Friday, March 18, 2011

High-speed rail and walking to a village

One of the key arguments in favor of inter-city rail is that it will improve opportunities for air travelers.

Last year, nearly a million people flew between Logan and JFK or LaGuardia (and presumably several hundred thousand to Newark). High(er)-speed rail between Boston and New York would provide a more competitive alternative to flying, which would reduce the demand for flights. Reduced demand for flights to and from New York would up limited terminal space and takeoff/landing slots for flights to destinations that cannot be easily served by rail, basically any place outside the Northeast corridor.

If you want more and better air travel choices, encourage rail improvements to remove congestion from airports.

That lesson scales. Better mass transit for commuters takes drivers off the roads, making less congestion for those who need to commute by car. Better bike accommodations encourages people to bike rather than drive, when they can, freeing up space for drivers who can't bike -- too far, picking up kids, &c. Better pedestrian accommodations encourages people to walk rather than bike or drive, ...

The larger point is that mobility options are not anti-car (or anti-air travel). They are pro-mobility. Everybody wins.


dr2chase said...

People who think they can't pick up kids on a bike (well, two kids, maybe three) lack imagination. The problem is, people persist in believing that bikes are toys, and thus only buy toy bikes.

(See this rant for pictures of multiple kids carried on a bike.)

And too fat? Don't forget this guy.

And to complete my disagreement, I think that you may eventually need to impede cars, more or less as an issue of allocating space. That is, there's carrots and sticks (and I recall that we had our roles reversed, discussing T parking lots) and there is a limit to how attractive you can make cycling, and beyond that, to make it relatively more attractive than driving a car on the less-crowded roads to the less-crowded parking lots, you need to remove a little auto capacity to maintain a certain amount of "friction".

There's a diversity of preferences, both in how people regard riding a bike, and in how they feel about being stuck in traffic or circling for parking. There will always be some people who really want to drive, and a subset of them, given wide open roads (i.e., today's roads, minus the traffic) will drive fast and dangerous. If cyclists ever have to interact with that sort of traffic, they'll be discouraged. Total separation would solve the ever-interact problem, but that takes space, and the obvious place to get space, is from the existing road right of way -- which will also impede autos, somewhat. That said, the impediment is often less than imagined, and in the case of (to take a recently publicized example) Prospect Park West in NYC, only of speeding traffic (traffic at the speed limit was slowed down by less than 1%). However, there will surely be political opposition from people who believe (with some reason, lacking any statistics to the contrary, which is the usual case) that less-space-is-worse.

One thing that does favor biking, if we can get some local infrastructure in place, is that once you start and discover that it's nice to not be stuck in traffic, and it's nice to not circle for parking, and it's nice to be in good shape, that you are then somewhat less inclined to be as happy driving what you might come to perceive as a rolling metal fat suit. Those people will tend to "stick" as cyclists.

Anonymous said...

It's a questionable and debatable assertion that airlines pushed off BOS-LGA , -EWR , and -JFK routes by high speed rail will simply take those planes and crews and reallocate them to more distant destinations. In fact, airlines like Delta, USAir, and JetBlue often rely on the fat profit margins of Boston-New York service, heavily catering to top-dollar last-minute business travelers, to effectively cross-subsidize more marginally profitable routes. Crank up more and more rail competition for those flights, and airlines are more likely to simply downgrade service from 737s, 319s, 321s and MD-88's to regional jets.
All that said, we're completely in synch with the author's ultimate goal here of better city-to-city higher-speed rail, just offering this as food-for-thought reaction.
Thanks, Warren