(Graphic courtesy of Cari Brown)
I don’t like shaming people for personal behavioral decisions that have adverse climate impact.
I know transit isn’t a viable option for a lot of people due to lifestyle or crap routes or schedules
and I know bikes aren’t an option for some people for various reasons
and I know meat tastes good and a lot of otherwise responsible, thoughtful people get oddly patriotic in defense of the environmental catastrophe that is carnivorism
and I know that green consumerism is a stopgap at best in the absence of well aligned policies
and I know lawns and half acre lots in low density developments are aspirational for so much of the country because a lot of us associate urbanization with crime and loss of privacy
We all have our reasons.
I learned a long time ago that nobody likes lifestyle fascism.
I know nobodys perfect. (Arby’s is one of my great occasional guilty pleasures).
But heres the thing:
we don’t have to be perfect
we don’t have to have all the answers
we don’t have to move to high rises and take priestly vows of veganism
If you’re mad about Paris, and you damn well should be, and if you’re privileged enough to have consumer and lifestyle choice, eating less animal based food and driving less not only have profound impacts on the climate, but they send signals to the economy and our civic leaders. In Fort Collins, we still do not have Sunday or early morning or late bus service and huge swaths of the city are still either unserved by transit, or served by half hour of hour interval routes. hardly useful.
And Transfort is currently proposing cuts that would leave SW FC with NO transit. None.
I’m not picking fights. The city has a budget to balance. but if we’re serious about climate change. we cannot cut service. And I’m not advocating for shuffling the tiny pool of Transfort dollars to from one part of town to another
but we cannot reduce transportation choice if we want to thrive as a city in the 21st city.
we cannot double down on sprawl and congestion and vast overbuilt parking lots and long-term financing of massive and expensive parking garages that will be obsolete in a decade…
The most effective climate movement we could join in Fort Collins is a transportation movement.
Buy a bus pass and ride the bus more. (Transfort counts route traffic and use those counts to balance service and justify budget increases).
Own or manage or have influence in a business? use your business to incent people to bike and walk and bus to work and shop.
Write council, attend council meetings and demand we put our money where its mouth is.
We live in a free market economy, more or less. however we feel about the morality of that, our bucks are votes (as are your transportation decisions). Not everyone has enough of them to have choices, but if you do, use yours to stand up for others who don’t.
And the earth.
This weekend the city is hosting its first Open Streets of 2017. Open Streets events were born in Bogota as Ciclovias. The Bogota model is a little more ambitious than most. EVERY SUNDAY the city closes some 80 miles of public streets and roads to cars making them bike/walk only for a day each week.
The idea is to try to encourage cities and residents to reimagine our relationships with streets. Its only in relatively recent history that streets have been relegated to high efficiency conduits for a singular use. For thousands of years, streets were the lifeblood of economically and socially vibrant communities. In many places they still are, and in yet others, they are finally returning to that role.
In a lot of the world, and to varying degrees, towns and cities took a wrong turn. We went all in on dismantling thousands of years of accumulated wisdom for how to create vibrant communities, and for various reasons, we bought into an development and transportation mode that is less healthy, less socially connected, more segregated, environmentally indefensible, astonishingly expensive, and perhaps most appallingly- has, in living memory, become the leading cause of preventable death for american children.
Indeed, traffic violence is such a perennial epidemic that we are more or less numb it. As folks in Larimer County look at Chicago and its (overstated) murder rate and comfort ourselves that we are safer than city dwellers, The truth is: our rapidly rising traffic fatality rate of 16/100k/year will very likely eclipse Chicago’s murder rate of 17/100k/year next year. Nationally? 2016 saw 40,000 traffic deaths and rising dramatically, while homicides have been declining for decades and now account for about 15,000 deaths a year- or less than half the traffic fatality rate.
The more time you spend thinking about what The Atlantic calls “the absurd primacy of the automobile in American life” the more obvious it is that single occupancy, manually driven motor vehicles are, generously, a transitional technology. They’re the fax machines of transportation. Its hard to imagine we’ll escape the judgement of future generations when they try to describe the damage we’ve done in a short time because of cars. Its not unreasonable to propose that American autocentrism is the most costly, deadly, and reckless corporate welfare boondoggle in the history of human civilization.
And so, the death of the car era is inevitable, but anyone who pretends to know what comes next, or to sell a simple solution, or to know what shape the next transportation revolution will take is unreasonably confident. It is coming. It will be disruptive. Many of our city plans and engineering horizons stretch to 20 years and beyond. Fort Collins, like much of the country, is currently building really amazing fax machine infrastructure. The cities that survive will be the cities who have started thinking about how we will adapt and retrofit our streets for whats next.
A lot of folks think Open Streets is just another street fair in Fort Collins. But the vision is much larger, and part of a much larger movement. Open streets is about starting the conversation around the future of streets. The future of neighborhoods. Its about putting health and safety and vibrancy ahead of relegating streets to “sewers for cars”. Its about future proofing Fort Collins. Its about sharing the tools and the vision for a smarter future. Fred Kent said famously “If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic, if you plan for people and places, you get people and places”.
Along with creative placemaking collaborative Create Places, FC Bikes and the City of Fort Collins have worked hard to take Open Streets to the next level this weekend. Open Streets is all about planning for people, and demonstrating activated public spaces that inspire community and health. If you’re free Sunday, you should come check it out.
With its decision on Paris, the current administration has guaranteed there will be challenging times ahead, but the forestalling of the post-auto era doesn’t make it any less inevitable. It does mean its on cities to lead the way. The cities that will survive and thrive in the 21st centuries are the ones that embrace the uncertainty of the future and divest from the autocentric strategy of widening roads, devouring open space, subsidizing sprawl and parking, and shrugging off an unconscionable historic public health and safety catastrophe.
Theres a better future waiting if we really want it though.