November 30, 2021
Cakes song from 2001 “Comfort Eagle” – an unsubtle but funny criticism of the American way – begins with an infomercial-like pitch in which lead singer John McCrea roars: “We’re building a religion, we’re building it bigger / We’re widening the corridors and adding more lanes.”
If we take this text literally, it only sums up this country’s transport policy. America is too busy sacrificing the environment and the quality of our social fabric on the altar of auto culture to pay much attention to destruction. When this car-centric lifestyle hits a bump – pun intended – our policy solution typically involves more roads with more lanes so we can accommodate our some 289.5 million registered vehicles. This is particularly evident in Pennsylvania, which continues to shovel money into highways the cost of people and the planet.
Take that for example $ 117.8 million project on I-70, which will expand a section of the highway from two to three lanes, although it likely will Do nothing to ease traffic jams. Induced demand, an economic concept that describes how demand moves to fill an oversupply, dictates that with a $ 117.8 million campfire, we’re just as good off.
Or how about the new one 13 miles, nearly a billion dollar trip the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which partially opened in October as part of the Southern Beltway Project? That money would be used much more to fund public transport, mitigate the effects of climate change, or restore high-highway-torn neighborhoods.
We’ll likely see another spate of these lavish projects as the bipartisan infrastructure bill includes: $ 110 billion in new funding for the country’s roads and bridges – compared to $ 39 billion for local public transportation. President Joe Biden originally wanted $ 85 billion for local public transport, but the grueling negotiation process has reduced this. The new funds for roads and bridges are also not intended for the repair of existing roads and can just as easily be used to expand traffic capacities.
It is remarkable how much money we are willing to invest in housing cars, despite what they have taken from us – including those funds. We can go to Pittsburgh to see the damage.
In the city center there used to be a small but vibrant Chinatown packed with businesses and an estimated 500 residents at the top. Unfortunately, the construction of the Allied Boulevard in the 1920s cut through the neighborhood and dispersed the residents. Today there is only one restaurant left – the Chinatown Inn. The boulevard runs through many other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Oakland. This is one of the reasons South Oakland feels so separate from the rest of the neighborhood.
The Hill District is the city’s most prominent example of major road destruction. Built in the 1950s, I-579 separated the neighborhood from downtown and, connected with the construction of the Civic Arena and the parking lots in Lower HIll, included the Displacement of 8,000 mostly black residents. To make way for cars, a thriving center for art, music, and commerce, once known as the “Crossing the World” was gutted.
For this loss, current and former residents pay a social, economic and cultural price every day, as does the rest of the city. The city has started to make amends, belatedly Frankie Pace Park, which was inaugurated earlier this month, restoring a link between downtown and the Hill District, but the damage caused by these so-called urban renewal projects can never be fully undone.
None of this is to mention the catastrophic damage our dependence on cars is causing to the environment. Cars are enormous energy-intensive to manufacture, they are America’s largest source of carbon emissions and some of them are not recyclable as soon as they end up in the junkyard. They are also responsible for a third of all air pollution in the country – a particularly pressing issue given the Pittsburghs miserable air quality.
We have to expect that too ecological impact of new roads. Highways, like the Southern Beltway Project, divide habitats in two – which may put food, water, and partners out of reach for some animals. The chemical, noise and light pollution from cars increases the mortality of animals and disrupts their biological processes. And, of course, are Pennsylvania drivers all too well known with roadkill.
Our insatiable appetite for bigger and better roads is costing us our money, the structure of our neighborhoods and the health of our environment. The dogma of auto culture is that we need to widen the corridors and add a few more lanes – are we brave enough to reconsider?
Jack Troy writes mostly about local politics and capitalism weary. Write to him [email protected].