PBS has a great segment on suburban transportation problems. I spent a few years living in places like the one featured in the video, and while Baltimore can do a much better job in accommodating alternate modes, the suburbs of Atlanta give new meaning to the phrase, “made for cars”. As described in the video, a growing percentage of car-less households are living in the suburbs. Most of these places are ill-suited and down right dangerous to live in without being protected by a few thousand pounds of steel.
The bureaucracy of state DOTs is part of the problem. There are three issues with the current system:
- AASHTO has way too much power in directing federal transportation policy. Although they pay lip service to alternate modes, they mostly lobby for the status quo which heavily favors auto capacity expansion.
- Rural interests are over-represented when state politicians divide up transportation money.
- Suburban politicians, engineers and planners have to jump through hoops with state DOTs to convert their roads into more walkable, bikeable, transit friendly places. Unlike Baltimore, most suburban communities don’t have design authority over their most dangerous roads because the state, rather than municipalities, has control of these roads. Depending on the relationship between the city and the state DOT, this can either make for a good partnership, or a bitter battle which ultimately ends in the municipality caving in to a state mandated status quo.