Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Transportation: Is it really all about cars?

Yesterday I attended a City Council briefing on design choices for the west end of the 520 replacement bridge. As currently designed, a shared use pathway for people on foot and on bikes will cross Lake Washington, but will not continue across Portage Bay to the junction of 520 with I-5.

One of the people who testified in favor of completing the pedestrian and bicycle connection pointed out this statement in the Draft Community Design Process Final Report handed out at the hearing:

"A well-designed transportation project can go much beyond its primary purpose of moving motor vehicles by positively influencing the futures of communities and the health of their residents."

"This is wrong," she stated. "The primary purpose of transportation is to move people and goods - not to move cars."  She went on to argue that it would be inexcusable not to complete the pedestrian and bicycle path.

This got me wondering what our transportation professionals have to say about their role. Are they really all about cars?  I looked up the mission statements of the Seattle, King County, Washington State and United States departments of transportation.  Here they are:

SDOT Mission:
To deliver a safe, reliable, efficient, and socially equitable transportation system that enhances Seattle's environment and economic vitality.
King County DOT Mission:
Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people in King County by providing mobility in a way that protects the environment, helps manage growth, and reduces traffic congestion.
WSDOT Mission:
The mission of the Washington State Department of Transportation is to keep people and business moving by operating and improving the state’s transportation systems vital to our taxpayers and communities.
US Department of Transportation:
The mission of the Department is to:
Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.
These are all good sentiments, but these agencies continue in various ways to act as if their primary goal was to move motor vehicles. People who travel by bike or on foot are rarely acknowledged as part of "transportation" at all.

For example, this summary of the Washington State Department of Transportation budget for 2011-2013 does not mention non-motorized transportation at all, and this lengthy report on the State of Washington Transportation mentions pedestrians and bicycles only once (on page 5) as an isolated line item, not as a critical component of the transportation system.

This summary of findings from a study of transportation around the Seattle sports arenas does not mention pedestrians or bicycles at all, despite the critical importance of limiting car trips to this area.

The mission statements give me hope - and if you want to explore further, you'll find that each of these public agencies has goals and objectives that suggest at least a beginning recognition that transportation really is about people, including people who walk and ride bikes.

But meanwhile, whenever I see a reference to transportation (including parking, driving directions, transit) that doesn't include people on bikes or on foot, I'm the Transportation Nag: so I'll nag.

1 comment: