Urban sprawl isnot from roads

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Urban sprawl is an important element in the public policy arena. Statewide sprawl initiatives are increasingly
common across the country, and elected positions have possibly been won or lost largely because of candidate’s
positions on the issue. As a result, easy answers to what causes sprawl are sought so that easy solutions can in turn
be proffered. The idea that sprawling development is the direct result of highways is a good example. But do the
facts support the allegation?
This study carefully reviewed the magnitude and location of growth in 20 of Ohio’s urbanized areas to isolate
the impact of major road improvements on growth patterns. The study used a computerized mapping system called
a geographic information system (GIS) to track growth and relate it to specific road improvements within each
region. The study also used consolidated county data on growth of population, households, employment and
income, to develop an overall picture of growth on the state and local levels. The results are significant:
    • County-level analysis concluded that growth in Ohio cannot be described by simple explanations such as
        “suburban” or “Interstate”, but rather depends heavily on the characteristics of the underlying local economy.
    • Growth during the 1990’s went primarily where there was room for it. In all 20 urbanized areas, growth
        occurred primarily in those areas that had low prior density.
    • Population growth within urbanized areas in particular is a complex phenomenon, not strongly related to
        either prior growth or to major road investment. Other important factors in determining local growth rates
        might include taxes, school quality, housing quality, infrastructure provision, zoning regulations, and
        community and business attitudes.
    • Major road improvements were not very common. In the cities reviewed, major road improvements occurred
        in only about 10 percent of tracts over a decade, or about 1 percent per year.
    • Major road improvements appear to accommodate, rather than spur, growth. About 70 percent of population
        growth during the 1990’s took place in census tracts that had no major road improvements.

The study concludes that major road improvements are not strongly correlated with tract growth. The greater
determinant of growth within Ohio’s urban regions is a tract’s prior population density.
The implications of this study for Ohio’s land use policy planning are clear: Road improvements are a generally
blunt, and largely ineffective, way to attract development to specific locations within urban areas. The control or
prohibition of road improvements is not an effective way to control growth. Instead, road improvements should be
used to improve mobility by reducing congestion, improving safety and reducing travel times.
Since local governments are primarily responsible for zoning, their decisions concerning allowable population
density will be the primary determinant of the magnitude of future growth within the urban region. Neighborhoods
and suburban communities should work cooperatively to develop sensible growth management policies that focus
on effective policies: particularly density, infrastructure, schools and tax rates.
http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/ The Impact of Highways
and Other Major Road Improvements on Urban Growth in Ohio

As the explosive development in Sonoma will occur with or without freeway expansion there will be relatively little development in Marin even if we expand the freeway (as in Ohio).
Lets not be so Freeway-Phobic.  

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