The U.S. Department of Transporation recently elevated cyclists and pedestrians to a level on par with motor vehicles. This federal manifestation of a return to pedestrian-friendly infrastructure is nothing new. New York City, for example, installed a wildly successful pedestrian plaza in Times Square that proves widening roads isn’t the only way to improve traffic. Because a healthy society requires more than cul-de-sacs connected by highway interchanges, people everywhere are re-envisioning how they interact with their surroundings.
But not everyone agrees this is wise. A lobbyist for the Maine Motor Transport Association decried DOT’s policy-shift recently on MPBN, for example, suggesting the move would stifle economic recovery. Such criticism, however, is misguided. According to Harvard Business Review, pedestrian-friendly areas are witnessing the return of corporate and residential populations, and hence economic vibrancy, at increasing rates. It is hard to imagine, then, how investment in bike lanes and walkways would be anything but a boon for the economy.
Furthermore, cycling and walking also positively impact public health. They are among the most cost-effective ways of addressing an expensive obesity epidemic, for example, and so are a direct benefit to the public purse as well. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, DOT isn’t advocating the automotive industry‘s demise; rather, it merely seeks to provide alternatives to those who desire them.
To be sure, then, the impact transportation planning has on economic vitality is unquestionable. However, it follows not from this premise that DOT’s policy-shift is ill-advised. If anything, we should expect it to expedite economic recovery.
Patrick J. Venne