This week’s “expert blog” Transportation discussion at the National Journal asks the question, “Will Bicyclists And Pedestrians Squeeze Out Cars?”
Is it still possible to promote new bicycling and walking options in harmony with vehicular traffic? Or as city space gets more limited, will planners have to take sides?
Will cars and trucks be targeted in future urban transportation planning? Should they be? Who wins or loses if auto space (lanes or even whole roads) is turned over to bicyclists or pedestrians? What cities are striking a good balance today, and what can they teach us about the future?
The National Journal invites policy experts to weigh in each Monday on a new topic. So far, responses have come in from Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists [LAB]), Patrick Natale (American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE] ), John Horsley (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials [AASHTO]), Keith Laughlin (Rails to Trails Conservancy), Eric Britton (New Mobility Partnerships ), and Michael Replogle (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy).
Andy Clarke responds that it’s not a zero sum game, advocating a balance of different transportation modes. Keith Laughlin and Eric Britton likewise don’t like the “us vs them” framing of the question.
In the coming decades we will undoubtedly see a growing movement at the local level to remove many of the urban highways that were built in the 1950s and ‘60s. But the primary driver of this trend won’t be a competition between modes of transportation. Despite the media’s attempts to create conflict, it won’t be a death match pitting motorists and truckers versus pedestrians and cyclists. Rather, it will reflect an evolving redefinition of what is necessary to create economically vibrant cities in the 21st century.
John Horsley from AASHTO also believes this balanced approach — which he says state DOTs have been doing before the current “livability” fad — is the way to go.
This week’s blog question infers that there should be a competition between funding for roads and bridges and bikes and pedestrian enhancements. We beg to differ. State DOTs have shown that a balanced approach works. It is for this reason that AASHTO supports a new multiyear authorization bill that takes into account the important role played by road-related investments as well as calling for increased funding for transit, biking, walking, and rail.
Mike Repogle takes a little more anti-car view in his response, and reprises the history of aggressive car-only development over the past 60 years.
For decades, cars have been squeezing out pedestrians and cyclists, as transport planners and engineers argued that the solution to congestion and urban efficiency was to build more and wider highways. As traffic grew, it seemed logical that giving more space to cars would improve traffic flow. But the reality has been that adding more high-speed motorways and parking spaces has fueled traffic growth and harmed urban livability, spurred sprawl and drastically boosted CO2 emissions and dependence on fossil fuel.
In cities from Seoul to San Francisco and Milwaukee, tearing down elevated highways has improved traffic flow, reduced accidents and pollution, and revitalized once blighted neighborhoods. Though such proposals may seem bold and sometimes heavily criticized, once they are implemented it is clear that the result is greater equity for citizens, better use of public space, and improved and safer traffic flow for all modes.
Patrick Natale (ASCE) realizes that the “balanced approach” advocated by most of the respondents might be a little pie-in-the-sky, and reminds us that our current transportation funding isn’t keeping up with our existing requirements, let alone new projects that promote other transportation modes.
Where will the dollars come from? A vehicle miles traveled fee? A bike tire tax? A sneaker tax? Improving our transportation network will require a coordinated national effort, and hundreds of billions of dollars.
What do you think? Should transportation dollars be diverted from expanding car capacity to improving facilities and conditions for cyclists and pedestrians?