Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Chilly, Timid Activist

Last night I went downtown for a yoga class (how yuppie). And here's my embarrassing secret: I drove. I live two miles away from that class, but it was cold and dark. So I drove.

I also drive to work. Again, very easy to get to via bike or public transit. Except: it's a hospital, in a part of town where nobody ever, ever walks around at night. I can't get to the transit stop without walking alone along poorly-lit streets and waiting at a stop, and I can't ride my bike home without going through an area where cyclists have been jumped before. So I drive.

I haven't come up with an answer to the question that I'm asking, assuming it's the right question: is it possible to make active transportation feel as safe and comfortable as driving? I realize that statistically, I probably have a much better chance of being hit or worse driving back and forth than I do walking and cycling. But blame it on salience or the media, I feel safer in that car. Fashion has thoughtfully swung in my favor and made puffy down jackets and furry boots look good, so it's easier to walk somewhere and arrive looking acceptably stylish than it was five years ago. But at night, I still get cold.

Safety could be addressed by more people walking. Montreal addressed the cold problem by building numerous subterranean walkways, which is a bit much to ask Connecticut. Could making transit easier and more flexible make it more comfortable to walk? It's already the same price to take the bus downtown as it is to park there, although it costs considerably more ingenuity to untangle the confusing and counterintuitive schedule and map. And it's much slower, especially if you have to change routes to get to a specific location.

Greater minds than mine are working on the problem, I know. But I hope they'll bear in mind that if I, a reasonably healthy and active adult living in a walkable city, often choose to drive, others will too. Can we make it easier to choose active transportion? Or do we also have to make it harder to choose to drive?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Right Question

A mentor of mine used to tell me that the secret to a successful investigation is to start by asking the right question.

"The research question", he'd state, "is the most important part of the research process."

Any doubt I may have had about this mantra was whisked away by The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup.  In writing this book, Shoup has done more to influence urban planning than almost anyone else alive.  Not surprisingly, many people consider him to be one of the most influential contemporary urban thinkers.

So what is so ground-breaking about this book?  Is it a formula for eliminating pollution?  Ending sprawl?  Perhaps, but it does so by looking at a simple, far-reaching facet of accepted planning and zoning. In this book Shoup challenges a central but hidden land-use policy, one that affects virtually every community in the country: the minimum parking requirement. This policy holds that it's the planner's responsibility to provide enough parking spaces to allow everyone to park for free, wherever they go.

I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Shoup speak at Yale University last week and was amazed at the turnout.  It seemed like parking would be too dry of a topic to pack a lecture hall, but the hall was full.  It was a who's who of Connecticut transportation nerds, myself included.  He is one of the most influential thinkers in the field - his book has planners and politicians everywhere suddenly rethinking policies that have been unchallenged since World War II. 

Minimum parking seemed like a very good idea at the time.  To many people, it still does.  Who doesn't love free parking?  And who likes searching for change among the grit and gum wrappers under the car seat to feed the meter, or initiating a panicked search through wallets to pay for the garage?  Nobody, which is why the idea of requiring developers and land owners to provide enough parking seemed so attractive.  For decades, this policy was untouchable and enshrined in the planning canon.

Mr. Shoup upended this thinking.  He asked the right question: "What is the cost of providing 'free' parking to everyone all the time?"  This question matters because we tend to assume that if we aren't visibly paying for something, then there's no cost.  This is, of course, ridiculous to assume.  None of us have received an invoice for the war in Iraq, but we all know that this military action isn't free.  It turns out that the cost of providing "free" parking is very high.  It pushes up land prices, it taxes storm-water systems, it uses up land that could be put to better use.  In a nutshell, free parking is very inefficient because everyone pays no matter how much or how little they use those spaces.

When I go to a store part of the money I spend there goes to cover the construction and maintenance of the parking lot, whether or not I've used it.  If I rent a condo with "free" parking, I pay for that parking with my rent and condo fees, whether I use each allotted space or not.  Parking has been an amenity we use without paying for so long that we've become blind to the absurdity. 

Imagine for a moment that instead of parking, air travel was required to be "free".  Imagine the government raising all our taxes to dramatically upgrade air traffic control, airports, and planes, and provide tickets to anyone. Picture major travel destinations being required to help provide free tickets to anyone who wants them; the cost would of course be passed along to the consumer in the form of much higher prices for meals, hotel rooms, and amenities.  What would you do?  Well, it's "free", so you'd fly.  Immediately, there would be a shortage of seats on airplanes, and we would eventually become unaware of the staggeringly high cost being paid by frequent flier and aerophobe alike.

This is how parking works now.  We all use it as much as we can because it we've already paid for it.  Therefore, it's always being used, so there's a constant clamor for more because there never seems to be enough.  By asking the right question, Shoup cuts through conventional thinking to show that free parking isn't really free at all, and that it actually wastes resources and space.  His solution is simple: Stop requiring developers to build parking they don't want to build and charge the market price for the parking that's available.

Shoup suggests charging a price high enough to occupy about 85% of existing parking spaces.  In other words, raise the price until about 15% of people who would normally park are deterred into making another arrangement.  This will result in an efficiently utilized parking system in which those willing to pay market price can quickly and easily find a spot.

This obvious solution eluded planners and policy-makers for decades.  It's because they were asking the wrong question, namely: "How much parking do we need for everyone to park for free?"  This is a doesn't work, because there is no such thing as free.  Somebody pays.  You pay, even if you never get a bill.  Shoup was able to see this solution simply by asking the right question: "What is the true cost of a parking space, and what should we charge people for parking?"

Despite being convinced by Shoup's theory and thoroughly enjoying the book, seeing him speak last week left me somewhat disappointed.  To be fair, Donald Shoup is an excellent and engaging speaker.  What disappointed me was the realization that Shoup had asked and answered one critical question but left its corollary wide open.  Shoup tells us how to price parking but not how much parking to build in a community.  A town could have 20,00 spaces priced for 85% occupancy or 5,00 spaces priced for 85% occupancy.  In both cases the town would be following his advice. But would either one would be optimal for the town's economic vigor, ease of movement, and efficiency?

Too many spaces, and you arrive at an urban wasteland that welcomes cars but repels people.  Too few, and businesses can't serve all their customers, residents circle the block in frustration, and traffic builds.  Although it is tempting to say "the fewer parking spaces, the better", it's just not practical.  Until our land use policies change to create communities less dependent on private automobiles, a certain amount of parking is necessary. 

So my question for Donald Shoup, and everyone else out there, is, "How do we decide how many parking spaces to build in a community?"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smackdown: Austin vs. New Haven!!

I was in Texas a while back, staying with family. Specifically, Austin, the Texas mecca for those of us who are into alternative transportation. And bubble tea. Seriously, go there, check out Toy Joy, and then go to Half-Price Books. Half-Price Books is where Texas kicks Connecticut's ass until it whimpers for mercy. Wait, I was talking about something...right. active transportation.

Shopping delights aside, I noticed that everywhere we went, we drove. We went down to this Toy Joy place, then got in the car and drove for a while to see the campus of University of Texas Austin, then drove some more. None of the landmarks were close together. Same could be said of almost all of Connecticut, I know this. I live in New Haven and I'm spoiled. I walk to the grocery store, I walk to the drugstore, and can cycle downtown for dinner. Somehow, I expected a city of comparable importance to Texas as New Haven is to Connecticut to be just as walkable. But New Haven's neighborhoods were almost all built B.C. (before cars) and Austin's A.C. (after cars). It shows.

I saw a grand total of five cyclists the whole time, although it was about 40 degrees out and that would discourage most cyclists that far south. Two of them were on the sidewalk ignoring the bike lane, and frankly I might have too. There were a LOT of cars going REALLY fast for a city. That's just how the roads are built. The heavy traffic is a common topic of conversation. On the other hand (sorry New Haven) the only people who asked us for money didn't follow us down the street hassling us, which happened to the family I was visiting when they came to New Haven.

It might have been because I was staying with my altogether delightful and progressive family, but from what they said the citizens of Austin are really engaged in the problem of making their city easier to navigate without a car. The city has been building a new light rail system – unfortunately, a disaster, and one I will address in another post – and it has bike lanes and sidewalks. It has a great bike and pedestrian plan. But here is the problem they have, and it is the same problem every city in America has: everything that is built puts cars first.

I visited a newly built community just outside Austin which is supposed to be for active adults. These are people who are moving into a place to retire, and they don't really want to have a car for each adult in the household. They want to be able to walk around, and get by with just one car, and know that if they ever have to give up driving, they could stay in their homes. Which are great: affordable, energy-efficient, well-designed, and really comfortable. There are lots of nicely landscaped walking trails and pretty wooded common areas. But the developer built that place for cars first, and not people. It is supposed to be walkable but the streets themselves are not. I felt it the most strongly when I went for a walk on one of the winding side streets. The cars that passed us were flying. Not because they are bad people, but because the roads are wide and curved just right to make 40 mph the most comfortable speed.

There's an older neighborhood near the university that was also built A.C. However, it was built when the city still laid out the streets (and before the onset of Levittowns), so the streets are in short grids. There were a few cars zooming around, but most were not and it felt great to walk.

The developer was just building what he knows will sell. The city was building what it thought would work. Should the layout be up to the developer? Would the city build those streets now?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Supply and Demand

One of may favorite urban planning blogs is the New Geography. It's underlying philosophy is firmly libertarian and, as far as planning goes, contrarian. Mind you, I am neither libertarian nor contrarian. I like the New Geography because, love or hate the politics behind it, it presents a fresh take on a lot of planning issues and forces any good planner or advocate to thoughtfully examine his/her beliefs. The authors, with the exception of Wendell Cox who can best be described as Glenn Beck with a beard and a pile of questionable statistics, are economically conservative without succumbing to the excesses intellectual nihilism of the extreme right wing. They are Bill Buckley conservatives rather than Bill O'Reilly Republicans.

One of the reoccuring themes on the site that brought me to question and reevaluate my beliefs is the idea that compact, mixed-use, walkable cities are not affordable for the majority of people; that walkable cities like Boston, New York and San Francisco are simply playgrounds for the upper class and hipsters willing to pay way too much for rent. In numerous posts, the contributors to the New Geography bash walkable cities like New York and San Fransisco because they are unaffordable to the middle class. Suburbs and exurbs in places like Houston and the Inland Empire, they argue, provide affordable homeownership opportunites for most Americans. Therefore, they reason, we should be planning auto-centric exurban developments rather than compact towns because to former is affordable and the latter is expensive.

On the surface it is hard to argue against their conclusions. New York and San Francisco aren't very affordable, particularly if you want to own a house or condo someday, which most people do. Very few of us would argue that we need to build more housing for the wealthy. And, it would seem that low-density, exurban development seems to accomplish the goal of providing homeownership opportunities for the middle class. As I thought about it more though, the argument began to look increasingly ridiculous. My "Aha!" moment came to me when I reflected on the fact that this idea came from a libertarian-leaning website.

Of course walkable cities like New York and San Francisco are unaffordable while places like Houston and surburban Atlanta offer good deals on housing. New York and San Francisco are some of the most desirable places in the world to live. Nothing against the sunbelt, but given two identically sized homes for sale at the same price, most people would opt to live in New York or San Fransisco as opposed to Houston or Atlanta.

The reason home prices are so high in so many of our dense, walkable cities, is precisely because people are willing to pay a premium for this type of community. The problem isn't that walkable communities are inherently expensive to live in, it's that we haven't built enough of them, so the demand outstrips the available supply. The obvious answer is to build more walkable mixed-use places. As any first year econ student will tell you, increasing the supply of a good or service will, all things being equal, reduce the price.

So instead of shunning walkable, compact development because it's expensive, we should encourage it because it's desirable enough to be expensive.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Response to "Tread Carefully"

In our Tuesday post, contributor Tom Harned acknowledged the value of a vulnerable user’s law for Connecticut but also cautioned policymakers to consider four problems with such laws. As advocates and bloggers, we often get accused, sometimes fairly, of playing arm-chair quarterback, raising issues and problems without offering actionable, concrete solutions. So as a follow-up, I’d like expand on Tom’s arguments and suggest practical ways to address many of the concerns and issues he raised.

Tom raised the following issues:

First, by designating bicyclists as a separate class of users from drivers of motor vehicles, the law risks stigmatizing bike riders and ultimately could lead to the banning of bikes from roadways.

Second, it is challenging to define which users should be “vulnerable,” especially with the proliferation of light motorized vehicles like golf carts, and to determine what happens if one vulnerable user hits another one.

The third issue relates to fairness: why should a driver’s penalty depend on the type of road user he or she hits?

A fourth concern is that law enforcement and the general public will not support the law, owing to the widely held, if erroneous, belief that pedestrians and bicyclists are culpable for many accidents with cars.

I think that Tom’s concerns are valid. Some of them could be addressed by careful bill drafting, while others will require lawmakers to make clear, but possibly unpopular, judgments about the rules of the road.

As to the first issue, the law could state in plain terms that cyclists have an equal right to use the roads. This right has been previously defined in other state statutes. Nothing about the vulnerable user’s law would change this status except that drivers of cars and trucks would face elevated penalties for injuring or killing people riding bikes. Providing elevated penalties for injuring particular classes is nothing new—see, for example, laws that raise the degree of offense for people who attack public safety officers—and similar logic would support doing so in the case of vulnerable users.

I agree that, with so many types of vehicles on the road, it can be difficult to separate the vulnerable users from the non-vulnerable ones. But this kind of line-drawing is what lawmaking is all about, and as long as drafters can agree on what “vulnerability” means, it can be done fairly. One approach would be to look at statistics about the likelihood of injury or death at particular speeds. Users of vehicles who are unlikely to survive a low speed crash would be deemed “vulnerable.” A simpler approach would be to draw a clear line: cars and trucks on one side, and everyone else on the other. The other side would include a range of mobility options, from motorcycles to wheelchairs to feet.

I am not sure what penalties should be imposed when one vulnerable user hits another. The law’s underlying goal of protecting vulnerable users would seem to be undermined if, for example, a motorcycle rider did not face elevated penalties for hitting a pedestrian. Nevertheless, it probably makes sense only to bring cars and trucks under the vulnerable user’s law’s scrutiny, if only to avoid this contention. After all, how far would we want to spread criminal liability under this law? I know this answer will not satisfy everyone but it might be the most politically sound.

Regarding the issue of fairness, I don't think that hitting another driver is a similar act as hitting someone on a bike. Drivers are surrounded by a metal cage and share in safety features like air bags and seat belts. Drivers are unlikely to die in low speed collisions, while someone on a bike could suffer severe injuries even at very low speeds. This significant unfairness should warrant harsher penalties to promote better awareness on the roads.

Finally, the law could address the potential injustice of punishing a driver for a vulnerable user’s stupidity by excluding users who are illegally using the roads from the law’s scope. A jaywalker, for example, would not share in the law’s protections.

Good luck to everyone working on this law. It is long overdue.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Vulnerable Users Law - Tread Carefully

A number of friends and colleagues of mine have been exploring the possibility of a vulnerable users law here in Connecticut. Vulnerable users laws are laws aimed at protecting those roadway users that are not protected by things like airbags, steel cages, crumple zones etc. Most commonly, these laws are intended to protect bicyclists and pedestrians and to appropriately and fairly punish those who harm them through reckless, careless, or even malevolent behavior. As an advocate for pedestrians and bicyclists I am generally in favor of such laws. Motorists who injure or even kill pedestrians and cyclists often get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. In most cases, unless you're drunk, or flee the scene, you can injure or kill a cyclist or pedestrian and do less jail time than you would for selling small amounts of marijuana. That being said, vulnerable users laws can be a double-edged sword so there a couple of key things to consider when crafting or advocating these types of laws.

The first is that you're essentially creating a new class of roadway users, "vulnerable users". Overall this is a good thing. A driver of an automobile can do significantly more harm and therefore, should have more responsibility, much in the same way we hold commercial truckers to higher standards of conduct than we do drivers of private automobiles. The downside of this is, that by creating a separate class of users with differing levels of responsibility, we can inadvertently lay the groundwork for giving different rights to different types of users. This is less of an issue with pedestrians because they are already a separate class of roadway users, i.e. they are not vehicles. With bicyclists, however, there has been a history of trying to get them banned from certain roadways, citing safety as a concern (i.e. it's for their own good). There have been attempts in a number of states as recently as 2009: http://www.kansascyclist.com/news/2009/08/proposals-to-ban-bicycles-in-colorado-and-iowa/

The second issue with vulnerable users laws is that you have to be both careful and specific in terms of how you define a "vulnerable user". Is a motorcyclist a vulnerable user? Are vulnerable users synonymous with non-motorized roadway users? With the proliferation of electric-assist bicyclists and neighborhood electric vehicles like golf carts there is, and will continue to be, an increasing variety of vehicles on the road. With the population aging, these types of vehicles will become more and more common as many older citizens may no longer be comfortable driving standard automobiles and switch to these small less powerful vehicles. This is already happening in a lot of retirement villages in the sunbelt. If a 20-year-old cyclist hits an 80-year-old driver of a golf car, who is the vulnerable user? Are they both vulnerable users?

The third thing to watch out for, or at least be aware of and prepared to address, is the fairness issue. One complaint I've heard a number of times is that vulnerable user laws can create legal rulings that are very counter-intuitive. The most commonly cited example goes like this: Drunk driver A hits and kills another motorist while drunk driver B hits and kills a cyclist. Under some vulnerable user laws, driver B would face a more serious penalty for his crime than driver A, even though both drivers committed the same act with the same end result. The punishment varies depending on the type of vehicle your victim happens to be driving.

That last thing to be be careful of is assigning too much blame to drivers in cases where cyclists or pedestrians may be overwhelmingly at fault. Penalties for drivers who hit and injure cyclists and pedestrians certainly need to be stiffer and more regularly enforced, but if penalties or the assignment of fault is draconian, or is perceived as genuinely unfair, the law may ultimately be ineffective and generate a backlash. Juries tend to be sympathetic to drivers because everyone on the jury has typically driven a car and can put themselves in the driver's shoes. They may or may not be able to relate as freely to the cyclist or the pedestrian.

So with all these issues, why have a vulnerable users law at all? Why should cyclists and pedestrians get special protection under the law? The simple answer is this: driving is a privilege, walking and biking are rights. In order to drive a car you have to have a driver's license issued to you by the state you live in. This license can be revoked by the state for any number of reasons, largely because reckless drivers can, and often do, inflict a tremendous amount of harm. People ought to have the freedom to choose how they want to get around, and should be able to do so knowing that they'll be adequately protected by the law.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Good Fences?

Source: Hamden Chronicle (1 May 1958)
One of the New Haven Independent's most commented-upon stories in recent memory was about the infamous fence separating the now demolished Brookside and Rockview housing projects from the Pine Rock neighborhood in Hamden.

That fence, which is tall and composed of double-layer chain link, has existed in some form since the projects were first built in the early 1950s. In fact, letters from the era show that New Haven's Housing Authority was responsible for building the first, much shorter, fences between the projects and their suburban neighbors.

Not only did West Rock's planners build a wall between the projects and Hamden, but they also dead-ended the projects' roads. One contemporary reporter speculated that "[w]hile officials have not said so officially, it is known that Woodin Street [in Hamden] will not be linked with the streets in the projects, so that the business of the residents will be diverted, as far as possible to New Haven businesses."

Whether this speculation was true or not, West Rock's layout made it difficult for residents to shop nearby. It took a number of years before any businesses moved onto the isolated site. Residents had to take the bus a few miles into Westville to shop. They could not walk to Hamden, of course, unless they took a long walk around Wintergreen Avenue or hopped a fence and trespassed through a neighbor's lawn.

Such trespasses were not uncommon:
In July 1955, the owner of a neighboring farm complained to the Housing Authority that project children were trespassing through his fields. In April 1957, a child from Brookside apparently attacked a woman living across the border for refusing to pick up a ball and baseball glove thrown over the short fence separating her land from the project. He jumped the fence and kicked the woman. In the aftermath of this violence, and other incidents that their petition only hinted at, the residents of neighboring Thorpe Drive in Hamden demanded that the Housing Authority build a taller fence to prevent “thoroughfare.” “We feel it is not necessary to list the nuisances and damage that have already been inflicted upon us, including the severe bodily injury to one of our children.” This barrier would also serve to stop project residents from driving their cars across the grass separating Brookside Drive and Thorpe Drive; similar trespassing would also occur in March 1958 between Woodin Street and its near-intersections with Wilmot Road and Brookside Avenue.
(For the record, the poor woman who had been kicked by a Brookside child admitted that her neighbors in Project Building No. 4 were “cooperative and neighborly.”)

Obviously, this slice of life at Brookside and Rockview dates from a time before gangs, drugs and extreme poverty hit the projects. These problems seem quaint in comparison to the troubles facing project residents and their suburban neighbors through second half of the twentieth-century. But the pattern of wall-building was set.

Now that the Housing Authority wants a fresh start at West Rock, it is hard to understand how a new project will be successful as long as these walls exist. A project's value derives, in large part, from the opportunities it provides to its residents. Unlike other redevelopment projects the Authority has undertaken in the past few decades, the new residents of West Rock are not located near downtown (Monterey Place) or on waterfront property near highways and employment centers (Q Terrace). They cannot get to jobs without cars or an unreasonably long bus commute.

As a result, even if the Housing Authority builds a walkable, mixed-income community, how will its trajectory be different if opportunities for upward mobility are so difficult for residents to access without a car?

Of course, some of the new residents, like their predecessors from the 1950s, will seek out West Rock as a suburban-style environment that otherwise would be unobtainable in the city. Accessibility will be a secondary concern.

It's possible that, like before, social service opportunities will be concentrated on the new site. Some people think that public housing is efficient because it puts disadvantaged people in close proximity to these kind of opportunities. But this approach goes nowhere with re-integrating project residents into society, and it would certainly lead to more separation between the new West Rock and its neighbors.

In any event, any development at West Rock must eliminate the obvious walls between the new community and its neighbors. This change will help bring down the less tangible barriers, too.

Source: Adam Wolkoff, “Creating a Suburban Ghetto: Public Housing at New Haven's West Rock,” Connecticut History, vol. 45, issue 1, 56-93 (Spring 2006).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We're Back

We started this blog in December of 2008 with a small number of editors and contributors. Our goal was to post a piece about walking and biking everyday. There were only a few of us and we quickly discovered that trying to work a full time job and still come up with an original post each day was a surefire way to burn out, which is exactly what happened.

After some months off we all decided that WalkBikeCT was fun to write, just not everyday. So we brought the site back and this time we vowed to run it in a more mentally and emotionally sustainable way. We've going to be posting twice a week this year, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We've also recruited a number of new contributors to lighten our load and increase the variety in our posts. Check our this year's first post, from WalkBikeCT contributor Tom Harned. Mr. Harned makes a case for why conservatives, not just liberals, should embrace and promote walking and biking as an essential part of our transportation system.

The Conservative Case for Walking and Biking

Conservatives tend to believe that individuals should have as many choices as possible when it comes the decisions that affect their lives. This conviction is based on the belief that individuals know what is best for themselves and will ultimately make the right decisions, given all the options and information available.

Under our current transportation system, the majority of Nutmeggers and the majority of Americans for that matter, don’t have a whole lot of choice when comes to finding a way to get to work, shopping, school, etc. We have to drive.

We have to drive because our transportation policies have created a built environment that is downright hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, an environment that gives most of us little choice but to drive most of the time.

To a liberal concerned about the environment and our dependence on foreign oil this should be somewhat disturbing. To a conservative worried about big government dictating how we live our lives, this should be downright appalling.

The car is, and has been for some time now, an enduring symbol of the freedom and sense of possibility that is part of the American fabric. The car, coupled with the open road, boldly declares that anything is possible, that our destiny is ours to make. However, few things embody freedom, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency more than walking or biking to one’s destination. You are not on anyone else’s schedule. You leave when you decide to and travel by the route you choose – and you don’t pay anyone else a dime to do it. When walking or biking you are at once the driver and the engine. Even more so than the motorist, you are truly independent.

At some point in our history this was forgotten. Somewhere, somehow, walking and biking for transportation got pushed into the liberal column, where it has remained to this day. On local, state, and federal levels, we see liberals championing these causes, supporting funding for walking and biking infrastructure while conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, do their best to bitterly combat anything that doesn’t subsidize driving.

The obvious, but overlooked question here is: When did getting oneself from here to there using your own two feet become "liberal"? When did conservatives get the idea that providing you own transportation – that relying on your own muscle and sweat, as opposed to a gasoline engine – become something other than a virtue, something worthy of scorn and mockery, something to be discouraged? A true conservative would promote all forms of personal mobility.

Conservatives will often talk about how government should be as lean and efficient as possible. Spending taxpayer money is a serious issue and therefore, the government should utilize tax dollars in such a way as to provide the greatest level of service for the least expenditure.

The current auto-oriented transportation policy often championed by the conservative members of both the Connecticut General Assembly and the United States Congress is anything but cost-effective and efficient. Our state and federal gas taxes do not come close to paying for the highway system we all enjoy. This means that all citizens, no matter how much or how little they drive, end up subsidizing this costly system through their income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and all manner of other fees levied on them by local, state, and federal governments. Any conservative worth his or her salt knows that if you want to lower taxes, you have to have an equivalent reduction in government spending (unless of course you’re a Republican member of congress, in which case you believe in tax-cuts funded by money borrowed from the Chinese). One way to reduce government spending is to develop a transportation system that moves people around as inexpensively as possible.

Our current dependence on the automobile for virtually each and every trip we make is an irresponsible and expensive indulgence that costs us all. Promoting walking and biking may currently be issues associated with the left, but they shouldn’t remain that way. Conservatives should embrace walking and biking, even if they don’t like the liberals and moderates who currently support it.