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Fwd: [Peirce Columns] A Magic Merger? -- High Tech, Calmer Lifestyles

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  • J.H. Crawford
    ... J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities mailbox@carfree.com http://www.carfree.com
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 28, 2007
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      >Subject: [Peirce Columns] A Magic Merger? -- High Tech, Calmer Lifestyles
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      >For Release Sunday, October 28, 2007
      > © 2007 Washington Post Writers Group
      >A MAGIC MERGER? --
      >By Neal Peirce
      > Broadband. Telecommuting. Taming our roaring highways instead of multiplying them. Walking or cycling to work. Less tension, better health. “Work to live, not live to work.”
      > Could all those values come together?
      > Put your ear to the ground, and you can hear other voices, especially new technologies, suggesting a less frenetic lifestyle in a nation clearly confounded by congestion, obesity, energy consumption, global warming and air quality issues.
      > Biggest on the technology side: broadband Internet connection. Broadband is usually sold for its economic promise; backers now claim that a robust, border-to-border U.S. broadband network would generate up to 1.2 million new jobs.
      > President Bush in 2004 announced a national goal that by this year – 2007 – we’d be “ranked 1st when it comes to per capita use of broadband technology.” The U.S. was then 10th; today it’s actually 15th. Many regions remain limited to dial-up service or such slow and unreliable broadband that critics call it “fraudband.”
      > Yet, expanding our broadband penetration to leading Europe and Asian nations, Leo Hindery of InterMedia Partners told a recent Brookings Institution forum, would “translate into a half trillion dollars of economic activity.”
      > New uses keep emerging for broadband service, now the world’s premier messaging, data source, business, entertainment, and video transmitter, and with voice services, a growing competitor to standard telephone lines. With broadband, medical images can be flashed long distances to save lives, schools can be smaller but still receive top level instruction, images and communications for homeland security are speeded... and the list keeps growing.
      > But there’s de facto “redlining” of geographically remote or poor areas by the “duopoly” of telephone and cable companies -- a modern day version of early 20th century corporate foot-dragging in delivering telephone and electric service to rural America.
      > Massachusetts, for example, has 32 towns with no broadband at all, 63 with limited service areas. “We are creating a new kind of ghetto,” according to Don Dubendorf, president of Berkshire Connect, a high-speed Internet advocate and negotiator. “It’s morally wrong. It’s stupid economically, it’s dangerous from a health point of view, it’s absurd from a public education point of view.”
      > Enter then the broadband-transportation link. Fast, reliable Internet connection makes telecommuting far more feasible -- to transfer files, worksheets and video clips, access company databases, create videoconferences and more. But “telework” can’t work function when employees don’t have broadband access. Simple equation: universal broadband equals increased telecommuting, which in turn means less roadway demand, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and less pollution. Even if a worker telecommutes a day or two a week, it can make a real difference.
      > Which raises a thorny question: how many new super-road lanes do we need on our highways, anyway? None at all, if they raise greenhouse gas emissions, says King County (Seattle) Executive Ron Sims. Sims is opposing a popular proposal on this fall’s ballot -- $17 billion for a combination of new roads and rail transit in the central Puget Sound region. No good, says Sims -- the overall package raises the area’s carbon dioxide emissions by 18 to 28 million tons over the next 50 years.
      > Already, notes Sims, Washington State emits as many greenhouse gases as the Philippines, which has 12 times Washington’s population. Metro areas, he says, can’t claim they’re expanding for economic efficiency “and then go down to Brazil and say please don’t cut your tropical rain forest.”
      > Overall reduction of auto use is the challenge, says Sims, which means growth limits -- tighter, more dense communities: “There’s not enough money in the world to meet the maintenance needs of ongoing sprawl.”
      > Sims’ highway stand is collaborated by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Institute. Expanded freeways, Litman notes, may cut congestion delays in the short run. But in a few years congestion generally returns to its earlier level through “induced travel” -- more thousands of drivers flooding into roadways they perceive as less crowded. The result: “downstream congestion, road costs, accidents, energy consumption and pollution emissions, and sprawl.”
      > An alternative, Sims suggests: remote work centers, telecommuting, commuting in off hours, “an array of things so people have a life.”
      > No one should have to commute more than a half hour from home, Sims contends. “The human body,” he argues, “was not designed to be pounded from the stress and strain of long commutes” – they’re clearly bad for health. Plus-- we all need “time with our families, to live.” That translates too into time for a mix of exercise and sociability, walking and biking and talking with neighbors -- which reasonably compact communities make easier: “We want to tell people, you don’t live to work, you work to live.”
      > Heresy in fast-go, roaring roadway, sprawling America? Maybe so. But let’s pause to give it a careful look before we embrace urgent appeals for fresh asphalt.
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      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
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    • Matt Hohmeister
      Some good points are made here. Telecommuting and shifting work times can definitely save time, money, and reduce one s environmental footprint. However, I
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 29, 2007
        Some good points are made here. Telecommuting and shifting work times
        can definitely save time, money, and reduce one's environmental footprint.

        However, I feel that many of these concepts distract from the problem
        that many urban transportation systems are close to non-functional:
        "It's peak travel time, so you're not getting anywhere."

        Instead of personal lifestyles affecting local transportation systems,
        it's the other way around. Local transportation systems affect our
        personal lifestyles. Take these examples from my alma mater and former
        workplace, Florida State University:

        - Student and employees arriving as early as 0630, even though they
        don't have anything to do until 0800. Only so they can find a parking

        - Students clamoring for evening classes, since student parking
        permits are honored in employee parking spaces after 1630.

        - Study groups meeting at obscure night or weekend hours just so
        everyone can get a parking space on campus.

        - Turning down evening educational, employment, or social
        opportunities since the bus route stops at 1900.

        - Students choosing online classes over face-to-face classes, only so
        they "don't have to find a parking space".

        - Not wanting to live in on-campus housing since "off-campus
        apartments have guaranteed parking and dorms just have scramble parking".

        When students clamor for a limited number of spots in on-campus
        residence halls and walk-to-campus apartments, they are doing it
        because the local transportation system is a disaster. Traffic around
        campus is gridlocked, parking is scarce on campus, and the buses are
        stuck in traffic too.

        Let's start molding transportation around our lifestyles, not the
        other way around...

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