Not surprisingly, as the changes to Nicholasville Road are discussed, much debate has surrounded the future of transportation in Lexington. Many commentators argue that cars in our city should continue to rule the road, noting their convenience; the power and privacy that an automobile provides. This makes sense. Compared to something like buses, cars allow a unique ability to move wherever and whenever you want. But as a recent op-ed by Blake Hall pointed out, this autonomy has a dark side as well.
When everyone uses cars, and when the city is built around them, few can use anything else. The urban sprawl that cars produce, the high speeds at which they travel, and the dominance they have over the street render all other forms of transport basically useless. There are plenty of studies confirming these consequences.
While Lexington’s poor public transit system, like many cities, predominantly affects lower-income individuals, Dr. Clarkson was right to point out in her letter to the editor that the transit system can and should be used by all classes of people. In fact, a third of Americans who are too young, old, or poor to drive, must rely on public transit.
Other than a small portion of those who live downtown (which is only 7.6% of Lexington’s population), very few people in the city can travel to the grocery or work conveniently without a car. While walking to school may have been a possibility in previous generations, it’s nearly unheard of now. If you cannot afford or drive a car, or simply prefer to travel by bike or just with your legs, your freedom to move is heavily restricted. The bottom line is that the vast majority of Lexingtonians are forced to travel by car.
Despite the millions invested in a project like LexTran, critics are right to point out the infrequency of its use. Long travel times, limited routes, and overall inconvenience has seemingly plagued the service. But these criticisms very rarely hit the truth of the matter. Public transportation like LexTran will never work in Lexington as long as cars are king. Many detractors have pointed out the negative repercussions of unreliable transit, but taking away this option, or maintaining the status quo, does nothing to help those who need it. Without more investment in options like buses, bike lanes, or other creative proposals, these problems will persist.
Making public transportation better helps the wallet as well. Car costs are the fourth-largest household expense for Americans, with an average of $9,737 per family. This is considerably more expensive than public transport. For those wanting to save money, get more natural exercise, or just move around town without a car, more alternatives for transportation must be made available, and our existing ones need to be better supported.
That isn’t to say that cars or single-family neighborhoods should be banned as some may have you believe. Rather there could be more of a balance by allowing more lanes for buses, increasing the walkability of certain neighborhoods, and investing in different transit methods. It’s not getting rid of cars, it’s making room for everybody else.
These proposals to Nicholasville Road, and other debates surrounding our urban service boundary, shouldn’t be seen in a vacuum. They are at the heart of our city’s future. For years, we’ve been talking about building up, not out. Making it easier to travel by bus, bike, or a simple stroll is critical to this goal.
If you want to continue living by car, there’s nothing wrong with that. But changes to incorporate different ways to travel should be encouraged, and they don’t have to be at the expense of our car culture. Changes to Nicholasville and elsewhere aren’t an assault on cars, they’re simply smart policies that are making room for other alternatives, to increase our freedom to choose.
Jonathan Pezzi is a Lexington native and former journalist currently researching public policy issues at University College London.