Lack of urban planning ruining road project
By Dan Fischer
Special to The Macon Telegraph
T he Macon Telegraph has invited me to share observations about the Macon-Bibb County road system planning process which I recently made to the Macon Area Transportation Study (MATS) Technical Coordinating Committee (at its invitation).
My curiosity was piqued by last year's proposal to widen Forest Hill Drive to five lanes, compelling me to determine how a planning process could produce what appeared to be illogical results.
By way of example, the first principle of "traffic calming" dictates that you do not develop capacities where you do not want traffic: Improve flow, traffic will increase; widen a road, speeds will accelerate. If the goal is to decrease traffic loads on an existing street, provide better, faster and more direct alternatives, as traffic will follow the course of least resistance. These are the "missing links" that would create a viable urban street system.
The lack of a forum for effective planning means that higher-order community priorities that must take precedent over traffic flow (quality of life, historic heritage, neighborhood preservation and aesthetics, to name but a few) are forfeited for short-sighted engineering remedies to localize traffic problems.
In-lying neighborhoods are readily sacrificed to accommodate the growth of suburban areas. The illogic of the process and resulting projects, the waste of resources, the missed opportunities and the very real damage inflicted on the urban fabric and neighborhoods cause citizens to doubt the ability or willingness of public officials to promote a quality urban environment. This is the penalty paid for lack of effective planning.
In defense, officials will point to the "2015 Comprehensive Plan." Unfortunately, that "plan" is a pro-forma document expressly designed to meet the minimum requirements for state and federal transportation funding.
Its observations relative to transportation are generalized and over-simplified; it doesn't even include a Street System Plan - an essential planning tool. It cites the ISTEA/DOT requirements to assert "...primacy of policy, reinforce the link between planning and other functional planning ..." (4-2), but fails to provide such linkage or control. It does not effectively guide the Transportation Improvement Program!
Incidentally, I found no "villains" hatching a nefarious plot to destroy what is left of Macon's beauty, appeal and neighborhoods (repeat, I was invited to share my observations with the MATS Technical Coordinating Committee). The parties to the process, public and private, are dedicated to improving Macon.
They are, however, working in a vacuum: If there is not an effective planning process that determines community priorities and interests, someone will by default make decisions, many of which will be arbitrary or short-sighted.
Lack of planning will result in mistakes, missed opportunities, inappropriate land use and wasted dollars.
Dan Fischer, a Mercer University administrator and a resident of Bibb County for the past 11 years, has a background in city management and urban planning, mostly in Colorado. He authored an utopian novel exploring the viability of an auto-free city with strong community values and a true "participatory democracy" ("Anthropolis: A Tale of Two Cities," Mercer University Press, 1992).