Monday, November 29, 2010
Just a Little Observation About Street Planning
I was thinking the other day, (seldom a good omen). As I rode east out of town on my ride to what is known locally as "Thunder Road", I noticed some significant improvements to some of the streets between Wichita and Andover, a "burb" about 10 miles east of Wichita. I remembered that 13th Street was a dirt road for part of the way. It is now paved, and not only that, it's 4 lanes wide with new trees and a bicycle path on the side. A very nice road it is. But the radical in me is thinking, "Do we really need all of this?". Yeah, it's nice, but did we really need a 45mph tree lined thoroughfare? It did need to be paved, but I find it hard to imagine that the traffic on this road is all that significant. It sure wasn't on a Sunday morning as I rode through here. Andover is a growing community with many sort of typical suburban housing developments with catchy names like "Quail Ridge" or "Sienna" or some other name that makes you want to live there. And a lot of people that live in Andover work in Wichita and need a good road to get back and forth in their, mostly huge, urban assault vehicles. But just a mile to the north is an excellent road going the same direction. There's another good road just a mile to the south, and 2 miles south, still another even faster road. So now the residents in Andover have 4 possible and comfortable routes to Wichita for their 15 mile commutes to work. I suppose I shouldn't pick on Andover residents. The same thing occurs in other places around the city of Wichita in other similar bedroom communities. This process is likely repeated all over the country. Hell, what is happening here in Wichita is peanuts compared to cities in California and many other places where commuting can be a much worse nightmare than it is around here. As I rode, in my mind, I was wondering if we really had our priorities where they needed to be. Roads are expensive. Our taxes help pay for them. We seem to try and make it easy for longer distance commuters. Is this right? If you consider our dependence as a nation on foreign oil, does this make any sense? Everyone says we use too much of that "black gold" from the Middle East, and have said that for a long time. But I am thinking that we are not doing much, if anything, to help ourselves out. We live near a major 4 lane street here in Wichita. A few years ago the city had a proposal to "improve" the street by widening it to 5 lanes (the 5th lane for a turn lane) and widen the lanes themselves. Their theory for all of this is that they were predicting that daily traffic on the street would increase from approximately 12,000 cars per day to over 20,000 cars per day in the next couple of decades. We attended a planning meeting along with a few neighbors so we could find out more. We had trouble believing that the traffic could ever really increase that drastically. To make the improvements they would have to suck up a lot of additional ground on either side of the existing street. Fully mature trees would have to be cut down. Some residents would lose a significant part of their already short driveways. There were some very concerned residents, some even a bit angry. Long story short, the proposal was defeated at a subsequent city commission meeting, but the process was a bit revealing in some ways. What bothered many of us was the attitude that the city planners "knew all about what was best for us". Our concerns were heard, but sort of shrugged off and almost ignored in some cases. The cancellation was, in my opinion, largely because one of the nearby residents was a state legislator and maybe "had some power" to influence the city planners decision. The planning process for that road to Andover may have been very similar. Andover is a growing community and is growing faster than Wichita. I am sure that over time the traffic on that road will increase, but Andover is not a big town. The traffic between here and there is not overwhelming and I can't imagine that it will be anytime soon. I bet the traffic planners aimed pretty high on their estimates of future traffic. It seems like the planners think that road budgets should have a very high priority and we have to spend a bunch of money whether the needs are really there or not. As a taxpayer, it seems a grossly inefficient way to spend money. I think that the millions of dollars they spent on that road and others could be spent a little more wisely. It's a really nice road, but Jeez! What if they spent a little of that money on more efficient forms of transportation, or used some of it to educate and encourage people to find more efficient ways to get to and from work. What if they made it easier and safer for people to commute on 2 wheels (of any kind). I am all for having nice roads to ride and drive on but I'm thinking that we could be a lot more efficient and conservative with our planning and tax dollars. I am reminded of a John Mellencamp song: Oh but ain't that America, for you and me Ain't that America, we're something to see baby Ain't that America, home of the free Little pink houses for you and me Those little pink houses are sure getting more and more spread out, requiring more planning, more pavement, more taxes and more oil. And I am just getting more and more cynical.