Create a Public-Realm Endowment
Recent headlines about crumbling infrastructure have grabbed the entire country's attention. But there is even more to the story than collapsing bridges (Minneapolis) and blown steam pipes (New York). The failure to invest in infrastructure is also causing major opposition to additional real estate development.
Residents of areas with overcrowded schools and heavily trafficked roads want to stop development, especially when they are asked to foot the bill for public investment in improved or expanded infrastructure and community facilities. The easy government response is to make developers pay an impact fee. This only increases the cost of buying a house and forces developers to move farther and farther into the countryside in search of cheap land and an escape from fees that can make homes prohibitively expensive to the middle class.
In many metropolitan areas across the United States, commuters are reaching the limit they are willing to travel in search of affordable residences. Consequently, real estate developers are reverting to higher-density infill development in older suburban areas—second growth. Here, too, existing communities are objecting to congestion and decline in their quality of life.
The inadequacy of the public realm and existing infrastructure, whether in areas of greenfield development or suburban second growth, can be corrected by public investment. The cost of that investment can be captured from the incremental increase in tax revenues. Consequently, I would not invest the $1.6 trillion directly in public construction.
I would use that money to create a public-realm endowment and offer the income from the endowment to communities to cover the cost of planning, design, and engineering, provided they establish a tax-increment district that will generate an income stream that is adequate to retire the debt on bonds that would finance public investment.
President of Alex Garvin & Associates, New York, and adjunct professor of urban planning and management, Yale University
No Short Trips by Car—and Bike Racks for All
Our collective failure hasn't been the amount of money spent on transportation—it's how we invest it that's critical. For the health of individuals and our communities, we need to put the road builders on a diet and focus on maintenance of what we've got.
More than 40 percent of trips are two miles or less in this country, and yet 90 percent of these trips are made by car. We need to enable people to walk, bike, and take transit instead of driving for more of these short, polluting trips that are clogging up our streets. That means investment in complete streets (with bike lanes, bus lanes, and sidewalks), trails, and trains, together with the buildings and land uses that encourage these modes. We need to focus on access, not mobility for its own sake, and we need performance measures that reward and encourage less driving, not more.
On a slightly smaller scale, I long for the day when a simple $100 bike rack can be put at the front of a building without a second thought. And maybe some of that $1.6 trillion could go toward connecting the disjointed bicycle and trail networks that are emerging in most U.S. cities today, so we can play our part in tackling climate change, congestion, obesity, oil dependence, and air pollution.
—Andy Clarke, executive director, League of American Bicyclists
State DOTs Should Be Bold, Creative
I would instruct state departments of transportation to follow the lead of Maine and Minnesota in establishing creative partnerships with design and construction teams that can produce beautiful new structures in a reasonable amount of time.
When the suspension cables in Maine's historically significant and infrastructure-critical Waldo-Hancock Bridge were found by inspectors to be badly corroded, Maine's Department of Transportation had the structure strengthened for interim use while a replacement bridge was designed and constructed on the fast track. The new signature span has the unusual feature of an observatory in one of its towers, thereby giving the region both a distinctive new landmark and an impressive tourist attraction.
Unfortunately, Minnesota did not strengthen its I-35 bridge before it collapsed suddenly last August, but in the wake of the tragedy, the state Department of Transportation greatly accelerated the bidding process for a replacement. Giving proposals credit for aesthetics led to the awarding of a contract that will produce an attractive bridge in about 14 months.
Such bold, decisive, and creative thinking by departments of transportation can not only fix our infrastructure in a timely manner but also provide greatly added value by enhancing the built environment with beautiful structures.
Professor of civil engineering and history, Duke University, and author of Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design
Sex, Rain Clouds, and Teleportation
A dense network of hydrogen-fueled magnetic fast trains with rainmaking devices is the immediate answer. Light rail should feed into the magnetic network from every community. Both interstate rail and light rail should multitask to seed clouds (for the upcoming water crisis) and to power windmills when they swoosh by.
Commuter vans and clean-fuel motorbikes, hydrofoils, bicycles, and canoes should be freely available at stations run by the National Park Service. There should be hitchhiking shelters equipped with showers and beds at all the stations.
Within every municipality there should be a tax-exempt 24-hour zone where everything is legal: drugs, sex, and music.
Following this immediate infrastructural change, emanating at the national level and integrated locally, we should mobilize a huge national will to make teleportation available to everyone.
Incidentally, New Orleans should float and become the first of our many future coastal Venices.
—Andrei Codrescu, author of New Orleans, Mon Amour