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Jim Baird

road building culture

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An interesting topic, one that I an my friends give a lot of discussion and attention to.

If you're ever in Shanghai, go to the Urban Planning Museum in People's Square. It is an entirely different approach to the issues, one that is sustainable and provides actual growth, not just Fed money lobbied into roads to nowhere.

Much is made in the West of China's empty cities, built on spec and never occupied, but no one thinks for half a second about our millions of miles of roads going nowhere that are used by about 12 people. The rural population derides the urban population for it's welfare state operations, yet they don't even begin to comprehend that they are receiving much larger stipends from government than the often useless social programs.

I just got off a high speed train....Wuhan to western Hubei in the mountains at 150mph. In the flats, we were hitting 225mph. The train network in China is almost beyond comprehension; it's Jetsons right now. The Wuhan stations have about 120 platforms. Imagine the largest football stadium you've ever been in, expand it 10x, and that starts to provide some sense of the scale of operations. As we were blasting along, we saw additional lines getting built, running in all directions.

And they get used. It's the height of Spring Festival when approximately 275 million people hit the road to go back to their home villages.

I wouldn't get on a bus in Chicago; it's expensive and I'd rather walk because it's quicker and easier. Here, I use the bus all the time. It's 30 cents, they run on service roads that parallel the main road, they have short, medium, and long haul runs, and they get you where you're going on time.

The subways...all brand new and they get you where you're going. One really doesn't need a car here. It's nice to have one for certain things, but overall, they're unnecessary. Vast cities are tied together by comprehensive transportation networks, and inner cities woven together in the same manner. It's planned, the plans are executed remarkably well, and it's a wonderment.

I'm living in the future over here. It's mind boggling.

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That public transport is nice but aside from a small handful of metropolitan areas, we don't have the density to justify the investment. You can rail on (pun intended) about rural roads being costly but they're the cheapest option to connect those areas to the rest of the country.

We could reduce road building expense by half or two thirds by eliminating the prevailing wage rules. Working for the government should be the least profitable venture, not the most profitable.

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Installing transportation infrastructure is easier when the cities are still in the planning stage, guvmint has eminent domain over everything on a whim, guvmint red tape is unheard of, labor is cheap/abundant and environmental groups that gripe are squashed like a bug.

That bullet train is really something though. Glad you're enjoying your visit there.

Marc

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I can demolish Chad's points with a large mountain of credible data and research, but not in here and not on my phone skirting internet censorship with a VPN. We know where the future is going with this stuff.

Marc's point is right on target. They can do it here for all those reasons. Those reasons make the average American angry, not curious. Which is a problem.

We are held hostage on a lot of levels to misguided perceptions based in a time long past that largely didn't exist as we remember it.

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I think Granola Shotgun has some very interesting views, and we have to tread carefully not to slip over the cliff into politics here. Granola's points are that government subsidized efforts to stimulate growth and the broader landscape of value that growth is supposed to support actually end up destroying as much value as they create. So that the relocation of value as determined by road building ends up benefiting mainly only those parties connected with the building and development itself.

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This post links to a blog about planning and urban design. Despite its title it does not violate TIJ taboos re religion, etc.

Let's call it anthropology, but it rings very true to what I o bserve every time I go into the urban megalopilis nearest me, Atlanta.

https://granolashotgun.com/2016/10/13/o ... -religion/

The topic is, indeed, interesting. But that blog is worthless blather. He reasons like a 9-year old.

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Tom sounds like some of my best friends who, as I did, built homes in the wooded Piedmont hills that were accessible by car. We chose seclusion. But when you go to an urban center that has certainly the supportive density but has fought historically options to expand mass transit, you have to wonder how they stand it.

I don't know if you have driven in Atlanta, and I have not at all in other major centers, but Atlanta is said to rank among the worst in terms of traffic.

Yet the metro area counties where those subsidized roads took all the people except a few who have any money have repeatedly defeated bond issues to expand rail.

I think that fuel emission reduction should override that kind of opposition to mass transit, which could stand a lot more subsidy itself.

(Hope this is not a political statement)

So we spend billions on roads, or billions on rails. How is one better than the other?

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I was only in Atlanta once. I was a passenger from the airport to Montgomery, Alabama. I don't recall much traffic.

Most of the small towns in my rural corner of NY are born from rail roads. Nearly all of the rails have converted to trails, or are in the process of doing so.

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Tom sounds like some of my best friends who, as I did, built homes in the wooded Piedmont hills that were accessible by car. We chose seclusion. But when you go to an urban center that has certainly the supportive density but has fought historically options to expand mass transit, you have to wonder how they stand it.

I don't know if you have driven in Atlanta, and I have not at all in other major centers, but Atlanta is said to rank among the worst in terms of traffic.

Yet the metro area counties where those subsidized roads took all the people except a few who have any money have repeatedly defeated bond issues to expand rail.

I think that fuel emission reduction should override that kind of opposition to mass transit, which could stand a lot more subsidy itself.

(Hope this is not a political statement)

So we spend billions on roads, or billions on rails. How is one better than the other?

Then Atlanta must have changed. I lived there for 2 1/2 years in Peachtree Corners (NE corner, just outside the loop) in the early 90's. Didn't see the traffic congestion that I've seen in other metropolitans.

Marc

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A lot happens in 25 yrs Marc. The city is lately famous for its "Snowpocalypse" traffic jam caused by half an inch of snow and ice in Dec of '14, I think. It lasted over 12 hrs, hundreds of people abandoned their cars on interstates, ramps, and arteries. Now everything shuts down if a cloud looms and the weather gets cold.

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Last time I was in Atlanta (coming in from the north on I-75 and I-285) I spent 10 minutes going about 12 miles (shaking my head at all the virtually stopped northbound and westbound traffic the whole way) and then headed out 141 to the Peachtree (northeast) area where I spent 35 minutes to go the last 2 miles.

Atlanta traffic sucks if you're going the wrong way!

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There's too much to cover here by thumbing typing on a phone from China. The crux of the ideas are well covered in past and current urbanist tomes.

While I can't stand and disagree with Jacob's NY false colloquial liberalism on several fronts, she does lay out some solid basics in her landmark "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". There can't even begin to be an intelligent discussion of the topic until folks have some grounding in fundamentals. You have to read Jacobs if you want to swim in the deep end.

Countering Jacobs and most modern urbanists, I'd also recommend Kotkin, who comes at it from another front. Try "The Human City; Urbanism for the Rest of Us". Kotkin is despised by most urban planners of the Academy (as in elite university dweebs). That's why it's important to read him.

Somewhere in the middle...maybe both sides.... is Gravel with "Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities". He's kind of dismissed by the tenured academics as a gomer simpleton, a good reason to read him.

"Urban Planning for Dummies" is also available; it's perfunctory, but it lays some basic premise for those not wanting to dive into Jacobs or Kotkin.

We can't get away from the idea of cities, though. They are the human invention that creates the wonders we all enjoy. Doesn't matter if you like 'em or hate 'em...they're necessary. My high school was way rural; 42 kids in my high school class, nearest neighbor about a mile away. I thought I hated cities. Then I moved to one. It takes a while, but now I'm a city guy.

And the guy does reason like a 9 year old. Because that's how simple some of this stuff is. He's not off target. It's simplistic because it's simple stuff. Building massive road systems to provide housing so we can build more roads so we can have more houses to build more roads to so we can have houses....is kind of like that shitty movie "Waterworld" where Dennis Hopper exhorts his minions to row, because if they stop rowing, they'll see the pointlessness of their existence and go nuts.

If one wants to have their heads opened up wide to what real planning looks like, start reading everything you can on China's "Belt and Road Initiative". There's a couple out there....one by Sharma & Kundu, and another by Tai Wei Lim and Hui Tseng. They're ridiculously expensive, so no one is likely to read them, but google around and get an idea of what is happening on this side of the world. It's Chinese scale, it's smart, and it has the highly possible potential to make America a very secondary consideration in the world economy.

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So we spend billions on roads, or billions on rails. How is one better than the other?

Right question, but lacking context, no answer is possible. We're the transitional generations; we're old enough to remember what it was like, and young enough to see the first glimmers of where we're going.

This goes rather quickly to the internal contradictions in our democratic system where we're supposed to be united but where every individual is also crowned King. It's where Originalism runs headlong into reality. Which takes us from philosophical underpinnings to the discussion to full on politics, which ain't happening.

While I'm no Commie, it's interesting to be in a culture where village communitarian-ism is part of the mental make up.

One thing you find here is responsibility. In America, everyone is obsessed with their "Rights", where over here, there is much greater emphasis placed on responsibility to community and family. Which breaks down in all sorts of interesting ways, both tragic and humorous, but it's something folks recognize. It's not all about individual rights. There's a community out there.

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Thanks for the reply, Kurt.

I am checking out your references.

One you did not mention, that I like, is James Kuntsler, blog named clusterf*cknation.|

This topic may not be able to tread the politics tightrope, but if so, that's OK with me.

http://kunstler.com/cluster****-nation/ ... -come-off/

I can't make head or tail out of what he's saying. I guess I'm a simpleton.

Marc

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He has a writing style that's sorta masturbatory; he likes to hear himself talk. It's kind of entertaining in a bloviating sense. He's got a lot of it right, but I'm not much into the apocalyptic overtone he brings to it. He completely discounts human ability to figure stuff out and deal with it.

Right now, I'm in a part of China (Enshi Prefecture) that's an interface between the new and modern and the old and village peasant scenario. I'm living in Old Town portion of Enshi...a lot of it dates back to 19th century hovels that have new stuff tacked and patched onto in a manner that only a home inspector could fully appreciate. In short, this is the cluster****, not America.

What I learn is folks dig themselves out of holes they put themselves in. This area is Exhibit A for what happened during the Cultural Revolution when complete lunacy overtook an otherwise intelligent society and reduced it to a pile of rubble, emphasis on rubble, and now it's about how to dig out of the rubble.

Our current political situation has to run it's course. Nobody believes anyone else about anything, so it's not worth trying to convince them. We've changed course, due to frustration, not intelligent planning, and now we get to see where that takes us.

Meanwhile, on this side of the globe, I'm seeing what planning and adept execution gets you. What it gets you is pretty amazing.

I was hanging out in Portland OR back in the early 80's to 90's (I was in the first wave of windsurfers discovering the Gorge) when they first adopted their completely radical urban planning model. The oldster biz modelers, mineral extraction types, and libertarian's were all screaming it was a complete and total disaster and commerce and industry would grind to a complete halt. Not. If anyone's been to Portland recently, they'll see what intelligent community planning and execution gets you. It gets you a pretty nice city.

The necessary ingredient for all this is a sense of community, not a one of which any of the pop movements (Dems, Pubs, Libs) have a clue about how to model.

Until this descends into partisan bickering, I don't consider it political discussion. It's more of a philosophical considering of how to do the things we need to do.

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. . . I was hanging out in Portland OR back in the early 80's to 90's (I was in the first wave of windsurfers discovering the Gorge) when they first adopted their completely radical urban planning model. The oldster biz modelers, mineral extraction types, and libertarian's were all screaming it was a complete and total disaster and commerce and industry would grind to a complete halt. Not. If anyone's been to Portland recently, they'll see what intelligent community planning and execution gets you. It gets you a pretty nice city. . . .

I agree. But to expand a bit, intelligent community planning and execution didn't just happen. The *only* thing that made this possible was establishing a "regional" elected government to conceive and execute that planning. As far as I know, there's not another government organization like it in the US. This government, known as "Metro" is immensely powerful and serves 25 cities in and around Portland. It consists of only 7 members and has control over land-use planning, maintains the "urban growth boundary," determines where and how growth will take place (including a required 20-year growth plan), oversees the regional transportation systems, manages parks, operates hazardous waste stations, oversees landfills, and actively acquires land to serve as natural buffer zones and future parks and public lands. (And since its inception in the late 1970s, it's come to own a *lot* of land.)

Without Metro, there's just no way that 25 cities could ever have agreed on a plan, let alone cooperated to execute it. In short, the Portland metropolitan area's urban planning success is largely due to the public's willingness to submit to a "people's republic of Portland" where land use and planning issues are controlled by 7 people.

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That's right. The zoning ordinance is unlike any other I've studied. It's rigid. The underlying governance structure is radically un-American.

This topic is hotly debated in urban planning circles. Large metro areas composed of central cities and multiple rings of suburbs all with independent city councils and governing structures isn't just bad for planning; it makes planning nearly impossible and it destroys the core city.

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What Kurt describes is exactly what has been happening in Atlanta metro for a several decades.

I like the sound of what Jim describes, but it would never get done down here. GA has more counties than any other state (159), each one a little fiefdom that contains its own set of little fiefdoms. I remember reading many yrs ago about Portland's protection of watersheds that feed drinking water supplies that included a requirement that any logging done in protected areas be done with mule-drawn skidders, the mules wearing catch-diapers to contain their alley-apples. I binge-watched the TV series Portlandia. What a gas.

Kunstler is a controversial figure in the planning community, where he has a certain amount of cred. A really harsh architecture critic. A planner I worked with when I worked at an AHJ as building inspector had met him.

Building code enforcement is really cut and dried, all based on codes language, but planning and zoning is 100% political. You can do with your property only what your neighbors say you can do. Building codes are not developed by political bodies at all, but by independent agencies (NFPA, ICC, ANSI, etc) with input from fire protection, industry, and trade groups. They are adopted and often amended by local authority, but way less down and dirty than land use regs.

That's right. The zoning ordinance is unlike any other I've studied. It's rigid. The underlying governance structure is radically un-American.

This topic is hotly debated in urban planning circles. Large metro areas composed of central cities and multiple rings of suburbs all with independent city councils and governing structures isn't just bad for planning; it makes planning nearly impossible and it destroys the core city.

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Historically, zoning had a single purpose; keeping out The Other. It's been modified over the years so that now it's largely economic with just plain small minded stupidity close behind. Portland's ordinance is unique in several regards, one being the environmental component. That really pissed off a lot of the old guard.

If one's been keeping up on modern zoning, it's pretty much recognized by those paying attention that most zoning ordinances are destroying cities; they don't allow for the density and diversity that makes cities live. Things like in-law apartments, coach house apartments, variations of multiple family themes, lot sizes, small home based businesses, and pretty much everything that makes cities interesting...isn't allowed.

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... "slight drift" ...

Kurt is posting from "tomorrow" and his posts have appeared (for those of us in this region ... Canada & USA) as "today".

It is interesting that Kurt knows already what we are writing BEFORE we write it. He is "in the future" ...

BTW ... have a great visit over there Kurt. [^]

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Mingtian = tomorrow.

Mingtian and Jintian (today...actually zuotian, yesterday), I did some traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in a mountain hospital for stiff neck and hand. I'm telling you, this guy is a carpenter's best friend. Two treatments, it definitely feels better.

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