Chicken and egg issues

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

It seems that Empire publisher Don Smith and I have a chicken and the egg disagreement.

In arguing for better highways and more of them, Mr. Smith cites the Wall Street Journal editorial's interpretation of recent U.S. Census data that report more drivers and a 90 percent increase in vehicles since 1970. The Journal editorial opines that this trend means "cars are fundamental to the American Dream, and Americans are not going to give them up."

What the same information means to me, and apparently to urban planners cited in the same editorial, is that we need to increase the tax dollars going to mass transit. The reason it means that to me is as follows. The increase in drivers and car ownership isn't because Americans love cars, it's because, with the increased sprawl of American towns and cities, one must have a car in order to get around. I live downtown and must have a car to get out to the Valley to buy anything other than groceries, hardware, and Taiwanese totems. With two people working in a family at different jobs, plus a teenager or two, many families need three to four cars to avoid being stranded. Driving and cars are expanding at the rate of sprawl and because of sprawl. Sprawl isn't happening because of "America's love affair with the automobile." That myth may be sound good to the auto and oil industry, but I think it is just a myth.

Mr. Smith says "Alaskans, like the rest of the nation, enjoy the convenience, economy and freedom that the automobile provides." That's true up to a point. That point is reached when you're stuck in traffic; can't see the scenery due to the smog; your city is being mowed down for more parking lots; and you spend more and more money propelling and searching for a place to park your 2000-pound American dream. I've lived in cities with or without light rail and the ones with light rail are holding together as communities much better than the ones without. Mr. Smith also keeps referring to the $300 million it will cost to build light rail in Juneau. I seem to remember Frank Guzzo from Siemens stating that number referred to a light rail system being planned for Salt Lake City. Some of your readers may think comparing Salt Lake City to Juneau is "just silly."

I'm not for building light rail in Juneau at any price. But I do think we need to get more information on it before we write it off as a dumb idea and just continue building more highways and buying more cars and gasoline. Rather than stumbling into the future, I think Juneau - meaning the majority of people who live here - should decide whether they want the Anchorage-Los Angeles future or whether they want a more cohesive, convenient, community linked by fixed rail. To my knowledge, this discussion hasn't occurred and an informed populace has not been given the opportunity to decide.

Lisle Hebert


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