Redundant Transportation: A Thought Experiment

One of the things that tends to bother me when I watch videos made by people who profess to love cities and want to remake American cities in the corrupt image of European cities, is the way that people seem to assume that transportation is a zero-sum game, and that making a city easier for pedestrians makes it less easy for cars. This only makes sense if one is viewing the city as a flat grid, rather than thinking about the possibility of multiple layers. This is especially lamentable because most of the people who praise cities tend to think of the joy of high density as providing a means to avoid sprawl and to provide a meaningful distinction between urban spaces and rural spaces of a kind that people do not tend to associate with the sprawl of the United States.

It is certainly true, it must be admitted, that single-family detached homes are not going to be amenable to any sort of urban design of any kind, whether the sort I am thinking about here or any other kind, but for those who like the idea of high-density urban environments, it remains for us to think more creatively than others do so that we can think of how it is that the same urban spaces can be made amenable to multiple forms of transportation that are often viewed as being hostile to each other. If we build buildings that are notable for their layers between commercial space and residential space to allow for higher density living that is more amenable to the limited distances that people can walk, and associate this with public transportation like subways, for example, that also can move large numbers of people through urban spaces without the need to drive, we can think of layers of transportation that allow people to drive, allow logistics vehicles to travel safely, allow pedestrians to walk safely in skyways over roads, and allow people to drive safely among all of this density.

That does not mean that it is easy or inexpensive to do this sort of thing. One of the advantages of planning spaces with the sort of depth and layers that cities can have is that one has the space to think vertically instead of only horizontally. When one is creating suburbs for people who desire their own space and are disinclined to have people literally on top of them or below them, one is forced to think in more dispersed ways that pit some forms of transportation against others. What people want when they want their own house and yard, and to have some distance between themselves and others requires the sort of use of space that makes things difficult for people walking, and that requires the sort of private transportation that reflects a desire for privacy. But the reverse does not hold. It is merely a lack of creativity in organizing space that makes dense spaces inconvenient for people, because we want to put too many things on the same layers, making it crowded for everyone the way that we find, for example, in Manhattan.

When I was younger, there was an amusing website I would frequently read that talked about Houston’s street-level tram system as a danger train that frequently got into accidents with vehicles in lanes where the cars were held to be at fault. Similarly, we regularly see that vehicle traffic combines slower logistics vehicles with faster passenger vehicles, to the mutual frustration of everyone involved, largely because there tends to be a lack of imagination about how to plan and fund infrastructure in a proper way. That, though, is a subject for another time.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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