A decade ago, I was part of a team developing a Strategic Public Transport Network Plan for Australia’s national capital, Canberra. It gave rise to this thinkpiece about long term public transport planning in general.
A key idea was to have a citywide network of Rapid buses, with widely spaced stops. Our most ambitious map (below, click to enlarge) imagined four of them, shown in red, though only the two longest ones were to be implemented anytime in the near future. We also proposed a local frequent network (orange) covering most of the city.
We stopped there because we wanted the plan to seem financially reasonable. Still, we were clear at the time that we were creating a structure for growth. We were not predicting what would happen in what year, but rather defining a network of services that would phase in as development and political support warranted.
So it’s in the nature of such a plan that you’re creating a guide without knowing exactly how it will come out. As it turns out, the plan has moved faster than I expected. One Rapid line is now becoming light rail, but just as important, the government has announced a far larger Rapid network than we ever imagined, nine lines in total:
When a transit idea catches on locally, everyone wants it, so the next stage is often to deploy it beyond the range of where it can really succeed. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see this network pruned as ridership numbers come in, especially if times get leaner. But meanwhile, the lesson is that great planning can lead to more money, if it starts to build a vision that people care about. I don’t regret the fact that our plan’s vision, prepared 10 years ago, was more limited. At that time, a more abundant plan would have seemed delusional. You walk before you run, as they say. We were walking 10 years ago. Now Canberra is running.
 Public transport is the global term for what North Americans call transit. I tend to use the word appropriate to the place I’m talking about, but I hope everyone understands it on both sides of North America’s moat.
 One of my concerns in strategic planning is to propose only a few corridors of high-level transit in the early years, so that there’s a motive for development to concentrate on them. This effect is lost if that network goes too many places, relative to the demand for development. The result is likely to be a more sprawling city.