7.23.2015

The Cost of Auto-Dependent Growth

http://cdn.phillymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/ben-franklin-bridge-traffic-jeff-fusco-940.jpgThere's been a lot of hand-wringing here in the region about how hard it is to commute to suburban jobs.  Both the Philly Inquirer and Philly Mag have recently lamented the dearth of good public transit options outside of Philadelphia and the eye-watering cost of fixing that.


There are pros and cons to density, as any city-dweller will be able to easy pop off the good and bad of living in an urban environment.  But there are pros and cons to low-density places as well, and mobility is one of those double-edged aspects of suburban living.  On the one hand, driving is extremely convenient: you control where you leave from and when, and have maximum flexibility as to how to go and where to end up.  On the other hand, any place that is automobile-oriented is going to be faced with high traffic, few non-auto options, a terrifying pedestrian experience, inefficient land usage, or all of the above.

Furthermore, the high cost of layering transit on top of such places is actually under-stated.  When a place is organized around the car, getting from home to office is only half the battle.  How do you get to meetings, go out to lunch, or run errands on the way in or out.  So you need to layer additional infrastructure (pedestrian-protecting walkways, bike share, shuttle service) on top.

More and more millennials are choosing urban workplaces, and as a result city commercial real estate is perking up relative to suburban options.  So maybe this problem of getting out to suburban workplaces will abate on its own.  But if it doesn't, consider it part of the hidden cost of an auto-dependent growth pattern whose price tag is now coming due.
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