Tyler on Tyson's
By Bryan Caplan
Some pretty reasonable remarks by Tyler about the future of Tyson’s Corner provoked a remarkably angry set of comments. When I first moved to Virginia ten years ago, I lived across the street from Tyson’s II, and Tyler lived in a townhouse ten minutes away. A few observations:
1. As far as I could tell, the city built millions of dollars of sidewalks for my personal use. I walked every day of the week at all hours of the day, and rarely saw another pedestrian.
2. All the complaining about traffic and excessive growth was pure cheap talk. Real estate prices, not whining, are the real barometer of overall quality of life.
3. Tyler is entirely right to remark that:
Have I mentioned they will build elevated rail service to Dulles Airport? This sounds quaint and European but there is already a dedicated, virtually traffic-free road to that airport, in addition to three or four totally usable back routes.
4. If you use hourly wages to value time wasted in years of traffic delays at, it’s pretty clear that the Tyson’s Tunnel “under, not over” proposal passes the cost-benefit test relative to elevated rail. However, it is even clearer that extending the metro at all fails the cost-benefit test. Indeed, as Clifford Winston’s exhaustive survey of the public transit literature concludes:
[W]ith the single exception of BART in the San Francisco area, every U.S. transit system actually reduced social welfare. Moreover, they [Winston and co-authors] could not identify an efficient pricing policy or physical restructuring of the rail network that would enhance any system’s social desirability without effectively eliminating its service.
Bottom line: If the Tyson’s metro extension passed the cost-benefit test, it would raise real estate prices so much that it could be funded out of property tax revenue. But without tons of external subsidies, metro expansion wouldn’t stand a chance.
P.S. I’m baffled by comments that call Tyson’s “ugly.” It’s Beverly Hills in Virginia, as far as I’m concerned. But then again, I was baffled when Alex Tabarrok told me he missed Oakland, California. That’s what I call “ugly.” When a big developer builds an area from scratch, it wants to maximize real estate values by making residents happy. What’s the result? Clean, convenient, corporate living, Big Box stores, and McMansions – not Oakland.