Monday, December 15, 2008

A trip to suburbia

Yesterday Pete and I went to Roseville to meet a friend and help her daughter shop for drums in a busy retail center. It's good to drive to Roseville now and then. It helps me remember why I like real cities, small towns, and the country, but really dislike suburbs.

I'm sure the people who live in Roseville are perfectly nice. But the whole place is designed for cars. And cars there are -- lane after lane after lane of them.

Some of the roads are five or six lanes wide. If you happen to land in the wrong lane, God help you. You'd better know where you're going or hope you can find a way to turn around.

Forget walking. You'd never make it across all the lanes of traffic. And while there are bike lanes, I imagine that only the most intrepid cyclists dare to use them

It reminded me of a radio news story I heard recently about the Tyson's Corner area in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Tyson's Corner is a sprawling "edge city" anchored by big malls. In the NPR story, (listen to the audio version) the reporter and his host tried to go in a straight line from point A to point B, but couldn't do it without circuitous routing and much driving. The host called it "traffic engineer hell."

Urban planners are trying to remake Tyson's Corner as a more pedestrian-friendly area, with housing, light rail service, green buildings and a gridded street layout.

I wonder if they'll ever try that in Roseville?

Here in Amador County, transportation officials are warning that if local growth proceeds in the locations and at the volumes predicted, we're going to need big, wide suburban streets of our own to avoid gridlock.

It's hard to imagine that Amador County residents really want Martell and Jackson to look like Roseville and Tyson's Corner, but that's where we're headed -- unless we find a better way, and soon. Rejecting the current batch of proposed subdivisions, or shrinking them to something less destructive, would be the best place to start.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sacrificing rivers for growth

I've walked along the Mokelumne River's Electra Run many times. It's a beautiful spot year-round. It's also the part of the Mokelumne used most by local residents. They come there to fish, picnic, and pan for gold. They come to teach their kids about rivers.

They are people of all ages, from all walks of life. What they have in common is a love of nature, and especially of rivers.

It's no secret that I love rivers and advocate for the Mokelumne. And it's no secret that I support keeping the portions of the Mokelumne that are still a river flowing for future generations. Because of that, I support National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne. It's simply the only way to keep our river a river.

I've been distressed by some of the discussion in recent Amador County general plan hearings. There are people in our county who want to sacrifice our rivers on the altar of unlimited growth. They are willing to destroy the Electra run, and the other special river places in our county, to grow more subdivisions and fuel more gridlock. And they don't understand that conservation and efficiency is the cheapest source of additional water supply.

The general plan is about the future -- what we want our county to be. I, for one, want it to be a place where people can enjoy and learn about rivers just like they can today.

The general plan is far from done. But those of you who care about the Mokelumne need to speak up now.

There are two good ways to show your support for keeping the Mokelumne a river. One is to sign on to support National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne.

The other is to let the Amador County Board of Supervisors know what you think. Call or write and tell them what the river means to you. If you use the river, tell them how. If you come here from somewhere else and spend money while you're here, let them know that as well.

To some folks and officials in Amador County, the river is simply an abstract source of water. To many of us, it is a powerful force of nature, a source of pleasure, challenge, inspiration or rejuvenation -- and it's up to us to keep it that way.