Hatred of automobile still main planning driver

August 20th, 2013 by Ken

A little over three decades ago, planners from Thurston Regional Planning Council, and the City of Olympia met over a beer in a downtown Olympia bar.

They had come, united, in the determination to stop people from driving  back and forth to work in single occupancy vehicles.

They determined that the automobile was the main instrument in causing suburban sprawl, that the internal combustion engine was the design of the devil (OK, that’s not true, but close) and that it was the main cause of air pollution, and in later years, one of the main reasons for global warming.

These planners, several of whom had spent considerable time in Europe, marveled at the way Europeans live in harmony with the land, growing their own fruits and vegetables, shopping in local farmer’s markets and using private. individual windmills for electrical generation.

But, most of all, these planners saw that Europeans seldom owned cars, rode bicycles and commuted to work by public transit.   And, their commutes were small.   Many lived near where they worked.

Overcome by the harmony of European commuters,  these planners saw it as their duty, their responsibility, their crusade, to make American commuters like European commuters.

Locally they drafted plans to get local residents out of their cars.   These plans called for forcing state agencies to undertake trip reduction programs of their workers, encourage more bike riding by establishing bike racks and showers, and giving free or discounted bus passes to all who wished them. They also supported more taxpayer money for local transit.

They wanted similar draconian passed for private companies, but opted instead on a voluntary program, with government financed incentives.

But, their efforts were in vain.   Most people rejected those programs and opted to continue driving their cars to work.

So, the planners hit upon an alternative way to get drivers out of their cars.   “If we can’t get them to do it with incentives, then we’ll make it as costly and as difficult as possible,” was the response.

The City of Olympia ate the whole thing.   First they reduced the number of traffic lanes.  State Avenue, Fourth Avenue and Legion Way were reduced from four lanes to two.  The planners tried to do the same to Capitol Way but felt the wrath of capitol lovers who couldn’t quite buy the idea of a two lane road in front of the capitol building.

Then, they convince Olympia city mothers and fathers to eliminate all free parking for miles around the city’s downtown core.   “This will show drivers just how costly driving can be,” the planners said with glee.  Never mind the fact that downtown businesses began to suffer from lack of customers.

The city’s no free parking plan was even extended to residential areas where visitors to private homes had to pay to park in front of the houses.

All of these programs have made if more costly and more difficult to drive, but it hasn’t accomplished anything other than that.

Nearly 94 percent of all state workers still commute to work in their single occupancy vehicle, and developers still build sub-divisions on rural lands.

Everything I’ve written above has to do with the new Sustainable Thurston County plan recently released by Thurston Regional Planning Council after spending $1.5 million in federal grants to do the study.

There’s no need to read it.   The whole document depends on getting us out of our cars and onto sidewalks, bicycles and public transit.

The local planners may have changed faces, but their hatred of the automobile still drives everything they say, everything they do and everything they produce.

The Sustainable Thurston County plan is just the most recent example.

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