Tomorrow morning at 11 a.m., a press conference will be held on the frontage road at the corner of Abercorn Street and DeRenne Avenue to announce the launch of a revolutionary (at in local terms) approach to reducing traffic congestion. At its most basic essence, Coastal Commuters makes it easy for people to find someone who’s going their way. Or as the press release describes:
“Coastal Commuters encourages carpooling, mass transit, bicycling, and walking as methods in everyday transportation. A central feature in the program is a regional, online ride-matching system, which will be available for free to the general public, effective April 18, 2008. The promotion of alternative transportation among commuters to DeRenne Avenue was a recommendation in the Connecting Savannah Action Plan.”
The “central feature” mentioned above is especially important as it addresses the needs of people who live in areas that are not served by public transportation or who live too far from work to walk or bicycle. These folks can register, log on and find someone down the street or in the next subdivision over whose workplace is near their own. What’s more, the site will allow users to calculate how much they are saving in gas and vehicle miles and even pollution reduction.
But why is the Coastal Commuters revolutionary? Because it attacks the problem of traffic congestion from a completely different angle. Instead of taking usual approach of increasing capacity (building new roads or widening existing ones) it aims to reduce demand. Not only is it much more cost effective than adding capacity — something our financially troubled department of transportation recently revealed it can’t afford to do anyway — it avoids the undesirable side effects that come with widening roads, including:
- Eviscerated neighborhoods
- Destroyed tree canopies
- Streets that are dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians
- Additional automobile dependency and fuel consumption
- Increased air pollution
- Metastasizing sprawl
- Public spaces that are civic liabilities instead of community assets
All this is on top of the reality that congestion relief promised by road widening is often only temporary, with the additional capacity serving to induce more traffic. Like the saying goes, trying to reduce congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by loosening your belt. It may address the symptoms in the short term, but it makes the underlying problem worse.
If for no other reason, Coastal Commuters is revolutionary because it can do what no other transportation project in this community can: It will put money back into the pockets of the people who use it. Show me a road widening project that can do that.
More information on Coastal Commuters is available here.