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ARCHIVED  July 1, 1997

Automobile trips grow far faster than population

FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins has become part of a national trend in which automobile use is growing at a faster pace than population.

A study conducted by the city’s transportation planning office determined that in Fort Collins, as in other cities across the country, vehicle miles of travel is growing 30 percent faster than the population.

Brian Woodruff, an environmental planner with the city’s natural-resources department, said reasons for such disproportionate growth include the explosion of the two-earner household in which a second wage earner also uses a car to get to work; an increase in the number of women drivers; an increase in expendable income, which increases the number of miles a family puts on a car; and, in cities that continue to extend their boundaries, an increase in the average trip length.

An elevated level of vehicle miles traveled threatens Fort Collins’ ability to reach its goals for either traffic congestion or air quality and promises worse traffic than we have today, Woodruff said.

The solution to these problems may lie in the Fort Collins City Plan, which proposes to reduce the number of miles city residents travel in their cars by creating neighborhoods that combine residential, commercial and recreational uses in close proximity. The plan suggests that such mixed-use “villages” will encourage travel by foot, bicycle or bus.

The question is, will an auto-dependent population get out of their cars and use alternative modes of transportation?

“The answer is, they won’t, unless you do something to reduce dependency,” Woodruff said. “When you ask people what their preference is, they say they want options to the car. But people don’t realize what factors are impinging on that choice. Right now, most places are too far to walk, and the destinations are car-oriented and hostile to pedestrians.”

Should the City Structure Plan come to fruition, it will actually be an inconvenience to use a car in some cases, and alternative transit or walking will be preferable. A new land-use system, new zoning districts and new development standards to govern developments in specific zoning districts are part of the plan to reduce vehicle miles traveled.

The challenge ahead is securing funding for major investments in both non-auto and auto infrastructure and services. Woodruff said provisions for alternative modes of transportation in parts of the city where growth will occur is covered in City Plan, but developed areas still need to be addressed.

“We’ve placed a heavy emphasis on public transit, and it’s that component that hasn’t been funded,´ said Susanne Edminster, transportation planning and parking manager for the city.

Edminster said that Transfort, the current city bus system, doesn’t do what it needs to do, and major improvements are necessary.

“The city will also require major capital to create a commuter on-road bike system and improved pedestrian system,” Edminster said. “Even if there are buses, you still need sidewalks to get there.”

Some efforts to retrofit existing neighborhoods and commercial areas get funded through street improvements, and the Capital Improvements program brings $700,000 to the pedestrian-system project, but that is only a portion of what is needed.

To fill the funding gap, Edminster said the city is looking at projects that qualify on a regional level. Those, like the installation of a bike lane on Harmony Road extending out to Interstate 25, are eligible for federal funding. The city is also eyeing its general fund as a source and considering a dedicated transportation tax. As with open space and the school district, citizens may be asked to help pay for the city’s transit system of the future by way of new taxes, Edminster said.

Yet even when viable choices are in place, the question will remain: Will people give up the quick and easy solution of hopping in their cars?

“That’s what we’re trying to change, but we’re not trying to do it overnight. This will happen over the next 20 years,” Woodruff said.

FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins has become part of a national trend in which automobile use is growing at a faster pace than population.

A study conducted by the city’s transportation planning office determined that in Fort Collins, as in other cities across the country, vehicle miles of travel is growing 30 percent faster than the population.

Brian Woodruff, an environmental planner with the city’s natural-resources department, said reasons for such disproportionate growth include the explosion of the two-earner household in which a second wage earner also uses a car to get to work; an increase in the number of women drivers;…

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