Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Do all the buses really go the wrong places?

It has become one of those standardized criticisms of the current Baltimore area bus system to say that the lines haven't been reformed in ages and that they are, therefore, going to places that nobody wants to go anymore. I suppose if one thinks of Bethlehem Steel it would be right, but in general I would suggest: Not so fast.

After all, buses have to use the roads we have and those happen to follow a pretty good logic that makes them radiate out from the center, i.e. from downtown Baltimore. That system is what Ben Groff of Baltimore Transit and Red Line Now calls "mobility corridors". With those radials we are not strictly a grid city but a place that developed its transportation network based on stream valleys and easy routes following them, thus avoiding steep grades.
Mobility corridor map. Source: Ben Groff Blog on Ideal City

As far as roads, the disruptive innovation was the beltway, a circumferential route that connected all the radials and allowed travel in the periphery without crossing through the dense urban center. The beltway certainly had great influence on land use patterns, but it failed to create viable new urban nodes that didn't already exist historically. What did spring up at each exit was a host of gas stations and low level hospitality stuff, including fast food and a few shopping centers as well as some dispersed office parks. None of this would warrant or demand a high level, high frequency bus service or make such a service viable.

That is the crux with the argument that the buses don't go where the people are: Transit cannot chase people or jobs into the last corners of sprawl. In other words, just as much as the bus service has to be adjusted to current use patterns, so have land use patterns to be adjusted to be viable for transit. That means more density and more concentration in all those places where one would like to see transit.

Transit and land use have to go hand in hand, it cannot be a one way street where transit chases sprawl. Instead the region must consider development that is suitable for transit and makes it eventually a necessity. One could call this pre-transit development (PTD). If we had more of it, high capacity and high frequency transit would truly become inevitable.
Graphic: MetroCOG (Connecticut)

Ben Groff will place his analysis of the Baltimore Mobility Corridors on this blog as a guest. For those of you who want to read it right now, find it here. Take the above as my intro to his overview.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

See also this new regional transit needs report just now released

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