Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting people out of their cars by not subsidizing the roads

As I've discussed numerous times, if we want clean air and water, safer streets, more sustainable energy use and better societies, it's not enough for people to use transit. We need people to stop using cars. To do that, most transit advocates try to run transit from existing residential neighborhoods to existing job centers. That's a good start.

Many advocates understand, though, that transit is much more efficient, and much more competitive with car travel, when it connects dense urban residential neighborhoods with dense urban job centers. Transit subsidy dollars can go farther this way, even if on paper they are accessible to smaller numbers of people.

So if we don't subsidize transit from sprawly residential areas to sprawly office parks, how do we get the people who live and work in those areas out of their cars? Simple: we get them to move.

As I wrote regarding freight transportation, development follows the transportation network. Invest in transit, and people will want to live and work near it. Invest in roads, and people will want to live and work near them.

The key is, of course, that you have to reduce government investment in roads, so that you're not setting up the transit service for failure. And of course you have to change the regulations so that you can get enough people and/or jobs and/or shopping to make the place walkable.

Rather than running inefficient transit to where the housing, shopping and jobs currently are, we need to run efficient transit to where we want the people to be, and stop building inefficient roads to where they currently are.


BruceMcF said...

How long is that going to take to make serious headway? 50% of US population lives in suburban locations ~ converting 1/4 of that to a more urban density by infill from the rest is a building project to resettle 3/8 of the US population.

That's a massive resource demand, and likely to take on the order of thirty to sixty years to accomplish.

The more of the suburbs that can be restructured to be "near" multi-use, urban density suburban villages that lie along a transport corridor by getting those suburban villages built in their midst, the more people are moved out of the sprawl suburbs without having to change the actual house that they live in.

Placing people within two and a half miles of a quarter mile radius suburban village is, if that is connected to a string of suburban villages and to a larger urban center by a dedicated transport corridor, a dramatic change in the character of most suburbs, but rather than infill construction somewhere else to rehouse 100% of the sprawl suburban residents, it is infill construction in place changing 1% of the sprawl suburbia, housing 5% of the district population ~ and so can be financially successful projects for developers on the back of the preferences of a small minority of the population.

And it leads naturally to development of infill belts between neighboring suburban villages, where a 0.25 mile wide belt with a 2.5 mile hinterland on both sides is 10% of the area ultimately redeveloped, but at the same 5:1 ratio of suburban village to suburban tract density, 36% of the local population.

And politically, "abandon this place for infill over there" is going against far more challenging headwinds than "infill in place to preserve the value of your property".

Rick said...

Yep. How long did it take to settle them into suburbs in the first place?

BruceMcF said...

To this population share, count 1947 (Levittown) to 2007 (bubble popping) ... sixty years.

Cap'n Transit said...

Let me clarify, Bruce, that I'm not opposed to creating TOD through zoning (or lack thereof) or subsidies.

I'm mainly criticizing people who seem to think that running a bunch of slow, loopy, mixed-traffic buses through sprawlville is enough to make a significant dent in mode share.

busplanner said...

I believe that "not subsidzing roads" is a bit of a simplification.

Existing roads need to be maintained in a safe state of repair; though converting lanes to light rail or bus rapid transit or biclycle use is justified in specific cases.

However, we must also not invest in commuter rail extensions to outer suburbia. In most cases of such extensions, only one spouse works in the city and the other spouse works in suburbia or stays at home.

New retail and new schools and new offices spring up to support the new housing and new local roads are built and vehicle miles traveled increase even when much of the new development is TOD.

Instead, it makes much more sense to increase frequency of appropriate public transit services (both bus and rail) in already developed areas. This encourages more public transit use by existing area residents and encourages more residential infill.

neroden@gmail said...

Re-establishing the rail lines to suburbs which were built before 1947 -- the streetcar suburbs, the interurban towns, etc. -- would be an excellent start. The number of places which were built around rail transit which don't have it any more is surprisingly large, and I think this is "easy pickings".

arcady said...

@busplanner, I don't agree that "existing roads need to be maintained in a safe state of repair". In fact, in some cases, it might make sense to abandon part or all of the road. I think it's reasonable to assume that at least some of our road infrastructure is unsustainable, meaning that the benefits of maintaining it indefinitely are outweighed by the costs.

Also, beware of the passive voice. You say "new local roads are built". The question is, by whom? Presumably by the local government, and quite possibly with money that comes from elsewhere, and that can be redirected to other, less harmful, projects like building sidewalks.

busplanner said...

@arcady - I should have said "Most existing roads". Why? Because most existing roads have some sort of activity on them, whether residential, governmental, or commercial. In suburban areas, it is unrealistic to believe that access to these activities can be completely achieved without roads, even if the roads are reserved exclusively for public transit, taxis, bicyclists, and commercial deliveries. Accordingly, the roads must be maintained.

As for the passive voice, who builds the new roads is almost immaterial and frequently depends on state and local laws and practice. For example, the roads in a new residential development might be built by the developer to local code and then turned over to the municipality. Other roads might be built by the municipality, county, or even the state. A new (or widened) road is additional capacity regardless of who the actual builder is.

jazumah said...

I am not a fan of "forcing" modal choice. There is a big difference between transit priority and denial of choices. If that is the plan, the plan will fail miserably and transit will get a black eye. In fact, there are anti-transit factions that use the idea of forcing people to leave their cars as a type of communism.

The best transit is organic (i.e. responsive to existing transit needs). These are the buses and trains that are full. A basic non-auto mobility grid is a good thing as well. However, as long as an auto driver is assigned their fair share of externalities, they should have the opportunity to have the road network expanded if needed. Otherwise, you get the railroad symdrome where a mode funds its own demise.

Cap'n Transit said...

Please, Joel, get real. The government has been forcing mode choice with a very heavy hand for the past sixty years. I'm willing to apply opposing force (you don't bring a choice to a coercion fight), but if you re-read my post, what I'm arguing for is to end the forced choice of roads.