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.

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