Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to get a free NFL stadium

Ooh, European!After a long effort behind closed doors, D.C. politicians have reached a deal to replace Robert F Kennedy Memorial Stadium and the wasteland of empty parking lots that separate if from NE. The decaying building is almost always empty–including when DC United plays–and has begun to resemble mid-nineties Sarajevo. Aside from the occasional cyclist or student driver, it is completely abandoned 350 days per year. Razing the stadium is a great a idea, but replacing it with another is extremely foolish, especially because there are other people waiting in line to give us a free stadium.

The complex occupies 190 acres of prime riverfront real estate, but only a small percentage of that space is actually a stadium. The National Park Service owns the land itself and currently requires it to be used for recreation while the District Council leases it. This seems like quite an obstacle to residential development, but the requirement could easily change if our mayor and council members invested the same amount of political capital they have spent advocating for billionaire team owners.

The best outcome for the District would be for NPS to raze the stadium and auction the land in small parcels. If redeveloped at a density similar to Columbia Heights, nearly 20,000 new residents could live in the District. Those already living here would have a plethora of new options for dining, shopping, and other services.

Redevelopment would be a revenue windfall for District coffers, and construction would be entirely financed by developers and homeowners taking advantage of the new land. Preserving RFK’s status as a sports-themed dead zone probably means giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars to local billionaires and getting little in return in terms of economic development or tax revenue. Mayor Bowser’s prior sports indulgences with extremely speculative public benefits, such as a $50 million basketball practice court, indicate that she’s likely to give away much more to build a football stadium.

The stupidity of building a new stadium instead of housing and commercial space is compounded by the fact that we don’t actually have to choose between the two. If we build housing at RFK and forego a stadium, there are gullible Marylanders a mere seven miles away who will build us a stadium with their own tax revenue.

Despite the lack of economic development surrounding RFK or FedEx Field, Prince George’s County politicians are clamoring to repeat the mistakes of the past. If they’re willing to pay for our team, let’s benefit from their foolishness and make the District a better place to live at the same time.

Developers build expensive housing because housing is expensive

Emily Badger has a great post at Wonkblog about why rental housing is so expensive in the District.

Along with explaining how the median renter has changed as more affluent households are looking to rent rather than own, she notes the ways in which land-use regulation can unintentionally spike prices:

Height limits, parking requirements and zoning restrictions all push up the cost of construction. So do lengthy design reviews and legal battles with neighborhoods opposed to new development. Developers must also build at the densities communities allow, and in the limited places where they allow higher density. And if a given parcel of land is only zoned for about five stories of apartments, those apartments may have to command $2,500 a month each to make the project profitable.

She’s exactly right. All of these regulations increase the cost of building new housing and cause a lot of potentially profitable units to never be built at all. But aside from parking requirements, however, none of these directly cause developers to build expensive, luxury units.*

Much luxorious

More importantly, focusing on luxury units reverses causality. Housing isn’t expensive because developers are building costly, luxury buildings. Rather, they decide to build luxury units because housing is so expensive to begin with.

If developers decided to build spartan apartment buildings–no granite counter tops, no decks, basic appliances, cement floors, tiny windows–these units would still be extremely expensive and out of reach for working-class renters. Wealthier residents are willing to pay for location, and they’re willing to pay more than lower income residents can afford.

Even if developers decided to forego the entire building itself and just sold a tent on a dirt lot, that unit wouldn’t be affordable in a prime location. In Shaw, for example, someone just paid $1.2 million for dirt without the tent because the potential value of building homes is capitalized into the land. In some of our leading cities, land (and the legal entitlement to build) is often worth more than the homes built on them.

Developers do, in fact, build nice units with lots of amenities, but this is simply catering to the people who have enough money to pay DC’s sky-high rates, not a cause of high rates themselves.

Regardless of the costs developers face, housing prices are still set by supply and demand. The regulations Badger pointed out are indeed drivers of rental prices in the District, but the mechanism is constraining supply, not luxury units.




*As Donald Shoup has shown, minimum parking requirements cause developers to build fewer, but larger, units within a building of given size because providing additional parking spaces is not only costly, but also physically infeasible in many cases. Many jurisdictions require  certain number of parking spaces for each unit, rather than basing requirements on square footage. A developer may then build a suboptimal, but still profitable, building with larger, more expensive units (if the development moves forward at all).

Cyclists should behave exactly like drivers at stop signs

Bicycles are a perennial source of angst in most large cities. Bicycling has become more popular in the District over the last several years, and bicycle rules and infrastructure have become important public policy areas. They are also rife with unnecessary histrionics.

Cyclists’ and drivers’ behaviors are extremely similar. Because commuters are often in bad moods before heading out the door, interactions that result in a slight inconvenience are often blown out of proportion. Mix that with confirmation bias, and every minor incident turns into empirical evidence that drivers or cyclists (whichever one the observer is not) are terrible people who should be banned from the roads.

Attend a public hearing about a bike lane or check the comment section anytime someone writes about bicycles, bike lanes, or cyclists and you’re sure to hear several of the following:
1. Cyclists are scofflaws.
2. Drivers want to kill cyclists.
3. Claims of moral superiority based on mode of transportation.
4. Bike lanes make traffic worse.
5. Drivers are rude.
6. Cyclists are rude.

At a recent meeting to discuss a possible bike lane on 11th Street NW between Florida and U Streets, ANC 1B02 Commissioner Jeremy Leffler took umbrage to the idea that a bike lane was needed to increase safety on the three block route. “The problem is not ANC 1B people, it’s the people coming out of Columbia Heights, going 40mph, joyriding into our community and not stopping,” he said. Based on my experience at 1B meetings, Commissioner Leffler is a reasonable and polite person, so this quote merely demonstrates that misconceptions are widespread.

The following day, police were positioned on the southwest corner of 11th Street and Fairmont in Columbia Heights, ticketing cyclists for rolling through the stop sign. It’s worth noting that southbound cyclists are pedaling uphill at this point, and moving quite slowly. Luckily for the cyclists, tickets did not come with a penalty but had “warning” written into the fine section of the tickets.
It’s true that cyclists rarely come to a complete stop at stop signs unless there is cross traffic that requires the cyclist to yield. Cyclists usually slow to a speed that allows them to ascertain whether or not the intersection is clear, and then proceed forward if it is. This is called an Idaho Stop.
The Idaho stop is not new, novel, or even controversial in practice (though some cyclists prefer a different approach). It’s what nearly every single person on the road does nearly all the time. By not stopping, cyclists are behaving exactly like cars and simultaneously making commuting safer and more convenient for everyone involved.
I went to the corner of 11th and W this afternoon to film the intersection for 10 minutes.

During that time, approximately 57 cars traveled through. Around 35 of those cars did not have to yield to cross traffic. Of those 35, only two cars–less than 6%–came to a complete stop.
Aside from one driver, none who rolled through the intersection put anyone else in danger. Their actions do not make them scofflaws or renegades. They do not lack the moral authority to have input on traffic laws, nor should they have received a fine. They simply behaved in the standard, accepted fashion as appropriate for that intersection.
Similar results are found in empirical studies, though they often show lower stop sign compliance.
When cyclists treat stop signs like everyone else, they better blend with traffic and lower the inconvenience to drivers. There isn’t enough room for cars to pass cyclists on 11th Street between Florida and U Streets, which means that drivers would be considerably inconvenienced by cyclists slowing to a complete stop and then slowly accelerating at the stop signs.
That stretch of 11th Street may or may not be a great place for a bike lane (I’d suggest that they remove 11th Street’s stop signs at W and V Streets instead), but that’s a separate issue unrelated to “scofflaw” behavior. Until it is decided, drivers and cyclists should travel safely and courteously, which means not coming to a complete stop at stop signs.