How Do we Make Smart Growth Happen?

By Alison Goebel. Recently the New Yorker published an article about Moscow's traffic and the city's efforts to mitigate its paralyzing congestion.  Despite numerous attempts, Moscow’s wide streets (one as large as 18 lanes across!) continue to be choked with cars.  Consulting with traffic experts, the author, John Gessen, concludes that Moscow’s traffic problems are part planning (for example, the mayor recently did away with red lights along one major road to the airport, thus preventing safe and easy on/off turning), and part social.  The number of drivers has increased exponentially since the 1990s, as has the presence of large luxury cars on the roads.  “Swaddling you in leather,” Gessen writes of a friend’s Mercedes, “in Moscow, there are far worse places to be trapped.”  If the choice is between waiting for the crowded metro and sitting in traffic, Moscovites prefer traffic.

Instead of expanding public transit options, enforcing and strengthening traffic codes, or creating zoning laws to prevent commercial districts from directly entering and exiting major highways, the most recent solution to Moscow’s traffic problems has been to begin building another beltway around the city.

Since reading this article, I’ve been thinking about Moscow and other cities that need policies which depend upon and reward smart growth.  With this question in the back of my mind, it seemed apropos when I and other GO-ers recently began talking about the high cost of being both a public transit user and a car owner.   Many of us who live in the city can only afford a car or a bus pass, but not both.  But as Erica Spaid pointed out, if we had to pay for parking (or pay to drive downtown), the costs wouldn’t seem so high and there would be more incentive to use a transit pass.

It will take much more than toll fees to get Moscovites and Ohioans out of their cars and using public transit (and admittedly it’s not just about cost, but also commuting time, limited service options, and other factors), but the issue remains the same: how do we encourage and successfully implement smart growth practices when the status quo feels all right?