Planners Need New Plan

That’s the gist of this delightful article from New Geography reminding us of how often those folks planning certain aspects of our life—like improving transportation—probably need to talk to people involved in the aspects they are planning for before doing the planning.

An excerpt.

“Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, and the city of Austin and Austin’s transit agency, Capital Metro, have a plan for dealing with all of the traffic that will be generated by that growth: assume that a third of the people who now drive alone to work will switch to transit, bicycling, walking, or telecommuting by 2039. That’s right up there with planning for dinner by assuming that food will magically appear on the table the same way it does in Hogwarts

“Austin planners say that 74 percent of Austin workers drive alone to their jobs. In this, they are already behind the times, as the 2018 American Community Survey found that 75.4 percent of Austin workers drove alone (that’s for the city of Austin; the drive-alone share in the the Austin urban area was 77.0 percent). The 2018 survey was released only a month before Austin’s latest planning document, but even the 2017 survey found that 75 percent of Austin workers drove alone. You have to go back to the 2016 survey to find 74 percent drive-alones. So while Austin planners are assuming they can reduce driving alone from 74 to 50 percent, it is actually moving in the other direction.

“Planners also claim that 11 percent of Austin workers carpool to work, an amount they hope to maintain through 2039. They are going to have trouble doing that as carpooling, in fact, only accounted for 8.0 percent of Austin workers in 2018.

“Planners hope to increase telecommuting from its current 8 percent (which is accurate) to 14 percent. That could be difficult as they have no policy tools that can influence telecommuting.

“Planners also hope to increase walking and bicycling from their current 2 and 1 percent to 4 and 5 percent. Walking to work is almost always greater than cycling to work, so it’s difficult to see how they plan to magic cycling to be greater than walking. This is important because cycling trips are longer than walking trips and so have more of a potential impact on driving.

“Finally, planners want to increase transit from 4 to 16 percent. In fact, transit carried just 3.24 percent of workers to their jobs in 2018, down from 3.62 percent in 2016. Changing from 4 to 16 percent is a an almost impossible 300 percent increase; changing from 3.24 to 16 is an even more formidable 394 percent increase. Again, reality is moving in the opposite direction from planners’ goals.

“When reading this plan, my first question was, “has anyone ever been able to reduce driving alone to work from roughly 75 to 50 percent?” And the second question was, “has anyone ever been able to increase transit’s share by 300 to 390 percent?” Of course, I had similar questions about the projected quintupling of cycling and other parts of the plan, but those were the two big ones. We can answer these questions by looking at changes in commuting in various cities and urban areas between 2000 and 2018, which is approximately the amount of time in Austin’s planning period.

“Austin’s Plan

“Austin planners offer a list of strategies and projects that are supposed to produce major changes in transportation habits. For the most part, the strategies are similar to those used in many other cities.

“For example, the carpooling strategies include Commute Solutions, a web site that allows people to find potential carpoolers; Smart Trips, another web site; Movability, a web site for employers; vanpooling; and similar programs. All of these programs assume that people are actively looking for carpooling partners. The reality is that the vast majority of carpooling is “fampooling,” that is, family members riding together to work. Carpooling has declined because family sizes have declined, so there are fewer opportunities for fampooling.

“Austin’s “active transportation” (meaning walking and cycling) strategies include new sidewalks, pedestrian and bike trails, a Safe Route to School program, and similar programs. Again, communities all over the nation are using similar programs. Safe Route to Schools, for example, is a federal grant program that has given money to cities all over the country.

“Austin’s transit strategies include adjusting traffic signals to give priority to transit vehicles, transit incentives including discounted transit passes and a frequent-rider program, new park-and-ride stations, and of course Project Connect, Capital Metro’s dream of high-cost, “high-capacity” transit routes. (The term “high-capacity” is in quotes because some modes that Capital Metro calls “high-capacity,” such as light rail, are in fact low-capacity transit.) Again, many other cities have used signal priority systems, discounted transit fares, and high-cost transit systems to attract riders.

“To see how well these programs have worked, I looked at journey-to-work data published by the Census Bureau. From 1960 to 2000, the decennial census asked a sampling of people how they got to work. Since 2005, the Census Bureau has done an annual American Community Survey asking people, among other things, how they get to work. The most recent American Community Survey data are from 2018.

“Since Austin is proposing to change people’s transportation habits by 2039, or 20 years in the future, I compared data for 2000 with 2018, which is close to 20 years of change. I looked at the data for 262 of the nation’s largest cities and 208 of the nation’s largest urban areas and posted a spreadsheet with these data so you can see what happened in your city or urban area.”

To read the rest of the article retrieved November 19, 2019 go here:

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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