Monday, February 20, 2012

Carfree 24/7

Alon just put their finger on something I've been trying to get at with my posts about park-and-rides: that we want to be planning communities where it's easy to be car-free all the time. I've touched on this before, but that was almost three years ago. Alon sums it up with this great table:

Short trips
Foot or bicycleCar
Long tripsTransitTransit/walkableCommuter suburbs
CarAuto-oriented denseSprawl

I've changed Alon's wording and layout around a bit, but I'm still not satisfied. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. In any case, the worst places are like Armonk or Accord, where there's nothing to walk to and no way to get to anything without driving, and the best places are like my neighborhood in Queens where you can walk to everything you need on a daily basis and take the train into Manhattan for work.

Alon's point is that you can also have these wonderful villages with Really Narrow Streets where people can walk to the coffee bar and maybe even the supermarket, but if transit is absent or impractical for trips to work or to the doctor (as in the proposal for Piscataquis Village in Maine), most people are going to own cars and drive. Most small towns in the country used to be walkable with a bus or train to the city, and then they went through a period like this. Over the past thirty years, since the vast majority of people drive anyway, the walkable downtown shops and restaurants have been driven out of business by Best Buy and Applebee's.

As I've been saying about the park-and-rides, you can have commuter rail to the city every half hour, or even light rail every ten minutes, but if there's nothing to walk to (as in Scarborough or Harriman), most people are going to own cars and drive. Too much new transit is like this, and too much old transit has been turned into it.


Ben Ross said...

I think your opposition to park-and-rides goes too far. Availability of park-and-ride in the outer portions of the transit system can benefit the growth of a zone where you can live 24/7 without a car.

First of all, I completely disagree with the premise that park-and-ride commuters vote as drivers. In my experience in Washington, they are a bedrock of political support for transit. Park-and-ride commuters using the Shady Grove and Rockville Metro stations write more often to public officials in support of the Purple Line, which is outside their own area, will have no new parking at all, and serves four centers where many are already car-free, than the Corridor Cities Transitway, a feeder line designed for park-and-ride access in their own area.

Second, cities with good transit systems like New York and Washington are increasingly bifurcating into separate realms with separate populations, one easily accessed by transit and hard to reach by auto and the other the reverse. In Manhattan, for example, the Times recently reported that the total number of parking spaces has dropped and the remaining spaces, once used by commuters, now mostly hold resident cars. I see a similar evolution in Washington, with new sports venues accessed mostly by rail and intown nightlife relocating from Georgetown and Adams-Morgan (no Metro stations) to U Street and Columbia Heights. Park-and-ride access is needed to ensure that major facilities serving the entire region locate in the transit zone.

jazumah said...

Bingo, Ben.

It is not an either/or proposition. The car is a legitimate form of transportation. Urban planners are tasked with the goal of minimizing the land needed to move people and theoretically, that means mass transit. However, roads can be used for both passenger and goods movement equally. The arrangement is rarely equal by rail.

For a large portion of the US, a car IS mass transit and taxis are public transport. NYC is abnormal both in the scope and density of its systems. Naturally, we do not have the infrastructure to support lots of work car trips, so we use park & rides to protect the core. I am not a big fan of sprawled light rail (commuter rail is MUCH cheaper), but commuter rail and commuter bus systems have always recognized their role as capturing auto users who can choose not to ride them. My only complaint about sprawl is that people ought to pay the full cost of their decision to live in a particular area.

Someone who wants to be carfree 24/7 is going to need more than Really Narrow Streets. What they need is:

1) A robust taxi/jitney network. There need to be taxis and small minibuses available to fulfill niche needs.

2) Limited economic regulation. The transport system has to be able to grow and change with the population's needs. This means fast and fair permitting processes to start new services.

3) Hybrid mass transit. Both public and private sector buses should be operators of the major mass transport routes.

Alon Levy said...

Ben, Joel: the issue is that large park-and-rides waste a lot of prime station space. Some of the busiest suburban train stations in the country - Stamford, White Plains, Hicksville - are in edge cities with a lot of office and retail vaguely nearby, and could become transit-oriented magnets if the station areas were more walkable. Instead, the stations are surrounded by oceans of parking. Hicksville is within walking distance of a big shopping mall, but the route passes through parking lots and is unwalkable. Reverse peak ridership at Hicksville is 3% of employment within the village.

White Plains is a little better, but just a little. At a time when major corporate employers are either returning to the city or moving closer to train stations, White Plains surrounds the station with parking garages. To get to the mall and the office buildings one must navigate a minefield of parking lots and garages. The message I get as a pedestrian is: you're not important - get in a car already and stop being weird.

It's fine to have a few park-and-rides on the way, to add to the catchment area. Metropark is okay. Even Ronkonkoma is okay. But there's no excuse for the pedestrian-hostile designs everywhere else.

The people who use those massive park-and-rides vote as transit users only when it comes to transit to the CBD, and even then only narrowly. Westchester County's own Richard Brodsky led the charge against congestion pricing (this in a county where only about 20% of the people working in Manhattan drive!); the county is in no hurry to support cross-county transit or promote in any meaningful TOD near such stations as White Plains and Tarrytown. And over here in Rhode Island, the suburbanites north of Providence were uninterested in regional rail from Providence to Woonsocket, on the grounds that they can just drive to Providence, or drive to Attleboro and take the train to Boston. The MBTA, which serves the interests of such people, is more interested in extending commuter trains to more park-and-rides outside built-up areas than in making commuter rail usable by reverse-commuters or off-peak travelers.

George K said...

Alon, you have to consider that part of the reason why reverse-peak ridersip is so low is because there is hardly any reverse-peak LIRR service. Hopefully the third track on the Main Line will fix that in the future, but for now, those riders will have to be content with buses (the N20 comes from Flushing, and the N22 comes from Jamaica)

Alon said...

George, two things. First, the LIRR Main Line is not at capacity: it runs 20 tph peak, which means that if all trains run local east of Floral Park, they can be fitted on one track. It's pure incompetence that leads the LIRR to prioritize cutting 5 stations from the peak commute over having any reverse-peak service.

And second, there's a lot of service east of Hicksville converging at Hicksville, and yet, no ridership. Mineola gets much more ridership, though still a lot less than Stamford - and even Stamford gets embarrassing ridership by the standards of any decent secondary job center.

Ben Ross said...

Westchester County's own Richard Brodsky led the charge against congestion pricing (this in a county where only about 20% of the people working in Manhattan drive!)

This misses my point. Surely Brodsky was responding to the 20% who drive. Did anyone leaflet Metro North stations and ask people to write to Brodsky in favor of the congestion charge?

I agree with Alon that park-and-ride should be at some stations and development at others. Usually in a single-family suburb there's only enough market demand for TOD in a single-family suburb to build neighborhoods (rather than a building or two, which doesn't really do the job) around a few stations.

If there's so much demand that you can redevelop all the stations, you don't have enough rail lines. Even in that case, the park-and-riders are your friends. The way to get the new rail lines you need is by mobilizing the park-and-ride riders, not by denouncing them.