It’s been awhile since I talked about the concept of Smart Growth, but some relatively recent developments caught my eye and I figured it was time to talk about them. One of these items has been sitting on my top bookmarks for a few weeks now.
Last spring, against my advice, the voters of Salisbury elected Jake Day to their City Council. Since that time, Day has joined with nine other local elected officials around the state as part of an advisory board for Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. This is a collaboration between the rabidly anti-growth 1,000 Friends of Maryland and Smart Growth America.
Now allow me to say that downtown development is just fine with me. My problem with so-called Smart Growth legislation – such as the Septic Bill which mandated counties provide tier maps for approval by the state, usurping local control – is that it eliminates options local landowners may choose to use. If there is a market for people who wish to live in a rural area, it should be served; moreover, many parts of the region are already off-limits to development because the land doesn’t drain properly. At least that restriction makes sense.
Developing Salisbury’s downtown is important for the city, but not squeezing rural development is important for Wicomico County.
Another recent development in the city is the adoption of designated bicycle pathways, which in Salisbury are marked by “sharrows.” Since I frequently drive in Delaware, I’m familiar with their custom of designating bicycle lanes on the shoulder of the highway, as that state seems to take the concept farther than their Maryland neighbors. But sharrows have a different purpose, simply denoting the best place to ride in a shared lane. In theory, however, a group of bikes moving along the shared lane could slow traffic down to their speed. It may seem extreme, but this has happened in larger cities.
Granted, the designated bicycle ways in Salisbury are somewhat off the beaten path of Salisbury Boulevard, which also serves as Business Route 13 in Salisbury. But the anti-parking idea expressed in the American Spectator article is a dream of Salisbury bicyclists, who want to eliminate one lane of on-street parking when downtown is revitalized. With the lower speed limits common along downtown streets, the bigger danger for bicyclists comes from a driver of a parked car unwittingly opening a car door in the path of a bicyclist rather than the large speed difference common on a highway with a bike lane.
This also works with an anti-car movement called the Complete Streets Coalition, which believes that “incomplete streets (are) designed with only cars in mind.” Instead, they fret that:
(Incomplete streets) limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive, and, too often, dangerous.
Changing policy to routinely include the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles would make walking, riding bikes, riding buses and trains safer and easier. People of all ages and abilities would have more options when traveling to work, to school, to the grocery store, and to visit family.
Making these travel choices more convenient, attractive, and safe means people do not need to rely solely on automobiles. They can replace congestion-clogged trips in their cars with swift bus rides or heart-healthy bicycle trips. Complete Streets improves the efficiency and capacity of existing roads too, by moving people in the same amount of space – just think of all the people who can fit on a bus or streetcar versus the same amount of people each driving their own car. Getting more productivity out of the existing road and public transportation systems is vital to reducing congestion.
Just think of how much control we can have over people’s movement if we could only get them out of their cars. Oh, sorry, was I reading between the lines?
Many of these concepts were outlined in Day’s plan for Salisbury. It’s not that the city doesn’t need changes, but it’s my belief that giving too much weight to less efficient modes of transportation or those who create the need for dependency on the schedule of public transportation is counter-productive to good development. Retail, for example, depends on the ability of customers to have close, convenient parking.
But more important to me is liberty – the freedom to do what you wish with your property or to move about as you desire. Regulations from our overlords in Annapolis enacted over the objections of local government usurp the principle that the best government is the one closest to the people. The push toward mass transit at the expense of the automobile removes a vital travel option from the traveling public – Maryland already spends a disproportionate share of gasoline tax dollars on mass transit as opposed to maintenance and improvement to the highway system, and that inequity threatens to become more pronounced with the Red Line and Purple Line in Maryland’s urban core.
Above all, these should be local decisions. The problem with Smart Growth and its tentacles creeping into government at higher levels is its reliance on central planning. Maybe we’d trust Annapolis more if we thought they had our best interests at heart, but past performance doesn’t bode well for future results.
Update: I was researching a more recent post and came across this nugget from Montgomery County, which wants to usurp a car travel lane for buses on certain routes.