Idea Lacks Horse Sense
Prince William County's plan to add a mounted police unit is one more example of the penchant of government officials to waste taxpayers' money.
This county doesn't need horse patrols any more than it needs a Corvette with police markings, motorcycle units or bicycle units. These are all frivolous gimmicks designed to spruce up the otherwise humdrum tasks associated with day-to-day police work.
According to Prince William County police Maj. Barry M. Barnard, the officers who will be on horseback will have good people skills. Wait. Did I read that right? "People" skills? Never mind.
A recent statement by his co-worker, 1st Sgt. Susan Crosbie, gives us a better insight into this new program. She told a reporter for a community newspaper that she was once on a horse patrol and it was "truly wonderful." That remark gives you the real reason why the police want horses.
Police Chief Charlie Deane wants the horse patrols, but not if it would involve shifting funds from other parts of his annual budget. He says it is a priority item, but only if additional funds are provided to his department.
One final comment: If county police want to use horses at Potomac Mills, who will clean up the horse droppings? Will that be a summer hire program for local youth, or will police cadets follow the horses around with a bag and a shovel? Maybe Potomac Mills will pick up the expense and pass it on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.
It's Time to Take Action
It is encouraging to note that all three candidates seeking the office of governor in this fall's election are focusing on transportation, including how to get more transportation money to Northern Virginia.
Recognizing that government at the state level needs to get serious about this issue could generate some positive momentum. But real progress will come only if those involved in the process have the intellectual heft and willingness to understand the nature of the issue, and then demonstrate the political honesty and courage to devise solutions that address the reality.
The first stop in that process is recognition that our transportation difficulties result from, and are a symptom of, a much bigger problem. So far, of the candidates for governor, only Democratic candidate Tim Kaine has demonstrated he understands that progress in transportation requires coordination with land-use decisions, which is under the purview of local governments. The state can make little real progress if localities do not do their part.
Before Northern Virginia can hope to even slow the rate of deterioration in traffic conditions, much less make improvements, we will have to make changes in our land-use practices.
Like all localities, Prince William County must encourage, compete for and welcome economic growth. But if that growth is to have a positive impact on our quality of life, we need much better planning and much more careful phasing than we had in the past and than we are seeing today. Installing transit hubs and promoting development around them, promoting vertical construction and the use of low-impact development practices, coupled with a firm commitment on the part of government to pace the rate of construction in proportion to infrastructure installation, are just a few techniques that can go a long way toward getting a handle on the underlying problem that has produced these transportation woes.
Does our county have the necessary political leadership, with sufficient commitment and candor, to head us in a positive direction?
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton recently weighed in on this issue by reciting a litany of things he claims the county government is doing to address these problems. Unfortunately, those claims do not square with facts.
He says that the county has "dramatically reduced the number of new units being approved and is pushing transit-friendly development in areas with existing infrastructure." If only it were so.
Sadly, the public record shows a very different picture. Virtually every major development proposal presented to this board has been approved without serious negotiation on behalf of the citizens and without seriously addressing the adverse impact those developments will have on infrastructure, especially on schools, transportation and the environment.
In the few cases where the county has negotiated accelerated release of proffered transportation dollars, the trade-off given by government was higher density development, thus negating any benefit to citizens from the early funding.
Connaughton's board just recently approved adding 1,000 homes along U.S. Route 1 while claiming the approved development would reduce traffic on U.S. Route 1 -- a rationale so surreal it defies comment.
We all hope the current focus on transportation produces meaningful improvement. But if the local politicians who guide these decisions have so little regard for their constituents that they consider nonsensical statements sufficient political cover for questionable decisions, and if they continue the practices that are the underlying causes of the problem we see on our roads every day, we're not likely to see any real progress without new leadership.
Gary C. Friedman