As part of my membership in the Public Participation Committee for the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, I came upon an article written my Margy Waller of the Brookings Institute on Auto-Mobility: Subsidizing America's Commute? I found the article fascinating and educational, opening my eyes to the extent that our society is dependent upon automobiles, not just as a preference.
The article begins with something we are probably all aware of. When hurricane Katrina hit, those with cars evacuated, those without could not and did not. The part I didn't realize is that now that those people are in trailer-park camps, their prospects are dim as they have no transportation to where the jobs are. They are physically isolated from any economic prospects. This situation isn't just applied to major catastrophes, but the general prospects and access to employment, education, health care, etc. "There is reason to believe that not having a car isn't just a consequence of poverty - it's a barrier to escaping it." Other studies mentioned in the article highlight this fact.
The article goes on to present a solution to the problem which would enable easier and subsidized access to cars for the poor. The economic development resulting would have a positive impact on the economy.
There are aspects to the proposal I like, but some aspects which I don't - more cars, more congestion, higher demand for gasoline, higher green house gases released into the atmosphere, and lower national security to name a few. It is essentially trying to treat a symptom of the problem and basically shifts the issues elsewhere.
The issue is where we are developing our country. The article points out that - Two thirds of people in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs. Two-thirds of new jobs are there as well, causing a whopping 88% of people to drive to their work.
This trend is playing out in Idaho right now. Since both the jobs and the homes are being built outside the city, and not in the same place, traffic congestion is ever increasing. This sprawl continues to decrease the chances that public transportation can be used to address the issue. Building more and widening roads also has its limitations. The hot development approach right now are planned communities. These planned communities have a multiplicative effect as people must commute to these communities to work in the service industries that are required to be located there (as no one that can afford to live there would be willing to work there) and the people that live there all commute into the city.
Just three months ago, Ada and Canyon counties (and the other entities included within), after three years of development, approved the Compass Community Choices 25 year plan for the valley. This plan called for greater density of employment and housing along major corridors which could more effectively be served by public transportation. This community choices plan was contrasted with the "trend" plan. What has happened since then, is the further sprawl through highly distributed planned communities. If the currently planned "planned communities" are approved, our traffic and congestion will be far worse than the trend scenario, making the community choices scenario unachievable.
The trend scenario had a number of implications - a doubling of the current commute times, much more expensive road system, few transit choices at a higher cost, 80,000 more acres consumed, 1.1 million miles per day of additional commute traffic, etc. What about the new trend? Its even worse!