Monday, December 7, 2009

Saving Suburbia (Part III): Ditching the Car

Over the last few weeks I've been giving a lot of thought to another one of those big(ger) ideas for saving suburbia: alternative transportation options. Or put more simply: Ditching your car/truck in favor of a less-impactful way of getting around town.

"No way," I'm sure you'll say. "Can't be done."

I admit, the idea of a suburban lifestyle sans the car is a tough one to sell. The inherent layout and design of your typical suburban town is self-limiting: Disconnected neighborhoods spread out over a large land area; roads built primarily for four wheels and little else; small pockets of limited economic and business activity that cause consumers to drive long distances to get what they need, when they need it; a general car-centric mentality that's so engrained it's tough to buck.

All that aside, a few things have happened recently around town that do provide a glimmer of hope:
  • News that Stafford and Crandall Roads will be receiving new "Share the Road" signage courtesy of of the RI DOT that aim to raise awareness of and promote bicycle traffic. This is in addition to new signage that was a part of the Main Road corridor improvement work that happened over the summer.
  • Last week's passing of new business zoning regulations that will set the stage for transforming the north end and Bliss Four Corners parts of town into more pedestrian-friendly and inviting community-scapes.
  • Continued development of the new artists' community at Sandy Woods that showcases the effectiveness of mixed-use neighborhood and community design.

Clearly, this will not enable all of us to leave the cars at home and still get things done. But what else do we need? Here are my two-cents:

  • Continued partnering between Town Planning and Economic Development entities that look to shape other pockets of value-added business development in town. Basically, cut down on the distances that people have to travel to secure the necessities of living while promoting local businesses. Start with basics such as food, then go from there with a preference for small, mom-and-pop style endeavors. This could be at the macro, multi-neighborhood level, or in the case of the Sandy Woods project, at the micro, single neighborhood level.
  • Partner with local businesses and/or the town to install bike racks to encourage car-less travel
  • Continue to repair/install sidewalks
  • Renewed enforcement of speed limits and other safe driving behaviors to create a safe environment for walking, biking, etc.
  • Exploration of in-town public transportation (e.g., small-scale bus or shuttle services) to get people to these new town centers
  • Take additional cues from other urban-based transportation planning playbooks
This problem won't be solved overnight and I'm firmly grounded in the reality that we're not going to wake up one morning and not need our cars, but improved suburban transit could benefit us on so many levels: environmental, health, economic and so on.

What about you? Would you ditch your car once or twice a week if the infrastructure was in place?


Natescape said...

Excellent topic, Bill! Will you be able to make it to Thursday's Council Quarterly meeting? We'd love to have you.

I think the reality is that the best we suburb/country families in areas that experience winter can realistically hope for is to be able to function well with one car. Going car-free is a loooong time off for folks outside of cities.

That being said, a smaller, more flexible public transit system and/or system of small one- or two-person transport vehicles with limited ranges that get us to public transit points WOULD be a reality in the post-cheap energy age that we're entering.

Anonymous said...

I would LOVE an alternative to driving!!!
Like Natescape's option. Or some way to carpool for routine trips.
The best I can do now is shop locally as much as possible, and in a loop to avoid additional driving--We have driven a Honda Civic Hybrid since 2003, after trading in one vehicle, and donating the second to Donation Line [% auction proceeds benefit Tiverton Library Services].
This blog is wonderful! Thank you.


Hmm... One car. That would be nice for many reasons. On the weekends, we're a one-car family. During the week it's a different story.

The biggest obstacle to that (for me, at least) is the commute to work. Though, with the ability to work remotely from home once and a while, I'm able to get a glimmer of what life with one car could be like.

Could a small-scale public transportation business work in the suburbs and fill a gap that an entity like RIPTA couldn't provide with their services? Talk about behavior change...

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a walk/ bike trail down Main Rd., all the way to Little Compton commons, also connect Tiv 4 corners to Crandall Rd. via East Rd., back up to Bliss Corners.

In summer, a bus/trolley that stopped places like the Main Tiv Post office, Sakonnet Bay Manor, the Boat House, Standish Boat Yard, Coastal Roasters/Grinnell Beach, Town Farm, Tiv 4 Corners, Fogland Beach, up Stafford/Crandall to Bliss 4 Corners, the New Library, in a continuous loop. Saw this type of system in Rock Hall, MD (a smaller waterfront town) and it was excellent.