….is the best way to encourage people to walk, take transit and ride bicycles. Thank you, Matthew, for your speaking into what many of us also believe. I am shamelessly re-posting this because it resonates with me and so many. I hope readers will also click on the link to read about how even in cities with extensive transit systems, getting around by transit will not get you around faster than a car.
Posted in Guest Columns of the Saporta Report on September 7th, 2014, 6:14 pm
As I talk to Atlantans about transit, walkability, and parking – especially parking – I am often confronted with what I have come to call the “Tipping Point Theory of Transit.”
The theory, often summarized with a simple “We’re not there yet”, goes like this:
MARTA is a bare bones system that doesn’t go anywhere, and where it does go, it goes slowly. If we keep building the BeltLine, expanding the Streetcar, and growing MARTA, one day there will come a Tipping Point, when people will begin abandoning their cars for our finally completed system. Until we get there, however, we need to recognize reality and continue to build for cars, especially via parking.
It’s a great theory, and even better politics. We can support transit while pushing the difficult decisions off to the future. Unfortunately, it’s not true. As long as we keep building our city for cars, no matter how much transit or BeltLine we overlay on the city, we will continue to drive for the vast majority of trips.
At some point we will need to choose to make driving more costly. The easiest and most efficient way to do so, with the most benefits, is to dramatically reduce the amount of parking while increasing its cost.
The biggest mistake in the “Tipping Point Theory” is that the key to getting people out of their cars is to make riding transit easier. Easier than what, though? To be appealing to most “choice riders” – those who have access to a car – transit or walking do not need to be easier than they currently are; they need to be easier than driving a car.
Even in cities with extensive transit systems, getting around by transit will not get you around faster than a car.
We’re rational beings, and on a per-trip basis, cars are quicker. Fundamentally, riding transit consists of walking – up to half a mile often, waiting, riding, waiting, riding, and then walking again – often up to half a mile.
When you can step outside, hop in your car, drive, park for free, and be at your destination, which would most people choose?
It’s no surprise that in a comprehensive study of light rail systems built over the last 30 years, the number one factor correlating with reduced ridership was the availability of cheap or free parking along the route. Why ride when it’s easier to drive?