Monday, September 3, 2012

Jarrett Walker’s New Book a Must Read for Transportation Planners

Jarrett Walker’s new book on transit planning – HumanTransit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives – deserves to be considered an instant classic, and should be on every transportation planner’s shelf.  It’s one of those few books I wish that I had had in my hands much earlier in my career.
Walker clearly explains the “geometry” of transit network design and lays out a powerful case for simplicity and frequency of transit services.  A properly designed network of high-frequency (15 minutes apart or better) transit services can provide a level of mobility that allows people to move freely about their city and reduce their need for cars.  Frequency is freedom!
There is a lot of good content in this book, so I’ll just highlight a few points that struck me as particularly powerful:
·      People not familiar with transit planning may make “motorist errors” in thinking about transit.  For instance, speed looks very good (but note that a service that gets you downtown in 30 minutes but is scheduled only every two hours will actually take you 2 ½ hours to get downtown if you miss your vehicle!).
·      The “density” problem: You don’t need to plan for greater density everywhere, just where you want to put transit stops.  If you want to live in a housing development with big backyards – or in a log cabin – that’s fine, just don’t expect transit service.  But if you want to live in a livelier, more urban setting, you should be able to move to a place where great transit service can eliminate most of your need for a car. 
·      Our suburban arterials can actually be reworked to be transit friendly (if not exactly paradigms of New Urbanist form).  There’s more to it than I can summarize here, but you need to read it.  Think “boulevards.”
·      A lot can be accomplished by linking long-range land use planning with transit planning.  Yes, long-range planning!  The idea is similar to the concept of blueprint planning (which for some reason isn’t fashionable these days) but the takeaway I like is that long-range planning can yield short-range benefits by putting developments where they can produce maximum efficiency on the network.
What makes Jarrett Walker’s book particularly useful and powerful is his clear, crisp prose style and precise use of instructive illustrations.  My copy is already looking well-used.