Houston Rethinks Mass Transit
In the developed world, the municipal systems we rely on are largely invisible and universal. In mansions and studio apartments alike, flip a switch and the lights come on; turn a tap and water flows out.
Transportation is a different matter. The way we get from place to place varies greatly, influenced by location, lifestyle, and socioeconomic status. From driving an SUV to cycling or riding the subway, how we choose to navigate our cities is often seen as a reflection of both our personalities and our life circumstances.
But while individual and cultural transit preferences can seem immutable, history proves otherwise. Around the globe, it’s not uncommon for massive shifts in mobility patterns to occur over a relatively short period of time. Deeply influenced by political, technological, economic, ecological, and demographic factors, transportation is constantly shaped by (and shaping) its surroundings.
Case in point: Houston. Long known as a car town, it has made significant progress in diversifying its transit options
The United States’ fourth-largest city by population, Houston has a strong economy and a remarkably diverse population. But this success also brings challenges. Four million additional people are expected to arrive by 2040, with much of the growth occurring in car-dependent subdivisions that continue to expand the metropolitan borders. Officials predict a 60% increase in traffic — difficult to imagine in a city where rush-hour congestion is a common gripe.
As is true of most North American cities, Houston’s car-centric transportation system has many other downsides as well. Maintaining a 25,000-mile road network is difficult and costly. Public health suffers; a 2012 study by local authorities recommended making streets more pedestrian- and bike-friendly to counter obesity and related challenges.