Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Time and What Must Be Done: Planning for Resilience in Our Region's Transportation Network

             Of all of the areas that must be properly managed in order for a plan to be successfully executed, four stand out:  Human, Budgetary, Material, and Time resources.  When it comes to land use and transportation planning, there comes a point when high level human skill sets, economic sagacity, and innovative material technologies cannot bail us out of certain situations because we just simply run out of time.

                I raise this issue to continue the debate about our regional transportation network in terms of its sustainability and resiliency. Land use and transportation planning are inextricably linked. We measure time in ten and twenty year increments when we discuss transportation and projected land uses.  My concern is that we are running out of time to plan a 21st century regional transportation network, because we govern our actions by 20th century cultural and political values. Using a decade as our  metric, it appears have we boxed ourselves in and may have not given ourselves adequate time to make the necessary adaptations, adjustments, and changes needed to sustain our current transportation system or guarantee that our network bounces back after a catastrophic event or series of events.

                Our region’s public policy has shortchanged and continues to shortchange public transit. This is because we have been lulled to sleep by relatively inexpensive gas and oil. So too, has globalization been made possible by an abundance of inexpensive fossil fuel energy. But what happens when the price of gasoline skyrockets, military conflict, or natural disaster makes individual automobile use and the supporting roadways impractical?  Have we built redundancy into our regional transportation and land use planning regime? This goes beyond Smart Growth for sustainability. There are those who argue that ‘sustainable development’ is an oxymoron, particularly as it relates to our never-ending green-field development of the hinterlands. Are we prepared to make a transition to other transportation and land use options should it be made necessary by unforeseen events?

To plan, finance, and build bus terminals, transit centers, and rail lines requires years and decades. The same is true with road construction. However, no sooner than the concrete dries on our highway and roadway expansion projects we have spent years and decades to plan, finance, and build, they are rendered obsolete due to latent demand.  When our cheap energy subsidy comes to an end, we will be clamoring for more transportation options. Yes, even in Texas, where every cowboy and cowgirl loves his or her own horse, riding the stagecoach is a nice option to have every once and a while. Without a serious, sober, and sensible plan to build regional transportation network resiliency through redundancy in the form of multiple options, we are going to find ourselves out of time and out of luck. Start now, and in ten to twenty years we will be grateful that we did recognize the time and what must be done.

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