The Daily Gazette
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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Dig deeper on roads review

Does the lousy condition of local roads cost me $1,622 annually?
That’s the very specific claim contained within a recent report assessing New York’s roads — that the average Capital Region driver spends a significant amount of money each year as a result of a deficient, decaying road system.
When I saw the figure, I immediately began adding up expenses in my head. My car is in pretty decent shape. Other than four new tires, I’ve invested very little in it in the past six months. Of course, this could change in the blink of an eye. The wrong pothole — and I’ve driven over and around about 1 million potholes in the past week — could cause major damage to my car.
The road conditions report was produced by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group sponsored by “insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction, labor unions and organizations concerned with an efficient and safe surface transportation network.” If Congress eventually decides that the nation’s roads are in need of a major upgrade, TRIP’s backers would all stand to benefit.
But this doesn’t mean the organization’s report is wrong.
Not too long ago, I heard a colleague complain about the “state of the roads” in the Capital Region. And I knew exactly what he was referring to. No matter where you drive, the roads are in bad shape. In some places, such as Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, they’re in really bad shape. This is due to an unusually harsh winter, but also to long-term neglect of infrastructure.
According to TRIP, New York’s roads and bridges are deficient, congested and lack safety features. The higher costs experienced by motorists come in the form of “higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.” The group estimates that 51 percent of major roads and highways in the Capital Region are in either poor or mediocre condition.
That sounds high to me, but might be right. I haven’t been too impressed with the state of the roads and bridges on most of my drives. But feel free to email me your thoughts: Are more than half of our major bridges in bad shape?
The current federal transportation funding bill expires Sept. 30, and TRIP is pushing for Congress to agree to a new one. And though I agree with the organization’s underlying thesis — that our roads and bridges are in substandard condition, and need to be improved — I’d like to see a discussion that took a more holistic approach to transportation. I’d like to see a conversation that also assesses the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people who rely on buses and trains to get places.
Could better rail and bus systems relieve the wear and tear on area roads, while also reducing gas consumption and the urge to hop in your car and drive somewhere
every time you need to do something or go someplace? Could bike lanes and paths make people more comfortable traveling by bike? Could better maintained sidewalks make it easier for people to do errands by foot?
The U.S. is a car-dependant society, and it’s important that our roads be safe and efficient.
But more and more people are using public transportation; late last year, the Gazette reported that the Capital District Transportation Authority was seeing ridership grow on a pace to make 2013 its busiest year since the 1980s. Nationally, more people are riding public transportation than ever before; according to the American Public Transportation Association, a record number of trips were taken on public transportation in 2012.
There are also signs that attitudes toward cars are changing: Americans are driving less overall, and younger adults are less likely to drive — or have driver’s licenses — than previous generations.
I’ll be honest: I don’t understand these younger adults.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. It signified freedom — the freedom to go places on my own, and also freedom from my parents. But younger adults just don’t seem to regard car ownership the way I did, as crucial to obtaining and maintaining one’s independence. As well as happiness — I love to drive.
However, even I can see that driving has its drawbacks.
Yes, we need better roads.
But we need a lot of other things, too.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at

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