The Road Less [Vehicle Miles] Traveled?

Carol Schaeffer, as head of Smart Growth, speaks what's on many area developer's minds. She's the one who sits through the meetings and keeps her eyes on zoning changes. In "Developing Inroads," we'll get a better idea of the roadblocks and inroads developers have when building in Dane County.

Last Tuesday, the Common Council adopted an extremely modified version of what began as the “vehicle miles traveled reduction resolution.” Although it was the reason I was at the meeting — it was far from being the highlight. It isn’t every night that you get to hear references to prostitutes, ox-driven carts, uncivilized people in idling cars on Verona road, the outer fringe of Madison and the Man in the Mirror (this was not actually a reference to the Michael Jackson song — it was Alder Schumacher calling out the mayor to reduce his own vehicle miles traveled by 25 percent. The mayor noted his name was indeed not on the resolution).

There was also some cheerleading moments, with a big “Go us!” from Alder Clear in reference to the fact that we are already reducing vehicle miles traveled in Dane County (down by 2.4 percent between 2000-2007, compared to an 11 percent increase in population during the same time period).

I was present, at first, to try and defeat a resolution that would have required Madison land use decision making bodies to consider how to reduce motor vehicle use when a development project is before them, but ending up being okay with the final language.

Some problems I had with the initial draft: the lack of explanation pertaining to what baseline was to be used; who was to be responsible for the reduction; what the cost would be; or what the alternate transit options may be. The imaginary commuter train might work for some people, but it does nothing for lessening the impact of a real development. The authors of the resolution said it was not about getting people out of their cars. However, if the goal is to reduce motor vehicle use, I’m guessing that is because, well, people are not in their cars so much.

Some argued that no, it is to promote mixed-use development and neighborhoods where are your goods and services in a closer proximity to the things you need, reducing the length of your car trips. That’s fine if you are lucky enough to be able to configure your life in a two-mile radius. However for most people, let’s face it… it is not going to work given our current configuration of development and the incremental nature of most change.

Anecdotally: I live in Oregon, work downtown, am divorced with a 12-year-old in four sports, have a significant other who has businesses on the east side, the west side and in Fitchburg. Where exactly should I live to minimize car usage? And I’m not that unusual (okay, I’m not talking about personality) when it comes to my life being spread out all over.

The good news is that what passed isn’t so bad. Essentially the resolution calls for an inter-departmental work group to gather data on vehicle miles traveled, present it to the council and other committees, and determine a methodology for gathering this data. Lastly, the resolution directs committees that make land use decisions to consider these reports when making land use decisions.

As you may be aware, questions about traffic impact due to a development are already asked and considered when a project is proposed. This will theoretically give baseline data. All references to reducing vehicle miles traveled, idling, parking, the evil nature of cars, and percentage of vehicle use reduction were removed from the resolution.

I am reasonably certain that this is not the end of the issue, but for the now the ambiguous, potentially very obstructionist language is out.

For the record — if someone develops a teleportation device, I am all over it and they can have my car.