What Transit Opponents (and advocates) Get Wrong
Whenever a new transit project is proposed, you will hear over and over again from opponents how transit is a big government boondoggle that will never replace the car. Americans love their cars. They are convenient, accessible and get you where you want to go when you want to get there.
Transit proponents will claim that transit will reduce congestion, lower pollution and other impacts of car dependence. How it is necessary for those who by age, ability or income can’t afford a car.
They are both right. And they are both wrong.
They both frame their arguments in whether transit can replace the car.
And except in very dense environments like the centers of major cities or for very special trips–like work commutes to the center city–transit can’t replace the car. And if you look at the numbers, especially in dense cities, walking and to some extent cycling, are the favored ways to get around.
But arguing whether transit can replace the car is the wrong question.
The right question is “why is the car so necessary in the first place?”
The problem isn’t whether there is sufficient transit to replace the car but why have we built cities so driving is the only option?
Like the auto-mafia, transit has its own powerful set of interests that benefit from the billions of public dollars needed to build and operate these massive corporations. And until the last ten years or so, you would be hard pressed to find a transit agency getting involved in land use and zoning.
What frees us from the car and its expense/hassle/impacts are neighborhoods where what we need is where we are. Can you walk/cycle to the store, or many stores? If you want to meet friends, can you walk/cycle to a variety of restaurants? Can your kids walk/cycle to the park and school? If not, the car is pretty darn useful and a bus or light rail won’t get you where you want to go anyway.
So, transit advocates. Stop arguing that transit is the antidote to the car. Support actions like reducing or eliminating free parking requirements for new buildings, upzoning housing, requiring connecting streets and banning cul de sacs. Its better urban design, focused on walking/cycling that will make the car unnecessary.