November 13, 2007

Some final thoughts on the 13/366 Corridor Study

While sorting through the piles of paper that accumulated during election season, I found my printouts of the Route 13/366 Corridor Study, and remembered that I'd promised long ago to write up my concluding thoughts at the end of a long explanation of what was in the report.

My final conclusions are pretty simple: This report is a clumsy sales pitch for ideas in the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan.

I think the front page of the Corridor Management Plan makes its priorities quite clear:

"Tompkins County has crafted an inspiring vision for the community. The recently adopted Comprehensive Plan.... The NYS Route 13/366 Corridor Management Plan (CMP) offers a perfect "next step" in the evolution of creating the vision.

The references to plans created below the county level are less enthusiastic, less "vision"-filled, and that plays through the document. The CMP builds on the goals outlined in the County Comprehensive Plan, and nothing can deter it from pursuing nodal development. All the information collected from the public is answered with nodal development. Nodal development is the One True Path, and everything else follows.

I should make it clear that I think nodal development is an important goal - it's how people lived until the automobile let us scatter, and it offers huge efficiencies and advantages. The network of farms, hamlets, villages, and cities is an age-old pattern that I don't think sprawl can beat in the long term.

So where does this report fall down? At the start of Section IV, where they proposed two scenarios: nodal development and the existing pattern, and then follow those, assuming that their modeling will answer the question of "why should we do this?" instead of answering that question directly.

Think about the proposals the report makes, and the proposed benefits. The costs include:

  • A brand new node on the 13/366 overlap, between NYSEG and BB Farms.

  • Major infill development all over the Village of Dryden. (Doubling the population? I'm not really certain.)

  • "As Varna is significantly built out, opportunities for nodal development will need to take the form of re-development as homes and businesses turn over." (Does that mean tear down and start over?)

  • Restrictions on new driveways in the corridor area.

In return for all that, we'd see:

  • The same number of new traffic lights.

  • Fewer driveways along the road.

  • Fewer signs along the road.

  • Better bus stops and hopefully service.

  • Maybe fewer turn lanes.

  • Maybe a 10% reduction in gasoline use.

A 10% reduction - maybe - in gasoline use is a good thing, but I'd hate to be the person trying to sell this plan to the Town and Village planning boards on that basis. This is a lot to ask - especially of the Village, which isn't generally thrilled about large new development - in return for benefits that come out to around 10%. (There are a few side proposals I noted earlier that are also worth doing, but don't require changes to zoning.)

I do think that the Town and Village need to take a hard look at their development plans, but making these things work requires motivation at more immediate levels than "this is a good planning idea". Nodal development is a good answer to a lot of things, but simply calling for nodal development - even with these proposed benefits - isn't especially convincing to those who aren't already on the bandwagon.

So what might provide better motivation?

I'd suggest that $5.00 gasoline is sounding more and more plausible every day. Growth in demand for oil is outpacing demand in supply. What can the Town and Village do to prepare for that? And what if it goes higher still?

That question might lead to some of the same answers this plan provides, but it might lead elsewhere. Wherever it leads, it includes a concrete answer to the difficult question of "why".

Posted by simon at November 13, 2007 12:19 PM in , ,
Note on photos