John Roach has a lot of credits to his name. He's a lawyer, a former St. Louis Alderman, was St. Louis' first Director of Community Development, and served on the National Commission on Intermodal Transportation during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
John recently wrote a scathing editorial about our road-building habits in the St. Louis region, criticizing what appears to be the current working philosophy throughout the region: the solution to traffic/transportation issues is simply to build more and wider highways and roadways.
Although many of the readers of this blog live outside of the St. Louis region, this is equally pertinent to you because it deals with the frighteningly common misconception in America that affects everyone's quality of life: the idea that transportation deals with moving cars and trucks, as opposed to moving people. We forget that only 60% of Americans can drive. The other 40% are too young, too old, too poor, or unable due to a disability. Transportation systems that are built to move cars and trucks, leave millions of Americans stranded with no way to get their groceries, visit their friends and family, or do just about anything.
A little background for non-St. Louis folks -- Interstate 64/40 that cuts through the heart of the St. Louis region was recently closed for major renovation to make it bigger, better, faster. In the months leading up to the closure, people were freaking out. In the days after the closure, things didn't seem all that different.
Take a couple minutes to read what John has to say:
It's bigger than Highway 40
By John Roach
The following was originally published as an Op Ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1/24/2008
Despite weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, most of the metropolitan area seems to have survived the closing of U.S. Highway 40/Interstate 64 with body and soul intact. The behavior of the Missouri Department of Transportation and that of its arrogant and imperious major domo, Pete Rahn, remain properly subject to criticism.
The underlying premise of the department's policies — that all problems are solved by additional highway capacity — is unacceptable as a basis for future policy. By its very name, the department advertises its mission of providing transportation; in that mission, the department has failed.
The endless sprawl that characterizes the St. Louis community is a product of the ceaseless effort to pave substantial portions of the landscape to serve the economic interests of the home-building, auto and oil industries. The result of increased capacity — as is the case wherever the expansion of roadway capacity has been the policy priority— has been recurring congestion, followed by the addition of capacity, followed by renewed congestion and more and more sprawl.
It would be one thing if the consequences of this policy merely were a welter of copycat subdivisions, McMansions, congested roadways, a parade of fast-food, big-box retailers and miscellaneous examples of "Roadside America." But along with the ugliness, these policies also have helped foster global warming, social isolation, accelerating gas prices and more time-consuming and resource-wasting commutes.
There is no denying that the latest expansion of MetroLink was managed poorly and suffered from ruinous cost overruns. However, the first two phases of the system were not similarly cursed, and they continue to provide superior service to patrons at modest operating cost and manageable capital investment. Ultimately, the Shrewsbury extension will provide long and productive service while spurring desirable development in its wake. The answer for future expansions is to ensure careful, cost-conscious management and good planning.
Neither is it possible to deny the reality of the transportation system that we — the public and the road builders — have created. So what do we do now? Obviously, we cannot start over. Our roadways must be kept safe and, insofar as feasible, attractive, including landscaping, screening and other decorative and functional elements.
But there is a bigger picture, and roadways must become part of a system that includes a variety of modes of transportation — rail, bus, auto, walking — each of which performs its function while interconnecting easily and efficiently and in balance with communities.
There are cities that have pursued this noble goal with considerable success; Portland, Ore., Toronto, and many European cities are prime examples. The St. Louis region should learn from and emulate these examples, rather than merely complaining about MoDOT, even as we accept its underlying faulty premise.