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Eric O

It's not just those kinds of graduates of planning schools who are unaware of these problems, but folks who are seasoned planners and advocates with many years of experience, and the transit professionals who advice them!

It is after all those folks (CNU hierachs included) who, for example, have created the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, which is primed to perpetuate BIG problems with transit service outcomes.

LEED-ND will encourage developers - in many cases, if not most - to implement transit outcomes which actually will challenge the service.

The system rewards developers that add more transit stops (even to the same routes!) to reach more residents in their development. On the surface, this is great for the residents, but what it will actually do is encourage development teams to seek diversion of routes into the internal areas of their development. And, because the system rewards for the stops - not the actual distinct routes, developers will seek to add more stops than necessary to the same route and potentially slow down the service. In transit-speak, the rating system is slanted towards coverage goals.

It may be good for the development, sure... but is it good for the transit service? Is it actually "sustainable"?
...You better be evaluating other ledgers!


Most of the people I know who both care about and understand transit planning are ones who had to rely on transit for a significant part of their adult lives, not just as a temporary measure. (The ones who were intending/expecting to get a car soon didn't care.) So may I suggest taking away the cars of the professors and especially the program/department head, and then handing them a transit pass for their city, and a strictly enforced, small allowance for taxis and ridesharing?

Beta Magellan

When I was briefly in a planning masters program, the transit-specific curriculum seemed to concentrate more on how to secure funding for transit projects than their actual design and operation (make of that what you will).

Steve S.

The lack of basic, practical geometric knowledge of (non-auto-based) transit planning, and the fact that many New Urbanists even today have had to self-teach themselves how to do architecture in a community context and not just as a hermetic "master" over their own fiefdom are, in my view, two related symptoms of a deeper problem: the loss of engineering-based design knowledge at the university level. Another way to put it is Le Corbusier's triumph über alles. And of course, this doesn't even start to deal with academic fadishness (a JD is essentially worthless nowadays, and the MBA is fast heading that way. Meanwhile, maybe twenty people total graduated from my alma mater's engineering school in my year and the best transit planning education taking place was in a social sciences discipline (and one that was interdisciplinary on top of that). Try explaining that to my potential employers...


I think Peter Calthorpe is one of the few New Urbanists who has really come around on transit. Of course, he is based in Berkeley (a suburb with an actual walkable downtown and pretty good transit service for the United States) rather than South Florida...


What designers need to do is be open to advice about transit, from transit experts, when it's necessary, preferably at the conceptual planning stage. I would prefer urban designers to concentrate more on their own jobs of creating wonderful, living, breathing, busy places full of activity, attractive to many different types of people, and capable of sustaining themselves over time. These are the sorts of places where it is worthwhile providing frequent transit services because they are full of life and activity and energy! Often transit has a role in facilitating these outcomes by providing access and transit experts can help with this - but the transit is there to serve the activity - transit is not an end in itself.

Laurence Aurbach

I agree that pod-like developments and town centers isolated from main thoroughfares are some of the biggest flaws of greenfield new urbanism. And I also agree with the new urbanists who predict that suburban retrofit will become a major area of growth in the coming decades. So it's going to be more important than ever to coordinate land planning and transit networks.

There actually has been a long-running debate within new urbanism about the placement of activity centers. One side argues that in order for centers to be safe, attractive, and walkable, they must be removed from the wide, fast arterials, placed on secondary streets that are either perpendicular or parallel to the main arterials. Also, growing environmental concerns have encouraged the design of mini-greenbelts around each development, further exacerbating the isolation from the road network.

The other side argues that walkable urban activity centers have always been centered on main thoroughfares; this pattern maximizes access, visibility, and transit efficiency. If the main thoroughfare has too much fast traffic, then a variety of design and policy options are available to make it more livable.

However, the second argument runs up against roadway engineering standards. The standards say the main thoroughfares must be wide and carry fast (40-55 mph design speed) traffic. The standards say that intersections must be spaced far apart on main thoroughfares. Thus, the standards make walkable main thoroughfares difficult or impossible. Changing the standards requires more effort than most developers and designers are able to give, so the fallback is isolated activity centers.

Jarrett's series of posts has painted the problem as a conflict between designers and transit planners. There may be some truth to that, but please recognize there are many other actors and interests putting obstacles in the way of well-coordinated land use and transit. These may include DOTs, MPOs, civil engineers, engineering standards, zoning ordinances, elected officials, and developers of conventional suburbia.

Jeffrey Jakucyk

Laurence beat me to most of what I wanted to say, but there's a little more to it than that. Another reason that the pod-based development pattern with isolated town squares happens is simply because of the way the land is assembled. In urban and suburban context, nowadays the "block" is the area bounded by streets, usually major arterial streets. It's not what most people think of as a block, which is the street as a spine, with the development on both sides.

So when the major streets are the boundaries of your development, you can't create a main street there because it would only be one-sided. Your pedestrian scaled urban main street, which would be in the ideal location for transit and visibility, is just as likely to be facing an office building's parking lot, or a Wal Mart, or a wall hiding the backyards of the residential pod across the street. That's not a recipe for success, and while it doesn't excuse the situation, it does at least illustrate why greenfield and even infill development tends to retreat into its own pod.


I second Bronwyn's proposal on requiring professors to ride the bus. Can I suggest that we add transit planners and administrators, and city development officials to the list? In the Midwest at least, the people who run the systems rarely ride them and I think it contributes a lot to the issues Jarret outlined with transit planners not viewing their work as important. I think if we made them actually ride the bus, we'd see a lot more innovative bus service in this country, increased funding or not.

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