What are roads for?
In my earlier years, I didn’t give much thought to what roads were for. I figured they existed, primarily anyway, to carry cars and trucks. I skateboarded, rode my bike, played street football and walked my dog on them, but I still assumed roads were for motor vehicles.
I never really considered the role of roads as public spaces. However, as I began and then moved deeper into my transportation planning and advocacy career, my thinking shifted—dare I say—evolved.
I have had the good fortune to work with and be exposed to a broad range of communities where roads are viewed as public facilities that can and should do more than just carry motorized vehicles. In these instances, newly built and retrofit roads are seen as facilities that need to safely accommodate a variety of modes including bicycles, pedestrians (including those with disabilities) and transit. This is a more holistic way of thinking about roads that was wildly evident through the conversations I had and the presentations I attended at the ProWalk/ProBike/ProPlace conference in Pittsburgh back in September.
Bits of wisdom
- “Why do we so often exclusively design our roads for motorized efficiency and not overall human efficiency, motorized throughput and not human throughput?”
- “We too often design streets to accommodate peak-period motorized volumes. Peak periods span only three to four hours each day, yet streets are part of our public spaces 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
- “‘What is the return on investment for all road users—and tax payers?” is a question that needs to be tied to every transportation investment.”
- “Through expenditure of public funds on roadway projects, we have a responsibility to provide people of all income levels with transportation options.”
Cynic or optimist
There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that we are still locked in the era of “roads are for cars and trucks.” Cynics would crow in agreement. However, based on my recent experience in Pittsburgh, my work with local advocacy groups here in Colorado and our continued work with Walk and Wheel communities, I am seeing a change. From Pueblo to Greeley and Salida to Steamboat, staff, elected officials and advocates are asking this key question: Are we designing and funding our roads as public spaces that maximize benefit for all potential users, or are we are just designing for motorized vehicles?
So what’s your take?
- Do the roads accommodate multiple modes of transportation as much as they could…or should?
- Is there unrealized potential to better accommodate bikes and pedestrians through a retrofit or repaving project?
- In your own community, where you pay taxes, are key staff and elected officials designing and funding roads so they safely accommodate a variety of modes?
Have fun! And if you have any light bulb moments when you’re out there, we would love to hear from you with a comment below.