New Urbanism Succeeds Yet the Greater Greater Washington Agenda Does Not

kentlandsdowntown

Downtown in the Kentlands–a Succssful Example of New Urbanism in Montgomery County

Part I (“They’ve Come Undone”) in this series overviewed the area’s recent rejection of several pricey transit projects. Part II (“Why has the GGW Agenda Stalled”) began to explain why, focusing on their high cost and Metro’s ills. Today, I look at the disconnect between Greater Greater Washington’s vision for high-density transit-oriented development and the new urbanism that has been embraced by many suburbanites.

The reaction against suburban sprawl, well-detailed in Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, led to many thoughtful efforts on how to build more workable communities and the new urbanism movement.

Despite its many excellent contributions–and they are numerous–Greater Greater Washington’s (GGW) more extreme vision that ultimately rejects less dense versions like the Kentlands shown above have helped undercut support for its agenda for expensive light-rail and streetcar projects.

The American Dream

The ideal for most American families is not a Manhattan apartment but remains a single-family residence with a yard. Parents still envision their kids playing in the yard rather than running down to Busboys and Poets.

That home doesn’t necessarily have to be on the type of large lot associated with suburban sprawl. For many, the dream can be a townhouse, as long as they still have their own piece of grass to call their own and hold barbecues. Even people who move back into central cities often choose these sorts of homes over new apartments.

Urban Living is Expensive

Many people who like the urban dream, however, still have trouble realizing it. Precisely because it is desirable for reasons oft-outlined by GGW, they cannot afford it. It’s an unavoidable consequence of the very success of areas like Bethesda and Silver Spring.

This trend only accelerates as urban areas develop and become more sought after. The addition of many new apartment buildings in Silver Spring and Bethesda has not made either place a bargain. Moreover, it encourages renovation of older, more affordable housing into more expensive units.

Additionally, apartments and close-in townhomes are often more expensive than single-family homes due to the condo fees that go with them. Even if the price to buy is cheaper, condo fees can render the monthly cost unaffordable. And condo fees aren’t tax deductible and don’t go towards acquiring an asset like mortgage payments. A friend recently explained to me that this is why he couldn’t and didn’t move into downtown Wheaton.

GGW is aware of these problems and laments them but does not get that the high cost an inevitable part of the project. Indeed, from the perspectives of governments that support transit-oriented growth, it is the central point because higher land values and high-income residents provide more tax revenues.

Residents often do understand, which is why they some are resistant to new transit-oriented development even as others are excited. Renters rightly sense that they are going to have to move eventually. Small business owners will find commercial rents too high as the area catches fire. Homeowners worry that their taxes will increase along with home value–and the former matters a lot if you’d like to stay in your home awhile.

The Kentlands Vision of New Urbanism

The urban vision exemplified by the Kentlands–one of the earlier new urbanist developments–has proved very attractive to suburbanites. Central to this vision was to make suburban living a more community-oriented experience by taking what worked in older towns and applying it to the suburbs.

Density should be highest closer to the central shopping area but decline as you move away from the center to town homes and then close together single-member homes. Instead of dead-end cul-de-sacs that feed into a single artery, there is a more natural old-style town traffic plan.

Streets are tighter, which gives a more neighborly feel and slows down drivers–much like in Chevy Chase or Kensington. Garages are given less pride of place. The central shopping area or “downtown” provides people quick access to the necessities.

Other developments similar to the Kentlands have proven very popular in Montgomery. Unlike the Kentlands, several have the potential to be linked to transit, which should only increase their livability–good for residents–and desirability–good for the tax base.

Greater Greater Washington Rejects the Kentlands

Despite grudgingly acknowledging some positive aspects of the Kentlands, Greater Greater Washington is fundamentally less keen, envisioning much more dense developments with few, if any, single-family homes.

GGW attacked the Montgomery County Council’s decision to appoint the Kentlands developer over Ben Ross, one of its own contributors and former head of the Action Committee for Transit (ACT).  Ben Ross is critical of single-family homeowners in extreme terms that led councilmembers to repudiate his book:

A major obstacle, he says, is the resolve of owners of single-family homes to preserve “their privileged place in the residential pecking order.”

Probably not the way most Montgomery residents would like their Planning Board or County Council to view them. In another post, GGW writer Dan Reed takes Suburban Nation author Andres Duany to task and attacks new towns like the Kentlands for lacking diversity and being too affluent:

Despite having everything from one-room granny flats to million-dollar mansions, it’s still a homogeneous, affluent, predominantly white place. And now, twenty years later, much of D.C. is starting to look like Kentlands.

Again, the movement of high income, often but not necessarily white, residents into areas like Silver Spring and Washington is the intended result of the urban transit policies, not an accidental or surprising byproduct.

Make no mistake, GGW thinks developments like the Kentlands are better than traditional suburban sprawl. But, at heart, they view them as second rate. Dan Reed labels them “compared to places like DC, Arlington, or Silver Spring, they are relatively isolated, homogeneous, and car-dependent.”

At best, as one of his GGW co-bloggers writes, the Kentlands can be some sort of gateway drug to embracing true urbanism:

Thus, in a twist of fate, new urbanism’s main lasting benefit may be that it’s a gateway for suburbanites to become urbanitesa baby step towards regular urbanism. A necessary step, to be sure, but one quickly passed by.

The problem for GGW is that most people in Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Fairfax live in suburban developments and will continue to do so. Though it may shock GGW, they even like them and are proud of their homes–just like people in the city.

It is difficult enough to convince residents of neighborhoods who will not benefit from these very expensive transit lines to pay for them since they will not ease traffic and they will take away money from their transportation needs. Explanations that berate people for being affluent or privileged (read: almost all of Montgomery County) for making different choices than the GGW high-rise dream will hardly facilitate it.

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Traffic Keeps Growing, So Why Has Greater Greater Washington’s Agenda Stalled?

Metro Declines

Declines in Metro Ridership (Source: Unsuck DC Metro)

While Part I (“They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda“) overviewed the recent collapse of many plans to build new streetcar and light-rail lines across the region, today I look at why this happened.

Metro

The Metro system used to be Washington’s pride and joy. It is clean, well-designed and feels not just less dangerous but a cut above most other systems. The National Airport stop is easy and a dream location. It rightly became a key part of the identity of what it means to be a Washingtonian for many.

But Metro’s once sterling reputation now lies in tatters. While it’s still clean and well-designed, it is no longer reliable–the critical element for any transit system. The litany of complaints is well known. The escalators are perpetually broken–I can’t recall the last time they were all simultaneously working in Bethesda.

Single tracking on weekends is now the norm, so many are reluctant to ride it during these periods. Dr. Gridlock seems to oddly celebrate when only a few lines are doing it. Even during normal service, trains increasingly don’t keep to their schedules. The tragic 2009 train collision and recent death from smoke inhalation of a woman trapped on a train stopped in a tunnel have heightened safety concerns.

The key problem, however, for streetcar and light-rail proposals is that the situation is not getting better. All of the concerns outlined here have persisted for years. Twitter feeds and blogs like Unsuck DC Metro that would have once been unimaginable now have very large followings that naturally take a more jaundiced view of new transit projects proposed by Greater Greater Washington.

People are voting with their feet. In Silver Spring, average weekday boardings in 2014 were down to 13% from 2008. They’re also down 14% in New Carrollton, though decreased less at 8% at Shady Grove and even in Bethesda. Metro ridership is down so much despite strong population increases that it will be below its high point even with the addition of new Silver Line stops.

People wonder not just why we are building new transit lines when the old one needs fixing but why we should trust our local governments to run and to manage them. These new proposals would be in much better shape if Metro worked.

Cost

Streetcars and light rail are very expensive and governments have many transportation needs. Arlington’s cancelled street car would have cost $550 million. In Maryland, the proposed light-rail Purple Line is $2.4 billion and the Red Line clocks in at $2.9 billion.

Moreover, the costs keep rising in manner that makes many (rightly) suspicious and leery. As Metro has taught us, these projects have to be both operated and maintained.

While some may want to kill off all public transit projects, others seem reluctant to apply reasonable cost-benefit analysis to these projects in their eagerness for the project. Critics have homed in on these problems. In DC, the (permanently?) delayed streetcar was projected to carry 1500 people per day–even as it slows down the buses on a similar route that already carry 12,000.

More in Part III.

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They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda

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Greater Greater Washington’s Fading Dream

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) is one of the Washington metropolitan area’s best and most influential blogs. Geared towards promoting smart growth, it provides a wealth of information. Even people who disagree with their perspective will still find lots of interesting nuggets of information.

But where it leads, Washington isn’t following.

Central to the GGW agenda is the construction of a number of high profile new public transportation projects. Since the high point of the opening of Metro’s Silver Line, however, things appear to have gone off the rails. The area has begun to reject key components of GGW’s vision. Consider:

(1) Arlington has cancelled its two proposed $550 million streetcar projects after an election in which they were front and center. This liberal bastion voted twice for independent John Vilstadt–the first non-Democratic member of the county’s board in 15 years–as a means of saying no to the projects. After the election, the board voted 4-1 to scrap the projects.

(2) Former Washington Mayor Vincent Gray envisioned a 37-mile streetcar network. In May, however, the City Council voted to shift one-half of the monies budgeted for the streetcar to tax cuts. In October, the Council then “radically scaled back” the planned 20-mile streetcar network to just eight miles.

Many wonder whether even the repeatedly delayed inaugural 2.2 mile streetcar line, described as an unworkabletrainwreck,” will ever open. One of the very first decisions of Mayor Muriel Bowser was to delay its opening and review its operational plans. Read: the Mayor wanted to avoid a fiasco in her first month as mayor.

(3) In Maryland, the light rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs and the Red Line in Baltimore are all but dead. In November, the State rejected light-rail proponent Anthony Brown and voted in Gov. Larry Hogan, who would prefer to build roads and is highly suspicious of the costly $2.4 billion Purple Line and $2.9 billion Red Line.

Supporters hold out hope the Governor will build them and Maryland’s new Transportation Secretary says he has an open mind. But it makes zero political sense–Brown’s former supporters will never vote for Hogan and he’ll tick off his own base while reducing his ability to spend money on his own priorities.

In any case, most Prince George’s legislators are far more focused on a hospital and ready to see the Purple Line go. Upcounty Montgomery legislators and the County Executive are increasingly focused on protecting the cheaper and less controversial Corridor Cities Transitway.

Expect the bodies to be carted away once the General Assembly leaves Annapolis and the Governor can avoid a confrontation with legislators as they grapple with the budget.

(4) A core belief of GGW smart growthers is that parking lots are bad, as we should walk, bike, or use public transit. Yet the avowedly pro-smart growth Montgomery County Council is building tons of new parking–particularly in transit-oriented high density developments–in tacit acknowledgement of the reality that they expect most people are still going to drive.

In downtown Bethesda, a spanking new lot with over 750 new public spaces (with additional spaces slated for the apartments being constructed above) just opened. The new high density transit accessible North Bethesda Market (aka as where the Whole Foods across from White Flint is) has plenty of parking. GGW’s Ben Ross has decried a new planned 300-space lot in Wheaton.

. . .

Project after project promoted by GGW has gone by the wayside in some among the most liberal jurisdictions in the country, so it’s difficult to blame the shift on the Tea Party. Moreover, most of these projects have had frequent and unremitting support from the establishment Washington Post.

In Part II of this series, I’ll examine why the GGW “smart growth” agenda has run aground.

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General Assembly Racial Breakdowns

Elected to Maryland General Assembly in 2014

2014GArace

I’m in the middle of gathering data for a study on the election of African-American and Latino legislators, so I thought I’d share the data for the new Maryland General Assembly.

The Current State of Play

Minorities compose a greater share in the House than the Senate. While whites form three-quarters of all senators, they comprise two-thirds of all delegates. All minority groups are better represented in the House than the Senate.

Excepting the election of its only Asian member, Sen. Susan Lee (D-16), minority groups experienced more notable gains in the House, which saw its Latino and Asian membership more than double from 2010. New Asian delegates include Jay Jalisi (D-10), Clarence Lam (D-12), David Moon (D-20), and Mark Chang (D-32). David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-15), Maricé Morales (D-19), and Will Campos (D-47B) are incoming Latino delegates.

Partisan Gaps

Every single Asian, Latino, and Black member of the General Assembly is a Democrat. Whites remain split between the two caucuses. Interestingly, a majority of white delegates now sit as Republicans (50-43). Together, Asian, Latino, and Black delegates now form a majority of the Democratic House Caucus (47-43).

In the Senate, however, White Democrats form two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus and heavily outnumber White Republicans by 22 to 14. The greater preponderance of white Democrats stems partly from the greater success of Democrats in the Senate–all marginal seats are white majority districts.

The glaring gaps in the racial composition of the two parties reflects a national trend. African Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since 1964. President Obama has increased the share of both Latinos and Asian Americans who vote Democratic. While his 43% of the white vote in 2008 exceeds that won by Clinton, Gore, or Kerry from 1992-2004, Obama won 39% of the white vote in 2012.

Racial gaps in voting are actually more muted in Maryland than many other places (i.e. more whites vote Democratic). In many southern states, blacks form a clear majority of a much smaller Democratic Caucus. Congress has no white members from a single state in the Deep South.

Assessing Racial Proportionality

American Community Survey Population Estimates

MDRaceThe ratio of representation to population depends on how you measure both population and race. While districts are drawn based on total population, only adult citizens can vote. In addition to the total population, the above table shows the voting-age population (VAP) and citizen voting-age population (CVAP).

On the Census form, people can now check multiple racial boxes (e.g. both White and Asian) and Latino is a separate category. The table includes only non-Latino Asians, Blacks and Whites who checked just one box in the appropriate category.

Minors comprise a higher share of the Black and Latino population than the Asian and White population, so the share of Blacks and Latinos among the VAP is lower than among the total population. Due to lower citizenship rates among Asians and Latinos, both groups comprise lower shares of CVAP than the VAP.

The net impact is that White Marylanders form 3.4% more of the CVAP than the total population. Latino Marylanders are 8.5% of the total population but just 5.7% of CVAP. Similarly, Asian Marylanders are a lower share of CVAP than the total population. The net effect for African-American Marylanders is almost a wash with a net gain of 0.6% in CVAP over the total population.

Changes Required for Racial Proportionality

No matter how you slice it, however, the share of Whites is higher than their share of the population in both the House and the Senate. African Americans, the largest minority group in the State, would need to add four senators and six delegates to their ranks to pull even with their share of Maryland’s CVAP.

However, Asians would need just one more senator to achieve CVAP parity in both houses. Latinos require one more senator and three additional delegates to draw even with Latino CVAP–a share still two-thirds of the Latino share of the total population.

 

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Israel Election 2015: Likud is Now a Lock

Jeremy’s Knesset Insider informs that not just Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu but the two major religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have ruled out joining a coalition led by Zionist Union and excluding Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. This news takes a Zionist Union-led coalition from a highly unlikely outcome to impossible.

Additionally, the polls indicate that Likud is up 1 seat and Zionist Union down 1 or 2 seats in the polls, though the shift between the various major camps of Israeli politics is smaller. Unlike last week, Likud is the largest party, increasing its claim on government.

The question now is whether Netanyahu will choose a right-wing religious-nationalist coalition or a more centrist coalition with Zionist Union. The current seat math renders either possible. While the right-wing coalition is likely a more natural fit for today’s Likud, there are also real advantages for Netanyahu in the centrist coalition, as I outlined previously.

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Crossing Swords on Education

The battle has already been joined between Democrats and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on education:

Fissures between Hogan and Democrats had already started to emerge over a budget proposal he submitted Jan. 23, two days after being sworn in. Hogan has stressed that his proposal includes record funding for K-12 education, even though it would provide counties with $144 million less than expected under existing education formulas.

Gov. Hogan says that education is his “first priority” and brags that his budget spends more than ever on education. Only addled Democrats who want to increase spending at out of control rates could think that his mild slowing of spending increases could constitute a cut. Democrats say he is taking an ax to schools.

So Who is Right?

Unfortunately, Hogan’s claims are so much political pap and every bit as reheated as the annual credit taking by legislators and governors alike for having balanced the state budget–something required by our Constitution.

Due to inflation and an expanding student population, spending on education always increases. One has to spend more just to stay even in real terms. This year, Gov. Hogan’s budget proposal reduces spending per pupil by $189. That’s no small amount.

Taking from Public to Fund Private

Hogan wants to further cut spending by making donations to parochial and private schools tax exempt. Sounds nice except that by reducing the tax take, Hogan cuts the funds available for education, effectively shifting spending from public to private schools. How letting me make a tax deductible gift to a DC private school benefits Maryland children remains a mystery to me.

Impact in Montgomery

Hogan would like to become the first two-term GOP governor in a very long time. Towards that end, he wants to appeal to small business owners and people sensitive on taxes in order to chip away further at Democratic margins in Montgomery. Hogan has also targeted Asian Americans, heavily concentrated in Montgomery, through his wife and family as well as substantive appeals.

Except that attempts to cut education will undercut all of these efforts, so he has to mask the cut as an increase. Education is Montgomery’s brand and there is universal commitment to maintaining it. Some may rail against immigration but when people move from around the world and struggle to live here to send their children to our schools, we’re doing something right.

In Montgomery, Hogan’s cuts will drop per pupil spending by $144–a cut that will reverberate through an already burdened school budget. Many moderate Montgomery voters who might be attracted to Gov. Hogan’s other proposals will have trouble getting past that one to even take a look at them.

 

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More State of the State Reax

More reactions to Governor Hogan’s inaugural State of the State address:

Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-46, Baltimore):

Early in his speech, the Governor talked about a “disconnect” during the past Administration between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland, but from what I have heard from my constituents, this Governor seems to be the one who is disconnected.  I have had a full email inbox every day with notes from Marylanders who understand the need for a balanced budget – indeed, the State cannot by law pass a budget with a deficit – but also demand that we not balance the budget on the backs of Maryland’s school children, on the backs of our middle-class state employees and community service providers, or by gutting environmental programs.  Governor Hogan today shared a vision for fiscal policies that will lead to a dirtier bay, more crowded classrooms, and a Maryland with greater inequality.  That is not a vision I share.  As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I want to pass a fiscally prudent, socially responsible budget that moves our state forward.  Governor Hogan’s budget fails on both accounts, and his speech today only highlighted that fact.

Montgomery County Planning Board Member Natali Fani-Gonzalez:

I was pleased to see Gov. Hogan highlight the need to build a stronger and more competitive Maryland. He mentioned the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, which was just created last year.  There is no better way for Gov. Hogan to put his theory into practice than by supporting the immediate creation of the Purple Line.  Let’s build a light rail that creates jobs, promotes sustainable communities and attracts businesses to spearhead a more prosperous Maryland.

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The Senate President Pans the State of the State

On Governor Hogan and his speech:

I was disappointed. I like him personally. I know his father, I know his family. Maybe he’ll grow into the job. I hope he will. I hope he’ll understand what’s doable and he’ll tell the truth to the people that this is what we can achieve working together. But the responsible thing is to say Governor we can’t do these things until we can afford them. And so it’s going to take adults to tell him that.

On the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the rain tax:

OK, fine. Let’s eliminate the rain tax. Who pays for it? It’s a federal mandate. So guess what. The counties are going to have to pay for it by themselves. The counties are supported by the taxpayers.

On the Governor’s proposal to eliminate personal property taxes:

He says he wants to eliminate the personal property tax. Guess what. That goes to the counties, not the State. One of my counties has got five Republican county commissioners. They’re going to resist that. They need that $3 million in personal property tax to pay for education. Again, it’s campaign promises brought into his State of the State speech—campaign promises that he knows can’t be kept by either himself or the General Assembly until prosperity comes.

Is Maryland in as bad a shape as the Governor describe?

Maryland is in great shape. We have the highest income of any state in the Union. We have the lowest poverty of any state in the Union. We have either the 1, 2, or 3 best schools of any state in the Union. He’s described the State like Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi. I don’t know what state he’s talking about. This is a great state. We’re very proud of our state. We need just to move forward. We need a governor that wants to work with the General Assembly to move us forward, not backwards.

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State of the State Reax

Here are a few early reactions to Governor Hogan’s State of the State address earlier today.

Delegate Cory McCray (D-45, Baltimore):

Marylanders won’t stand for balancing the budget on the backs of our children. We should be concerned about the cuts to higher education which will increase tuition for our students, cuts to Medicaid which will have an adverse effect on our vulnerable families, and the 2% salary reduction to State Workers who are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

Common Cause Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel:

We agree with the Governor that people feel a real disconnect between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland, and we believe that special interest influence in elections and a broken redistricting process are fueling that divide. We look forward to working with him on these critical reforms.

Delegate David Moon (D-20, Montgomery):

After striking a partisan tone in his State of the State, Governor Hogan today outlined a series of tax cut proposals without explaining how he plans to pay for them. To me this raises questions about the administration’s commitment to reining in the long-term structural deficit, and the announcement seems strangely timed given that the Governor has signaled his first priority is to bring our fiscal house in order. There are obviously tough choices that will need to be made in the coming session, but our county’s first priority has been and remains restoring school funding and keeping the Purple Line on track. This is not an appropriate time to be considering further reducing the state’s revenues, when we’re deleting hundreds of jobs in our school system.

 

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