TOD or Transit Oriented Development is a term that gets thrown around a lot in urban planning. It basically means arranging people and the places they like to visit along mass transit lines so they can get to the various places they need to by bus or rail.
But, does it really foster transit oriented lifestyles? Or, is really only convenient for commuting to and from work and an occasional third destination (restaurants, parks, museums etc.), leaving the car to fill in the gaps? If cities are ever going to get beyond viewing mass transit as primarily for commuter traffic and for giving the car-free slightly better mobility than, say, a bicycle.
So, here is my list of ways mass transit must change to bring about TOCs
Make the system run smoothly. Favor stations over stops, use dedicated right-of-ways at all times, use station platforms with ramps to enter and exit the transit vehicle at its level, allow transit vehicles to preempt traffic lights (like emergency vehicles do). These things take much of the hassle and unpredictability out of transit systems.
Add more wheels to that old hub and spoke system. In a previous post, TC Needs a New Steel Belt, I put forth the idea that routes focused on going to and from major cities are inadequate and lateral routes must be added.
Simplify the routes. It is hard, confusing, and off-putting to figure out how to get where you are going when every route looks like a child scribbled it. Zigzagging in and out of neighborhoods and having route names delineated by letters, like the 24A and the 24D, mean you have to be careful or the bus may not stop anywhere near where you need to go and you might not even know it unless you are familiar with the neighborhood. Routes should instead follow major roads and highways and divert only when the road itself ends. This would lower the barrier for new riders to enter and make the system a lot easier for everyone involved.
Larger storage areas separate from passengers. Now we come to the points where transit moves beyond an alternative commute. People need to buy and transport things that are not allowed on buses or rail. Things like building materials, large amounts of groceries, pets, large tools like shovels and rakes, TVs, etc. If mass transit is to accommodate these needs as well as the car can, it needs to provide separate space, such as a cargo car behind a streetcar or light rail or space set aside at the back of a bus. Cyclists would also benefit from this space and avoid the annoyed looks from passengers on crowded rail lines. To do this quickly and efficiently, it would seem necessary to employ a porter to handle the safe entrance and exit of these items. They could then perform a secondary role of ticket checker when the vehicle is moving. With this change, the old argument of “I still need my car for XYZ, so I might as well just use it” begins to diminish.
Consider allowing access to public rail lines or bus right-of-ways by private companies to allow them to ship goods to neighborhoods without the use of trucks that are poor at maneuvering city streets and add to congestion.
Why not start with a car-free neighborhood? (for an idea for what this might look like take a look at my post What to do with the Dome) Surely this would be met with tremendous push-back as motorists sense even the slightest loosening of the car’s iron grip. But, once you allow for emergency vehicle access and work out alternate means of transporting goods to the core of the neighborhood and with enough support it could happen. And, I predict, once people actually see whit it’s like to live without the constant danger, noise, and pollution of cars, they won’t look back with regret.
Go everywhere. This means connecting with intercity mass transit and maybe even including a station or two in nearby exurbs, like the streetcar suburbs of old. Rather than increase sprawl, I think this would concentrate density around the stations. This also means stopping at more of those so called “third places” where people go for recreation. Why should car owners be the only ones with access to parks and other out of the way attractions?
Get rid of car favoring policies. Requiring businesses to allot so much space for parking per so much square footage of office/retail space just ensures that cars will be favored. Also, few policies encourage driving more than free parking, so eliminate that where possible.
Take a stand. Without getting support behind you, these ideas will never happen. It takes a strong leader or group to clearly lay out what needs to happen and declare that mass transit will be the favored form of transportation for their metro area and that cars, while still serving a role, will not be catered to above all else.
Before I close, a couple of prebuttles to likely criticism of this concept.
“This is the government imposing its will and eliminating the right to choose what form of transportation to use!” This sort of city cannot emerge without a strong partnership between private citizens and government decision makers. If there is the political will to reign in the car in a given city, the government should make it happen, that is how democracy is supposed to work. If, on the other hand, there was no public support and the government was, in fact, just imposing its will, everyone would just move to more car-friendly places.
As for the choice part of the argument that is so often leveled against any government intervention, for millions of Americans there is no choice currently; it’s drive a car or loose access to jobs, friends and relatives, and even food. A TOC, by contrast, makes a completely car-free lifestyle possible for many more people, without throwing the car out completely.
“This will make driving a car so oppressive, everyone will be forced to give up their car!”
On the contrary, by making transit a truly viable and even attractive alternative, those that continue to drive will experience much less traffic congestion, far fewer run-ins with drunk drivers and others that have lost the ability to drive safely, lower gas prices (because of lower demand), less obligation to drive friends and relatives that cannot drive themselves and they will always have a reliable backup option in transit, for when their car breaks down.
Well, that’s all for now. As always, I welcome your feedback.
So until next time, dream on!