Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, February 06, 2012

An example of how state highway officials "know best" when it comes to sustainable transportation infrastructure

From "Hike-bike mandate in transportation bill fuels anger" in the Houston Chronicle:

Under current law, states have to set aside 3 percent of their total highway funds for enhancements, such as hike-and-bike trails, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Karen Amacker said. Under the new bill, states would decide if, and how much, to spend on such projects.

Bicycle advocates nationwide have argued that states can't be relied upon to guarantee this kind of funding, especially when money is tight. ...

If states aren't required to pursue different kinds of transportation infrastructure and cost becomes an issue, they're less likely to spend those extra dollars on bicycle or pedestrian amenities, said Kat Gainey, program manager for the city's bike share program, called San Antonio B-cycle.

"The bill is reversing 20 years of progress," Gainey said.

TxDOT San Antonio Planning and Development Director Clay Smith said states can still elect to spend money on bicycle- and pedestrian- friendly initiatives, where appropriate.

The new bill "leaves the flexibility to the state to figure that out rather than the federal government saying, 'We know best.' "

Here's what the state "highway departments" (not really "transportation departments") know best, at least in San Antonio.
IH-410 North Loop, San Antonio, Texas. Image from Texas Freeway. Although there are sidewalks on the service roads...

A big problem is that center cities in particular have great opportunity to capture trips by biking, walking, and transit, even in Texas, but as this Huffington Post article, "Republican Transportation Vision: More Highways, Funded By Drilling," points out, federal and state transportation planning doesn't adequately plan transportation investments for where there can be the most positive impact.

But the trope that "the federal government" doesn't know best is a powerful one.

But it isn't the issue.

The issue is how are transportation funds allocated and for what are they allocated. As Jane Brody wrote in a New York Times piece last week, "Communities learn the good life can be a killer," our automobile-fueled sprawl development paradigm is decidedly unhealthy. From the article:

Developers in the last half-century called it progress when they built homes and shopping malls far from city centers throughout the country, sounding the death knell for many downtowns. But now an alarmed cadre of public health experts say these expanded metropolitan areas have had a far more serious impact on the people who live there by creating vehicle-dependent environments that foster obesity, poor health, social isolation, excessive stress and depression.

As a result, these experts say, our “built environment” — where we live, work, play and shop — has become a leading cause of disability and death in the 21st century. Physical activity has been disappearing from the lives of young and old, and many communities are virtual “food deserts,” serviced only by convenience stores that stock nutrient-poor prepared foods and drinks.

As long as road building for automobiles dominates the transportation planning agenda at the state and local level, people will continue to die early deaths, get morbidly obese, and quality of life will continue to degrade.

From that standpoint, I'm not willing to cede this matter to "benevolent" road planners in state highway agencies. They're the ones who got us to the place we are at today.

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