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Do We Need More Roads and Bridges?

Words on the Street highlights the best writing on cities we’ve encountered recently at New Urbs. Post tips at @NewUrbs [1].

No More Roads [2]

We tend to think of the postwar period as the era of highways and suburbs. But construction has continued apace: Urban interstate lane mileage doubled from 48,000 to 94,000 miles between 1980 and 2015. And it’s not just expansions of existing roads; total urban road length also doubled in that time from 629,000 miles to 1.2 million miles. Some of those new urban roads are former rural roads that have been reclassified as they are absorbed in expanding metro areas. But the changing ratio of roads to people in metropolitan America is still dramatic. In and around cities, road mileage has grown at exactly twice the rate of population. In 1980, there was a mile of urban road for every 273 residents. Now, there’s a mile of road for every 215. That means fewer people responsible for the money that keeps that mile of road in good shape. That frenetic pace of expansion has created a maintenance crisis, among other problems. Old miles still outnumber new ones 99 to 1 every year, but states spend more money making incremental additions to the road network than taking care of the rest. [More… [2]]

—Henry Grabar, Slate


Why An Increasing Number Of Americans Want To Build A Granny Flat [3]

The [postwar] emphasis on single-family detached housing reinforced the idea of nuclear family living, and in practice, has given us “what may well be the lowest-density settlements in the history of the world,” according to Sonia Hurt’s “Zoned in the USA.” Our zoning laws have grown ever more restrictive, and many folks who want some sort of accessory dwelling on their property have to bend or break the law in order to do it…. Our zoning laws may have made sense back in 1950. But as the American family changes, and housing affordability shifts, perhaps the ADU will become increasingly common. Whether it’s an aging relative, struggling millennial, visiting friend, or homeless family, many Americans want to provide shelter to the placeless in their lives. They just need a means to do it. [More… [3]]

—Gracy Olmstead, The Federalist

The Problem With the End-of-Urban-Revival Narrative [4]

As with so many stories that rely on fragments of migration or population data, the narrative that some people are moving out of cities implicitly assumes that they are choosing to leave because they don’t want to live in cities. In fact, the growth of city population, and the rising price of homes in cities is a sign that more people want to live in cities than we can currently accommodate. Our failure to increase the supply of housing in cities is increasingly becoming the constraint on urban economic growth. You’ll know cities are failing when you see house prices and land values dropping. That will be a sign that consumers have rejected urban living. But that’s not what’s happening in New York City today. [More… [4]]

—Joe Cortright, City Observatory

Classical Architecture, Once Suppressed, on the Rise in Universities [5]

The College of Charleston is to be congratulated for instituting the first classical program of architectural education in the South…. The C. of C.’s new [Community Planning, Policy and Design] program joins a recent spate of new classical and traditional coursework within existing university design departments. The University of Colorado, Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning has its new Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture (CARTA), directed by Christine Franck, one of the classical revival’s leading impresarios. Catholic University in the District of Columbia has just added a classical concentration to its master’s curriculum in architecture and planning. Only Notre Dame among universities in the U.S. boasts a full-fledged classical program offering a master’s and doctorate; it ousted its modernist program in a palace coup almost three decades ago. [More… [5]]

—David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

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3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Do We Need More Roads and Bridges?"

#1 Comment By DanJ On April 10, 2017 @ 5:04 am

I rarely make specific predictions about the future, but here goes: Self-driving cars will make a breakthrough within 10 years. It will be huge and it will change the way we look at cars. You no longer need to own the car, but it will come to pick you up when you need it. Pooled cars make for better utilization of the vehicles, a drastic reduction in the total number of cars, less need for parking spaces and less accidents. Roads can be made narrower and bends tighter because the cars will drive more precisely than current drivers, freeing up space around the cities.

#2 Comment By JonF On April 10, 2017 @ 5:01 pm


People will still own cars even with self-driving cars. Most people do not live in areas of sufficient density to make a self-driving non-owned car fleet practical. (Also, I’m not sure we will allow those cars on the road without a responsible human in them). That will work only in the same areas where Zipcar and the like are practical today: densely populated cities. In the suburbs and certainly in rural areas people will still own their own cars– and many city drivers will too.
Given the reality of peak drive times we will still need about the same number as cars as before.
Cars will still need to be parked– who pays for the fuel when no is using the car? And too many cars on the road at once still leads to congestion (see: physics of turbulence).
In cities bicyclists (like myself) will still demand sufficient road space for ourselves and oppose making roads narrower.

#3 Comment By Sam On April 11, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

Basically, self driving cars will kill off and replace mass transit – and will be most popular in places that currently have large mass transit systems.