Two items in yesterday's Idaho Statesman caught my eye. One was a blurb for the Idaho Earth Institute's program this Friday night on car-free living. The event - slated at Wright Congregational Church, 4821 W Franklin Road - starts with a potluck at 6:30 followed by a 7 p.m. presentation based on the books Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Ballish.
I'll be there. I plan to drive my car. My friend Jonna Moore tells me that several people will be riding their bikes - in the dark, in the snow - to attend, and I say good on 'em, but that's not an option for most of us mere mortals.
The problem with the concept of car-free living in Boise was ably pointed out in an op-ed - also in yesterday's paper - by Martin Johncox. He wrote:
While I support local-option taxation and transit, there's been little discussion if cities have been preparing their built environment to support transit. ... Transit lacks point-to-point flexibility. To make up for that, people must bridge, on foot or bike, the distance between the transit stop and their destination. To get people to do this, you must build a human-scaled environment, where buildings come right to the sidewalk; things are stacked on top of each other to conserve distance; and homes, offices, shopping centers, schools and other destinations are directly connected with sidewalks. ...
But we've built just the opposite in the past 50 years. Giant parking lots, absent of sidewalks, encourage people to drive from one parking lot to the next; subdivisions are fenced from each other and neighboring shopping centers; and very long blocks and cul-de-sacs lengthen pedestrian trips. ...
To be fair, it's been less than 15 years since Boise and other cities awoke to the need to build for transit. ... Yet in those past 15 years there's been precious little progress toward enforcing transit-friendly development.
He's right, of course. People who live in or near downtown Boise can probably make do without cars, but there's almost nowhere else in the valley where that's the case. That's especially true if you have children active in sports or music, or if you like to go out at night, or if you want to go to church on Sunday, or if you simply don't feel safe bicycling or walking in the winter or after dark (or both).
We can do better. We can build developments - not just in downtown but in nearby neighborhoods, as well as in the center of other Treasure Valley towns - that are close to schools, stores, workplaces, and entertainment venues. We can extend bus hours into the evenings and offer Sunday service so people could get around at night, as well as ride the bus seven days a week. If these changes happen, people will use transit more, and there will eventually be an increased appetite for housing close to transit.
For now, let's not worry so much about going car-free as much as reducing our dependency on vehicles. I've drastically cut my driving and I'd someday love to live car-free, but I don't see it happening in Boise: not while I have a daughter in school, not while the buses won't run when and where I need them to run.