Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Congestion Question

Our local right-wing think tank, the Center of the American Experiment, has fixed its sights on public transit and bike infrastructure, building the case for the work done lately in our Republican-controlled legislature. They've got an all-out push happening with op-eds, bumper stickers, radio ads, billboards and more, complaining about congestion on the highways and putting out pseudo-intellectual talking points based on just about nothing.

They've been successful in getting the Star Tribune to publish their tripe, I have to admit. Today there were some letters in response, including this one from an urban planner who summed up my thoughts:

When people think of what makes their favorite city special, I doubt the width of the freeways is ever the aspect they recall. Instead, people value the unique places, neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, parks or countless other features that make cities vibrant places to live. I wonder if the author of the study advocating for expanding the region’s highways considered this at all.

What I believe was missed in that study is a lesson American cities have learned the hard way over the past 70 years: The success of a city is not determined by how fast you can drive through it. Over the decades, our highways have expanded, carving up cities and displacing once-vibrant neighborhoods. If the physical destruction wasn’t enough, more traffic lanes simply result in a taxpayer-funded incentive to drive more. Traffic isn’t alleviated, people drive farther, cities lose their population, and soon the once-vibrant city is an empty hull surrounded by freeways and surface parking lots.

The last 20 years have seen a reversal of this trend as cities have managed to attract young professionals and empty-nesters alike. A year and a half ago upon graduating college, I became one of these newly converted urbanites when I chose to move to the Twin Cities. There were many reasons behind this decision, but the ability to drive down I-94 at 70 mph was not one of them.

Michael Greif, Minneapolis
The only thing that comes from more highway capacity is more traffic. It's a well-documented fact. As Matt Eckholm noted recently on Streets.MN, maybe CAE is less concerned about commuting times and more concerned about keeping "outer ring suburbanites focused and angry enough about their commutes to carry their resentment to the ballot box."

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

DN3, if you don't already know it, you would probably want to know about the book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown by Mintz and Gratz. I learned about it years ago when leading a petition drive against a crosstown "thoroughfare." I pushed the idea of town speed v. highway speed, a contrast coined, I think, coined by Robert Venturi. (We won the fight.)