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date28 Feb 2009 11:33 CST
placeMilwaukee, WI, USA
tagsmobility, transit, wisconsin, places, people
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We need a mobility plan, not a transportation plan

The State of Wisconsin has prepared a long-range transportation plan ("Connections 2030") that misses the mark in terms of a vibrant vision for the future or a solid plan for the present. This plan mistakenly makes an assumption that the future will be like the past and fails to adequately envision smart urban design that puts people in touch with what matters. Indeed, the plan emphasizes resource-intensive transportation rather than mobility. Instead of deploying and managing resources intelligently, this plan supports bad decisions of the past. The result is that residents of Wisconsin may be doomed to suffer increased energy and transit costs, lower productivity, reduced economic activity, a sinking cultural environment, and increased debt required to prop up 20th-century modes of energy-intensive transportation. An alternative vision would place people first, foremost, and at the center of a network of alternate forms of urban (and suburban) design and unleash the creative economy that mobility fosters.

The Wisconsin plan fails to see emerging trends

While the Wisconsin plan does state that it supports the "integrated multimodal transportation system that maximizes the safe and efficient movement of people and products throughout the state (DRAFT Executive Summary)," it is short on specifics and misses emerging trends. The plan seems to assume that the arrangements of the past century will continue unchanged into the future.

The plan fails to mention or recognize these trends:

The Wisconsin plan as presented in the draft fails to recognize these trends. The plan assumes an unlimited amount of cheap oil to fuel transportation into the 21st century and unlimited money (and increased debt) to fund continuous road repair and bailouts for automobile manufacturing.

For example, chapter 1 includes projects such as: "Six-Year Highway Improvement Program, 2008-2013" and "2006-2017 Major Highway Development Program." The Wisconsin plan does mention alternative forms of transit in Chapter 8, "Provide Mobility and Transportation Choice," but there is not adequate funding for these alternative forms, as this chapter states. This mismatch between well-funded and planned highway programs and under-funded alternatives is at the heart of the plan's problems.

Intermodal Station Intermodal Station at Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Milwaukee Intermodal Station is a laudable step in the right direction toward multi-modal transit.

The Wisconsin plan as presented does not focus on the specifics of mobility, in which people can chose a wide variety of alternate forms of transit to reach nearby destinations (walking, bicycle, rail, bus, trolley, or other forms), but merely adds these alternate forms to a system of automobile travel as the primary form of transit. Forms of transit ranging from human-powered (walking, bicycling) to mass transit can be integrated into a network with many choices--such as high-speed rail and long-distance buses among cities and adequate transportation centers in cities and towns which connect to shorter-distance forms of transit. It is this integration of alternative and multi-modal forms that this plan fails to emphasize. The plan does not present specifics in Chapter 8 ("Provide Mobility and Transportation Choice") of a coherent plan for funding and building such an integrated, multi-modal network for mobility or how such a state-wide, comprehensive plan could be developed.

The Wisconsin plan fails to address current opportunities

While the Wisconsin plan fails to recognize long-term trends, it also fails to tap into current practices that are available now to improve mobility.

First, the gas tax can be increased to pay for existing roads and alternative transit throughout the state. Current gas taxes are inadequate to maintain roads. Public transit is underfunded, and human-powered forms of transit (walking, bicycling) are not supported adequately with pathways and law enforcement (of pedestrian rights in crosswalks, for example).

Second, the Wisconsin plan fails to address parking. Dr. Donald's Shoup's parking research, as he describes in The High Cost of Free Parking (American Planning Association, 2005), should be set as the norm throughout the state. In brief, below-market rates for parking provide an unnecessary burden on neighborhoods. Dr. Shoup states: "We can achieve enormous social, economic, and environmental benefits at almost no cost simply by subsidizing people and places, not parking and cars," p. 602.

Third, the concept of complete streets is not emphasized. For example, completestreets.org states: "Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street." These kinds of streets can reduce the need for automobile-only travel and open up other travel modes in all areas of the state. Complete streets should be the norm state-wide.

Fourth, the Wisconsin plan lacks a specifics to allow urban design which places homes, businesses, and other institutions in close proximity. While the plan mentions this concept, it fails to provide specifics that will allow this proximity to develop, such as:

The trends of increased public and private debt, rising energy costs, and diminished oil production, mean that Wisconsin must provide a better transportation plan that emphasizes human mobility as the central focus. Means to achieve this vision include proximity in urban design, parking reform, complete streets, and emphasis on many forms of mobility. Such a plan would have adequate funding through gas taxes, parking fees, taxes on underused land, and increased vehicle taxes. The current Wisconsin plan, with its assumptions based on 20th-century thinking, will not likely fit this need. [End of Post]

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