I had a sinus headache, and I did not want to write in that state. Apologies for the dilatory September.
There’s quite the hue and cry lately about the reduction in vehicle miles travelled in traffic over the last five years. I’m skeptical that this is a sea change in our transportation choices, because we haven’t really built anything differently, and the decline coincides with the worst recession and job situation we’ve had in my lifetime.
I’m not as interested in miles traveled as trips, anyway.
Trips mean somebody going from the place they are to the place they want to be. People don’t care how near or far something is from them, they care about getting to that thing with minimal effort. With almost a century of devotion to the car in traffic, that happens to be a trip in traffic. But it doesn’t have to be.
More and more people are moving to historic cities for the amenity of proximity. I grew up in a house built around the time we switched from walkers in the street to cars in the street, in a 1500 SF bungalow on a fifth acre lot (Walkscore: a paltry 57/100). Not really high density, but still walkable.
The bungalow was built in a neighborhood with square blocks with four corners. The dimensions of my block are about twice as long as a block in Manhattan, but the same depth. The place where I was hit, two blocks from home, was a four way intersection with a 25 mile per hour speed limit. If the speed limit was much faster, I would not be writing here today. A half block in the other direction from my house is a trolley stop, with a 1,000 SF grocery (now given over to wines, but I knew it as a true grocery in the 1970s), five restaurants, a record store, clothing store and artist’s market, run by my friend Teri.
A trip to get candy as a kid was a walk or a run half a block away. I felt for the kids on the next block, who had to walk a whole two blocks to the store. The school bus picked us up at the same trolley stop, next to the mailbox that is still there in its cast iron glory. If my parents needed something from the grocery, they taught me by the time I was seven to go get it, walking there and back. No child seat required.
I know my natal neighborhood is not easily replicated today. The client animal was a walker then, abetted by a trolley. The client animal now is a cyborg, 10% human by weight, but ten times faster and with a lot more hauling capacity. But what if we found new places where we could build with the walker and the biker as the target animal once again? I know traffic is too useful just to toss aside in elite disgust, but I also know traffic has enough liabilities to outcompete, if we find something that works better.
Friday, I’m going to depart from transportation and dip into federal politics. It seems to be in vogue these days.