Why “Smart Growth” Doesn’t Dissolve Region’s Traffic Jams
Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance
June 23, 2004
McLean, VA - The Sierra Club, Smart Growthers and their various followers
waged an aggressive, multi-year, well-financed, full-court press
to convince elected officials that land use policy changes can
largely eliminate the need for new transportation
infrastructure – with the possible exception of rail extensions
Here’s why they are wrong.
LAND USE REALITY
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments population and land
use data show that 80% of the homes/offices/stores that will exist
in 2030 are in place today.
Of the remaining 20%:
· Half is in the pipeline and unlikely to change.
· A quarter or more is likely to follow existing patterns.
· The remaining quarter might be re-focused near transit or
· The region currently has the nation’s third worst congestion.
· Over the next 25 years, population will increase by 1.2
· At least another 1 million vehicles.
· An additional 10 million vehicular trips per day (25 million
· Nearly 80 million more daily vehicle miles of travel (over
· The region’s fiscally constrained long-range plan increases
only about 10%.
From this data, several conclusions are clear:
· Land use changes alone will have no significant impact on
future regional totals for daily trips, miles of travel, transit or
users or congestion in general.
· Land use changes may marginally improve mobility and accessibility
select corridors or activity centers over what it could be in the
future, but certainly not over current conditions.
· Land use changes alone do not eliminate the need and are
substitute for construction of major, long-planned, missing road and
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The truth about Smart Growth from NVTA -
Under the 1997 environmental impact study of Maryland's Intercounty
Connector highway (ICC), the traffic impact of land use changes
(specifically "Balanced Land Use" or BLU as it's called
environmentalists) was studied in detail. In case you don't want to
read the whole excerpt below, the most important conclusion is: "The
in the growth patterns have a minimal impact (less than 2,000 trips)
reducing the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on any of roadways serving
east-west travel. This reduction represents an average of
approximately 2% of the total travel volumes." Complete excerpt
from the DEIS follows.
Section II.A.3.b -- Sensitivity Analyses
Subsection entitled "Land Use Sensitivity Test"
Early in the study process, several agency representatives and
interested public groups raised questions about the travel demand
process. Their concerns were focused on the use of the same land use
projections for both the build alternatives and the No-Build Alternative
Since the area master plans include a major east-west transportation
facility connecting the I-270 and I-95 corridors, some felt that the
land use projections would be skewed to create a need for just such
facility. The assertion was that if the “ICC” in the master plans
not to be built, the land use projections would be very different.
A further assertion was that the growth pattern would also change,
having a more balanced job to household ratio in each of the two growth
In order to address these concerns, the Study Team established a
working group of citizens (Land Use Subject Group) to develop this
land use sensitivity test. They worked for nearly a year with staff
from the Maryland-National Capital Park and planning Commission (M-NCPPC),
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and SHA to
develop an alternative growth scenario. The transportation model would
be run to determine the effect of this pattern of growth on the need
for improved east-west transportation and to determine the sensitivity
of the model to changes in land use. The intent of this study is not
to supersede the local land use planning process, but to determine
the extent to which land use affects the need for a major east-west
In order to answer both the aforementioned questions, the Baseline
Alternative was modeled a second time with these alternative land
use inputs. The Baseline Alternative includes those transportation
components of the region’s Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) assumed
to be in place in 2020 as well as HOV lanes on I-95. These improvements
are also assumed for each of the build alternatives discussed in this
analysis was performed in early 1997.
Also, to understand the potential land use implications associated
with each alternative, Section IV-A of this document addresses the
potential relationship between site specific land use pressures and
issues associated with each of the transportation alternatives.
Summary of Alternative Scenario Developed by Citizens Group
- Overall, growth is assumed to be lower because of the lack of new
major east-west transportation capacity.
- Approximately 20,000 fewer jobs
- Approximately 2,000 fewer households
- To create a better balance of jobs and households in both the I-270
and I-95 corridors, more households and less jobs are assumed to develop
the I-270 corridor and less households and more jobs are assumed in
eastern parts of the Study Area.
- The amount of growth would not exceed the maximum master plan limits
in any given area or sub-area (traffic analysis zone – TAZ).
A summary of the results is included below and is focused on addressing
the questions on the need for improved east-west transportation. A
full discussion of the results is included in the Traffic Analysis
- The shifts in the growth patterns have a minimal impact (less than
2,000 trips) on reducing the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) on any of
roadways serving the east-west travel. This reduction represents an
average of approximately 2% of the total travel volumes.
- The need for improved east-west transportation remains because
land use shifts represent a small percentage of the total demand for
east-west travel. As described throughout this document and the Traffic
Analysis Technical Report, many of the trips potentially served by
improved east-west travel are not affected by the shifts in land uses.
- The shifts in growth patterns had a moderate effect on various
origins and destinations within the Study Area. For instance, trips
to and from certain areas varied by as much as 38%. Again, however,
these shifts had very little effect on the overall east-west travel
- Although the total number of regional work trips slightly decreased,
the regional work related transit trips increased. These factors were
associated with increased concentrations in the I-270 corridor near
transit facilities. Most of the increased work related transit trips
were new radial trips.
- Traffic volumes on I-270 and MD 355 increased, while volumes along
other arterial roadways west of I-270 varied up and down depending
on the specific land use shifts.
The purpose of the Land Use Sensitivity Test was to determine the
sensitivity of travel demand in the Study Area to land use changes,
specifically those that would occur under the Land Use Subject Group’s
alternative growth scenario. The alternative growth assumptions
two main types of changes, which the citizens group suggested would
likely to occur if no new major east-west transportation capacity
implemented, namely the No-Build Alternative: (1) a reduction in the
of jobs and households compared to current projections and (2) a better
balance between jobs and households in the I-270 and I-95 corridors.
The test results indicate that travel demand for the No-Build Alternative
under the alternative growth scenario would be very similar to travel
for the No-Build Alternative under current growth assumptions for
Area. These results support the finding that travel demand in the
Study Area is relatively insensitive to the land use changes that
under the alternative growth scenario.
Based on the results of the Land Use Sensitivity Test, the Study
concluded that, while it is technically feasible to use different
use assumptions in the travel demand model for different alternatives,
is reasonable – for purposes of the analysis of transportation and
environmental impacts in this DEIS/MIS – to use the same growth
in the travel demand model for all alternatives. For additional
of land use issues, please refer to the discussions of the Citizens
Integrated Alternative in Section II-A.3.g, of existing land use
in Section III-A.1, and of land use pressures and impacts in Section
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Another "anti-sprawl" book released
The book is "A Field Guide to Sprawl." Here's the Publisher's
review: A mere glance through the pages of this book offers a quick
about the excesses of the recently built environment. By its very
nature, sprawl is hard to identify and track, but Hayden, a Yale
professor of architecture and American studies, provides a combination
of informed but breezy text and 75 large, crisp color images that
greatly simplify the task of "decoding everyday American landscapes."
Organized alphabetically, with a big two-page spread for each entry,
book moves from "alligator" (an investment that "eats"
represented here by the vast and ghostly grid of an unbuilt New Mexico
suburb) to "zoomburb" (a suburb on steroids, illustrated
Arizona's spiraling Sun City). Along the way, the reader comes to
depressing understanding that troubling phenomena one might have
strictly local or temporary-for instance, houses where the garage
dominant projecting feature-are common enough to have acquired names,
this case "snout house." But more than a set of colorful
which, from "ball pork" to "parsley round the pig"
sourced-this book is a concise guide to not only sprawl itself but
the powerful political and financial forces that sustain it. If the
has one problematic aspect, it is that Wark's aerial photographs are
often so vividly beautiful that they risk aestheticizing their often
grim subjects-but their seductive quality serves to draw the viewer
Hayden's passionately sustained argument.