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No accident 

Last week's flurry-induced gridlock gave us more than brutal rides home and unexpected sleepovers. We got a rare glimpse into the future of the Triangle--or, at least, one scenario. But that's where it looks like we're headed.

This was more than just the perfect storm of screw-ups by TV meteorologists, DOT road crews and over-anxious school administrators. This was the culmination of decades of decisions by everyone--from people wedded to a one-person-one-car lifestyle to local, state and federal governments that subsidized miles of cul-de-sac'ed subdivisions. It's clear we can no longer afford the expense in dollars and environmental damage to keep building the road system to which we've all become accustomed. If the Triangle continues to grow as it has and no appealing mass transit is offered as an alternative, we're going to be guaranteed lots more Jan. 19s in the years to come--unless we make some changes.

For the most part, the problem is more behavior than planning, which calls into question the hundreds of millions of dollars about to be spent on a rail system. That system has already been compromised--no North Raleigh or Duke Hospital stops--and you have to wonder if rail can work in an area that can't even get bus systems or carpooling right.

There is hope, though, in some small successes. A few years ago Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC's students and administration plunked down the cash for their collective bus system to go fare-free. Predictions of a 15 percent increase in ridership were way off. The jump was more like 40 percent and continues to climb.

This is proof that when given a decent alternative, some folks will jump on it. Other solutions are also in their nascent stages--higher density housing closer to town, and spreading out opening and closing times of businesses and major institutions. But the one solution that would help most seems furthest away--saying no to developers who propose more of the same kind of sprawl.

If we're like most American cities, we'll wait until Jan. 19 hits year-round before we do anything more than blame the weather.

***

The Independent sponsors lots of events, but perhaps the most meaningful one of the year is coming up this Saturday, Jan. 29. It's the annual luncheon to honor winners of our Citizen and Indies Triangle Arts awards in 2004. It's from noon to 2 p.m. at Spice Street restaurant in University Mall in Chapel Hill. Tickets are $15, and you can still attend if you call the Independent at 286-1972 by Friday to make a reservation. Hope to see you there.

More by Richard Hart

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