You probably have no idea what I’m talking about at this point. The term “access” in city planning refers to a person’s ability to get somewhere or something. Makes sense, right. And it’s what city planners are focused on, isn’t it? Not exactly. A lot of planning is focused on “mobility,” a car’s ability to move fast through an environment. In some cases, this means improved access. But in many cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean this. For example:
[In late January], the Washington, D.C. region was awash in hype over an impending “thunder snow” storm. While the storm under-delivered on the snow, it certainly caused chaos. Storms like these highlight the benefits of compact urban development while underscoring the weaknesses of sprawling suburbia.
Residents of Washington’s outer suburbs struggled Wednesday night with horrendous traffic on the city’s commuter routes. At the same time, many D.C. residents were enjoying happy hours, snowball fights and otherwise carrying on with their lives. By the time people in the central city were fast asleep, many suburbanites were still fighting to get home.
I love the lines that come next: “People often say they prefer driving over transit because their car allows them to go where they want, when they want. Events like D.C.’s storm last week or its weeklong blizzard last February highlight problems with this thinking.”
This is the inconvenient truth that most people don’t register for some reason. We think we have more freedom with a car, but with a car-dependent city (created when residents and planners demand a city with better “mobility”), we lose a ton of freedom and access. But not only in snowstorms.
“Even under normal circumstances, though, how many of us drive to work at 6:00 a.m. to avoid traffic or forgo a shopping trip because the parking lot is too crowded or take a detour on a trip because the football game is letting out? As Carla Saulter, the Seattle Bus Chick, has said, driving a car doesn’t necessarily mean being in control.”
As I say every time I get the chance, a city is, by definition, a lot of people living in a relatively small space/area. To try to move each individual around in a relatively large vehicle of their own doesn’t make sense. It creates traffic that costs us time (a ton of it), money (a ton of it), happiness, health, and other important things. If we want to live in happy, healthy cities, we need to focus on access more than mobility. And the citizens need to speak up and say they want their cities to.
Anyway, for more on this topic, read Erik Weber’s full piece over on TheCityFix: Access Over Mobility: Why Driving Can’t be the Only Option
Photo Credit: Dunechaser