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Home > Social Issues
Growth Facts of Life
by Bob Powell, 1/19/04
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I found that this is photoshopped, the actual photo is below. When I drove on a Texas freeway in about 1986 on a business trip, it seemed like this: at least 6 lanes both ways bumper-to-bumper.

"Freedom" in LA.

This should make it obvious that road building does not solve the problem of traffic congestion.

The depressing-to-many truth is that only way to reduce traffic congestion is to make driving less attractive that alternatives ... or make alternatives more attractive.

This is a result of what's known as The Attractiveness Principle, one of the systems thinking archetypes, which illustrate common system behaviors.

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Added 5/2/17: Doubt developers control government to the detriment of citizens? The plan: Don't tell citizens about the problem and leave it to taxpayers to remediate the problem or buy out the property. "The federal government is expected to make available at least $14 million to cover 75 percent of the cost required to purchase qualified homes at their pre-damage value."

Warnings did not stop development in Colorado Springs' landslide zone By THE DENVER POST, 4/24/16

COLORADO SPRINGS - A geologist knocked on Sherry Cripps' door more than a decade ago and warned her that her home on Cheyenne Mountain was sitting atop a slow-moving, destructive landslide. He told her to abandon the home.

Cripps dismissed the aging geologist as crazy until 2015, when his predictions came true. She and her husband Denny are close to abandoning their nearly unlivable home, as it is cracking in half and sliding off a hill. The Cripps and their neighbors are confronting a behemoth that lay dormant for years: a landslide zone one and a half times the size of Manhattan.

Thousands of homes in the southwest corner of the city were built in the slide zone, despite repeated warnings from geologists who said the area was risky for development and recommended caution in approving construction.

City officials have known about the problem since at least the mid-1990s, when they passed an ordinance designed to restrict development, but the measure has not been enforced and new homes have gone up almost unabated. ...

In a letter to Colorado Springs officials last week, state geologists urged the city to take more aggressive action than they have to monitor and assess the risk the Broadmoor golf course slide poses to homes, infrastructure and residents of the area.

Typically, the state's geologists serve in an advisory role, conducting studies of areas at risk of landslides and making nonbinding recommendations. But it is up to local governments that choose to work with them to decide whether and how development will occur.

A city spokeswoman acknowledged in an email that the city has known about the landslide risk near Cheyenne Mountain since 1996, but she added that city officials think the land is safe for development. ...

Three homes on the federal buyout list have already been condemned, and of the 53 properties that have been assessed, 15 have dropped 50 or more percent in value, according to the county assessor.

Eighty-four homeowners across Colorado Springs have applied to the hazard mitigation grant program, the vast majority in the southwest part of the city. The federal government is expected to make available at least $14 million to cover 75 percent of the cost required to purchase qualified homes at their pre-damage value. The city of Colorado Springs has not committed to helping fund the remainder.

Owners of homes with no damage fear that values in city's most sought-after enclave, where houses range in price from half a million dollars to $2 million, will plummet. Many continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing their properties, even while they wait to receive grant money.

Lt. Colonel James Branch, who lives a few blocks from the Cripps, is angered that the burden of bailing homeowners out will fall on the taxpayers. Although his home is not damaged, he applied for the buyout program as a precaution.

Because of this, he wants to know who is responsible for approving development in a landslide zone. In early April, Branch sent an email to the company that built his home asking for accountability.

To the untrained eye, the landslides are all but invisible.

"There are three that we know about, those are slower-moving rotational landslides, as opposed to this huge fast-moving rock avalanche," said Karen Berry, director of the Colorado Geological Survey.

The unstable zone covers 34 square miles. Some homeowners have measured localized landslides, and have found that they move about an inch a week, and sometimes an inch a day.

The area sits on a steeply tilted bedrock that extends in a narrow band along the mountain front. In places, it is covered with ancient landslide deposits, composed of earth and gravel, that can be many feet thick. The earth is stable as long as it does not have excessive moisture, or is not disturbed. But once water lubricates the earth above the bedrock - or development removes some land - the landslide can be activated.

After development and heavy spring rains in 1996, parts of the landslide began to move off Cheyenne Mountain, when it started buckling houses one at a time as it worked its way down to Fort Carson. In the mid-1990s, it broke a home in two in one day; in 1999, it destroyed 27 homes. Now, after a record-breaking rainfall in May 2015, the slide is moving again.

The current federal buyout program is the third since the slides began moving. In 1999, the federal government gave 75 percent of $6.6 million to help buy out 27 homes in southwestern Colorado Springs.

The landslide doesn't move as one mass - instead, sections will be triggered while others lay dormant. City planners have approved, without extensive study, construction of homes on dormant landslide areas that are next to active areas - a practice that geologists caution against.

In letters to city planners, state geologists have repeatedly urged builders to carefully study the area's geology, suggesting the safest places for homes or else suggesting that no homes be built at all. ...

Added 7/22/09: A little-understood fact about growth is that road building stimulates growth and increases traffic congestion. Those who promote "growth" love road building in rural areas because it opens them up to development. This "induced traffic" effect is a well-known aspect of urban dynamics (a system dynamics applications area).

I found these articles that illustrate the point:

Cities Lose Out on Road Funds From Federal Stimulus By MICHAEL COOPER and GRIFF PALMER, 7/8/09

Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money. ...

study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

Another article; added 6/10/17:

Welcome to colorful, crowded Colorado; all we're missing is leadership By DIANE CARMAN, The Denver Post, 6/9/17

... The response from our leaders has been to smooch up to developers who are building more apartments, office buildings and retail centers (more jobs!), and then bicker fecklessly through an entire legislative session about how to deal with the inevitable gridlock.

One thing we should know from hard experience is that building more traffic lanes doesn't work. Witness I-25. [emphasis added]

The T-REX project completed in 2006 at a cost of $1.67 billion widened the highway from the southeast suburbs to Denver. It now ranks as one of the most congested highways in the country and, if not for the light rail lines along the route that carry more than 43,000 passengers a day, it would be impassible.

Traffic engineers call the phenomenon "induced demand" and they've known about it since the 1960s. Induced demand means if you build more lanes, more people decide to use them, duh.

So, maybe it's time to face reality. ...

Because here's the thing: If we built all the roadways we need to keep car traffic moving with all the jobs and all the new businesses and all the people living here, we would wreck the place. We'd bankrupt the treasury, pollute the air, create apocalyptic parking problems, ruin neighborhoods with noise and traffic, and make walking around town about as pleasant as a stroll down I-25 at rush hour. ...


As described in this article on the Growth Facts of Life, building more roads will not correct the problem of traffic congestion; it just draws more traffic and increases congestion; it's called induced traffic. Bummer. See Drivers of Growth on the effects of road building.

Overview: The Growth Facts of Life

This paper is a short essay that summarizes the sometimes uncomfortable "facts of life" about growth. It describes the structure behind, and "solutions" to address, our complaints about growth. It is based on the thorough treatment in The Tangle of Growth.

It covers the interacting effects of tax policy, infrastructure backlogs, Federal Reserve policy and also how "The Attractiveness Principle" & "Escalation" systems thinking archetypes affect growth.

I first learned of "The Attractiveness Principle" when I read the paper "Urban dynamics - the first fifty years" by Louis Edward Alfeld from the System Dynamics Review, Volume 11 Issue 3, Fall 1995, p 199-217. Facing the reality of what's described had me depressed for three weeks.

"The Attractiveness Principle" structure is described in terms of the importance for businesses to have value propositions at Making Strategic Choices. It's applies to economic regions as well. It means what should be obvious: that no business or region can be "all things to all people."

Here's how it affects regions: A corollary of the Attractiveness Principle is that "Given free migration, no place can long remain more attractive than any other place (where "attractive" is the composite of factors that attract)." That is, people move here until Colorado Springs becomes as unattractive as any other place. Depressing, huh?

Growth Facts of Life: Double-column version (6 pages, 112K, best to print)
Growth Facts of Life: Single-column version (7 pages, 111K, easiest to read on line)

An abbreviated explanation of what's happening is Colorado Springs: A Broken Region 10/26/10, a column in the Colorado Springs Independent.

The main point is: One does *not* reduce traffic congestion by making driving *more* attractive. One reduces traffic congestion by making *alternatives*, like light rail, *more* attractive. This is an example of the effect of the "Attractiveness Principle" dynamic, a systems thinking archetype.

Developers love wider roads ... it makes the property on which they've speculated more valuable. Road building is a developer subsidy sold to the public on the pretense it's for safety and convenience. Road building is a failed policy for reducing traffic congestion; again, road building is a driver of growth that increases traffic congestion.

See graphs showing "Change in Unemployment" vs "Regional Economic Growth" to see that higher rates of economic growth do not result in a "change in unemployment" that "creates more jobs". When growth advocates say they want "more growth to create jobs", they are lying.


One reader's comment:
"Finally, let me just say this is a brilliant piece of work.  I love it.
Nicely done.  If only we didn't live in a sound-bite world


Some are fond of saying that economics isn't a zero-sum game. But for jobs it is, because Federal Reserve policy allows only so many jobs to be created: so it is a zero-sum game for states to compete by giving incentives to companies to get them to locate in their state.

Art Rolnick, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, also points out that Congress Should End the Economic War Among the States. His recommendation instead? Invest in Early Childhood Development on a Large Scale for a better return on investment.

Original photo.
See The State of Colorado Employment for graphs based on more recent data showing that more rapid regional growth does not result in a significant change in unemployment.

Also, for more on the "labor market" and Federal Reserve policy, see There's no "free market" for Labor, 5/21/05, and Why Unions and a Minimum Wage are Necessary, 5/14/14.





URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/growthfacts.shtml

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© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates
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