The public responsibility to provide mobility and access is
on the road to chaos. The question is: Who is
leading the charge to inform citizens so a new,
more intelligent strategy can be adopted? We
have seen that it is not governance
practitioners, either elected or appointed.
It turns out that it is not the media
This is the transportation story so far:
and access are essential if citizens are to
be prosperous, safe and happy. The current
strategies to provide mobility and access
are tragically flaws. These strategies are
perpetuated by myth and fraud. ("Self
Delusion and Fraud," June 7, 2004.)
mobility strategies kill 10,000s every year
and are the major cause of dependency on
foreign oil and balance-of-payments
deficits, as well as air and water
and Taxes," June 21, 2004).
citizens hear from the public officials
responsible for mobility and access is that
they need money. When voters say,
"no," to tax increases, governance
practitioners turn to private
Perfect Storm," July 12, 2004.)
different tactics will ease gridlock
temporarily, but only Fundamental Change in
human settlement patterns and a balance
between transport system capacity and travel
demand will put Virginians on the path to
sustainable mobility and access. ("Out
of Chaos," July 26, 2004).
All this makes for an easy to tell, straight-forward story.
Why have the media been so dead set
Post is Bad, but the Problem is Not Just
For two years, this column has been documenting the
continuing shortcomings of The Washington
Post coverage of mobility and access
issues. (See "Smoke
and Shadows,” Jan
concerning the 2002 coverage and "Clueless,"
Jan 19, 2004
Feb 2, 2004,
for a review of the 2003 transportation and
land-use coverage in The Washington Post.
Just to show that
The Post is still at it, I cannot
refrain from pointing out that the newspaper ran
a story on June 16, 2004, entitled, “Connector Depicted as Cutting Commute.”
As documented by “Self
Delusion and Fraud,”
the only thing that will cut a commute is to
move the job or the home. Building a wider road, a new road or a
new rail line will not do it. The Post
followed up with another build-more-roads
editorial titled “Road Rage Brigade” on June
But The Washington Post is not the only newspaper
supporting the delusions engendered by the
Private Vehicle Mobility Myth.
During the second week of June, a team of
Media General staff provided a series of three
stories that ran in the Richmond
Times-Dispatch and other Media General
papers across the Commonwealth. (“Drive Time
“How We Got Here,” June 8, 2004
and “Promises, Problems
Transport Issues,” June
The stories represent what many might deem good journalism.
They articles contain a wealth of up-to-date information, good graphics
and warm human interest stories that bring the
transportation issue into personal focus.
The Times-Dispatch series probably will win journalism
awards because it is better than most similar
efforts even though it follows the “Citizen #1
is in dire straights because ..., agency
spokesman #1 says ..., agency spokesman #2 says
..., citizen #2 says ..., expert #1 says ...,
citizen #3 says ... but expert # 2 says...”
shortcoming of this sort of coverage is that it
never gets beyond statements such as the quotes
included in “The
The link between mobility and land use is
mentioned but then dropped.
On 6 July, The Virginian-Pilot carried an editorial
based on a speech by state Sen. John Chichester,
is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The editorial entitled “Virginia Nears
a Dead End” reviewed remarks on the
transportation crisis that Chichester had
delivered at the University of Virginia. The
speech and editorial included the obligatory
“We can’t build our way out of the
However, the editorial led into a list of
“other options” with these words:
“But political inaction only
accelerated the widening gap between the demand
for new highways and the shrinking pool of
dollars to build them.”
The editorial followed the list of
“other options” with a prediction that
“the transportation crisis is sure to be at
the center of next year’s fight” to succeed
Then the editorial writer jumped
to the familiar and counterproductive conclusion
that the issue was raising money with these
there are hints that a critical debate will turn
on whether to build roads with sales and income
taxes, rather than just transportation- related
Where was human settlement pattern in this discussion?
It was alluded to as “high-density
land-use planning” under ways to “cut
one wants “high density.”
What is needed is functional human
settlement patterns and Balanced Communities,
not “high density.”
What is so hard about understanding that
building more roads without Fundamental Change
in human settlement patterns makes congestion
worse, not better?
If you do not balance the trip demand generated by the human settlement
pattern with the transportation capacity, there
is no “solution” to the transportation
Why try to fool citizens by making it
into just a money issue when it is not just a
money issue? Money
cannot buy mobility if there are dysfunctional
human settlement patterns.
So there you have it: Three major daily papers in the three
biggest New Urban Regions in Virginia,
where 85 percent of the citizens live, punting
the transportation issue.
It is impossible to have a “marketplace
of ideas” when there is only one brand on the
shelf and the buyers have myth- and
advertisement-induced blinders on.
If the major dailies do not get it, how about the community
starters, The Virginian-Pilot editorial
was so well thought of in community press
circles that it was picked up and run along with
a supporting cartoon as the entire editorial
page in one community weekly.
As bad as the regional coverage is, the community news is
story after story:
“Commuters Moving on Rural Roads” by Matt Hourihan in The
Potomac News on July
is a classic example of this coverage that hits
all these buttons. See the backgrounder “Anatomy
of a Bottleneck” for a review of why these
“commuters” in Prince
not moving on roads that were once in
The media problem is due to more than just bad reporting or
The traditional practice of
journalism as currently structured is not up to
the task of educating citizens about solutions
to transport dysfunction or settlement pattern
issues in general. This is because writers as well as
citizens are besotted with, and now beholden to,
the Private Vehicle Mobility Myth. (See "The
Myths That Blind Us," Oct
But it goes deeper. Newspaper
owners and many senior editors are among those
who believe they benefit from Business as Usual.
They fear the short-term economic impact
of Fundamental Change, especially on their
That is not the only roadblock.
There may be something in the training of
journalists or perhaps in the genetic hardwiring
of those who choose journalism as a career.
They tend to:
stories concerning mobility and access as if
those who hold a transportation positions
understand the context of immobility and
congestion and will tell a reporter on
the record what they know even if it jeopardizes
their job or that of their superiors. (See “Self
Delusion and Fraud,”
as if they do not have a clue that there is a
inextricable link between transportation and
land use, or that, to make sense of this
relationship, the media need to use a vocabulary
that matches the complexity of the subject they
oblivious to the fact that, as an organic
system, there is an overarching conceptual
framework that can be used to describe and
understanding human settlement patterns.
after a few interviews that they are experts and
are not about to be persuaded that they are
wrong about relationships they have seen reinforced
by auto, builder, and banker advertisements for
Like citizens in general, journalists tend to believe what science says
about things too small to see (microbiology) or
too large to visualize (astronomy), but at the
scale of human settlement pattern, they are
experts because, after all, they live in it.
Journalists feed citizens a diet of “news” and
commentary using simplistic, misleading
Then they say the media cannot explore
the complex issues because the audience will not
understand them and will just stop
The rule seems to be that it is better to
tell lots of folks a simple, misleading story
than to tell those who will listen the complex
and counterintuitive reality.
After all, the volume of readership/viewership
is what pays the bills, not how much the
When these issues are called to the attention of reporters
or editors, they often bristle and offer
platitudes about journalistic integrity and
freedom of the press.
At other times, they nod knowingly and
with a shrug say they “understand” but do
not have time or column space for the extended
coverage needed to get across complex issues.
We focus on the print and web-based media in these columns.
In fact, reality has “outfoxed” all
branches of the fourth estate.
We provide examples from print and the
web in our columns, but only because the
electronic media do not leave a paper trail.
If you want to track them down, you need
to spend hours monitoring and recording and
playing back. Who
has time to do that?
The electronic media hope no one has the
time, and that is probably why they pay so much
attention to make-up and youthful faces on
a review of the impact of electronic media,
especially television, see The Shape of the
Future, S/PI, 2000.
Also see Endnote
Cards and Letters
perpetuate public misunderstanding in yet
another way: their treatment of letters to the
editor. A good example is how they handle HOV
By way of preface, it is nearly universally acknowledged
that HOV lanes could work better. There
needs to be more uniform enforcement.
And it is critical that human settlement
patterns at both ends of HOV lanes cluster
jobs/services and services/housing to make car
and van pooling or a bus the best mobility
solution for large numbers of citizens.
We will return to the issue of
enforcement in a moment.
Even though HOV lanes could be made more effective, the
data show clearly that even now HOV and HOT
lanes “work.” They work in the sense that HOV and other
restricted lanes move more people per hour than
in unrestricted lanes in the corridors where HOV/HOT
lanes are in use. At one point, the Shirley
reversible HOV lanes were “the most efficient
stretches of asphalt for moving people in the
Over the last 20 years, the public has initiated a
subsidized commuter rail line (VRE) from Union
VRE offers an alternative to HOV lanes
that more is attractive to many in the I-95
At the same time, federal, state and
municipal programs, policies, controls and
incentives have supported and subsidized human
settlement patterns in the I-95 corridor that
discourage the formation of car and van pools.
Finally, bus routes have been rerouted to
feed VRE and METRO.
The Shirley HOV lanes still work.
How long they will work without a
continuing path through the new Springfield
Interchange is a different question.
That is the present condition.
Onto this scene comes an articulate observer and his wife, who are driving along
are creeping along, the HOV lane looks empty. He is steamed and writes a letter to the
H. Soule was in just this condition, and his
letter ran under the headline “HOV: Never
Worked, Won’t Work. Can’t We Get Rid of
1, 2004, B-8
If the HOV lanes worked as badly as they
appear to Mr. Soule, and others who write
similar anti-HOV letters, the lanes would have
been torn up long ago. Transportation engineers may be clueless
on some issues, but they are not foolish enough
to support HOV lanes if the numbers did not
Mr. Soule’s letter suggests raising the price of imported
oil as an alternative to HOV lanes.
Higher burdens on energy should be one
element of any comprehensive mobility program.
and Taxes,” June 21, 2004).
But that does not mean HOV lanes have no role in
The core problem with Mr. Soule’s letter is not that he
is misinformed, it is that it is the way the
editors present it.
The letters-to-the-editors staff wrote
the full-page-wide headline.
Because they published the letter without
any balance or commentary, most readers would
assume it was a valid perspective.
If Soule’s letter had claimed that his
grandfather’s pocket watch was more accurate
than the Naval Observatory Atomic Clock or that
the earth was flat, it would not have been
it championed a medically discredited procedure,
it would not have been printed -- or it would
have been accompanied by a editorial note or
paired with a letter stating the scientific
this does not happen with letters regarding HOV
mobility-problems and other myth-driven
letters sail through with big headlines.
Six days later, two short letters were printed under a
small headline “HOV Works for Me.”
7, 2004, A-20.)
Too late. The
damage has been done again.
Go back to the problem of HOV enforcement.
If you are the division commander, the
shift supervisor or a patrol officer at the
State Police Barracks, do you want to send out
or go out and face the Virgil Soules of the
world, who happen to be friends of Joe Gibbs,
Sen. Chichester or other important persons, when
you could be stopping a “real” crime?
This is just one specific example of how media punt the
ball on transport questions.
What, then, is to be done?
With little effort, any media outlet could retool to start
providing information of real value to citizens
and governance practitioners concerning
transportation and land-use issues.
Most regional media organizations now
have a sports editor, a lifestyle editor and a
business editor. Some
have added editors in areas like health,
gardening/landscape, as well as editorial page
information on transportation, mobility, access,
land use and other topics related to human
settlement patterns are left to “metro” or
“news” editors who deal with politics, crime
A solution to a media outlets myopia on transportation and
mobility is to appoint a senior editor
responsible for mobility and access.
That means a person who understands the
impact that human settlement patterns have on
Mobility and access will be an important
growth area for all media outlets as congestion
continues to morph into gridlock.
The issues of mobility and access and the
transportation and land-use relationships that
control mobility and access will become more
critical to readers and viewers. It deserves senior-level attention.
Just establishing a job description would
be a major learning experience in most
The new editor may be titled the Mobility and Access Editor
but we will call him the Human Settlement
Patterns (H/S/P) Editor so that it is clear that
a road building lobbyist would not qualify.
The H/S/P Editor would be responsible for
hiring and training reporters who cover
transportation, land use and related topics.
A key problem of the turnover due to
cycling young staff through “transportation”
would be solved. The
H/S/P Editor also would supervise the traffic
tips columnist, the Dear Abby of mobility and
This position is called “Dr.
Gridlock” in The Post. The H/S/P editor
would insure the responses go beyond platitudes
and instead make citizens aware of the root
causes of driver concerns.
This editor also would be responsible for
reviewing all articles, editorials and letters
that deal with transportation and land use.
It would be their responsibility to
contact well-meaning letter writers like Virgil
H. Soule and arrange for a balanced presentation
One of the H/S/P Editor’s primary responsibilities would
be to articulate a vocabulary to use in articles
and editorials about mobility, access and
Come to think of it, the Metro editor
might report to the H/S/P Editor since human
settlement patterns are a primary determinant of
prosperity, stability and sustainability in New
Whether the media take up the H/S/P Editor idea or not, the
question remains: Will the media continue to be
tools of political polarization and
misinformation, or will they step up to provide
citizens with the information they need to make
democracy and transportation function?
August 9, 2004
1. Amazon.Com now has a “Search Inside the Book” program.
Customers of Amazon.Com can go to The
Shape of the Future page and use the
search feature to look up any topic, much like
using Google or other search engines.
Searching the book for “television”
gives some indication of the impact on electric
media on human settlement patterns.
Although the search function does not
always yield correct results, it is a start.