So, this one's not necessarily about rail. In my mind, though, anything that involves getting people out of their cars includes rail almost by default, if only subconsciously. The urban planning mantra these days seems to be "modal choice, modal choice, modal choice," so a discussion limited only to rail would be less relevant to our transportation reality. Speaking of repetitive mantras, our plan for creating less auto-centric streets seems to be pretty formulaic as well - I imagine it goes something like "widen sidewalks, protect bike lanes, keep cars off the streets." It's catchy, don't you think? If not original, at least it's rhythmic.
With that in mind, let's talk about the former Bogota mayor's visit to the glorious city of San Francisco. The Columbian politician, Enrique Penalosa, is well known for his improvement of Bogota's streets, particularly in his efforts to improve those streets for pedestrians and cyclists. He banned sidewalk parking, widened streets, restricted automobiles from the streets on certain days, created a network of bike lanes and a rapid bus line. Sound familiar? "Widen sidewalks, protect bike lanes, keep cars off the streets." Simple rules, but easy to follow. Unsurprisingly, Penalosa took a look at the SF streets and pronounced that the same could be done in the Bay.
I'm not really here to talk about San Francisco, because I think Penalosa's right in some ways. I don't think it would take too much effort on the city's part to mimic the success of Bogota, and it's not like any of Penalosa's suggestions are so wild that they could force the city's development backwards in any way. I'm also not here to talk about Penalosa, because hey, the man got the job done, didn't he? What I am here to talk about is how methodologies of incorporating green methods of transportation feel like they have lost their vigor. I feel like I've been waiting a long time for something truly extraordinary to come along, and "widen sidewalks, protect bike lanes, keep cars off the streets" just isn't it.
I think planners and transportation experts lack imagination. Remember what "Tomorrowland" was based on? Newfangled gadgets and flying cars and the one thing we did get - a highway system built for speed. What happened to our futuristic plans? Where are the planners that are thinking up new things - like that idea for a system of little pods that would take you straight from point A to point B? I always found that concept amusing. After all, it mimics the privacy of the automobile. I also like the concept of shared vehicles, cars that you can borrow for short periods of time. It reduces your need for a personal vehicle. And on a policy level, what if incentives could be given to employers who allow their employees to telecommute during set days during the week? Not practical for all careers, of course, but imagine how many people that would take off the road. Or employers that reduce hours for employees who do work while commuting via bus or rail. I would take BART if it meant that I could get a couple hours taken off from sitting in front of my desk (granted, I would take BART if the workers weren't going on strike, say, or if the cost of a ticket didn't make me wince.)
Yeah, there are flaws in the idealistic plans we may dream up. But where is genius if not in idealism? Have we given up trying?
Is creativity too much to ask? Am I undervaluing the work that has been done by planners today? Or am I right - has creativity and innovation gone out the window in favor of "widen sidewalks, protect bike lanes, keep cars off the streets"?