Regional travel demand: A euphemism for unsustainable car trips
If your corporation profited by highway building or selling cars, how would you market the idea of spending billions of tax dollars annually to subsidize long distance commuting by car? How would you spin the idea to make speeding through neighborhoods more important than the neighborhoods themselves? How would you make it a public policy priority to add value to places far away while devaluing places closer in? How would you make motorists’ travel time more important than health, the environment, public safety, community cohesion, and place? Well, it’s easy. You would call it “regional travel demand.”
I once heard that “words and terms are the clothes that ideas wear.” Well, this term provides a clever disguise. “Demand,” borrowed from economic theory, implies that there is no choice. It is something important that society requires.
“Regional travel demand” allows the automobile to remain anonymous. Yet, in far too many regions, especially in the US, “by car” is given. “Travel” was purposefully used instead, implying that the associated trips could be accomplished by any mode even though we know this is currently infeasible in most regions.
“Regional” effectively provides a smoke screen that hides what is actually important. The logic is simple; because the region is large, motorists need to drive long distances across the entire region routinely and easily. Hello! The litmus test for sound transportation policy in cities has always been, “does the change reward the short trip or the transit trip.” The fundamental purpose of cites is to minimize long-distance travel and concentrate the components of civic life in order to maximize social and economic exchange. The term “regional travel demand” creates a favorable policy attitude to promoting fast roads and long car trips that are anti-city.
It’s time for some language reform. How about “long-distance commuting by car”? Whatever the objective substitute becomes for “regional travel demand, ” it couldn’t happen soon enough to help policy-makers see it for what it is.