15
Apr

2010

Multimodal Transit

Post by Steven Dale

Nowaday’s, it’s easy to be partisan. In fact, it might even be a requirement.

The Light Rail boys have LightRailNow. The bicycle crew’s got Probicycle. Bus Rapid Transit has the National BRT Institute. High Speed Rail has the AHSRA. The PRT posse’s got Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit. Trolley Bus fans have these guys. Paratransit’s got Paratransitwatch. Even the urban gondola aficionados have their own site. And, of course, automobile lovers have the AAA.

While partisanship has always existed, it’s positively flourished in this new world of blogs, websites, web 2.0 and the internet at large. It seems that while our opportunities to communicate have grown exponentially, our ability to communicate has stagnated. Every transit mode advocacy group has staked their claim and refuses to budge. Everyday each finds some new and arcane statistic that proves theirs’ is the best or the most and the other guy is the worst or the least.

It’s a zero-sum, scorched earth strategy. You’re either with me or against me. It’s virulent. It’s nasty. And it helps no one.

Transit technologies shouldn’t be considered better or worse than one another. Instead they should be considered better or worse given a particular situation or environment. They shouldn’t be confrontational, they should be complementary. Just because The Gondola Project is pro-cable, doesn’t mean it’s anti-subway, anti-bus or anti-streetcar.

It’s all a question of context:

  • Buses are cheap, expedient, flexible and easy. They’re also not particularly pleasing to ride.
  • Subways are great but only if you’ve got the money and the ridership. If you don’t, look elsewhere.
  • Streetcars are pleasant and stylish and do a lot for the urban environment. If that’s what’s important to you, do it. Just don’t expect them to be fast, reliable or cheap.
  • Light Rail is a strong technology when designed and built properly. It needs its own exclusive right of way. Without it, it’s just a very expensive streetcar.
  • Jitneys are a fantastic complement to a transit network that cost a city nothing. They’re great for filling in the gaps in a transit network, but they should never be the main transit solution.
  • Cable’s an excellent medium-capacity, medium cost technology capable of navigating complex topography and urban traffic. But its uniqueness requires public and political support.
  • Bicycles are wonderful and deserve their due respect. But it’s not enough to slide a bike lane into the middle of mass traffic. They need their own realm.
  • The private automobile is convenient but it has no place in the dense core of cities that were originally designed for pedestrians. Keep them outside the core where they belong.

My goal with The Gondola Project is a simple one: Make people aware of cable transit as a potential option among many.

Do I have my biases and partisan leanings? Sure. For example, I find PRT highly suspect. I also believe Light Rail has been misleadingly sold as a new solution when it really is nothing more than a gussied-up streetcar (check out Jarrett Walker’s excellent HumanTransit blog for a thorough analysis of this issue).

But my biases don’t blind me. Cable’s not a panacea. When I say “cable’s good” I’m not saying “cable’s good to the exclusion of all other technologies.” I’m not saying you should tear up your rail tracks, sell-off your fleet of buses or fill in your subway tunnels. I’m not saying your city needs two dozen urban gondolas and cable liners to replace your existing transit system.

I am, however, saying this: You have options and you owe it to yourself and to your city to explore them fully and within their proper context.

Cable’s one of those options.



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Comments

  1. Light Rail has the LRTA, not Light Rail now. www.lrta.org
  2. Interesting you should mention Jitneys as an alternate transit mode. I've always thought that advancing information technology would enable a "Jitney Network" harnessing all the single occupant vehicles in any city. See a proposal at: http://scratchpad.wikia.com/wiki/Business_plans:Jitney_Network