AARP Texas recently hosted an online conversation with Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, one of the nation’s top advocates for reforming the transportation system to make it safer, more affordable and convenient.
Jessica Lemann, who leads AARP Texas outreach work in Central Texas, introduced Osborne and the contentious topic of transportation reform.
“Transportation shows up time and time again as a priority for Austinites who recognize that driving shouldn’t be the only way to get around,” Lemann said. “Pedestrians need sidewalks and safe, crossable streets. Dedicated bicycle lanes benefit drivers and non-drivers alike. And a range of public transit options are vital and necessary.”
Setting the tone for the conversation, Lemann said: “Texas’ current approach to transportation isn’t serving the climate, mobility and equity needs of Austin and the rest of the state. More and wider highways aren’t solving congestion and are, instead, exacerbating a host of other problems.”
Osborne firmly agreed and said that reforming the transportation system, which dates back more than six decades, is cumbersome. “We have to fight so hard against a program that performs so badly. It generates congestion. It increases emissions. It decreases physical activity and increases fatalities. And yet, it seems to be something that seems hard for people to change.”
Osborne insists that an emphasis on highway development is damaging our nation in many ways: it induces driving, which exacerbates the climate crisis; it divides communities creating generational damage, it destroys our farmland by encouraging sprawl; it jeopardizes safety by favoring speed.
In an examination of the largest 100 urbanized areas in America, Osborne said freeway capacity grew 42 percent between 1993 and 2007. In the same time, population growth slowed. But roadway congestion during this period grew by 144 percent. Her conclusion “We’re not reducing congestion,” she said.
Osborne said that too many roads are built to allow or encourage excessive speeds. Not only are drivers speeding above speed limits, but road speeds are often too high. The results are crashes and pedestrian deaths.
“Over the last 10-year period, the number of people struck and killed has been on a steady increase,” Osborne said. “Fatalities among those outside of a car keeps going up, particularly for people of color and older adults and those in lower-income neighborhoods.”
Roads and networks need to be designed differently, Osborne said. “We need to reorient around access…on whether people can reach their destinations, not on whether they can drive quickly.”