By Dom Nozzi
June 15, 2002
Nearly all American cities are locked into the downwardly spiraling death grip of suburban sprawl because our predecessors built big, multi-lane roads with big capacity.
We are condemned to sprawl nearly endlessly because of the vast blunder of constructing huge roads and highways.
Plans and regulations that prohibit sprawl, or wise and courageous elected officials will be unable to save us from a sprawling fate.
Why? Because transportation drives land use. Big roads — not long-range comprehensive plans or development regulations or courageous, wise politicians — determine if we will sprawl. The big roads have created a POWERFUL market that screams sprawl, sprawl, sprawl to property owners, developers, and speculators in remote locations. No force on earth can stop that tidal wave of market demand created by big roads.
In the long run, we only have one realistic way to avoid sprawling. Those big roads either need to be put on a serious diet by removing travel lanes, or we need to passively allow such roads to become more congested (by not counterproductively widening them or synchronizing traffic signals or reducing development densities or adding more turn lanes).
Let’s fantasize wildly for a minute: Let’s say that we find the hundreds of millions of dollars we need to create quality transit in our city. Does that put people on transit?
It is still exceptionally irrational to use even high-quality, free transit when you compare it to all the massive advantages of driving a car alone. Travel by car is way too fast, too convenient, too cheap, too unrestricted, too status-building, too much of a suit of armor, etc.
Transit cannot compete with such advantages unless we have lots of congestion, connected and dense and modestly-sized streets, expensive and scarce parking, higher residential densities (which, by the way, are unavoidably created by congestion), mixed use, and walkable and compact design of developments.
Quality transit exists in most of our big cities because they have lots of these essential ingredients, not because they have lots of money for transit, or great plans and regulations, or brilliant, fearless politicians.