Modern Zoning and the Problems It Can Cause

If you live in the United States, chances are you are affected by zoning laws. Most counties and municipalities have ordinances that specify to what use each parcel of land within its jurisdiction can be put. All too often these uses conflict with multi-modal transportation.

These ordinances segregate uses of land. For instance, residential areas are isolated from the commercial districts where citizens need to shop, industrial districts where they work, and professional/office areas. Such segmentation of the city increases the need for an automobile to move from point A to point B to point C. By spreading these areas out, it becomes next to impossible to exist without a car.

So how should we be designing our cities? For most of us, there are four basic destination “needs:” home, work, shopping, and social. I list home first as it’s the center of our transportation hub; from home, we set out each day to work, to shop, and/or to play/socialize. At some point, we return home one or more times each day. If our design goal is to minimize the need for fossil fuels and th vehicles that consume them, then the spoke ends of our “wheel” must be reachable by walking, cycling, or public transport. Ideally, the majority of our lives should be within five miles of home.

However, distance is one one factor to consider. My home in Omaha is within five miles of my preferred grocery, some great restaurants and bars, and even some of my health care providers. (Note that I haven’t listed work as I’m fortunate to work from home.) However, to get to almost any of my preferred destinations, I have to cross at least one four lane road/highway. While not insurmountable, it does lend difficulty to the trip. Changes in infrastructure (some simple, some more complex) would allow cyclists and pedestrians to better navigate their neighborhoods. Hopefully, Omaha’s recently adopted Complete Streets policy will guide the city toward making those changes as road projects are considered.


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