Friday, June 17, 2011

My comments on the SPC 2040 Plan

The Southwest Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) is the metro Pittsburgh area's official municipal planning organization (MPO). This means that any major transportation project in the nine-county region in this corner of the state has to be cleared through them if it is to receive any federal funding. SPC also is required to develop long-range plans from time to time, and each time they do, they request public input.

Today was the deadline for public input on their draft long-range transportation plan, the 2040 Long Range Transportation and Development Plan for Southwestern Pennsylvania. I did not have time to do a blow-by-blow analysis of all 263 pages of the PDF document. I did have time to express my philosophical approach to what I think the world is going to look like by 2040 and how we should plan for that. To that end, this is what I sent them.


I think it is safe to say that if "peak oil" has not already happened -- and the experts say it HAS already happened -- then it certainly will by 2040. Combined with rapidly rising petroleum demand from China, India and other developing nations, chances are 100% that the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel will rise far beyond what it costs now, in that time, as measured in dollars constant to 2011. The actual pump price will be even higher, sooner, when fuel related costs in turn push up the cost of everything else.

In short, we are soon going to be at "peak car". The future is simple: fewer cars, less driving. If gas goes to $10 or $20 a gallon in 10 years, are we really going to be driving all that much? No, we're not. And yes, gas WILL cost that much by 2040.

With that as backdrop, I believe that any long range transportation plan has to reflect this simple mantra: Stop building roads, just fix what we have, and start making it easier to get around by anything other than an automobile. Bicycles, buses, pedestrians. There will be a lot more of that, and a lot less driving.

* Major new roads: Just stop. Nothing. No more. None.
* Additional lanes to existing roads: Precious few.
* Fix what's broken. The money will come from NOT building major new roads and additional lanes.
* Start thinking about FEWER driving lanes, more room for cyclists. I think the buzz word is "road diets".
* Sidewalks: Yes. Anything that gets built or fixed, needs a sidewalk, or at least a walkable shoulder (free of washouts, poison ivy, 2" deep mud, etc.)
* Pedestrian crossings at intersections: Yes. Lots of these.

Have you ever heard of "The Popsicle Index"? Think of yourself as a parent, allowing your 8-year-old child to walk to the store to buy a popsicle, and return, unassisted. What is your comfort level, as a percentage, that the kid will get there and back, safely? Aside from boogeymen jumping out from behind trees, the biggest fear is being hit by a car. That right there usually brings down The Popsicle Index in an area significantly, and that right there is squarely in the sights of long-range transportation planning. If we as a region cannot let our kids walk around without getting killed, then we as transportation planners are not doing our jobs.

I think I've said enough. Stop building roads! We need bicycle infrastructure, we need public transit infrastructure, we need to stop making it easy for cars to speed, and we need to be able to get around without needing a car in the first place.

OK, your move. Thank you for listening to my spiel.


Stuart M. Strickland

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Planning public transit (an old blog post)

Have a look at this post from my old MySpace blog. (Don't worry, it's not MySpace itself; I ported it from there last week. I also updated all the links.) It describes how different the transit experience is for several people who are geographically very close.