Monday, August 25, 2008

And We Should Take the Time to Do the Work Rather Than Developing Quickly

Richard Lawson seems to be discouraging us from even considering mass transit solutions in connection to May Town Center:
While opponents to May Town Center worry about the risk of development to taxpayers, public transit clearly would require taxpayers to dole out some cash .... Then there are the developers. You might be able to convince some of them to pay for a bridge, but good luck getting them to pony up for public rail.
But Lawson draws a faulty connection between the costs of sewer, water, and other utility infracture (which would benefit smaller numbers of people in the immediate location) and light rail systems (which would benefit a wider range of Nashvillians).

Developers are probably only willing to pay for bridges, because they are short-term solutions compared to mass transit systems which have long-term impact: they both take pressure off the environment and make all of those jobs MTC is supposed to create more accessible to prospective employees.  The short-term interests of developers are not sufficient reasons in and of themselves for Nashvillians to support MTC without accommodations made in light rail and greener technologies.

Lawson also calls mass transit initiatives the "cart" before the auto culture's "horse." A more apt metaphor for the internal-combustion-oriented MTC development would be the "horse and buggy," as in "high energy prices and deteriorating sustainability are rendering our unfettered car culture as obsolete as the horse and buggy." The idea of expanding mass transit before allowing sprawl in America's last urban farmland is not "cart before horse." It's more like an idea whose time has arrived. Those like Lawson who keep promoting car culture in the name of new urbanism are quickly falling behind the curve.

UPDATE: Richard Lawson comments below that I totally read the opposite meaning of what he intended in his column.


  1. Holy crap. You definitely put one helluva spin on that one. You totally missed the whole damn point. That column absolutely wasn't discouraging anyone from even considering mass transit with MTC. Not sure how much clearer I needed to make that for you. I got emails and comments from people seeing the point. You are the only one so far who didn't. Since missed the point, the point was that if anyone is going to use Portland as a model then use the whole model. Additionally, the cart before the horse was the governments approve and encourage town center developments without consideration of public transit beyond roads and interstate.

    That model however will cost taxpayer dollars and lots of them. There's no way you will get a developer to pay for that infrastructure. Portland did it with local, state and a boatload of federal dollars.

    I'm glad others got it. And one of them is a bus user from Bellevue.

  2. When I first read the piece I pondered the same thing that you say others are, but I was still not sure because you never plainly and simply say that you support an alternative to just building more roads to and across the Bend as part of the MTC concept. But then I read it closely 4 or 5 times more this afternoon and I only felt more uncertain each time I read it. It seems at best unclear and at worst equivocating and obtuse. What I continue to fail to see is why you express such clear support for MTC in some of your writings and such unclear affinity with points made by MTC opponents in other writings

    Here's an example: "such developments — which have been encouraged by various governments in recent years — seem a little like the cart before the horse since roads and interstate are public transportation’s backbone." After I tried to discern the plain meaning of that statement without much success, I interpreted it to mean that roads and interstates need to be built before developments are proposed. Sprawl has historically been the result of more roads and interstates, which undermine even as they support mass transit. It wasn't that I spun it into something it didn't mean, I completely didn't see the meaning you were driving at.

    I also didn't read your statements in a vacuum. I've seen no other indication in your other writings on MTC that mass transit should come before the development. You've made reference to a bridge being built by the developer, which has nothing to do with mass transit, especially when it Metro bus lines are being cut. So, it sounds like to me your reference to building more roads continues to support MTC.

    Of course, I acknowledge the ability of any other reader to draw their own contrasting interpretation.

  3. Just as you said I don't explicitly state that I'm for mass transit, I've never explicitly stated that I was in favor of MTC.

    What I've challenged are the arguments against the development and the fact that none of it seems to be leading to a larger discussion. The bottom line to it is that people who don't want the project simply won't say that they don't want it period, end of story, nothing the developer or the city is going to say can change anything. That is more intellectually honest. Instead, opponents throw up a bunch of contradictory arguments against the proposal and they are less than constructive.

    And the reference to roads didn't mean building more roads. Cart before the horse was that the town center development has been encourage with the only backbone being roads and interstates instead of alternative mass transit.

    Once again, the point about the bridge was that you can get a developer to pay for that but to do rail that would require taxpayer support. In the context of hose the discussion is going, nothing can be done anywhere that risks taxpayer dollars. Growth at no direct or indirect cost to the taxpayer.

    You can't get past your own bias even to interpret it.