Why do most of us hop in our cars to accomplish the tasks we have to get done outside the house? It’s because everything is laid out to do it that way, even in Arcata. It got that way because of plans people made in the past about how they wanted to lay out and build things.
For the past 50 years, everything has been built with the assumption that people will get around by car. All development is required to have off-street parking, almost all roads are built wide enough to have free parking on both sides of the street and a constant stream of cars traveling by in both directions. Facilities like hospitals, business parks and even affordable housing are often sited in locations that make non-automotive access difficult.
If you plan everything around cars, with use of other modes being nice, but of secondary importance, you are going to have a lot of cars, and all the mayhem that comes with them: huge quantities of greenhouse gases, collision injuries and deaths, obesity with its attendant diseases, flooding and polluted runoff from all the roads and parking lots, and an economy dragged down by the need to import fuel and cars no matter how expensive.
I’ve been thinking about this
while reading the draft Circulation Element for
Like most transportation plans, its first goal calls for a “balanced” transportation system. When you set a goal in a plan, policies and implementation measures are supposed to follow that help achieve that goal. Those of us with dreams of being well-served by bike and pedestrian infrastructure as well as transit swoon with the thought that the county really is coming up with a plan that could tackle some of the biggest energy, safety and economic challenges we face, by making modes other than driving much easier to use.
As usual, the devil is in the details. For example, policies and implementation measures focus on achieving acceptable congestion levels or “Level of Service” (LOS) for automobiles, throwing walking, biking and transit to the fuzzy language of “should” rather than “shall” and “encourage” rather than “require.”
Here’s one of many soft-gummed highlights from the draft plan:
“Policy 24 - Right-of-Way Multi-Modal Level of Service Standards. Right of Way Multimodal Level of Service (LOS) Standards should be used for maximizing the multi-modal suitability of County roads and intersections.”
Measuring LOS for automobiles is assumed, while LOS standards for other modes are not required. Note the use of “should” rather than “shall” and the use of the passive voice eliminating the existence of someone responsible for carrying out the policy.
The draft is full of this kind of language and thinking that will tend to preserve the distinctly unbalanced status quo. Of people traveling to work according to the 2000 census, 91% of our trips are by car, 6% walking, 2% by bike and 0.5% by mass transit.
If we want a plan that strives to achieve the goal of balanced transportation, we are going to have to agree on a definition.
The German town of
Another approach to defining
balanced transportation is to think of it as having balanced choices. Is biking
a viable option or might I get run down by a logging truck between here and
The current draft Circulation Element will very much preserve the status quo. We seem to be saying that if it gives any consideration at all to walking, biking and transit, it’s balanced.
Depending on how that sounds to
you, you may want to contact the planning commission, or go tell them in person
how you think we should define balanced transportation. The hearing is
Thursday, Dec. 20, at 6:00 p.m. in the Supervisor’s Chamber of the Humboldt
County Courthouse in
Chris Rall is Executive Director of Green Wheels, serves on the Arcata Transportation Safety Committee and is the proud father of two babies. He says you can find the draft Circulation Element at planupdate.org and more analysis of it at green-wheels.org.