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Change the law on traffic study

Medford ought to require morefrom a Wal-Mart-sized development

Fans and foes of Wal-Mart's proposal to build one of Medford's biggest stores ever are still duking it out in the halls of government.

Meanwhile, the situation presents the city with a timely opportunity to reconsider what it requires of large developments.

Medford isn't the sleepy town it once was. Growth is applying pressure from all sides. More traffic is inevitable.

But that doesn't mean the city should lie down and roll over anytime someone has a plan guaranteed to make the situation worse.

That, unfortunately for everyone, is what the law allows here. Medford relies on its comprehensive plan, which attempts to look at the city in a broad sense, to determine what will work in an area and what won't.

The city requires traffic studies of many new developments, but in the case of large commercial developments it doesn't require a study of the effect on surrounding intersections' traffic unless the developer asks to change zoning.

— The Wal-Mart site, in the South Gateway Center at the former Miles Field just south of the Medford Armory, already is zoned correctly for the retailer.

In other words, it's good to go, as far as traffic is concerned.

Trouble is, it isn't ' not even for drivers who navigate the stop-and-go traffic that surrounds the shopping center site now, before the first shovelful of Wal-Mart dirt is turned.

Everybody knows traffic in the area is slow. Everyone knows it's getting slower. Everyone knows Wal-Mart, which is expected to bring almost 9,000 new cars a day to nearby intersections, will make it slower more quickly.

Proponents say the traffic will come to South Gateway even if Wal-Mart doesn't build there, and they may be right. But it almost certainly wouldn't come as fast.

Because city code fails to address situations like this one, Medford appears to have little power to do anything about the development even if it wants to.

That's not the place to be, not as navigating Medford grows into a bigger challenge every day.

Is that trip necessary? We think the city ought to make it tougher for giants like Wal-Mart to have a big effect on Medford's traffic.

But there's a little bit of denial in simply pointing a finger at the world's largest retailer. Anyone with a car has a role in this as well.

The government's 2003 National Household Travel Survey tells the story:

An average of 1.8 people live in each U.S. household. Each household owns an average of 1.9 cars.

Of U.S. adults, 17 percent say they've used public transportation in the last two months, and that includes metro areas where transit is common.

Americans take 1.1 billion car trips a day ' four for every person in the U.S.

Sure, development deserves part of the blame for all that traffic.

So do we.