For five long years we have been adjusting our standards in reaction to the new long term economic realities. Besides the personal changes made by most families, governments and industries are also realizing they need to have a more frugal approach in the future.
The ostentatious and overpriced products of 2005 that were once considered symbols of wealth are now perceived as signs of waste and overindulgence. Government is slowly reacting to these changes and part of that reaction must be the development of new urban planning tools that will allow residents more flexibility to get things done.
Obviously, the Internet has had a huge impact on the ability of citizens’ to involve themselves more efficiently with all levels of government agencies. Now instead of driving to an agency office to learn what programs may be available, it is a simple click from home. Likewise, obtaining and filling out forms can many times be done over the Internet. The private sector has become equally efficient and just about anything can be found, purchased and delivered with a few clicks of a mouse.
But not everything can be accomplished by electronic means and for most of us the daily effort to move about within our community is still a necessity. Local government could have a dramatic positive impact on all of our lives by addressing local transportation alternatives.
Sitting around the house and becoming an obese vegetable is not in the best interests of any of us either individually or as a community. It has been proven conclusively that not participating in enough physical activity can have serious negative effects on our health. Playing video games or socializing electronically is not the same as going out and participating within your community; but to participate outside our homes means we need to be able to travel efficiently.
That is the next step our local government can consider as part of good long range planning. In recent discussions at public meetings, the idea of creating a planning element which addresses alternative modes of transportation within the growth management plan, our long range county wide plan, was introduced. The idea would first be to collate all the current pieces of planning that address such issues as bike lanes, pathways, mass transit, and community interconnectivity into one location to bench mark what we are doing on a measurable basis so that we can document our progress for future improvement and expansion.
Once what we currently have is collectively considered, new methods and ideas can be introduced and analyzed to see how we may improve upon ways to move residents more efficiently within our community. We are spending billions on massive roadways, the standard of which is six lanes, all to move huge volumes of traffic. Such roads are intrusive, aesthetically dead, discourage other forms of transportation, waste energy and create long term maintenance and pollutants. If we could offset even a portion of the need for such systems by alternative means for transportation, we would all come out ahead.
We prioritize our mobility around the gas guzzling car and treat the healthier or more efficient means of mobility as secondary. No matter how the future evolves, with or without improvements in our economy, moving our community into a situation where alternative modes of transportation are a priority would not be a mistake.
A new “mobility element” added as an optional element to our growth management plan would be the first step to encourage better future planning for our county. It would set a benchmark to measure against and allow us to assess our progress toward the goal of moving towards more energy efficient means of travel.
Better planning does not always mean just making sure every house has water and electricity. Better mobility would support better health; provide more opportunities to interact with one another and perhaps help develop badly needed options to more asphalt. Add in savings in oil consumption and a cleaner environment, the positive sides to alternative forms of transportation is tremendous.