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Provide a variety of transportation choices

The design of this section of Highway 30A in Florida is intended to calm automobile traffic, thereby allowing residents, kids and bicyclists to easily cross back and forth to the beach.

A. DISCUSSION

Why is it important for a community to have transportation options?

If you’ve ever been without a car for a few days, you are keenly aware of how far we’ve gone in designing our communities solely for automobile transportation. While for most this is a minor inconvenience, for those who can’t afford a car or lack the ability to drive, it can be debilitating. Teenagers and the elderly, in particular, suffer from the exclusive focus on private auto transportation, which can make them feel like prisoners in their own homes and lead to unnecessary isolation and lack of independence. Even for those who can drive, the exclusive focus on automobile-oriented development can result in lost productivity and frustration due to the extended commute times between work, home and shopping. So what’s a community to do? While dense, walkable neighborhoods are a big part of the solution (see principle four) providing a variety of transportation choices is another part of the answer.

How can small towns provide transportation variety?

In most towns and communities, providing even one additional option would go a long way to improving livability. For smaller communities, the alternatives consist mainly of biking and public bus service. Both of these options can be beneficial in reducing greenhouse gases from auto emissions but a focus on biking also has the added benefit of encouraging physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. However, biking is not an option for everyone and some form of public transit is extraordinarily helpful for those who are elderly, disabled or unable to afford the considerable expense of owning a car. As communities, we are responsible for the environment we’ve built; when this environment is unworkable for many of our citizens, we also bear responsibility for mitigating the problem. Public transit can be a lifeline for many, providing additional employment opportunities and the chance to complete basic essential tasks like grocery shopping or medical appointments that most of us take for granted. Involving as many community members as possible in the discussion of public transit will help to ensure that the most prudent, affordable and effective options are selected. Keep in mind that fixed route services are not the only option and that demand-response services that respond to specific requests may be a more flexible and effective solution for small towns and rural areas.

B. STRATEGIES

Promote cycling through dedicated bike paths and traffic calming

Riding a bike should be healthful and fun. Unfortunately, in many communities it’s not only un-enjoyable but also quite dangerous. If you’re going to make bicycling attractive, you have to make riders feel safe and relatively confident that they aren’t going to run into conflicts with cars or drivers. In some cases, this can be as simple as re-striping the existing roadway to create a dedicated bike lane, but on faster moving roadways, it may be prudent to consider separate bike paths. Although sharing the roadway is a legal requirement, it isn’t the best way to encourage bicycling; this is especially true for younger children, those new to cycling and older adults.

Re-striping of the existing pavement created this bike lane on Main Street in Starkville, MS. Where travel lanes are wide, reallocation of space for bike lanes can encourage more biking and slow car traffic.

Encouraging cycling is similar to promoting walking in that it requires some moderation of car traffic. Reducing the speed of automobiles has many benefits that can make communities more livable; this concept is often referred to as “traffic calming.” Traffic calming is an approach that takes advantage of our natural tendency to drive more cautiously (and therefore more slowly) on streets that are designed to be narrow, busy and somewhat unpredictable. In nearly all cases, slower speeds can be achieved through the design techniques (such as use of on-street parking) without relying on restrictive speed limits, caution signs or speed bumps. While traffic calming may not be appropriate on all roadways, it is necessary in cases where cyclists are sharing the road.

The intricate, narrow streets of Seaside, Florida force drivers to move slowly, allowing bicyclists to share the roadway.
A dedicated bike path can encourage cycling in areas where sharing the roadway with cars isn’t practical. This path in Kiawah, South Carolina provides shady, safe exercise for cyclists of all ages.

One notable issue relative to new streets is that it’s possible to inadvertently encourage speeding by making the road corridor extra wide to accommodate dedicated bike lanes. This is a controversial topic in design circles and requires considerable skill and understanding of the community’s transportation needs to resolve. On some streets, it may be better to focus solely on walkability while on other more heavily traveled commuter corridors it may be more useful to emphasize bike travel. Like many smart growth issues, a knowledgeable design professional can be helpful in sorting through the options.

To make public transit work in the long run, focus on walkable density now

In major metropolitan areas, public transit functions because of the surrounding density of development because you can ride the bus or train to the office, then walk to lunch or shopping and then ride home. Without pedestrian-oriented, dense development you can end up still needing a car after you’ve arrived at your first destination. While it may seem a long ways off, the path to major public transportation projects is through sound planning and incremental increases in density. Focusing on infill development now will help to make fixed-route public transit viable in the future.

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