Mariachi Plaza Station in East Los Angeles via Wikipedia/GTD Aquitaine
This morning’s post in Next City authored by Sandy Smith ” When Rail Transit Reshapes the Metropolitan Divides” got me thinking about the age-old chicken and egg argument of development versus transit. This article talks about how Washington’s Metro as like many other rail transit systems, with the exception of New York’s has provided rail transit based on racial and economic lines. This is no different in Toronto and in Los Angeles.
In the article, they mention that in many metros
light rail (has) become a magnet for younger, well-educated urbanites who desire convenience without having own a car, and these people gravitate to neighbourhoods around rail transit stations where they are located.
While this maybe true, I tend to think about development politics where decisions are made on what to build and what income levels are desired in these neighbourhoods. Condominiums tend to gravitate towards higher income and there is nary of a thought to develop affordable or mixed income higher density development within 800 metres or 1/2 mile (the desired mobility hub radius as defined by Metrolinx). This also has to do in part with NIMBYism. Whether it is the fear of gentrification or the myths of building high density complexes in middle to higher income neighbourhoods for the fear of increased traffic, lower property taxes or God forbid “those people”, many politicians don’t have the backbone to quell the fears of existing residents. Re-election is always on the mind of politicians – especially the lifers.
So with development politics comes those decisions made to provide more affordable lower income and lower density housing in the suburbs. Therein lies the problem of transportation or more specificially transit equity occurs, something Collens, Hertel and Keil mention as in their paper “Switching Tracks: Towards Transit Equity in the Greater Toronto Area”
Bus service does become inadequate and has been repeated in every metropolitan area. Low density comes with low demand for transit. Transit then becomes an afterthought, and therefore transit becomes a “social service” pitting the automobile versus conventional public transit.
Transit planners jobs are only to think about providing service where the greatest demand is based on ridership levels. If ridership along certain corridors burst to levels that go beyond providing frequent bus service, then higher order transit is considered. But increasing ridership does not happen by fluke. Development must occur, although in many American cities, they have planned rapid transit hoping that higher ridership follows. In Toronto, not so was the case with the Sheppard Subway.
As much as local, provincial and some regional policies are meant to account for and balance the sustainability trends of climate change, land use and transportation planning, economics and now technology, development politics tends to trump all. Development politics is the real reason for economic disparities, not a mode of transit. This is what many authors miss.
We need more leadership like Mississauga City Council who has made it a goal to provide affordable housing along the Hurontario Street light rail corridor. Although 10% is not a desirable amount, it is a start. 20% is more desirable along rapid transit corridors and 15% within the 800 metres. We also need developers like Westbank who propose to provide a mix of affordable rental housing at the soon to be redeveloped Honest Ed’s site in Toronto.
As mentioned earlier, technology will definitely shape how we build our cities and suburbs as they will be shrinking. Mobility and the fast rise of autonomous vehicle will reshape urban design. Bern Grush mentioned this during his talk at Mississauga Moves in 2015. How will this reshape development politics and will it level the playing field? Transit certainly also has to play a role in how suburban and urban communities wil be shaped.
Development politics and providing higher order transit has repeated itself for decades without it ever being solved. Now with disruptive technology as a game-changer, this will force the hands of policy makers and politicians alike while planners and developers will have to find ways to be creative in development and planning rapid transit.