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The Regional and Urban Design Committee (RUDC) aims to improve the quality of the regional and urban environment by promoting excellence in design, planning, and public policy in the built environment. This will be achieved through its member and public education, in concert with allied community and professional groups. Join us!

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How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit

  • 1.  How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit

    Posted 10-23-2018 17:58


    Transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the United States last year, including the seven cities that serve the majority of riders, with losses largely stemming from buses but punctuated by reliability issues on systems such as Metro, according to an annual overview of public transit usage. (WP, 3/24/18)
    US Transit Ridership decline 2014-17 (APTA)
    When Lyndon B. Johnson was President, America still dreamed big: Civil rights, ending poverty and subways for American cities. Washington got its beautifully designed "Great Society Subway"system, San Francisco got BART, two of the at the time most advanced, comfortable and spacious metro systems in the world. The Washington Metro opened in 1976 with a network that expanded to six lines, 91 stations, and 117 miles.of route.  In spite of Washington's much smaller size, its Metro is now #3 right behind New York and Chicago. back then, as crumbs off the table, Baltimore and Atlanta each got a subway, too, and the Baltimore subway sure isn't shabby either. Huge stations, big trains and fast service, however just one line and barely 50,000 riders a day. Atlanta has two lines with 213,000 daily riders.
     Boy, have times changed since 1976! The Great Society" largess wasn't sustained when Nixon, Ford and eventually Reagan recasted government as a necessary evil that has to be shrunk not as something that should strive for excellence. The dominance of cars has continued and transit ridership of the fabled DC Metro system has fallen....

    Read Full Article

    [Klaus] Philipsen FAIA
    Archplan Inc. Philipsen Architects
    Baltimore MD

  • 2.  RE: How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit

    Posted 10-25-2018 16:49
    Interesting piece.

    The current ridership decline on transit in the Bay Area is tied to UBER types, over crowding/lack of comfort and safety. The former problem was discussed in your piece. To little is paid the over-crowing problem. In the Bay Area, BART is so crowded that you are crammed in standing with bikes and suitcases. The number bike growth is amazing. Bikes are often dirty so when you are standing you are forced to rub up against them. The third problem is the safety problem. We have had gangs rob, beat and kill riders on BART.

    BART for example is a 50 year old system. Headways for trains are over 10 minutes as compared to 2 minutes in Paris, not that Paris subways are a panacea.

    The answer to "How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit" is more money. A good portion has to come locally. One method is to give land use control around the station areas to a special agency, made up of transit agencies and local government. Toronto transit agency has land use control around its stations and I assume it has done quite well.  From an urban design perspective, building densities and heights should be the highest around the stations and taper down toward lower density areas. To make this work, you will need tax increment financing and redevelopment powers to condemn land so that it can be improved to accommodate higher density. Property owners (mostly single family home) should be compensated for the taking (condemnation). Combination proceeds are not taxed as capital gains. Property tax benefits such as being able to retain your Proposition 13 tax benefits should be offered as well. Plus the usual relocation expenses. This may be a windfall to older property owners, living a overly large houses and can't sell them because of a combined Federal and State income taxes totaling 30%. This should also quell the nimby opposition. Additional benefits to the condemned may be giving them a piece of the upside.

    in summary urban designers, are there any?, must weigh in on the financing as well as planning for the integration of high density transit oriented development with existing urban, often historic, urban fabric.

    Bryan Grunwald AIA AICP
    Bryan Grunwald Associates
    Oakland CA

  • 3.  RE: How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit

    Posted 11-01-2018 21:26
    I agree that this is as much an economic problem as it is an urban planning one. We need to convene interdisciplinary teams of architects, urban planners, transportation engineers, economists, and policy makers to come up with a solution. Transportation systems as a built asset are not being valued appropriately and therefore not enough capital is available to invest in their repair, upgrade and expansion.

    Clair Marie Wholean AIA LEED AP BD+C
    Washington DC

  • 4.  RE: How to fix the downward spiral of American Transit

    Posted 11-02-2018 17:30

    Hello Claire and Urban Design Group:   I couldn't agree more.  In Portland, Oregon we're facing this question today and finding that urban form and transit are two sides of the same coin.  I'm available for further discussions.  Cheers, Bob Hastings


    Agency Architect
    TriMet Capital Projects and Construction Division
    1800 SW 1st Ave., Suite 300, Portland, OR 97201
    Office: (503) 962-2128   Fax: (503) 962-2282