My New Article on Transit’s Space Efficiency

You may have seen my recent Washington Post piece on why fixed route transit will always be essential.  Here’s my deeper dive for the Southern California Association of Governments Vision 2040 report.  It focuses more specifically on how a focus on geometry can help us be smarter about prediction.  Most important paragraph:

If you can recognize a problem as geometric — such as the need to use space efficiently in cities – you can become a smarter consumer of predictions. Cities will always have relatively little space per person, so no matter what technologies we invent, the amount of space that things take will always matter, and we’ll have to use that space wisely.

6 Responses to My New Article on Transit’s Space Efficiency

  1. Mike Robb March 29, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    On the 3 options listed in the Washington Post article, there may be pressure from existing residents to “stop growing”, particularly if they are already on the housing ladder and see the demand for housing being translated into increased value of their home.

    Also, as well as “widen streets”, there can be pressures to “build tunnels”…

    Clearly this isn’t a solution either, and is hugely expensive, but those construction companies need something they can do…

  2. Dexter Wong April 2, 2016 at 2:21 am #

    In writing about how fixed route service is essential, I think you should inform the assistant editor of transportation of Wired Magazine. He has some fixation on how public transit is a complement to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, rather than the other way around. His readers think that a smart phone is absolutely necessary for getting around (if you don’t have one, you’ll be lost).

  3. Dexter Wong April 2, 2016 at 11:53 pm #

    Here;s the link to his article:
    http://www.wired.com/2016/03/uber-actually-makes-public-transit-better-youre-rich/

  4. Alan April 5, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    While I appreciate the apparent simplicity of this geometric argument, it’s not as intuitive as you portray it. If someone grants your major and minor premises, your conclusion follows – but I think many who come to your argument will have some problems with the minor premise that cities have relatively little space per person, or at least not enough to easily accommodate automobiles.

    In many American cities – probably *most* American cities – almost all motorized transportation is done by private car. Outside of the handful of metros with the largest transit systems, the modal share for the automobile is going to be higher than 90%. Those cities exist, and are capable of functioning while relying almost entirely on private passenger cars for transportation. Either those cities do have a fair amount of space per persons, or automobiles don’t take up as much space as the geometric argument implies.

    Since these auto-reliant cities are fairly common in the U.S., I think most of your audience is going to come to your argument with the perception that there is no *inherent* spatial problem with accommodating automobiles in a city. In NYC or Boston, certainly – but not in places like Dallas or Las Vegas or Charlotte or Tampa. These are cities that are not nearly as space constrained as more densely populated regions in the northeast. As a Miami resident, I confess I found that premise to be a little jarring myself.

    • Willem April 8, 2016 at 9:39 am #

      You raise a good point, but I think it is more of a drawback of having to present what is a fundamental argument in a relatively small amount of words.

      It is true that there are many mid-size (North) American cities in which cars dominate. My own city, Calgary, is no exception. Where I think *your* argument fall short, however, is putting forth the premise that these cities are able to function on a high level. All of these cities suffer from problems that stem from a culture of car ownership and the isolationism that accompanies it. Most of these sprawling, sparse ‘cities’ are not really cities at all – they often consist of a small portion of the population living in what could be really called (at least on a global average) an ‘urban’ setting, while most people live in a suburban setting.

      I would argue two things form this: First, many people in these “successful by car” North American cities don’t really want to live in a city at all, they want to live in a suburb. Second, few of these cities will become ‘great cities’ like NYC or Boston (as you mentioned).

      This brings me back around to the original conclusion: If you really want what cities have to offer, it cannot practically happen if everyone travels by car. It’s just not going to happen.

      • Alan April 11, 2016 at 11:37 am #

        I don’t think there’s any dispute that a metro like Houston or Phoenix is very different from metro like NYC or Boston. But that doesn’t meant that these aren’t “cities,” either by any technical definition or by common understanding. Certainly there are things that NYC or Boston “have to offer” that you can’t find in Dallas – but that doesn’t mean that Dallas is no longer a “city” because those things are absent.

        I’m not claiming that these midsize or large sprawling cities are “able to function on a high level” (if by that you mean able to do everything that a megacity would do). Rather, I’m simply noting that not every city does that – or even *has* to do that in order to be a city.

        If Jarrett were limiting his thumbnail argument to megacities, I think it would be intuitively powerful. As expressed, I think it is inconsistent with many (most?) listeners’ understanding and experience of the variety of what a city can be. Many cities have found a way to find space for cars, despite the fact that they take up more space than other forms of transport.

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