Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with great public transit (Washington Post)
This is one of the smartest posts I’ve read in a while about the challenges facing transit in big cities in the U.S. The article is based on maps produced by MIT that allow for comparisons in travel time in a variety of cities (unfortunately, there’s no map for L.A. yet). The gist of it: cycling and driving in many cities are a more efficient and faster way of getting around than transit.
Riffing on those maps — if they’re correct — the Post’s Emily Badger writes:
Another takeaway is that these maps illustrate why people make rational calculations to drive so much of the time, even in cities where decent transit does exist. The total financial cost per trip of driving somewhere is likely higher than taking transit (or biking), once you factor in car payments, insurance, and maintenance. But we tend to treat those as sunk costs. And so we often make travel decisions with a time budget in mind, not a financial one. By that metric, it’s clear here why people who can afford to drive often chose to. It’s also clear on these maps that people who can’t afford a car pay a steep penalty in time to get around.
Transit advocates spend a lot of time worrying about the lack of appeal of transit for “choice riders,” or commuters who have other options for getting around. It’s important to recognize that the decisions they make are often weighed in time.
That means that a big part of the challenge here for cities is to make transit a more efficient travel mode, relative to cars, for more people….
But outside of New York — with its extensive subway system — this is an extremely difficult task, particularly given that most of these maps reflect the fact that we’ve built cities to be traveled by cars (by, for instance, routing highways through them). But it’s possible to increase the relative efficiency of transit by creating dedicated lanes and signal priority for buses at stoplights, or increasing forms of express transit service. Transit networks could even compress what feels like the time cost of riding transit by adding cell service and WiFi that enable passengers to use time spent commuting productively — and in ways that aren’t possible from the driver’s seat of a car.
I hope every transit advocate, planner and elected official in our area reads this. I realize some people may not agree, but it certainly struck a chord with me and articulated what I’ve been trying to say for quite a few years: many commuters — including nearly all that I know — consider time the biggest factor in their commutes. They like the idea of transit, but time usually trumps things such as “liking the idea,” cost and the do-gooder factor.
Two other thoughts:
•This article indirectly implies that slowing down transit with extra traffic signals is a great way to dampen ridership and the investment made in transit in the first place.
•The MIT maps are a great argument for a healthy expansion of cycling infrastructure. As Emily writes, there probably is a cap on the number of people who will commute by bike, but there’s probably reason to believe most cities can grow the number of bike commuters somewhat.
Your thoughts, readers?
Bill Ford on the future of more cars: we can’t simply sell more cars (Wall Street Journal)
Well, that’s certainly an eye-grabbing headline given that Bill Ford happens to be the Big Cheese at one of the world’s largest automakers. Unfortunately the op-ed is behind the WSJ pay wall. If you read it, please leave a comment summarizing the article. Thanks!
Gold Line Foothill Extension photo tour: transit-oriented development (Streetsblog L.A.)
Photos and text look at some of the development plans in Monrovia, Duarte and Azusa adjacent to the project that is extending the Gold Line from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border. Looks like Monrovia is the most ambitious thus far with its Station Square plans; I think there are some great opportunities up and down the 11.5-mile alignment.
Why the Highway Trust Fund is running out of funds in five graphs (Washington Post)
Or to put it in one sentence: the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 21 years, cars are more fuel efficient, people aren’t buying as much gas, people are driving less. Why does it matter? The Highway Trust Fund helps pay for road work and transit projects across the country and agencies such as Metro rely on those dollars. More on that later today.