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What if transit had the same power over land useas traffic?

The primary impetus for transit network development is not land use, but alleviating traffic congestion.  But consider the alternative anyway.

Transit can carry many times more passengers per lane than traffic, and many more passengers per vehicle.  Rail transit can be arranged into trains, increasing its capacity even more.  The average streetcar or bus can carry 40-60 passengers, the average light or heavy rail vehicle can carry 200.  The average car carries 1.6, and even less in rush hour.

Far more than the average car capacity of 5-7.  Because everybody on transit is there because they want to go to one of the stations on the transit route, transit can achieve this capacity.  Particularly during Rush hours.  Traffic, conversely, has fallen in average occupancy from 2 in 1950 to 1.6 in 1990.  It has hovered there since then,.  Traffic passengers have to agree on a origin and  destination and time, while transit passengers can pick from a set of origins and destinations along the transit network.


The downside of this is that transit vehicles are large.  They require a lot of energy to move.  If they are not well occupied, then they are a waste of fuel.  We may as well have just put everyone in cars.  Rail transit ways, stations and vehicles are expensive to build, an average of 72 million per mile.  However, the more people use it the less it costs per passenger.  If no one uses it, it is almost a criminal misallocation of public fund and trust.  Luckily, underused transit can become well used transit, as long as the metro and transit agency take a hard look at what they can do right where they were doing wrong.


* Break-Even Efficiency is Car fleet efficiency of 21 PMPG.  Below this, we might as well drive.

But How?

The key is proximity.

There is no reason a transit passenger needs to get into a car parked in  a parking space when they get off their train.

Much of America is built so that you’d be a fool to walk through a hundred yards of parking lot, across a major arterial, and through someone else’s subdivision to get to your own home or job.  Unless you knock on a door and ask for a cup of sugar from a stranger, there is no place to linger or rest during your quixotic walking journey through the automotive landscape.  Just a private walk through public rights of way looking at other people’s private property.  Not really that edifying.

Contrast this with getting off most intown stops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston or San Francisco*.  These places were all built out and well developed by 1900, and certainly by 1930.  By 1930, walkers and bikers were all shoved off the street to make space for fast cars.  The land uses were changed from storefronts and builidngs on the street to buildings behind parking lots.  The car wants parking, just like the walker wants places to go.  It is easy to walk a mile in old places, because there are always things to see and do.  Walking in these places is an invigorating as driving down an arterial commercial boulevard, without the danger of collision.  You don’t have to think about death so much.

Make the places within walking and biking distance of transit walkable and bikable by default.  If traffic affects everywhere through parking and large-lot zoning, then why shouldn’t transit affect its places through walkability and bikability within walkable and bikable distances.  Of course traffic succeeds where there is plenty of parking.  Of course transit, walking and biking succeed where there is plenty of walkable and bikable land use.

Let transit affect land use as much as traffic does, and restore choice to America’s transportation, real estate, and places.


*or even some in Atlanta and Washington.