This is Gordon Chaffin's blog. He's a civically-engaged resident of Washington, DC who thinks a lot about transportation, housing, health, and other public policy issues. These topic areas have systems, stakeholders, and power dynamics that intersect and impact each other. Housing is healthcare. Land-use is transportation. For about 100 years, America has planned its surface transportation around passenger and commercial vehicles; to move them faster and encourage more of them.
This is an advocacy-focused blog to showcase the who, what, when, why, where, and how for the United States to recover multimodal use of public spaces like roads, streets, and parklands. Gordon’s donation-supported, free-for-all work has several goals. This is a newbie-friendly space to get excited and educated about shared transportation issues. The civic participation resources make it easy for every reader to add their voices in as easy way as possible. Look to SUSMO for a similar effort in Arlington County, VA.
Focusing on everything except cars — for a change — is necessary for greater safety for all users, for climate change mitigation as environmental rehabilitation, for restorative justice to disadvantaged communities, and for inclusive uplift of neighborhoods rather than gentrification.
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Situational Awareness: Decades of Favoring Cars, Only Cars
In the fast-growing suburbs of large American cities, there are few to no feasible alternatives to car driving. While a dozen or so U.S. metro areas have large transit systems and high ridership, those systems have outdated routes. American transit service focuses on commuting trips that have in/out travel patterns to downtown cores. However, only one-quarter of car trips are for commuting and most of that quarter is from one suburb to another. Automatic investment from gas taxes, annually budgeted funds, and grant-based programs at the federal and state-level focus first and primarily on “congestion relief” of car driving — moving more vehicles faster. Rail and bus transit does receive dedicated funding, but that money can’t make up for the fact that 75 years of housing development and decisions about land-use that spread Americans far from their work, from their kids’ school, from essentials like groceries, and cultural necessities like faith institutions.
With everyone spread out so far, connected by wide and fast roads, even short errand trips become car trips. Maybe you only live 2 miles from the grocery store, but there’s no comfortable way to bike there. You could take the bus your region stitches together as a backbone for the poor, but it would take an hour each way because of infrequent service. With your walking shoes and a big backpack, you could hoof it. But, there’s no physical barrier or wide buffer space between 55 mph traffic on you on narrow sidewalks that disappear and re-appear along the route. Maybe you have to depend on that bus for job interview trips after a lay-off where you cut back. But, then those job descriptions require “reliable transportation to and from worksites.” You get a deal on a 5-7-year-old Hondyota with favorable loan terms from a salesperson a little too boisterous about their non-requirement of good credit history. You take a selfie with your new wheels for the ‘gram. This is America, after all. That car is your means to economic mobility.
Inter-city travel is largely car trips, too. Sure, flying is democratized and $69 round trip shuttles. But, Detroit to Chicago, Chicago to Indy, Indy to Columbus — all of it’s a reasonable car trip. Why fly? The security is so much hassle. The seats. The buys-burrito-before-takeoff middle seat. You like trains. Always wanted to see the countryside from a railcar window. But, my lord, have you checked the AMTRAK website? It’s 24 hours from DC to Detroit. And the Toledo to Detroit connection is a bus. You don’t like getting stuck in traffic. Who does? Would love a comfortable 30-minute commuter train to read, check out these podcasts, or sleep before the kids attack you with inquiries of dinner. But, none of these reasonable — preferable! — alternatives exist. This is America, the money and the votes go to saving you 30 seconds at the highway exit with the major thoroughfare road you won’t let your kids get near when they play in the neighborhood.