Snowstorm That Stranded Thousands Prompts Questions About Auto-Centric Development

After thousands of motorists spent over a day on a snowbound Virginia highway, experts are warning that auto-centric sprawl will worsen the impacts of extreme weather events.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 6, 2022, 11:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Cars in the snow

Juanan Barros Moreno / Shutterstock

The snowstorm that stranded thousands of drivers in Virginia for over a day has prompted a reevaluation of the auto-centric policies that led so many to become trapped on Interstate 95. "Local advocates say the region’s failure to invest even more broadly in multimodal options than it already has may have set up the area for its current disaster — especially in the most far-flung suburbs, where many of D.C.’s workers live," writes Kea Wilson.

Dan Malouff, a transportation planner based in northern Virginia, points to the potential for breakdown when suburban commuter traffic gets funneled into just one major corridor. According to Malouff, "multimodal networks with multiple modes and paths to choose from are inherently more resilient than putting all of civilization’s eggs in one basket."

Experts warn that a lack of walkability and access to reliable public transit will exacerbate the effects of extreme weather in other ways, too, writes Wilson. "In so much of the DMV suburbs right now, people are finding that they can’t even get groceries the moment that vehicular infrastructure starts to break down, to say nothing of commuting into work," says M. Nolan Gray, author of the forthcoming book, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. Gray recommends promoting more "resilient, mixed-use neighborhoods" that will be better equipped to deal with extreme weather events.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022 in Streetsblog USA


Redesigning Streets for Livability: A Global View

An excerpt from the introduction of the recent book, “Streets For All: 50 Strategies for Shaping Resilient Cities,” edited by Vinayak Bharne and Shyam Khandekar.

January 18, 2023 - Vinayak Bharne

Aerial view of Bend, Oregon with river and old mill district

Bend Eliminates Parking Minimums

The city is complying with an Oregon state mandate that some cities have challenged in court.

January 20, 2023 - KTVZ

Sunset view over canal and downtown Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Cuts Water Supply to Nearby Suburb

The city claims it has no responsibility to provide water to the unincorporated Maricopa County community.

January 18, 2023 - The Washington Post

Pedestrians and people on bikes on Atlanta BeltLine multiuse trail

How To Prevent ‘Green Gentrification:’ Lessons from the BeltLine

For one author, the key is focusing on affordable housing from the start.

January 27 - The Conversation

View of stone-paved street with pedestrians and "Farmers Market" neon sign on left and old buildings on right in Seattle, Washington

Push and Pull: The Link Between Walkability and Affordability

The increased demand for walkable urban spaces could make them more and more exclusionary if cities don’t pursue policies to limit displacement and boost affordability.

January 27 - Smart Cities Dive

Rendering of freeway deck over Interstate 10 in El Paso

El Paso Freeway Cap Linked to Road Expansion

A deck reconnecting neighborhoods divided by the interstate is part of a controversial freeway expansion proposal.

January 27 - Smart Cities Dive