A Misallocation of Scarce Funds

If I talk long enough to people about transit and bicycle infrastructure, I will invariably find someone who says that although he or she supports the idea of  transportation choice in theory, it’s a misallocation of scarce funds to build light rail and bicycle paths when we don’t have enough roads.

Not enough roads?  Really?

A deeply flawed development model leads to wide boulevards through empty fields.  The problem is not that we don't have enough roads.  The problem is with the design of our spaces.

Stout Heritage Parkway, Plainfield Indiana.  There’s more than enough road here. Way more than enough.

Capitol Avenue, downtown Indianapolis, high noon an a weekday.

Capitol Avenue, downtown Indianapolis.  This is a wide arterial designed to feed downtown during rush hour.  It sits empty most of the day.  What a waste.

Parking, downtown Indianapolis, weekday afternoon.

Parking, downtown Indianapolis, weekday afternoon.  

Broadway in downtown Lubbock Texas gets so little traffic that it hasn't been repaved in over 100 years.

Broadway in downtown Lubbock Texas gets so little traffic that it hasn’t been repaved in over 100 years.


Ogden Utah

22nd Street, Ogden Utah

South Street, Plainfield IN

South Street, Plainfield IN

Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis

Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis

Hendricks County, IN

400 S.  Hendricks County, IN

Indianapolis International Airport, departure deck

Indianapolis International Airport, departure deck

Suburban shopping mall, Plainfield IN

Suburban shopping mall, Plainfield IN

We have plenty of roads.  In fact, we have far more road and parking capacity than we really need.  Most of the time, these roads and parking lots sit empty.  We’ve built too much.  Talk about a misallocation of scarce funds!

What if, instead of maintaining the status quo and building for maximum capacity, we figured out a way to lower maximum capacity?  We could do it relatively easily.  In the first picture above, imagine a development model that eliminates the empty fields.  Imagine instead that development is built close to other development so that it is easily walkable or bikeable.  If more people walked and biked, the roads wouldn’t need to be so wide.

In the picture that shows the empty airport terminal, what if the airport was served by a rail connection instead of personal automobiles? What if we could eliminate all that bad investment and replace it with a single rail line that accomplished the same thing?  How much land would we save?  How much money would we have available to allocate somewhere else where it could be better utilized and do more good?

What if instead of having to provide storage for big, clunky automobiles, business owners could position their stores and offices to be reached on foot or bicycle?  How much money would they save if they didn’t have to purchase and develop parking lots to serve their businesses?  How much narrower and more pleasant would our streets be if they didn’t require space for parking cars?

These are not hypothetical questions. The answers are obvious.  Of course we can do this and if we chose to do it we can change the world in a positive way. We can save tremendous amounts of money that we can then reposition to solve tougher, more pressing problems.  We can create more intimate, connected communities of people instead of spaces divided by large empty chasms.  We can do this.  Absolutely, we can.

But we have to want to do it.  We have to say that good enough is no longer good enough.   We have to stop accepting mediocrity and terrible spaces because that’s what someone wants to give us. We have to demand more and support developers and civic leaders who give us more.  This is already happening.

How can we speed it along?  Here’s how.  For trips of five miles or less, we can ride bicycles instead of driving cars.  We can lobby for laws that allow us to share the roads and insist that existing traffic laws be enforced.  We can encourage others to walk or ride with us and in doing so we will change the very character of our streets and the places where we live.

It’s time to stop misallocating funds.  It’s time to take matters into our own hands and fix what’s broken. Please share with your friends and colleagues.   Encourage them to join us.  We can fix this…if we want to.


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