The question then becomes: where do you draw the line? Which designs and configurations should we always say no to? If you have a limited pool of money, how do you decide between two new transit projects? First of all, we shouldn't back any project with a competing highway project. Beyond that, we can start with Alon Levy's "trip chaining" principles that I discussed in my "Carfree 24/7" post:
|Foot or bicycle||Car|
|Long trips||Transit||Transit/walkable||Commuter suburbs|
When we talk about getting people out of their cars, the goal should be to get them completely out of their cars. That means transit for long trips and walking (or cycling) for short trips. Transit without walkability means that people will be driving to the store and to drop their kids off at school. Walkability without transit means that people will be driving to work, major shopping and vacations.
Transit and walkability also reinforce each other, just as local and long-distance car dependence reinforce each other. Walkability solves the "last mile" problem for transit, and people in cars tend to stay in cars.
This means that the projects with the biggest bang for the buck are ones where there is walkability without transit, or transit without walkability. We build the transit to serve the walkable community, or upzone around the transit station, to bring the transit and walkability into balance.
The next most desirable transit projects are those that build transit and walkability together. I'm often skeptical of these, especially when they're greenfield developments, and that's another principle: infill is better than greenfield, all else being equal.
We can rule out projects that are neither walkable nor transit-oriented, but simply promote 24/7 car dependence. But what about sprawl transit proposals, like the Northern Branch, the Tappan Zee transit and extensions of Metro-North, which are at best accompanied by vague promises of rezoning? What about proposals for dense, walkable villages in locations underserved by transit, if they are served at all, like the Piermont pier and the Piscataquis Village Project?
In general I would say no to projects like these. If we wait a generation, people will probably be more open to transit and walkability, and we don't want to get locked into highways, garages and single-family sprawl. But there are circumstances where they might make sense. Sometimes you need to move fast to lock down a right-of-way. Sometimes you need to spend money on transit before the road people grab it.
There's an argument that's frequently made that park-and-ride transit can function as a ratchet. Get people on transit for a little while and they'll identify as transit riders and support transit expansion. Get people walking a little and they'll demand transit. I'm not convinced. I know too many transit-riding car owners who identify as drivers first and foremost, and vote that identification. If there was some kind of explicit time limit, where termites would gradually eat the park-and-ride or something, I might consider it.
In any case, these "maybe" proposals should be lower priorities than the other ones, in terms of land, money and activist time. So to sum up: