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UnLocke-ing Local Politics

By Phillip Barron  Posted by Phillip Barron (about the submitter)     Permalink
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A March 2007 report from the John Locke Foundation (JLF) encouraged NC DOT and cities around the state to widen roads as the primary transportation strategy for economic development and alleviating congestion.

In April that year, I wrote a column for the Herald Sun questioning the study’s findings, casting doubt in particular on whether the findings even applied to Durham. As I did then, I still encourage you to read it for yourself. I noted then,

By [David Hartgen’s] own admission, single-occupancy driving declined in Durham between 1990 and 2000, the time period at which his academic gaze is focused. The data show, and so he also admits, that carpooling and use of public transit increased. He notes further that “Durham is the only urbanized area in the state to report declining solo driving times and increased carpooling and transit shares between 1990 and 2000.” You might think, then, that the conclusions he reaches for Charlotte or Raleigh ought to differ from the conclusions he reaches for Durham’s future.

Across the state, however, it’s all the same. Eliminate transit. Widen roads. Pave early and often.


Concluding the article, I asked,

Whether DOT will side with the John Locke Foundation or Durham residents remains to be seen, but the question remains for each of us to consider.

Do roads exist to serve people or cars?


At the time I wrote that, I thought Durham had strong, visionary leadership that could see through the misguided Civitas/John Locke Foundation mindset which thinks of road widening as economic development.
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The City still has an able Transportation department, and in November the people of Durham voted against the Art Pope-backed candidate for mayor. So, why is City Council considering toeing the JLF line? What happened to our leadership?

On his website Endangered Durham, Gary Kueber has some rich thoughts on why City Council may lack the self-confidence to send NC DOT back to the drawing board, but the bottom line is that it looks like City Council is afraid of giving up $28 million in planned development.

Even when that $28 million would make Alston Avenue more dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and arguably even for drivers.

If you don’t know this area well, you might need some help visualizing it. You might also need some help visualizing what a good redesign could look like. In his March 14th post, Kueber has satellite imagery of the current state of things, but I also encourage you to visit the intersection of Highway 55 and Highway 54 for perhaps the best case scenario of what could possibly come out of NC DOT’s design. Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee that Alston will magically develop as the intersection of 54 and 55 has, since this portion of Alston lacks the close proximity to RTP. I’m throwing it out there only as an example of very wide highways with “economic development” on all corners.

It’s also worth pointing out that the intersection of 54 and 55 doesn’t sit in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s light industrial and commercial. Alston Avenue, however, bisects several mill villages, and strip-mall development is about the best one can hope for.
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But strip-malls are not the only form of economic development. Nor, when you offer people choices, are they the most desirable. Truly supporting a community is about encouraging the development of outlets that meet the community’s needs.

Paving and widening, then, is about as destructive as you can get.

Philosopher Joseph Raz says that the only way that governments can authoritatively act to preserve and enhance the freedom of the governed is if government decisions and policies create meaningful choices for citizens.

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