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The Automobile and Us - Part III: Ways to modify cities to accommodate alternative transportation

Underwriting support from:
Atlantic Station

Atlantic Station /Georgia Tourist Bureau

This is part three of a five-part series in which we explore the effects of the automobile on us as a population and on Grand Rapids. In this part, we will focus on a variety of solutions to the problems we discussed in the previous articles.

On January 27, President Barack Obama mentioned the importance of high-speed rail in his State of the Union address. President Obama has proposed an $8 billion investment to begin bringing our railway systems up to world-class standards. Professor Lee Hardy of Calvin College discussed why we do not already have a high-speed rail infrastructure.

Hardy explained that train companies will only be able to produce quality rail if they invest in a long term sustainable plan.

“You will only get good high-speed rail by investing and not expecting ticket prices to cover the expense,” Hardy said.

In cities with high unemployment rates such as Grand Rapids, mobility is prerequisite to function; individuals who cannot find employment close to home must travel.

“If you want people participating in the economy then you need public transit,” Hardy said.

He explains that oil is a finite resource and petroleum will eventually run out. Fuel prices will climb to an unaffordable rate, and drivers refuse to accept that reality.

Hardy likens this to a quote by Winston Churchill: “Americans can always do the right thing when they have tried everything else”.

It seems the remedy to sprawl over the last several decades would be shrinking cities to make alternative transportation more viable. Atlanta, Georgia has begun to do this.

The Atlantic Station community is a 138-acre environmental redevelopment and reclamation of the former Atlantic Steel Mill in midtown Atlanta the community includes 15 million square feet of retail, office, residential and hotel space as well as 11 acres of public parks. 

Hardy detailed the Atlantic Station development project. Atlantans average 34 vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) a day. Developers wanted to reduce that number to 25. They ended up reducing the number to 8 amongst the citizens of the development. In 1997, Jacoby Development initiated plans to redevelop the 100-year-old Atlantic Steel Mill. It has become a national model for smart growth and new urbanism.

Hardy drew parallels between Atlantic Station and the housing development adjacent to the Inner City Christian Federation in East Hills.

“They took a parking lot and turned it into a neighborhood with streets and sidewalks,” Hardy said. “We have to create a city where the need for an automobile is minimal.”

Hardy doesn’t envision a world without the automobile. He believes the goal should be to expand transportation options. This offers a solution that minimizes driving and diminishes issues caused by automobiles.

I wanted to find out what our city is doing to develop the infrastructure to accommodate alternative transportation.

I spoke with Jay Fowler and Eric Pratt of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The DDA promotes economic growth and revitalization within the city. The organization encourages historic preservation while also developing GR's central business district. The DDA seeks to reverse historical trends that have led urban deterioration and the abandonment of cities.

Among changes implemented to aid alternative transportation, the DDA has widened sidewalks in the city to promote walking and leisure. Monroe Center is an example of this.

Pratt informed me that the city recently went through a building reuse incentive program which features policies concerning sustainable design and bicycle accommodations.

I asked why surface lots continue to be developed and why not more ramps. Fowler and Pratt both agree that ramps are a more efficient use of land. Fowler mentioned that there are a few issues with ramps. The first is a very high cost per space compared to lots. The second is when a ramp is built, the space is committed for a long period time as a ramp. The DDA feels that a surface lot is a better opportunity for the land. This allows the land to be easily developed at anytime.

I asked what the DDA felt about the complete streets initiative. Complete streets is the idea that roads should not just be tubes for high-speed commuting. Rather, the street is a public space used by bicycles and pedestrians. The DDA is moving toward complete streets and is in the process of developing the city to encourage bicycling, mass transit, and walking. 

Fowler did mention that development is market driven. “As long as most citizens prefer to drive and do not change their behavior then automobile accommodations will be implemented in future development.”

In part four of the five part series we will talk to Jack Hoffman of Green Grand Rapids and The Rapid.

Part I: The clash between the streetcar industry and automobile industry
Part II: The automobile's detrimental toll on community life
Part III: Ways to modify cities to accommodate alternative transportation
Part IV: Current efforts in Grand Rapids for strengthening alternative transportation
Part V: Did the car ever make sense?

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It's really great to hear that the DDA has been considering this "complete street" idea.

I also like that there is a sound reason for the lack of ramps compared to flat lots, even though it seems to be an excuse (but what do I know?)

I can't wait to read the rest of this series.

In the United States of America we have found different types of structural development on transportation system. Most probably under Obama administration; we have found several types of developing strategies on transportation system. I hope people will get enough chances in automobile field; it is now one of the best growing businesses in the world and day by day new vehicles were introducing. Therefore we get proper utilization of transportation system and structure.

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