Hidden costs of the coveted extra minute

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Earlier this month, College Football moved on from its tradition of multiple Bowl Games and polls and adopted a playoff system to determine its champion. The NCAA has experimented over the past decade or so to help remove the "what if" scenarios — we all remember the good times when there were only a handful of traditional bowl games, and the pure speculation of the Associated Press-determined rankings. It’s been a turbulent era in College Football between conference championships, the BCS and now the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff. Surely, further calibration will be necessary.

But the point is that the NCAA has given a shot at fixing the system. We must applaud their effort at the very least — even if you're a fan of the TCU Horned Frogs.

As a country, we have an issue with infrastructure deficits. Everyone is talking about infrastructure and how they have the key to fixing it. (We'll hear even more about it during our upcoming mayoral race.) Most of the talk is consumption-based with prospects to widen roads, add interstates and essentially make traffic move faster. Maintenance discussions are primarily about potholes. Yes, we do need to fix the damn potholes. My car is under constant threat of being swallowed up by some of the potholes in this city. But we also need to repair the failing bridges and address stormwater issues.

How about we become more considerate, too, when we’re building new infrastructure. Not all new roads need to accommodate travel at 55, 45 or even 35 mph. If we continue to build these wide, fast-moving streets, we're creating a multiplier effect with a future of infinite budget deficits. It doesn’t stop with the budget costs; fast-moving streets are the greatest factor in claiming the lives of our residents. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the age group of 5-34 years old, claiming the lives of 18,266 Americans each year.

We design our communities for speed because the "standards" say so, and it’s what we’ve always done. Usually, I keep this G-rated, but that is pure bullshit! We need to get past this horrible, misguided excuse and stop accepting it. If the method in which we design our communities – for cars – is broken, we need to fix it!

During the State of the State Address, Governor John Hickenlooper said Colorado needs wider interstates. I was shocked to hear this from a governor who, at the time of his mayoral tenure in Denver, was instrumental in the implementation of the Light Rail.

The Light Rail was a mechanism that provided an alternative mode of transportation, not to mention economic development, in the Denver Metro area. It’s a great success, highly used and is accomplishing greater density and appreciative economic development that an additional lane on the highway can’t compete with.
The Light Rail did not relieve congestion, just like widening roads and interstates does not relieve congestion. Nothing relieves congestion.

Congestion relief is pure folly — like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Initially, highway widening gives us a false perception that we have solved the problem, and commuters can go farther in the same amount of time. It doesn’t last; we simply add more volume with the same narrow off-ramps.

People are incredibly successful in seeking ways to shave a minute or two of driving time; we make a game of it and phone apps like Waze make it easier. So, it’ll be politically popular to tell your political constituents that you’re going to fund billions of dollars towards the prospect of cutting 5-10 minutes off the commute from Denver to the Springs. Citizens will rejoice that they can have a year-plus of construction delays as a means to spend a few extra minutes at the Starbucks, or Dutch Bros. drive-thru.

We have to start thinking about the consequences of our actions trying save a few minutes. Are these couple of minutes worth a city becoming littered with deteriorated infrastructure and increased risk of death by automobile? Are they worth the sprawl created, and subdivisions constructed, that have diminishing returns on investment? When are we going to realize that this experiment of congestion relief is pure folly? When will we understand that the experiment of modern-day planning patterns of isolation and traffic hierarchy are flawed?

Faster roads are not better; they’re more expensive and the costs are more than just state and federal debt.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of http://springsurbanintervention.wordpress.com/, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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