U Sponsors Conference on Urban Growth

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The American dream has exacted a cost?sprawling development, air pollution and long commutes.

The problem arose 50 years ago as people’s lives became more centered around their cars, according to Ken Snyder, from the Department of Energy.

But in the next 50 years, perhaps, planners can reverse the trend.

Snyder spoke Wednesday as part of a conference sponsored by the University of Utah’s Utah Wetlands and Riparian Center. The downtown conference focused on planning for the growth and its environmental impact.

A long-term vision for a community makes planning easier?50 years ahead everyone wants a high quality of life. But when making plans two years in advance, people squabble over what is to become of a particular corner, he said.

“We can build by default or by design,” Snyder said. “Most of the stuff we don’t like happens bit by bit.”

Traffic congestion, one of the major problems planners face, is not easily solved. The intuitive solution of building more roads can aggravate the dilemma, according to Philip Emmi, the U’s urban planning program director.

New freeways encourage a pattern of land use that is spread out. This low-density development generates more traffic. New congestion clogs existing roads, he said.

Americans use cars for about 90 percent of trips, according to Snyder. However, a significant segment of the population is excluded from the independence and mobility a car can provide.

The automobile-dependent transportation paradigm in Utah is unfair to those unable to drive, said Keith Bartholomew, from the U’s Stegner Law Center for Land, Resources and the Environment.

Reliance on chauffeur parents, in the absence of other safe or reliable means of transportation, compromises young teenager’s freedom.

Older people with deteriorating driving abilities face a dilemma.

“They have to drive or face a life built around the reality of isolation,” Bartholomew said.

In addition, a look through job postings showed most entry level positions are inaccessible through Utah’s current public transit system.

The catch is that a car’s yearly cost is so high that a poor employee can spend half his or her income just getting to and from work.

Carol Werner, a U psychology professor, approached automobile dependency from an individual level.

She sees the uncomfortable parking situation facing the U as an opportunity for change.

“If you have a physical environment that supports a behavior, it’s very difficult to change,” she said.

The four months of restricted parking because of the Olympics may force some to permanently change their routines, leaving their cars at home, she said.

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