Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How Does Public Policy Encourage Sprawl?

Analysis of Public Policies That Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Urban Sprawl (89 page pdf, Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Mar. 2015)

Also discussed here: Sprawl costs US more than a trillion dollars a year (Robert Steuteville, Better Cities & Towns, Mar. 20, 2015)

Today we review a report on the costs produced by sprawl which is usually associated with low gas prices which leads to an addiction to cars and long commutes and all of the negative environmental impacts that follow. The report while acknowledging this also points to urban planning policies that encourage sprawl including underpricing of public infrastructure in the suburbs, underpricing of motor vehicle travel which leads to demands for more roadway supply (as shown below) and policy that favours mobility over accessibility and automobile travel over other less environmentally harmful modes. The other side of the coin is toward more compact urban areas which in turn favours walking and cycling and less road building and maintenance costs among others.

  sprawl and demand for space

Key Quotes:

“Most of the media coverage focuses on the large costs of sprawl, but equally important is its analysis of market and planning distortions that encourage sprawl, and market reforms that correct these distortions, resulting in more economically efficient and equitable development.”

“sprawl increases annualized infrastructure costs from $502 per capita in the smartest growth quintile cities up to $750 in the most sprawled quintile cities. This analysis indicates that sprawl’s incremental costs average approximately $4,556 annual per capita, of which $2,568 is internal (borne directly by sprawl location residents) and $1,988 is external (borne by other people).”

“Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear $625 billion in extra costs. In addition, all residents and businesses, regardless of where they are located, bear an extra $400 billion in external costs.”

“We are now seeing growth in demand by millennials and the elderly for affordable, compact housing in accessible and multimodal neighborhoods. However, current government policies tend to favor larger, less-accessible homes.”

 “Americans who live in sprawled areas are between two and five times more likely to be killed in car accidents and twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighborhoods.”

“the degree that sprawl results from policy distortions. It identified various sprawl-inducing planning and market distortions including development practices that favor dispersed development over compact urban infill, underpricing of public infrastructure and services in sprawled locations, underpricing of motor vehicle travel, and transport planning practices that favor mobility over accessibility and automobile travel over more resource-efficient modes.”

"For a real-world example of sprawl versus smart growth, compare Atlanta and Barcelona. Both cities have approximately the same population and the same level of wealth per person, but Atlanta takes up over 11 times as much land and produces six times the transport-related carbon emissions per person as Barcelona”

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