By Dom Nozzi
The origins of meaningful transit ridership in a community are largely based on motorist discontent. When motorists face high costs for driving or parking a car, or face traffic congestion, political will emerges to create ways to escape such travel pain: higher residential densities, mixed use, and better transit.
High transit ridership is almost never the result of foresighted planners, high-quality transit, educated activists or elected officials. Discontented motorists facing higher costs are the inducement.
Yes, there are certainly quite a large percentage of Americans who do not have good access to transit. Such an unfortunate circumstance is unsustainable. The inevitable adjustment to a transit-friendly, oil-scarce society will not be painless.
But it is clear that the sooner we create a nation rich in transportation choices, the less pain will be experienced.
We must therefore adopt effective policies and pricing that will more quickly induce the creation of transportation choices. I know of nothing that is anywhere near as equitable and effective as increasing the cost of driving a car — including such tactics as gas tax increases, traffic congestion and parking congestion.
Other essential tactics – many of which arise as an inevitable result of increasing car costs – include increasing residential and commercial densities, and embedding offices and retail in residential areas. Both of these tactics are important ways to achieve the crucial objective of creating proximity to transit.
Parking for cars must be scarce, inconvenient and costly (as is the case in any city with high transit ridership).
Car speeds need to be reduced in most locations, as higher-speed motor vehicles substantially increase safety threats for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as creating an extremely uncomfortable ambience. Both of these factors discourage walking and bicycling to transit.
Low-cost methods of reducing car speeds include, where appropriate, roundabouts, road diets, on-street parking, and the conversion of one-way streets to two-way operation.
This is one of the many reasons I support a much higher gas tax. I remain concerned, however, that increased gas tax revenue is likely to counterproductively be used to widen roads. Despite this, on balance I believe that a significantly higher gas tax must be established. And soon.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
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