The people who need good transit most have the least access to it


For years, transit and urban planners have talked about the “last mile problem”- that people won’t use transit if it is too far away to be convenient. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), even though it is based in New York City, takes a shorter, and more international view with a look at the last kilometre problem, measuring the number of residents in cities that have to walk more than a kilometer to get to high quality rapid transit. It’s called PNT or People Near Rapid Transit.

It is an interesting new yardstick (or should I say metric), a “high-level proxy for the integration of land use and transport, and the fundamental first step toward creating inclusive transit-oriented development (TOD)—compact, higher-density, mixed-use, walkable development centered around transit stations.” The ITDP looked at 26 major cities and the greater metropolitan areas surrounding them and mapped out where people were PNT and where they were not.

scores© ITDP
“The PNT metric illustrates how unplanned urban and suburban growth focuses on automobiles and only those who can afford to drive,” said Clayton Lane, ITDP’s chief executive officer. “Washington, DC, Paris, and Beijing are major examples of cities that have expanded beyond prescribed political boundaries without effective regional transport plans. Larger integrated rapid-transit networks serve more people and limit climate change—but they don’t grow without foresight and planning.”

paris© ITDP/ paris

Some obvious things pop out at you when you look at the maps, the biggest one being the effect of urban sprawl. The cores of cities do rather well (all of Paris proper for example, at 100%) while the Banlieue, or suburban areas where the poor and the immigrants live, only half do. New York City comes in at 77% get PNT whereas in the Metro area, only 35%. Chicago Metro area, a dismal 14%. American cities are particularly problematic because the sprawl is do extreme; it is pretty hard to get to PNT standard at such low densities. Even Washington, with its once wonderful subway system, services a surprisingly small portion of its population. More from the press release:

Washington© ITDP washington

“Mass transit systems should grow as cities grow; yet in most cities, governments still rely on automobile traffic as the primary way of getting people around,” noted Lane. “In today’s megacities, road space is already massively congested with car ownership presently at only 10-30 percent, yet building more roads remains a misguided top infrastructure priority. Governments need to better serve the other 70-90 percent of the population without cars, and provide better mobility choices for everyone.”

The ITDP notes that it is the lower income communities (which are more and more suburban) that need transit the most, but are getting the least service. Much of this is political, with artificial borders and little coordination. The trains and bus lines might stop at the border but the people do not.

In many cities, it’s far too easy for municipal governments to ignore the problems on the other side of their borders,” Lane observed. “But cities today do not exist in a vacuum. All metropolitan regions have an urban core, as well as surrounding communities. People in the outer regions cannot thrive without better transportation connections to the core and other outer communities. Government relationships across city and state lines are crucial to meeting the needs of their populations.”

He also calls this a critical tool in limiting climate change, noting that cars and trucks generate a fifth of all CO2 emissions.

“The impacts from climate change could still be mitigated if there is enough political will,” concluded Lane. “The continuing construction of car-oriented development found in metropolitan regions all over the world is a perfect example of this tragedy. Rapid transit integration, including rail, bus, cycling, walking, and shared car networks could connect these places sustainably to a wealth of opportunities.”

The ITDP also defines what they mean by “High Quality” rapid transit, which is not an old bus rattling down the street every hour. They demand dedicated rights of way, less than 20 minute waits, consistent spacing of stops and think it is important that you can buy your fare in advance (nice, but not a dealbreaker). Read the whole report here.

infographic© ITDP

The people who need good transit most have the least access to it
A new way of looking at transit shows how sprawl, uncontrolled development and politics make it so difficult.

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