Last week an OPED ran in the Gazette that is a wonderful summary of the inherent flaws in the AGP, namely that it solves the symptom not the disease, and that it is an automobile-centric approach that works to the detriment of walkability and transit usage.
Curing the transportation disease
Is a hair of the dog the way to cure a drunk? Of course not, and more asphalt is no remedy for the hangover from a 50 year binge of auto-dependent sprawl development.
But more asphalt and more traffic is what we get from Montgomery County’s failed Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The measure of good transportation, under this law, is how many cars can move through street corners. The more traffic that can get through, the more the corner has “improved.” A cloverleaf overpass that blights surrounding neighborhoods is the biggest “improvement” of all.
Day by day, this so-called “growth policy” makes developers add lanes to roads near new buildings. This is medicine that treats only the symptom and aggravates the underlying illness of traffic congestion. Walking to train stations and bus stops becomes difficult and dangerous, so more people drive. Economic incentives push new development into outlying areas where commutes are long and transit is hard to reach. Cars move faster through the newly widened streets, and then create more jam-ups a few blocks down the road.
The growth policy doesn’t work because it is based on a false diagnosis of the traffic plague. It rests on the premise that a few congested intersections — or, at worst, a few busy “policy areas” — are surrounded by underused roads where rush-hour drivers see open roads. But of course our traffic congestion is not an isolated problem; it is a regional disease. Its cause is too much driving, not a localized lack of road capacity. A law that forces people to drive by pushing new buildings far away from transit stations and making streets hard to cross just creates more traffic and more backups.
Even worse than the traffic jams is the damage the APFO does to our communities. It shapes our environment to fit traffic engineers’ rules of thumb. Pedestrians don’t count and the only people who use roads are drivers. By these rules, the Springfield Mixing Bowl is a triumph and urban neighborhoods like Boston’s Beacon Hill or Paris’s Latin Quarter are “failures.”
Montgomery County’s growth policy can’t build the new rail transit lines that are the only real cure for our transportation disease, but it can at least stop making the illness worse. Starting near Metro stations, roads need to be redesigned to serve all, placing pedestrians and cyclists on an equal footing with drivers. The growth policy amendments now before the County Council fall far short of the fundamental change that is needed, but this modest step forward deserves approval.
The road builders and sprawl developers have been on a bender for half a century, and now we’ve all got a traffic hangover. Laws like the APFO just prop up the drunk so he can take another swig. Until we sober up with a balanced transportation policy, neighborhoods will suffer and traffic will keep getting worse.
Ben Ross, Bethesda
The writer is president of the Action Committee for Transit, a group that promotes the use of public transit in Montgomery County.