How multimodal transportation can work in suburban and rural areas - Mobility Lab

“You need a car here” is a line I’ve heard far too many times, even in places where I’d gotten around for years easily without one. I’ve heard it at breweries in San Diego, at delicious Korean restaurants from Los Angeles to Annandale, and at relatives’ suburban homes around the country. And I’m sure I’ll continue to hear it going forward.

But I’ve never heard any of these people say anything along the lines of “you might enjoy driving,” or “I think cars are really fun.”

Pretty frequently, you’ll actually hear them complain about the same high stress, unreliability, and harrowing experiences that soured me on automobiles. Yet despite all of the frustration driving causes them, they view the car as the only viable option permitted by their preferred lifestyle – specifically, living in a detached single-family home with a yard on a quiet street, purchasing large loads of weekly groceries for their families, and chauffeuring their kids to school and extracurricular activities.

While the idea of reliable, comfortable public transportation may interest them, they don’t think their neighborhood could ever realistically support such service and have no interest in supporting the changes they think would be necessary to justify it.

A lot of transit advocates – including myself – often attempt to solve this problem by trying to sell the public on mixed-use, high-density development projects designed for multimodal transportation. The facts clearly justify our efforts. When people live, work, and play in compact communities, not only can they get wherever they need to go more reliably, conveniently, and affordably, but the transportation infrastructure they use is more functionally and financially efficient. There’s a reason some of the world’s most successful transit providers, like Hong Kong’s MTR, have real-estate arms dedicated to planning communities that fully capture the economic potential of their stations.

While transit-oriented development is worth continued support, facilitating much better ridership and financial performance than do, say, park-and-ride lots surrounding stations, we have to be careful not to accidentally reinforce harmful stereotypes. Transit opponents have duped enough people to ensure every would-be beneficial project proposal faces powerful political resistance (even though the idea that improvements to any form of mobility other than cars are part of some sinister social-engineering conspiracy seems absurd).

We also have to keep in mind that, in the absence of a broad-based regional approach,

neighborhood-level planning alone doesn’t necessarily encourage people to try non-car options.

We need to remember that, a lot of people prefer the space and quiet of an outlying neighborhood and are willing to sacrifice transportation convenience to live in one. We also must remember that in low-density areas, people still travel on congested arterial corridors to the same shared schools, stores, workplaces, restaurants, and bars, making non-car modes viable, often preferable options for various types of trips.

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