One of the complaints we all frequently hear about Uptown is that there’s too much traffic. I agree that the cars speeding through Lake or other major thoroughfares are a source of frustration. There are also many people driving to Uptown, and I do wish that more of those people would consider taking the bus, biking, or, when possible, walking. That said, too much of the traffic focus tends to be on the problem of “outsiders,” whether it’s the people coming to Uptown to shop or dine, those who drive to their Uptown jobs, or the people who are driving through Uptown on their way from and to places elsewhere. These groups of people are admittedly a major component of any traffic “problem,” but we can’t forget the group of people most likely to be on Uptown streets on a daily basis: Uptown residents themselves.
The 2000 census sheds some interesting light on Uptown residents’ commuting patterns (“Uptown” in this case defined as CARAG, ECCO, LHENA, and East Isles, with the numbers based on “workers 16 years and over). Some highlights:
- 52 percent of Uptown residents drove to work alone, a five percent increase over 1990.
- Six percent of Uptowners carpooled to work, the same percentage as in 1990.
- A mere 17 percent took public transportation to work, a decrease from 22 percent in 1990.
- Four percent walked to work in 2000; five percent walked to work in 1990.
- Two percent of workers took “other means” (I’m assuming this means bicycles, plus perhaps the occasional skateboard or set of roller blades thrown in for good measure) versus less than one percent in 1990.
- Two percent of Uptowners worked at home in 1990, three percent worked at home in 2000.
There were, of course, statistical differences between neighborhoods. The percentage of local workers commuting alone by car (in 2000) broken down by neighborhood are:
- 58 percent in the Wedge
- 61 percent in CARAG
- 64 percent in East Isles
- 72 percent in ECCO
I realize that not everyone can bike, walk, or take the bus to work. Still, these numbers leave a lot of room for improvement. The majority of those people - and we're talking thousands of Uptown residents - are driving to and from work five days a week, many of them in the same general morning and evening timeframe. Instead of focusing our energies on parking permits and battling new developments we can and should identify the most efficient ways to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks, onto bikes, or on the bus (and at some point, I hope, LRT). Some worthwhile potential goals:
- Cut down number of cars per household. Not every adult member of every family needs a car, and some households can live without any car.
- Decrease the use of each car. If even a relatively small number of current residents switched to, say, biking to work one day a week in the summer it would have an impact. So, too, would be if some current drivers switched to taking the bus to work one or two days a week instead of driving. And once at home, if more residents walked to local stores for their errands (including grocery store runs) we’d decrease local traffic even further.
- Provide support for residents to get by without owning a car. Uptown has a car share service (HOURCAR); with time and increased usage we could expand the locations, making it an even more convenient option for those who don’t want a car yet still want to have access to one from time to time. And, of course, an Uptown LRT alignment, good (and affordable) bus service, and a bike- and pedestrian-friendly environment are also essential.
Traffic and parking are always going to be issues facing Uptown; it’s part and parcel with urban living. An equally important element of urban neighborhood life should be the ready availability – and embrace – of a car-free lifestyle. By all means continue to address through traffic and parking, but don’t forget the simple fact that in many cases the traffic problem is not just “them” – it is “us.”