There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, July 28, 2008

Transit-oriented planning in a car-centered world

I've been corresponding with a visitor who lives in an area of Santa Clara outside the convenient reach of transit. I certainly sympathize. Outside of certain corridors, that's the story of most of Sacramento.

In a perfect world, there would be more transit-oriented communities. That's not just better bus and train service. It's the ability to get around without a car, whether that's walking to a neighborhood store, biking to a regional park or taking the bus to work.

The problem, of course, is that we live in the world we created, not one we wish we had. The sprawl of the last half of the 20th century guarantees a painful future as we cope with the changing economics of $4-plus gasoline. But that same pain will move us toward the solution.

The first street cars were built by companies seeking to bring customers to their businesses or to the homes they had built on the edge of the city. The profit motive was the engine of change. Yes, it would be nice if the world were inhabited with people who willingly subsumed their personal needs to the greater community good, but, again, we live in a world we created.

Perhaps if we make the cause today to make the world less dependent on automobiles, we will reach that new world. Just wanting to go there is a start. As more people call for better noncar ways to get around -- better sidewalks, more bike lanes, improved transit -- the profit motive will start to attract the people who can build those communities where jobs and homes and schools and parks are all within reach without needing to drive.

In the interim, incremental improvements in service will be more likely if more people are clamoring for change.

Tonight, Sacramento Regional Transit will be discussing how it will cope with pending state funding cutbacks. Keeping the focus on the future will pull us through today's short-term problem. It is important that service reductions be avoided. Even if that means some people will have to pay more to ride.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Hey! That's me! (grin)

I've just been contacted about a job opening at a place I've temped before that's just downtown. It would be ludicrous to take mass transit since I would have to drive the same distance to work or to the nearest light rail station, but once downtown I could walk or take mass transit to other places. Fingers crossed.