Friday, January 23, 2009
As the world watched the presidential inauguration this week, and the world’s first impression of the new regime was the Chief Justice’s botching of the oath of office and a part-fake classical music performance (reportedly, the music heard was prerecorded), I was thinking about … land use, of course …. Having spent some of my winter break in Washington, I heard much concern over the expected crush of millions of visitors to the nation’s capital on January 20. What about traffic gridlock? What about potential disasters? As it turned out, the logistics worked fairly well (as they did on Election Day), through prudent closing off of many streets and encouragement of visitors to walk, bike, or use public transportation, and a commitment to giving a priority to efficient bus and rail travel …
This success made me think more about public transportation, a topic that I don’t often focus on in this blog (in part because transportation can swallow up land use discussions). Although I sometimes scoff at the notion that Americans will regularly give up their cars, I do try to test out public transpiration in new places. Two weeks ago, I took the San Diego bus system to many locations (inducing the beach) and found it to be clean, on-time, and relatively efficient. But, as my bus made its way slowly up Sixth Avenue, one point highlighted the difference between bus and train travel: the frequency of stops. City buses tend to stop much more frequently than do urban trains (in part because there is no need for a “station”). In a sense, frequent bus stops reflect a policy choice: They are good for those who have no real choice but to ride the bus (good, because they can board or alight near their starting point or destination) but bad for those who may consider the bus as an alternative to driving (because bus trips are so slow over long distances). For long, American bus systems have been designed largely to serve the former audience (which includes many poor people, college students, and the elderly), and with good reason. But frequent stops do not serve to attract passengers who have choices. If we really want to encourage drivers to use the bus, we need bys systems to offer more express-type service, which trains and cars in effect provide …
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