Plan for bikes, peds, transit as well as cars? Heresy!
Would it bring doomsday to weigh sustainability in the region's growth and promote wider choice in transportation? If you listen to Virginia road booster Bob Chase or AAA Mid-Atlantic, thinking broadly would be the greatest disaster since the extinction of dinosaurs.
Please submit comments on the Greater Washington 2050 report. It recommends shaping the region's growth around environmental sustainability, healthy businesses, good jobs, quality education, and a choice of transportation modes including roads, rails, bicycling and walking.
It seems hard to find fault in that. If anything, as I wrote before, the report probably doesn't go far enough, continuing to promote growth in small, scattered "activity centers" far from existing jobs and residents. It sets valuable overall goals and recommends measuring jurisdictions' success, but has no penalties for jurisdictions that fall short or push for infrastructure projects contrary to the criteria. And there's certainly no mention in the report of banning road construction or anything of the sort.
But that's not enough for the region's primary roads-everywhere, roads-only boosters, Bob Chase of NVTA and AAA's Lon Anderson, who were driven to apoplectic rage by even the suggestion that one day, in the future, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) might weigh more factors beyond just "build a freeway anywhere anyone wants to drive." Even a report that will have little immediate effect triggered angry rebuttals because of just the possibility that the region could look beyond their myopic worldview.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson says that "community connectivity and walkability and minimizing ecological harm" are "gibberish." Other AAA chapters around the country are starting to offer bicycle roadside assistance, ask drivers to respect bicyclists, or drop the word "accident". Meanwhile, AAA Mid-Atlantic seems to believe that there's no value whatsoever to minimizing ecological harm and a regional planning body shouldn't even make it one of its many goals.
Bob Chase heads the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (not to be confused with the governmental Northern Virginia Transportation Authority). Chase wants to be the Robert Moses of the DC region. He wants to turn Greater Washington into Houston. He's the 1950s planning ideal that never died. For him, the more single-family cul-de-sac subdivisions and the more freeways crisscrossing Northern Virginia, the better.
NVTA pooh-poohs Transit-Oriented Development and the Metro, saying that because more trips happen by car today and most people don't live near transit, our region should invest exclusively in new expressways. That ignores the fundamental chicken-and-egg issue: more trips happen by car because we haven't built more housing around Metro stations and don't have streetcars or quality bus service to most neighborhoods. It's like saying that nobody will ever use the Internet because only 25% of the people in the world have Internet access. Clearly, we should pour governmental resources into the Pony Express.and so on, and Loudoun, Prince William, and Frederick Counties are filled edge-to-edge with cul-de-sacs and strip malls, do we really think that traffic will be better? Really?
Chase and Anderson are the snake oil salesmen arguing that even though all the other vats of snake oil just made you sick, your real problem is that you didn't buy enough snake oil. They want you to keep buying it and ignore all the doctors saying otherwise. Our region's leaders know better than to keep buying what they're peddling. It hasn't worked in the past and won't now.
These comments, like calling minimizing ecological harm "gibberish," should prove to our leaders that it's time to stop treating Chase as a respected voice of the business community or giving AAA any credibility beyond just another special interest lobby.
Please submit your own comments on the plan. You can submit them through the end of the Thanksgiving holiday, so it's best to comment now. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, which served on the GW2050 task force along with leaders in business, government, foundations, and other non-profits, has posted its letter of support for GW2050. Chase is trying to rally people to oppose any goals that look beyond roads alone, and to criticize any spending on bikes, pedestrians, and transit as totally wasteful.
We need to remind regional leaders that our many residents use many different modes of transportation, and a wise regional policy would combine them all instead of focusing on one alone. Urge them to support this report, which doesn't abandon roads but simply seeks to broaden the analysis and set performance targets for building livable communities. Only a narrow-minded road lobbying mindset would oppose that.
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