Guest editorial: Taxes for Transportation? |

Guest editorial: Taxes for Transportation?

Robert Ett, AIA


Growth is happening here.

Development will respond with more housing, and commercial construction. More schools will be built. The result? Many more people moving from one place to another.

Transportation is defined as: "the act or process of moving people or things from one place to another". We can all agree we have a transportation issue and we need to respond, which costs money.

Alarmingly, we keep discussing transportation in a vacuum without considering place. (An origin and a destination) Adding additional "places" exponentially increases transportation issues and congestion. Every driveway, shopping center, office building, and apartment complex becomes both a point of origin and a destination requiring people to intersect each other across multiple transportation means and routes.

Uncontrolled, this is called sprawl. No community has ever figured out how to successfully financially deal with sprawl and no "transportation" solutions exist to adequately respond to sprawl.

Ever seen a 4, 6, or 8 lane road that wasn't congested at 8AM and 5 PM? So just building more traffic lanes won't solve the problem. It will result in much more traffic and congestion that we can't financially respond to unless:
People walk, use mass transit, and limit automobile usage. Bet you never heard that before. But how do we get people to limit automobile use; to walk and use mass transit? We can't. Only they can decide to do that. People will use cars less and mass transit or walk more only when they decide it is more convenient, faster, and less expensive Solutions are known. We can choose the ones that serve us best. We can enable the strategies we need at limited expense, and let markets provide solutions for us. What if development responded to growth in ways that helped? We would have to make that easy, fast and profitable.

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Alternate routes mean less congestion. Dense development in one place means less sprawl, less intrusion on existing land use, less corner development in your neighborhood. We must strategize nodes of development incorporating schools, shopping, associated restaurants, and limited parking. Bus rapid transit would serve only these nodes, perhaps on lanes reserved for buses, school buses and emergency vehicles. If you lived in your 5,000-square-foot house on an acre of land you wouldn't have bus access unless you drove to a node. (Experience indicates that many people would choose to do that).

How? Some known tools: Speedy approvals. Density swaps; allowing increased density in approved nodes for land rights purchased from elsewhere. There is some number at which landowners will be clamoring to sell and developers happy to buy. Every time that happens it's one less driveway. Permitting 10,000-square-foot grocery stores means needing roughly 1/3 of the rooftops to justify one. Such groceries would be much more accessible. Schools inside dense developments would require less highway use to access them. We could easily incorporate affordable housing. Many people with mass transit access would find only one car necessary.

By the way, light rail is out of the question. Yes, it's more fun and perceived as more luxurious, but we don't have the population to support the cost estimated in excess of $30 million per mile.

We know the tools and incentives that will cause people to make the decisions needed to protect our way of life, absorb anticipated growth and minimize the transportation cost to serve it. We know we will need to spend money. Let's do it in a way that works.

Robert Ett is a retired architect and Transportation Oriented Development Consultant