While reading an article about the way cheap parking encourages driving, “Low parking costs may encourage automobile use,” I saw this quote; I think it nails the relationship between sprawl development and limited transportation options:
During the past 25 years, the number of miles Americans drive has grown three times faster than the U.S. population. The predominant form of development, low-density sprawl, has encouraged automobile use and has worsened the challenges of providing convenient and low-cost public transportation.
Put this together with Rebecca Burns’ article this year that explores the way Metro Atlanta’s car-sprawl caused so many people to be stranded in a snow storm, and you’ve got a clear answer to the question of why the metro doesn’t have better transit options.
As long as we continue to build and maintain car-scaled developments and cheap parking — and surround that with car-focused infrastructure that hinders walkability and safe, convenient cycling — the metro as a whole will be stuck in a rut of car dependency. And it affects us all, even the ones who live in little bubbles of walkable, urban spaces, because it prevents those bubbles from being connected well. (Example: Downtown Woodstock, in the northern part of Metro Atlanta, is a decently-walkable pocket of human-scaled density. But try getting there without a car; and try operating a business there without cheap parking.)
This shouldn’t be a politicized issue of big-city urbanites versus suburbanites. This should be an issue of smart moves that allow people the freedom to connect to their needs in multiple ways without being forced into car ownership. And it should be about the freedom to build businesses that don’t require heavy expenditures for car storage via parking minimums — something that limits commercial construction to moneyed, big developers and big projects (think: sprawlburbs littered with big-box stores) instead of allowing for small-scale, incremental growth.
Can leaders region-wide accept the challenge of connecting roads now disconnected by cul-de-sacs, rezoning for mixed uses and increased density, and sacrificing some car lanes to make way for pedestrian & cycling infrastructure? I hope so. Because that’s part of what it will take to allow for a reversal of car dependency on a large scale — and not only in bubbles here and there.
Photo by Flickr user BoringPostcards