In the same vein, the other presentation focused on “eco-networks” that drive “ecologically friendly” innovation. This is a formalization, possibly with a degree of governmental blessing but without governmental control or legal sanction, of the concept of knowledge dynamics. While we often talk about urban or rural planning, or smart growth, it isn’t always done with a degree of synergy with economic goals, or is often done with a political slant. While no governmental participation can occur without some degree of politics, it is incumbent upon the United States to assist in developing these ecological/economical synergies. This rounds back to the point my paper casts: There are many reasons to not take transit, but what can induce non-density-driven transit to greater efficiency?
Sustainable Transit Planning
First, we have 62 federal programs that spend money on transit in some form, from elderbus services to rural transit to fixed-route public transit. This creates a crazy quilt of specialty buses which rarely share or coordinate, despite a limited mandate to do so. Such waste shouldn’t occur when a logical system of transit can be reached — fewer programs means tax dollars used more efficiently. This would free up capital dollars by coordinating several operations under one umbrella, and then delivering more capital (buses, trains, and stations or shelters) and better transit build-out, such as fixed-guideway trams or bus rapid transit where none exists, or rail where it is feasible. In rural areas, there will be the right amount of buses to get people to critical rural area services by focusing on what is needed: elders, people with disabilities, and getting economically hard-hit rural areas back to work in nearby cities. Work with employers that need people at a regular time, or services that need people safely transported.
Second, focus on finding populations via Census and business location data to locate areas that should be serviced by transit if they are not, or if they are, but are not achieving logical capacities, develop education programs to increase awareness (environmental or economic) and decrease stigma of lack of car use (how often have we heard a bus called a “loser cruiser”, by presuming income of the rider?).
Riders might include areas with high densities of limited English proficient populations or aging suburbs. Destination agglomerations could include: hospitals, universities, dense commercial areas or large shift-work factories or even whole industrial areas, such as industrial parks. Work with the local population and work with businesses, develop a transit plan that benefits both and increases ridership based on environmental and economic choice. Let the employer, whether public, private or university, be the advocate of mass transit.
Third, focus design over the long term to greater multi-modalism. Fill the suburbs with not just density, but better, greener, cleaner density. Multi-use buildings, which favor dense clusters, should be part of the village center of our current suburbs. Keep a lane or priority signalization for buses that take these commuters downtown. Construct better sidewalks and wider bike paths. These amenities attract young professionals looking for convenience, nice places to live and a chance to be environmentally friendly.
In conclusion, mass transit isn’t simply a public service. It can be part of an environmentally sustainable, economically productive future. However, the stigma and utility of transit has been diminished by years of car-oriented construction. It is time for mass transit to join the broader environmental and economic “green growth” movements and take a lead in getting a better image for itself by being not just “at the table” but helping local employers and local leaders understand that transit works. In so doing, it can change society broadly to favor more inclusive multi-modal design. MT
Richard D. Quodomine is a geographer and public transportation specialist.
This is not the opinion of the Public Transportation Bureau nor the Department of Transportation of the State of New York, and Quodomine is doing this on his own time and the State of New York didn’t spend any of its tax dollars on his trip; it was sponsored in part by the Association of American Geographers.