Thursday, July 27, 2006

Skepticism of the promise of public transportation ... even North of the border ...

  I'm an advocate of changing our land use laws and increasing funding to support public transportation - especially for dedicated bus lanes, which seem to be the most efficient way of spurring greater use of transit.  But it's also simple realism to recognize that in today's metro areas most people don't want to use public transportation and won't do so even if pushed by changed policies.  The oft-heard assertion that Americans are "fed up with traffic" doesn't mean that they'd willing give up their auto rides for long walks to the transit stops, waits for a bus or train, and then another long walk to their destination, especially in a nation in which low-density suburbia has been policy for decades.   Is this viewpoint simply a spoiled American one?  Here's a similarly skeptical opinion from Toronto's Globe and Mail.

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If Americans were naturally allergic to public transit, transit use would be the same everywhere. In fact, demand for public transit is fairly elastic.

In fact, there is considerable variation among American cities. At the one extreme lies New York City (where 53% of commuters use public transit. At the other lies Huntsville, Alabama (where less than 1% of commuters use public transit). A wide variety of policies can influence where in the spectrum a city lies.

The Toronto article basically says that because SOME people drive in a new urbanist development, EVERYONE will always drive. This argument, of course, is a classic example of the "false dichotomy" fallacy: either X is true (everyone drives everywhere) or Y is true (no one owns a car) when in fact some outcome between X and Y is true.

Posted by: Michael Lewyn | Jul 31, 2006 7:35:10 AM