In the town of Pleasureville, there is universal peace and tranquility. Residents have transcended the mundane challenges of housing, traffic and income. Here, all live in towering high-rise apartment/condominiums that abut mass transit facilities to convey everyone directly to their place of work or daily activity. Within a few hundred feet of every living space, a plethora of services, shopping and entertainment amenities to satisfy all tastes and incomes is available.
Power is supplied directly to consumers through an ingenious network of carbon-free resources. There is no need for private transportation, so automobile parking spaces do not exist. Extraordinary transportation requirements, such as out-of-town trips, are satisfied by driverless vehicles that appear if summoned, then disappear to remote parking garages when idle. Recreational travel by bicycle, hoverboards or mini-carriages require little, if any, external power source. Although income inequality exists, basic support is available to every resident. Pleasureville controls weather fluctuations to minimize challenges for commuters and travelers.
This utopian scenario exists today in the minds of planners and futurists. Similar to H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), Alvin and Heidi Toffler (Future Shock) and more contemporary futurists such as Dr. Michio Kaku who dabble in the possibilities and challenges of times to come, there is a danger of losing perspective when immersed in a vision of what is to come. Using existing metrics to contemplate the effects of change may lead to a paradox. When and how does the future engulf the past? Even those who advance to a future mindset may find themselves shackled by the parameters of today.
A recent work session of the Fremont City Council followed a presentation to the Planning Commission regarding the implementation of State Senate Bill 743 that changes how municipalities measure traffic impacts under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). Instead of using the current metric of “Level of Service” (LOS) that measures the number of seconds vehicles are delayed at intersections, showing miserable ratings in cities throughout the state, a new measurement is required. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research has recommended using something called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) per capita. This tracks the total amount of driving over a given area. It is touted as a better metric that more accurately reflects geographic travel patterns – infrastructure, transit service and land use.
Now, instead of confronting the miserable LOS record, getting worse with every additional residential project, new criteria will be established to wipe the record clean, deliver a different metric. Creation of a new measurement provides an opportunity to plan more housing without fear of exacerbating already abysmal LOS ratings. VMT favors mixed use development since, in theory, less miles are traveled to access amenities. However, it doesn’t take into account what already exists… a failed roadway system that can ill afford more traffic. Manipulating statistics to achieve a futuristic result ignores the current dilemma. Swapping metrics brings to mind the venerable saying attributed to Mark Twain, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”
At the conclusion of the 1985 film, Back to the Future, protagonists Doc, Marty and Jennifer are preparing for a trip to the future to correct impending problems. As Doc prepares to achieve the speed for time travel, Marty asks if there is enough road ahead. The response is, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
However, in the sequel, there are still roads! Is there a lesson in this?