There is a rule of thumb among managers that looks like this: To see what people like, you have to ignore their statements. Look at their budget.
With that in mind, what does New Hampshire value about transportation?
Concerns about the climate emergency have led to many discussions about the need for society to move away from car addiction, but a look at the central pillar of what New Hampshire actually does, the transportation plan over 10 years, shows that what we value is:
■ More cars.
■ Even more cars.
■ Also, other stuff.
Here are the numbers. The draft 10-year transportation plan currently being discussed in public hearings includes a total of $ 4.45 billion in total proposed spending over 10 years. Of that, $ 980 million is for transit, rail, airports and “active transportation,” an interesting category that we’ll talk about in a minute, and $ 221 million for debt service.
This means that 74% of the total expenditure is allocated to roads, streets, bridges and other constructions whose purpose is to allow easier and faster movement by individually managed transport units – cars, trucks, motorcycles. (Buses can use them too, as long as they don’t bother commuters too much.) The percentage is actually higher since most of the debt service is paying off loans to build older roads and bridges.
From the point of view of major societal changes in the face of the climate emergency, this analysis is depressing if not surprising. New Hampshire, like the rest of America and the developed world, has spent a century building an economy and social system that requires fast and cheap individual mobility. Let’s take an example: me.
I live 35 miles from the To watch Office. If owning and driving a car was much more expensive or difficult, I would have had to make different decisions about buying a home and finding a job. And despite working from home, it would be impossible to continue with my current life if I couldn’t jump in my car and go just about anywhere I want at any time.
Multiply me by 1.35 million Granite State residents and it’s obvious why it’s very hard to suddenly go against this pattern, even if we want to.
And we want it, because the climate emergency has made it difficult to ignore the problems associated with cars: sprawl, pollution, noise, congested cities, lots of people killed in crashes (51 in the first half of 2021 in New Hampshire, a 13% increase from 2020) and a global environmental disaster. Electric vehicles will help solve pollution and noise problems, but will leave the rest unanswered, so they’re a partial answer at best.
Better answers are found in other parts of the 10-year plan. If public transportation was widespread and consistent, I might replace some car trips with it (the only time I use buses right now is to get to Logan Airport). If I wasn’t afraid to cycle on roads where everything but 3,000-pound metal boxes is an afterthought, I could replace trips to the grocery store with a pedal. If there were more sidewalks and we favor cleaning them in the winter, I could rely on walking between locations when scheduling meetings.
The “active transportation” category of the 10-year plan recognizes this and includes many sidewalks, cycle paths and similar projects. Most only exist because they are part of a car-dependent construction, like the sidewalks built as part of the I-89 ramp upgrades at Exit 2, but less exists. It is a modest start but full of hope.
Maybe we’re moving beyond the days of laying a million tons of concrete next to the Merrimack River so Bostonians can get to the White Mountains quickly, not thinking of ways to help locals get through. move in a non-automobile way.
Because at the end of the day, it’s about freedom. I don’t want the nanny state to dictate how I get around, which is the reality in the car dependent world which is enforced by our rules, laws and habits. I want to increase my personal freedom by allowing me to choose the means of transport I want every day instead of having to always get in the car. Free transport or die!
It won’t be easy, won’t be quick, won’t be entirely possible, and it will require more changes than just building our roads – zoning, for example – but it’s worth it.
To follow the evolution of the Ten-Year Transport Plan, go to www.nh.gov/dot/org/projectdevelopment/planning/typ/index.htm.
(David Brooks can be reached at (603) 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)