Wednesday, December 14, 2005

1001 Days

If it were a pole, it would be large enough so that somebody could run a big patriotic American flag up it. Sometimes people do so. But it isn't a pole, it's an eye-mote. A blindingly effective one.

A common theme fails to emerge from three recent items in the Arizona Republic. "Crucial freeways crippled," by editorial writer Kathleen Ingley appeared a couple weeks ago. In this she decries the gridlock that affects Valley highways, and she has some suggestions, such as "better planning," for managing this adjunct to sprawl.

"Nearly round-the-clock gridlock on I-17 and I-10 may be inevitable. But the economic toll would be so immense that we should pull out all the stops to avoid it.

Inevitable. Okay then.

As a counterpoint to Ingley's piece, James Hahn replied later with "New freeway will only lure more cars." His point of view is that gridlock is not only inevitable, it's a sign of "stability." More housing developments will require more highways to serve them, which will foster the growth of more sub-divisions, and around and around the Maypole this circle dance will continue to go, so to speak.

(snip) "The roads are bad and getting worse, true. But consider what would happen if they suddenly got better: Commuting and travel times would go down and it would become more attractive for new developments, more Anthems, to be built.

And once they are built, presto! Road conditions will degrade again as new residents fill the roads. Back to where we are now.


Other forces must come into play to quell the growth. Perhaps it will be higher housing costs or the limits on water. But improving road conditions won't solve anything in the long term.

I think we are stuck in a stable system, and thy name is gridlock."

Other forces. Right.

And today, on the 1001st day of our latest Iraq war, we find the Robert Robb essay "False anxieties fueling new China syndrome." He argues that China's growth is nothing we need to fear, because at present their economy is really much smaller than ours and it will be some time before that country can compete against us as an equal. Even though we owe them a great deal of money.

"Even if China continues its current pace of growth it would only have an economy about a quarter the size of the United States' by 2025. China's ambition is to have per capita GDP in just the $3,000 range by mid-century.

To get even that far, China must overcome some fairly significant obstacles. Right now, China's economic growth is largely export-driven. To truly develop the domestic economy will require extensive liberalization and the establishment of a non-political rule of law. Right now, China ranks very low on the Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal."

Significant obstacles. Yuppers.

All three of these writers fail to address the one main thing that is at the heart of our issues of sprawl, highways, economic growth, and competiveness in world markets:

Gasoline. (Click for chart.)

We won't need more freeways to relieve the inefficiencies of gridlock, per Ms. Ingley, if the price of motor fuel becomes prohibitively expensive, but I do not think that Mr. Hahn was thinking about that exactly when he wrote of "other forces" that might adversely affect suburban growth. And Mr. Robb entirely ignores the real fuel that will power China's economic growth. Like every other modern economy, theirs will depend on cheap petroleum. They will compete very strongly against us as fellow customers for oil.

None of the three pieces I've cited above even mention the word "gasoline."

Well, Ms. Ingley touches upon the notion of using a "gas-tax" for something-or-other, but she ignores the term as it relates to fuel. The words "oil," "gasoline," and "petroleum," though, actually do not appear in these articles. Amazing.

I suppose most people, like these three, do not consider much that oil is a finite resource. Well, maybe James Howard Kunstler and a few other voices screaming from the concrete and blacktop jungles of peak-oil edge-city wilderness. (Here, shrimplate leaves the computer to perform a horrific minute-long lung-collapsing Yoko-scream, then returns to the keyboard.)

I did send a polite and very snark-free e-mail to Kathleen Ingley shortly after her editorial appeared, but I've gotten no reply from her.

"Dear Ms. Ingley,

Your recent editorial concerning valley highways was interesting and raised many important concerns, but you completely left out the most vital consideration:


What will the traffic on our highways look like when the price of fuel goes up to $5 per gallon? Or $10 per gallon? Many people are already paying $5 to $10 for their daily commute. What will happen to edge-city development when that same commute costs $30 to $40 per day?

The era of cheap fuel will end someday. Perhaps quite soon. It would be prudent to consider planning for that inevitable day. Why aren't we?

Thank you for your time,


Maybe she doesn't like being called "Ms."


Horace Finkle said...

Sweet blog. Worth bookmarking.

If you want a really good laugh, read People these days just don't get to laugh enough!

Eli Blake said...

I lived in the Valley for a year about 1988-89, and what I remember was a big dust-up over a proposed light rail system. On one side were opponents who cited the cost and predicted that the Valley would never need a light rail system. On the other side were proponents who pointed out that during the early 1970's the same people who were against it had opposed building freeways, and when they were finally built (i.e. loops 101, 202 and the Piestewa and Superstition Parkways) they cost something like thirteen times as much just because of how much more the land cost.

Well, the opponents of light rail (if I remember right, it was called Sun-Tran, but I may be remembering wrong) won, and it was not built.

Fast forward to 2005, and it's now going to be built, and it is going to cost HOW MANY times as much as it would have cost in 1989?

dorsano said...

great letter.

Becca said...

Uh, China has been undervaluing their currency for years. And we know this. It's why we are going to get pummeled if/when the Chinese want to hand our asses to us.

Robb's claim that the Chinese economy will only be 25% of our by 2025 is not only specious, it is ludicrous and indicative of the blinders worn by many "conservative" commentators these days.

Naum said...

Hitting myself for not adding your blog to my blogroll already…

Excellent take on the matter…