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

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