Real Benefit Of Transit Is Not Congestion Relief — It’s Congestion Avoidance

Metro_Rail_Blue_LineTransit is often sold as a means of congestion relief.  But the reality is that transit at best simply provides an alternative to congestion.  Coupled with growing populations, any reduced traffic on highways that comes from new transit typically just induces new demand to fill it.

L.A. Weekly reporter Gene Maddaus explores this topic and focuses on the real benefits of transit: building car-free neighborhoods around the stations.  What better way to avoid congestion than to live close to a rail line that takes you to your job and many other destinations?

He studied three cities within LA and their efforts to densify around rapid transit, concluding with observations about Pasadena as a model:

Transit advocates often point to Pasadena as a place where transit-oriented development was done right. The Gold Line, which opened in 2003, spawned high-density residential development in the city’s downtown, building on previous success in transforming Old Pasadena into an attractive shopping destination.

“It’s ‘urban lite,’” says Greg Gunther, a past president of the Downtown Pasadena Residents Association. “With the convenience of the Gold Line right there, you can hop on a train [and] have Sunday brunch downtown or have a bite in South Pasadena.”

But even in Pasadena, where things have gone relatively well, the city was still convulsed for years by heated debates over traffic and density. Most Pasadena homeowners have made their peace with it by now, but it’s still common to hear complaints about traffic tie-ups at the rail crossings on Del Mar or California boulevards.

It’s a familiar story in all three places of local groups organizing to thwart density, but they’re not always successful.  It’s worth reading the article in full (and not just because he quotes yours truly).  As Los Angeles contemplates another ballot measure for transit funding, issues of density and development will always loom in the background, even if the perception of congestion-relief takes center stage.


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