June 9, 2004

‘Automobility is a fraud’

"For 50 years, we've been saying if we just had the right amount of money, we could create automobility, but we can't. Automobility is just a fraud," planning consultant and author E.M. Risse tells the Richmond Post-Dispatch. "The cause of traffic congestion is the pattern of development, not the size of the road."

Studies indicate that public-transit systems operate best when they have at least 6.5 residents per acre, a density only the most heavily populated Virginia localities reach, and communities that put most services within reach of a pedestrian or bicyclist need at least 10 residents an acre.

Creating those kinds of communities means changing habits Americans have had for the best part of a century, Risse said.

That's a rather long-term proposition. However, more immediately, we can at least create communities where SOME services are within walking distance of more residents; and commercial areas where walking BETWEEN shops and restaurants is an appealing activity once you've arrived there (instead of having to to drive from strip mall to strip mall that are half a mile away or less). That's more than just installing sidewalks nobody would want to use (see Speen Street between Rtes. 9 and 30). I've said it before, but it needs repeating: This means creating an attractive streetscape for walkers.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the book Suburban Nation points out that "building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, it actually increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse.

“The phenomenon has been well documented … increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more – a lot more.”

Don't believe that? Please do see the earlier post for the book's evidence (or even better, read the book. It's great.)

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