Walkability and alternative transportation options are in higher demand than ever, according to new research. This trend, along with the recent 6.0 earthquake centered in the Napa Valley, could be a perfect opportunity for North Bay cities to turn towards new alternative methods of transportation. After many decades of following an automobile-centric model of transportation in American cities, young people across the nation are starting to express a serious interest in alternative transportation methods that would liberate them from their cars. In cities like Napa, which the earthquake significantly damaged, there are now opportunities to redesign and retrofit parts of the current transportation system. Cities should seize these opportunities to improve their transportation systems and increase the overall quality of life for their residents.
The survey, organized by Global Strategy Group, was conducted on people aged 18-34 in a variety of metropolitan areas across the country. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed (80 percent) said that they want to live in places with access to a variety of transportation options, such as walking, biking, or taking public transit. Almost as many people (75 percent) stated that they will likely end up living in a place where they do not need a car to get around. This dramatic shift from the traditional suburban desires of wide boulevards, separation of land uses, and isolated residential neighborhoods is likely a result of a growing distaste for our reliance on fossil fuels, as well as a desire to increase community interaction, all while lessening the amount of time and money that Americans spend on transportation. In places like Napa, which was developed in the glory days of the car, there is a long road to travel before we can expect to meet these desires. However, moments like this, where a town or city is forced to rebuild transportation infrastructure due to a natural disaster, provide us with a chance to make important changes that would be otherwise overlooked for years to come. For example, in the residential area of downtown Napa, where the worst of the damage occurred, the streets were very wide, bare, and gave pedestrians little separation from cars. Given the recent earthquake, why not reimagine these streets, emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle activity rather than allocating all of the space to vehicular use? By adding bike lanes and a buffer zone of drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and groundcovers on the sides of the roadway, the downtown area could be transformed into a more active and thriving social neighborhood.
This kind of streetscape, called a “complete street”, encourages people to walk or bike to work and spend less time in their cars. It does this by providing dappled shade, a nice view, and physical protection from traffic, all of which make residents more comfortable and willing to spend time outside on the street.
What kinds of long term changes should we make based on the substantial shift in the younger generation’s perspective? Future cities based on this mentality will most likely be in stark contrast to our current ones, which are dominated by unfriendly streetscapes and where the average person spends about an hour on the road daily. These cities should place a newfound emphasis on alternative transportation options, including pedestrian streetscapes, bike trails, bus systems, and high-speed rail lines.
At Firma Design Group, we welcome this change in perspective, and strive to contribute to a more effective and pleasant transportation system in all of our projects. We look forward to being part of many great changes in the years to come!
Written by Reed Gordon, Intern 2014 with Firma Design Group and a resident of Napa.