Post-pandemic transportation

What will the world be like when we finally conquer the coronavirus? The major factor in the post-pandemic world will be transportation–how will we get where we need to go once some state of normalcy is established?

Today we have somewhat different views of post-pandemic transportation. Let’s start with this News & Observer op-ed by Kym Hunter, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill. No offense, but Ms. Hunter’s title right off the bat should tell you her vision for post-pandemic transportation–an a double-down on past liberal policies:

DOT must recognize that healthy and economically thriving communities need more than new, wider expensive highways.

Throughout our state, communities are waiting on DOT to act on transportation projects that would truly benefit our communities, but are passed over because they lack the show of highway ribbon-cuttings. New downtown sidewalks help businesses thrive. Expanded bus services provide essential access to jobs. Improved bike lanes allow our children to ride without fear. Projects are ready to go and put people back to work. Projects that value whole, integrated communities over the shortsighted devotion to “saved minutes.”

Meanwhile, we have Antiplanner’s vision of transportation after the pandemic (emphasis mine):

People’s memories are short. Once the pandemic is over, many will return to their pre-pandemic routines, using various forms of mass transportation, eating in restaurants, and staying in hotels just like they did before.

Some changes, however, will be irreversible. The biggest one will be more people working at home. The second, which partly follows from the first, will be more people and jobs moving from dense cities to lower-density suburbs or exurbs. These changes, in turn, will significantly reduce transit ridership and contribute to declines in short-distance travel by plane and train.

The future is always uncertain, but these projections reaffirm the prescription I’ve always given to transportation planners: solve today’s problems today so that the future will be best able to solve whatever problems it faces. This means not committing resources to megaprojects, whether highways or mass transportation, that may not be needed on the future.

Antiplanner’s right–we have mind-blowingly short memories here in our wonderful country. By the same token, the coronavirus pandemic is a once-in-a-century event, and there’s no way we won’t emerge from this a changed society.
But note one thing here—Antiplanner is willing to concede that massive funding for highways might no longer be as necessary due to the post-pandemic rise in telecommuting. Somehow I’m doubtful that we’ll see urban planners make the same concession regarding expensive mass transit projects.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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