Should We Slow Down Our Pursuit of Rapid Transit?

Jarrett Walker examines the desirability of slow transit as argued by University of British Columbia Professor Patrick M. Condon in support of a vast streetcar network for Vancouver.

2 minute read

November 11, 2012, 9:00 AM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Vancouver Skytrain near Chinatown

Kyle Lawrence / Wikimedia Commons

Walker inserts himself into the Broadway rapid transit debate in Vancouver to prove a point about the value of slow versus rapid transit. Walker picks his fight with Condon, who proposes building a streetcar network for Vancouver, rather than extending the city's existing driverless metro system, SkyTrain, to his own campus, UBC, which lies at the western tip of the city. While the Portland Streetcar, which Condon praises as a model system, did little for that city's mobility, it did much for infill redevelopment, acknowledges Walker.

Was that a unique case though? "Is it really true, as Condon suggests, that sustainable urban form, with fine-grained mixtures of uses that permit most of life's needs to be met close to home, will grow better around slow transit, like a streetcar, as opposed to something fast like a subway?" asks Walker.

"As I think about the great urban spaces I've seen, at many scales, on many continents, I am simply not convinced that highly civilized urban places benefit from transit being slow When I think of really healthy, vibrant, exciting neighborhoods in Europe, or in New York City, I think of places with subway stations," argues Walker. "Once people are used to rapid transit, it comes to function as a driving force in determining where people can live at high density, and enables the continued growth of highly sustainable dense urban form."

Thanks to Jessica Hsu

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 in Human Transit

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Two-story homes on residential street in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

British Columbia Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

Provincial leaders say the new rules could open up as many as 19,000 units for long-term rental.

June 20 - CTV

Small backyard cottage with gabled roof in San Diego, California.

San Diego Sees Continued Growth in ADU Permits

Recent changes to regulations have made it easier and more affordable for homeowners to build ‘granny flats,’ and San Diego’s housing stock is benefiting.

June 20 - Axios San Diego

Close-up of top of California state capitol dome with U.S. and California flags flying and blue sky in background.

California is Updating its Climate Adaptation Strategy

The 2024 draft plan outlines the state's key climate resilience priorities, includes specific and measurable actions, and serves as a framework for collective efforts across sectors and regions in California.

June 20 - California Natural Resources Agency

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.