Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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NIMBY Zoning And the Tragedy Of The Commons

Decades ago, ecologist Garrett Hardin wrote about the "tragedy of the commons"- when an action that is rational for one person becomes irrational when widely practiced. 

For example, suppose that there are a few dozen cattle ranchers near a pasture open to all.  It makes sense for each rancher to let as many cattle graze as possible on the pasture, so that the ranchers can feed their cattle without buying additional land.  But if every rancher lets as many cattle as possible graze, sooner or later the land will be overgrazed and the cattle may starve.

A Tale of Three Lobbies

In the early 1990s, transportation politics at both the state and federal levels was often fairly simple: an all-powerful Road Gang (made up of real estate developers and road contractors) typically got whatever it wanted, rolling over a much weaker pro-transit coalition of environmentalists and urban politicians.

Traffic deaths, safety and suburbia, Part 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post comparing the safety of inner suburbs and outer suburbs. (See http://www.planetizen.com/node/56468 )

My post showed that (in least in the metropolitan areas I looked at) inner suburbs were safer than outer suburbs, because violent deaths from murder and traffic combined were lower in the former.

Nothing really pays for itself (except maybe toll roads)

Arguments over transportation policy often run as follows:

HIGHWAY SUPPORTER: Highways pay for themselves! Buses/trains don't! So highways good and everything else bad bad bad!

TRANSIT SUPPORTER: But highways create bad externalities like pollution and climate change! So if highways were taxed at their true cost gas would cost a zillion billion cajillion dollars per gallon! (followed by numerous counterarguments and counter-counterarguments that I won't bore you with, except as written below...)

It seems to me that these arguments miss one point: even if the highway system as a whole pays for itself, the system is so chock full of cross-subsidies that each individual road doesn't (except for toll roads).

Transit and seniors

I occasionally have speculated that our aging society would lead to increased transit ridership, as seniors lost the ability to drive. But I recently discovered that seniors are actually less likely to use public transit than the general public. One study by the American Public Transit Association showed that 6.7% of transit riders are over 65 (as opposed to 12.4% of all Americans).(1) The oldest Americans are even more underrepresented on America's buses and trains: only 1.5% of transit riders are over 80, about half their share of the population (2). The only other age group that is underrepresented on public transit is Americans under 18.

Traffic deaths and safety: who's really the safest?

William Lucy of the University of Virginia has written extensively on the question of whether outer suburbs are safer than cities or inner suburbs; he argues, based on traffic fatality data, that outer suburbs are certainly less safe than inner suburbs, and maybe even less safe than cities. (1) 

However, Lucy’s analysis is not particularly fine-grained: it analyzes data county-by-county, rather than town-by-town. What’s wrong with this?  Often, suburban cities within a county are quite diverse: some share the characteristics of inner suburbs (e.g. some public transit) while others look more like exurbs.  So I wondered whether there is any significant 'safety gap" between inner and outer suburbs. 

The End of Exurbia? Not Yet

After the Census Bureau released population estimates showing that core counties were (at least in some metro areas) growing faster than exurban counties, the media was full of headlines about this alleged trend.  An extreme example came from the Washington Post: "An end to America's exurbia?" (1)

More logical fallacies in planning policy

A couple of weeks ago, Todd Litman made a blog entry on logical fallacies in planning.*   After looking at the list of possible fallacies at the end of his post, I thought I would show some (hopefully not too common) examples of these fallacies:

Ad hominem (arguing against the person rather than the argument) – “Smart growth is in the U.N's Agenda 21 so we have to fight it to stop the U.N's plan to socialize the world.”  “Concern about urban containment is just another example of Tea Party extremism.”

Anageon (relying on inevitability)- “Sprawl is inevitable, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Does density raise prices?

In For A New Liberty, libertarian intellectual Murray Rothbard writes that leftist intellectuals had raised a variety of complaints against capitalism, and that "each of those complaints has been contradictory to one or more of their predecessors.”  In the 1930s, leftists argued that capitalism was prone to ‘eternal stagnation”, while in the 1960s, they argued that capitalist economies had “grown too much” causing “excessive affluence” and exhaustion of the world’s resources.  And so on.

Is Tel Aviv the future?

If you run a google.com search for “The Death of Suburbia” you will find about 24,000 ‘hits.’   Some of the gloating over suburbia’s alleged demise is based on the facts that (some) suburbs have been hit hard by the current economic downturn, and that (some) city neighborhoods have become more expensive per square foot than than suburbs. (1)  But suburbia as a whole continues to gain population.

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