If we're going to build new roads, we need to build better ways of using them too

AT New Geography, Aaron Renn argues – somewhat controversially to most of us urbanists – about the need for more roads in a still-rapidly urbanizing America. Of course, he notes, the roads need to be better than what we currently have, and must be complemented by public transit options, so that roads don’t simply invite more congestion or urban blight. 

What he alludes to, but doesn’t mention: the need for smarter ways of using roads too, though approaches like crowd-sourced social transit.

Keep in mind that tomorrow’s roads need not resemble yesterday’s monstrosities. The days of simplistically adding lanes while neglecting basics like enclosed drainage, sidewalks and paths, bus shelters, and aesthetics are likely over in many parts of the country. We need to provide room for the traffic we need to accommodate without excessive over-designs for a 15 minute peak of the peak, or dehumanizing roadway design approaches. Reform of our civil engineering educational system is eminently doable as plenty of great examples of suburban roadway design already exist. Federal standards need a revamp as well. We need to build not just more, but also better roads.

With a botched stimulus, huge deficits at the federal and state level, and a public that has decisively turned against those deficits, a major construction program seems unlikely at this time. But in a couple years the economy should be back and a plan for fiscal recovery put in place and under execution. If not, we’ll have much bigger problems than roads.

But assuming we get past this moment, we need to be laying the groundwork for a major continuation of the long history of American investment in infrastructure, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system. This includes not only a significant boost in urban transit spending where appropriate, but also a major program of both roadway repair and quality expansion, particularly in our growing metro regions. And as the Indiana example of a Toll Road lease shows, this doesn’t all have to come from tax dollars. Without this investment, our critical transport networks will ultimately seize up and America cannot hope to be competitive globally over the long haul.

Read more at New Geography