Restoring unity, order, smarts, meaning, sanity and balance in the space we call travel – 2: Growth

Sprawl says it all.

Regarding this Earthly existence of ours and our understanding of this, it is as much about knowing where we are now as it is about knowing where we’ve been, if for no other reason, than to avoid our repeating past mistakes. It is a guiding principle that we follow, albeit an unwritten one, but a guiding principle nonetheless. Call it life-long-learning. But, what this is all about, really, is evolution – or advancement: ours.

But, it goes deeper. Allow me to break it down.

It has to do with quest, discovery, development, simplicity, convenience and freedom.

Really briefly:

  • Quest – Exploring, searching as in seeking out a new life. Starting over, in other words
  • Discovery – Gaining a better understanding of the world in which we live and the means by which to do that
  • Development – Building upon past experiences and successes
  • Simplicity – Living complexity-free (or, as much as possible)
  • Convenience – Living drudgery-free (or, as close to that as is possible). The adage “work smart, not hard” comes to mind here
  • Freedom – Unleashing movement

In a nutshell, that’s it.

Unintended consequences

As a life-form, there is no question we humans have advanced. But, at what cost has this advancement come?

Looking at the word advancement we also have to consider progress – the two go hand in hand. However, with the progress made has come what is typically referred to as unintended consequences.

Two Cycle Diesel engine with Roots blower

In the Air Quality Matters essay “Clean air, what’s that? – Part 1: At what cost, progress?” I related: “With respect to the internal-combustion-engine-powered-motor-vehicle-side-of-the-equation, to complete the operations picture, not to be overlooked is an undeniable downside, that being exhaust. And cars powered this way have company.”

But to place blame squarely on the road-borne conveyance misses the point and neither is it accurate nor fair.

As a case in point, it was in another Air Quality Matters post, “The ‘sprawl’ or ‘no-sprawl’ choice is ours and change on the horizon?” that I cited OnEarth columnist Jeff Turrentine who, in remarking on American sprawl, in effect exclaimed that during the 21st century’s first 10 years, exurban population growth in the U.S. grew by an eye-popping and jaw-dropping “60 percent,” myself adding: “And that which has prompted that outcome – inefficient land-use planning and implementation, limited housing and transportation choice, in addition to a host of other outdated paradigms – has led to such disappointing if not contemptible unintended consequences as traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions rise.”

‘Losing the farm’ or ‘driving till qualifying’

In 1972 in September, the San Francisco Bay Area was transformed. Heavy-rail, mass public passenger transit had entered frame thereby catapulting the San Francisco region from one of transit adequacy to transit excellence.

The then 71-mile Bay Area Rapid Transit District service-coverage area was open for business. Such cities as Fremont, Hayward, Oakland, Lafayette, Richmond, San Francisco and Daly City were all BART-connected. It was a celebratory time, indeed!

Without population growth sufficient to warrant construction of the then newest of rail-based passenger transport operations and systems, not only would BART not have materialized, plainly and simply put, it would not have led to the procurement of the newest of trainsets entering service on the property all these years later.

Bay Area overhead view as seen from space

Moreover, the Bay Area, once with land area having deep agricultural roots, such had been “cultivated” if you will, to that which now supports high-tech. The region, with a substantial electronics manufacturing base, is known by a more familiar name – Silicon Valley.

The rate at which the high-tech industry there developed was extraordinary, phenomenal, unprecedented! The expansion had an unexpected and, more importantly, an unplanned-for side effect: A hefty number of time-consuming commutes by workers in getting to and going from their places of employ. Making matters worse was that many on those commutes would be met by congestion, myself being one.

The congestion that hampered Bay Area travel and that the industry that created the jobs that contributed to corresponding congestion, it was all anyone could do to try to avoid the peak-hour traffic-snarling there. It is not unheard of for workers to drive an hour-and-a-half one way. Many said employees were forced to relocate to places even beyond the Silicon Valley’s periphery. Long travel times for these folks became the order of the day, at least during the workweek, anyway.

These people subsequently became known as the “mega-commuters.” Mega-commuting for them had become routine. Many can relate.

Forcing their hands, obviously, is expense with the Bay Area’s higher housing costs and higher cost of living, those being the two primary factors for relocating.

Because of this, a good number set their sights on the San Joaquin Valley just over the eastern hills where the dollar goes much farther where home-buying and other types of discretionary spending are concerned.

In exchange for being able to buy a San Joaquin Valley home, I’m sure, to these folks it is worth the extra time expended in making their long and laborious weekday, inter-valley slogs.

Granted, this is just one example. Regardless, it’s telling.

Life automaticized

It was industrialization, automation – progress, really – that brought us to where we are right now. But, where exactly is that?

Progress has provided a lot of things we take for granted. We have conveniences, sure. But, at the same time, we also have struggles.

We have computers which, by the way, we were told – and sold on the idea – would make life simpler. Interestingly, computers give us that use them the ability to solve problems. Funny thing, though, problems still exist. Some problems, mind you, have been made less severe. Others, on the other hand, have become worse. Increased driving distance and/or time expended engaged in that; increased congestion and delay; increased hassle, stress and/or worry coupled with the above; plus increased concentration of pollution in the air (even if localized), tell a tale of conditions, to some degree, gone awry. A snafu, if you like.

The exurban development alluded to above puts pressure on and in many cases encroaches on farmland and open space. With respect to farmland lost, the ability to grow food and crops needed to feed and clothe a growing world population, respectively, becomes ever more challenging.

With new residences, businesses and industry taking the place of, in turn, requires new roads to access such, as well as other necessary infrastructure in the forms of water, natural gas and sewage-carrying pipes.

Without significant and effective mitigation strategies put in place to offset the air pollution the increased driving will create, there is only one thing I can say: expect more of the damage to air and health that comes from this.

Sprawl. Awwwwww.

In Part 3, I’ll take a close look at the identified problems outlined here as well as explore ways to bring relief.

Images: Pearson Scott Foresman (top); NASA (middle)

This post was last revised on May 28, 2020 @ 12:57 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel

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