What mobility should look like for the future | PostIndependent.com

What mobility should look like for the future

Seems like the more connected we get, the more connected we need to be. I’m guessing we’ve all busted the myth that technology would make our lives simpler. It’s opened up so many possibilities that it’s hard to keep tabs on them all.

Carbondale is a connected community in more ways than I know, and I would argue that it’s in any town’s best interest to facilitate that, both within and beyond its community. This connectedness is key to building strong community, growing economic prosperity and improving quality of life. And if technology and mobility continue to advance as they have, local government needs to advance, too.

By “connectedness” I’m referring to both the physical realm and the cyber realm. In some respect, physical connectedness is at the heart of what services municipalities have historically provided. We create and maintain streets and sidewalks. We connect residents and businesses to clean water and in some cases energy. We serve as the community forum for many discussions. But what does connectedness look like in the future? What should we anticipate and therefore plan for now?

I don’t pretend to know what new technology is around the corner, but I am willing to gamble on a few assumptions. I’ll bet that most western Colorado communities will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. I’ll bet that access to high-speed internet will continue to be a critical element for business, health care and education, let alone day-to-day life. I’ll also bet that people will continue to demand a high level of mobility and that it will be increasingly difficult to meet that demand. I could probably name a few more, but I’m confident in these assumptions.

All of the preparation for the Grand Avenue Bridge closure indicates just how important mobility is to our economy and our quality of life. For better or worse, social media and the age of the internet don’t appear to reduce the desire for us to be mobile and connect face to face. We commute in our four-wheeled homes-away-from-home for work, shuttling kids, shopping, recreation and the list goes on. RFTA does wonders by moving more than 5 million riders a year and is critical to maintaining mobility in the future, but additional solutions are needed.

In Carbondale we’ve started a discussion about what we want mobility to look like in the future. We like our small town, so traffic congestion and massive parking lots just won’t fly. We also want seniors, kids and everyone in between to have equal access to exceptional mobility. We want it to be just as easy, if not easier for low impact travelers like bicyclists and pedestrians to travel safely and efficiently. We want creative solutions like rapid transit and ride, car and bike-sharing options so that we can reduce pollution and the vast amount of land dedicated to parked cars.

Then there is the cyber realm. Access to high-speed internet may seem straight forward, but for rural communities, it’s typical to have less access, slower access or pay a small fortune for the same access as larger metropolitan areas. Our market is simply too small for private providers to justify the large investment in a ubiquitous high-speed fiber network. That was all right 20 years ago, but today high-speed internet access is as critical, if not more critical, than other utilities were back then. And the definition of high speed is a moving target, so I see a role for local government to facilitate, incubate or otherwise encourage this access in order to allow our region to continue to thrive and be competitive.

I’m grateful that Garfield County had the foresight to evaluate the potential for expanding the fiber network. As part of this study, Carbondale can understand its challenges and opportunities with respect to growing our own network. We’re still evaluating what our next move is, but I’d love to see Carbondale be a “Gigabit Community” where every business and resident has access to truly high-speed internet. I look forward to exploring the public/private partnerships that can make it happen.

In a small, vibrant community like Carbondale, I know I sometimes take our personal connectedness for granted. But what high-speed access we do have and the phenomenal transit and trails network we’ve built as a community didn’t magically appear overnight. So I look forward to planning the next generation of connectedness so that Carbondale can compete for well-paying jobs, innovation and mobility for many years to come.

Dan Richardson is mayor of Carbondale.

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