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Bob R.

I agree with you that the award, as given, is an absurd interpretation of "mobility".

I don't know enough about the example subway vs. streetcar debate in Toronto, but perhaps we're not seeing a clash of world views so much as we're seeing a debate over priorities in a constrained funding environment.

As long as transit in North America has a relatively low funding priority (compared to say, middle-eastern wars and lower taxes for the wealthiest), transportation planners and transit activists with differing views about what should be built first are going to be pitted against one another.

I think it is fair to argue that (in a perfect world), we need both placemaking schemes that enhance livability, walkability and density in a given urban neighborhood (I'm a streetcar supporter for this sort of thing but you can argue for other ways of accomplishing this), and we ALSO need ways of getting around our urban areas faster, perhaps via grade-separated (elevated or underground) transit systems.

The two are complementary in terms of network effects. Of course, anyone can have two things they want if they have twice as much money!

Perhaps we have fallen into a trap caused by the flexibility of light rail to compromise between many roles... A number of early successes in the right corridors has led us to believe that there is a single Swiss Army Knife transit tool that can be applied to all situations. Therefore, the thinking of "we don't need an expensive subway because we'll have a bunch of streetcars", etc., rather than thinking of what a completely built-out NETWORK of complementary technologies might look like (and cost).


Awesome post. Mobility is one of the greatest advances in our standard of living in the entire history of humanity. The solution to the problems that current mobility technology causes is to solve those problems, not eliminate the mobility.


We have "car free" days in Vancouver too. I live off Commercial Drive, which has several throughout the summer. While I enjoy them, what I find a little frustrating--and the opposite of mobility--is how many people drive to the area to partake, jamming up all the local roads searching for (mostly non-existent) parking.

So I agree, B.A. doesn't need an award for mobility for shutting down a street. Call it an award for "community building" and I could embrace that, because these activities do precisely that.


We set aside Paseo De La Refoma in Mexico City for non-motorized use on Sundays 8am-2pm. It's the parade route from the big city park to the Historic Center.

On weekdays Reforma is full of through traffic that can't stop in the center anyway because there's no parking. That traffic could as easily go around the center on a motorway. On Sundays Reforma really provides fantastic mobility because everyone nearby can head downtown on bikes, feet, rollerblades, and the like.

There would really be more mobility if Reforma were for non-motorized traffic every day.


Mobility in and of itself is of little use to anyone. What makes mobility needed and desirable is that it gives people access to products, services or experiences that they want or need.

The temporary street closures can give people access to recreational or social experiences that they want. In fact, such street closures actually likely give a lot of people better access to such experiences as they can access these experiences by foot. They don't need access to a car, bicycle or transit. Thus, there is arguably even a mobility improvement in accessing such experiences. As they are proposing the street closures for the weekend, there may not even be a significant decrease in mobility.

This is entirely different from Condon's streetcar vision. A big reason that some people on the West Side of Vancouver don't want rapid transit in a tunnel is that they are worried that it would bring more density to the neighbourhood. Density, if done right, improves people's access to services, work, shopping and housing by increasing the likelihood that they can walk or cycle. Some also fear that SkyTrain will bring more people that they don't want accessing neighbourhood.

Underground transit also increases the likelihood that more surface area can be devoted to sidewalks, patios, social space and other improvements that improve the street scape and provide people with experiences that they want.


That is pretty ridiculous calling the street closure a "mobility" improvement - unless something about the economic situations in the relevant part of Buenos Aires means that local people tend to only be able to get around on foot/bicycle/wheelchair, so that closing the streets to through traffic increases the mobility for the local residents. Of course, that's a fairly specialized sort of case, and sounds like it would be more relevant in a city that was substantially poorer than Buenos Aires, in which case bicycle traffic would already be a major part of street traffic.


Coden's idea is wrong. The notion that transit needs to run slowly so that things will be closer together has a fundamental flaw. It ignores the fact that the fastest widely available form of transportation determines expectations of how far people are willing to travel, which in turn affects where homes and businesses end up being located.

If you run buses streetcars at 10 mph, while cars can travel the same corridors at 30 mph (or 60-70 if there's a freeway), this simply means that transit becomes relevant only for short-distance travel and for everything else, people are expected to drive.

This is a very inefficient way to run transit, as the only trips in which it is time-competitive are the very trips that are short enough to walk or bike, which means we don't even really need transit for those trips in the first place!

To put this in a concrete example: Suppose a streetcar averages 10 mph with a headway of 10 minutes. Suppose a car averages 20 mph (taking into account stoplights and parking). Travel times for 1 mile are:
- 3 minutes by car
- 4-5 minutes by bike
- 6-16 minutes by transit (including waiting)
- 10 minutes on foot (if you run)
- 20 minutes on foot (if you walk)

Thus, for a 1 mile trip, transit is slower than a bicycle and barely faster than a pedestrian (and even then, a pedestrian in a hurry is better running than waiting for a streetcar unless he/she happens to see one coming). For a 1/2 mile trips (3-13 minutes by transit, 10 minutes by walking), one may as well just ignore transit completely and simply walk.

For longer trips, the time advantage of transit over walking increases, but the time advantage of a car over transit does too and transit still remains slower than a bike.

Bottom line: If we want transit to take cars off the road, rather than pedestrians off the sidewalks, it needs to be optimized around longer trips that people would otherwise drive too, rather than short trips that people would otherwise walk too. This requires lines with longer distances, higher speeds, and greater stop spacing.


To put this another way, for short distances (~1 mile), even with 10 minute headways, wait time is still a really big deal, as in the average case, one is likely to spend at least as much time waiting for a bus/streetcar as riding one. For shorter distances, the average case or worst-case wait time starts to approach or exceed the time it would take to simply walk to the destination.

Even for the 1-mile trip, if one decides when to leave home in order to be somewhere at a certain time, the trip planning quickly becomes a matter of "if I'm going to take the bus/train, I need to allow x amount of time for the worst-case wait period, which is almost the same amount of time it would take to walk to the destination, so I may as well save myself some anxiety of wondering when a bus/train will show up and just walk".

For longer trips, a 5-10 minute wait is much more tolerable both because walking is not a ready alternative to fall back on, and because it matters less, percentage-wide, as a portion of the total travel time.

In Brisbane

I think the problem comes out because Mobility does not have a clear definition in the public view.

I like to think of mobility as the potential freedom to travel to a destination at any time, in any direction in a set period of time, say 30 minutes max.

In other words, a kind of "destination menu".

So an extension of service to include Sunday services is a mobility improvement (in time) because it permits travel when otherwise someone would not be able to travel.

An increase in capacity *may* count as a mobility improvement if it allows a person who would otherwise not be able to get on that service because it is full (and thus have to wait) a space.

An increase in frequency could count as a mobility improvement if it means that a person waiting 30 minutes now can only wait 15.

A new bus route might be an increase in mobility if it means you can get to a destination

Hopefully I have this definition down pat- but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.


The idea of building a bunch of slow streetcars instead of a subway in the case of the subway to UBC is ridiculous. The purpose of public transit is to get around the city in a reasonable amount of time, not to force people to go slowly so that they will stay in their local area. Also replacing trolleybuses with streetcars is hugely disruptive. Besides, for going short distances there is a wonderful method of transportation called "walking". Public transit is basically useless for really short trips because of the frequency issue you describe and also because parallel routes tend to be spaced fairly far apart.

Christophe Jemelin

What is the main purpose of replacing trolleybuses by streetcars in Vancouver ?
Here in Lausanne, Switzerland, it's not just for fun or because it's trendy, that's just for capacity reasons. One streetcar-driver can move up to 300 passengers, one trolleybus driver only up to 150...
It's also a question of credibility. You cannot ask the citizens to take transit, and not offer a real alternative to the car, meaning you can read a newspaper or manipulate your iPhone without being at 8 person per square-kilometer.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Christophe. I agree completely. Capacity is an unequivocal reason to
go to rail. The Patrick Condon proposal is not about that. It's
purely for the amenity improvement.

For more on my framework for this, see here:

Tom West

I live (near) a big city because there aren't jobs in my chosen profession in small cities or towns. I would far rather live in a small town and work close to where I live.

Granted I have fairly easy acecss to all the wonderful things the big city has to offer, and I do take advantage of them. However, for access to those things, mobility is a "nice-to-have", while for getting to work, mobility is a requirement.

Jarett, I think you're in danger of forgetting why you want mobility. If we all worked closed to where we live, the total mobility requirrd would be less. There is a certain amount of mobility society needs, and the object should be to meet that level, not to just maximise it. This is true of anything society needs, whether it be food, widgets, car washes or opera.


Needs analysis. Needs analysis. Needs analysis.

Fit for purpose. Fit for purpose. Fit for purpose.

If we're going to build or modify a transit system for any particular city or community we need to ask that city or community what their needs and wants are!!! Then we need to figure out what options they have to choose from (i.e. which modes are fit for purpose) and what they can afford. Design based on that. Then go through a consultation and verification process to verify that the proposed solutions are meeting the citizenry's actual stated needs!!!

Any transit 'design' that doesn't ask the community what they want and need and then verify that it is truly proposing and building a product that meets those wants and needs, is just foisting an ideology on the citizenry using their own tax-dollars.

Cities make City Plans for a reason: they separate residential from employment from industrial areas for a reason. Even Jane Jacobs 'walkable neighbourhoods' concept doesn't mean that you build walls around them and people never get out.

You need local transit for neighbourhood mobility needs. You need rapid transit for cross-city mobility needs - as in residential to employment commuting. This shouldn't be rocket-science.

Perhaps I missed the memo. When exactly did transit planning mutate from a planning/engineering discipline to a social engineering discipline?

Christophe Jemelin

OK Jarrett! By the way, we will replace a 13,5 km/h commercial speed trolleybus(8,4 mph) by a 20 km/h (12,4 mph) tramway ;-)


Occasionally, one sees rapid transit (meaning transit whose primary purpose is mobility over longer distances) derided as equivalent, in some sense, to freeways.

What are the sins of freeways (and the vehicles that use them?)

* Pollution and energy concerns
* Filling up a destination area with automobiles
* Deterioration and/or destruction of urban fabric that they pass through--freeways are ugly, they interfere with local mobility, and their footprints are gigantic, and generally require removal of whatever was there before.
* Enabling "urban arbitrage"--for people to enjoy many of the benefits of a city without having to pay for them.

The first two do not apply to properly-designed mass transit at all; the third far less so. Surface or elevated rapid transit lines can be an eyesore, a barrier to local traffic, and damaging to urban fabric, but nowhere near as much as freeways can due to the much narrower footprint. And it's far easier to put rapid transit underground than it is to have "big digs" to do the same with freeways.

Which leaves the final item. Many urbanists with whom I'm familiar--and this is primarily in the North American context, where it is usually the case that the municipal government which controls the core of an urban area has no control over the suburbs--argue against greater long-distance mobility precisely because it permits people to enjoy the benefits of the city while not contributing to its upkeep and maintenance via taxes. This was a central argument of the freeway revolts a generation ago, and it's still a relevant concern today--that "capital flight" to the suburbs is aided and abetted by infrastructure which permits suburbanites easy access to a city's amenities.

Unfortunately, for the cities where "nubarnism" seems to be most in vogue, the moral arguments for this position are weak. Cities such as Vancouver already have strong and thriving downtowns, whose residents pay a premium to live there. The cities where such arguments might hold water--places like Detroit or St. Louis, or other cities whose central areas are inhabited by the poor and which have trouble providing basic services for their residents--by and large aren't having this argument. Instead, we hear it mostly in wealthy cities, where greater suburban mobility is a liberating force for the poor outside the city's gates. When this argument arises, it's essentially a form of NIMBYism, minus the back yard.


As a further note: see this piece at Transport Michigan.

Eric Doherty


In Vancouver, Canada, the main conflict is between freeway spending and transit spending.

Those advancing the idea of moderate speed (and moderate cost) rapid transit over very expensive (but faster) light metro lines are spread out across the region. Surface rapid transit advocates include the mayor of Surrey (a rapidly growing city / suburb on the lower end of Metro Vancouver average incomes).

We just spent $2 billion on very low capacity subway line - the Canada Line. It is fast, but is already overcrowded. The platforms are tiny, and expensive to extend because so many stations are underground. The main critics of speed-at-any-cost metros in Vancouver are looking for good quality rapid transit for a reasonable cost - not to keep the suburban riff raff away.


@Anne: Who is "the community"? In New York, "community" discussions of a proposed busway in Midtown have focused on residents of the area while ignoring the thousand of people who commute into it (by bus and otherwise). Even if you include everyone who currently lives, works or travels through the area, you're still ignoring the interests of the people who _would_ live, work or travel there if transit were improved or changed in some way, and would benefit as a result. And then there are even more indirect effects on other communities if the transit change decreases or increases pollution, or decreases or increases demand in housing markets in similar neighbourhoods, etc.
Maximising aggregate utility is a lot more complicated than "ask the community".



I'm aware of the proposals for light rail in the Fraser Valley, one of it's more vocal proponents ("zweisystem") occasionally posts here. There, the argument is between two different mobility improvement programs, one which spends a lot of money to build class A mobility in limited corridors, another which proposes the benefits be more widely distributed, at the cost of lesser levels of improvement. The key point is, though, the Fraser Valley LRT proposals are a mobility improvement over the existing mixed-traffic bus service, and here the question is what allocation of resources between worthy projects is most appropriate. It's a very similar argument to many BRT vs LRT debates--should a community build less of a more expensive service, or more of a cheaper one? (Unfortunately, many BRT proposals in practice offer BRT as an alternative to lower the price, not expand the scope of service). The answer is frequently a combination of politics, culture, and technical analysis; different places may address the question differently.

As such, my arguments should not be construed as commentary on the Fraser Valley proposals.

What Prof. Condon proposes doesn't offer a mobility improvement over the existing bus service. It does offer a modest capacity improvement along Broadway, along with upgrades in amenities, but mixed-traffic streetcar to replace mixed-traffic bus service doesn't improve mobility much, if at all--beyond the capacity question, the primary advantage is in attracting the won't-ride-a-bus crowd. Given that downtown Vancouver is fully built-out already, I'm not sure how much redevelopment potential there is.



Transit planning, like other types of community planning, has always been a "social engineering" discipline--it is all about building systems for people. Unfortunately, the term "social engineering" has become a right-wing term of abuse--even though the political right is more than happy to engage in their own flavors of it when in power.

But any informed analysis of what infrastructure should be built where and when, is a form of social engineering. While the ability of planners to affect people's lifestyles via infrastructure choices needs to be treated with caution, it's nonsense to pretend that there are "neutral" choices out there that don't have such effects. Building freeways is "social engineering" every bit as much as building streetcars--even if one was to demonstrate a public preference today for one mode of transportation over another, the choices made today will influence future generations who may find themselves living in a completely different set of circumstances.

To put it in a Toronto context, Rob Ford is every bit as guilty of "social engineering" as TTC is.


Great post! You've articulated something I've been struggling with for several months now... I have been arguing with a professor for several months(who is really more of an advocate than an academic, which gets to another one of your recent posts about the role of advocacy - and I don't believe it belongs in academia) about the value of mobility. He insists that accessibility is of the utmost value - which I don't disagree with - but there is an obvious role for mobility. Life isn't very livable if we can't get to the places we need to go in a reasonable timely and convenient manner.

Another important point - the beauty of transit is that it can fulfill both mobility AND placehood functions. One only has to follow the "transit is fun" themes to see this(pantless subway day, parties on the light rail, MUNI diaries type stuff)

Thanks for all your posts - I look forward to your daily feed.

Steven Dale

"Streetcars, in this vision, supposedly cause greater urban density to be built at livable neighborhood scales, so that people meet more of their needs close to home."

I'd love to see a post sometime in the future that discusses the "supposedly" issue you touch on here.

Why do people assume that streetcars and other fixed link transit will automatically lead to development and safe, convenient, walkable neighborhoods?

There's plenty of areas with streetcars, subways, etc. that are completely unliveable, unwalkable, economically depressed and unsafe.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Steven.  The answer to that question is an entire book.  You're asking about the mysteries of market response, which go deep into psychology and sociology. 


After reading your previous post on mobility I think you and your readers have gotten really close to closing the place/mobility gap in this conversation but the still missing element that I didn't notice explicitly called out is time (in Years, not minutes).

You defined mobility as the number of places that you can get to within a given time frame. This recognizes that there's no greater value in a wider travel "bubble" with fewer destinations versus a smaller bubble with more destinations. What if a transportation intervention increases the number of destinations within an existing bubble over time? Doesn't this have a transportation value? (Of course proving that will happen is a whole different ball of wax.)

You're absolutely correct that services aren't necessarily interchangeable however can you really argue that there is a difference between the likelihood of finding desirable destinations by extending the bubble verses increasing the number of destinations in the bubble? Sure if you want to get to that particular restaurant on the other side of town, this is true, but, in the big scheme of things, services come and go within a metro and where they go is dependent on the transportation network.

Glad to hear you're likely joining us at CNU. Should be a good conversation.


The idea should not be in the mobility section, but instead, a public space section. I can see some value of having a movable public space for experimentation, festivals, as well as daily use studies.
Condon is wrong in that a completed transit system, especially in denser areas, should have a single focused system. An overlapping (does not mean exact same routes)rapid system and slow system is an alternative that can make transit a viable choice.
That is not to say single layer systems do not work, but if I am driving I either go a short distance, or longer rapid distance on the highway. Even roads offer options for travel. Transit has to do the same to be desirable.
The interaction of the two layers of connections in transit(or three, four) serves the needs of the rider as if it is a auto road system. Transit has the capacity for more sophisticated solutions over the auto.
Either or, is not the question it seems to me, but rather what is a design for a comprehensive system that moves people quickly and easily. In other words, mobility.
A mobility that does not include the physical character of the surrounding urban environment will fail, but the Argentina solution from Phillips only includes the physical and not movement systems.
Condon on the either hand seems to have preconceived ideas he is trying to justify without considering options that increase the value of transit to the ridership, better known as the people.
Voters may not be designers, but they know if something is working or not.


With regards to:
Enabling "urban arbitrage"--for people to enjoy many of the benefits of a city without having to pay for them.

One big factor here is the schedule that this line uses. If all it does are a few inbound trips during the morning rush hour and a few outbound trips in the afternoon rush hour, this line is useful to people to live in the suburbs, but no one who lives in the city will ever be able to use it (at least if they want to get back), except for really special situations, like going to a sleep-over party at a friend's house in the suburbs.

On the other hand, if the same line runs all day, not only will suburban residents be able to use it for peak commutes, but city residents will be able to use it for reverse commutes for for occasional non-commute activities in the area. Thus, everyone feels like they are getting some benefit from the line.

A similar issue applies with the issue of parking lots at stations serving as a substitute for a decent network of connecting buses. For suburban residents with cars, it may be a reasonable substitute, but from the perspective of a city resident, that parking lot is useless, whether you own a car to park there or not.


Christophe Jemelin said:
"we will replace a 13,5 km/h commercial speed trolleybus(8,4 mph) by a 20 km/h (12,4 mph) tramway ;-)"

are you sure you just replace, and don't put the tramway in its own ROW, when the trolley is moving in mixed traffic?

beside it, this post address a good point. Back to Vancouver, people tend to give lot of praise to some "neighborhood village" like Kitsilano, and they are right...but lot of shop in this neighborhood exists only because the "village" is able to draw people far beyond its "natural" limit.
You could say the same of numerous other praised neighborood like "Greenwich" in NYC.
So the attractivenesses of the "urban village" is tied to its accessibility.
In brief, the praised "urban village" is thriving because "city mobility" allow it to tap to into a "city" market" rather than a "village" one.


Believe it or not, you can build the "10 minute neighborhood" with all the amenities like Condon argues for and provide quality mobility. There's no reason it can't be done. Maybe he can explain why
This is just an assumption. People want to live next to basic amenities that support neighborhoods. They can't always live next to their job, the hospital, their school, the stadium and so on.

Good urbanism is about interaction between people and places.
Car mobility and transit mobility are different things. Transit will always work best in urbanized areas and its perceived sprawl characteristics are limited.

Ben Smith

I'd like to be the devil's advocate for a minute and defend somewhat tighter stop spacing. Think of transit as an elevator: You're on the 7th floor and decide to walk up to the 8th floor, and feel that having the elevator stop there is a waste. However, someone who is getting on at the ground floor may also want to get off at the 8th floor, so having a stop there isn't a waste.

I'm not trying to say that transit should stop at everyone's doorstop, but there is a case for having a more local oriented transit with SOMEWHAT frequent stops. However, if demand and density is having your transit vehicle stop every 100m with a large number of passengers boarding at each stop, then it makes sense to use a higher-order transit vehicle with wider stops.

This comment and its replies are very refreshing. Most Torontonians who support public transit believe in Condon's theory; that urban transit should focus solely on a local need and feature frequent stops, this includes light rail and metro lines. Any long distance travel should be serviced by the separate commuter transit services. The previous LRT "rapid transit" plan presented by the previous mayor of Toronto would have spent billions of dollars to have trams stop every 400m in low density areas. This would not have provided the improved mobility worthy of this investment. With that said, I do strongly disagree with the new mayor's position of simply killing the plan, and feel it would be much wiser to try and fix some of its shortcomings than to scrap it and start from square one.

Furthering on this, I also agree with what some have said regarding using transit to concentrate mobility within the city rather than expand it. With transit fares costing as much as $3 per ride, in some cases each way, why would one take a slow moving bus or streetcar for their local needs when they can simply walk or cycle to their destination?


The response to Ben's last comment is here:


See also the comment thread there, where he has an epiphany!

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