Setting up for our panel discussion this Thursday night, the Seattle Times asked each of their panelists to answer some canned questions about the future of transportation. The result is here. I hope the contrasts will motivate you to come!
Bravo to Bryan Mistele of INRIX (the traffic consultants to the notorious TTI Urban Mobility Report) for being willing to come into the densest part of Seattle and announce that (a) cars are our future and (b) light rail is a bad investment because of its ridership in the early years. (Both claims presume the linearity of past trends and the irrelevance of land use changes in response to transit.) But the courage is admirable: To say these things in the middle of Seattle would be like me pitching high-intensity transit networks at the Elks Hall of a small town in Nebraska.
Which raises a key point:
Notice, as you read this, how all high-level discussions, at regional levels or above, tend to presume that there is some answer to the "transit vs cars" question that is the same everywhere.
In fact, the answer is radically different in different places, based on known built-environment factors and local politics that tend to track closely with those factors. Some places are suited to cars and therefore defensive about cars. Some places function only with transit, so they view transit as an existential issue. All urban regions — and most states, provinces or countries — are going to have both kinds of places and everything in between.
So my question going in is this: Why can't we let Seattle have the kind of transportation system it needs, and let low density and rural areas have the kind that they need? Why do the differing needs of different communities require that we have a war between those communities, at all levels of government?