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A couple other grounds for environmental criticism of transit planning that I've seen:

Some environmentalists (not all) view the value of transit primarily in terms of environmental outcomes, not in terms of mobility outcomes; the purpose of transit for some, it seems, is not to get people efficiently from point A to point B, but to do it in a way that doesn't involve an automobile. In extreme cases, environmental values (reducing energy consumption or emissions) may well trump mobility issues; in Portland more than a few folks in transit planning circles openly agitate for things like closing and demolishing existing (and functional freeways), in addition to constructing transit. (While Portland is famous for having ripped out a freeway--Harbor Drive--and replaced it with a park; the freeway in question was functionally obsolete, redundant due to the construction of I-5 and I-405 in the downtown area, and occupied a prime chunk of real estate. Unlike the acrimony over the cancelled Mt. Hood Freeway, the decision to remove Harbor Drive was far less controversial).

One other reactionary (in a mobility sense) critique of transit planning that I frequently hear is the "if we don't build it, they won't come" argument. Given that infrastructure frequently begets development (whether suburbs around freeways, or TOD around transit lines), it is often proposed that instead infrastructure should NOT be built at all; in order to discourage long-distance travel. While land-use patterns in some locales put a heavy burden on transit (the Bay Area being a notorious example), I question the value of taking this position to its logical extremes--and further surmise that the best way to get people to live within walking distance of basic services is to zone cities that way; not to make mobility difficult.

Finally--and while this is not an environmental objection per se--I've encountered several urban transit advocates who are hostile to any infrastructure (whether it be freeways or mass transit) that is seen to be mostly beneficial to suburban commuters. Many such critiques aren't well informed, of course--but they certainly exist; contempt for suburbia has been a part of the urban landscape in many large cities for decades.


As I see it you told them where they would move and they wanted to know how they would move. You could have told them how they would move as well and they would have asked when they would move. This isn't an environmentalist thing, it's an advocacy thing.

An advocates position is to always be pushing for the next step. Could you imagine the road lobby in Houston saying "well, we're just about all done here". There is always more to be fought for, even when it does not always add up logically.

Maybe they saw your plan as the end of Part A and quickly moved onto pushing for Part B before your very eyes. In any case don't take it personal. There's a reason nobody likes lobbyists. Pushy jerks.

From another self described environmentalist (and vegetarian)


As far as a depiction of a more ambiguous vehicle, I wonder if it might be useful to draw articulated buses, because the additional length and the bend would make it easier to envision the vehicle as one of the boxier light rail models. Granted I realize there are more complications than that, but if looking for something somewhat neutral, it could be a direction to go in.

Louis Haywood

I think your current vehicle is plenty ambiguous: it looks like a DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit).

So, it's a train that still runs on diesel. Well, it may not be the best of both worlds, but it's not the Bombardier Jet Train.

Cap'n Transit

Scotty, I agree that there are people who will view transit in terms of goals other than moving people; I've been one myself.

In fact, I'd argue that we all have goals beyond getting people efficiently from A to B. Even those for whom everything points to mobility still desire mobility for a reason.

Getting back to Jarrett's statement, "I was asked how we could think about what we spend on transit without thinking about what we spend on roads," well, it's worth asking about. There are so many environmental consequences to transit mode share. Why spend a ton of money and effort on improving transit if the government is going to put as much or more money and effort into improving the roads, and tipping the balance further in favor of cars?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

I agree completely that transit spending and road spending need to be talked about together and brought into a more visible relationship so that both pursue the same vision of the future of the city. The hard question is how much you should insist on that as a prerequisite for any strategic transit planning. It's the connectedness question again. If you refuse to talk about transit until people are willing to talk about it together with roads, you miss a lot of opportunities to do good things about transit.

Cap'n Transit

Hm. With regard to the narrowing of focus, meeting facilitators talk about the value of an initial brainstorming session, where all connections can be explored. People need to feel listened to.

At a certain point it's definitely necessary to narrow the focus, but not until all the stakeholders (who are in earnest) have been listened to. It's appropriate to cut off people who are just grandstanding or listening to themselves talk, but if they really have something to say and you cut it off, they tend to get irate later.

Ed O.

Is the main concern raised in this posting that the community members asked questions beyond the scope of the Network Plan project? That would have been easy enough to address if there had been, or will be, appropriate forums allowing people to raise these types of questions. If the next steps would be the corridor studies, people might feel that this is the right time to discuss a light rail network and the role of other modes at the city-wide level.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Ed. I think the light rail conversation has to happen, but for the reasons I laid out I advise not letting the Network Plan process get stuck behind it. But we´ve heard that this is a point of controversy. I think it would be helpful if light rail advocates tried to engage with what we were doing in the network plan, understand why we´re doing it, and help us think through whether there´s a better way to incorporate the light rail goals, while still (my recommended bottom line) allowing the plan to move forward without WAITING for light rail.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

We did draw articulated buses for the Rapid service. You can see them in the distance in the drawing I used. The main purpose of this sample drawing was to illustrate Frequent Local service, which tends not to need articulated buses because it has high patraonge but over short distances, so not such huge loads.


Isn't part of the problem that we are not having enough of basic "strategic transportation planning"? Roads and transit are a complementary system of moving people and goods, not simply competing, as most people--on both sides of the issue--often choose to see it. Almost everyone uses different modes of transportation at different times depending on where they need to go, and how they need to do it. I think ideally, it would be nice to see transit and road systems conceptually and designed/planned in concert with one another--and funding would be dolled out based on the largest gaps/inefficiencies in BOTH systems.


Given that BRT is, basically, an expensive joke for high-volume routes (less popular, more environmentally damaging, wears out faster, runs slower, for a similar price), particularly if you're building the network *before* the development (so there's no 'free asphalt'), I question why you included it as a possibility at all. Is there some government mandate requiring you to?


BRT occasionally makes sense when you are expecting (and planning for) low transit volumes, but want to provide a service which is faster and more reliable than a local bus. It is useful if you can build exclusive bus lanes around trouble spots or bottlenecks, but avoid having to have dedicated infrastructure where it would be really expensive or redundant. At lower volumes, busses are cheaper to run than trains (at high volumes the reverse is true), and a "rapid" service (I know, its a useless term) with fewer stops than a local will cause less damage to pavement (and said damage can often be mitigated).

BRT does have the advantage as well that vehicles can leave the BRT route and branch out to local areas on the street network, which cannot be done with rail. In places where labor is cheap, running frequent busses rather than less-frequent trains is also a good way to improve headways.

OTOH, if you are building a fully-separated right-of-way, as opposed to a mixed line, the difference in cost between BRT and rail will get you a service that is far cheaper to operate (again, assuming high passenger volumes), more comfortable, and more likely to attract "choice" riders.

These are, of course, guidelines--selection of the appropriate mode for a route or network requires a lot of detailed investigation--but BRT isn't useless, even if the oil-and-smoke lobby likes to push it as a way of blocking rail construction. Larger cities looking to build fast transit covering distance is probably better off with a rail-based solution, however.

Your mileage, or kilometrage in Oz, may vary. :)

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

We're talking about a city of under 400,000, so by big city standards there
are no high-volume routes. Meanwhile, I defy you to ride the Busway network
in Brisbane and retain your characterisation of BRT as a joke. It's the
most successful rapid transit segment built in Australia for a generation,
by most metrics that transit planning typically cares about. See my
category "Brisbane" for more.


BRT, unfortunately, has a reputation (in the US) of being a type of Trojan horse--something that anti-transit interests advocate as a "cheaper alternative" to LRT, but then is done in a half-assed fashion, with poor mobility outcomes as a result. Not because of the bus-vs-rail choice, but because of the "half-assed" part; one of the advantages of BRT is that it can be done in piecemeal fashion, with portions of the route requiring little or no improvement, whereas LRT requires its own dedicated corridor for the length of the line. Do this too much, though, and the line doesn't function well as "rapid transit"--which is what I mean by "half assed".

Some of this, of course, relates to US attitudes towards busses in general--many people don't like to ride 'em, for whatever reason.

Another issue occurs when you have mixed rapid transit lines (BRT and LRT/Metro in the same city, serving the same function)--it complicates the system. Both the Orange Line in LA and the Silver Line in Boston (BRT corridors in cities with significant rail investment) are routinely criticized; and LA is now considering BRT for the LAX to Wilshire corridor, for cost reasons. (Again, the cost difference isn't tires vs tracks, it's that LRT would require a subway north of Exposition Boulevard, whereas the bus would simply switch to regular surface streets at that point).

Yonah blogs about the subject here.


"First, some were upset because we hadn't advocated light rail in certain corridors. "

For environmentalists, specifying that it will be either rail or *ELECTRIC* bus would probably have made a huge difference. The mode of energy generation is the crucial point for an environmentalist.

"Meanwhile, I defy you to ride the Busway network
in Brisbane and retain your characterisation of BRT as a joke"

But it's not called BRT, is it? It's a "busway". I really don't have a problem with the idea of busways per se.

"Another issue occurs when you have mixed rapid transit lines (BRT and LRT/Metro in the same city, serving the same function)--it complicates the system. "

Yep. Brisbane is going to hit the "system incompatilibity" problem. Pittsburgh already ran into this with its otherwise successful "East Busway", which would have been a lot better off if it had actually connected to the existing tramway instead of dumping into the surface streets.

And again, Brisbane's busway appears to be *more* expensive to operate and maintain than a comparable rail line. It seems that the specialized conditions of allowing street running in a few key areas saved a lot on capital costs. I guess that sort of thing makes it worth it occasionally.

"BRT occasionally makes sense when you are expecting (and planning for) low transit volumes, but want to provide a service which is faster and more reliable than a local bus. It is useful if you can build exclusive bus lanes around trouble spots or bottlenecks, but avoid having to have dedicated infrastructure where it would be really expensive or redundant."

This seems about right -- but in general the correct thing to do here is to build exclusive bus lanes. Not usually actual busways -- which incidentally are usually proposed on former rail routes.

London impresses me because they *actually took away general-purpose lanes* to build bus lanes, all over town -- and in the central city where the streets were too narrow to do that, they instituted the Congestion Charge!

That's the way to leverage the value of buses. And it's a lot cheaper than "BRT". The challenges are purely political.


I have studied the mass transit situation in the Detroit, Michigan, USA area for a long time, both as a user of the bus system who did not have a car and as a resident using an automobile. I have read extensively about the situation and have found that:

1. The denser the development the worse commuting with an automobile gets. Traveling towards the central parts of Detroit is relatively easy until one attempts to park the auto. OMG! Even though parking structures abound (80% of downtown Detroit is taken up with streets, boulevards, freeways or parking structures) they are difficult to track down and expensive-at least for the area where parking is 'free' in the outlying regions. Often, leaving the venue after a major concert or sporting event becomes an epic wait to move out of the area.

2. My concern is that nowhere, mainly because of concern about servicing the needs of auto use, have developers left any wilderness or open areas. But that is a phenomena that is universal, it is only worse in urban areas where parks and open spaces are rare jewels in the more developed areas. The idea of leaving archipelagos and islands of wilderness that are connected together never occurred to planners; plenty of space for parking and freeways though.

Usually mass transit planners are working within the spaces and design confines set down by urban developers who are convinced they know best and who are also not open to suggestions on modifying plans-or so it seems.
I can see why the transit experts can't become advocates for environmental concerns. In the long run, as life in our urban areas deteriorates, we will all very soon come to regret not having taken a stand to protect the meadows, streams, fields, woodlands, swamps rivers and lakes.

It seems that transit planners and enthusiasts have accepted the idea of coexisting with heavy auto use; however, taking the example of Chicago, which has a lot of both, the mass transit user is given short shrift in the mix. Bus lines are underutilized, as they have a kajillion stops per mile and slower than turtles. The same with the train system which stops every 1/4 or 1/3 mile for every shopper and commuter in the area. Park and ride lots become humongous and --here's my point--the environment suffers because of the perceived need to kow-tow to auto use.

I am slowly becoming aware, that until our cities are rebuilt to scale back or eliminate car use (especially in high density areas) transit planning will always be highly compromised and never rise above the mere 'add on' or 'it's nice to have buses and trams because they are so cute' philosophy that seems to prevail in many of our urban centers.

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