Raleigh and North Carolina's Chicken and Egg Problem

Raleigh in particular and North Carolina in general are seeing rapid growth the likes of which have been missing from these parts for a long time (North Carolina's historic growth has been more steady but slow). This increased growth is pushing the state and its capital city to crucial tipping points quicker than our leaders want to admit; however, the citizens of North Carolina are seeing the light. For instance, in a recent poll by WRAL of Triangle residents, Controlling Growth/congestion was the biggest problem that needs to be addressed.

The problem is that no one seems to do anything about it; and the biggest reason I see is the chicken/egg problem of the area. In the area of transportation, this can be described as the attitude that mass transit will not work because we do not have a dense enough population, but the population is sprawled in part because the area has lacked mass transit. Two conversations this week have brought this point to the forefront for me this week. Both prove that unless we solve the mental block that this problem presents, the area will never become a great metropolitan area.

The first conversation is an online discussion of transportation options for the Triangle on Raleighing. The poster suggested Personal Rapid Transit (the idea of having small cars on tracks that are directed by riders and not on a set route like a train) as a way to bring mass transit to the area, taking into account the fact that we are spread out. The comments are equally against the proposal because it does less to drive density than a regular train with limited stops would and that the area is not even dense enough for this.

And the second conversation was with a man who has been working as an advocate for downtown Raleigh for decades about the future of the Dix property. The debate is whether the State should use about 330 acres in downtown Raleigh that is currently home to a mental hospital that is in the process of closing down. The debate is whether the area should be developed into a high density extension of downtown or preserved as a park for the benefit of future generations (our own small Central Park). The sentiment typically is that we need parks, but we need people living in the area to use the park. The fact that the area has not been developed before makes it easier to build higher, more dense building in the area. I could not argue with the sentiment that we need more people in that area to justify the park, but I know that if we do not save this for a park, there will never be a large downtown park in Raleigh. But this is still the chicken and egg problem, since if we do build a park, there will be higher density around it as the area around the park becomes more desirable to live in.

I do not which in either situation needs to come first the density or the amenity, but I know that if we do not do anything, we will get neither the amenities or the density that we need or desire. Thus, we need to either demand more stringent zoning that requires more density and controls sprawl or demand that we have mass transit solutions and large urban parks to incentivize people to create more dense development. As for me, I will continue to push for both, because I know that we need density and amenities to be a great city and state; and I do not care which comes first.


Good analysis, Targator

The truth is, though, the chicken-and-egg problem is a red herring (pardon my terrible mixed metaphor). Because the thing that must come first is political will.

With the right leadership, the answer is almost never "either or" - it's "both and." Open space must be preserved. And density must be encouraged. The only thing standing in the way of "both and" is the absence of creative visionaries and strong leaders who will settle for nothing less than extraordinary. Sadly, most elected officials worry more about being re-elected than in doing great things. Little do they know that great things are a more enduring legacy than "he got reelected five times."

The same arguments are going on in Charlotte

We don't have the Dix property decision to make, but most of the news and discussions surround, density, transit, greenways/parks.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Bake Sales for Transit

Do you think we might be able to raise $300 million or so in funds through bake sales?

About mass transit. It's a class issue. Has always been in the South. The professional class doesn't want to rub shoulders with those folk who currently make up transit ridership in the Triangle.

The second chicken-and-egg issue is availability of transit at convenient times and place in order to generate revenue, but the costs to establish that level of service is too expensive given current budgets.

Do the words "Set up to fail" come to mind?

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

Missing the point

The point is that we cannot dump a mass transit system into our current reality and have it suceed, but we will need one 10, 15, 20 years down the line and we need to plan to make it a success then.

Anyway, here are some thoughts in response to your comment:

There is no need for new money. If we plan high density development, we can move more people more cheaply through mass transit.

As far as class issues, we are not talking about forcing everyone to take mass transit. Even in New York, some people choose to drive to work everyday; they just pay a high price in tolls and parking and do not gain much in terms of time. The Triangle has made sprawl and driving the easier option. Once we setup real barriers to sprawl and real mass transit options it will become more mainstream and only the most stuck-up people will drive versus taking mass transit, and they will pay a convenience price.

What does success mean?

Planning high density development based on some future delivery of a transit system creates additional congestion without taking into account that people might just accustom themselves to that congestion instead of pushing for transit. While what you say about costs is true, where density is and how far from transit people are makes a big difference. In Chicago, going from Morton Grove to nextdoor Skokie in order to catch the El to downtown is an insurmountable barrier, made even more difficult by the fact that even in Chicago there is now more workers in suburban work locations than in the Loop. If there were transit connections among these office parks that ran faster than the freeway traffic (definitely not an impossibility) there might be more ridership.

Transit has never ever been self-supporting for any length of time. It has always been subsidized. Transit in the South started as a way for electric power companies to seal deals with progressive-minded city councils by using excess generating capacity to power trolley cars. It was only when busses replaced trolley cars that the power companies rushed the exits. Duke Power was last out, only finally turning over its bus systems to governmental transit authorities in the 1980s.

For a variety of reasons, we need to start on building transit now; however, it is politically less attractive than privatized toll roads; I wonder why. If the transit is not online at the point at which densities start creating gridlock congestion, people and businesses will find other areas to locate in. Densities can be increased almost immediately; developers love increased density. The fastest that transit can be built is 5 to 10 years, probably more with urban property acquisition headaches. So it will be 15 to 20 years down the line anyway, and we have lost 10 years already through the manipulation of government by those who are tools of the oil industry. (Yes, W, that would be you.)

So what exactly does success look like. It seems to me that we have to have some financial commitments and land acquisition well under way before creating high-density zones.

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts

50 states, 210 media market, 435 Congressional Districts, 3080 counties, 192,480 precincts


But don't expect the FMFs (free-market fundamentalists) to give an inch. They think planning is what Bush did in the year before he decided to invade Iraq.

I'm with you 100%. Right now, it's all about land acquisition to preserve options for the future.