Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on October 31st, 2008 at 2:08 pm
Calling it a “National Mobility Project”, Brooks thinks that the wisest way for government to hasten an economic recovery is through shifting the paradigm on how America plans and builds transportation infrastructure projects.
…an infrastructure resurgence is desperately needed. Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic… The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn’t adapted.
Brooks’ idea, in general, is nothing new. National advocacy and lobbying groups like Transportation for America (and their “Build for America” campaign), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and even state-level leaders like Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongoski are pushing the idea of economic stimulus (via jobs creation) through more infrastructure projects.
The momentum around this issue is exciting and it seems America is poised for a massive re-investment in this area.
Now we’re faced with another question: What should America’s new transportation infrastructure look like?
Should we invest billions into highway projects that cater to “mobility” of single-occupancy vehicles (like we did in the 1950s) and throw scraps to everything else (like we do now)? Or, will we look to create world-class biking cities where possible (because bikes offer the best return on transportation investment of any mode) and then invest in things like passenger rail, streetcars and bus-rapid transit?
It seems obvious that the latter scenario will win the day; but I wouldn’t count on it yet.
If you asked David Brooks (and politicians to his right), you might be surprised at what you’d hear.
In a column he wrote back in July, Brooks seemed to mock the idea of bicycles as being a serious part of good energy policy. In The Coming Activist Age, he wrote:
The high point of his (John McCain’s) campaign, so far, has been his energy policy, which is comprehensive and bold, but does not try to turn us into a nation of bicyclists. It does not view America’s energy-intense economy as a sign of sinfulness.
And Brooks is not alone. During a ceremony in Texas to celebrate the opening of a new, 18-lane, $2.8 billion highway, the Houston Chronicle noted* the excitement from Governor Rick Perry:
Perry noted the roar of traffic below, above and around the crowd, which was gathered on a frontage road overpass.
“This is the sound of freedom we hear,” he said. “These people need roads to get to work, to church and to school.“
If we’re going to put our country into even more debt to pay for an aggressive infrastructure investment plan, it should be complemented with a paradigm shift in how we define “mobility”.