It’s Time We All Became Mode Positive
This is a blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for some time now, but the spark was re-ignited in me when earlier this week a transit advocacy group (I won’t call anyone out here, but know I was terribly disappointed) posted an anti-streetcar article on their Facebook page. For a while now, transit advocates have been infighting about mode amongst themselves and not only is a waste of our precious time, it’s harmful to everything that we do.
To borrow from another positivity movement here, we need to stop mode shaming.
No one would argue that transit doesn’t already have to fight a constant uphill battle. There are never enough funds to build out the systems of our dreams and certain Republicans are trying to eliminate all transit funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Why then do we feed the critics with ammunition by poo-pooing our own projects and debating the merits of streetcar over BRT over heavy rail over good, old-fashioned buses?
When transit advocates get themselves in a tizzy over pitting the superiority of one mode over another we just give the opposition arguments to use against us. They already latch on to buses as a means of throwing transit a bone, but we all know that while buses are fantastic, there are many instances in which buses aren’t capable of meeting ridership needs. When the transit community declares streetcars or light rail inadequate, we look like the kids crying wolf.
Heavy rail isn’t appropriate for every project and requires significant public investment. Streetcars aren’t appropriate for every project, even if they’re cheaper, adorable, and trendy. Buses suffer from a public perception problem even if they’re the quickest way to boost service and have cheaper initial capital costs. BRT meets buses and streetcars in the middle, but only when done right and we all know that is a big if.
Our problem isn’t mode; it’s ensuring that projects are well-planned, perfectly implemented, and that we educate riders and advocates on the uses and goals of each mode. Heavy rail moves a lot of people a great distance; it’s not to get around town but to town. Streetcars are the last mile circulators to get around town. They are meant to connect neighborhoods and spur development. They do not directly ease traffic congestion but enhance the existing network and by completing the trip, streetcars encourage a global transit use. BRT is, like heavy rail, meant to move a greater number of passengers a greater distance, mimicking heavy rail at a fraction of the cost. And while it an encourage ridership growth and can be converted to rail in the future, it does not solve the last mile segment of the transit equation. Buses serve a multitude of purposes and intersect all of these functions, but they lack the perception of permanence to spur significant economic growth.
Some transit projects are bad, but all modes are good. But not gondolas. Never gondolas.