Thursday, July 1, 2010
Dan Moser's Florida Weekly Column: True Transportation Reform Requires Political Courage
June 30, 2010
For readers of this column who are tired of my writing about how things could and should be, I apologize in advance. But an article making the rounds recently in the bike/ped world reminded me of just how stuck we are in our car-oriented, suburban development mindset here in Southwest Florida.
Even with what can be considered significant progress being made in terms of ensuring pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users aren’t entirely overlooked when building or “improving” our roads, when put in a national, global and general livability perspective, it’s quite clear we’re woefully behind where we need to be. The fact is, our road builders are doing only the absolute minimum for those of us traveling on our transportation network in anything other than a car. All one has to do is experience it to confirm this contention.
In the aforementioned article (to read it, go to Planning Commissioners Journal at http://pcj.typepad.com , then search for “Breaking Our Addiction to Highway Level of Service Standards”), a former high-ranking transportation planning official from a major northeastern state known for its brutal traffic makes the case for doing just the opposite of what he saw done during most of his career. This professional engineer who’s seen the light says that both elected and appointed officials are hung up on technical levelof service data that’s often inaccurate and fleeting. By focusing on LOS, he maintains, quality of life is actually being degraded for those being served while spending inordinate amounts of tax dollars chasing an unwinnable goal.
Interestingly, that’s exactly what many of us who have been trying to beat back the “wider is better” philosophy here in Southwest Florida have been saying for decades.
What’s most frustrating is that even though many of our elected officials and some senior staffers of our various governments appear to understand the folly of trying to widen our way out of traffic congestion, when it comes to making decisions that would change the status quo, none are willing to take that necessary step. Granted, there are always those who challenge horrendous projects such as the current plan for Colonial Boulevard, but the objections aren’t about the overall concept, but rather specific issues or aspects that trouble them. In most cases there’s general agreement among all decision makers that “something’s got to be done to handle all that traffic,” as based on engineering and planning projections.
For a politician or high-level staff person to suggest that we must live with delay when we choose to drive for each and every trip we make it’s akin to admitting one doesn’t believe in “The American Way.” After all, how can anyone be expected to wait through more than one traffic signal cycle when we could simply add lanes? Considering other options to get around just isn’t part of the serious discussion here in Southwest Florida.
My challenge to any elected official or candidate, as well as to those who run our transportation and community development departments, is to do just that: admit we can’t continue even considering projects like that being proposed for Colonial Boulevard — or any more “improvement projects” that include widening or building new roads — and do so based on the principle that the premise we’re using is based on dealing with symptoms (too many cars and trucks) rather than cause (the need for people and goods to get around). Who will stake their position or perhaps career on being the champion for moving us in the direction we need to go?You won’t be popular, at least in the beginning, but you’ll be doing what’s best for our community and planet.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.
— Dan Moser is a league cycling instructor/ trainer and program manager for Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-6417.