Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared in March 2016 and continues to resonate today about the ecosystem of transportation.
The Consequences of Intolerance: NMA E-Newsletter #373
Ecosystem: A system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the
interaction of a community of organisms with their environment
What is our transportation network of streets and highways if not an ecosystem? Every day it is teeming with a multitude of users—that sounds a little better than “organisms”—who serve communities in a host of ways.
When one class of user in a balanced ecosystem wants to reshape the rules to suit its needs, giving little regard to the others who share the same environment, the equilibrium is upset.
Such are those who want to convert roads or lanes to create more rights-of-way for pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit systems at the expense of car and truck drivers. Think about the adverse effect to the safe and efficient movement of other road users, of goods and services, when avenues are pinched down along crucial transportation routes. That is exactly what happened in Long Beach, California when “Smart Growth” was given priority over the greater good.
Highways have to accommodate nearly 70 types of overlapping uses—everything from the movement of passenger vehicles, RVs, commercial goods, and even large agricultural implements to the critical passage of emergency responders—and do so with maximum efficiency.
A tractor-trailer in intercity service requires truck stops and overnight parking and affects the speed of the right-hand freeway lane. An identical truck in retail-delivery service requires wide-radius intersections, and may absorb all the capacity of an intersection during a traffic signal cycle.
A car arriving at an airport to drop someone off requires a curb lane or short-term parking space; an auto in a rental fleet requires a place of business and a terminal. A vehicle in commuter service requires all-day parking; the same vehicle in messenger service requires short-term curb parking.
Similarly, streets serve many purposes besides transportation. You may be surprised to learn that streets have to accommodate about 40 non-moving uses. These include expected uses like parking for many types of vehicles and purposes, or spaces for transit stops and transfer points. But streets also provide exposure to things like retail stores and restaurants. They provide space for food carts, newspaper boxes and billboards.
Transportation planners must carefully manage this complex system to meet the needs of dozens of different users and accommodate many uses. Unfortunately, the singular focus of Vision Zero proponents to skew the balance gives little regard to the impact on the whole of the transportation ecosystem.