By Ethan Kent
Progressive transportation planning may be in the midst of a boom, but is it on the right track to create the shift and vision that the movement is looking for? What might this vision look like, and how can we capture this momentum to effect real change in how we think about transportation planning?
Advocates are finally bringing attention to issues like the impact and efficiency of multiple transport modes, the fair allocation of road space and spending, and opportunities to create more seamless transportation systems and commuter options. While each of these advances are extremely important, when advocated for and implemented in isolation of the others, they do not lead to structural change. By moving the transportation discussion beyond technical mobility solutions and modal shifts, we can generate integrative solutions for each of these issues.
At the most basic level, the goal of transportation planning should be to facilitate getting people to places – connecting travelers with destinations. In the broader effort to make people as mobile as possible, however, many of our transportation networks are accomplishing a great deal less at a much larger cost.
Focusing narrowly on mobility, without simultaneously addressing place and accessibility, can in fact contribute to issues of traffic congestion and safety, social segregation, isolated land uses, car-oriented building design, decreased walkability and longer travel distances – these are the very same issues that progressive transportation planners are seeking to address!
In both political and community-level discussions, this focus on mobility alone has overshadowed a more fundamental question: What kind of cities, communities, and streets do we actually want to have? Even advocates of “alternative modes” (transit, bicycles, pedestrians) are still largely working from within a mobility framework, although a small but growing advocacy sector is beginning to frame their approach around issues of accessibility and Placemaking.
Shifting the focus of these conversations from mobility to the creation of great places will ensure a political climate and public realm that is amenable to alternate modes of transit, while at the same time reducing the need for travel and creating community destinations where people actually want to be. If we let it, transportation planning can become a driving force of community development. By re-envisioning our cities, transportation systems, and economies around viable destinations, we are also supporting the sustainable transportation modes of mass transit, walking and bicycling.
If you don’t have a parking or congestion problem, it’s not a good place.Congestion relief efforts have suffered from this single-issue approach. Congestion prevents people from getting places, but the real problem is that today’s mobility-focused transportation planning creates traffic, because it is not supporting the creation of multiple places or destinations. The way to address congestion or parking “problems” is to create more, and more attractive, destinations to which people will want to travel! People will walk greater distances, park further away, or take less “convenient” transit in order to visit a great place – and this activity will not only help draw people back into a community’s public spaces, but it will also ensure the maintenance of strong local economies.
By focusing just on mobility for mobility’s sake, we have been moving people and goods around more and more and accomplishing less and less. Imagine, for a moment, the success and efficiency of the world’s best public markets or civic squares – places where individual mobility is lowest and parking demand and congestion are highest.
The best way to create a true paradigm shift in transportation is to create places where people want to be – places that can simultaneously support vital local economies along with healthy lifestyles and strong communities.