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"Bypasses are devices that allow people to dash from Point A to Point B very fast while other people dash from Point B to Point A very fast. People living at Point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what's so great about Point A that so many people from Point B are so keen to get there; and what's so great about Point B that so many people from Point A are so keen get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be."
-- Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"
Bypasses are highways built with the intent of directing traffic around, rather than through, a city or town center. It's important to understand, however, that a bypass is not just a road that carries cars and trucks around town. It is a new link in the regional network. As Douglas Adams, in his inimitable way points out, bypasses have an effect upon all the points in their vicinity. Points A and B may have barely existed before the bypass was built, but they quickly become key places to be for a broad radius of high-speed travelers. Point C, the original city, may be left wondering where everybody went!
Prior to the opening of a bypass interchange, Point A may have been within, say, a half-hour drive of only a handful of people living or working nearby. But after the high-speed bypass highway opens, it will be within a half-hour drive of a whole new range of people, destinations, and linkages to more places.
Bypasses are most frequently built around small cities and towns (population 20,000 or less) that have developed along state highways. Most of the time, the new roads do have the intended effects of relieving congestion, improving safety, and cutting down on noise and air pollution in communities where the main street is also a regional route.
The effects on local economies and land use patterns, however, are not quite so predictable. The removal of through traffic from downtown is a blessing for some communities, but a death knell for others. The new businesses and houses that tend to spring up around the newly accessible areas can be a welcome addition the regional economy, a threat to the rural environment, or both.
Caution: Before Proceeding Identify Your Traffic Problems & Determine If a Bypass Is the Best Way to Resolve Them.
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Hannah Twaddell is President and founder of Twaddell Associates, LLC, a consulting practice specializing in community planning, public engagement, facilitation, and education. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the firm provides planning, facilitation, and educational services to communities, government agencies, and private organizations across the U.S.
Before setting up Twaddell Associates, Hannah was a Senior Transportation Planner with Renaissance Planning Group, where she has worked on transportation planning and public involvement projects in several states. Prior to that, she served as Assistant Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (in Charlottesville) and as chief staff to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization.