Looking at the numbers – are we past “Peak Car”?

I’ve been looking at statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation and it appears that we may have passed the point of peak automobile use in this country.

Energy experts have long projected that at some point the cost of fuel (plus other costs of operating automobiles) would result in a permanent long-term decline in auto use, and it appears we may have passed the peak. Although the economic collapse temporarily depressed fuel costs following last summer’s historic highs, prices are on their way up again as world demand outpaces supply. It’s unlikely that a person who wants to take a Sunday afternoon cruise on the Parkway will want to outbid a trucker whose livelihood depends on delivery or a manufacturer whose profits depend on petroleum used as feedstock or fuel, so auto use declines as prices climb.

The most urgent local impact of these numbers involves the I-26 connector which has been planned around a scenario of steadily increasing traffic. More than ever we need to keep up our opposition to the 8-lane plans and to the proposed 65 mph speed limit through downtown. The future of transportation is not going to look like the recent past. We need to keep it real when it comes to transportation planning.

Concerning I-26

I believe the NCDOT has purposefully contorted the plan suggested by the Asheville Design Center in order to make it unattractive. Exactly who is driving the politics behind it is not all that clear, but I do know that the original ADC design used far less pavement and land than any of the DOT’s preferred options. DOT has long been in cahoots with the materials and construction industry. (Governor Beverly Perdue has promised to “de-politicize” DOT, and we can hope that she is successful.)

DOT’s 4-B, which purports to be modeled on the ADC design, is bloated. Partly it’s because the planners decided that someone on the west side of the river would need to get on I-240 to go downtown (on the east side of the river)—even though Patton Ave. would be local traffic only and a direct shot across the Smoky Park Bridges. No sane driver would do that. But it adds unnecessary on- and off-ramps and therefore widens the highway.

DOT also ran I-26 OVER Patton Ave. instead of under it per the ADC plan. This lifts the whole bridge and highway up into clearer view from Montford Hills, and destroys the attractive Patton Ave. urban boulevard design that ADC aimed to achieve. Instead of a lovely urban corridor it would be another dumb road dodging through a maze of columns.

Other bizarre demands include a 65 mph speed limit through town and a minimum of eight lanes (which means 10 or even more where there are exit and entrance ramps.) DOT told us in the early 1990s that if we did not have eight lanes in place by 2002, we would experience total gridlock. (Hello?) I paid a visit to Miami, Florida, two years ago and noticed that I-95 is four lanes wide through much of the city. That’s two lanes in each direction. (DOT might note that Miami is somewhat larger than Asheville.)

Bottom line. I will fight the DOT with every tool in my kit until we get a design that respects our city. Transportation will change radically in the next few decades and the NCDOT is planning as if oil will last forever and truck shipping will survive. If we don’t shift most heavy freight to the rails where we can transport goods at a tiny fraction of the energy input used for trucking, the planet is cooked.

Any decision we make these days which does not take global climate change into account is worse than wrong, it embodies an immoral disregard for our children and threatens the very survival of our grandchildren.

Buncombe Commissioners vote on I-26

This seems like a good moment to note that if I hadn’t lost my primary race last May (I finished .8 percent behind Bill Stanley) I would very likely have been part of the Democratic sweep in November. I would have been sitting in Bill Stanley’s chair on Tuesday and I would have voted for the Asheville Design Center plan for I-26. (Click here if you need more info about the NCDOT plans for I-26.)

There will be a lot of 3-2 votes on the Commission in the next four years, with Bailey, Peterson and Stanley voting to stop progressive choices in their tracks.

Your vote matters.