Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Virtuous cycles: It’s all about choice

- Gordon Price, PriceTags, Vancouver, Canada

It has taken a century of building almost exclusively for the car to get us to our current dilemma. It will take some time to achieve long-term solutions. Ultimately, they can only be found in the way we build our cities. We will have to establish virtuous cycles to offset the vicious ones, where success leads to more success.

There is no single solution. Top-down planning can never be comprehensive enough or flexible enough. Give people enough transportation options and they can by and large work out their own solutions. That in turn is dependent on the design and integration of land-use and transportation choices.

Ideally, people should have at least five choices - feet, bike, transit, taxi/carsharing and personal vehicle - and the ability to mix and match them appropriate to the kind of trip and the circumstances faced. The combinations and the mix make it all work.

The trip is only a few blocks? Walking is best. It's raining? Grab a taxi. The trip is around five kilometers? Cycling may be the faster alternative. Going to a town centre in the suburbs? Try transit.

Heading out of town? Train, perhaps - or car. Yes, the car is perfectly appropriate for many trips, but not all. Once the car is used less frequently, needs may be met more affordability by a car sharing or the occasional rental, with considerable savings.

Of course, the provision of alternatives assumes a city designed around more than the car - and a citizenry comfortable with the choices. In the end, the answers are found in the plans we have to implement. Concentrate growth. Build complete communities. Provide transportation choice.

But to do so, we will first have to be aware of the impediments to success, rooted in the unrealistic beliefs and assumptions we have associated with the success of the car.

Gordon Price, pricetags@shaw.ca
Director of the City Program, Simon Fraser University, http://www.pricetags.ca/
Vancouver, Canada
Contribution to World Streets and the collaborative project “Messages for America: Worldwide experience, ideas, counsel, proposals and good wishes for transportation reform under the Obama administration”. See www.messages.newmobility.org for latest version of this report of the New Mobility Agenda.

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