Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Thursday, January 18, 2007

14 Story Height Limit and Metro

The tallest buildings in DC are 14 stories tall. These buildings are mainly located around K Street and large sections of DC are in the 2 to 6 story range. Any notion that a 14 story height limit would result in not enough density to extend Metro to Howard County is ridiculous on the face of it. Clearly when the mother city of the Metro system tops off at 14 stories, then a 14 story limit will in no way restrict the extension of Metro.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just remember that any extension of Metro also extends deep, deep, deep into your wallet. Metro is expensive to build ($350 million to $1 billion per mile), expensive to operate (drivers, station managers, ...), consumes greenspace, severs communities, and is inconvenient and slow.

Where's a system that is better than cars? That's what we need for mass transit.

1:38 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Those cost numbers are off from my understanding of the situation, where did you get them?

As for consuming greenspace and severing communities, if you have read my plan it won't do that because it is largely underground except when it runs un the median of existing highways or existing rail segments. Though this adds some initial cost those costs will be recovered by increased property values and the savings from not having to build more roads or widing existing roads.

And actually Metro when you look at what are road conditions will be like in 15-30 years as a result of even moderate population growth will be both faster than a car and more convenient to get between many areas of the community.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous numbers.girl said...

It isn't the height limit that makes a metro extension unlikely, it is the size of the population and trying to reconcile the preservation of all trees, greenspace, lessened street congestion, and lack of parking that makes a metro extension unlikely.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Evan said...


DC shows that the population can exist within 14 stories and in fact a lot less stories in most places. The county numbers during the Focus Group processes also showed that we could have much more that 5500 units added downtown and keep within a 14 story limit, but that the constraining factor was the street infrastructure. There is no way to relieve the street infrastructure to allow more than 1600 units without a Metro system like the one I propose. That is why I proposed my Metro system plan after reviewing the traffic study for downtown. I very much would like more units downtown, but it just isn't possible without Metro.

Not sure what you mean by lessened congestion and lack of parking making extending metro unlikely, because lessening congestion is exactly what Metro will achieve and the increased congestion within 15 years will require it and we either start its planning now or play catch up later. And a Metro extension designed as I designed it would be a solution to lack of parking not a cause of it, because it is what would allow us to have a true walkable community with many stops in communities so people do not need to get into cars to get around.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Hayduke said...

You’re not looking at building heights in the context of their surroundings. It actually isn’t a height limit that will likely doom Metro, but a lack of density in general. DC’s height limits and Metro are compatible because the overall density of DC is sufficient to support a fixed rail transit system. Here’s a comparison of population density for Columbia and DC:

Columbia: 3,202.0/mi²

DC: 9,015/mi²

12:44 PM  
Anonymous seldomseensmith said...

Thank goodness somebody finally said it – Hayduke thank you so much. This really isn’t a height debate YET it’s a density debate. I thought about that first when I saw Mary Kay Sigaty talk about how Paris is such an amazing city and that they have very tight height restrictions. In case your trying to keep score Paris’ density = 24,800/km sq. (I’m not so good at math but I think that’s 64,000/mi sq. with there being .386 sq. mi per 1 sq. km) that’s freakin dense.

Mass transit isn’t all of the issue either (though certainly a huge part). All of the amenities I hear thrown around as positive – museums, theaters, coffee houses, jazz clubs, non-chain restaurants etc only survive with density. You can hate me for saying it if you want (of course you don’t, as of yet anyway, know who I am) but history, economics, and plain old math back me up. Look at the densities of any other city exalted as models

Seattle, WA - 6,900/mi sq
Ann Arbor, MI - 4,300
Cincinnati, OH - 4,200
Portland, OR - 4,000

All but Ann Arbor have MAJOR metro areas much of which has large chunks with equally high densities and truthfully, I’m just giving the ones that are on the low end, I could have done this:

Annapolis, MD - 5,400
New Haven, CT - 6,600
Berkeley, CA - 9,800
Vancouver, BC - 13,700

Evan - pretty much everything you and your coalition are asking for may work if Jiminy Cricket were here to allow wishing to make it so but faced with economic reality its time to choose – density and amenities or what we have now. So how about it – an honest discussion? Will you choose so the rest of us can have a reasonable discussion and a legitimate playing field?

Once upon a time there was a debate about how we make sure the amenities and the services get built and not just the developer building a bunch of crass housing and offices then disappearing. That’s a debate worth having. Oh how I miss those days.

I heard Del. Bobo once say that density can’t possibly be the answer because we all know places with high density that don’t have good transit. That’s true but a classic statistical manipulation. Sure you can have density without transit – but show me an example, ANY example, of a place that has made transit work without density.

Now let us get to your metro proposal, though truthfully it’s so far out there I’m a little embarrassed to be discussing it. First, up front capital costs: Let’s assume your right and Anon 1:38 is off in his/her numbers. Let’s go crazy and assume he/she is 50% off – and that is totally crazy. That means a minimum of $175 million per mile. How many square miles of track are you proposing? Including getting the track to Columbia? There is no doubt that we are talking into the billions and that’s just upfront capital. Who, might I ask, is going to pay for that? These numbers automatically cut off your standard argument – the developers should pay. But the highest number I have ever heard for how much they stand to make is $1 billion. While that number is totally unsubstantiated and based on little if any fact lets say they are required to invest half their earnings – that’s $500 million which would barely make a dent and that assumes the only thing we spend their money on is transit. The math doesn’t come even close and I’m only using short sided estimates (unrealistically low costs, unrealistically high earnings, and unrealistically high % contribution).

Now let us go to operating costs - my count has you proposing 45 stops. As a point of reference there are 39 metro stops within DC (43 outside of DC servicing commuters from not just near the stops but all over hell and gone). As Hayduke said, with a density close to three times Columbia, DC metro still bleeds OPERATING money. Yet, your proposal, as I understand it, is that we must build a multi-billion dollar metro system THEN talk about density needed to . . . no not even the density needed to sustain. 5,500 units in downtown would not come even close to the density needed to sustain that so were talking about the density to barely survive (maybe) with an insane and unpalatable amount of tax revenue making up the difference.

How can you possibly reconcile that? This whole thing, including many of CCD’s proposals are so factually indefensible on their face that truthfully they strike me much like the anti-global warming arguments. You can’t win the actual argument so you through in a series of red herrings and then you define artificial choices and you finish off by falsely framing the debate.

Most of the people I talk to who stand in a different place then you and the Coalition are tired and fed up and in real danger of simply being outlasted. You, like are esteemed president make up for a lack of reality with constant repetition of the same stuff hoping the world will eventually take it as fact – meanwhile those saying something different are beaten to death, shouted down and denounced as developer sympathizers sprawl addicts or just haters of the Columbian vision. We’re tired – but I see the light and think we may be rallying.

I guess this ended on a vent but sh*t, someone needed to say it.


5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Those cost numbers are off from my understanding of the situation, where did you get them?"

Some examples:
Belvoir Metro Extension, 2.2 mi. aboveground, about $340 million per mile

Tysons Corner section of Dulles extension, 3.3 miles estimated to cost either $2.3 billion elevated above ground or $2.5 billion tunneled underground, ($697M/mi above ground, $758M/mi underground), including four stations, but none of them having any parking

Metro or light rail won't put a dent in traffic congestion since, due to their build and operate expense, cannot be built dense enough to reach within walking distance of most neighborhoods.

And they are slow compared to cars. Hunt Valley to BWI on the light rail works out to 22 mph or less (just check the distance and schedules). Very, very few people would forsake the potention of a 55 mph commute for the guarantee of a 22 mph commute.

If mass transit is to offer an attractive alternative to cars, it has to be accessible (walking distance from neighborhoods) and as fast or faster than cars.
Metro and light rail are neither. Personal rapid transit can be both.

If money were no object, underground PRT would be even better. Even then, besides the obvious increased above ground aesthetics and decreased noise pollution, PRT's cost advantages vs. Metro would still exist: lower cost to construct since it would require smaller bore tunnels, smaller stations/platforms, and less or no parking facilities.

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Metro would neer happen in Howard County. There are too many people who don't want to allow it to happen. Mostly due to NIMBY and classist reasons.

Like people in Georgetown and Potomac, Howard Countians can afford to drive.

6:07 PM  

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