Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let’s Hear It for the Future – a ‘Smart’ One

We’re now in the home stretch of 2010’s political season. As usual, we’ve heard variations on one familiar theme time and again: “This election is about our young people and their future!”

OK, let’s look at what young people are telling us about their preferred future. What do they want?
2 pm Update: Senator Dan Inouye announces $38 million for Hawaii transportation projects, including Honolulu rail.
Under a headline “Generation Y Giving Cars a Pass,” the Kiplinger service says the youngest generation of adults is “more apt to ride mass transit to work and use car sharing services…for longer trips….”

“This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software and views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train,” says a Gen Y watcher. That's exactly what some young adults told the City Council at a July hearing on rail's Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Don’t Forget Health

Back in July, we looked at how residents of Charlotte, NC are improving their health by riding the city’s new rail transit system, and we also posted that month about other positive news that connects transit to better health. Now comes a new study by the American Lung Association of California (ALAC) that predicts reduced asthma attacks and fewer premature deaths if “smart growth” becomes a guiding development principle in the state.

The California Air Resources Board is expected to adopt new regional carbon pollution reduction targets this week that would encourage more walkable neighborhoods and transportation options that reduce congestion and cut consumer costs – options like rail.

“If doctors and other health experts designed our cities, they would look quite different than the sprawling communities we see today,” said an ALAC board member. They’d look like what Honolulu’s transit-oriented development process will produce around the rail stations of our future.

It’s Called Smart

Staying with California, a bellwether state if there ever was one, planning to achieve smart growth there predicts massive reductions in household and infrastructure costs, building and transportation energy use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and land consumption.

But what about here at home? The Hawaii Chapter of the American Planning Association produced an issue paper on TOD about three years ago. Some of the issues have changed or have become clarified in the intervening years, and certainly some of the personnel have changed. But this paper is worth perusing for how it identifies opportunities for smart growth on Oahu.

The national Sierra Club organization has backed public transit options for years, and the local chapter backs Honolulu rail. “Oahu residents have become overly dependent on private automobiles, and this dependence has devastating effects: reliance on fossil fuels, pollution and global warming, traffic congestion and the resulting loss of productivity, consumption of more land for roadways and parking, and negative impacts on public health and community life.”

A person could get winded saying all that with one breath, but there’s no doubting the policy statement’s accuracy. Gen Y members are telling us they don’t want those effects and are showing us what they do want with their daily choices on how to travel and where to live.

Rail complements that future. TOD complements rail. Together they’ll provide a rational way to accommodate Honolulu’s growth – not only for the next generation but also for that follow in the 21st century.

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