Maybe George Will Should Stick to Writing About Baseball

After fumbling over climate change science in recent months, George Will gives transportation design and the built environment similar treatment in Newsweek, taking a swipe both at New Urbanism (a quick one) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, calling him the Secretary of Behavior Modification.

Since Americans drive, he argues, then by extension they must want their transportation systems and communities designed completely around the needs of their cars — so that cars are required for virtually every trip. They're getting the automobile-dependent landscape they crave, he says.

Not so fast. Growing numbers of people recognize they've been shortchanged by the transportation and planning policies that make driving so central to their lives. They want more and here are just a few of the signs:

1. A consumer-driven shift away from sprawling exurbs is well underway.
From USA Today, 3/10/09: "A substantial amount of housing built this decade has shifted from open fields on the edges of suburbia to dense central cities and their nearby suburbs, a new government study suggests...

"In more than half of the 50 most populous metropolitan areas, communities at the urban core have captured a significantly larger share of their region's new residential building permits since 2002 than in the first half of the 1990s, according to an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency. 'It's a very striking trend," says John Thomas, an EPA policy analyst and author of the report. "It seems to be holding up the first year of the real estate market downturn.'"

Ultimately diverse people will want diverse types of communities, some walkable and transit-served, others driving-oriented. But more people are waking up to thesubstantial toll in time and dollars lost to extreme driving in sprawling exurbs and are choosing the kind of convenient, walkable, energy efficient neighborhoods described in this award-winning video about New Urbanism. Secretary LaHood is absolutely right in recognizing that it's time that federal policies reflect this changed landscape and the potential it represents for making transportation far oil hungry

2. Americans generally aren't looking for new or expanded highways to solve their transportation problems. They want more options.
The 2009 Growth and Transportation survey by the National Association of Realtors and Transportation for America found:

•When asked what the federal government’s top priority should be for 2009 transportation funding, half of all respondents recommended maintaining and repairing roads and bridges, while nearly one third said “expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation.” Only 16 percent said “expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges.”

•When asked how to address traffic, 47 percent of surveyed Americans preferred improving public transportation, 25 percent chose building communities that encourage people not to drive, and 20 percent preferred building new roads.

•Fifty-six percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is not devoting enough attention to trains and light rail systems, and three out of four favor improving intercity rail and transit.

Now when it comes to baseball, I hear Mr. Will really does know his stuff. Thanks to Sandy Sorlien for the headline and Rahook2000 for the photo via Flickr.

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