Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Public and private transportation. Anything but EZ.

We need a flash of genius that shows us how to bring the flexibility, convenience, and economics of our system of personal cars and public roads/streets to sustainable and public transit. Until that world-changing "flash," perhaps we are best off pursuing the gradual market-led move to smaller and more eco-friendly personal transportation devices, such as BMW’s new concept vehicles as presented in their sponsorship of the article Urban Planning 101 (Yeung, 2011). "Solutions" that are not supportive of people's schedules and transportation needs and/or are not economically sustainable will most likely NOT have a lasting positive impact. In the meantime, we need to begin shaping our living and working spaces into more pedestrian, local, and human-scale directions. I can tell you that I am happier living 1 1/2 miles from work and shopping than I was before at 15 miles out. But here's a puzzler: In a city (San Antonio, Texas) that is, at least verbally, pushing public transportation, and has a huge active and retired military population, with Ft. Sam being one of our cities largest employers, and DoD supportive of mass transit solutions, why is it that our public transportation does not really support Ft. Sam nor the newly-named San Antonio Military Medical Center campuses? I think our city is all sound and no fury when it comes to public transportation, and that most projects are designed more for the profit or ego of a few insiders than for the benefit of our citizens. Millions of dollars on a trolley system that will basically serve downtown tourists or require locals to drive in from other parts of even the inner city and pay to park so they can ride across the city center? With bus routes that don't even conveniently serve the trolley terminals? Please...who looks at these things? The truth is that successful public transit around the world understands and leverages multi-modal systems and ties them together. Nearly every city in Europe has train links from their airport to downtown. Their trains link to bus terminals. The bus terminals link to the subway/metro systems. The metro systems serve neighborhoods with bike racks and other conveniences, and, farther out, park-and-ride systems for personal cars. All of the major terminals are designed to facilitate taxis and fares are reasonable. When have you ever heard anyone in San Antonio’s mobility mavens even mention tying the various modes into one usable system? Does no one understand that the linkages and convenient terminals of the various modes is what makes it all work? Why was our airport completely redone with a new terminal and no provision for a rail link to downtown and our two major medical centers? Meanwhile, London, UK, after an initial peak in public transit use, is dying as a result of their stick and no carrot approach to private cars in the heart of the city. Rather than incentivize ridership and making it more usable and attractive, their approach was to simply discourage private vehicle use through fee-based taxes. It has done that, and without making their public transit more attractive, there are now fewer British people using the city center daily. Small businesses are closing and jobs are lost, and soon London will be Detroit without the good music. Let us not forget in our march for sustainable cities and transportation that these things exist solely to serve our needs, and when the systems fail to serve us and improve our daily lives, we are doing it wrong. As wrong as a new 12-lane freeway to nowhere.

Yeung, B. (2011). Urban Planning 101. Retrieved November 16, 2011, from, Sustainable Mobility, Digital Editioin 2011: