Last week, Chuck Marohn was in Santa Ana, CA, giving presentations and hosting a walking tour as part of a Regional Active Transportation Forum hosted by the Alliance for a Healthy Orange County. In advance of that event, he did an extended interview with Streetsblog Cal to talk about California's most pressing challenges and how a Strong Towns approach could begin to solve them.
The interview began with this question: "What’s a fair and smart way to divide funding at the state level between transit, active transportation, and “fixing roads,” even when that includes widening highways?"
We actually have to find a way to devolve both the decision-making as well as the actual revenue production and spending [to be] as hyper-local as we can get. California will spend billions adding a couple lanes on a congested highway–that has been done a couple times recently. [Yet] we can’t find $200 to put in a crosswalk, or $50,000 to fix a street and slow things down a little bit. Which one has more impact on people’s lives? Which one actually makes our cities stronger and healthier financially? The latter; the fine grained stuff. If we want our cities to be successful, I think we have to shift our entire transportation conversation away from state and federal priorities and way, way down to block-level priorities.
We’ve done this for almost seventy years. What we find is that at the [local] level, our transportation conversation is really dysfunctional. We have places where people can’t walk across their own street safely; we have places where you can see the store you want to get to, but you can’t get to it except in a car. This is a byproduct of the way that we fund things: we fund it from the top down, and so what we wind up with is kind of very coarse aggregation of some consensus policies. At the block level, it doesn’t work.
By the way, block-level priorities are hard to do at the state level because each neighborhood will have their own set of things, their own way of prioritizing things, their own distinct nuance that cannot be captured in a coarse-level dialogue at the state.
So, if you told me that we had this huge pot of money that we have to spend on transportation, what’s the best way to do this? To me, yes, I would deprioritize fighting congestion, deprioritize commuting, and focus as much as I could on connecting neighborhoods, and particularly pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
We'll have more stories for you in the coming weeks about the unique city of Santa Ana and why it could be a model for other towns hoping to grow in a strong and resilient manner.
(All photos from Strong Towns events in Santa Ana, by Johnny Sanphillippo)