ReDefining Transportation: from Moving Vehicles to Place-Making

“Getting there should be half the fun!”  I love this slogan:  it acknowledges that travel involves the full spectrum of human life rather than the simple relocation of objects.  Even more, it implies that the other half of the fun happens “there” – a place – with the suggestion that transportation is as much about enhancing the quality of locations as about motion between them.

The media sometimes describes transportation in terms of vehicles (cars and trains), or surfaces (pavement or RR tracks), or types of activity (driving or cycling), or historically as one of the primary drivers (along with changes in energy technology) of economic progress and a shrinking world.

Traditionally, planners described transportation as about “mobility” – movement of people and things from one place to another.  More recently, planners talked about “access” – the role of transportation in allowing people to use social services, get to their jobs, shop for necessities, attend events, etc.

From a livable streets perspective, transportation is about connection – facilitating our relationships, supporting (or hindering) the development of vibrant communities, and deeply impacting our quality of life.  By so fundamentally shaping mobility, access, and connections – by shaping our landscape and options – transportation shapes the context within which we make daily choices.  The transportation systems we create influence where we live and where we work, what kinds of food we eat and the quality of our air and water, how healthy we are and how long we live, even what kinds of neighborhoods we live in and the quality of life we experience in those neighborhoods.

What Winston Churchill once said about architecture is equally true about transportation systems:  “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”  And both parts of that sentence are important – while the transportation environment has enormous influence over us, it is a human creation and we have the ability to change it.  And by changing the transportation system we change our lives.  As urban planner Fred Kent has written:  “if you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.  If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

It is exactly because of its enormous impact on other aspects of our lives that transportation is important.  It is exactly because we want to live well that we need to mobilize ourselves to create livable streets.

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