Untangling Our Emotions From Transit Planning

Eric Jaffe interviews Jarrett Walker, the author of a new, nonpartisan treatise on thinking rationally about transit.
March 11, 2012, 7am PDT | Ryan Lue
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As a transit planning consultant of twenty years, Jarrett Walker has confronted his fair share of well-intentioned but misguided proposals. So after three years of blogging about it, he has distilled his insights in a new book that, according to Jaffe, "feels capable of teaching anyone, beginner or beyond, to speak Transit more fluently."

The problem, Walker explains, is that even when decisionmakers and advocates push for better transit, they "simply don't understand it. Most have never seen a readable explanation of how transit works as a tool, or of the real choices it requires us to make." Which is why, he claims, many discussions of transit development are led astray from the basic objective of "helping people to get where they're going, or to access more of the city easily."

Without proselytizing any particular ideology, Walker lays out a framework that clarifies exactly what variables are elemental to any transit system, and how changing one affects the other.

One such variable is frequency, which is especially easy for motorists to overlook. "Frequency is how transit approximates the freedom that's inherent in your car or bike... Imagine a gate at the end of your driveway that opens only once every 30 minutes."

Other common mistakes he points out are electing for direct (i.e. no-transfer) service over a simpler, more efficient network, or forgetting the tradeoff between ridership and area coverage.

"It's not about imposing my values," he says, "but giving you the tools you need to advocate yours."

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Published on Thursday, March 8, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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