Long-time Westporter Scott Smith is a keen observer of Westport’s beauty.
And its issues.
Today he takes issue with common complaints about traffic. Scott writes:
I read the frequent gripes on “06880” about local traffic congestion.
Yes, it is often a nightmare.
One thing I never hear mentioned: personal responsibility.
Traffic is always someone else’s fault. You’re the one being inconvenienced by all these other cars on the road, right?
But let’s ask ourselves: How many of the car rides we take each day are truly essential? How many trips are to get a latte at Starbucks, or to pick up that one thing at CVS or the cleaners? How many trips are made simply because “I just needed to get out of the house”?
“Saving time” at the Starbucks drive-thru. (Photo/John McKinney)
I’m willing to bet that fully half of our daily car trips are in no way “necessary.” Leaving aside the occasional Waze-induced traffic jam, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was 50 percent less traffic on our local roads?
And let’s not just beat up on parents for their part in creating twice-daily, self-inflicted jams driving their kids to and from school. According to this federal survey, 1 in every 3 discretionary car trips is for shopping, with seniors accounting for the highest proportion of such travel.
The proportion of trips for social/recreational purposes has grown steadily in recent years as well, with — you guessed it — us baby boomers reporting the highest level of that discretionary travel.
Clearly, for the generation that has always equated cars with freedom and the mythical open road, they are going to have to pry the steering wheel out of our cold, dead hands.
Some mornings I ride my bike to the train station to go to work, especially on gridlock Wednesdays. There are rarely as many as 10 bikes in the racks.
Plenty of room at the Saugatuck station bike rack.
Why is that the case in such a health-conscious, affluent community where on weekends the roads are filled with cyclists riding for exercise? How many of us get in our cars to go someplace to take a walk?
How many of my fellow commuters have ever used the Westport Wheels2U van, much less stepped foot on a Norwalk Transit bus?
And who the heck carpools? Nine out of 10 cars I pass on my way to the train station are single drivers.
Speaking of those vehicles, how much of any local traffic backup is due to the simple fact that practically every other car in Westport is a 20-foot-long, 6,000-pound, 9-passenger Suburban?
Tax vehicles by size and weight and mileage. Use that revenue to help make our roadways safer for cyclists and walkers, especially around schools.
Alarmed by congestion, pollution and spiking rates of child deaths on the roads, a generation ago the Netherlands invested in cycling infrastructure. Today, 36% of Dutch people list the bicycle as their most frequent way of getting around on a typical day. Two-thirds of all Dutch children walk or bike to school, with 75% of secondary school kids cycling to school, preventing an estimated 1 million car journeys each day.
Imagine the benefits of adding a bike trail along the Merritt Parkway’s 300-foot-wide right-of-way. (When I worked in Westport, a colleague who lived in Trumbull would ride his bike to the office, using surface streets, faster than it took him to crawl along the Merritt at rush hour in his car.)
Could the next construction project include a trailway?
With the rise of e-bikes, investing in a multi-use trailway makes increasing sense, rather than encouraging yet more sprawl in outer suburbs. Not only would a bike path cut into the 70,000 cars crowding the parkway each workday, but it would also be a safe and healthy haven for weekend cyclists and charity riders alike.
And before you go all NIMBY in opposing sensible new development around train stations, or if you think our built environment is too complex to upgrade or the Merritt too historic to be enhanced with an adjacent pathway, consider this: Paris is working to become a “15-minute city” where everything you need is located within 15 minutes. Every street will have a bike lane, and 60,000 parking spots are being removed and replaced with parks.
A 2020 report on traffic congestion finds “if development is clustered closer together, people can take shorter trips between home, groceries, entertainment, and other destinations—sometimes even short enough that they can take those trips by walking or biking. But if that development is dispersed along a corridor instead, it leads to longer trips and more vehicles turning on and off the corridor to reach destinations spread along it, creating more traffic on those local roads as well as freeways that serve the area.”
Does that sound like Fairfield County? “If we were going to design a system to generate the maximum amount of congestion each day, this is exactly how it would be done,” the authors conclude.
So my fellow Westporters: Next time you’re stuck in traffic, take a look in the rear-view mirror. We all share responsibility for why our local roads are a mess, and we all can be part of the solution.
That includes driving less and driving smarter and supporting public and private initiatives aimed at moving away from the car-centric culture that is ruining our lives and our planet.
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Want a solution to traffic? Look in the rear-view mirror! (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)