Thursday, February 8, 2007

Why the Transporation goals are soft: bikers are the problem.

A very ominous statement at the Draft Comprehensive Plan Workshop this evening. In response to comments by Molly Schaefer and me about the lack of specific, measurable goals in the Transportation and Mobility section (particularly as it relates to bicycle and pedestrian access), Phil Herr informed us that, in essence, we're lucky even to get the pro-bike language that's in the section. According to Mr. Herr, there is a substantial contingent within the community that think bicyclists are part of the city's traffic problem and shouldn't be afforded accommodations. (I'm paraphrasing from memory. If I got something wrong, somebody let me know.)

I'm having a tough time attributing the sentiment to something other than a belief that roads exist solely for purpose of moving cars and trucks as quickly as possible, and that any limitation on the right to free motor vehicle travel is a problem. If there's a more charitable explanation, I'm all ears.

In one sense it's a non-zero sum game. Holistically looking at the interests in the city, we're going to have a more livable city if we can figure out how to implement a better balance among modes of transport and how to reduce car and truck traffic volumes and speeds. That would, necessarily, include making the city more friendly to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

But, from the perspective of the individual motorist, it's more of a zero-sum game. The more that he has to share the road, the less road there is for him. In any given encounter with a bicyclist, any delay attributable to the bicyclist means that the bicyclist has contributed to his personal traffic woes.

What's the consequence for the Draft Comprehensive Plan? The process by which the plan was adopted was, by design, a collaborative one, aiming to arrive at a consensus for presentation, ultimately, to the Board of Alderman and the Mayor. In a consensus-driven process, the status quo will almost always triumph over change. (The proponent of change typically has the burden of proving consensus, so failing to achieve it sees the proposed change dropped. Nobody ever said to a proponent of the status quo: You don't have unanimity for your resistance to change, therefore we're going to have some change.)

The Transportation and Mobility section that is currently on track to be presented to the Board of Alderman and the Mayor deprives them of a chance to show real leadership in making Newton a city of livable streets.

I don't want to overstate this. The language of the section is overall bike- and pedestrian-friendly and the goals are certainly not anti-bike or anti-pedestrian. And, weak or modest bike/pedestrian goals in the Comprehensive Plan won't limit what specific measures the Mayor or the Aldercritters can take in the future.

But, it is an important document and an important opportunity. We should provide the Board of Alderman and the Mayor with an opportunity to adopt stronger language.

More details to follow ...

Previously: Draft Comprehensive Plan -- Transportation and Mobility

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