Highway to ?
There was an article the other day in the paper with the headline â€œPhoenix Plans 24-Lane Highwayâ€. The article described the plan to widen a two mile stretch of Interstate 10 in Phoenix to 24 lanes. In each direction there would be six general purpose lanes, two high-occupancy lanes and then four lanes for local traffic. The article went on to mention several other giant highway proposals around the country such as an expansion to18 lanes in Houston and 23 lanes in Atlanta.
The reason for all this highway expansion is to ease gridlock that city planners are increasingly saying could stunt economic growth. Leaders in metro areas around the country are worried that traffic congestion is an obstacle for them to â€˜competeâ€™ economically with other cities. This implies that, as one city expands its highway system, other cities will feel compelled to do the same. This is a competition to see who can pave over the greatest amount of land so that internal combustion engine vehicles can move more easily as they pollute the air, powered by ever more expensive petroleum purchased from countries that fund terrorism. This strikes me as insanity.
If your pants are getting too tight you can buy larger ones to ease the tightness or you can go on a diet and exercise regimen to shrink your growing waistline. These cities are just going out and buying bigger pants. Think about it. There used to be no gridlock on two lane highways because there were so many fewer cars and so much less urban sprawl. Then came the Interstate highway system and all was ok with the high speed world of cars and cities. Then of course there came gridlock. The highways stayed the same, but the number of cars doubled. Just some simple math. Carried onward to its logical extreme, and the highways will always have to be widened as our hunger for higher priced, polluting, individual transportation vehicles and ever more remote real estate developments that gobble up even more land.
How about stopping and thinking all this through and where it is going. To stay with the pants analogy, we can just keep buying bigger pants until we are so obese that we keel over and die from any number of deaths attributed to being overweight. Sounds like our government leaders want to emulate Homer Simpson: duoh! Why not think creatively about public transportation systems. Coordinate the use of cars and public transport. Create hub and spoke systems where cars are parked at electric train stations. Have people telecommute one day a week. Create bicycle paths. Stagger times for truck traffic into cities. The urban sprawl created in this country during the past 50 years can be viewed as one of the greatest and most costly mistakes in land use in the history of civilization. Perhaps the person who has most intelligently and eloquently written about this is James Howard Kunstler in his book â€œThe Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change and other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Centuryâ€ and also at his wonderful blog.
We know we have to convert our transportation away from the internal combustion engine. We know we have to rethink how we use our land. We know we have the Internet and wireless to handle our communications needs. We know that our cities must reinvent themselves in this new century. Why revert to a 1950s solution for a 21st century problem?
And where are all these highways going? Increasingly to no place good. Rock and roll is always good for a reference that can be called upon. In this case AC/DCâ€™s â€œHighway to Hellâ€.