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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Punishing car commuters isn’t the answer to Colorado congestion

Is the answer to more cars really less pavement? Can Denver really solve the congestion problem by making congestion even worse, through road rationing, parking restrictions or other tactics designed to make motorists miserable?

Andy Bosselman’s provocative suggestion on Sept. 20 that no new roads be built AND existing ones not be expanded or improved does not add to the debate and discussion we must have.

Sara Almerri

Such “counterintuitive” ideas may carry cache in the City Planning world, but let’s think practically and realistically for a moment.

Cars, trucks and other personal transport aren’t going away any time soon. Such an impractical and punitive approach to dealing with the issue is taking us down a potential dead end, from my perspective. 

The City of Denver under Mayor Hancock’s stewardship has worked to improve streets and roads to make the commute easier and faster. These efforts, which have markedly improved traffic flows and as a result reduced pollution, would be stopped dead in their tracks by Bosselman’s proposal. 

His piece does not consider the reality of folks having to shuttle kids to and from school twice a day, or juggle two jobs, neither of which is located on a light rail line.

Or the flexibility they need to rush home from the office on a moment’s notice to meet a plumber or take grandma to a doctor appointment.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

The author may be fit and young enough to ride a bike to work — lucky for him! — even when it rains and snows. Maybe enough of his neighbors work downtown that he can organize a car pool. Maybe he never has to haul a mini-van full of kids to a soccer game, with an impromptu stop at the Dairy Queen along the way. 

But life for most Coloradans isn’t so simple. It’s a fast-paced world. Managing your personal and professional lives can be really hectic and personal mobility is critical to surviving in a hectic world.

Few people have to time to walk two or three miles to and from work, assuming they’re young and fit enough to do so. Emergencies arise that can make personal mobility a life-saver. Buses don’t often run on time.

How do you carry seven bags of groceries home on a bicycle? Life is just a lot more complicated and crazy than the column takes into account. There’s no point in shaming and belittling people for choosing the convenience and independence a personal vehicle provides.

Plus, dependable and affordable mass transit is available to only a fraction of Coloradans, even in Denver, where low-income communities are not well served by mass transit.

I’m a young professional in the state’s crown jewel of a city; why do I have to walk 25 minutes to get to light rail? Ridership on those systems in some cases appears to be falling, not growing, which is why many operate in the red and need to be heavily subsidized with public funds.

I’m an avid user of public transportation in cities like New York, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco, so I’m not anti-transit. Such systems simply work better, and make more practical sense, in densely-packed places. Stations are convenient, buses operate regularly and cover all urban areas.

One day such systems may work as well in Denver. But we’re not there yet, and we probably won’t be there for a while, so why not deal with reality, make more practical plan, accept the fact that personal transport is still preferred by the vast majority of Coloradans, and stop trying to hassle and punish commuters for making perfectly reasonable choices, in light of the lifestyles they live?

Most Coloradans are not going to abandon so-called car culture for another reason. This is a recreation-oriented state.

Even if commuting via bike or bus and solar-powered rickshaw actually works for some subset of Coloradans, they still will want and need individual mobility on the weekend, or during off-work hours, if they are going to fully enjoy all the natural and recreational amenities this state has to offer. In simple words, your car can take you on an adventure that no form of mass transportation can.

What Bosselman and other anti-mobility activists deride as “car culture” is the ticket to freedom, fun and personal independence for millions of Coloradans. Good luck persuading them to sacrifice all that, and their Colorado way of life.

The automobile has been a part of world culture for over 100 years and it will continue to be. Car culture is more than sales numbers and usage.

It’s family trips to historic drive-ins, the legend of Route 66, experiences like driving the Tail of the Dragon, going rock crawling with buddies in 4x4s, traveling the Pacific Coast Highway, exploring the Rockies — it’s the “American dream,” in a phrase. It’s cross generational, cross gender, and across all socio-economic demographics. As long as there is an open road and a nice Colorado breeze, I will be driving country roads.

Colorado’s auto dealers and the others who make up the Freedom to Drive Coalition stand ready and willing to work on realistic measures to reduce carbon emissions in Colorado. This means bringing people together to develop solutions that recognize the ever more diverse population of our state and our unique geography.

Any plan that’s predicated on punishing people for wanting to retain their freedom to drive is taking us down the wrong road, as far as I’m concerned.

Sara Almerri is Public Affairs Director for the Freedom To Drive Coalition.

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