Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Living with lower LOF (level of service) on Bellingham streets

Traffic planning lingo. Stands for Level Of Service. "F" basically means traffic jam conditions, at least during rush hours.

In this age of paperwork, Bellingham city planning staff is being ask to set LOS standards for various streets and intersections in the city. Level A would be the least congested.

The city is starting to accept the reality that many streets will become, or are already at, "level F."

This has citizen groups outraged; like they think city government can really do something about it. Similar to the Bellingham and Whatcom County's growth estimates, these are all guidelines that planners work with. The numbers become political footballs, as if governments can really control this.

The best laid plans are subject to market forces. One can talk city hall into adopting low population growth goals, but the market dictates anyway, if floods of folks keep moving in, having kids, and so forth.

Maybe we should adopt socialism, but I am not really advocating that.

So now there is a citizen ground swell against Level F, but I fear the city can't really do that much about it.

Adding more lanes to some arterials is one solution, but this costs tons of money. For instance, to widen a street, one often must "buy out" and tear down adjacent buildings. Since around 1975, the cost of buying property has gone up, possibly 14 fold. A $25,000 1970s house could be $350,000 today!

Taxes anyone?

Then there is another possible solution which I fear could be tried. Limiting the number of housing units built. Denying building permits. Creating a housing shortage.

Problem is, population keeps growing. Towns that limit housing units often become places where the billionaires are chasing out the millionaires. More realistically maybe the multi millionaires are chasing out the mere millionaires.

Is this the kind of city we want, where people like me, who never afforded home ownership, must leave? Currently I read that over 50% of Bellingham's people are renters.

Until socialism and nationwide population control comes (I'm not really advocating socialism at least) there isn't much the city can do about LOS F. Not much that wouldn't be painful at least.

It's up to the people, and market forces, to prevent traffic gridlock. The best way to avoid LOS F is for people to walk, bicycle or use public transit.

Also the city should, and is actually starting to, think about what kind of development is being encouraged. Building up, instead of sprawling out, makes it easier for people to avoid dependency on the automobile.

No comments: