Reduce vehicle emissions. The plan outlines several potential actions to curb automobile pollution:
- Enact Complete Streets initiatives. This idea runs off the theory that streets are for all modes of transportation-- car, bike, pedestrian, and transit-- and accommodations should be made for each of them. Some common implementations of Complete Streets include bike and bus lanes, crosswalks, and road "dieting" (where lanes are taken away instead of added; this was done on Providence Main Street a few years ago). The only obstacle I see to this that most major roads (University, Jordan, the Parkway) are maintained by the state, so any Complete Streets improvements to those roads would have to be approved by ALDOT, who has only now created a statewide bicycle/pedestrian plan and has never been too keen about alternative transportation.
- Implementing the CommuteSmart program for carpooling. This has been in place for some time in the rest of Alabama's Big 4 cities, but not in Huntsville. Maybe it's because we already have a RideShare program. Using church parking lots for park-and-rides is a great idea, since they're only fully utilized a couple hours a week. Madison began doing this a while back, if I recall.
- Building High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV/carpool) lanes on major highways. HOV lanes are effective only in metro areas with chronic congestion, such as Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Huntsville is definitely not on par with these cities when it comes to gridlock, so carpool lanes are neither feasible nor needed in the foreseeable future.
Develop a regional transportation system. In the short-term, this would involve getting state legislative approval to create a "Light Rail Authority" and creating a feasibility plan for Light Rail Transit (LRT), along with planning and building transit hubs, linked together initially by greenways and bus routes, and eventually LRT.
Idea: "Light Rail Authority" sounds silly and very restrictive; a "Regional Transportation Authority" sounds better and is more inclusive of all options. But why is Huntsville so determined to construct the most expensive mass transit option short of building a full-blown Metro (subway)? The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) evaluates new transit projects based on density, demand, "cost effectiveness," among other factors that can make or break a transit system. I can assure you that an LRT system in Huntsville, with our current size and lack of transit support (especially at state level), will not get FTA approval and funding, at least not for the next 10-15 years. However, there are plenty of other, less expensive options, such as commuter rail, streetcar ("light" light rail) and Bus Rapid Transit, that have been proven to work or are being built in other cities our size, so why not look at all of them? I've talked about this before.
What's missing: High Speed Rail. This has become a major transportation issue in the past year, and recently, $8 Billion in grants were given to states that wanted to upgrade their current Amtrak routes to allow trains to travel up to 110 mph. While a true European/Japanese-style high-speed network is years away, the Huntsville-Decatur region should perform feasibility studies for rail connections to Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, and Birmingham as a way to alleviate congestion and reduce travel times. Last year, I talked about a Memphis-Huntsville-Atlanta high-speed rail line as a substitute for a proposed interstate that would follow the same route.