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(HOST) With new leadership in the Agency of Transportation, and ongoing public discussion of controversial projects like the circumferential highway and Bennington bypass, commentator Helen Labun Jordan has been thinking about how she views her options for getting around the state.

(LABUN-JORDAN) When I was a kid, I was fascinated by all the possibilities for how to get from one place to another. I built skateboard ramps across my parents’ lawn, rode zipwires through gullies and ferried snowfort building supplies by sled in winter. I felt tremendously independent being able to propel myself someplace else in such a variety of ways.

I’m not alone. From Henry Ford’s cars for the masses to manned space shuttles to the moon, Americans have devoted considerable creative energy to the development of transportation choices. And, as the unveiling of the Segway showed, the inventions haven’t stopped yet.

We now have at our disposal a great many ways to get from A to B, and each of these methods accomplishes different goals. When I ride my bike to downtown Montpelier, I’m enjoying an excuse to get outside and be active while running errands at the same time, something that using a car or a bus would not do. On the other hand, taking the bus to work in Burlington frees me from the anxiety of rush hour traffic or bad road conditions, and I’ve bought time for pleasure reading. A friend of mine once used the 12-mile walk to her favorite diner as a chance to learn the names of all the plants growing along her path.

Having diverse transportation systems available means we can each choose what suits us best. Unfortunately, much of the country seems determined to lock itself into a narrow system based on cars alone. It is true that most people drive most of the time, but limiting choice means that individuals cannot act personally to resolve problems such as lack of parking, congested roadways, pollution or even a need for more exercise.

Projects in Vermont today demonstrate a will for preserving our choice in travel. Downtown growth strategies, such as locating state buildings in town centers, help keep services within walking or biking distance for as many residents as possible. Like other urban areas, Burlington is addressing mass transit needs as it extends its bus system and brings major employment centers into the transportation discussion. For recreation, canoe and kayak paddler trails, bike paths and hiking areas provide access that is motor vehicle-free.

It takes community commitment and participation to keep these options open. And that, in turn, requires each one of us to critically evaluate how we make our own choices. Changing how we think about our transportation seems like a lot of effort. But that effort is nothing compared to what will be required if we follow the path to a cars-only environment…and then decide that we want to change it.

This is Helen Labun Jordan from East Montpelier.

Helen Labun Jordan is a graduate student in community development and applied economics at the University of Vermont. She spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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