While Senator Jim DeMint uses his seat in our nation’s capital to mock energy efficiency and shoot down plans for efficient, economical transportation in the United States, local groups are doing the quiet work of building a better transportation system from the ground up.
The Friends of Midcoast Maine, for instance, have been scheduling meetings with members of local planning boards to do some quiet, practical, neighborly lobbying. Just last night, Friends member Jane Lafleur met with representatives from the coastal towns of Belfast, Rockland, Rockport and Tenants Harbor, not to propose some large multimillion-dollar project, but to talk about a large number of small practical steps that, taken over years, can inexpensively yet profoundly shift a town’s transportation culture away from reliance on the automobile and toward support for walking and bicycling. As explained by the Friends in their presentation, the first step for town planners include identification of a community’s generators of traffic such as schools, libraries, groceries, local government and dense residential areas. The targeted development and maintenance of sidewalks and bicycle lanes between these generators can significantly cut car use. Other relatively inexpensive steps involve the inclusion of bicycle lanes when building or rebuilding roads (compared to the cost of constructing wholly new lanes), structuring housing developments to avoid dead-end roads and encourage roads that are multiply connected to one another, and building trails to connect major roads where the construction of new connecting roads are impossible in a space or prohibitively expensive.
Senator DeMint will continue to appear prominently on FOX News and C-SPAN with his denigrations of environmental sensibility. But it is the low-key work of organizations such as Friends of Midcoast Maine that should be lauded.