search was limited to cities in the US.  If we were to do a more complete analysis, we would include neighboring countries and, time permitting, the whole world.  There are certainly cities in Alaska, for instance, that are much closer to Vancouver and even Victoria than they are to Seattle.  However, for the purposes of this study, it made sense to limit the scope to the United States.

The last problem with the model is the fact that I set minimum benchmarks.  This worked very well for the first map, which only has two regions exceeding Alexander’s limit of 10 million people, and those not by much.  However, when we get to a minimum of 8 million, nearly all of the regions exceed the limit.  It may be better to next time set a maximum number and split regions in two as they exceed that limit.

These weaknesses being established, there are a few recommendations that I would like to make after doing this research.  First of all, all counties should have one county seat.  There are a number of existing counties that have two seats, and even a few counties that have no seat.  Counties with more than one seat should settle on one and move on, while counties with no seat should either establish one or be dissolved.  Second, if counties are to exist, then all cities should lie within one.  I feel that there is a little bit of leeway in here for state capitals, such as Carson City, NV, which are just following the example of our nation’s capital, but most of the 39 independent cities in Virginia, for example, shouldn’t be independent.  Many of these cities are even the seats of the counties that they are not a part of!  Unless a city has the same boundaries as its county, like Miami and Boston, they should not function independently.  Counties should also be contiguous.  There are a few counties in Louisiana and Kentucky where changing river course or other events have cut certain parts of a county off from the rest of it.  These areas should become part of another, adjacent county.

Also, I will again refer to Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: “Decentralize city governments in a way that gives local control to communities of 5,000 to 10,000 persons. As nearly as possible, use natural geographic and historical boundaries to mark these communities. Give each community the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services.”  While there is a lot in there, Alexander does seem to set 5,000 persons as a baseline for a functional community.  With that being understood, I propose that any counties under 5,000 in population be dissolved.  If this were done, the country would have 292 fewer administrative units to deal with.  The interesting thing is that most of these counties that would go away are not in the sparsely-populated regions of the Rocky Mountains, as I had supposed; they are in the Plains States, where counties were created arbitrarily after Jefferson’s survey and without any sort of requirements for a population to support them.  These counties have no reason to be there, and their citizens would be better off being a part of a real, larger community.

With these suggestions being made, there are still many things that we can learn from these maps.  I personally prefer the first map and think that it could be a good basis for establishing regional governments and possibly eliminating county governments, particularly in the East and in California, where the population is the most dense.  To properly follow the borders of these regions, state borders would also have to be amended.  In this process, States which don’t have significant population centers would be eliminated, including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The second map, with the much fewer and larger regions, might not be as good for establishing regional governments, but may be more useful for realigning state boundaries to better reflect reality.  If this were the plan, then county governments would probably still be needed, but only if they conform to the requirements stated above.  The last map, with the fewest and very largest areas, might not function either as regions or states, but may be one example of how the country might be equitably divided if it were to break up into small countries.  It is interesting to compare this map to others of how the US could potentially break up, as seen here.

Finally, it should be remembered that mere numbers are not what links people to a city or a region.  Few people would ever say that San Jose is the heart of the Bay Area, despite it being considerably bigger than San Francisco.  The only way you would really be able to truly find a dividing line between New York and Boston would be to go door to door through Connecticut and ask people if they are Yankees or Redsox fans.  The only true way to establish a regional identity is through years of tradition and cultural association with an area.  In the words of Lewis Mumford from his epic The City in History, “Contrary to the convictions of census statisticians, it is art, culture, and political purpose, not numbers, that define a city.”

Will Tysons halfway plan bolster or doom the future city?

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us this story on the future of Tysons Corner.  Tysons is in many ways the poster-boy for post-war American suburbia.  Even PBS has noted it’s car-dependent, highway-oriented state.  Pedestrians in Tysons are taking their lives into their hands.  The city is made up of single-use office towers, strip shopping centers, tract housing, and parking, parking, parking.  Fortunately, Tysons’ local leaders are aware of the changing market conditions pointing toward mixed use development, and they are trying to fix their city.  Fairfax County has produced Transforming Tysons, a document that is still being revised that will guide more pedestrian-scaled development, focused on Tysons’ four Metro stops and tapering down to the surrounding low-density development.

Traffic engineers don’t believe that the plan will work, and are advocating expanded freeway facilities.  But Washington has ample examples, the District in particular, of how wrong traffic engineers could be.  According to their models, DC couldn’t be built today.  This and other debate has encouraged Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn to propose that 3/4 of the proposed density be built in the next 20 years instead of building 100% in the next 40 years, as well as eliminating density maximums in favor of having the Board of Supervisors analyze every proposal in turn.  The Sierra Club endorsed Alcorn’s plan, hoping that the shorter time frame will encourage that the necessary transit upgrades to the periphery of the city are built.  The Audubon Society, on the other hand, wants the complete plan.  Stella Koch of Audubon said, “This plan must be implemented as a whole or it falls apart. Without the internal grid of streets, transportation inside of Tysons does not work. Without an integrated network of sidewalks and paths, and inviting shops and storefronts, people do not want to walk to destinations. The Tysons Vision must be implemented as a whole.”

Also agitating the process are landowners in the non-transit-oriented areas.  Many have been waiting on the plan to be finished, and some people are worried that these land owners may just up and build a strip mall instead of waiting for pedestrian-friendly guidelines.  If Alcorn’s plan is implemented, it could hurt the county’s ability to pay for necessary amenities, such as the improved street grid, storm water system, transit, and streetscapes.  The plan also opens up the possibility of the plan being compromised a little bit more for every project.  By doing it all at once, it’s easier for elected officials to do what is right for the largest number and not be swayed by NIMBYs.  Tysons should work to avoid the evenly spread, low density development of nearby failures such as Gaithersburg‘s Science City.  This type of development is hard because instead of trying to build a city from green fields like Washington was, Tysons is trying to build it out of an existing framework of suburban sprawl.  Development happens fast today, and if the leaders of Tysons don’t get this plan figured out quick, they may have a few thousand more acres of strip malls to deal with.

Are banks a roadblock to walkable development?

Derek P. Jensen brings us this article on the only thing holding up transit-oriented and New Urbanist development in Salt Lake City: banks.  One of the biggest issues with banks is that their lending practices stress an abundance of parking, while one of the main purposes of these types of development is to reduce parking and encourage other modes of transportation.  Salt Lake City is having a hard time getting financing for the gateway district, which is expected to host a new TRAX light rail line and become a vibrant, walkable, 24-hour community, despite a number of local success stories in TOD.  Council Chairman Carlton Christensen explained that, even in the transit haven of Portland, early investors “had to have their hands held,” and the Council has the responsibility to educate investors.  Local builders agree; even after a tour of Portland and a conversion to the value of mixed-use development, they say they still have trouble finding financing.  Michael Morris of Zions Bank says that banks would be willing to be flexible if long-term investors were comfortable with less parking, but he doesn’t see that happening. “I don’t know if public transportation or fuel efficiency or the green movement is going to change that in the near term,” he says.  Apparently he’s never been to San Francisco, Portland or Washington, DC, or heard of Vauban, Germany or other communities making a lot of money off of green transportation and TOD.  Some people think that Salt Lake City is still a car culture city, but TRAX is already changing that, and as it expands, so will TOD.  Bruce Bingham, whose company is nearing completion of an office tower near the Gallivan Plaza TRAX station, deliberately scaled back the parking at his project because he knows that TRAX will  bring in workers without bringing in cars. “So far, it’s proven out that the TRAX stop is going to compensate for a lack of excess parking,” he says.  “The same conditions would exist for any transit-oriented development near a TRAX stop.”  He also says that developers shouldn’t worry about a lack of parking downtown. “The myth that there is a lack of parking in Salt Lake is just that: a myth.”  I hope that the continued success of TOD in Salt Lake City and elsewhere will soon convince lenders that these projects are worth their money.

The Power of Transit-Oriented Development

Ryan Avent of Streetsblog brings us this story on the history of transit-oriented development in Arlington, VA.  Back in the 70’s, when DC was building its Metro system, Arlington was bounded by a floundering DC on the East and a flourishing suburban Fairfax County on the West.  Despite this, Arlington decided to focus growth on infill around the new Metro stations.  It has paid off.  Arlington has expereinced a 10% growth in population this decade, all infill.  Traffic, on the other hand, is about the same as it was in 1975.  Most amazing is the fact that “1,000 units of urban-format TOD housing generates fewer auto trips per day than a single suburban-format McDonalds or 7-11. You can build 1,000,000 square feet of residential TOD and generate less congestion than 2,000 square feet of auto-oriented retail.”  Having exhausted their existing train stops, Arlington is extending their transit opportunities to include a new streetcar.  Fairfax is actually trying to make the change from suburban to urban development.  They have been trying to focus development near the stations that they had built far from population centers and had turned into park and rides.  They will also be extending the Metro out to Tyson’s Corner.  It’s great to see that history has proven TOD to be a sound development pattern.

Gaithersbungle, part 6: What else $3.8 billion could buy, more specifically

In the latest of his Gaithersbungle series on Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert gets more specific about his previously mentioned better ways to spend the $3.8 billion that is planning on being spent to widen a stretch of I-270 to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  As part of his story, Alpert produced this map:

And here are his specs on what the map represents:

  • Extension of the Red Line to Germantown. The Red Line would use the I-370 and I-270 right-of-way from Shady Grove to Germantown, then end in an underground station at Germantown Town Center.
  • All-day, bidirectional MARC service to Frederick. A new station near White Flint, to serve the planned, dense, transit-oriented development in that area. And through-routing of MARC trains down at least to King Street.
  • A MARC extension to Hagerstown, using an old and abandoned right-of-way.
  • The Corridor Cities Transitway, using the less circuitous original alignment and an extension to Clarksburg Town Center. With the Red Line, riders from north of Germantown wouldn’t have to ride all the way through the office parks west of Gaithersburg to get to Rockville, Bethesda or DC.
  • A streetcar along Route 355 (Rockville Pike/Hungerford Dr/Frederick Rd) from the White Flint Mall to Gaithersburg. It would stop at the various Metro stations, Montgomery College, Gaithersburg MARC, and Lakeforest Mall before turning west to a new Red Line station and Metropolitan Grove MARC, where it would connect to the CCT.

Something like this would be a wonder to see.  It would show that Maryland, in many ways a very progressive and transit-supportive state, is making a statement about car dependence that would support some of the measures it has taken to face climate change and save sensitive areas like Chesapeake Bay.  It would allow for proper development in these areas while still focusing energy on DC.  I think the proposal that Alpert and friends have created is far superior.

Gaithersbungle, part 3: What else can you get for $3.8 billion?

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us another great articleMontgomery County, outside of Washington, DC, recently spent $3.8 billion to widen a stretch of I-270, which of course will have the effect of sending sprawl even further into undeveloped countryside.  Alpert asks, what else could you do with $3.8 billion?  First, he proposes improving MARC transit facilities in the area to be the quality of DC’s Metro stations.  This could be done for considerably less than the asking price, even after realigning the CSX tracks to provide better commuter rail service.  You could also build a whole new line out to Frederick, on the fringe of the DC Metro Area.  He lists a number of transit projects which, though their cost was only in the millions, were rejected for being too expensive (more evidence that people’s priorities are out of line; they don’t care about creating transit choices, just about satiating the car).  Even the Washington Post, a “chearleader” for this and similar projects, has admitted that this will not reduce congestion, but will simply ecourage more far-flung suburban development.  I think it is a good idea to do things like this, not just in blogs and other news media, but to our elected officials, so they know how much they are spending on bad projects and how they could better allocate funds.

Rapid bus for CCT, say planners

Sebastian Montes brings us this article on plans for a rapid bus route through various Montgomery County communities to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  The line would run from the Shady Grove Metro station through Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg.  The main reasons a bus option was licked over a rail one was because it is flexible, meaning it is easier to abandon if money or politics become unfavorable, and because it’s cheaper than rail.  A number of groups are opposed to the bus decision for a variety of reasons, and I would have to agree with them.  Especially in the DC area where people have gotten so used to having good rail service, fewer people are going to take a bus, no matter how fast, efficient, or cheap.  Bus ridership usually falls short of predictions, whereas rail often exceeds them.  Bus transit rarely fosters TOD, whereas rail is almost a requirement for it.

Americans, especially suburbanites, are not going to ride buses.  Unless an area is already experienced with and used to bus riding, the people will see a bus, no matter how new, as dirty, inefficient, and predominately aimed at poor people.  Trains, whether because they are well-accepted overseas, because the few examples we have are so good, or because they’re just tech-sexy, almost always fair better than buses.  Unless you find a way to use articulated buses or other technologies that share that same tech-sexyness, the bus system will fall short on ridership and won’t encourage TOD.  It is better to spend the extra money upfront and get the good ridership and development than to save money money now and get no return in the future.

“Priority bus” a valuable part of the transit mix when done right

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us another great story on the DC area‘s new “priority buses.”  What is a priority bus, you might ask?  Well, the answer is, it means different things to different people, ranging from a limited stop bus to one with a whole different branding system.  The important thing is, it can’t replace rail transit.  He sites some interesting numbers that show that, while buses fall short of expected ridership, trains often exceed it (someone should do a study as to why this is the case: is it because trains are faster, cleaner, have a greater capacity, or because they’re just tech-sexy?).  He also makes a good point that good transit systems have a mix of neighborhood buses, express or limited stop buses, and light rail.  He gives a variety of recommendations that could allow the priority buses to fill a gap in the current transit network.  Another really great point of his is the difference between the Orange Line in Arlington and Fairfax.  Arlignton tunneled the train, which is expensive, and used it to create a TOD.  Fairfax put it through the median of I-66, and it’s just a train.  He warns that a system of priority buses that simply linked park and ride lots to downtown would have a similar effect, or lack thereof.  Even though buses lack the power of rail to create TOD, they still have the ability to spur some level of commercial development, but if they are only on freeways, that can’t happen.  Some area municipalities have their ducks in a row; others, not so much.  Hopefully they will use priority buses the right way.

Alexandria weighing Metro station alternatives

Dave Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us this report on the future of transit in Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington, DC.  The city has a variety of locations that it is considering for a Metro station:

Alternatives A and B are cheap to build, but have less development potential.  Alternative C has the greatest development potential, but costs three times what A or B would.  Alternative D is sort of a trade-off.  The city put together a PowerPoint listing some of the pros and cons that you can get here.  If you live in the area, contact the City of Alexandria and let them know what you think.

Making Silver Spring safe for kids and adults

Casey Anderson wrote this article for Greater Greater Washington.  He discusses the renewing of Silver Spring‘s central business district, which has been a site of redevelopment and has been successful, but they have brought in a disproportionate number of teens that often make older folks with families feel uncomfortable.  One of the challenges of good redevelopment is inviting everyone into the city, not just the twenty-somethings with no kids.  Of course we need to fix inner-city schools, which John Norquist did a great job of in Milwaukee, to really attract families, but a better mix of businesses is a good start as well.