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Moser: Why Build More Roads if People are Driving Less?

By Connie Moser December 8, 2013 10:24 am

11 Comments

Opinion

Do you watch television? I bet you think that’s a funny question. Your response was probably something like, “Of course! Doesn’t everyone?” In fact, last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That 46K is a pretty small percentage of 974,000 new households that were created last year.

That’s not to say people aren’t watching anything that is televised, but it does mean that less people are signing up for traditional subscriptions and more are resorting to services like Netflix or Hulu. I don’t watch regular television at all, but I do watch TED on my computer. I also watch the Prince William Board of County Supervisors meetings.

I found last week’s meeting to be particularly interesting, as the discussion on the Bi-County Parkway resulted in several motions after presentations by county staff and fervent citizens. I’ve avoided making a public statement on this topic because up until this week it seemed to me to be a battle between residents and transportation officials and each side has seemed well armed to make their own arguments. I’ve followed the discussions through “Say No to the Bi-County Parkway” on Facebook and read the prodigious amounts of information sent to my inbox.

I read the blogs, but usually as a kind of barometer to gauge the sentiments of those vocal folks and their admirers and detractors. I don’t usually comment, but if I do, you will always see my name. I made an exception to my “almost never comment” policy when my friend, Al Alborn, made this post.

I was moved to respond, because that post resonated with me. I don’t want to keep doing things the same old way to achieve the same old results. Haven’t you ever asked yourself, “Why, if we keep building roads, does it keep taking longer to get to our destination?” On Al’s blog, I mention self-driving cars and drone package delivery. Transportation is changing. Whether you believe it or not, whether you want it or not transportation is changing.

This story from Grist talks about a decline in driving. This story from the Washington Post states Americans are driving 7.6 percent fewer miles per year than they did in 2004. All across the United States, people are actually driving less miles per year and that’s after removing variables like the recession.

What is this?

We’re building miles and miles of hiking trails, walking paths and bicycle lanes and guess what? People are using them. People who used to have to drive to an office five days a week can now work from the comfort of their home. There is more public transportation available. The price of cars, insurance, repair costs, gas and time lost in traffic are outweighing the private automobile.

We keep adding roads, lanes, lights, signs and striping…what if we’re doing that all for nothing? Many cities are experimenting with no signals. It sounds inconceivable, but it is certainly working in Poynton, England where they have made an effort to revitalize their community.

The way we build homes changes as we use more Earth-friendly products. The super large houses of the last decade make way for smaller more comfortable homes for today. Cars change, people change, ideas change. Everything changes, whether it’s television, computers, telephones, hair color or road building.

Let’s not build a road that changes nothing but just gives us more of the same.

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  • http://www.alborn.net Alan P. Alborn

    You’ve “done the math”. I like that. Great post, Connie.

    As long as we have people who only know how to build roads being advised be people who profit from building those roads solving the “how to connect people to work” problem, we will get more roads. We need to bring Microsoft, Cisco, and service providers who are building future solutions for connecting people to the information they need to do their jobs to the table.

    We need to stop building 19th Century solutions to solve 21st Century problems.

    • http://www.neabscoactionalliance.org Connie Moser

      Thanks Al! I, too, agree the enormous amount of money for transportation makes it
      as attractive to profiteers as the pharmaceutical companies do the same with high price drugs. I had a discussion with a friend about that this morning. There are less expensive drugs available for treatments that can lower the cost of health care, but the big money generated keeps the cheaper alternatives out of the hands of people that need them.

  • http://WDGolden.com Bill Golden

    About England and experimenting with no traffic signals, throughout Europe they are experimenting with fewer or almost no signs, including speed limit signs. In some areas they are narrowing the roads and adding curves which has a natural tendency to slow car speeds and to make drivers more alerts.

    Another English trend … well behind the rest of Europe … is the adoption of smaller homes. The newly built average English home is just 925 square feet and built in a community where you can still walk and do your shopping. Amazon.com also serves all of Europe so there is little need for big box stores.

    We need to focus more on communities, making them livable, reducing costs of all kinds and preparing for a future that is more affordable … because fewer folks will have jobs in the near future and their earning potential is going to be under stress as well — another topic I know, but an important consideration.

    Amazing English home shrinkage: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2398714/The-incredible-shrinking-houses-British-homes-built-just-HALF-size-1920s.html

    • http://www.neabscoactionalliance.org Connie Moser

      Thanks, Bill. It is not exactly a different topic, because all things are connected.
      Fewer jobs, lower salaries, less commuting, smaller business, less traffic, downsized homes…all are related.

      • http://www.alborn.net Alan P. Alborn

        It’s the “reset” we have often discussed. Things will never be the same. Those waiting for the good old days to return will be disappointed.

        • Shirley Collins

          We Americans seem to love our automobiles. Yes, some other countries many years ago knew more about public transportation, roadways, etc..perhaps a day late and a dollar short in this area, but hopefully the values of the good ole days are not lost in the process of a changing society.

  • Wanda Carter

    Connie,excellent article. I also have been following on this Bi- County Parkway.
    I can not understand why some of the BOCs are for this, and why Supervisor May did not follow through on his motion to remove it. Another study was not required it was just another ploy to delay this vote again.
    Keep up the great article’s that you, and Al Alborn are writing.

  • Rick Holt

    Al, great point about needing a new paradigm for transportation planning. We need to use technology more effectively (telework) and focus on moving people instead of just cars and trucks. I do believe that we need to make changes in the transportation network for the county but this can be done in a more innovative way than just laying down more asphalt.

  • http://www.neabscoactionalliance.org Connie Moser

    If we encouraged more innovation like this:
    http://youtu.be/S10GMfG2NMY

    More people would be willing to bike!

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    • http://neabscoactionalliance.org connie

      Thank you very much for the compliment and for reading!