Every time a lane is added...


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The Pikes Peak Region finally appears to be poised for the Renaissance that we’ve been longing for since the Great Recession. And Colorado Springs seems to be riding the wave of development that Denver has seen over the past three years — better late than never, I suppose.

I haven't been able to pin-point the cause to the awakening, but I do have to believe that the change in political leadership has had a major impact. Mayor Suthers is pushing for the success of our city, and he's smart enough to make it happen. The voters of the city also astoundingly proved that, yes, we as a city will vote for a tax increase to better our community. We have shown that if a tax is dedicated to something that is obviously needed, it will be approved. This is monumental — we're proving to the country that we're not quite as stubborn as the vocal tax crusaders make us out to be.

What’s next? Well, I don't have a functioning crystal ball, but I have been asked what I would prioritize for the health of the city. 

The first thing that I would prioritize is to really look at our city's transportation infrastructure. There’s a reason that we have so many potholes and streets in disrepair, and needed to pass a sales tax initiative to address them. We’ve created and even bragged about the ability to drive from any part of our city to another in approximately 30 minutes. We puff our chests, flex our muscles and pat ourselves on the back for this.

Can we sustain designing our city around the automobile and movement of people in 100 sq. ft. metal apparatuses? Of course not! We’ve created our maintenance nightmare with excessively-wide roads, while accelerating the pace of the biggest contributor to death for those under 35 years old: death by automobile. And, at the same time, we’ve reduced density in the city via urban sprawl, decreasing the per capita ratio to cover the maintenance costs.

What would I do with the road infrastructure? First, I’d put a moratorium on adding any new travel lanes — yes, this includes the highways and interstates.

Every time that a lane is added, an Angel get its wings. I know this is harsh play on the phrase, but it’s proven true.

Counteractive forces are in play in our quest to decrease commute times. Shorter commute times means faster travel by vehicle, which also means higher fatality rates by vehicle, which also means decreased demand for transit, which also means increased demand for sprawl and decreased demand for infill, which translates to more infrastructure per capita and the potholes and maintenance that comes with it, which also means... Ok, I'll stop. I could go, and have gone, on for too long.

This phenomenon is referred to as “induced demand.” The theory of induced demand is that adding travel lanes to a road, while temporarily relieving congestion, actually attracts more vehicles to the road over time, creating greater congestion in the long run.

It's a nasty, counter-intuitive occurrence cities deal with that has been ignored because of the selfish desires of people to get places faster, regardless of the decreased tax base to pay for the maintenance of these roads.

Instead of focusing on single-occupant vehicle travel, we need to enable alternative modes of transportation. Let's take away some of the dedicated space from the single-occupant vehicle, provide some space for transit — perhaps some more money, too — and use our infrastructure for less-intrusive, less-deadly, lower-speed modes of travel like our feet and bicycles.

Who knows, we might even become healthier for it.

John Olson is a licensed Landscape Architect, working and residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Urban Design and Landscape for Altitude Land Consultants, formerly doing business as EV Studio Civil Engineering + Planning. He has a strong passion for our region and directs it through the business and the non-profit, Colorado Springs Urban Intervention.

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