Three different items to share this week with a common theme of getting realistic about mobility improvements. The first excerpt is from a Wall Street Journal op-ed on "California Declares War on Suburbia":
The love affair urban planners have for a future ruled by mass transit will be obscenely expensive and would not reduce traffic congestion. In San Diego, for example, an expanded bus and rail transit system is planned to receive more than half of the $48.4 billion in total highway and transit spending through 2050. Yet transit would increase its share of travel to a measly 4% from its current tiny 2%, according to data in the San Diego Association of Governments regional transportation plan. This slight increase in mass transit ridership would be swamped by higher traffic volumes.
Higher population densities in the future means greater traffic congestion, because additional households in the future will continue to use their cars for most trips. In the San Diego metropolitan area, where the average one-way work trip travel time is 28 minutes, only 14% of work and higher education locations could be reached within 30 minutes by transit in 2050. But 70% or more of such locations will continue to be accessible in 30 minutes by car.
(sidebar: more on California in yesterday's WSJ interview with Joel Kotkin "The Great California Exodus", #1 most read, emailed, and commented WSJ story this weekend)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: any urban area that did most of it's growth in the post-WW2 automotive era is simply not going to be transit friendly, and that cannot be substantially changed. Yes, you can create a few New Urbanist neighborhoods around a light rail line, but they will always be trivial in the overall context of the metro area.
That said, there's a lot that can be done to make simple bus transit much more attractive in these urban areas (and it's already dramatically more affordable than rail), as this Salon article "It's time to love the bus" describes:
But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving mass transit, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on the humble city bus. The vital connective tissue of multi-modal transit systems, the bus could be an efficient — nay, elegant — solution to cities’ mobility woes if only we made it so.
And yet we rarely do. Streetcars are replacing bus routes in cities across the country, and billions are thrown at light rail while the overlooked bus is left to scream “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding,” says transit consultant Jarrett Walker.
The article goes on to list a litany of potential improvements, including better bus design, BRT, sidewalk bulbing, frequency, real-time information, mobile phone alerts, better maps, better bus stops, bike racks, wi-fi, electrical outlets, and more. Unfortunately, most transit agencies are totally focused on overpriced rail projects and ignore easy, affordable improvements to the bus system.
Finally, completing our theme of realistic mobility improvements, here's a clever intersection design for busy arterials when grade separation is either too expensive or not an option. In fact, this one is a simulation of our own Highway 6 - Westheimer intersection, before and after a potential conversion to turn-right-to-go-left (RTL). Average delay/vehicle is 46.5 sec less with RTL. If you're interested in learning about more types of clever and unconventional intersection design, check out the video here from the HGAC YouTube channel. Let's hope Houston adopts more of these in the future.
Update: apologies for the bad formatting - a side effect of bad html cut-and-pastes. No easy way to fix it in Blogger without losing all of my links.
Social Systems Architect, consultant and entrepreneur with a genuine love of my hometown and its people. I cover a wide range of topics in this blog - including transportation, transit, economic development, quality-of-life, city identity, and development and land-use regulations - and have published numerous Houston Chronicle op-eds on these topics. I also co-authored the Opportunity Urbanism study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. I am a native Houstonian, 6th-generation Texan, attended Rice University for my BSEE and MBA, and a former McKinsey consultant and adjunct faculty member with Leadership Houston. I am currently the founder of Coached Schooling, pioneering a transformational new approach for a more effective and engaging 21st-century K-12 education combining the best elements of eLearning, home and traditional schooling. CONTACT EMAIL in no-spam format: tgattis (at) pdq.net - send me an email if you would like to receive these posts via email, or see the Google Groups signup box below.