How do our modes of transportation effect the way we experience our cities? I put together this little chart looking at the different factors we usually consider when traveling by car vs. bike vs. foot vs. bus or train. (Let me know if you think I left anything off or if you disagree with any of the points.)
It helps to see overlaps in the concerns of transportation users because we can utilize these commonalities to share ideas and build power. For instance, a significant consideration for bikers and walkers, which does not matter much to drivers or public transit riders, is the safety of their route. That’s “safety” as in bike lanes and sidewalks, not criminal presence. When you’re in a car, you rule the road, but when you’re using one of the other forms of transit that our cities and towns have so frequently declined to prioritize, you have to think about how safe your route is before you head out. Some routes are so treacherous as to prohibit a person from using a bike or their feet to travel there. So, when I understand that safety matters for both bikers and walkers, I start envisioning sidewalks and paths built alongside one another that protect everyone who uses them. Then, as projects are proposed to create bike lanes and wider sidewalks, I know who would benefit from them and whose opinions should be present in decision making.
Similarly, knowing that a big concern for drivers is the availability of parking spaces and that a big concern for bikers is the availability of secure locking locations, I begin to wonder whether an increase in the latter could help increase the former too; by alleviating an obstacle that may prevent people from biking, we can encourage biking over driving, and leave more parking spots open for people who truly have no other option than to use a car. Besides, bikes take up far less space than cars, so it would be relatively simple to designate a small plot of land for a shed that could then hold dozens of bikes.
Even the weather, which seems to be a largely immoveable force, can be mediated for public transit users with heated and/or covered waiting areas. This also creates an alternative for walkers who, instead of deciding to drive on a day in which rain is forecasted, can continue walking to work as usual, but have the option of ducking into a shelter and taking the bus if it suddenly starts to rain.
What I’m getting at here is that understanding the concerns of different transport users does not just help us to work for their individual and overlapping benefits, it also helps us to encourage their participation in new modes of transit. Once we determine which factors turn people away from, say, taking the bus to work instead of driving, we can work to mitigate those factors by creating more direct bus routes or building a more affordable pricing structure for bus passes. Then, with the right research and packaging, we would hope to induce further public transport use. Of course there are dozens of steps involved in this process, but it’s an example of how an awareness of transportation needs and concerns can advise our development and use of transportation infrastructure. Consider this chart a jumping off point to take a look at the transportation needs and concerns in your own community.
As a final word, transit gets a fair amount of play in this space, but many urbanist blogs focus far more on the tough and vital issues that are related to this integral element of our cities. If this transportation post piqued your interest, consider it your invitation to explore those blogs further. Check out Streets.MN and Streetsblog for starters.