NCTCOG is the acronym for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. This relatively unknown entity is represented as playing a role in developing the transportation system for the DFW area. The actual role is small, even trivial, but the NCTCOG does offer bureaucratic positions and an appearance of local influence in the corporate driven transportation system.
According to the NCTCOG, the Transportation Alternatives Program “provides funding for programs and projects defined as transportation alternatives.” This includes “on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure associated with Safe Routes to School.” As you may suspect, there is more to the program title than to the program itself.
Under the Republican and Democrat party controlled government, the interests of corporations and the wealthy elite are given priority. This is especially true in transportation policy. The primary purpose of transportation policy is to serve the “monthly payment” financial system, mainly auto and mortgage loan payments. The secondary purpose is to maximize fossil fuel consumption. There are other purposes, such as maintaining the highway contractors. The code word which summarizes these purposes is “growth,” but the reality is debt and consumerism, leaving a legacy of infrastructure that cannot affordably be maintained by the suburban tax base. Experience shows that urban density is necessary for long-term economic growth. But for the corporate expansion model, the automobile is the key to current transportation policy. The automobile is is the perfect technology for endless monthly payments, requires constant refueling with fossil fuels, and creates an ongoing need for hugely expensive infrastructure. As many people realize, current transportation policy is intended to make automobile use a practical necessity by monopolizing the transportation infrastructure.
The monopoly granted to automobiles makes tax increases and chronic financial crisis inevitable. The infrastructure is simply too expensive to maintain. The City of Dallas recently delayed a bond package for road maintenance. The suburban City of Addison has suffered major cost overruns in maintenance projects for automobile infrastructure. The City of Plano is preparing to take the plunge. Meanwhile, the State of Texas has allocated $2.5 Billion to a mere 391 out of over 80,000 miles of TxDOT roads for existing and future “congestion.”
In contrast, the Transportation Alternatives Program provides funding for projects which do not promote automobile use. It is no surprise that the Transportation Alternatives Program receives less than 1% of transportation funding. The NCTCOG Transportation Improvement Program for 2017 to 2020 allocates $5,794,425,336 in total for “regional mobility.” The sum of $29,823,976, or 0.515% of the budget, is allocated to the Transportation Alternatives Program.
Spending only 0.5% of these transportation funds for alternatives to automobiles is a serious error, but it is essential to maintaining the automobile monopoly over the transportation system. To understand this, we should focus on first principles. A transportation system requires continuity and connections, much like a communications or computer network. A classic challenge in network infrastructure is called the “last mile” problem. The main network pathways are relatively simple, but the actual connection to the users is the “last mile” and presents the most difficulty and expense. This, ironically, is the area where the Transportation Alternatives Program could provide the greatest value to the goal of improved local and regional mobility. It is the “last mile” where pedestrian and bicycle transport is the most practical and economical. A single bus can replace up to forty automobiles on the highways, and more buses would do more to relieve “congestion” than any highway project.
Appropriate funding and a policy goal of a bicycle path and a pedestrian path connecting every neighborhood to a bus route or transit station would represent a commitment to realistic and effective improvement in the transportation system. It is even possible to imagine that children could safely walk or cycle to school. In reality there are few bicycle paths and these are not connected to other transportation. Pedestrian paths are narrow, non-continuous, and often blocked by obstructions. The safety of pedestrians and cyclists is deliberately compromised in order to devote more space, speed, and convenience to automobiles. Thus, the “last mile” function of bicycle and pedestrian paths is effectively sabotaged by present transportation policies.
As a political body, the NCTCOG can be expected to promote the status quo and the automobile transportation monopoly. However, rather than being a rubber stamp, the NCTCOG and member governments could revise the focus and make major expansion of the Transportation Alternatives Program a priority. Human beings should be more than an afterthought in transportation policy. It is time that the needs of human beings became the primary concern of transportation policy, and human beings need alternatives.