Dynamic transit climate makes future hard to plan
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
I am no scientist, but I am convinced that every year the world moves a little faster. So the fact that the bypass, the South Bridge and other transportation projects remain on the radar screen to facilitate our mobility is no surprise. Globalization has become a local phenomenon. Not only do our widgets and appetizers travel halfway across the globe, so do we ” to get to work, pick up the kids, go shopping, visit grandma, etc. Conventional wisdom has been to increase road capacity to allow for this longer and more frequent travel.
Transportation planning is not unlike any type of planning, in that it requires a crystal ball. And scientist or not, I know that certain assumptions have to be made to predict the future. So the problem with conventional wisdom is that its assumptions are outdated. Until recently, gas was cheap, parking was abundant, cars symbolized freedom, and the natural environment was nice to look at ” but not worth protecting. Conventional wisdom also trusts that state funding for road improvements is plentiful, only the poor will ride the bus, and that people consider roads to be a priority over parks/homes/etc.
It seems that times have changed. There is a new realization that people and goods still need to be transported, but that cars and trucks aren’t always the best method. So when we look into the crystal ball to plan for the mobility of the next generation, we have a responsibility to make the most accurate assumptions possible. The laws of supply and demand are proving true in that what is becoming scarcer is becoming more valuable. The price of oil has quadrupled in the last five years and the land price trend isn’t far behind. There is now a much better appreciation of transportation impacts to air and water quality, ecosystems and personal quality of life. Our valley has also seen transit ridership skyrocket, and national demand for gasoline is beginning to level off.
I know that there are some fantastic homes in the area that are over 100 years old and still standing tall. But you’d be crazy to design a new house to have no insulation, aluminum wiring and one bathroom. So why should we take the same approach to transportation planning?
Years ago, I spent half a day pouring over bypass studies and was convinced that the project was dead when I realized no data indicated that a bypass would reduce traffic. But even if the bypass contradicted just about every “road capacity increase” in history and actually did reduce traffic, my crystal ball tells me that 20, even 10 years from now a new roadway that relies on cheap gas and plentiful parking; deteriorates our river corridor; and costs hundreds of millions of dollars will be viewed as an antiquated solution.
In many regards, Glenwood and the surrounding area has been ahead of its time with such initiatives as producing renewable energy, tapping the hot springs for heat and recently ” building a fiber optic network. Because of this I have very little doubt that future transportation solutions will be any different. I just hope we don’t waste millions of dollars in the meantime.
Dan Richardson is a former Glenwood Springs city council member and lives in Carbondale.
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