Census data reveals transportation trends

Empire editorial

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2001

As Juneau weighs its priorities and thinks about implementation of the Area Wide Transportation Plan, our decision makers should carefully consider future trends. These trends are clearly defined by data contained in the just-released Census Supplemental Survey.

As noted by the American Highway Alliance (http://www.highways.org/), the survey shows that since 1970 the number of licensed drivers has increased by 63 percent, America's population has increased by 32 percent, the number of vehicles by 90 percent and the vehicle miles traveled by 132 percent.

By contrast, total road mileage has increased by only 6 percent and lane-mile capacity by only 15 percent over the same period.

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal stated: "Among politicians and urban planners, the standard reaction has been to treat these figures as a grim reminder that we need to double or triple the tax dollars going to mass transit. But what it tells us is something far more compelling: that cars are fundamental to the American Dream, and Americans are not going to give up them up."

Alaskans, like the rest of the nation, enjoy the convenience, economy and freedom that the automobile provides.

The Wall Street Journal editorial continues: "Despite recent claims from some pro-transit groups that Americans are getting out of their vehicles in record numbers, the census shows that even more commuters are traveling to and from work in their cars, trucks, and SUVs," said William D. Fay, president and CEO of The Highway Users. The latest census found that an even greater share of commuters is driving to work alone, while the percentage of commuters taking transit, carpooling, or walking has actually declined during the past decade.

Granted, hard-surface transportation opportunities in Alaska are limited and no one wants to see the state crisscrossed with highways. In Southeast Alaska travel by water and air will forever remain a vital part of our culture.

We fully support the expansion of bicycle and walking trails and encourage the use of alternative forms of transportation such as our bus system. However, we are putting our heads in the sand if we believe that the majority of people are going to be coaxed into using bicycles, trains and buses as their primary modes of choice.

Juneau should accept the fact that automobile use following national trends is going to continue to increase and that the smartest use of our resources is to apply them toward addressing this reality and making our roadways safer and less congested.

Common sense should prevail. Grade-separated interchanges on Egan and the second crossing to Douglas Island will move Juneau forward. And, who knows, someday there may even be a road into Juneau. Hopefully, this will happen before its too late to make a difference.

Don Smith


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