Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Federal Transportation Policy vs. Lexington's

OK, It's time to quit lazing about, the birthday celebrations are over.

I must admit, when the new Secretary of Transportation was named, I had a few reservations but Ray LaHood has been a refreshing breeze through Washington. I have seen more out of him than all the past three combined. I am especially heartened by the emphasis he has placed on urban transit.

The other day the Secretary appeared before a Senate committee. The topic was Transportation's Role in Climate Change and Reducing Greenhouse Gases and he presented four major points:
* We must take action to make all forms of transportation more fuel efficient while stepping up efforts to introduce low-carbon fuels and alternative power sources for all types of vehicles.
I see many more hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles these days in the private sector but not so much in the transportation services (buses, vanpools, taxis, etc...) and the delivery services seem to be getting larger and more garish trucks every day. Just how long will it take for these folks to come around?
* However, even if we were to achieve a 55 mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard in the coming years, carbon emission levels from transportation would still only decline modestly. We must implement policies and programs that reduce vehicle miles driven.
This is a double edged sword, in that it lower carbon emissions and reduces the amount paid into the transportation trust fund now dedicated to highways. The subsidies for all transportation modes will have to become more equitable for them to be sustainable. It also goes into the realm of urban policy and land use.

Lexington has tried a program of "live where you work" in which housing was to be subsidized for those who work around or near the downtown or University. It drew a small number of the willing and eventually had to expand the allowable residential area. Maybe what we need now is a "work where you live" scenario to allow more residential over retail that has all but disappeared since the implementation of zoning and the "comprehensive planning" movement of the '20s. The "walk to shopping" concept that used to exist has died since the surge in sprawl began in the late '40s. This will need to be reversed.
* This means providing communities with additional transportation choices, such as light rail, fuel-efficient buses, and paths for pedestrians and bicycles that intersect with transit centers. These options will also reduce household transportation costs, strengthen local economies, lower traffic congestion, and reduce reliance on foreign oil.
While he is speaking directly to personal transportation issues here, they also apply to the commercial freight and delivery services industry. The transit centers will, or should, include a reasonable amount of transit oriented development (TOD) yet Lexington has not started to provide for the possibility so far. Bicycles and pedestrian facilities are being planned and the population has not reached the tipping point for light rail, but we should be beginning to look at tying all of them together.
* Our strategy also calls for investing transportation dollars in coordination with housing and economic development. By doing so, we can promote strong communities with mixed-income housing located close to transit in walkable neighborhoods.
So, there you have it. A Federal policy that Lexington is currently NOT on board with. We apparently still believe that we can build our way out of traffic congestion and planning for larger and larger residential that is farther from the existing (or proposed) commercial uses. Transit centers with walkable neighborhoods is a concept that has never shown up on any Lexington comprehensive plan.

It is about time.

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