Contrarian Thinking: Against Transportation

As the two chambers of the Congress haggle over the stimulus plan (see The Transport Politic‘s
handy comparison of transpo-related spending in the House and Senate
bills), we’ll take a moment to step back and look at the bigger
picture, courtesy of Streetsblog Network member blog Where. They have a post entitled "Against Transportation" that poses these questions:

SUBWAY.jpgPhoto by truffes via Flickr.

Urban transportation: What are we going to do about it? Fewer cars? More mass transit? More bikes? Fuel taxes?

It’s
tempting to try solving transportation problems with more
transportation. The sight of rush hour traffic jams in cities, or the
experience of riding an overcrowded bus or train, suggest the need for
increased transit capacity. As a short term solution, that may indeed
be the best remedy. In the long run, however, it’s more like
supplementing a junk food diet with a few healthy snacks.

Instead, Where cites the work of Christopher Alexander and asks us to imagine this: 

[I]t might be a helpful first step to scatter workplaces throughout
dense cities…along peripheral transit lines or within walking and
biking distance of neighborhood residences. A lot of work disappeared
in 2008 and plenty more is sure to vanish in 2009. If and when that
work comes back, it doesn’t all need to end up downtown.

Your thoughts?

Also on the network today: Greater City: Providence notes the shoddy quality of new highway infrastructure in Rhode Island, Milwaukee Rising asks why Wisconsin’s governor can’t rein in his road-happy DOT, and the National Journal asks, "How Will We Pay for the Transportation We Need?"

  • cute… another Garden Cities of tomorrow. Nice idea on paper, but downtowns exist because they are well suited for access to the broadest job market. Poly-centric job hubs actually encourage more sprawl and more use of the auto.

  • I agree with Seth..you can put offices in neighborhoods, but there is no guarantee that the people working in those offices will live in those neighborhoods. Witness the San Francisco Bay Area where the traditional commute pattern has people living in Silicon Valley and working in the city meanwhile tech company employees who work in Silicon Valley are increasingly living in San Francisco.

  • De-concentrating jobs is a pattern difficult to serve with public transit – look at silicon valley. But over-concentration may have its downsides too – very long commutes for many, and over-crowding on the streets and transit lines leading to the center.

    What about planning a region as a network of centers, linked to one another by an excellent transit network? In the Bay Area, Downtown San Francisco is well connected to transit, but Downtown Oakland is just as well connected, and other nodes, while less well connected – Balboa Park, West Oakland, Millbrae, Oakland Coliseum, San Jose’s Diridon Station – are still relatively easy to get to, and are a shorter distance for many folks to travel.

    Fostering a multi-centered region, with good planning, may be a better and more sustainable way of using existing investments in transit than continuing to concentrate growth in a single regional center. Encouraging job growth in Downtown Oakland means that trains that now come into downtown San Francisco packed and leave empty would be full in both directions, and could put off the day where the region needs to spend tens of billions to build a new transit line under the Bay.

    A multi-centered region would require new routes and new investments, but could be a sustainable alternative to continued centralization.

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