What is “Transportation Choice”?

This article is from: The American Dream Coalition

Imagine the candidate for state or local office saying, “Vote for me and I’ll eliminate choices for my constituents!” Keep imagining because it will never happen. Thus, we come to one of the challenges in promoting responsible public policy: How to overcome the rhetorically clever but substantively hollow policies of Smart Growth.

Transportation choice is a term you will often hear in urban planning, and it’s a key element of Smart Growth – a planning doctrine that is implemented mostly in metropolitan areas but is increasingly gaining favor in state governments. In fact, many cities are required by state legislatures to adopt comprehensive growth management plans that incorporate Smart Growth land-use and transportation policies.

To the average citizen, transportation choice sounds like a great idea. We appreciate our freedom to choose how we live, work, and play, so transportation choice appears to be consistent with our little-d democratic values. Who could be against that?

Why It Matters

This feel-good phrase carries a much different meaning for urban planners, transportation officials, and city politicians. In practice, transportation choice means the re-allocation of tax dollars away from roads and capacity-building strategies in favor of wasteful and ineffective projects like mass transit, bike paths, lane reductions and light rail. Smart Growth advocates claim this will reduce traffic congestion, curb sprawl, and improve the environment by allowing people to walk, bike, or bus to work.

Metropolitan governments have been practicing this for nearly a generation. Between 1980 and 2004 vehicle miles traveled increased 182 percent on urban highways and 141 percent on state and local roads, but added lane miles increased only 64 percent and 32 percent, respectively, while billions of dollars were diverted to alternative transportation fads. Consequently, traffic congestion had steadily worsened in cities in every state. Annually, congestion wastes 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, 4.2 billion hours of delay, and robs us of $168 billion in economic activity. The national market share of public transportation is a paltry 1.52 percent.

Despite its manifest failure, transportation choice is growing in popularity in large part due to its rhetorical appeal. Instead of rethinking this theory, politicians want to double down with your tax dollars. The problem, they say, is we haven’t spent enough on transportation choice. The truth is their interest lies less in reducing congestion and more in promoting wasteful fads. Anti-automobile groups in your metropolitan areas want to divert an increasing share of gas taxes and highway user fees to expensive 19th century rail technologies.

Additionally, this Smart Growth theory necessitates the need for more government growth and regulation – to “integrate transportation with land-use planning.” Invariably, this means mandates for higher densities, mixed-use zoning, urban growth boundaries, form-based building codes, etc. It’s obvious that planners in your state want to increase the restrictions on how private property owners can use their land. These regulatory burdens drive up housing prices and increase the cost of doing business.

Be on the alert for politicians and planners peddling the promises of transportation choice and other Smart Growth gimmicks, and arm yourself with the facts about transportation alternatives like rail transit. With President-elect Obama’s promise to spend billions of tax dollars on infrastructure projects, pressure is building to make transportation choice the centerpiece of any local, state, and federal transportation strategy.

A Better Approach

It might be asking too much for elected officials to speak out against transportation choice, but they can champion a superior policy paradigm (and one with a nice ring to it, too) – mobility first. In Mobility First, Sam Staley and Adrian Moore of the Reason Foundation offer innovative and cost-effective strategies for fighting congestion and enhancing mobility. In a free society, mobility is a critical link between opportunity and prosperity and enables us to make real choices about how we live, work, and play.

As you work to promote responsible transportation policy, remember that it’s mobility first, not transportation choice, that needs to become the dominant principle in transportation planning. And keep us in mind – the American Dream Coalition is here to assist you in advancing market-oriented, cost-effective public policies in your metropolitan areas.

About Us

The American Dream Coalition is an associate member of the State Policy Network. The ADC promotes freedom, mobility, and affordable homeownership, and we want to be your go-to source for transportation, land-use and other urban issues affecting metropolitan areas in your state. If your organization supports private property rights, freedom of choice, and funding of transportation and other infrastructure out of user fees rather than taxes, then you need to join the American Dream Coalition.

You Are Invited

We invite you to attend the 2009 “Preserving the American Dream” Conference to be held on April 17-19 in Seattle, WA, at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. This conference brings grassroots activists and leading researchers from around the country together to highlight market-oriented solutions to urgent metropolitan problems that are happening in your state. The ADC annual conference empowers your organization with vital information and effective strategies to preserve freedom and promote prosperity. For more information about Smart Growth Alerts, the ADC Conference, or other ADC services, please visit our website at americandreamcoalition.org or contact Ed Braddy at 352-281-5817 or by email at ed@americandreamcoalition.org.


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