Has Ashland blown its chance for a rational 21st century transportation plan?

The design for our true gasoline automobile was developed in Europe in the mid 1800s; the United States hustled with the progress it promised and ushered into existence our auto industry. Two world wars helped the U.S. gain dominance. The availability of land allowed development of our vast highway system, urban sprawl (suburbs and malls), and destroyed many city neighborhoods. Cars became more affordable due to the adoption of installment purchasing.

Soon, for many of us one car was simply not enough. Planned obsolescence generated a market for gas-guzzlers, which increased air pollution. The automobile created jobs in manufacturing and the tourism industry, while transforming the family farm, and helping women get out of the home. There can be no doubt that cars have had a powerful influence on our way of life.

Though Ashland is a high-density town, we are car-dependent with substantial private car use. However, this behavior is inconsistent with sustainable transport planning. We need a sound city transportation policy, including a large-scale investment in car-free options.

Ashland is certainly progressive in its development and support of an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions (largely carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) reduction plan. From the research provided during the development of this plan, we know that Ashland’s transportation patterns contribute nearly a quarter of our total greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently our parking plan is not convenient or safe. Nor is it easy to navigate.

Cars create huge problems for vibrant cities like Ashland; a smart city looks for solutions to parking issues that cause congestion, waste time, generate frustration, and induce cardio-pulmonary problems from pollution.

A parking structure is not the answer to our transportation problem. Increasing the number of parking spaces encourages driving. This certainly isn’t the answer for Ashland, since we want to reduce driving and encourage alternative modes. As we are working on reducing our greenhouse gas footprint and with our budget shortfall we need to understand that a parking structure is expensive to build and more expensive to maintain (millions of dollars).

Free parking contributes to auto dependence, encourages urban sprawl, promotes fossil fuel use, compromises transportation choices and damages the economy. Free parking promotes more sprawl and benefits the auto industry, not people. American motor vehicles now consume an eighth of the world's oil production. Our transportation policies should be designed to reduce this proportion, not increase it.

Our parking policies need revision with the Ashland Clean Energy Action Plan goals in mind. As we anticipate more visitors coming to Ashland, we can anticipate more traffic congestion and more pollution unless we develop different strategies.

Requiring that downtown visitors pay to park is a viable solution as a way to improve management of limited curb space. Metered parking prices can vary using demand-based pricing. We should be proactive, not reactive; Ashland is missing the boat (bus). We need strategies for neighborhoods in our downtown areas since residents are increasingly unable to park in front of their own homes.

Automobile dependency costs society in reduced travel choices, low parking turnover rate, increased risks of accidents, road congestion, uncompensated accident damages, negative land-use impacts, reduced mobility for non-drivers and, most important today, in the environmental degradation it imposes.

What do we need? We need to think out of the box of promoting our dependency on automobiles and instead encourage alternative forms of transportation (walking, two- to three-wheeled electric or non-electric bikes, and electric buses). Such policies might include shared parking, park once-and-walk options, and remote parking locations with an electric shuttle service to downtown.

The City Council had the opportunity to approve an elegant plan developed by spending our money on a contracted and expert consultant. The plan that was proposed offered the means to create an intelligent parking system, using demand, location, time pricing and supply with apps, maps and awareness campaigns, a plan that developed increased partnership with a progressive business community and a supportive citizenry. But the council rejected it.

We blew it once; can we try again?

— Louise Shawkat lives in Ashland.