Thursday, March 12


I’m a cyclist/pedestrian/motorist/transit-user. It just so happens that the most convenient, most cost-effective, and most enjoyable method for navigating my particular environment involves wielding a number of transportation tools. And I don’t think I’m very unusual in this respect.

The bicycle gets me to work or classes almost every day. Nothing beats it for speed and efficiency within certain parts of town. Walking is my mode of choice when I have extra time to soak in my surroundings, or I'm traveling a very short distance. The bus is useful every once in a while, especially in accessing less hospitable parts of Charlottesville like the U.S. 29 corridor. Finally, I share a car with my wife. Driving is convenient for grocery shopping in my opinion, and it is a requirement for traveling out of town. I use each of these modes almost every week.

I bring this up only to make the point that most users of the transportation system are probably as protean as I am. We have the flexibility to adjust as constraints and opportunities of our living environment change. The U.S census categorizes the modes commuters use into discrete “journey-to-work” units, and often policy analysis assumes that users are either motorists or not. Sharp categories mean change must be cataclysmic; blended categories mean change can happen through evolution.

Right now in most places around North America it would take some major transformations in infrastructure and land use to entice any given family to stop driving entirely. However, incremental improvements in infrastructure can lead to incremental changes in commuting. First, a once-a-week bike ride to work, then perhaps sharing one car between the family. The political will to make infrastructural changes and the transportation behavior of citizens are inextricably linked. If change happens in our transportation networks, it will have to ratchet between these two categories, one step at a time.


LH said...

Daniel, you're absolutely correct. At an individual and corporate level, it doesn't necessarily have to be an "all or nothing" mindset; changes on the margin can get us closer and shouldn't be discouraged.

On a related note, to refer again to the retail study we just completed, even though our city's planning department classifies retail clusters into five or six categories (auto, pedestrian/transit, mixed, etc.), one can essentially divide retail clusters into two types: one in which people use all sorts of modes of transportation to get to them, and one in which you pretty much have to use a car.

Daniel Nairn said...

That's interesting, LH. If I'm hearing you right, you're saying that the classifications would be more clear if the number of categories were pared down.

I see this phenomenon sometimes too, especially in zoning districts. I think it's often easier in the planning process just to define a new type of district than to change one that's already in use. After a while, things get a little confusing to the public.