By Dom Nozzi
In 2008, I was told that Alachua County FL has decided to take a better path with regard to transportation. While I was impressed by the general direction the County was taking (particularly in comparison to its historical direction), I had to wonder why it took over 20 years to figure out that building their way out of congestion is counterproductively ruinous.
Of course, FDOT, the homebuilders, and the majority of the city and county commissioners and city and county staff — or citizens — still don’t get it in this community.
I am firmly convinced that if, as was officially proclaimed, the County intends to spend a lot of public money to create high-quality transit, bike lanes and sidewalks, such an action will result in only a tiny number of motorists
traveling by bus, bike or foot.
Because the county environment is not at all conducive.
Way too much free parking makes it extremely irrational to not drive a car everywhere (even when gas costs $4/gallon). Very, very low residential densities and commercial intensities also aggravate the problem, as do financial institutions that are extremely skittish about funding anything other than sprawl. Another obstacle are the Alachua County Land Development Regulations, which continue to make it often illegal to do what is right.
In other words, quality transit, bike & sidewalk facilities are not a limiting factor on reducing car travel. Instead, the primary obstacle is that the community continues to heavily subsidize and otherwise encourage car travel and sprawl lifestyles.
The result of all of this is that the community will see lots of shiny new buses, bike lanes and sidewalks go unused.
Bad for PR. Breeds resentment.
Nevertheless, I am quite supportive of the community moving in this direction. Sometime very soon (if not 20-40 years ago), places like Alachua County will need to have a “Plan B” in place. In the near term, there is not nearly enough traffic congestion, density, or scarce and pricey parking to make it sensible to use transit, bicycles or sidewalks. And the community has way too much road capacity. However, the day will (soon?) arrive when meaningful numbers of people will want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and way of traveling.
Growing congestion is inevitable, and happily is a powerful way to make it quite attractive to use transit, ride a bike, or walk. Congestion also makes higher-density, mixed use residential a much more desirable option for people.
The key is for Alachua County to finally take an essential step in the right direction by ending the monumentally counter-productive efforts to slow or stop higher densities/intensities in urban areas via conventional road concurrency rules (rules which state that new development cannot occur if it will further congest roads).
And stop the ruinous efforts to continue widening roads.
It is always good to stop shooting yourself in the foot as soon as you can…
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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