Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Dan Moser's Florida Weekly Column: Travel souvenirs: Transportation lessons we can learn from
Florida Weekly 12/1/10
No matter how much you love your home it’s always a good idea to get away in order to put certain things in perspective. For me, it’s a chance to compare livability and sustainability characteristics. Visiting other communities, large or small, causes you to realize things are pretty good at home as well as discover there’s a lot of room for improvement. It can also provide hope that the seemingly impossible can become a reality. A recent trek I made to parts of Florida, North Carolina and Georgia provided just such an opportunity to compare and contrast each other’s pedestrian and bicycling environments, among other quality-of-life features. One community that stands out in a very positive way is Charlotte, N.C.
Based on something I learned just before my trip, I arranged to meet with staff from the city of Charlotte to study things for myself. What prompted this visit was a presentation by the director of Hillsborough County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the body responsible for transportation planning in the Tampa area, to Lee County’s MPO. At that meeting it was explained that instead of putting almost all of their eggs in the road building/widening basket, as is the case for most Florida communities, elected officials from throughout Hillsborough decided to follow Charlotte’s model and make a major commitment to transit and the required infrastructure, which includes access and accommodation for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Charlotte, N.C. light rail station features art and bike parking. Charlotte was indeed different than most in the region in that there was a light rail line (two more to come) and an extensive bus system. But what made the Queen City unique regionally is its commitment to bicycle infrastructure, from bike lanes to secure bike parking (lockers) at transit stations and other places. While it may have a way to go to get where places like Portland and Denver are today, the leadership of Charlotte is moving in the right direction. If the home city of NASCAR can do it, Fort Myers and all of Southwest Florida can surely do what seems almost impossible to imagine today.
All that being said, and as I mentioned in my prior column, the outlook for getting where we need to be in terms of creating sustainable communities has become decidedly more difficult, thanks to incoming leadership at many levels that’s expected to be less than supportive of this direction. There have already been indications that sound growth and transportation policies and practices, which include increased focus on transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects are targeted to be significantly cut or even eliminated. Some of the comments by those seeking to derail the progress that’s been made make it sound as if sustainability and smart growth are code words for some kind of plot to control the populace. It’s interesting that these “patriots” don’t see the need to move away from our energy-wasting, environment-damaging, resource-depleting ways and instead go back to the “good old days” of development and policy. Where do common sense and reality checks come into the picture?
The latest word is that those of this regressive mindset will be joining local boards, committees, and any other government advisory bodies as a way to turn back the clock on efforts such as complete streets — or keep things as they are if reform hasn’t yet occurred. The only hope there is of beating back this shortsighted assault on sound growth principles is to engage as those in opposition plan to. That means connecting with your local elected officials, participating in community and local government meetings, and, perhaps most importantly, being appointed to advisory committees and boards. Otherwise, get prepared for what’s to come. And based on research, projections, and numerous examples, it ain’t gonna’ be pretty.
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 the Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at dan@floridabicycle. org or 334-6417.