Certain themes dominate most transportation planning discussions. There's always talk about forecasted volumes. There's always talk of reaching capacity or being over capacity. Peak times. Widening. Restriping.
In more enlightened circles you might hear mode share, transit-oriented development, walkability, active transportation, vulnerable users, and traffic calming. Kentucky doesn't have a reputation for being the most progressive cycling state. That's changing. I'm seeing it from the trenches. I'm hearing it in conference rooms. I'm watching the transportation landscape change before my very eyes. I’m hearing the springtime birdsong of engineers talking about including bike facilities in major road projects and of old school land use planners who finally “get it.”
It needs to go beyond shaping concrete and paint in different ways. If nothing else, I think the bursting of the housing bubble has showed us that we need to rethink how we arrange our lives. And while I think the dialogue has been slow to form in the less urbanized areas of the country I think the collective instinct has been to rearrange lives to a more sensible scale. Instinctively we move toward more sustainable lifestyles and into resiliency when turmoil strikes at the heart of our lives.
I believe it’s really only a few people who ignore common sense and continue trying to kickstart the stalled status quo. What’s unfortunate is that we’ve already dedicated so many of our resources to a suburban model of development which has scattered our bodies all over the landscape and segregated us by land use from the components of our lives.
As a society we’ve committed ourselves to too long commutes and too long food delivery chains.
We’ve bought into the lie of overconsumption and planned obsolescence. And so because we don’t think about it, or because we don’t understand the implications, we have also bought into the notion that going faster and farther for the accoutrements of life is a necessity. To cover the distances we’ve committed ourselves to we have to keep the highways flowing freely.But in conference rooms the conversations seem to center around how to deal with what is most assuredly an impending transportation bubble. No one articulates it that way, but it is recognized in many instances that there is no real estate left for the right-of-way (ROW) needed to accept the capacity that will come in future years. And at some point we can’t keep widening roads to try and fix the problems that widening just never seem to fix.
So what do we do?
Here is my quick and dirty list:
1) A shift to localism. It flies in the face of most federal and state mandates. But in principle the Transition Movement seems to have the answer here. Stop using so much energy to do things. Find local options and build local wealth. Stop driving into the next county or city to buy groceries. Look for those kinds of opportunities first.
2) We need to rethink the modern industrial ideal of the 40 hour work week. Culturally we need to accept the reality that widespread telecommuting is needed. This is a crucial transportation solution that is never discussed. But it needs to be promoted.
3) Tying into that idea…we need to allow more flexibility to workers of all kinds and for schools and other institutions to allow people to come and go at different times, instead of constricting our populations to a narrow window of movement. Peak times need to be dispersed. Why not have a core time that is mandatory and allow sliding start and finish times. What I mean is, everyone has to be at work between 10am and 2pm, but everyone is free to start anytime between 6am and 10am and to leave between 2pm and 6pm. This is also a major transportation planning tool that gets left at the bottom of the toolbox.
Also, why not promote more flexibility in days of the week? And allow more people the option of working flex days? This should be a cultural shift. Corporations should not get to decide what’s best for the citizenry and society.
4) We need to shift the paradigm of speed in our society to one of the beautiful limitation. If Walmart doesn’t get its shipment of Made in China junk on time what’s the harm? I know time is money, but money isn’t the most important thing in life contrary to popular belief.
5) We need to kill the liability monster and foster a cultural attitude of personal responsibility. This will solve many problems, but what I have seen lately is the fear of civil retribution by institutions has created too many asinine policies that prohibit people from making sensible transportation decisions. Schools that don’t allow children to walk or ride to and from school because of liability issues? That’s fascist and asinine.
People are beginning to think differently. Bike culture is helping this a lot. The Xtracycle, the concept bikes that have been popping up like the Moots IMBA trail building bike, the Cogburn hunting bike, the Boo mountaineering bike and more. Bikes are being used less for cycling and more for exploring, transporting, and transcending.
There is a tickling in the back of my mind that I’m on the cusp of making something click in my hometown. Not necessarily with my fellow citizens, but in somehow changing the atmosphere and climate of human movement. It’s nebulous though, and I can’t say with any certainty what this feeling is. It’s tied to my job but with spiderwebs and moonbeams. All of this other momentum swirling around me in a maelstrom of idea and talk seems to be affecting my waking dreams.
And then the thread of thought it gone. But there’s a whisper there. Something was fluttering just out of view. Things are ready to explode.
My experiences on the job lately have been slightly surreal. I introduce myself and people have already heard of me. In a room of experts I’m being asked my opinion. I’m getting gold stars for thoughts and ideas that seem obvious to me. And I’m starting to weave together with a regional web of players and activism that could reach critical mass in an instant. I’ve got to be ready to ride the wave when it strikes.