If We Do Nothing Different… Why Should We Expect To Get Better Results?

One bus, one rail car can keep 50 or more cars off the road.  If we plan and zone for Regional Activity Centers right where we plan to offer transit services, then new residents are more likely to become transit customers.

Without new transit, traffic congestion will increase as fast as population increases.  Prince William will add 120,000 new people in the next 15 years, growing by 30%.  If you don’t want traffic congestion to keep getting worse, then it’s time to act.

Regional Activity Centers require that we approve higher-density projects.  We need to build “up” with two-story stores such as Wegmans, rather than “out” with Virginia Gateway-type parking lots.

The easiest way for Prince William to incentivize transit-oriented development is…
… to quit approving new sprawl.  Currently, we encourage developers to buy farms/fields and pave ’em over.  We end up with new residents in places that require new schools, new roads, new fire stations, etc.  Those public facilities require perpetually-high real property taxes.

There’s a smarter way.  Supervisors need to reject proposals for Comprehensive Plan Amendments/rezonings that scatter growth in places that are expensive/impossible to serve with transit.  (Avendale is a classic “dumb growth” location.)   As an incentive, supervisors should rezone properties to encourage new development near existing Virginia Railway Express (VRE) stations along Route 1.  Let’s design new neighborhoods in Potomac Communities to take advantage of enhanced rail/bus transit centers.

Don’t want to live in a high-density Regional Activity Center?  No problem.   Those of us already in Prince William don’t need to sell our houses and move.  We just need to encourage the 120,000 new residents to live near a transit center and stay off the highway.

If we don’t commit to Regional Activity Centers and transit, there’s another path to the future: keep raising taxes and building new roads.

Even if our politicians can ever raise the money, think new roads will be a long-term fix for traffic?  Look around at the roads we built in the last 15 years – did that solve the problem, or just shift the congestion?

If we reject Regional Activity Centers and continue our traditional planning for land use and transportation (approve new subdivisions scattered across Prince William, complain about traffic congestion, raise taxes for road bonds, build new roads, approve new subdivisions, complain about congestion…), we will get us more-of-the-same congestion, more-of-the-same crowded schools, more-of-the-same high property taxes.

Don’t you think it’s time to do something different?


1 comment so far

  1. Al alborn on

    I agree with everything you say about regional activity centers. From a transportation and environmental perspective they are a “no brainer”; however, there’s only one “flaw”. The reason developers buy up farms and fields is because that’s where many people want to live. Policy alone doesn’t necessarily drive development, the free market drives development. Developers build what people want to buy or what commercial companies want to build (which is driven by where people want to shop). If people naturally wanted to live in densely populated activity centers, the builders would fall all over one another creating this housing and business option.

    The fact is, choices are often driven by income. It has been my observation that the more income one has, the more land and privacy they want. A drive to stores or the market is a “feature”, not a “problem”. Since Prince William County is now one of the richest County’s in the Country, we are obviously attracting folks who like a bit of space. I’m not sure policy alone can address this issue. These people vote (and donate to campaigns). I’m guessing they are also among that small population that reliably show up at the polls. It is the nature of Democracy that our Supervisor’s consider their opinion.

    There is a demographic consideration that might have policy implications. First, as our population ages, the demand for housing might change to more convenient regional activity centers that offer many advantages to this demographic. Second, I have read several studies (which I can’t reference off the top of my head) that say the current (“younger” generation) likes the regional activity center concept (smaller living spaces near shopping and transportation). Perhaps it’s about who the county attracts in the future (the right mix)?

    As always, the “problem” with policy driven housing decisions that border a bit on a social experiment is unintended consequences. As are all things in life, it’s a math problem.

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