Emergency Evacuation as a Smoke Screen

By Dom Nozzi

At times, we are told that a road must be widened to provide for “emergency evacuation” in the event that a large number of people must be evacuated by car due to a hurricane, flood, nuclear war, etc.

But beware. In some cases, such an argument is a smoke screen.

When it comes to issues pertaining to evacuation plans, communities need to be on guard against people who have a hidden agenda; people who want to widen roads to promote sprawl and high-speed car travel, and who use “emergency evacuation” as a scare tactic.

By mentioning evacuation, the road widening lobby can achieve the “moral high ground.” Who, after all, could be opposed to evacuating the population if there is an emergency? (often, though, the hidden agenda, is to widen the road to promote sprawl, suburban real estate, and happy cars).

Of course, in most cases, there is no hidden agenda. Instead, well-intentioned people sincerely believe that a road widening is necessary to allow adequate evacuation. But the unintended consequence, as we have come to learn, is that the widened road becomes an unstoppable engine for strip commercial, car-happy sprawl.

The result is the same.

Whether there is a hidden agenda to promote sprawl or well-intentioned public safety advocacy, the community will be spending large sums of public dollars to create an unstoppable catalyst for more sprawl.

What can be done to avert this smoke screen? Or this unintended consequence?

Most importantly, the community needs to establish a maximum size for its roads. (For example, establishing a policy that states that the community shall never build a road larger than 4 lanes.) Because big roads are very harmful to the quality of life (and sustainability) of a community, the community should decide that, say, 4-lane roads are the maximum size roads that will ever be built in the community. The maximum is a tool chosen by the community to protect its quality of life. That then becomes the “level of service standard” that the community adopts in its growth management plan.

The 4-lane maximum road then becomes a limiting factor for population growth in the community. The community would then have the leverage to say to a proposed new residential development: “I’m sorry, but our adopted plan does not allow you to build here. If you build here, there will be ‘X’ number of new car trips that will need to be evacuated in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately for you, our evacuation plan states that we must be able to evacuate our community in ‘Y’ minutes. If the new car trips from your proposed project were added to our 4-lane roads, we would not be able to evacuate fast enough. Since our plan clearly states that we will not exceed 4 lanes on our roads, we cannot approve your project.”

The 4-lane road becomes a much-needed “line in the sand” for protecting quality of life.


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.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia

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