Why you will never see a study of the impact of MAC on traffic, 9/22/2018, edited 10/4

Posted on September 22, 2018

Did you know that:

  • When MAC was first being discussed, numerous citizens called on the Town Council to do a study of the impact of MAC on traffic.
  • Town Council passed MAC anyway, without such a study.
  • But at that time, the Town Council promised to commission such a study.
  • And they never did  — they just let it slide.

All of this is courtesy of an exchange I had yesterday with a fellow who has been tracking MAC zoning since its inception.  If I can find hard evidence on the Town Website, I’ll add the appropriate links to the text above.

So let’s connect the dots.

  • When MAC was being developed, the MAC steering committee was forbidden to look at traffic as an issue.
  • Next, the consultants that the Town hired to help develop MAC were instructed not to look at traffic.
  • Then, despite pleas from the citizens, the Town refused to commission a study of traffic, and MAC was adopted anyway.
  • At that time, the Town promised to do such a study of traffic.
  • The Town then reneged on that promise.
  • Fast forward to the present, and Councilman Noble has called for an overall Maple Avenue/MAC traffic study as part of the temporary moratorium on MAC submissions.
  • And the Mayor ignored that when she summed up what was going to be done during the moratorium.

Do you see a pattern here?

Let me explain why the Mayor and pro-MAC Town Council members can’t afford to let that traffic study be done.   In a nutshell, any competent study will show that, in the long run, MAC is going to make Maple Avenue traffic significantly worse.  And they can’t afford to admit that.  So they have to prevent anyone from saying that officially.

And so, in what appears to be standard operating mode, the Mayor did not say “no” to the traffic study.  She just ignored it.  Just as the Town ignored its prior promise to do such a study.

The details of the long-run impact of MAC on traffic are laid out on this page  You can also read my criticism of the Mayor’s rhetoric on traffic, here.   But the key table is this.  This is just traffic from the additional housing on Maple (i.e., ignoring traffic to the retail spaces), under the assumption that 70% of the MAC-eligible acreage on Maple eventually gets redeveloped under MAC.

The point of showing all these scenarios is this:  Any competent analysis of the long-run impact of MAC will show that MAC will make traffic materially worse.  The table above is not rocket science.  All I did was scale up the builder’s figures for the housing-related trips for 444 Maple Avenue West/Tequila Grande.  And then change a few of the assumptions.  And the basic concept isn’t exactly rocket science either — add a few thousand new residents, all of them on Maple, and … seriously, what do you think is going to happen to traffic?

If I can figure this out, I would assume that anybody even remotely familiar with traffic estimates would know this.  And that’s why the Mayor and Town Council never have and never will allow that study to be done.  They’ll talk about it, they’ll promise to do it.  But the pro-MAC Town Council members simply can’t afford to allow an honest and competent study of MAC and traffic to be done.

Finally, when in doubt, pay attention to what they do, not what they say.  And what they are doing is getting ready for a lot more cars downtown. 

EDIT 10/4/2018:  The current Town Budget showed plans for spending $6 million to build a parking garage on the Patrick Henry Library lot, and raising the meals tax from 3% to 4% to pay for that.  But the most recent capital spending plan revised that.  The spending for the library parking garage was dropped, and the increase in the meals tax was dropped.  So, while what I say below is still true in the long run — they Town has funded the feasibility study for the library garage — the schedule is now delayed.  

Original text follows:

Between the Mill Street Garage and the proposed Patrick Henry Library garage, the town is funding (in part) the creation of about 550 new parking spaces in the downtown core.  (Mill street has about 125 for the Town on the 2nd floor, and another 125 or so privately owned on the ground floor, plus parking to support the retail space; Patrick Henry will have 350, but will replace the existing 50-or so that are there, for a net 300 new.)  Just for comparison, the Giant Food shopping center lot has about 600 spaces total (yes, I counted them via Google Maps.)

So, in round numbers, Town Council is arranging to add parking more-or-less equivalent to the entire Giant Food shopping center lot, all of it downtown.  You can’t do that, and then say, with a straight face, no, we’re not expecting to see any more traffic.

I have to admit, though, that when I hear the phrase “charming small town”, the first thing that comes to mind is a four-floor concrete parking structure on the main street.