Working from the ground up for changes in transportation policy in the United States means responding to years of automobile-driven policy and a political system that can be difficult for the average citizen to navigate. I think this article explains a little where we’re at right now.
As for a bit of background, I think it’s important to come clear with a few things. The purpose of this research is to help progress mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle advocacy work in NYC and the United States in general. This kind of research is certainly not unprecedented. The main focus will be on language and framing; how do people talk about their needs as users of mass transit, pedestrians or cyclists. One belief central to this research is the need to strengthen arguments of advocates for policy and development that help shift the modal share in favor of mass transit, pedestrians and bicyclists. There are a few statistics that show the progress we could make even by just switching short trips away from the automobile.
Doing this research in Hamburg should be extremely valuable. Hamburg has generally been considered an automobile-centric city, with a bicycle modal share standing around 9% (see the above mentioned stats page.) The city has dedicated itself to doubling that and as a result these issues are hot topics of discussion.
At the same time I feel it is important to get past the common accusation of opponents to mass transit that derides transit, bicycle and pedestrian advocates for trying to change a little of what it means to be American: we’re a driving public, it’s just you, your automobile and the open road. First, it’s kind of rare that you’re ever really alone on the road. Second, there’s no reason we can’t be proud of where we’re from and at the same time drive a little less, walk a little more, use mass transit when available and bicycle for more than recreation. It should be the new fad diet. And with over 40,000 deaths a year due to automobile-related crashes we might even save a few lifes, not to mention what would be saved in health care costs, not only the costs to ourselves but on the system as a whole.
Just as common is the misconception that transit advocates are somehow elitist. Tom Vanderbilt goes to some length to debunk the myth, but I believe there should still be a push for greater transit emphasis on outer areas of outer boroughs, in particular on designs from the ground up, similar to what could be worked on through an organization like the Project for Public Spaces. I think both BRT and Light Rail Transit (LRT) could be considered, but maybe we could first just go out and take a look at our streets. We’d notice the prevalence of policy and design that encourage, almost require, households to own a personal motorized vehicle. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about introducing a whole new transit system, with all the associated costs, though that’s often still helpful. Why not a street that is less comfortable for drivers and more a place for pedestrians and cyclists? Walking and riding a bicycle are two of the most equitable and environmentally friendly forms of transit. Providing the infrastructure for those modes and requiring mixed-use neighborhoods would be a start.