Sunday, November 5

Can We Build Our Way Out Of Traffic Congestion in Jacksonville?

One of the more interesting college classes I ever took was Urban Planning 141, taught for a semester by Mayor John O. Norquist of Milwaukee. One class that seems to apply to Jacksonville was a debate between the former county supervisor and a train guru, wherein the two argued whether or not you could build your way out of traffic with roads.

The former county supervisor from Milwaukee was working in Chicago, and his goal there was to expand the expressway system. The train expert wanted lower taxes on trains so that they could compete with tax payer-subsidized roads. Generally, the metro Milwaukee area was very against trains, but the city itself was always for them. It's interesting to now be in Jacksonville, the largest city in total area in the Lower 48 with top 10 population numbers and bottom 10 population density numbers.
I assume we've made the choice to build our way out of it. I've been on the bus, and that's not going to compete with cars here, and I don't think there's even an existing train route on the east side of the river, where a lot of development is happening. The question, however:  can a city as spread out as Jax really build and maintain the roads necessary to exist within the expectations of commuters, especially as the region continues to grow?

I'm really not a huge public transit guy, so I'm not going to say that your answer is there. I do know that revitalization can play a role in making less people feel forced to commute. Many young people flock to vibrant downtowns, and often some of the closest areas to downtown can be rehabbed into desirable neighborhoods. However, it's a huge risk for individuals to take on, and it's often the local government that has to push for it. The problem we have here is that a new downtown abode will still be quite a distance from the beaches, and that seems to be the biggest determining factor for local home prices.

When I read a September article about the new toll roads, I saw some comments that said it's just a way for commuters to pay for development along the roads. I hadn't thought too much about it, but I guess that may play a role. More lanes, more big exits, and more people paying for the right to shop or live in more places. That's what sprawl is all about. Then you see that older parts of town get blocked by a stopped train or have needed a stop light for a decade. And you see the weekly pedestrian hit. Of course, sprawl won't help these areas, as more of the money moves further out, away from the perceived problems, but into the same problems with regards to traffic, at least. 

No, there's not a simple answer. I can tell that the political climate is not one that will use use the same $500 million for a new expressway or bridge and invest it in infrastructure or mass transit, so we can't expect that sort of fix. And I can't say that really fixes it, either, since lower-income folks end up on the mass-transit, and the wealthier of us will use the less-traveled roads to continue to move further away from something we can't escape. I know there's a plan for the city, but I've already seen that it's generally not followed, so there's no real help there. It will probably come down to you and your neighbors figuring out ways to make your immediate surroundings bearable. 

I saw on the news that city officials were traveling to Toronto to learn about something or other. Perhaps they can learn something from that city. The only thing I know for sure about Canadian cities is that people stop for pedestrians, as in slam on their brakes when the pedestrian crossing light flashes. That would be a start. I'm not expecting a subway and streetcar like in Toronto, but maybe the goal is to learn more about the 10 to 16-lane 401 expressway. That would be building our way out. 

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