Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jane Jacobs on LRT

Thanks to Mona Lynn for sending me this excerpt from Jane Jacobs' book Dark Age Ahead. This is Jane Jacobs' description of a discussion she had with Paul Martin. Jacobs doesn't provide a date for the conversation, but it must have been after he became prime minister in 2003 and before the book was published in 2005.

[Paul Martin] told me that he intended to announce a program of federal grants enabling municipalities to install light-rail public transit. Now it was my turn to demur.

I told him that unfortunate experiences already showed that fixed transit routes were expensive failures when they were not preceded by evidence of sufficient demand. Underused routes not only are a drain on transit systems but are ill-suited as contributors to the needs and convenience of users. In the past, designers of transit systems had usually chosen to locate rail routes by observing which bus routes were most heavily used, a pragmatic method that worked well in Toronto and elsewhere. After it was apparently lost to transit engineers' memories in the 1960's, Toronto and a number of other cities, among them Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago, tried rail routes justified by other goals and these have been unable to pull their weights, literally or figuratively. They don't have enough passengers.

I asserted that a prudent program to promote transit must be flexible enough to encourage experiments with routes, should that be what a city wanted to do, and possibly experiment with bus sizes, before settling on fixed rail routes. Why not specify grants for transit? I wondered aloud. Why specify from on high what form the transit must take?

... [Mr. Martin] pointed out that the mayors of every large city had asked for light-rail transit grants. I told him that I had attended the meetings where they arrived at this unanimity; they reasoned that asking for light-rail grants was politically more realistic than asking for other kinds of public transit equipment or more general transit help, such as grants for operating costs, the most desperate need in some municipalities.

Mr. Martin perfunctorily conceded that flexibility might be worth taking into consideration. Again I saw that our points of view were different. What he could contemplate as attractive bonanzas for clamoring cities and perhaps for complaining corporations producing rails and streetcars, I feared as foregone fiascoes.



MikeP said...

What a wonderful coincidence. Just this morning I noticed that a part of Hudson St in the West Village of NYC has been renamed Jane Jacobs Way. Having never heard of Jane Jacob, I sign on to Yappa and voila! Apparently she was instrumental in the demise of the Lower Manhattan Expressway which would have leveled a good chunk of Soho just below the West Village where she lived. How lucky that both Toronto and New York benefited from her activism.

Anonymous said...

Note to MikeP: Jane Jacobs was one of the most influential women of the 20th century, exceeded, perhaps, only by Eleanor Roosevelt.