|Raleigh Growth rev.01.07.2008||Back to My Lessons|
yeah, me again... happy new year to all....
several things have struck me about Raleigh since we moved here about two and a half years ago.. one of my first opinions was that Raleigh reminded me a lot of what Silicon Valley in California was like when i moved there in 1978... friendly people, smooth roads, lots of trees and nice countryside surrounding the Valley's cities. coming from what used to be a rather rural area of New Jersey, it was strange to live in an area where the only way you could know you've driven from one city into another was the "welcome to ..." and "now leaving..." signs on the streets.
24 years later, housing prices had skyrocketed [i liked that], roads were clogged with rude drivers and the air lost its previously beautiful blue color many days of the year. it was easier to leave than we thought it would be.
Raleigh was a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. back to open roads, [and smooth, too!] and friendlier people than i'd ever experienced before... many memories and stories about "Southern Warmth" that we loved and had never experienced before.... we loved it here then, and still do.
but, as with most things, change happens, and it's often disruptive and is anything from annoying to hurtful to people....
growth can be good or bad. inviting and encouraging [subsidizing] companies to move or expand here can create new jobs. more jobs invite more emigrants who want houses, highways and drinking water, to name just a few recent issues we've all been too aware of recently.
silicon valley was a jobs mecca. RTP and Raleigh have attracted tens of thousands of new residents every year. people in silicon valley valued their "green space" and passed lots of laws limiting building heights [so we could see the surrounding mountains and have hiking and biking trails and lots of greenery within a short drive of the urban centers.]
the tradeoff was, that with so many companies starting up and growing and so many people wanting to move into the small buildable region, supply and demand were thrown way out of balance. postage-stamp sized lots and tiny houses in places like Palo Alto fetched million-dollar prices years ago. today, the 0.1-acre, 1692-squares house i left hit about a million dollars on zillow.com before the mortgage "crisis" attacked. even today, it's $1,128,000+ on zillow, and virtually every other home in the 200-house tract we lived in are within a few hundred thousand of that price.
when i'd left New Jersey, i sold a home i'd paid $26,000 for at a $45,000 price. that home i owned in Cupertino went to me in 1979 for about $92,000. it sold in summer of '85 for "only" $845,000. did i make money? you bet. could i buy any other house almost anywhere else in California? No, because i'd end up with a bigger house, no cash, and a possible mortgage payment four times what i'd had before...
it's all tradeoffs.
today, people of Raleigh talk about green-space, limited growth, loss of trees, and everything else Silicon Valley went through back in the 1980s. put strict limits on growth and housing prices, both new and existing structures, will climb rapidly, pricing many middle-class people out of the city altogether, particularly service industry folks from waitresses to police and fire people. most of them won't have salaries that will support housing prices doubling, tripling or more, if they want to buy and own.
people complain about jammed highways. maybe fifteen or more years ago, i was "stuck on an interstate" that goes through Atlanta. it was rush hour... about 5pm. i looked around as the sales rep drove us to dinner.... there was one car about a quarter mile ahead of us and the nearest car behind us was about 100 yards away. today, all of the lanes are jammed and crawl for a multi-hour "rush" hour. in portions of Silicon Valley, the HOV lanes for "rush hour" are listed as "3pm to 7pm" or thereabouts.
nobody wanted to build more or wider highways. concrete was bad. trees were good. getting 5 mpg at 5mph for the hour's drive home was the tradeoff against even 20mpg at 45 mph for what should have been a 20 minute drive or less.
highways don't get cheaper, the longer you wait to build them. they get more expensive and even harder to pay for, the longer you wait.
everyone in silicon valley talked about mass transit. buses ran few and far between and required numerous connections to get anyone from where they lived to where they worked. why? simply because, as the area grew, there was no "everyone lives here and everyone works there" that could be connected by any kind of efficient mass transit. everyone points to New York City as a model. nowhere else do "enough people all live here and work there" to make mass transit work. but everyone loves mass transit.
to the point that there are essentially NO mass transit systems ANYWHERE in the WORLD which are self-supporting. ie, pay their own way with fares and without government [meaning: public tax] subsidies.
make the choice without kidding yourselves. if you want mass transit, fine, but be up-front about what it will cost in time and taxes. provide some statistics on how often trains or buses would run, what the fares would be and what the taxes and subsidies would need to be to keep 'em afloat. then compare people-miles per hour, not per gallon, for a "normal" commute! no, nobody does that.
one of the first letters i wrote to the N&O after i got here in late '05, back when Falls Lake was more like a Falls Stream Through Mud and Dirt... was to ask why nobody was digging out the lake... dredging it, so to speak, to increase its capacity. all reservoirs silt up over time and their capacity drops. all of them. but Raleigh was treating Falls Lake like a big tank that would always fill up with rains. sure, it would fill up, but the tank gets smaller every year. two years later, people still ask why the Lake hasn't been dug out to increase its capacity. so do i. well, as other blogs and N&O articles and interviews and letters to Ed's have said, it would take years and cost millions of dollars even to study the ramifications of such a project.
well, five years from now, we'll have more people, more water needs, both for people and industry, and a smaller reservoir. most graphs of growth in population are drawn in a "linear" fashion. but growth is not linear, it's logarithmic. the graphs that we draw are misleading and have little predictive value. a nice "log-linear" graph might be better for planning, but nobody uses them.
i've touted "roundabouts" for decades. we even had them back in Somerville, NJ, my old home town. the state law was "entering traffic has the right-of-way" so once the circle locks up, nobody can get out and traffic backs up for miles in multiple directions. easy fix: put up YIELD signs at all of the entrances to the roundabouts and ticket the heck out of drivers until they smarten up to why that works. it took me several visits to England and their plethora of roundabouts to see how simple the solution works. a properly-sized roundabout can handle any amount of traffic flow up to its design limits, but only if incoming traffic always must yield to drivers already in the circle. i saw the same thing in Truckee, CA, which replaced several lousy intersections with circles, and now it's a breeze to drive those streets.
so everyone here resists traffic circles. and building more roads.
and everyone complains about traffic jams and long lights.
on another point, Raleigh's leaders have made it pretty clear that Raleigh would/should be a great place to visit and do business. the flock of hotels being built and new convention center certainly attest to that.
then ask why, if Raleigh can be a mecca for tourists and convention-goers, why the road system doesn't seem to have any "straight-shots" from the airport to downtown that are wide enough and free-flowing enough to handle rush hour traffic plus conventions plus a few sporting events thrown in.
if a State Fair hits the same time that a Big Game is played, cars back up for miles and many folks give up and go home. the events can be predicted a year or more in advance, yet no Park And Ride services seem to exist, and certainly a tram service from slightly more remote parking venues might work, too.
back to water for a minute... as i've written elsewhere, all we hear on tv, radio and in the paper is about conserve, conserve, conserve.
i call that a testimony to failure. the public utilities which are tasked with the delivery of water to our homes and businesses [or maybe they don't have that charter clearly up on their walls..?] have failed to meet our needs. they've mis-forecast our needs. they haven't worked with city planners on estimates of growth and consumption, so all we can say is "conserve"?
if we add 5% to our population every year, and if we don't start work IMMEDIATELY on drastically increasing our SUPPLY, there is a brick wall coming: EACH AND EVERY year we'll all have to cut back ANOTHER 5% on our consumption, JUST TO STAY EVEN WITH current supply capacity.
Raleigh should be working with all surrounding cities as well as the State to develop increased SUPPLIES of water. import it from Tennessee or Ohio. collect flood waters in tanks and lakes and pump it to reservoirs that are low somewhere else. build desalination plants and pump the water from the coast to here and beyond.
yes, something like putting a man on the moon, or.... Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System.
can you imagine what life would be like today WITHOUT the interstates? just think about that a while.
all of these things will take some "new trains of thought" and it won't be cheap or easy, and lots of old beliefs are going to have to be either given up or shown the light of day to evaluate their real costs in terms of time and money for their users and those taxed to provide them.
and there is no shortage of people who can analyze and predict and graph things, if you'll let them.
but that will be a change, too.
thanks for listening. ah, i feel better now. this is SO cathartic. and i'll be back, too. :)))))))))))