19 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Jarrett Walker in Toronto”

  1. 1:38 into it I don’t buy his logic.

    He says people don’t believe in transit because it doesn’t reduce congestion. He counters with, well, it gives people an alternative to congestion. So is he saying that to a transit person congestion is a good thing because it makes people use transit?

    The other thing is that transit people play the same game as highway people. The argument about highways is that if you build more of them, people will fill it to capacity, and that if you spread out, people will go to the furthest cheapest place to live, but eventually that will cause congestion.

    However, the corollary of that is TOD and vertical density. So, initially transit is sold as a way for people to escape congestion, but inside the Trojan Horse are bunch of developers who own the property around the transit who then push to eviscerate the homes and build density.

    1. His point is that the fundamental thing is not transit or cars, but access to places. Humans need to go to different places to fulfill their livelihood and their physica/social/emotional needs. Transit and cars are just a means to an end. In a city, a frequent and well-gridded transit system can serve a majority of those needs. (And I would add, cars are extras, and can be accommodated as long as they don’t impede the flow of transit or impede the pedestrian experience.) He illustrates one elderly woman who can do almost everything she wants on transit. But in a suburb with cul-de-sacs, transit can’t be as effective, so cars are a necessary part of mobility.

      He doesn’t address your other issues. But it’s true that if you expand either transit or highways, people will fill it up until they reach a saturation point and don’t want to make any more trips. The goal of transit in a city is to reach that saturation point. So more is generally better, and a good investment. (Of course, a pedestrian-friendly environment that obviates the need for many transit trips is even better.)

      New highways can do the same thing to a point, but the problem is that highways and cars have a lot of externalities. One narrow rail track can carry tens of thousands of people. You need a six-lane highway to do the same for people in cars, and it takes much more space. People can’t live in or do anything else in that space, and pedestrians have to walk across it which makes their cities human-unfriendly. Plus the car needs a parking space at home and at every destination. Half of American cities’ buildable land is taken up by roads and parking spaces. Then there’s the effects of gasoline and other fossil fuels. Even if we switch to free hydrogen energy, the space-consuming problems with cars will remain.

      In the last paragraph you succumb to the greedy-developer conspiracy theory, as well as density hyperbole. The point is what people want and need, not whether developers get rich. If you’re a runner in a race and there are gamblers among the spectators, you don’t shoot yourself in the foot in order to prevent the gamblers from making a profit.

      Likewise, you make it sound like there’s nothing between sacred cul-de-sacs and evil 20-story apodments. Many people have said that even Paris’s or Los Angeles’s lowrise/rowhouse/and bungalow density is a model worth building on, and enough for a superior transit network.

      1. People can’t live in or do anything else in that space, and pedestrians have to walk across it which makes their cities human-unfriendly. Plus the car needs a parking space at home and at every destination. Half of American cities’ buildable land is taken up by roads and parking spaces.

        Look, I know roads are not hospitable to humans. I would not advocate that anyone play on a highway. Nor would I advocate they play on an electrified rail line, or inside a steel mill or chemical factory.

        The question then becomes…do I need contiguous “walkability” from my doorstep to all shops, all businesses and workplaces. Or are cars and transit assumed to carry us through “no man’s lands” to get between the good stuff.

        Take a place like Georgetown. It has cool restaurants and nightlife. Maybe it should have a transit station. But I wouldn’t want to walk in the area around it. Same with the SoDO area. I want to go to these places, walk there, and then go home.

        I don’t see how you can talk about walkability and then condemn cul de sacs. Cul de sacs are one of the most safe places for children to play. They minimize traffic down to the few vehicles that are owned by the residents there and prevent through traffic. No city street on the grid does this!

      2. I don’t see how you can talk about walkability and then condemn cul de sacs. Cul de sacs are one of the most safe places for children to play. They minimize traffic down to the few vehicles that are owned by the residents there and prevent through traffic. No city street on the grid does this!

        Over the long term, cul-de-sacs likely increase auto traffic rather than diminish traffic. A CDS neighborhood is most likely low density and therefore isn’t served efficiently by transit or walking, so residents will be dependent upon their automobiles to get anywhere: work, school, shopping, recreation. And there should be better (and safer) places for kids to play than within the loop of a CDS. Conveniently located and safe schools, recreation areas and arts facilities are necessary for kids and teens in any self-sustaining community. This blog seems to constantly lament the lack of public transit opportunities for late night bar hoppers, but rarely notices that 13 year old kids have to be driven all over town for school and after school activities.

      3. In addition, a city street on the grid can minimize car traffic at least as much as a cul-de-sac by blocking one end off, effectively turning itself into a cul-de-sac for cars while still allowing biking and walking on the grid. This’ll actually have even less car traffic, thanks to the effects GuyOnBeaconHill notes.

      4. Take a look at SE 192nd Street between 124th (the Soos Creek trailhead) and 108th (bus 169). Superblocks and cul-de-sacs all around. It’s a 20-minute walk to 108th and an espresso stand, with nothing in between except said superblock entrances. It must be a 40 or 60 minute walk to a supermarket or any sizeable destination. Residents inside the superblocks have to walk around and around to reach the arterials, although I did see one place where they had punched a hole through the fence to allow kids to walk straight through. But only dedicated atheletes like asdf would routinely walk from the neighborhood; everyone else would drive. (Or bicycle, which is a partial solution but not something we can expect the majority to do in that environment.)

    2. Regarding your second paragraph — I doubt it. I think the argument here is simply that all big cities, regardless of what transportation system they use will eventually succumb to congestion.

      As to your second paragraph, the key thing is that transit systems scale a lot better than highways. Highways are great if you go from nothing to a road, to a highway, then a freeway. But once you start adding freeway lanes, you get diminishing returns. We saw this happen in L. A. On the other hand, transit tends to get more cost effective the bigger it gets. Buses run more often to handle more people, which makes them better. Trains replace buses as they become more cost effective. These trains are generally more comfortable. Trains or buses (BRT) can then be grade separated, providing faster and more reliable service. Eventually you get a very high capacity, very reliable, very fast system that is very cost effective given the number of people in a city (since the cost is spread throughout). It often costs less (per person) then a system that requires every person to own a car.

      Then you have the ability to walk to your destination, which is often underestimated. I know two people who walk to work in Fremont. This happens because the area has lots of people and lots of employment. The closer people live to the central city, the more likely it is for people to take those kinds of trips.

      1. It seems to me this “diminishing returns” would only occur where you force people to continue to work in one centralized location with a hub and spoke design.

        In this blog, I have called this using a car as a train. Your car gets on one of a few “car lines” and then they all cram into the central station where people disembark to go to their jobs.

        In a truly distributed network, where there is not center (or no one center) I don’t see why the effect would ever happen, because as you build out, you also add work/shopping/recreation centers.

        This is happening more and more with suburban infill. Really, there is only one major blockage in the whole highway system in Puget Sound and that is downtown Seattle. If you could remove Downtown Seattle, or split it up and redistribute it all over the Puget Sound, we’d get rid of all the major road blockages (people going N/S on I-5; people coming over the bridges) without having to build any more highway capacity whatsoever.

        Really,we are at a Golden Moment in transit and road building right now. Population growth has essentially ground to a halt, and if the trends continue may go slightly negative (especially as dieoff starts). That means we can finally plan rationally without being under the gun of things being developed while we’re trying to decide what to do.

        I’d say we all need to take a deep breath and plan a whole lot more.

      2. Los Angelas is anything but a place where everyone works in one central location, yet its 10-line highways are still chronically congested. Even in Seattle, road congestion is not just about 9-5 commuters working downtown. Take a look at I-5 or 520 heading into downtown during afternoon rush hour, or I-405 either morning or afternoon. And if all the employment downtown were redistributed all around the city, things would get worse not better. People taking trips along I-5 into downtown would simply be replaced with people taking I-5 past downtown, so I-5 into downtown would remain as congested as over. In the meantime, under your spread-out model, a large majority of the current transit riders would be driving (since transit simply doesn’t work as effectively to spread-out locations), so you would also have to deal with a net addition of at least another hundred thousand or so cars on the road, on top of what’s already out there today.

      3. @adsf:

        Are you using the new Google Maps. If you focus on a place, and then select Traffic you’ll get real time data; however, you can also select typical traffic for any time or day of the week.

        Looking at LA, Monday to Friday for 9am, it still seems to me that most of the red areas (high or slow traffic) are concentrated around the “old town” of LA, while the rest of the network is mostly green.

        LA:
        https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0271453,-117.7727923,10z/data=!5m1!1e1

      4. @John Bailo –

        Take another look. I’m looking at Google Maps traffic data for LA right now, during morning rush hour, and the 5, 101, 10, and 405 are all red for a long ways leading into the old downtown. There’re also a number of spots of red in the suburbs.

        If you say that’s still “concentrated around” the old downtown, I’ll grant you that it’s centered around there. But that’s to be expected in any city that grew out from an old downtown: even if most people don’t live there, that downtown is still the center of population in the sense that southern Missouri is the US center of population. When half of people work on each side of it… a lot of the people in the region are still going to go near or through it each day.

        (Yes, in an ideally-planned world, you can map things so that no one will ever have to go through downtown. Nice math. But it does not work that way in the real world.)

      5. I’m sure the folks on 405 will be really happy to know that there is no traffic issues to worry about. Likewise the folks who are traveling away from downtown to Redmond in the morning.

        Again, it is about cost. You could make 405 better by expanding it. Or maybe the answer is to blow up Bellevue (after blowing up Seattle). Or maybe we add more roads (I-605, etc.). But these roads are expensive. Eventually you run into geographic limitations (mountains, lakes, etc.). A lot of the bottlenecks in Seattle are due to precisely this.

        If not for the physical limitations of this area, you would still have cost limitations. It isn’t cheap to build these freeways, no matter where you build them. Transit becomes really expensive in a distributed model. This is why so many people drive to Redmond, and so many people take the bus to downtown Seattle. The buses to Redmond suck. The buses to downtown Seattle (from practically anywhere) are great. In a widely distributed system you eventually have people driving everywhere, which strains the overall system. Perhaps more importantly, this puts a real strain on the finances of people. Driving costs over 50 cents per mile (according to the IRS) which places a real burden on people. Driving from Northgate to Kent (I know who had to make this commute) costs around 18 dollars a day. Not exactly cheap.

        I still go back to my walking point. This is, by far, the cheapest form of transportation. Seattle is booming right now (in employment and population) but traffic really hasn’t gotten much worse (except maybe in West Seattle) in the last few years. One of the big reasons is that the growth has occurred in the central part of Seattle, and a lot of people walk to work. Having people work and live in the same general area greatly increases the chances that they will walk to work. I’m sure there are people in Redmond who walk to work, but my guess is that there are lot more people who walk to work in South Lake Union (or are waiting for more apartments to be built so they can).

        Another reason is that transit, however flawed in this city, could handle the growth (without a huge expenditure). I realize we’ve spent a lot of money on Link light rail, but this still represents a tiny amount of transit for the area. This will change when we add service to Capitol Hill and the U-District. Once this is done, it is pretty cheap to expand service (add more trains). On the other hand, adding more lanes will simply require us to add more lanes later (as we’ve seen with I-90).

      6. Population growth has not ground to a halt. The major employers are hiring. What happened in the 2008 crash was that the in-city housing market dipped only slightly while the suburban single-family market ground to a halt. That’s mostly because of underbuilding in-town and overbuilding in the exurbs. But it also shows the pent-up demand for in-city housing and the larger societal shift toward it. “Urban” neighborhoods in the suburbs can and must be part of the solution.

        A distributed environment is great, and that’s what Jarrett says Toronto has become. That’s why he’s pushing for straight bus routes across the entire city, because people live everywhere, work everywhere, and go everywhere. But it has to be pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented. What scares me about Bailo’s concept of decentralization is it’s auto-dependent: it’s exactly what we did in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The problem with Le Corbusier’s “towers in the park” (as those apartment complexes on 108th SE are) is that it forces people into vehicles to skip over the badlands. Some badlands are unavoidable, but we should not create them unnecessarily. We should especially not create a lot of them. And commuter trains across the entire state are not enough to compensate for this.

      1. Hundreds of millions of people drive every day in SOVs, while only a couple million travel in airplanes. Almost all of these are on commercial airliners which are themselves “public transportation”, so several times more fuel efficient than if each passenger had a separate private jet. We could save 3/4 of the airliners’ fuel if we had robust national train and bus networks in the US and Canada, but these don’t exist, so for most people flying is the only viable choice between Vancouver and Toronto. And he may be in Toronto on a several-month business contract, not just flying in for this talk.

    3. He says people don’t believe in transit because it doesn’t reduce congestion. He counters with, well, it gives people an alternative to congestion. So is he saying that to a transit person congestion is a good thing because it makes people use transit?

      Only in the USA, and one or two cities in Canada, and some parts of the UK.

      In other parts of the world, efforts have gone into making people want to use transit instead of driving by making transit faster than driving. This reduces congestion on the roads by removing people from the roads. Good transit winds up being a positive thing for everyone.

      Lets compare the difference with two anecdotal cases:

      Portland Streetcar: average speed about 6 miles per hour. Ridership: somewhere in the 5,000 to 7,000 per day.

      Strasbourg, France Tram, a contemporary line built in a city that wanted to deal with downtown traffic congestion: Population and commercial density along the line is probably the same or a bit less than the Portland line, due to historic structures and not having the huge new high-rises that Portland has built in the South Waterfront and Pearl District. Average Speed: in the 10 mph to 17 mph range. Average ridership: 100,000 – 120,000 per day.

      So, congestion is only a good thing for transit in the USA and certain other cities, as even really slow USA style transit becomes the least bad option with congestion. However, with well planned and executed transit, transit becomes an alternative to congestion.

      I am fairly certain that if the people who planned the Portland Streetcar were to propose a similar slow speed line somewhere in France, they would probably cause civic unrest and perhaps a minor strike or two in protest.

  2. “One narrow rail track can carry tens of thousands of people. You need a six-lane highway to do the same for people in cars, and it takes much more space. “

    Per hour. (That sentence is the one road advocates go after.)

    Remember, congestion isn’t happening 24 hours a day, so people are looking to solve a per/hour capacity problem.

    They could just adjust their hours, move closer, or pay the actual cost of their urban mega-project themselves, and just quit whining.

    The easiest solution for politicians is road capacity projects… the smaller the better. Quicker to complete, and easier to slip through the local budget.

    Next complaint you hear from your driving friends about congestion, slap a muzzle on them!

    “If you’re a runner in a race and there are gamblers among the spectators, you don’t shoot yourself in the foot in order to prevent the gamblers from making a profit.”

    Hmmm, well, if I was the favorite I’d bet on the long shot, and then that might work. I suppose I’d have to shoot all the other runners in their feet, also, though.

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