Liveblogging: Jarrett Walker’s Lecture “A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels”
Planning nerds everywhere will doubtlessly share my enthusiasm for a transit planning blogger lecture tour. One of my favourite transportation bloggers, Australia-based Jarrett Walker, delivered a free talk last evening in Vancouver, hosted by the generous SFU City Program.
Describing Mr. Walker as a transit blogger seems too limited. He draws on his background in literary theory to tease out the semantics of transit debates. He actually refrains from picking sides on heated issues such as which technology should be used for Vancouver’s proposed Broadway Corridor line. Instead, let’s call him a transit planning philosopher.
His lecture made the case, at a high level, for increased weighting of rational and scientific considerations (especially of physics, math and biology) in transportation planning decisions.
Jarrett Walker acknowledges that, in planning practice, focusing too much on practicality and logistics creates transit systems that are stuck in the past. Creative vision is needed. However, purely “vision-oriented thinking” leads to transportation ideas that are “stuck in the future” or which refuse all change in classic NIMBY fashion.
Boondoggles are insane, impractical projects that result from fixation on a specific vision or technology without regard for the practical realities of how they will actually operate in terms of physics, geometry and biology. To avoid this danger, planners and decision-makers must nurture a productive tension between vision and practicality.
Mr. Walker concluded his presentation by exhorting transportation planning visionaries to turn their creative minds to basic facts. A selection of what he charmingly calls the “Cold, Boring, Sexless and Inescapable Facts of Transit Geometry” are as follows:
- Branching transit lines cuts service frequency in half
- Parallel transit lines too close together compete with each other for ridership
- If you oppose requiring connections, you also oppose frequency and network simplicity. (Riders don’t mind transferring if it means greater service reliability and frequency. Further, they have an easier time remembering simple transit routes.)
- Doubling population density more than doubles transit demand
- Transit technology choice often makes no difference to mobility outcomes
Short-term political success may result from transit planning decisions based on personal, cultural or psychological considerations (like the perception of rail service as more reliable than busses). However, if the more basic laws of physics or human biology are ignored at the planning stages, the transit service will not function well.
This basic message will be explored in detail and with specific examples in the book that Jarrett Walker is preparing to write this fall. Regardless of your opinion of the need for more rational transportation planning, it is sure to be a worthwhile read. Until then, Mr. Walker’s thoughts on current transit planning issues are available on his blog Human Transit.