Everyone, regardless of income, pays for our streets through various taxes, whether through property, gas, or sales (check out this analysis on how we pay for our roads). According to the 2000 census (the 2010 figures on this aren’t out yet), 87.9% of Americans drive to work, leaving a little more than 12% of workers to take some other form of transportation yet still pay for the others to drive. Of course, most car trips are non-work related, so this data doesn’t tell us the whole story, but it is pretty safe to assume that at least a portion of Americans don’t, or at least would rather not, use cars to get to where they need to go. Should those people have to pay for roads that they don’t use?
I think this is where the moderate-to-liberal urban planner in me and my libertarian friends would agree in that the answer is “no!” The standard fix for this is usually to suggest tolls so that users pay their own way, but those are wildly unpopular by a driving public, especially when trying to toll a previously un-tolled road. But maybe there’s another idea that would make this more fair, and Salt Lake City and County have gotten the ball rolling in this regard: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51483903-76/2001-center-complete-council.html.csp.
Complete streets aren’t just pie-in-the-sky idealism the originated from urban planning pow wow’s (with lots of granola). They are actually based on real streets that were designed in Europe AND America beginning more than 100 years ago. The idea is to design the street in such a fashion as to make it safe and convenient for as many forms of transportation as possible, including bike lanes for cyclists, dedicated lanes for public transit, and safe sidewalks and crossings for pedestrians: the point being, if everyone has to pay for the roads, then the roads should be designed for the use of everyone.
This tends to be one of those government projects that people of certain political persuasions raise hell about. But why? If the argument is that government should stay out of the business of providing services for people, then they should stop building and maintaining roads altogether. Even libertarians would agree that that is a recipe for disaster. So, if roads are something that government should provide, then why not provide them in a manner in which everyone who pays for them (which is everyone!) can use them safely and efficiently? If you want to see examples of complete streets, please check out http://www.completestreets.org/.
If you are interested in learning more about complete streets and how they could be implemented in the Salt Lake region, come on down to the County government building on Thursday morning, 9am.