Out of Control Policy Blog

Land Use Micromanagement 101

From Fairfax County, VA, a clinic in planning micromanagement:

    Fairfax County planners last night offered a vision for a mini-city at their westernmost Metro station that would begin to transform how people live and commute in Washington's largest suburb.

    In a place where cars and growth have always gone together, the county wants to offer incentives to the residents and workers in the planned MetroWest development at the Vienna station to not even own a car -- let alone drive one.

    From high-priced parking spaces to cash rewards for riding Metro, a consultant laid out a series of carrots and sticks for developer Pulte Homes to reduce by almost half the number of car trips that otherwise would be generated by 13 residential and office towers planned next to the Metro station.

    If the county approves the strategies, Fairfax's controversial experiment with dense, transit-oriented development would become a laboratory for a movement in the fight against sprawl and traffic as well as a blueprint for the county's future of urban-style growth that rises up rather than out.

So far, so good...incentives, rather than mandates, are the no-brainer way to go in trying to influence behavior. Oh wait...they said carrots AND sticks...

    If Pulte cannot reduce the possible car trips generated by the 2,250 townhouses and condominiums, stores and offices planned on 56 acres, the developer could even risk fines, transportation officials said, although any possible penalties are still under negotiation.

    Many critics of MetroWest have focused on the traffic such a project would bring, even though trains will roll by its doorstep. Still, county officials acknowledge that getting people onto trains and buses will require drastic changes in behavior in a suburban car culture.

Duh...ya think?! This is Northern Virginia we're talking about here!

    UrbanTrans, a District-based transportation management firm and the county's consultant, offered several options at a public meeting last night, including showers in offices for bike riders, personalized traffic troubleshooters for residents, handy Zipcars on the site for planned or unplanned errands, cash rewards for employees who show that they are using transit, free Smartcards and even company cars for workers to do errands at lunch.

    The consultant assumes that if a project the size of MetroWest were built far from a Metro station, it would generate 1,356 new trips during the typical rush hour. According to the plan, Pulte must reduce the residential trips by 47 percent and the business trips by 25 percent.

Personalized traffic troubleshooters? Uhhhh..OK... Handy Zipcars? Now THAT's enticing...

    County officials would return regularly to monitor whether the car-trip numbers are where they should be. If they aren't, Pulte could be required to pay out of a fund it negotiates with the county, a technique used in Montgomery County.

    Pulte would pay for the incentives and other strategies. Eventually, they would be passed on to MetroWest's homeowners' association, which would assess fees for owners and renters.

    . . . .

    But Alan Pisarski, a transportation consultant who lives in Falls Church, questioned whether it is possible to force people who cherish the convenience of their cars to stop using them.

    "Anytime you put in a system that requires somebody to permanently change their behavior means the government has to monitor people to make sure they behave properly," Pisarski said. The idea is well-intentioned, but over the years it will fall apart, he added.

Ahhh...finally, in the very last paragraph, a welcome dose of sanity...

Clever tactic by the planners here, though. Instead of directly penalizing people for their "undesirable" behavior, why not just pass it off to the developer and force upon them the burden of getting residents and workers to step into line. Devious, but clever nonetheless...

And what about the really simple, obvious question here...isn't it unrealistic to think that you can achieve some massive shift to transit in this area when you're likely to have tons of folks either (1) commuting further westward to their jobs, or (2) coming to work at the new offices from Loudoun County or other westward locations? This is the last rail stop on the Orange line (see map)!

For more on the smart growth nuttiness like this going on in NOVA, see here, here, and here.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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