Three whammy’s are pressing America’s luck this spring as the nation engages in one of the most exciting presidential elections in my lifetime. The problem is that the only solution that has been proposed at the national-level has been a gas tax holiday. A gas tax holiday would have the effect of starving our increasingly troubled transportation system of the necessary funds to maintain and improve infrastructure and service.
In 2004, voters in Denver approved the FasTracks ballot to build a regional rapid transit system. Now that planning is underway to construct about 120 miles of new rail and 60 new train stations, planners are beginning to focus on transit-oriented development (TOD) around many of these new stations. While much excitment exists in Denver for creating one of the top 21st century cities, some fears for TOD are unfounded. Mr. Ferguson's "Four Fallacies of 'transit-oriented development'", published May 13, 2008 in the Rocky Mountain News is typical of a common mis-education about TOD. What Mr. Ferguson does not realize is that TODs can help protect the rural and suburban nature of communities surrounding Denver. He proposes four tenets about why TODs are bad for the future. Below, I address each of these.
In 1996, my professor at the University of Colorado introduced a new concept – Transit Oriented Development (TOD). An emerging group of professionals that included New Urbanists were advocating the idea, but few on-the-ground examples existed. The debate within the planning field during those years focused on the marketability of a mixed-use product. TODs would have to overcome large obstacles. Banks were hesitant to finance an “unproven” product. Developers wondered if they could pass on higher construction costs to buyers, retailers questioned if there would be enough customers to fill their stores, and planners questioned if TODs would lead to changes in travel behavior. A decade later, many continue to ask the same questions about TOD although the difference today is that there are many successful examples to showcase and study. TOD is gaining popularity and widespread appeal but an important unanswered question remains – will TOD remain a niche product or will it become a mainstream development concept?
New Orleans is experiencing a crime wave. High murder rates in the first two months of 2007 have made national attention. Anderson Cooper of CNN has been following this story. So far this year he has devoted two hour-long shows to this topic. I live in central New Orleans and my biggest complaint about the city is the high crime rate. I don’t think our city will recover if we fail to address this most serious issue. Crime makes you ask yourself – should I move to the suburbs where it’s safer and commute? But being a transportation planner, I can’t help but follow-up that question with – If I spend a lot more time driving will my exposure to dieing in a car accident increase? So which is worse - murder or traffic fatalities?