View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, December 11, 2003

More Time for Hugh

Hugh's on drive-time here in the afternoon in Denver. So there's a way to commute without it being a complete waste of time. RTD, our regional transit authority, wants us to spend billions of dollars on a light-rail system and a "transit hub" in old Union Station. Of course, the system will be made to move people into and out of downtown, from a few selected points. It would include a commuter rail north of town to Boulder. Sounds great.

Except that Union Station can't be an all-purpose hub, since the light-rail and regional busses don't terminate there. I've seen this before in DC, and cross-county commuting inevitably overtakes traditional breathe-in, breathe-out commuting, and all these lines run into and out of downtown. People don't use these things in anything like the numbers required to relieve congestions, so traffic will be every bit as bad. The whole thing is a boondoggle, predicated on the idea the nobody ever learns anything. The Post has an op-ed by Daniel Jennings making these and other points. Let's kill this thing now.

In the meantime, the one good idea, the C470/E470 Beltway, is almost completed, stopped only by the mayor of Golden standing athwart the roadbed shouting, "Stop!" Golden's concern, says the mayor, is that its real purpose (delivered in hushed, conspiratorial tones), is to open up even more land for development. Gov. Lamm, in 1975, killed funding for the beltway. That would have at least had a coherent plan. Now, it's happened anyway, just piecemeal.

Look, Governor, Mr. Mayor, what you people never learn is that that development is going to happen anyway, as long as Denver remains a desirable place to move to. It won't happen because of the roads, it will happen with or without them. Only then, if you don't plan ahead, people will be screaming about the commutes and the congestion and there won't be anyplace to put the roads without tearing up their houses.

I've seen this before in DC, as I mentioned above. When our family moved there, they had built a Beltway so far out it would never become clogged. By the time I left, most of the commuter traffic was along the Beltway, and Maryland was fighting tooth and nail against anything that even looked like an outer Beltway. Upgrade US-301 out East? No. Upgrade US-15 on the Western side? No. Built a road between PG and Montgomery Counties in Maryland? Nyet. It didn't stop the people from coming, and it just made life miserable for people who were already there.

Business move and people move. Unless you want to start passing minimum-lease-30-years laws for businesses, and strapping ankle-bracelets with leashes onto people, they're never going to live near their jobs in large numbers for any length of time. They also like houses with land, where they can turn up their stereos and sit outside. As long as these two facts remain, you will never be able to build mass transit flexible enough to "solve the traffic problem." Like Lileks, I like busses because people need a cheap way to commute. But people will put up with a lot to keep the flexibility of having their own cars at work.

Even if it means having to listen to Hugh.

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