Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why do transit planners love park-and-rides?

Park-and-rides are not the answer because of the Law of Mode Inertia: people in cars tend to stay in cars. Parking lots and garages will not get people out of their cars, at least at the parking end of the line, and thus they will do nothing to revitalize walkable neighborhoods or build a constituency for walking and local transit. So why do certain transit planners seem to love putting park-and-rides in their projects? Why have they shown up along the Northern Branch of the Erie Railroad and the North Shore segment of the Staten Island Railroad and the "transit-oriented development" for the Tappan Zee Bridge? Why was so much stimulus money spent on a huge garage at the Botanical Garden?

There are a few reasons that come to mind. The first is a fear of empty trains. When you introduce a new product, it rarely catches on right away. There is almost always some adjustment period while people find out about the new product, try it out and change their routines. The sensible thing is to have enough money saved up so that you can keep providing the service until it catches on.

Public transit planners don't often have that luxury. Government budget hawks are ready to swoop down a the sight of Empty Trains, and the climate makes it hard to ask for operating assistance. They want the thing to be successful from day one, which means catering to everyone who might conceivably want to take that train, including some people who live more than a short walk away and don't want to take a bus.

The others have to do with goals. For many years, planners didn't appreciate walkable neighborhoods, and if they do now they don't recognize the value of transit in delivering the pedestrians who would walk in those neighborhoods. This relates to the Law of Mode Inertia: somehow they haven't figure out that every commuter who gets off the train and drives home is one less shopper at the walkable stores, and one less diner at the walkable restaurants.

These planners also don't seem to understand the self-identification correlate of the Law of Transportation Inertia, and its role in the transportation cycle: park-and-riders tend to identify as drivers, so that every park-and-rider is another driver who's going to fight for subsidies to drivers at the expense of transit.

One of the big goals they do have, however, is to "eliminate congestion," and park-and-rides are very good for that.


James Sinclair said...

Reading your title, I thought this post would be about park and rides like this little beauty.

(Make sure its not on 45 degree mode to see the latest image)

That sir, is how planners decided to mitigate air pollution caused by a massive freeway widening. Your examples have transit. No bus has served or ever will serve that park and ride.

Unknown said...

There's also the matter of getting political support for your transit investments. When there are park & rides, then more people think, "Hey, I could drive down and ride that train. Go ahead and spend my tax money."

Steve Stofka said...

David, that's why park-and-rides are best incremental solutions. Unfortunately, transit planners don't recognize that.

Cap'n--there are situations where park-and-rides are useful in the long term. These situations occur, however, exclusively where mass transit lines and existing freeways cross--prominently middle beltways approx. 10-15 miles out from the city center (like I-495 and I-695 around D.C. and Baltimore, respectively). The reason for this is because of balance: when done properly they can extend the "pull" of transit to existing autocentric suburbia where it is difficult, if not impossible, to actually densify and build new transit. If improperly or excessively done, however, a situation arises where park-and-rides actually exacerbate sprawl...

A pithier way to put it, I suppose, is that park and rides are like chemotherapy: a weapon we can use in our fight against sprawl, but if improperly administered, self-destructive.

And what you're reacting to is the fact that the way they're administered is always self-destructive.

Mike Hicks said...

There are dozens of park-and-ride lots in the Twin Cities region that don't have any bus service. The intention is that they can be used for carpooling, and some van pools use them too.

...but now I'm wondering about how many of them were built as air quality mitigation efforts as James mentioned -- pretty unlikely they'd have any tangible effect there.

Janna Banana said...

I read a study (Kim, Ulfarsson, and Hennessy) that actually determined, among other factors for why they liked park-and-rides, where there is little or no transit oriented development at a light rail station, passengers felt safest when driving to and from the station rather than bus/walking, and adding park-and-rides may actually increase ridership in areas with high per-household car ownership.