Saturday, July 4, 2015 Blog

Errors of omission

by Andy Hollis


This 9 minute PBS news video, “A Tale of Two Cities,” compares efforts by New York and Charleston to prepare for climate change, with a focus on sea level rise. In sharp contrast to aggressive planning and implementation of “resiliency” measures that could allow New York to cope with higher seas, Charleston has yet to acknowledge or confront the challenge.

As the report notes, Charleston is by no means alone. Many coastal cities have simply ignored the need to identify and begin making the substantial investments needed. In South Carolina, only Beaufort is engaging in a fairly robust conversation about resiliency.

This attitude, which psychologists call “motivated avoidance,” persists in spite of the six-fold increase in dry weather flooding — described in the video by Chris Carnevale with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy — and in spite of the fact that the costs of upgrading urban infrastructure are so large that they will only be bearable if we being now.

The section on Charleston begins around the three minute mark.

A related subject that is receiving some attention, although little action, is the need to upgrade our transportation infrastructure in the face of dramatic increases in population and commerce.

Saturday’s Post and Courier contains an excellent series of articles — the local ones by Diane Knich — exploring the challenge of deciding what steps can be taken to improve mobility and reduce congestion. More challenging is the dilemma of ensuring that additional transportation funds go to solve bona fide problems. For fifty years, South Carolina’s approach to transportation has been almost entirely political. It is the misdirection of billions of tax dollars to projects that do not address state needs, not the lack of funds, that has left South Carolina unable to maintain the existing road system, much less invest in needed new capacity. The link to the lead article is first.

Here are the relevant points:

1. We still have time to build a transportation system that will accommodate present and future growth.

2. It must include all modes of travel — buses, light rail and/or bus rapid transit, bicycles, pedestrians and cars.

3. Land use must be integrated into the planning process. The current pattern of new development cannot support a meaningful percentage of public transit and non-motorized travel. New development must be more dense, with residential, commercial and civic uses blended together on a connected grid of streets, combined with sidewalks and bus and bike lanes. It must, in short, be organized more like historic towns and cities — like Beaufort, Charleston and Georgetown.

4. The current funding structure, in which the state’s capital budget for transportation is controlled by the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, must be replaced with a process that delivers rational, non-political results.

The message, on Independence Day, is that we can make these changes if we have the political and civic will to do so. This will require an independence of thought to overcome conventional paradigms of how we have been told development must occur and how political processes must work.


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