MITCH BARLOGA: Transportation freedom remains elusive

2013-07-04T00:00:00Z 2013-08-14T17:57:07Z MITCH BARLOGA: Transportation freedom remains elusiveBy Mitch Barloga nwitimes.com
July 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Some 237 years ago a certain document was signed that became the cornerstone for all the freedoms we enjoy today.

For Americans, freedom comes in many flavors, and we are blessed to live in a country that champions this ideal.

Today you will most likely take part in some activity celebrating our nation and freedom in general. Maybe it will be a parade, or a cookout, or fireworks later on. If you live in Northwest Indiana, chances are you will access these activities by automobile, even if they might be in walking or biking distance from your house. It is very unlikely you will use public transit, either.

Across the state line, a group called Trails for Illinois has as its mantra, “May your home be your trailhead.” It’s a simple yet powerful call to action toward creating communities that are accessible, where someone can literally walk out of the house and onto a nearby trail. The group aims to create miles of new trails, but also promotes supporting facilities, such as sidewalks and bike lanes, to help make these connections.

In Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, we have roughly 130 miles of paved trails available for walking and bicycling. This represents a ten-fold increase from just over two decades ago – a most notable accomplishment. Even so, our region suffers from the “hangover” of poor land use choices that have eroded our quality of life in the USA since the end of World War II.

Of these poor choices, the most impactful has been the unchecked proliferation of the automobile, at the expense of more sustainable modes of transportation such as bus and commuter rail. The results are congested highways, poor air quality and sprawling development that stretches communities farther apart from each other. Another side effect is skyrocketing obesity rates resulting from physical inactivity.

So what we are left with now in the “freest country on Earth” is a population woefully dependent upon the automobile – in essence being held hostage by our lack of freedom to choose how to travel.

We now owe our lives to a mode of transportation that in its current form is inefficient, environmentally detrimental and abundantly wasteful of our time (traffic jams) and hard-earned incomes (gas, repairs).

Although there is no overnight solution, actions to relieve our auto-dependence must take place immediately. We need to start planning for development that strengthens our existing livable centers.

Investments in public transportation must be taken seriously in order to rebuild our once-bustling urban core communities.

On our streets, we need to view them as complete systems that accommodate automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians alike.

Taken together, these are the steps we need to begin moving ahead on the road, or trail, to true transportation freedom in our region, and nation as a whole.

Enjoy your Fourth!

Mitch Barloga is non-motorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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