What’s Next: Transportation

In the last 50 years, U.S. transportation policy has been overwhelmingly focused on highway construction. Funding was so automobile-centric that it wasn’t until the 1990s—when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan established a new “80/20” spending formula—that mass transit was seriously included in appropriations bills. Congress is currently working on a new appropriations bill that will have crucial implications on that spending. “Transportation investment drives development,” says John Norquist, president of the Congress of New Urbanists. “The cities that have invested in the traditional urban grid and good transit are doing really well. You’d think that would be reflected in federal policy, but it’s not.” Here Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee, discusses slower roads, better streets, and the lure of mass transit.

ONE year:

FEDERAL FUNDING
“Unfortunately, that eighty-twenty split is unlikely to change [in transit’s favor] in the short run. It will change slightly in five years as states begin to apply value, instead of traffic reduction, as a measure for projects. Defeating congestion is the wrong goal. All the high-value locations are both urban and congested—congested with not only traffic but with money, people, great food, art, and music.” —J.N.

FIVE years:

SLOWER ROADS
“Right now, the federal government and local DOTs spend most of the road and highway money on the giant stuff. The system is based on maximum speed at off-peak hours. Transportation engineers don’t know how to build anything at the lower scale, even though all of the real estate value is in street blocks. But I think we’re going to win here. Why? Because the water conservationists won. If you look at water engineering fifty years ago, they were draining every wetland they could get their hands on, channelizing streams, creating giant structures. They now know that’s wrong. The accepted practice has changed. If you look at roads and streets in urban areas, the street grid is the wetland. It supports complex forms of life. It absorbs traffic, like a wetland absorbs water. I think there’s going to be that ‘Aha!’ moment when, suddenly, the transportation field changes.” —J.N.

TEN years:

TRANSIT AS URBAN AMENITY
“Transit will be more of a middle-class, upper-middle-class urban amenity. It won’t be perceived as just something for poor people anymore. The demographics of the United States are changing. There are a lot more single-person, small, and childless households. These are arrangements that tend to produce apartments, condos, and town houses, which are easier to load with transit. So I think the future is going to be more urban and more compact suburban.” —J.N.

 
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