Multi-Modal Transportation in the Comprehensive Plan
May 7, 2002
by Terry Werner
The City Council and County Board soon will vote on the proposed Lincoln-Lancaster County 2025 Comprehensive Plan. Although not perfect, it is a good document, one that many citizens worked long and hard on. I thank them for their dedication and time. The plan provides for many of the things the people of Lincoln seem to value: the preservation of wetlands and prairies; parks and green spaces; a strong and vibrant downtown; and the preservation of our historic areas and older neighborhoods.
The plan describes a bicycle and pedestrian friendly city with neighborhoods designed so that residents live near schools, parks, shopping and jobs. The proposed plan also includes the expenditure of up to 1.4 billion dollars on additional and wider roads, also something citizens seem to want.
Aren't these conflicting visions? It defies reality to think that we can continue to plan our community around the automobile, while retaining the assets we claim to value and want.
Unfortunately, the proposed Comprehensive Plan provides no innovative or forward thinking on transportation. What is included is not a ‘vision', but the ‘status quo", the continuation of responding to the city's transportation needs by building more and wider roadways. It is time, before the opportunity is lost, to move from the status quo of planning our city's future around the automobile, and to promote and provide for multi-modal transportation.
What is multi-modal transportation? It is a well-designed system that is balanced and equitable, and allows people to get around by car, public transit, bicycle, and walking. The public transit component can include buses, light rail or other innovations. It is the preservation of our non-renewable natural resources such as land and fossil fuels. It is the conservation of our environment and quality of life. It is economic development that promotes jobs, innovation, technology and tax savings.
How do we get there? We need a dedicated Department of Transportation in the City and a Multi-Modal Transportation Plan.
Public transportation has long been overlooked, not only by our city, but by the State. Note, that Nebraska has a Department of Roads, but not a Department of Transportation. Locally, we have a Planning Department, but the attention given to transportation is limited to the new developments that come before them. Building those miles of roadways is a primary responsibility of the Public Works Department which also manages StarTran bus service, Lincoln's one and only public transportation system. I mean no disparagement to the dedicated, hard working and talented city employees, but in regards to transportation matters, their job is to maintain the status quo.
Lincoln and Lancaster County need, and I propose to add to the Comprehensive Plan, the creation of the Department of Multi-Modal Transportation. Overall, the moving of persons by methods other than the automobile, simply does not get the attention needed to plan for our future. The charge of this department would be to create and manage a multi-modal transportation plan. The right person, with shared staff, could do wonders for the future of our city.
While some might believe we can't afford to, I maintain we can't afford not to move in this direction. Our beautiful city is rapidly growing, and the efficient movement of people will only continue to become more complex. A part of the long term vision must be looking at the breadth of transportation modes and ensuring that all are considered in our year-to-year planning. This must be a stand alone department advocating only for multi-modal transportation within the larger City Plan. The City and County need a Multi-Modal Transportation Plan that goes beyond adding more roadways. A specialist, the first hire for the new transportation department, would lead the development of this essential document which must be equal in consideration and importance as those plans to build roads.
The "status quo" is hard to change. We love our cars, and that is not to be faulted; however, it is not only possible, but essential to our quality of life that we shift our thinking about the routine and daily use of our automobiles. Policymakers and citizens alike have a responsibility to work toward the provision of alternate transportation modes that are accessible, affordable, efficient, and cost effective. Of no small consideration is the gross inequity resulting of our current practice of seeing transportation as only the building of roads. Consider the fact that fully half of our population do not drive. This includes many of the elderly, and the physically and mentally challenged who are not able to drive. This includes many of the poor who cannot afford to purchase and maintain an automobile (lack of transportation is also a factor in unemployment among the New Americans in out community). Finally, this includes our children.
Our current system, building more roads is exclusive, inequitable, inaccessible and an expensive system that privileges the half of the population that are automobile drivers. Roads are a huge expense to our community.
The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and creativity; the means of doing so are limited only by our will and courage to establish priorities that differ from "business as usual."
I understand that this may not be in next year's budget, but certainly it must be part of our ‘vision'.