We can’t go back to the way things were before! To the car-dominated world where walkers and bicyclists were considered second-class citizens, worthy of consideration only when it did not inconvenience the privileged drivers of cars. The streets are largely empty (except for some essential drivers and too many joy-riders). The air is clean. The city is quiet. It is (other than the above-mentioned joy riders) safe to cross the street, to bicycle on the street, even in some places, to walk in the street. I don’t intend to ever go back, and will work to make sure we do not go back.
Here is a list, with brief notes, of areas in which I think we should not and cannot go back. No priority order. I think that over time my ideas can be refined and added to. Let me acknowledge the many people on Twitter, my main social platform, for giving me a lot of good ideas and food for thought.
- Right to Move: I believe that, as humans, we have a right to move, to freedom of movement (though I also believe that reduction or even suspension of this right for public health during a pandemic is acceptable, though traumatic). However, this right is expressed through walking (or mobility devices for those not able to walk). It is not expressed through bicycles, or scooters, or even transit, and it is absolutely not expressed through privately owned vehicles. I am not saying that bicycles and scooters and transit are not good methods of movement for transportation, but walking must always be the most important and the most guaranteed, our most basic right, with other modes coming later, if at all (in the case of cars). I am tired of myself and others being terrorized by private vehicle drivers, who are all too happy to inflict their traffic violence on innocent people. Walking FIRST!
- all pedestrian signals should be set on recall; they should be labeled with their function; and if there a locations where traffic engineers claim such a low rate of pedestrian use, I’d ask for an analysis of why is there no pedestrian use; if it is an urbanized area, why aren’t there pedestrians, and if it is a rural area, why is there a signal?
- failure to yield to pedestrians (CA CVC 21950) should be considered a sociopathic offense, similar to drunk driving and smoking in buildings, and strictly enforced; I am not just concerned about the number of pedestrians who are killed and severely injured by drivers, but about all the people who could walk, but don’t, because they are rightfully afraid of car drivers; drivers who repeatedly violate this should have their driving privileges revoked (drivers license suspended and vehicle impounded), and those who still violate should be jailed
- #NoNewLaneMiles (a more specific version of #NoNewRoads); we have all the roads we will ever need, we just need to use them more efficiently by increasing the density of homes, jobs, and services; because there are no new roads, there will be no greenfield developments, as we have plenty of infill/redevelopment land to work with, and we have an excess of single family homes
- expenditures on roadways will only go to maintenance, and once a level of good repair is achieved, then to true complete streets projects which reallocate roadway space and increase safe crossings
- all roadways that are more than two lanes per direction must be reduced to no more than two lanes. Drivers have proven themselves, again and again, incapable of responsibly using wide roadways, and so these wide roadways must end. Temporarily, we can put up barricades or delineators to reduce the lanes, and in the long run, determine and then implement ways of re-allocating this space to best serve the community; some land might be available for housing development
- freeways will be designed and sized for freight movement, not for commuting; interstate commerce is the primary legally and morally justifiable use for our Interstate system; the idea of continuously expanding freeways so that a continuously expanding number of people can choose to commute continuously expanding distances is not socially or economically rational or feasible; where there are more than two lanes on a freeway, one or more of them should be designated (and enforced) as a freight-only lane so that freight is not slowed by commuting traffic
- private and commercial fossil-fueled vehicles must be strictly controlled on all spare-the-air days; if the air quality particulates (winter) or ozone (summer) exceeds the ‘healthy’ level, then we start shutting down vehicles; this would be much easier to do if we implemented a pricing scheme (congestion management) all the time, but if we are still working on that, we can in the meanwhile reduce traffic; I’m thinking the easiest way to do that is to control on-ramps and off-ramps, since most long distance commuters, and much commercial traffic, is using the freeways; some on-ramps already meter vehicles, and we could just slow this down so fewer vehicles are allowed to enter; we would have to add off-ramp metering; there are a lot of ways of managing traffic, some of the best controlling the amount of underpriced or free parking, but this is definitely one to explore
- vehicles must be speed limited, so that drivers cannot exceed safe speed limits; this is one of the easiest to accomplish because all modern vehicles could be speed limited with minor software modification, but I realize that it is politically the least feasible; nevertheless, we need to be talking about it and advocating for it
- Work from home: I fully understand that not every job is amenable to working from home, and interestingly, it turns out that almost all of the truly essential jobs are not, but nevertheless, many jobs are; employers should be required to analyze each job position to determine whether a particular job could be done from home, either all the time, or some days of the week, and then to implement work from home policies that allow the least in-person work required
- Schools: I am part of the educational system. I like the idea of school choice, and I think it has a number of benefits. However, I also see the cost of it. A huge amount of driving, taking students to and from school. The idling of cars outside the school has a measurable and negative impact on air quality in the classrooms. Much of this driving is unnecessary, and trips could be done walking or bicyclist, but is driven for the convenience of the parents (not the students). The greatest danger students walking and bicycling face is the drivers taking their own child to school, and in addition to the direct danger, there is the intimidation that makes people less willing to walk and bike. Students are getting significantly less physical activity. Students and families feel less connected to the neighborhood they live in, and the school feels less connected to its neighborhood as well. So:
- for any school located on an arterial with more than two lanes of traffic in a direction, lanes will be immediately closed in order to increase the safety of students walking and bicycling, and to create a less polluted and hectic environment
- private vehicles will be prohibited on campuses, except where the parent has submitted a statement to the school detailing why a particular student must be transported directly to the school (meaning, a disability of some sort), and received a pass; schools are there to educate students, not to accommodate drivers
- for schools located on local streets, the block on which the school is located will be closed to through traffic for the duration of arrival and dismissal (or longer); of course this means that students and families using mobility devices must be guaranteed high quality sidewalks and crosswalks, with ADA ramps, at least 6 feet in width, and in good repair
- school districts should have a conversation with families and the public about the ways in which a non-neighborhood school supports and does not support academic learning and the needs of its community
- Housing: Part of the reason we have a housing crisis is that single family homeowners have been able to suppress the building of homes, for some types of people (read: minorities) and for some kinds of housing (read: multi-family), for a long period of our history. We all suffer from this: un-housed people, high rents, separation of jobs and housing, climate change, air pollution, most of our transportation dollars going to long distance commuters while we have potholes in our local streets, underinvestment in transit and rail, etc. The most egregious, though largely hidden from view, aspect of this is that single family housing has bankrupted our cities, and counties, and state. Single family housing can never generate enough sales tax or property tax or user fees to pay for the maintenance required to sustain all these spread out houses and roads and utilities and law enforcement, and fire, and, and and. I think it is becoming clearer by the day how financially on edge our governments were. They have huge bond debt, huge deferred maintenance and well as current maintenance obligations, and far too much reliance on new development just to keep the old going (which is called the development ponzi scheme – see Strong Towns). Sprawl is the primary though not the only driver (pun intended) of this. So:
- immediately remove all residential zoning classifications, so that there is only one residential zone, and no limit on the types of housing that can be constructed on a piece of land; until such time as we can analyze what we need in terms of zoning and development standards, I’d leave the rest be, but this is a step we can and should take immediately
- no developments (even infill) larger than a certain size should be allowed to deed road and utility improvements to cities and counties, unless they pay a fee to a maintenance endowment sufficient to maintain that infrastructure for all time; I am not talking about development fees, which of course are used to maintain past infrastructure and to keep the doors open, but never retained for the future, rather, these are banked funds to meet the needs of the future
- recognize a right to housing for all people; this is obviously a huge undertaking, for which governments may not have the money (because of the sprawl subsidy and bankruptcy detailed above), though there is certainly a lot of shifting of resources that could get us a significant way there, but we need to start working toward that goal now, and with much of our societal focus on how to solve the issue as quickly and equitably as possible
Thank you if you stuck with this long list to the end. As I said, it is preliminary, and your constructive comments here or on Twitter are welcomed.
I admit that I thought we had a decent world, many issues to work on, but sort of OK. Probably some others felt this way. But the bottom has dropped out, for those in poor health (much of that poor health due to all the actions above that we did not take), people of color, low income people, un-housed people, people dependent on employer-provided health insurance, people in essential jobs. I am very lucky! (yes, the luck of privilege).
I hope that we reflect deeply on the clean air and streets available for people (outside cars) to live, and all join together to make sure we do not go back to the old, unenlightened times, but to work hard towards a better future.
I am quite aware that I have not mentioned, or have lightly touched on, a lot of other issues that are critical to so many people. Climate change is one of the biggies for me. Please don’t think that those other issues are unimportant to me, but transportation is my expertise and advocacy, and it needs strong voices, now and always.
One thought on “We can’t go back”
Dan: Love your ideas here. One new outstanding idea is to preference freight movement on freeways. Yeah!