Transportation policy is not changing because traffic engineers (or city planners) have seen the light, or because our society has finally internalized the reality that we can’t build our way out of congestion – every new road will eventually get overused. Even the growing green cultural awareness is not enough, by itself, to cause a shift. I’d like to take credit. But none of us advocates are really to blame — although we have helped push the rotting tree as it falls.
Decision-makers are adopting a new vision, at least rhetorically, because the externalized costs of our car-centric transportation system have finally become too expensive to be ignored: climate and environment damage, energy and international vulnerabilities, public health problems and the resulting cost of medical care. The current collapse of the deregulated financial industry’s bubble economy, and the resulting implosion of the American auto industry — helped, of course, by its own poor management — has been the final nail in the coffin. Now that the auto industry has (at least temporarily) lost its normal political clout, the opportunity has arisen for ideas promoted by progressive advocates to have a larger-than-normal impact on local, state, and even national transportation policies.
Fortunately, there are people involved in environment, climate, energy, and health issues who are painfully aware of our transportation systems negative impact on their area of concern. This creates a unique opportunity to create a broad coalition with the collective clout necessary to push for significant change in our national, state, and local transportation systems. It is unlikely that we will be able to win our most radical demands, but if we can unite around a core set of structural changes and find ways to take advantage of the current economic and political turmoil, we have a good chance of making some key advances.
It is this vision, of a broad multi-issue coalition united around a vision of “active, sustainable, transportation” that motivates me and the entire LivableStreets Alliance and shapes our strategies.