You Don’t Say

May 13, 2016

If there were gold medals handed out for stating the obvious, I would nominate Dr. Frank Clayton of Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development for his not in the least bit surprising blog post, youdontsayDid You Know: Travel Times for City of Toronto Commuters on Average are 60% Longer by Subway than by Car? As friend of our site, John McGrath responded: “Trying to figure out for whom this is news.” Gee willikers, Dr. Clayton. I guess that’s why so many people choose to drive, huh?

Turns out, if you build and redesign a city to maximize car travel, to put the private automobile at the top of your transportation hierarchy, make it near impossible not to need one in some parts of that city, lo and behold, people will tend to drive because it’s the most convenient way to get around. Or, to paraphrase Dr. Clayton, it’s faster and easier to drive than take public transit. We are, after all, rational actors, making rational choices, as we make our way through our daily lives.

Isn’t that how the saying goes?

What I don’t understand, though, is the point of Dr. Clayton’s post.

Why is this important? As Professor Haider explains it in a 2014 blog post, environmentalists and transit enthusiasts routinely overstate the benefits of public transit by claiming more public transit will reduce congestion or travel times, which he states is a myth.

Oh oh, I thought. Professor Murtaza Haider? That Professor Haider?2plus2

Doesn’t this whole argument rest on whose travel times you are measuring? Professor Haider himself writes in the Globe and Mail article Dr. Clayton cites that increased investments in public transit “will reduce travel times by public transit.” So, how is it a ‘myth’ to claim that more public transit investment will reduce public transit travel times?

That it would still be more convenient and quicker to take a car? You don’t transform a transportation system that’s been in place for 70 or 80 years overnight. In almost every part of Toronto and the GTHA, driving remains the best bet to get to where you’re going because that’s exactly what’s designed to happen. Streets and roads built and operated to best accommodate car travel to the detriment of all other users, pedestrians, cyclists, even public transit. Never a lane given over to a bus or streetcar or bicycles uncontested by those seeing such advances as an infringement on the movement of private automobiles. drivingPublic transit wants fast and convenient? Build it underground.

What articles like this one from Dr. Frank Clayton (and almost everything transit-related by Professor Murtaza Haider) smack of is a defense of the transportation status quo. A majority of commuters drive, driving makes for faster commute times, therefore, we must ensure that we do not threaten that delicate balance by offering up more viable mobility options where currently there are none.

It is simply a hand-fisted reading of a very narrow data set that makes no differentiation between the quality of commuting modes, not to mention within the same modes themselves, using time as the sole measurement. You think the experience of driving to work for 45 minutes is comparable to a drive of 10 minutes? Perhaps a 45 minute bus ride where you’re watching last night’s episode of the Daily Show puts you in a better frame of mind when you get to your job than a half-hour grind behind the wheel. sowhatAnd if time and convenience is what we’re aiming for, shouldn’t we be plowing a whole lot more money and resources into cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in the city of Toronto where the commute time is just over 17 minutes, the quickest way to work by far?

Dr. Frank Clayton seems content to tell us where we are without much of an explanation why or even if it’s a place we want to be. I’m not sure what purpose it serves aside from confirming what pretty much anybody who travels around the GTA already knows too well. Cars are king. Long live the king.

m’ehly submitted by Cityslikr


Put Cars First Cars Come First

July 3, 2013

As Paris burns with plans to build new transit lines, Toronto smoulders.

smoulder

TTC, Metrolinx to debate disputed subway costs, fizzles a CBC news headline.

Oh, good god. Can we just stop with the back-and-forth and get on with it already? It’s almost as if we’re jawing about transit as a method of premastication in the hopes of coughing up a better network.

Granted, places like France seem to understand the need for a top-tiered transit system as a way of keeping their cities vibrant and competitive. pennyanteIt’s not just a local matter. National governments get involved with municipal transportation funding and enabling. National government not located in Ottawa that is. And no, Denis Lebel, some $300 million a year to the GTA is not getting involved so much as it is pandering.

So largely orphaned to figure out how to bring the region’s transit system up to 21st-century speed, the province and its municipalities bicker over the crumbs on the table. Piecing them together in order to construct a loaf of something substantial seems far beyond anyone’s reach. If I’m going to stretch this analogy even thinner, getting a consensus on the exact ingredients of that loaf is no… a-hem, a-hem… cake walk either.

We can only look on with envy as even one-time public transportation laggard Los Angeles convinced enough people to fund the undertaking of a massive overhaul of the way they get around. 3010First it was a projected timeline of 30 years but then last term mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went to Washington to secure a loan in order to speed things up to a 10 year time frame. 30/10. And we can only look to our Metrolinx’s Big Move and weep.

It’s one thing to be forever in awe of transit policies of more established, less car-centric places like Paris. Hey. The city wasn’t designed for cars. People were riding subways long before they were cars. There’s more of an affinity for the concept of public transit there than there is here.

But Los Angeles? Los Angeles?! L.A.? I Can’t Drive 55, L.A.? How are they beating us to the punch?

It doesn’t help to see commentaries like this filling up space in one of our national newspapers.

Public transit is better, but cars are faster.

cantdrive55

What’s it take to get piece of commentary action on the pages of the Globe and Mail? An entire lack of understanding about a topic?

Even assuming Murtaza Haider, associate dean of research and graduate programs at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, is being upfront with the numbers he’s using from the National Household Survey, he seems to think travel times on various modes of transit operate in some a priori existence, undetermined by outside factors such as ease of access or urban plans partial to one type of transit.

Read this beauty and behold the logic at work:

The commute to work data challenges the notion that building more public transit will save travel time by shifting commuters from cars to public transit. How is it possible that transferring commuters from a faster mode of travel to a slower one will shorten travel times? Simple arithmetic and common sense suggests that system-wide travel times will instead be longer when more people commute by the slower mode, i.e., public transit.

You see, travelling by car is faster than public transit not because most of our cities have been designed for that to be possible but because… well, freewayjust because. Accept the conventional wisdom of the status quo and carry on as you were. Or as Mr. Haider recommends, “… building more roads and introducing congestion pricing on highways will make commutes even shorter by car.” As if the entire purpose of any reasonable and common sense approach to transportation planning is to shorten the length of car commutes rather than providing equal quality of choice across all methods of travel.

I know that’s not the point of the article. Haider is arguing that we need a different line of reasoning to convince the public to dig into their pockets to fund new public transit builds. But he dismisses the commute time one based on faulty thinking.

Commute times by car may be shorter even in more public transit friendly cities like Toronto and Montreal because that’s what city planners have been designing for decades now. It didn’t just happen that way. It’s not the natural order of things.

So, if you make it easier to get from point A to point B by car than it is by public transit, given a choice, sharetheroadpeople will take the car. Outside of the older downtown core of the city, that’s been the case for the past 70 years or so. Problem is, there’s now too many cars and no more space to build for them without adversely affecting the well-being of the city and region. The days of prioritizing car travel above every other way to get around are numbered.

Murtaza Haider doesn’t quite get that. But he’s not alone. We’ve all been slow to come to that realization. You’ll recognize the places that haven’t. They’re currently building public transit at a feverish pace, not counting the cost but calculating the return they’ll be getting on their investment.

putting-the-car-before-the-hoarsely submitted by Cityslikr