Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Build it and they will come?

I am interested in U.S.-western Europe city comparisons and found "Transit and Density: Atlanta, the U.S. and Western Europe" by Alain Bertaud and Harry Richardson (chapter 17 in Richardson and Bae).  Here is the paragraph I liked best:

Hypothetically, suppose that the city of Atlanta wanted to provide its population with the same metro accessibility that exists in Barcelona, i.e. 60 percent of the population within 600 meters from a metro station.  Atlanta would have to build an additional 3,400 kilometers of metro tracks and about 2,800 new metro stations.  This huge new capital investment would allow Atlanta's MARTA to potentially transport the same number of people that Barcelona does with only 99 kilometers of tracks and 136 stations.  The effect of density on the viability of transit is far from trivial. (p. 307)
U.S. planners have learned about this the hard way.  Look at rail transit's performance in U.S. cities. 

Or have they?  The response is actually, "build it and they will come."  "Transit-oriented development" will make Atlanta more like Barcelona.

Is the high-speed rail discussion any different?  Remember this from January 26 of this year?
Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a "D."
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we've begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I'm proposing that we redouble those efforts.

We'll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We'll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what's best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying -- without the pat-down.  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.
It's safe to say that Atlanta will never be anything like Barcelona and that U.S. travellers will not adopt the habits of Chinese or Europeans.


Speaking of Barcelona, here are some thoughts about its urban problems.  H/T Urban Demographics


Brookings study shows providing transit access to jobs in U.S. cities is not simple.  Is anyone surprised?


Adrian Moore and Bob Poole take up these issues and fittingly invoke the S-word (sustainability).