The "war on cars" and the "war on bikes" as elements of a paradigm shift in transportation
Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions lays out an argument for how paradigm shifts occur in various scientific disciplines. Wikipedia describes the argument as:
In this work, Kuhn challenged the then prevailing view of progress in "normal science". Scientific progress had been seen primarily as "development-by-accumulation" of accepted facts and theories. Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game and the "map" directing new research, asks new questions of old data, and moves beyond the puzzle-solving of normal science.
Earlier this week, US PIRG Education Foundation and the Frontier Group jointly released their new study, A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future.
The main argument of the study is that through the entire postwar period, until 2004, there was a constant upward growth in vehicle miles traveled per capita, but since 2004, per capita growth in VMT has fallen off, even if overall VMT may have grown in some years, due to an increase in the overall number of drivers.
In recommendations for policy, the authors suggest that in various scenarios, both the VMT per capita and the VMT growth curve will drop significantly, and this should be acknowledged in transportation planning and practice, especially in terms of the primacy of road building as the major and most significant element of US transportation infrastructure and federal policy and funding.
This is relevant to the three previous entries on bicycling and sustainable transportation planning and many of the other discussions in this blog.
The acrimonious discussion about various transportation planning issues:
• use of scarce street space for car storage (a/k/a parking);
• what should the parking requirements be for new construction in transit zones;
• how much should residents pay for parking permits;
• charging variable rates for street parking;
• using traffic lanes/right of way for transit;
• using street space for bicycle sharing stations;
• using street space for car sharing spaces;
• using traffic lanes/right of way for bicycle infrastructure'
• gasoline excise taxes;
• funding transit;
• building transit;
• creating streetcar lines; etc.
are merely different pieces of this paradigm shift.
The people yelling loudest--mostly people for whom the automobile is their primary form of transportation--see and feel the threat the most (which is definitely measurable in terms of the prevalence of ad hominem attacks).
A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future:
A new vision for transportation policy should:
• Plan for uncertainty. With future driving patterns uncertain, federal, state and local transportation officials should evaluate the costs and benefits of all transportation projects based on several scenarios of future demand for driving. Decision-makers should also prioritize those projects that are most likely to deliver benefits under a range of future circumstances.
• Support the Millennials and other Americans in their desire to drive less. Federal, state and local policies should help create the conditions under which Americans can fulfill their desire to drive less. Increasing investments in public transportation, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure and intercity rail—especially when coupled with regulatory changes to enable the development of walkable neighborhoods—can help provide more Americans with a broader range of transportation options.
• Revisit plans for new or expanded highways. Many highway projects currently awaiting funding were initially conceived of decades ago and proposed based on traffic projections made before the recent decline in driving. Local, state and federal governments should revisit the need for these “legacy projects” and ensure that proposals for new or expanded highways are still a priority in light of recent travel trends.
• Refocus the federal role. The federal government should adopt a more strategic role in transportation policy, focusing resources on key priorities (such as repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and the expansion of transportation options) and evaluating projects competitively on the basis of their benefits to society.
• Use transportation revenue where it makes the most sense. Transportation spending decisions should be based on overall priorities and a rigorous evaluation of project costs and benefits—not on the source of the revenue.
• Do your homework. Federal and state governments should invest in research to evaluate the accuracy and usefulness of transportation models and better understand changing transportation trends in the post-Driving Boom era.