A local conserve radio personality recently took aim at urban planners on his show, criticizing an upcoming street diet initiative in and around Rochester. One look at his twitter feed gives a harsh glimpse into the minds of his followers who refer to the “commie liberals” that are destroying our cities with their urban planning projects. In general, this population is consumed with the idea that we urbanists are trying to take away all cars, or at the very least trying to create traffic jams at every turn.
Of course, this could not be further from the truth. As much as I advocate for transit and cycling infrastructure, I know full well the car will always be king. If just 7% of our population biked to work every day, my urbanist friends and I would be overjoyed. If 20% of our population used transit because it was a practical, efficient choice, we would be beyond elated.
The truth is, even if by some pie in the sky miracle (hey, it could happen!!!) we ever achieved those numbers in Greater Rochester, an irreversibly dominant percentage of the population will still travel to all of their destinations by car. No urbanist in their right mind living in the United States could believe any possibility other than outright automobile dominance will ever exist in our cities. Our reliance on the auto is so ingrained in our culture that most cannot comprehend any other way of thinking. What we do try to do is maximize transit choices, reveling in the small victories that are meager percentage points of progress.
While the car will always be king, there is a small but growing demand, specifically from younger generations, for transit options and cycling amenities. Furthermore, there are populations that rely on transit and bike access as their primary mode of transit each day. Some by choice, others out of necessity.
This portion of the population in most cities has had to “deal” with the fact that our cities, our roads, even our access to jobs have revolved around the automobile for generations now. Suburban sprawl has taken jobs away from our cities, leaving a significant number of urban residents who don’t own a car very few options.
Furthermore, strong evidence suggest that the waning density and increased automobile access in our cities have been key factors in dividing neighborhoods, cutting off access and fueling urban blight. Cities across the country, like Rochester, realize these factors and are working hard to reconnect these areas through pedestrian and cycling amenities, better design and improved transit.
Very few of these initiatives work to restrict automobile access… instead, they focus on “balancing” the playing field between cars, pedestrians and cyclists. In most cases, none of the changes in Rochester will lead to an increase in traffic congestion or anything resembling more than a tiny increase in commute time for most drivers.
For example, a daily traffic count of 18,000-20,000 is typically the benchmark for a road to require 4 lanes. The section of Rochester’s Main Street that was reduced from 4 lanes to 2 with added bike lanes experiences only 8,500 cars per day, less than half the amount needed to justify more lanes.
Furthermore, an incredibly huge percentage of streets in Greater Rochester are still designed to move traffic as quickly as possible with no regard for any other forms of mobility.
Claiming that urbanists are trying to restrict automobile travel is ludicrous. Picture two children, one with 100 toys and the other with none. The child with none asks the the child with toys if he can borrow one. In response, the child with toys screams “he’s trying take all of my toys!!!!”
This is a simplistic example, but it is representative of how progressives, who understand the importance of urban mobility, see those who scream whenever automobile access is impeded. The motive is and continues to be connecting neighborhoods and urban destination through a diverse series of mobility options.
No one is trying to take away your cars. No one is trying to tell you that you can’t drive into the city. No one is suggesting that you, the suburban-dwelling driver should bike everywhere. We are simply making small tweaks to our urban walking, cycling and transit landscape to increase potential for multiple paths to move about our city. Most of these tweaks will have little if any impact on your commute time, but have the potential to transform the level of accessibility via other modes of transportation, including walking and cycling.
Are we trying to take your cars away? No, we accept that the car will always be king. But we know and understand that our urban environments need to be adapted to enable efficient and comfortable navigation on foot, by bike, via mass transit, AND by car. Only then will we maximize the full potential of our cities.