Yes, and lower speed limits

I believe that stroads should be turned back into Streets, and roads preserved for their transportation function. I’m a Strong Towns member, and fully support the argument that the best solution to stroads is to reconstruct them into streets. #SlowTheCars is the right approach. Key to that approach is that changing speed limits doesn’t do much to slow cars, and that ticketing people for going the design speed instead of the posted speed is often just a pretext for profiling and oppression.

BUT. It will be a long while and trillions of dollars to accomplish that. Undoing the damage of the past is not easy, because the money it would take to fix everything has long since gone into the pockets of those who profited from unsustainable (socially, economically, environmentally) development. We will have to triage, changing the most dangerous places first, and those places with the best chance of becoming walkable, livable, and vibrant second. We may never, and perhaps should never, get to those places that are the model of the suburban experiment. Many suburban places will fail and go back to agriculture. Others will not. But spending a lot of money to fix a suburban stroad, adding sidewalks and bike lanes and street furniture, will be good money after bad because these places won’t ever be dense enough or successful enough to pay back the investment.

Back to speed. It will be a long while before we can lower the design speed of stroads and streets back to the correct speed. In most cases, that design speed should be 20 mph. Occasionally higher or lower, but mostly 20. In the interim, I think that we should reduce the speed of all urban streets, that are not arterials and collectors, to 20 mph. I am not suggested that this limit be tightly enforced, as the point is not enforcement but education and commitment. A community willing to lower the speed limit to 20 is a community willing to think about safety and livability, and to accept that the way we have done thing in the past is absolutely not what we need in the present or future. Setting speed limits to 20 is a message to pay attention and think about consequences. Portland and Seattle have recently reduced some speed limits to 20.

Continue reading “Yes, and lower speed limits”

Slow Transportation (part 3)

3. What Slow Transportation Isn’t

It isn’t flying in airplanes.

It isn’t driving over 25 mph except on roadways designed for higher speeds that connect places rather than go through places. For example, the highway to the mountains. But not the stroad arterial in your neighborhood, and never a residential street. In fact, 20 mph is a better number (see Twenty is Plenty).

It isn’t driving your kids to school.

When I ask people why they have a car, they most often answer one or more of three things:

  • to get to work
  • to buy groceries
  • to get to the mountains or the beach

There are solutions for each of these. If one choses to live far from work, or work far from home, driving is almost inevitable. But people do change jobs and housing, much more often than they admit, and could make the choice to be closer. Work and car are a classic Catch 22: I work to pay for my car, I have a car to get to work. It need not be this way. One can choose a job/housing situation allows walking, bicycling, or transit.

People’s grocery shopping patterns lean towards two extremes: 1) driving a mile to pick up a quart of milk; or 2) buying so many groceries at a time that they could not possible be carried by walking, bicycling or transit. But there is a middle ground, making more trips to the store and buying quantities that are walkable, bikeable, transit-able. That is what most of the people in the world do, and it is what we can do. Sure, maybe you do need a car every once in a while for a particular item, but most of the time, no. No. No.

I understand getting to the mountains and beach. I travel to the mountains a number of times during the summer for backpacking. I travel to the bay area about once a month for the ocean and the culture. But for neither trip do I use a car (I don’t have one, don’t want one). I use public transportation, and some bicycling, and some walking. If you are going camping, perhaps you do need a vehicle. Rent one, or find a friend with one! You don’t need that large vehicle sitting in your driveway, or driving around town. And, to be honest, you don’t need to be running to the mountains every weekend during ski season or summer, or the beach every weekend during the summer. Slow down, enjoy the place you live a little more. Yes, Sacramento during the summer can be a little hard to take, but the river is close by, or a cool bar with cold beer.

“You can have a city that is friendly to cars, or friendly to people, but you cannot have both.” —Enrique Penalosa

part 1 | part 2