10.20.2006

More People, Not More Driving

Urban renaissance + anti-sprawl sentiment = more bodies in our cities.
And that's a good thing. But to make more of this happen, cities are
going to have to figure out how to get people comfortable with higher
density. Otherwise, you'll have the paradox of what a sage politician
once quipped: "People hate two things: sprawl and density." In other
words, out of one side of people's mouths will be calls to fight
against sprawl, and out of the other, an equally vehement rejection of
that mixed-use development in their neighborhood.

What riles people up about more density in their neighborhood is that
it will lead to more driving, which means more congestion, more
pollution, and more fights for the same number of parking lots. It's
inferior to just accommodate more driving, via building more roads or
lots, but some cities have no other choice.

Or do they? Two cities are making a go at having more people without
more driving. Portland has massively expanded its shuttle bus
service, creating such a convenience that trips that used to require a
car because they were too long for walking can now be accomplished by
a short walk to a shuttle stop, a short ride on the bus, and a short
ride from there. And Chicago has created a cycle center to encourage
more bike commutes; bankrolled by corporate sponsor McDonalds, the hub
offers rentals and repairs, 24-hour secure bike parking, and even
showers.

Most big cities have room to grow, from a public infrastructure
standpoint; after all, their populations were much larger a generation
ago. So whether it's immigrants from other countries, boomers seeking
the downtown lifestyle, or hip young knowledge workers, let the influx
of bodies continue. Cities, just figure out ways like Portland and
Chicago to keep the increase in driving to a minimum.

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