Let’s play a little game. If you’re going to the grocery store – how do you get there? Pick-up kids from school? Work? Going out for a bite? As it stands now, the answer for most Raleighites is by car. Usually driving solo and almost always lamenting the slew of cars beside us “congesting” the path (more) traveled.
Raleigh isn’t unique, and frankly, perhaps that’s the problem. We’ve long followed a tried and true method of growth in our region that assumes car ownership as the desired mobility choice, and our land-use, neighborhoods and behaviors have formed around that notion. There are externalities for these transportation choices though, and many desire the opportunity to get around sans car, at least for some trips. Did you know that over 50% of trips are under 4 miles? If there was infrastructure to enable it – many would consider riding a bike, scooter or walking for many of these trips. Right now even when we do have a bike facility, which is usually just a painted lane, it doesn’t take you long before you hit an arterial road that feels too big and too dangerous to cross. We readily fund road widenings but ignore the critical pieces needed to help create mode shift. We’re consistently putting a band aid on a wound that needs surgical attention and obviously that’s incompatible with creating a new reality for our transportation system.
To date, we have been viewing road widenings (which are hella expensive) as our way to manage growth and the thing with wide roads is that everyone wants one for their commute route, but no one wants them when they’re proposed for their neighborhood and therein lies the problem. Well actually there are *a lot* of other problems with car centric growth, but the disconnect folks have with usage of the transportation system on a personal level and how that builds up to a meta level issue, is probably the crux of it all. In order to shift rationale we must shift our built environment to one that favors people centered mobility first, and car-centered movement last.
So, what will change this? Critical investments are coming online in the next few years with the passing of the Wake Transit referendum, but implementing to its truest and most meaningful intent will require political will and leaders stepping up to the plate and saying people come before cars and that it’s ok (and actually desired!) to slow down car speeds through corridors in order to ensure a pedestrian oriented space for optimal transit utilization. Transit as it stands today is in dire need of this shot in the arm with the addition of bus rapid transit corridors and commuter rail. The Wake Transit plan dictates its own post – but truly – it’s a game changer and some serious props go to those that helped steward this to fruition.
When it comes to biking, Raleigh has created a premier greenway system that has the capability to connect people to key destinations, but due to the roundabout nature of the network and it’s propensity to get damaged by any flood impacts (often annually) – it has limited value as a transportation asset. On road bike facilities are the minimal standard and are at best just paint slapped down on pavement. Again, it’s progress to have this space, but if we want actual mode shift we need to look to separated facilities as the norm. Currently, Raleigh doesn’t have a single protected and separated facility. This needs to change if biking is to be viewed as a viable transportation mode.
While talking transportation, we’d be remiss if we didn’t (briefly) address scooters. Love them or hate them – these little two wheeled rockets are exposing some interesting little nuggets about the state of our current network. Notably – cars are king and there has not been an emphasis on creating a space for multi-modal infrastructure in our current fabric. People belly ache that scooters use the sidewalk, and we agree that on road is best, with the caveat that you need to actually create a multi-modal network that people can utilize.
We’ve got plenty else we’d like to say about the state of transportation in our fair city, so stay tuned for future installments 😉 If you too are looking to help move Raleigh forward – join us for our monthly meetup. We’d love to meet you!