You hear it a lot from developers, construction industry executives and the politicians they’ve purchased and paid for. You have to plan for growth. If you don’t, well, you’ll have a mess on your hands because growth is coming whether we like it or not.
To these folks, planning for growth means more of the same. It means new roads for cars and trucks only…roads that will encourage more people to drive more miles and become gridlocked as quickly as the old roads. It has been proven that this is what happens and yet we keep doing the same thing. That’s not planning for growth. That’s creating growth.
If we truly planned for growth, we’d look at the numbers. That’s a good idea. Let’s look at the numbers.
After decades of more and more driving, Americans hit the brakes and made a fundamental shift in 2007. We stopped driving more miles. In fact, each of us is actually driving fewer miles than we used to, on average, because there are a lot more of us than there were in 2007 and miles driven has remained flat for almost a decade. Simply stated, no growth in miles driven suggests that building new roads may not be a good investment in our future.
But just because we’re not driving more doesn’t mean we’re not moving more. We are. Here’s where growth is occurring.
It’s occurring in Portland and New York City and countless other places across the United States that have decided to invest in bicycle friendly infrastructure instead of building more roads. If you build it, we will come. If you build more of it, more of us will come.
Here in Utah, I have spoken to transit and highway officials who have told me, point blank, that all new road projects will have an active transportation component. You see it on the Legacy Parkway which was slated to be a six lane highway but instead is four lane with a parallel bike trail. The bike route didn’t cost a dime. In fact, it saved taxpayers millions of dollars by allowing planners to strip two lanes from the highway component. The bicycle component saves money in other ways including helping to clean the air and lower health care costs. All those benefits are there for the taking, that is, if you plan for growth.
You see, the argument about more highways creating more traffic applies to bicycles, too. When you make it easy for people to move around using bicycles, people naturally choose to do so. It’s easy, safe, convenient and a whole lot more fun than sitting in traffic. So here’s the challenge I’m laying down to developers, construction industry officials and politicians. Put your money where your mouth is. We know where growth is occurring. Plan for it.