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Eric Fischer

I'd like to suggest that maybe the way to bridge the gap is to clearly distinguish between instantaneous speed and effective speed. It's instantaneous speed that makes streets where no one wants to be, and effective speed that makes the transit system work.

The trick is to have transit vehicles that never go above 20 mph except on private right of way, but can spend all their time (when not loading or unloading passengers) at that speed instead of waiting for lights or behind crowds of cars.

Kenny Easwaran

Eric Fischer's point seems parallel to a point about building height and urban density - Paris seems to hit that sweet spot where you get high urban density without individual buildings being massively out of scale. Of course, the dangers of high speed objects in public rights of way are much greater than the harms that may accompany individual large buildings. But the transit planners and environmentalists that want high speed transit and high density cities don't have to be in conflict with the placemakers that want caps on maximum speed and maximum height for properly human-centered places. The trick is just to figure out how to get your vehicles and buildings all as near to this maximum as possible, rather than trying to have short bursts of high speed on a crowded street or a single tall building surrounded by single-family homes.


The general point seems to be that people have terrible intuition about these sorts of averages. The key to high speed transportation is not so much in going fast as it is in not going slow: a mile at 10 mph and 5 miles at 50 mph still averages out to 30 mph, and raising the one mile of 10 mph to 20 mph raises the average speed even if the top speed on the other 5 miles is reduced from 50 mph to 40 mph (it comes out to 35.3 mph, for those who want to check the math).

Andre Lot

I often feel the new urbanists' frequent and ad-hoc opposition to the concept of speed in transportation is misguided and founded on 2 wrong premises:

(1) that any type of ROW segregation (a freeway, a heavy rail line, a monorail etc.) is inherently bad and to be avoided at any cost, a byproduct of overemphasis on "urban tissue connectivity" and other purist paradigms. I know some new urbanist writers that will even advocate against underground rail or subway because they would allow people to bypass their carefully micro-managed streetscape reach their destinations. It is just another extremist view as those that assume you will drive your car for absolutely any errand.

(2) a parochial, localist view that assumes a fantasy world in which a "good enough" neighborhood is one where, by implication, transportation is slow (walk, bike, at most ride a mixed-street streetcar) neighborhood should provide you all your needs that you don't dare have permanent relations with other areas in your metro area and only take an occasional train trip to further away. This illusion of self-containment can lead to extremely damaging planning decisions that no transportation plan will be able to properly address later (regardless of modes used for)

But transportation is not the only shortcoming of the overzealous new urbanist archetype. Sometimes in the name of making streets "vibrant" they are willing to sacrifice anything, like retail convenience of larger stores (even if in an walkable area).

It gets worse when trends like online retailing is severely attacked by some related bloggers as "damaging the social fabric of communities by depriving them of critical social roles of local stores as meeting points" or condemn school choice/vouchers not on any educational merit but on basis of "severing the ties between student body and local community, which weakens the sense of pertaining to a place".

I'm actually very afraid of many of these New Urbanist ideas more or less like I'd be very afraid if I lived in the 1940s and were reading about how a "new man" were to be forged by being subject to live in residences or work in factories with a certain design.

Rob Steuteville

This is very interesting and I have been researching and writing about New Urbanism since the mid-1990s, and my impression is that new urbanists have few conflicts with transit planners, relatively speaking. The professionals that they fight with regularly are traffic and street engineers with Departments of Transportation, who are always trying to widen roads to improve traffic flow, generating induced demand and destroying walkability. Any battles with transit planners are minor and in the background. New Urbanism generally benefits from transit and vice-versa.

When new urbanists have issues with transit proffesionals, it often involves too much parking around transit stations, poorly located transit stations, and infrequency and lack of clarity of service. I think these are valid criticisms of a lot of transit agencies, but they are background battles with regard to New Urbanism.

Laurence Aurbach

@Andre Lot: In regard to your premise #1, I think the point is that highly segregated surface and elevated transportation facilities do tend to have a negative impact on walkable, livable, economically successful places. And segregated transit facilities minimize those negative impacts because they take up far less space than roadways.

This was recognized by President Eisenhower's advisers in the late 1950s. It was the basis of the freeway battles of the 1960s. It's why freeway planners were required to consider environmental and social impacts starting in the 1970s. And it's why a number of cities have dismantled parts of their old freeway system.

In regard to your premise #2, I disagree that is an accurate representation of new urbanist ideas. Some few new urbanists advocate slow travel everywhere, but many more advocate a context-sensitive hierarchy of thoroughfares that includes boulevards and sometimes even freeways. Look at the cover illustration of Doug Farr's book "Sustainable Urbanism," for example.

Jarrett's point about integrated regional planning of land use and major transit corridors is absolutely key. So is the point about the desirability of transit moving at a relatively constant, moderate speed, in contrast to the jackrabbit sprints and long waits at big intersections which characterizes suburban roadway networks.


This discussion makes me think of Milwaukee, my hometown, where the city is building a streetcar as a placemaking/development tool but ignoring the huge mobility issues we have in the region. We had Norquist (the head of the CNU) as mayor for decades where he did a great deal to improve the physical fabric of the city but often opposed improvements to the heavily-used bus system because he was so set on light rail. It's kinda reinforced my worries that new urbanism isn't much more than a tool for selling downtown condos.

Rob Steuteville


You are behind the times. The market now is for rental, not condos, and that is where most of the downtown development is focused in cities of all sizes, generally speaking.

Two points — focusing development downtown does improve regional mobility, or mobility period. Half of the VMT disappears when somebody lives in a truly walkable place that is served by transit.

With regard to Norquist — he was mayor of the city, not of the region. He had no control over the metropolitan transportation commission, the suburban politicians, the state DOT. The CNU which he is president of, focuses a great deal of attention on regional mobility. The first section of the Charter, which you should read, is entirely focused on the region. Centers, edges, countryside, regional mobility, transit, etcetera.


I like the analogy, it rings true to my experience of mutual incomprehension. From this transit planner's perspective, New Urbanists generally mean well, they're trying to support urban places, which are also usually the best places for transit to serve. Some unfortunately share the general American contempt for buses. Some seem to have a fantasy that all urban transit will become rail again (which hasn't been true for over 80 years). That would be neither feasible nor desirable.

Transit agencies have to shoulder the weight of the existing. We have to provide service to thousands of existing residents and workers, who may or may not be in the right places from an urbanist viewpoint (which we probably largely share). There's but so far that transit networks can be reshaped to support new development outside of existing centers, especially if that development is building out over time. For those urbanists who want to work in core areas, this transit inertia can work for you.

There are also geometric facts that can't be gotten around. Buses need a certain amount of space to operate in (rail transit typically needs as much or more). If you try to create lanes that aren't wide enough for buses, you not only create slow transit, you create dangerous transit. If a transit agency is trying to battle the long run tendency for bus speeds to slow down, this is a serious issue. Some new urbanists do understand this, it's reflected in the CNU/ITE manual that Phil and others worked on.

I've always hoped that defining different functions for different streets in grid pattern neighborhoods would help. Some streets could be oriented to providing sppropriately fast, reliable transit. Others could be neighborhood streets where walking is emphasized. Every neighborhood should provide good accommodation for all modes, but most streets cannot do an optimal job with all of them simultaneously. Streetscape principles definitely vary from these various kinds of streets, presumably building principles do too.


Urban Designers are from Mars, Transit Planners are from Venus

...and engineers are from another Solar System entirely!


Rob Steuterville. I think many New Urbanists have no idea how much conflict they have with transit planning, because in many cases transit planners are excluded so completely from the conversation that the New Urbanist never realizes what a mess has been made for transit.

Ben Ross

This is very much on point, but in my experience the problem is with planners in general and not new urbanist planners in particular. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, planners since the 1980s have kept drawing "transitway" lines through land that is rezoned for auto-oriented development that they want to pretend is transit-oriented. They reserve rights of way that make no sense from a route planning perspective.

In this recent example, the developer was working to degrade the transitway even before the master plan got final approval.

Rob Steuteville

In my view many a transit system is already a mess, Jarrett, without any assistance whatsoever from new urbanists. But it is hard to know what you are really talking about without specifics. I look forward to getting these in the future. I have your book but I haven't read much of it yet. We have a review to be published, but it gives few details on conflicts with new urbanists.

Alex B.

Jarrett writes: "I think many New Urbanists have no idea how much conflict they have with transit planning, because in many cases transit planners are excluded so completely from the conversation that the New Urbanist never realizes what a mess has been made for transit."

I also think this fits into a broader critique of New Urbanism in general - in that it originally sought to engage with developers where the action was - in the suburbs - and thus often did so on suburban terms. The signature work products of many New Urbanist firms are often just changes on what remains essentially a drive-able suburban model - albeit one that at least provides for walkability, placemaking, and many other important elements.

In short, it's a evolution of suburban development - an incremental change.

I do think the New Urbanists have done some very good work for core cities insofar as the suburban standards developed by engineers have often been grafted onto existing cities after the fact (and in many cases are now being corrected), but that doesn't get around the fact that the movement's most successful elements are essentially still suburban models.

On the one hand, that's great! As many of the American suburbs are the places that need the most fixing. Providing a walkable environment at least helps mitigate some of the problems.

However, since this model is development-based, therefore the client is the developer and the to the extent that the underlying development model hasn't changed, so too the transportation model of the New Urbanists has not.

Perhaps the growing revival of urban places of all stripes (whether urban, suburban, developed or redeveloped, etc) can help shift the balance a bit - instead of New Urbanism we'll just look at urbansim, which I think would open the doors to transit planning and regional planning in a more fruitful way.


I think it's a fundamentally different view of society. New Urbanists want a heirarchical society, where everyone knows their place. We need slow, useless transit to limit social and economic mobility, which they see as undesirable, whether consciously or not. It's important to limit the opportunities and mobility of the laboring classes.

Transit planners want to create a more fluid, dynamic society.


Rob. See Ch 14


"Buses need a certain amount of space to operate in (rail transit typically needs as much or more)."

No, rail transit needs less *width* (because it stays on the tracks) -- but more *length*. If that makes sense. Rail doesn't like to turn corners, either. But you can shoehorn a pretty fast rail line through a narrow space *if it's pretty straight*.


"With regard to Norquist — he was mayor of the city, not of the region."

This is the core problem in Milwaukee, and the major political problem faced by most urban planners *and* most transportation planners. The suburbs have different priorities than the city does -- *and different governments*, frequently.

In places where the suburbs want rail service to downtown, this has meant that commuter rail or very-far-flung "light rail" gets built first -- it has the winning political coalition.

In places where the suburbs are chock-full of road warriors, like Milwaukee, this means that the downtown circulator gets built first -- that's generally the option with the strongest political backing within the city proper, as it generally gets business backing.

These are the two common patterns.


A good example of this in Vancouver is East Fraserlands. Gord Price made a blog post recently in which a former city engineer laments the lack of transit service in this developing area.


Andres Duany was brought in, spots for bus layovers were planned, and internal streets were designed for buses. The policy on residential density concentrates density in the centre of the development where it assumes there will be a transit stop. The policy on transit says nothing about transit going to the centre of the development.

In essence, the transit policy in East Fraserlands is to design streets to accommodate transit vehicles. The transit policy should be to design the street network to accommodate transit lines.


I'm too slow in responding to posts on here..

In response to the notion that Norquist was the mayor of the city of Milwaukee and not the region: I agree with Nathanael and would add that the mayor is the person who is ultimately responsible for street design within the city (where almost all bus ridership is) and can stop or unilaterally complete transit priority projects. Norquist didn't push for a single one in his years as mayor, and actively opposed things like bus lanes downtown. He also actively opposed BRT projects that the county was willing to support, and that could have had a serious impact on VMT. More than a streetcar that's only expected to 1/3 to half the ridership of the busier bus routes in town, anyway.

As far as the condo/apt distinction, I hardly think that's relevant. Especially when the new residents, in Milwaukee anyway, still drive everywhere except for a stroll down to brunch on the weekend.

Jonathan Parker

"We live in different timescales. Urban design is about something that will be built and completed. Transit planning is about eternal operations."

Is this true to the same degree as it once was? With more emphasis on sustainability (even as it's become a bad word not to be uttered in much the US) and life cycle costs (though don't get me started on the performance failures of LEED), I think the gap is narrowing. At the end of the day, development projects are built within a finite period and this drives a lot of the considerations from site design to project financing. Still, my sense is there is a lot more emphasis in the urban design community on durability and delivering projects that are holistically integrated into their surroundings, including transit.


Jonathan Parker. Yes, I agree in general, but the incorporation of transit operating cost impacts into "sustainability" is happening very late in the game, and in most places it still isn't happening at all ...


I think it's a fundamentally different view of society. New Urbanists want a heirarchical society, where everyone knows their place. We need slow, useless transit to limit social and economic mobility, which they see as undesirable, whether consciously or not. It's important to limit the opportunities and mobility of the laboring classes.

While some New Urbanists may have such opinions, I don't think that's a fair characterization of NU proponents as a whole. At least none that I've met (here in Portland) have such a Moses-esque view of urban planning.

Alon Levy

Scotty, could you explain what you mean by Moses-esque here, as contrasted with hierarchy? Do you mean that they feel that their designs should be used to foster a certain amount of mobility for everyone?

Eric O

If the "cult of New Urbanism" is as hermetic as it is characterized, it has not done such a good job crafting a unified social theory or keeping its members much aligned to any such thing, much less one. I know that critique similar to Andre Lot's appears within movement.

The predilection to design pod-like development with self-contained "town centers" stems more from a design vision than a social one. What is to blame is simply poor contextual sensitivity in locating the town center. Not knowing enough about the geometry of supportable transit service and mistaken assumptions about its flexibility. That's an innocent lack of cognizance of the necessities of transit routes, not so much Moses-like hubris.

To be fair to urban designers, this mistaken assumption sometimes stems from the collaboration with the transit agency, which is also studying "optional alignments" on maps, not mentioning the "eternal" costs involved. In fact, some problems stem from the fact that some transit agencies - themselves! - seem not to be prioritizing effective transit service in their planning and are repeating the early mistakes of Calthorpe and folks by conceding more optimal alignments to better serve development. Transit planners, maybe your Venusian priorities need to be communicated forcefully. Martians think you are too easy.


Maybe I should elaborate on how much a lack of education may be contributing to this problem: as a former architecture student, I had NO classes on transportation, planning, or even urban design. The program had almost completely devolved into insular, solipsistic endeavors, almost to the point where architecture was little more than fine art. Save for a handful of exceptions, most non-engineering design schools are at least partially trapped in this approach (and the more "avant garde" the worse they are).

Lots of the earliest new urbanists describe how they had to laboriously self-educate themselves on matters of urbanism which their schools completely ignored. Even today you probably will find many NU architects, urban designers, and planners who will say that whatever they learned about transit and urbanism they picked up informally or after graduation, because the architecture-as-art schools simply don't teach these things. You design objects in splendid isolation (never mind the rhetoric about "biophilia" and "connectivity"), and I suspect that isolationist approach might still be carrying over when we see "town centers" or TODs that are strangely disconnected from their surroundings, even if their designers mean well. So injecting some transportation courses into the schools, as well as reducing the preoccupation with isolated art objects, might do a lot for molding designers who can keep transit in the back of their minds when they draw up development ideas.

I'll also concede that sometimes there seems to be a callous disregard for transit modes that are beneath a certain ideal - "streetcars or nothing." But I'm not sure if this is concentrated among new urbanists or even among architects and other designers in general, or whether it's just a widespread upper-class attitude. (Like the situation with buses that Jarrett noted: "I don't take buses and don't see them as all that important, so I don't really care about how well they function.")


Moses-esque refers to the desire to design infrastructure in such a way to exclude the riffraff. Robert Moses was famously accused of lowering freeway overpasses to keep busses out of wealthy neighborhoods; a comment I was responding to suggested that the slowness of streetcars was essentially a feature, for the reason that it would "limit social and economic mobility, which they see as undesirable, whether consciously or not."

While this, and other forms of "transportation apartheid", are well known phenomena in planning circles--this is the first I've heard it suggested in the context of NU. And while I certainly disagree with Patrick Condon on his vision--a city should be more than a collection of villages in close proximity, a goal which requires mobility across its entirity--I have no reason to accuse him of liking streetcars due to a desire to avoid mingling with someone from Surrey or Richmond or Gastown.

Granted, many New Urbanists and NU developments seem to cater to SWPL tastes (SWPL = "stuff white people like"); and many developers and bureaucrats are generally most interested in attracting development geared towards the solidly middle-class and above. Lower-cost housing, particularly large tracts of it, tend to be bad for a municipality's tax base, which is why many cities would rather see trailer parks and low-end apartments be demolished rather than built. Given the tastes of the target audience, it's not a surprise that amenities provided will cater to bourgeois tastes--Whole Foods instead of Winco, Macy's instead of Target, and streetcar instead of bus.


EJ's accusations are patently absurd; to me they reflect the (similar) charges eagerly lobbed by architecture critics, academics, and others who carry around 1960s ideological baggage.

Before we accuse new urbanism of elitism and class obsession, let's not forget that the movement singlehandedly revitalized public housing. In less than a decade we went from anarchic, isolated, class-segregated tower blocks to traditional, mixed-income, HOPE VI urban infill neighborhoods.

I maintain that a lack of transportation/transit education in the design schools often leads to the awkward transit planning described in the post. (And vice versa in the transit/transportation engineering schools wrt urban design education.)


One missing piece in this puzzle are the planners, who should be bringing the urban designers and transit agencies together.

Are the planners sufficiently across all the various areas of expertise involved in developing new towns and neighbourhoods? With regard to transit, Jarrett's book gives valuable insight and is a great place to start.

Ben Smith

When Jane Jacobs discusses the concept of neighbourhoods, she divides them into three scale categories: street, district, and the city. That's right, the city is also a "neighbourhood" and its people need to be able to transverse it - otherwise what is the point of the city in the first place? Even garden city planners didn't expect EVERYTHING to be close to home, and envisioned being able to commute between the mini-towns with rapid transit.

To follow through, if transit should be slow and designed for only the most local of trips - what is its point? Seriously, if I'm going to spend $2 or $3 on transit fare EACH WAY, I'm going to want a service which delivers more than what I can accomplish on my own two feet.

Good transit I think should allow one to transverse the various districts of an urban area in a timely manner. People have two feet and can walk from the transit stop to their destination. If its focus is only to get you around an area which you can easily walk, while extending the ride of those trying to ride through, then it fails both as a transportation mode and as a place making tool.


The assumptions used are incorrect. The most important feature should be the growth of human principles toward gaining wisdom in evaluating a worthwhile prognosis or synthesis beyond that of analysis. Fresh new human ideas and concepts are vital in three spheres of "input" and "output" models. They are policies, illustrations and cost/benefits. Expand your horizons beyond that of urban design (3D Illustrators) planning (Word regulators) and economists (monetary exchange -- cost/benefit) to the many other disciplines involved in village, town and city formation. (one example - Transportation Engineers) This should include the gathering of citizens who are going to partake of life in these new communities to balance such settlement patterns with Nature. Visit www.starkorecity.com for a graphic solution.


What I was trying to get at above: Put a streetcar or a light rail line--running with any level of frequency--on a street, and there are two possibilities: 1. The rail takes over the lane; 2. The lane works badly for both the rail and motor vehicle traffic. Buses have issues, but they are more flexible.

Lily Linton

Wider concepts of space and place may offer a clue to understanding ‘the divide’.

This post refers to two distinct spatial concepts: Transport planning generally refers to vectors and universal processes, without differentiating between places; Place-making often looks at areas as if they are isolated points, in both time and space.

Geographer Doreen Massey writes about a third view of space – where place is a group of processes (human, mechanical, ecological, and geological ‘flows’) in a particular space and time. This conceptualisation of place is specific, connected and dynamic, rather than being either static or meaningless. Each place has a unique mix of things going on, links to lots of other places through these processes, and place identity changes subtly through out time (or drastically - eg Christchurch EQ).

Worth thinking about, I think, if you feel that travel is an inherent part of being in a city - the place you live in.

In terms of unity - there is continuity of the journey to think about. Pedestrians (urban design) and transit users (transport planning) are joined at the hip. They both take part in longer multimodal journeys, and they even have similar shopping habits. (See Sustrans study http://www.sustrans.org.uk/assets/files/liveable%20neighbourhoods/Shoppers%20info%20sheet%20-%20LN02.pdf)

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