Sprawl and Population
Americans have finally noticed that our country is getting
more crowded - public transit use is up, school enrollment
is exploding, parking is getting more difficult and a host
of related problems reduce the quality of life for everyone.
The largest attention has gone to sprawl, the cancer-like
expansion of suburban housing which creates the associated
problems of disappearing open space and farmland, longer
commutes by car and generally worse traffic.
Even though the United States has added more than 120
million people in just 50 years, the subject of population
growth rarely occurs in discussions of sprawl and gridlock -
a curious oversight. California, which is the poster case of
rampant sprawl's damage, has grown from an environmentally
sustainable 10 million in 1950 to 35 million today. How can
such growth be ignored?
"Smart growth" purports to solve sprawl by mandating more
densely populated cities surrounded by green belts of
agricultural land and open space, aided by more public
transportation. But "smart growth" only seeks to redirect
growth, not to slow it. At the same time, the U.S. Census
forecasts the U.S. will reach half a billion people in the
lifetime of a child born today. Surely any approach to
sprawl which ignores the population component is
intellectually dishonest and will fail to solve the problem.
Consider the following and decide whether it is wise to
ignore America's overpopulation problem...
The United States is growing in population by around 2.2
million persons yearly (more than half of which is from
immigration) with no end in sight.
California now has a higher rate of population growth than
Bangladesh, i.e. 1.7 percent versus 1.6 percent.
The Texas Transportation Institute reckoned that areas in
the nation with "severe" and "extreme" traffic congestion
increased from 14 percent in 1982 to 36 percent in 1997.
In 1998, Atlantans spent 23 hours per year stuck in
traffic and wasted $1.5 billion worth of fuel. (Metropolitan
Atlanta's population has more than doubled since 1970.)
In California's Central Valley, which provides half of
America's produce, there has been a population influx of two
million in 20 years, shrinking valuable farmland by 500,000
acres. Another seven million residents are forecast for the
region by 2040, perhaps causing one million farm acres to be
lost. The state as a whole may lose half of its agricultural
acreage in the next 20 years if current rates of farmland
The number of hours of delay on Sacramento-area freeways
have grown 1,000 percent since 1986.
CalTrans reported (2/19/99) that traffic congestion on
California urban freeways is increasing an average of 10
percent per year, costing motorists nearly $8 million in
lost time and wasted fuel use each day.
The San Francisco Bay Bridge carries 44,000 more cars per
day than it did just 10 years ago.
The California Transportation Commission announced in 1999
that $100 billion in repairs and new building was required
in the next decade to keep up with the state's explosive
growth. Another 18 million residents are expected in the
next 20 years.
While California's population went up nearly 50 percent in
the last 20 years (from 24 to 34 million), the lanes of new
roads increased over the same period by just 16 percent,
with most of that occurring within new subdivisions.
By 2020, drivers in Southern California are expected to
spend 70 percent of their time in stop-and-go traffic, as
compared to 56 percent now, according to the Southern
California Association of Governments.
The nine counties that comprise the San Francisco Bay Area
are projected to grow in population from 6.9 to eight
million by 2020. (The current population is a near-doubling
from 1960's 3.6 million.)
Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities reported (2/9/00) that
ridership had increased by 18 percent over the previous
January, surpassing the transit district's own projections
by 12 percent.
Bay Area drivers lose $3 billion annually because of
congestion and its accompanying wasted fuel and lost
productivity - that's $1,000 per driver.
According to a 1999 PBS Newshour report, "A new state
study shows that morning and evening rush hours in parts of
the Bay Area have nearly doubled in length over the past two
years, and now total seven hours a day."
In a recent Pew Foundation study, 47 percent of San
Francisco Bay Area residents named sprawl as the worst
problem facing the region.
The pollution from Los Angeles' famous smog degrades air
quality in the Grand Canyon, hundreds of miles away.
Read the new report Sprawl in California, which
shows that population growth is highly related to sprawl in that state.
This report is part of a national study (to be released in late November, 2000) quantifying the role of U.S. population growth in the two most recent decades of Sprawl in the 100 largest Urbanized Areas as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau.
U.S. population must be stabilized soon if
we hope to save America's environment.