11
Nov

2015

The Transit Geek’s Assumption

Post by Steven Dale

I think it fair to say most transit geeks/advocates/aficionados/whatever start from the following rational, central assumption:

The role of transit is to move as many people as quickly, cost-effectively and comfortably as possible.

Obviously some might favor one aspect of that assumption more so than others. Jarrett Walker, for example, would favor speed over all others while Patrick Condon is likely to skew towards the issue of comfort (for a great debate about this issue, check out Is Speed Obsolete? over at Human Transit). But generally speaking I think the above assumption is the unstated jumping off point for most transit geeks and their analyses.

It’s also probably the worst assumption any transit geek can make.

Let me explain:

When transit geeks argue about things like speed, capacity, station spacing, route alignments and technology, they are starting from a place that begins with the Transit Geek’s Assumption; that transit is about moving many people quickly, cheaply and easily. However transit isn’t about moving many people quickly, cheaply and easily. At least not entirely.

Transit is also about . . .

  • economic stimulus;
  • vote-buying through infrastructure;
  • real estate development;
  • dividing communities into pro-transit and anti-transit camps;
  • providing jobs to those who would build and operate said transit;
  • ego-centric legacy projects;
  • consulting contracts;
  • political gamesmanship and brinksmanship;
  • city marketing;
  • attention-seeking;
  • lobbying, lobbying, lobbying;
  • media coverage;
  • environmental improvement;
  • a whole host of other things.

Transit advocacy comes in many forms. Image by Elly Blue.

When you start from the Transit Geek’s Assumption, you trap yourself into believing that your worldview about transit is shared by everyone else. But it’s not. Transit is a deeply political act that engages – quite literally – millions of stakeholders, each with their own agenda.

Conflict is assured and arguments guaranteed.

Argue for (or against) a transit plan from the position of the Transit Geek’s Assumption against someone who doesn’t share that worldview and you’ve already lost the argument.

After all, a proposed transit line being too expensive isn’t an argument to a politician who explicitly wants over-priced Transit Bling solely to boost his media profile and garner him a front-page quote.

In fact, to him, the more expensive the better.



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Comments

  1. so transit is about money. spending more money, spending less money, bringing money into an area, paying someone money, earning money, moving people to places to make money, building things with money, losing money, free (money) publicity, spending money to make something better for someone while making something worse for someone else, and time which of course = money
  2. @ Rose Isn't everything about money?
  3. yeah, that's kinda what i was getting at
  4. Matt the Engineer
    I suppose it all depends on why you're a transit geek. I'm a transit geek because of our planet. I start with sustainability. How can we have the lowest impact on our environment? --> Cities and density. Dense populations use much less resources, use them far more efficiently, and even have a reduced number of children. How do we move more people into cities? --> Transit. Cars and car infrastructure have a natural density level far below that of transit infrastructure. Building systems where people get around efficiently and using less space tends to attract people to live more densely, and allows this to happen. Is more transit better? --> No. In-city transit is better. Suburban transit tends to allow for sprawl. In fact, the best model for a dense and sustainable city is no transit - if a city is dense enough most can get to work, school, shopping, etc. using just their feet. So my flavor of transit assumption would be something closer to: Allow the least time and effort for a person to access the most resources possible, and make this lifestyle attractive.
  5. Matt the Engineer
    (take 3) I suppose it all depends on why you're a transit geek. I'm a transit geek because of our planet. I start with sustainability. How can we have the lowest impact on our environment? --> Cities and density. Dense populations use much less resources, use them far more efficiently, and even have a reduced number of children. How do we move more people into cities? --> Transit. Cars and car infrastructure have a natural density level far below that of transit infrastructure. Building systems where people get around efficiently and using less space tends to attract people to live more densely, and allows this to happen. Is more transit better? --> No. In-city transit is better. Suburban transit tends to allow for sprawl. In fact, the best model for a dense and sustainable city is no transit - if a city is dense enough most can get to work, school, shopping, etc. using just their feet. So my flavor of transit assumption would be something closer to: Allow the least time and effort for a person to access the most resources possible, and make this lifestyle attractive.