March 21, 2002
Ogden Standard Examiner
Recent controversy about legislation to punish Legacy Parkway opponents by stifling legitimate public debate on any number of issues is unfortunate. It (perhaps intentionally) deflects attention from the real issue: the best, most equitable way to meet Wasatch Front transportation needs.
Utah transportation planners are asking the wrong question in planning the next round of transportation investments for a growing Wasatch Front. The question they are asking is, “How can we accommodate their prediction that we will almost double the number of miles we travel by car along the Wasatch Front by 2020?” Their answer is to build the Legacy Parkway.
It’s unfortunate that these same planners think that it’s inevitable that we will all drive even more, and become even more auto dependent in the future. They predict that while population on the Wasatch Front is forecast to increase by roughly 60% by 2020, that vehicle miles traveled will increase by 94%.
People should be free to drive where and when they want. But, there is a point of diminishing return, a tipping point, where the freedom of the automobile becomes burdensome. Being stuck in traffic with everyone else or competing for the nearest parking space is not an efficient or relaxing way to travel. If most of us use our cars for the vast majority of the trips we make each day, we will have congested streets, highways, intersections and interchanges. And if our only option is roads, those of us who cannot drive, because they are too young, too old, physically disabled or too poor to own a car, have no travel freedom at all.
The right question to ask is, “How can we offer more convenient transportation choices to reduce rather than attempt to accommodate the doubling of traffic over the next twenty years?” The answer is to put Transit 1st. A Transit 1st policy for the Wasatch Front over the next decade would do more than any other action to sustain the high quality of life we enjoy here.
Wasatch Front citizens are beginning to see that more auto dependence is neither desirable nor inevitable. The phenomenal success of light rail has communities clamoring to be the next in line for TRAX. The citizen’s vote in November 2000 to tax themselves for more and better transit demonstrates overwhelming support for more choices, cleaner air and less congestion.
The solution is to maintain a safe road network for those who drive but also to develop a state-of-the-art, transit system that is linked to walkable communities and bicycle networks. With rail service as the spine of a regional transit system on the Wasatch Front, we could have a viable alternative to the automobile. This would significantly address the automobile traffic that now determines how many highway lanes Utah’s transportation planners design.
Utahns for Better Transportation, the Sierra Club and Mayor Rocky Anderson are promoting a Transit 1st policy. This policy would focus new transportation capacity along the Wasatch Front on transit development and would focus road expenditures on road safety and maintenance of Utah’s extensive road and bridge infrastructure. Improvement of frontage roads and arterial connections could be part of such a safety program to provide an alternate vehicle route through southern Davis County.
The court decisions so far have agreed with our reasoning. The District Court decision, although it ruled against us on August 11, 2001, was highly critical of Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) analysis, holding that the mass transit projections, estimated project costs and carbon monoxide analysis, were “just plain wrong” and that “other alternatives could have reasonably been considered.” The 10th Circuit Court in their November 16, 2001 decision to grant an emergency injunction stated that we had raised “serious and substantial” issues that caused them to halt construction pending our appeal.
Even with cleaner burning and alternative fuel cars, the doubling of auto miles over the next 20 years will outstrip the air quality benefits from cleaner cars. And even if we solved the air pollution problem (cars and trucks still cause over half of the air pollution in our valley) we would have ongoing congestion and have to pave over more land for parking. Depending only on cars is a dead end street.
Long term efficiency and effectiveness of our transportation system is at the heart of this issue. The dividends we would receive as a community from a Transit 1st investment policy would be significant and long lasting.
Roger Borgenicht is chair of the Future Moves Coalition and a member of Utahns for Better Transportation whose website www.utahnsforbettertransportation.org has more information about the Transit 1st campaign and the case against the Legacy Parkway.