Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Transportation and mobility and usage and equity

There are different goals for the provision of mass transportation. They include:

- (optimal) movement of goods and people
- congestion reduction/optimizing mobility
- access to jobs, housing, education, and other opportunities (equity)
- greater economic competitiveness for cities and neighborhoods.

When we aren't direct about our goals and objectives, we end up talking about different things, and sometimes the projects we pursue may not fully attain the objectives we are trying to achieve, especially when we consider transportation on different scales (neighborhood, intra-city, metropolitan), especially when rather than working to achieve each of the four goals, the transit service is overly focused on achieving one goal, and in a possibly constrained manner at that.

For example, yesterday in a discussion about Baltimore transportation issues on a Baltimore e-list, someone complained about the difficulty of getting around Baltimore by transit but then mentioned that he and many others from Baltimore work in Silver Spring and they all drive, and that therefore, the most important transit issue for Baltimore to address is get people to the outskirts of DC by rail.

No, Baltimore has to represent its interests first and foremost, along the lines outlined above (Although I do think this raises an interesting point, that relying only on the railroad to service demand from Baltimore to DC _regional_ commuting might be a mistake. There probably needs to a commuter bus that goes from Baltimore to Silver Spring and Bethesda, without stopping in DC proper.)

Without thinking through the broader objectives, transit projects are implemented which may not really achieve their stated goals.

A man rushes to catch the train at the Lynx light-rail 485/South Blvd. station Wednesday morning. Today is "Don't Drive Day," for the Charlotte region. Mecklenburg County NC Air Awareness and Clear Air Works! are offering prizes for people who take a train, bus or bike to the office. Eligible commutes include taking the bus or Lynx blue line, using a car pool or van pool, walking, telecommuting or biking. TODD SUMLIN - Charlotte Observer.

Ralph sends us notice of this article, "Most on Lynx new to transit," from the Charlotte Observer, about ridership demographics of the new light rail system in Charlotte, NC. It's important from the standpoint of promoting optimal urban-focused transportation policies, because a well designed and extensive transit _system_ simultaneously serves all of those goals listed above.

From the article:

The average light-rail passenger is better educated than the typical express bus rider, and Lynx passengers belong to households earning more money, according to a Charlotte Area Transit System survey of Lynx Blue Line riders. CATS touted the survey results – especially a finding that 72 percent of light-rail riders didn't use public transportation before. That shows that light-rail has attracted new riders, said Olaf Kinard, a marketing manager for CATS. “It shows people that if you build it, they'll ride it,” he said.

CATS used an outside marketing firm to survey nearly 1,000 rail riders in December and January. It was the system's first attempt to determine who is riding and why. The average Lynx rider's household income is $65,000, compared with $55,200 for an express bus rider and $31,800 for a regular bus rider. Express buses run from the suburbs to uptown and target commuters. The median county household income is $62,241, according to CATS. Nearly 70 percent of Lynx riders have finished college, compared with 52 percent for express buses and 25 percent for regular buses.

Rail lines across the country usually attract more affluent passengers than bus lines. Critics complain that tax dollars are being spent on people who don't need a transportation subsidy. Transit supporters argue that many people have a bias favoring rail transit, and that spending money on light-rail is important to get choice riders out of their cars.

I agree with the last paragraph. Choice riders prefer fixed rail transit. Therefore we must recognize this within planning. Failing to do so creates transit services that are not used. That is called "failure." Given the limited amount of money we have to spend on transit, failure is not an option. Therefore, increased focus on bus and bus rapid transit, and not on extending the fixed rail transit network (streetcar, light rail, subway-heavy rail, and railroad passenger service) dis-serves the achievement of optimal mobility.

The advantage of fixed rail transit is that if the system is designed properly it does service all rider demographic groups, not only those with the highest household incomes.

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