Friday, March 06, 2009

Transportation and Climate Change

Grist's David Roberts is using Twitter to report on the Wall Street Journal's Eco:Economics Conference going on this week in Santa Barbara. Last year, he gave us more substantive reports blogging live. Still, I learned that journalists were not allowed into the happy hour bar and that Roberts drinks Scotch. Neither fact will do either of us much good since I doubt that anyone will pay for me to go the conference if they hold it again nor will I likely meet David to buy him a scotch - rocks.

However, one of his tweets did trigger additional thoughts, and maybe that is all it was supposed to do.
It occurs to me, despite the obsession with transportation through this whole conference, nobody has even mention public transit.
To see where this leads, click Read more!

I live in the San Jose, CA area. It is a monument to urban sprawl where only a few McMansions and condo complexes achieve a 2nd story. All efforts to draw a ring around it have failed, big ideas for a New Town complex in the Coyote Valley between San Jose urban boundary and my community of Morgan Hill have died in the economic realities of cities whose budget deficits are exceeded only that the State's own revenue problem. My local newspaper is filled with letters to the editor that proclaim the opinion that the Valley Transit Authority is a failed concept.

Having lived for some time in Tokyo, which has a massive public transportation system that I used every day, I have some observations. The most important thing about the Tokyo system was it's convenience. There is nothing convenient about the systems that we have in place here. The entire structure of society is one that reinforces the auto orientation of everything. If I need to buy a gallon of milk, I have to drive. The buses that come to my subdivision do not stop near the grocery stores and the milk would probably spoil while waiting for the next one.

We lack two elements that are necessary for an effective and highly utilized mass transit system. One is the ability for people to get from a mass transit station / stop to their actual place of employment. For most, this is not possible. Some major employers run shuttle buses. Most can not afford to. The solution may lie in Personal Rapid Transit. There is a conference tomorrow (March 6, 2009)in Oakland devoted to Carbon Free Mobility. I am not sure who will attend. I tried to get a local city councilman to attend, but did not even get a return call. I know that some Greens will be there.

The second element that we lack, especially in comparison to locations like Tokyo, is having shopping in proximity to the mass transit hubs. In Morgan Hill, the empty space near our train station has been taken by a satellite court house / sheriff's office. While there are restaurants withing walking distance, there is no regular shopping. The remaining vacant land has been allocated for multi-family housing. That is not bad, but further exacerbates the problem. It is the same almost everywhere I look, with only parking lots surrounding the rail stations and the shopping concentrated at highway intersections.

Most cities use tax incentives to lure stores from other nearby communities. Until we start using those incentives to influence the location of new facilities, we will continue building the infrastructure to prohibit the development of mass transit rather than encouraging it. It is not just a matter of having trains and light rail vs automobiles. We need to have transit integrated into the total planning process for the entire community and allowing transit goals to determine what we do rather than reacting to what we have already screwed up.


Anonymous said...

For more on Personal Rapid Transit:

Anonymous said...

How about just walking? It seems to me pretty useless to drive just to get to a store that is right behind the corner. Of course its faster and easier but yet you must have seen it in Tokyo, people just walk everywhere. I saw the same thing in Europe. All the city centers are walking only zones. That is the real problem in US. That in a neighbor hood full of houses, its only houses that occupy that area. Small businesses are needed to be mixed in with these houses so people would have the so needed grocery store so close that driving a car would really seem useless.

Take care, Elli