I’ve been reluctant to join the fun of the Prop 1 debate up here on the front page, but I’ve gotta respond to Josh Feit here. He has a valid point that building massive parking lots around light rail stations will allow more people to drive to them. That’s obvious. But I think he misses the bigger point:
Because, like I said yesterday, ill-conceived light rail lines don’t create density, they create outpost park and rides that fuel exurban development and more roads. (Check out towns like New Market, Maryland “along” the Red Line—or some 40 miles away from DC.)
New Market, Maryland isn’t some new town created by expanded rail. It’s a rest stop town that was established over 200 years ago. It makes sense to build along established trafficways to accomodate the kinds of travel that people normally do. The development of the Philadelphia suburbs was very much shaped by where rail lines existed and along the main travel lanes, from the old Main Line to the newer SEPTA lines.
But while rail lines can concentrate development in certain areas, some people simply don’t like living in dense areas. No amount of urban planning will ever change how they think. One of the main problems I see undermining the development of better transportation solutions in this city is the belief that our transportation solutions should be used in a way to change people’s behavior. You can’t do that – it won’t work. You can only build systems that cater to people’s existing travel patterns and give them better options. Eventually, if you build a system that caters to what people want and need, they will use it to its fullest potential.
Sprawl will still happen no matter how effective your transit system is and how much effort you put into urban planning. New York City has a massive amount of trains going into the city from all over the region, yet people still live in far-off places, drive to train stations, and commute there. You’ll never stop people from choosing to live far from where they work in order to live more cheaply or to be far from others.
The solution isn’t to only build rail to places where people won’t (or can’t) drive to the station to ride it. The solution is to build rail so that larger numbers of people only have to drive their cars a short distance every day, rather than clogging the streets going into the major downtown centers (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue) where most people work.