As an older guy I sometimes step back to take a broader look, beyond the time horizon of the daily news cycle. The population of the earth has tripled during my lifetime (I passed this eerie personal milestone on Dec. 5, 2019, by my calculation). The first tertile of that growth took some 500,000 years to unfold. Unconstrained, head-spinning economic expansion, as I’ve witnessed over decades in China and India as well as in the U.S., cannot continue indefinitely.
Perhaps our leaders and citizens can take a moment, too, to ponder the possibilities (and needed sacrifices) of a truly sustainable world and ask at least one pertinent local question: How long can we continue to expand our road network?
Politicians speak nobly about transit, sustainability, the environment, reducing fossil fuel consumption and preserving the character of Jackson Hole.
In a recent survey conducted by Friends of Pathways (“How Do Local Candidates Feel About Pathways?”) the candidates unanimously called for expanding use of alternatives to personal vehicles, and voiced support for the ongoing development of pathways. Yet only Christian Beckwith went on record opposing construction of the Tribal Trails Connector, along with Commissioner Luther Propst.
“One of the most dismaying aspects of serving on the Commission,” Propst wrote, “is the width of the disconnect between the steady stream of aspirational resolutions about climate change, etc., and the real decisions that continue to push our community in the wrong direction.”
What we need are transportation alternatives, not road alternatives. Our abiding task is to address growth, not merely accommodate it or, more typically, build our way out of it.
So what will the community get out of paving a new road at the Tribal Trail Connector, and at what downstream cost?
At the moment it appears to be an expensive, potentially dangerous, environmentally unsound and locally disfavored way to increase the incentive to drive cars more, and ride bikes less. If driving a single-passenger car is easy and enjoyable, why do anything else? Inevitably the connector will be used as a shortcut between south Jackson and Teton Village, through a neighborhood with four schools.
Smarter alternatives exist, and have been proposed by Beckwith and others: congestion pricing, careful transit design (including micro-transit), and smart traffic signals.
When the weather allows, the existing Tribal Trails Pathway has long been my preferred transportation option to south Jackson: I can reach the door of Smith’s grocery from our house in Wilson faster on my e-bike than in a car, even when there’s little vehicle traffic. The pathway allows for this and was a major incentive for me to purchase an e-bike. (Never mind that this travel advantage is thoroughly enjoyable, too — a rather different feeling than I have when driving locally. I do ride responsibly, as we all must.) For half the year e-bikes present a viable alternative to driving for many, and it’s no coincidence that sales are mushrooming.
Once a motorable road connects Highway 22 to Tribal Trail, however, I might as well just drive. In the meantime, I really don’t want to be stuck buying a larger pair of pants.