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;
- lobbying, lobbying, lobbying;
- media coverage;
- environmental improvement;
- a whole host of other things.
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.