Introduction: The Future of Transportation

How we move around is undergoing a big shift. Travel by car has reached a saturation point, as evidenced by the leveling off of miles driven, and alternatives such as public transit and bicycles are attracting larger shares of the traveling public. One aspect of the gain in transit ridership is the greater patronage that buses are enjoying from “choice riders” — those who could drive their own cars if they wished. And transit, whether bus, rail or streetcar, is proving itself to be a catalyst for successful real estate development, as demand for living and working near transit is increasing.

There also is a new recognition that how we design our streets, which are our major transportation facilities, plays a huge role in determining the character of neighborhoods. Oversized streets in business districts can negatively affect commerce by increasing traffic speed and making the sidewalks less welcoming for pedestrians; our article on “Road Diets” shows a promising approach in right-sizing these facilities. And as shown in the article “Building a Better Community,” citizens are taking the lead in reimagining what a livelier street could look like, with the result often being new economic life for underused commercial properties.

Unfortunately, the transportation funding law that Congress passed this summer looks to the past rather than to these new futures. There was no stomach for increasing the motor fuels tax, although the revenue from the current tax is not sufficient to meet the nation’s transportation needs. There were attempts to cut off transit funding. Dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities was eliminated. Proposals for adopting a “Complete Streets” policy that would require the consideration of all corridor users (such as pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users) were defeated. As made clear in this issue of On Common Ground, it is at the local level that the picture of our transportation future is being drawn, as communities decide for themselves how to meet tomorrow’s growth and transportation challenges.

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