Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reason #10. Proposition T-RIFT, will not stop development, just commercial development. The increased housing will generate even more traffic.

Really, you might say, how is that? Well land has value based upon what someone can use it for. So, if I'm a landowner, and I've got an underutilized asset, (such as a lot of parking, and an unused building on my land) what can I do with it? Since the only thing available is to build housing, I'll build, guess what? housing. Won't that be better you ask, since that housing will help to equalize the jobs to housing inbalance that Santa Monica currently, "enjoys?" Moreover, doesn't housing generate less traffic than commercial development? Indeed the pro-Measure T web site asserts:

"According to the city's own traffic engineer, commercial development brings in 3 to 4 times the amount of traffic as new residential development. Therefore, by slowing the pace of commercial development, Prop T will reduce the future growth in traffic congestion."

But if you're a traffic planner or engineer and you buy this argument, than I've got a bridge in Alaska to sell you. Here's what two of the nation's premier traffic planners, Adam Millard-Ball and Patrick Siegman, have to say in, Planning Magazine, about the "traffic generation" methodology behind this assertion.

The [traffic generation] methodology has long been seen as a routine process, undertaken by traffic engineers based on Institute of Transportation Engineers manuals. Increasingly, however, planners are realizing that conventional traffic impact analysis creates serious hurdles for compact, transit-oriented development.

The problem is simple: Traffic study methodologies are designed to analyze single-use, auto-oriented suburban development proposals. Although thousands of pedestrian- and transit-friendly traditional neighborhoods exist —indeed, this was the predominant pattern of development before World War II— the most commonly used manuals contain virtually no data on them.

In fact, the recommended procedures for preparing a trip-generation report declare that such places are not proper candidates for study.

ITE's Trip Generation is the customary reference for figuring the number of vehicle trips likely to be produced by a given amount of development.... However, as the companion Trip Generation Handbook reports, "The data contained in Trip Generation are, by definition, from single-use developments where virtually all access is by private automobile and all parking is accommodated on site."

Why is this true by definition? ITE's recommended site-selection procedures for a trip-generation study declare that it should be possible to isolate the site for counting purposes. Therefore, selected sites must have "no shared parking...; limited ability for pedestrians to walk into the site from nearby parcels; [and] limited transit availability or use.."

"These procedures rule out counting the traditional mixed use neighborhood, which, for ITE, has too much shared on-street parking, too much walking from place to place, and often too much transit.

As a result, although millions of Americans live, work, and shop in traditional streetcar suburbs, mixed use neighborhoods, and downtowns, Trip Generation's 1,822 pages offer no insight into their travel habits.

(to read the entire article go to:

Well, using the out of date formulas of the traffic engineering industry each housing unit generates 8-12 car trips a day. Let's say, for this exercise, a new housing unit is 1000 square feet (a teeny bit small for an average, but easier to do the math). By the same industry standards, each new 1000 square feet of office space would generate 8-16 trips a day, more or less the same. Retail space would generate about 10 trips per 1,000. But those are the most suburban standards assuming, everyone drives for every trip. The reality is however, that buildings per se do not generate traffic in themselves. It is the position of these buildings within the urban environment that determines the traffic load. Retail space in downtown Santa Monica generates only 40% of the traffic that the same amount of space would generate in the suburbs. The reason being that the City uses a "park-once" strategy, so each car trip is more efficient. Moreover, there are Transportation Demand Management techniques that office building owners utilize that easily reduce car trips by 50%, (incentives for car pooling, biking, walking or utilizing public transit) and possible more (like having a mix of service retail uses near the office space minimizing lunch hour trips).

But why, you ask, is the housing number as high as it is? Well, again this is a number generated primarily from single-family suburban houses, which are on average considerably larger than 1,000 sf and occupy considerably more land. However in high value communities such as S.M. the unit sizes are smaller, and the density greater, but the amount of cars don't go down very much UNLESS the housing is in a mixed-use neighborhood, where residents can walk, bike or transit to shopping and work, precisely the kind of development Measure T prevents. But the pro-Proposition T forces assert that the:

Lantana Entertainment expansion on Olympic/Exposition near 28th/Stewart... will bring 200,000 additional sq ft of commercial/office space and 2,000 additional daily car trips through Pico neighborhood and Sunset Park...

But what if the project were not to be built? We'd no doubt get 200 or so residences, with somewhere around 8 -12,000 car trips per day generated (using the same methodology), with considerably less tax revenue for the City. But you could argue, with the housing we're no worse off, so maybe it's worth taking a chance on this. Except there's a third possibility: why not split the difference? Why not work toward on a one-to-one jobs to housing ratio in every major project, or within a specified geographic area so that a true reduction in traffic could be achieved? Imagine the sheer pleasure of being able to walk to work? That would require a progressive land use policy, that granted, we haven't achieved in this City. However, one thing's for certain. We we will never achieve that kind of enlightenment if this RIFT comes into being.

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