Do We Really Understand the Concept of Alternative Transportation?

A little over a year ago, I wrote the following post titled “Do We Really Understand the Concept of Alternative Transportation?” for SaltCycle:

One of Tom [Millar]’s comments from his post on yesterday’s streetcar groundbreaking has prompted me to let thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a while spill onto the page.  Tom observed:

“Interestingly, only a mechanic from Bicycle Center, Jonathan Springmeyer from Salt Lake Transportation Advisory Board, and me rode bicycles to the event.  Perhaps a handful more took the train or the bus down to the site.  But more than 90% of the attendees drove, filling the dusty parking lot.”

I arrived at yesterday’s groundbreaking by taking TRAX to the Central Pointe station and walking the couple blocks there.  I’m pretty sure I was the only one from that particular Blue Line train that went to the groundbreaking.  I could have also taken the 21 or the 200 and gotten even closer to the event.

Now let’s rewind six weeks, when I attended the excellent 2012 North Temple Development Conference, which was held in the Grand Hall of the Utah Fairpark.  Since the Fairpark is just a relatively straight shot down the Jordan River Parkway Trail from my home, I walked there.  But as is typical of events held at the Fairpark, the only gate that was unlocked and open was on the east side off of 1000 West.  (This is the same entrance that you use to get to the State’s Driver License office.)  I was approaching from the west side and had the option of walking all the way around to 1000 West or just jumping the fence.  I jumped the fence.  At the conference, the speakers spoke about concepts like transit oriented development, walkability, complete streets, and livable neighborhoods.  It was inspiring to hear about the great potential that my neighborhood has.  But then after the conference, I watched everyone get in their cars and drive away!

This is a disturbing trend from my point of view.  It begs the question, “do we really understand the concept of alternative transportation?”  I feel like I get it, I know Tom [Millar] gets it, and I’m sure the majority of SaltCycle readers get it, but I’m worried that many of those who are involved in transportation planning (and planning in general) just don’t get it.  I’m worried that they may be spending too much time driving around in their cars rather than walking, biking, and/or riding transit and keeping themselves exposed to the reality of alternative transportation.  I’m worried that our ability to effectively plan for transportation alternatives may be suffering, because too many of the planners haven’t made transportation alternatives a part of their own lifestyles!

I have resolved that, if I am ever placed in a position of authority over planners charged with guiding the future of transportation, I will confiscate their driver licenses for a month (or maybe longer) in order to thrust them into the reality of alternative transportation!

Fortunately there is hope, and some leaders do know how to practice what they preach.  Mayor Ralph Becker is a great example.  I’ve seen him riding his bike and also riding TRAX and FrontRunner.  But we need to make sure our planners literally “walk the walk,” if we are ever going to arrive at the future described by State Representative and Chairman of the UTA Board of Directors Greg Hughes:

“If I took away my son’s cell phone and computer and just gave him a pencil to use all day at school and at home to do homework, it just wouldn’t work.  The technology is engrained in his life and in everything he does.  In just a few years, sitting in traffic with both hands on the steering wheel will be to riding trains and using active transportation as the pencil is to the computer and cell phones.  The car just won’t be a viable option anymore.”

I had an experience this morning that caused me to reflect on what I had written a year ago.  This morning I attended a press conference by the Utah Transportation Coalition, which is a new initiative of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, announcing the completion of a new study showing the benefits of increasing taxes in order to pay for an $11 billion shortfall in funding Utah’s transportation needs over the next 30 years.  The basic thesis of the study is that, for every $1.00 spent on transportation infrastructure, there is a return on investment of $1.94 into Utah’s economy.

I arrived by bus on route 21.  I think I could safely assume that I was the only one to arrive by bus.  One gentleman arrived by bike.  Everyone else came in cars.  Fortunately many carpooled.  I worry that many people will continue to drive until they have no other choice.