June 1 Editorial by Noel Braymer
In mid June of this year there were several news stories about a U.S. Census survey which showed that Americans, particularly Californians where driving alone more than ever. This is despite millions of dollars being spent to encourage car-pooling and ride sharing. Many of the stories in the papers harped on the old clichÃ©s about peoples so called “love affair” with their automobile and so on. One newspaper, the Los Angeles Daily News got it right. Their headline for the story by Brent Hopkins on June 13th said it all: Southland drivers are the loneliest in the U.S.; jobs, housing key reason.
There was a time when a house was a place to live. When you got a new job you moved to where your job was. Today a house is more of an investment than a domicile. People increasingly are living 50 miles or more from their jobs in order to find a house they can afford. Often when a person changes jobs they canâ€™t afford to move. With two or more incomes needed to pay for a house, the occupants often are traveling in opposite directions when going to work. In turn their co-workers come to work from many different directions. This all adds up to record traffic congestion. Making things worse, many new housing tracts are literally in the middle of nowhere. The nearest stores, entertainment even schools may be miles away. Nothing is in walking distance. Most schools today have grid lock conditions with SUVâ€™S and Mini-Vans clogging the roads at the start and end of the school day. Even if the distances are not great, it is unpleasant to walk or ride a bike by major arterials with heavy traffic that are the only way to go anywhere.
The usual “solutions” for traffic congestion is to build more or expand existing roads. Time and again, it has been shown this makes traffic worse. More roads lead to more urban sprawl. This increasingly spreads out jobs, shopping, schools and entertainment, forcing people to be more dependent on their cars and driving more, causing more traffic. The reality is, increasingly roads and auto travel is becoming more expensive. The rising price of oil and gasoline alone leads to higher prices for everything, especially construction. For example: San Diego County expects to spend almost 1.3 billion dollars by 2012 upgrading 20 miles of I-15 for expanded car pool lanes. Much of this is going for 8 miles of 4 new lanes between Ranchos Penasquitos and Rancho Bernardo. Even if there was an infinite amount of money available to expand roads, people will fight them. A good example is the attempt to build carpool lanes in Los Angeles on I-405. Near-by residents are up in arms when they discovered that their houses may be needed to expand the freeway.
Rail passenger service works to reduce congestion and save money. But for this to happen, development has to be part of the picture. Housing, jobs, shopping and entertainment need to be tied together to rail and all public transportation. Most people donâ€™t love their cars, they love economy and convenience. When it is easier and cheaper to take the train, they will leave their car at home. When they take the train, everything can be close by and require less running around. But first, they have to have a train to take that goes where and when they need to go. In California, that is happening more all the time.