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My Top Five Walkability Wishes for 2006

We are a few weeks into the new year, so I guess I should have already made my wish list. Oh well, I can be the last list of them all. Today, I will be living in my own little world where I along get to make significant differences in my country. I apologize in advance if I sound a little bit harsh. Here are my top wishes for the new year (in no particular order):

1. The Disappearance of Surface Parking Lots That Dominate a Streetscape or Viewscape

If I had infinite money, I would buy nearly every surface lot in America and turn it into something more desirable. Only a few other countries in the world have vast seas of parking lots like the United States. Why? Because they do not need as much parking since there is adequate public transit or walking/biking facilities. Therefore, surface car storage becomes an inefficient use of the land.

2. Everyone Stop Justifying Every Decision Completely Based on Statistics

There are not abundant sources for bicycling/pedestrian data. So instead, many analyze car-oriented data searching for the best ways to justify projects. And this usually leaves bike/ped advocates on the outside looking in. But walkability is common-sense stuff! Just imagine nearly ANY walkable place you have visited or lived in. You do not need to see any data to realize that the place works. I always feel so relaxed and comfortable when I am walking in a truly walkable place. I would imagine many of you feel the same. I hope this new year it starts to dawn on people: walkable places = high quality of life. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters – statistics or no statistics. Sure, statistics can be incredibly useful – I love them just as much as the next person – but use some intuition as well. Another thought: does the world revolve around the acronym VMT? I am hoping for a change.

3. Density Becomes Our Friend

I do not understand why everyone has become so scared of their neighbors. Okay, well that is not entirely true. But I do want to say a few things about life in low-density suburbia. You still have neighbors in suburbia, and they are not that much farther apart from you than they are in higher density areas. If you want to get away from people, move to the (real) country. Your yards are not going to be that big, and you will likely have to drive your kids to the park, or to just about everywhere. And just a warning: many of those large McMansions built by the major home builders are cheaply constructed. In my opinion, the reason why most people locate to the suburbs is for their children. Mainly because the schools are better in the suburbs and the suburbs are perceived to be safer for children. At the core of this issue is school funding, of course, but a new and innovative solution to providing quality education has emerged recently that could change the way we provide school funding (see:“Kalamazoo Promise”:http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051217/SCHOOLS/512170324/1026/LIFESTYLE01). This could help solve the problem of poor education in the inner city. Quality planning and design can help overcome others fears about density in the long run. I think that part of the misconception about high-density housing is that all developments will turn out to be places like Cabrini Green or the Robert Taylor Homes. I think the days of developing places like those are gone (and now those are being redeveloped – CG, RTH). The main reason I would like density to become our friend is for #4.

4. The End of Sprawl

This is a HUGE wish. I am tired of driving through most every town in America (driving because you cannot walk) and seeing the same thing over and over again – huge surface parking lots, fast food drive-throughs, strip shopping centers, huge pole and monument signs, no sidewalks, and 8-lane wide arterials (without the scale of buildings to compensate). And like I said before, my definition of sprawl is any place that is not walkable. The environmental effects of sprawl are just devastating – eating up open space and scenic areas, horrid air pollution, and rapidly depleting energy sources. We need to build more regular connecting roads, stop building huge arterials, quit adding lanes to our highways, and stop building new highways all together.

5. Shift Federal/State Primary Transportation Funding Focus from Highway Projects to those Projects with a Pedestrian, Bicycling, or Mass Transit Focus

This is slowly starting to happen, as evidenced by the passage of the new SAFETEA-LU bill. These are just baby steps, though. We need to stop pork barrel and pet projects of politicians. Most importantly, we need to educate people to get them to see that widening a freeway, while seemingly good from the standpoint that it reduces congestion in the short-term, is not a viable option because of the land use implications of widening – a.k.a. sprawl. These are the people that complain to politicians about the conditions, without providing solutions that actually work. Name one city in the last 50 years that reduced congestion by widening the freeways. I will answer for you – there are none – the cities that did widen their freeways only delayed their congestion. What is really sad is that cities and metro areas that are not growing in population size have used this method to reduce congestion. While it has reduced congestion in the downtown areas of the cities, it has just allowed for sprawl and flight from the inner city. In some cases, there is now congestion on the ring roads of metropolitan areas despite the fact that the region is not growing in population. For a perfect example of this, see the Cincinnati-Dayton region. The metropolitan area for both cities is not seeing major growth, Dayton especially, yet the two metropolitan areas are set to become one MSA very soon because the sprawl of both regions are becoming one. A contributing factor in this: the continued widening of Interstate 75, the major freeway that runs between the cities. And talk of the high-speed rail connection between the two cities continues to stall. Someday people that live in places in between, like Middletown, are going to be very upset that their commute to either city will be more than an hour, and there is no other alternative to driving.

There are many other wishes I have besides these, but these are five major ones I thought of as I wrote this. That felt good to release my problems, hopefully the new year will bring some solutions. I wish you and yours a very happy, safe, and walkable new year!

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