“Studying” Quebec St.

“Studying” Quebec St.

From the GWHOA and District 5 City Councilwoman Sussman (November newsletter) we learn that Denver will hire consultants to do a  Quebec Corridor Alternatives Analysis.

The contractor will do “two or three levels of screening that will meet the standards of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)”.   These EPA screenings are necessary for Federal funding.

Both sources emphasize “position[ing] the corridor for future funding” and alleviating “current congestion.”  Which means that this will mostly be a capacity project, but look for a public process of some sort including a discussion of multi-modal aspects (pedestrian, bicycle, bus . . . ).  I’m sure GWHOA will have some representation in the process and likely will follow this closely.

The Impact of Traffic on Property Values

Assuming you think we’re on the way to having an “improved” Quebec St. (I do), this would be a good time to revisit facts and findings about traffic in urban neighborhoods.  Facts about traffic are readily available, and so are facts about home sales; the two can be correlated in a variety of ways to reflect the impact of car traffic on home values.  Subjective opinions are valid too, because homebuying decisions are based on emotional as well as financial considerations.  Quality-of-life is part and parcel of home value as well as a chief component of the “New Urbanism“.

Spoiler Alert:  when traffic goes up, values go down.  How much?  I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at the bigger picture.

You could argue, from the perspective of an urban neighborhood, that there is no instance in which planning for automobiles should be prioritized over people-oriented-places.  Check out this post called Top 10 Reasons to Plan Cities for People (not cars)

Traffic Calming and Congestion

Are the principles of new urbanism and traffic calming at odds with objectives like “alleviating congestion”? A Cochrane Review of studies found that there is evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of traffic calming measures in reducing traffic-related injuries and may even reduce deaths.  Right-wing economic commentator and smart growth critic Randal O’Toole, argues that the main goal of traffic calming is to increase congestion of motor traffic. Florida urban planner Dom Nozzi says “[c]ongestion is a powerful disincentive for sprawl; sprawl that steamrolls outlying ecosystems. With congestion, the sprawl markets wither.”

According to Jeff Speck, co-author of Suburban Nation and author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, building more roadways DOES NOT reduce congestion.

dB’s and Dollars: Traffic Noise and Your Home’s Value

Noise is just one of the things that’s bad about having a lot of traffic near your home, but it’s easy to measure and correlate with home prices.  Background noise is measured in decibels (dB’s).

common_noise_levelsA major study of noise costs conducted for the 1982 Federal Cost Allocation Study “assumed a 0.4 percent decrease in the value of a housing unit for each dBA (Leq) increase over a threshold value of 55 dBA.”   So if your background noise is 65dB, then your home value is decreased by $12,000 (based on $300,000 avg).

A Jounal of Real Estate Finance and Economics study of 100,000 homes found an average negative  impact  of 5-12% for traffic noise. On a $300,000 home that’s $15,000-$36,000 off the selling price.

Counting Cars

Besides noise, there are other effects of traffic on nearby homes:

  • pollution – especially air quality
  • safety – cut-through traffic
  • difficulty with neighborhood ingress/egress
  • neighborhood “walkability” is decreased
  • bicyclists are impeded and/or endangered

With so many variables, and considering that every home is unique in quality and location (even on the same street), how does one account for the effect of traffic on home value?  “Hedonic” studies have been done which attempt to average out the differences in large samples.  You can easily find lots of scholarly articles and studies on this topic; one of my favorites, as well as one of the original studies, was done in 1993 (Hughes & Simons, Appraisal Journal, October 1993) and finds that “the market will apply a 0.847% discount for the additional 1,000 cars in the average daily traffic count.”  Well that’s handy, since you can usually find the traffic counts for major streets on the City website (for Denver it’s here).

Now let’s do the math:  for Quebec at Leetsdale (soutbound and northbound, 2006), it’s 12,755 cars; for Quebec at Alameda (2002) it’s 23,889 cars.  Just to be conservative, let’s average the two numbers:  18,322 cars per day between Alameda Ave. and Leetsdale in a 24-hour period.

Applying the above coefficient of 0.847% per 1,000 cars/day, we get a discount of 16% for this stretch of road.  On a $300,000 house that’s a $48,000 discount.

What about actual home sales in Winston Downs?  How about we take an average of all home sales in the neighborhood (not on Quebec St) and compare that with the average of all sales of homes that do back to Quebec St. . . .

According to MLS data (may not reflect all activity in the market), there were 43 home sales in the years 2010-2012.  Of those, 6 homes were adjacent to Quebec St.  The average sale price of a home adjacent to Quebec was $289,317 during that period, while the average sale for all others was $373,958.  That’s a difference of about 23%.

Conclusion

Capacity improvements may alleviate automobile congestion temporarily, but eventually you’ll just have a bigger traffic jam.   Building bigger roads is detrimental in varying degrees to quality-of-life and home values in urban areas.  Changing attitudes about people-oriented-places, New Urbanism, and public spaces will have to start with the public at large and neighborhood organizations before the influence will be seen among urban planners, traffic engineers and other public officials.

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