Monday, July 12, 2010

Reducing Unnecessary Auto Trips

Transit oriented development at 4th & King Str...Image by LA Wad via Flickr

Trip Numbers

Anyone who has paid attention to transit advocacy over the years have been hit in the face by the road warriors with the statement: "Transit represents only a small portion of trips".

First of all when it comes to numbers, numbers can be manipulated any way you want to make your point especially if you have a agenda to extend. What the trip numbers don't tell you is several things:

  1. They do not compare how many trips are taking in a particular corridor say from the area of the Sandy TRAX station to downtown.
  2. Second, this numbers also include business trips including commercial deliveries and pick ups.
Second, the logic of the road warriors is that all these people driving instead of other options "choose" to drive. The truth is that people have little choice but to drive but there are ways to reduce the driving numbers.

Do we have choice?

The question is, do people choose to drive or is there no alternatives.

As I said in my posting about Density, TOD and TAD, few people have the choice to reduce auto trips. Even higher density development throughout the area is truly auto centric and does nothing to reduce auto trips.

As I mentioned in that article, if a person needs some basic supplies at a grocery store or basic convenience items the only choice is to talk a mile or more but more realistically is to get into the car and drive.

Statistics show that many auto trips are less than two miles in length.

Reducing Trips with TOD

As I mentioned in the TOD article, one of the important aspects of TOD is to reduce unnecessary auto trips. This is done by providing businesses such as cleaners, restaurants, small grocery stores near these developments.

If people live in these developments, they can quickly walk to these services without getting in their car. When I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina back in 1990-1992 my apartment complex had a shopping center within its confines. In fact several apartment complexes were withing walking distance of this shopping center.

Instead of driving to the grocery store or other stores in the shopping center I could walk reducing many unnecessary auto trips. In fact my walk to the shopping center was probably less than many people's trips across the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Not only do these provide services for the residents in the TOD developments but they can also reduce trips for those that park at transit stations. A person could get off their TRAX train, grab their dry cleaning, pick up a gallon and milk and head home. The alternative is the person first gets off TRAX, drives to the dry cleaners, then drives to a grocery or convenience store, then finally drive home.

Reducing Paratransit Trips:

As I have mentioned before, the biggest cost facing transit systems is the unfunded mandate to provide ADA Paratransit service. I am not saying this service is necessary for the people that use it, but what the Federal Government did was burden transit systems to provide service without any additional funds to provide it.

However, one of the benefits of TOD is that it gives those with physical disabilities the ability to live in areas where they don't need paratransit service as frequently as they do now. Not only does this allow the mobility impaired to have more options but it will reduce the number of extreme paratransit trips.

Government and Other Services

Another problem with our current system is the how hard it is to access many government and other services such as libraries, government buildings, and post offices.

Post Offices

Few people realize that until a couple of years ago the Postal Service did not have to abide by our current bad zoning ordinances much less any transit friendly ones. Many post offices are extremely pedestrian unfriendly such as the one in Midvale despite it being close to the Midvale Central TRAX Station.

Also many main post offices have been moved to where it is convenient for their trucks to hub not for their customers. For example the one at 2100 South and Redwood is close to transit but is very hostile to pedestrians.

The future of the postal service is beyond the scope of this blog but there needs to be a thoroughly study on what its future is. Should people living in urban areas continue to subsidize the mail delivery in rural areas? How much is it costing to provide home mail delivery service across the suburbs?

One solution would be to put small contracted postal stations in TOD developments in addition to other retail development. Like other services the postal service should concentrate new post offices close to transit connections.


Libraries are another government service that need to focus their locations where transit access is easy and convenient.

Lets take a look at the Holladay library as an example since I frequent that one. While it is currently on a bus line by moving it either to the new a few blocks away to either the new Holladay Village center or to the largely abandoned center at the northwest corner of Murray-Holladay and Highland that badly needs to be re-purposed.

Another solution would be to create pick up points at TOD developments so that people could order books and pick them up on the way home from work or while running other errands.

Other Government Services

Too many recent government buildings have focused on building Taj Mahals facilities that have poor access for citizens. New government buildings should be designed economically and with easy acccess for transit riders and pedestrians.

Final Thoughts

This was a small example of how we can reduce short auto trips.

It will take collaboration between private businesses, government agencies, and other organizations that provide services. It will not happen overnight and will have resistance, but in the long term a more sustainable area will be created.

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Brad said...

If cities will take your suggestions, which are right on the mark, and will add good sidewalks, and bicycle facilities, an individuals range of mobility when pared with Transit and TOD type development is almost limitless within the urban environment. The last mile problem is one often encountered by transit systems and cities in general do a horrible job of providing for those last mile solutions. TOD is certainly one, and a vital one, but the other forms of transportation, biking and walking, are also vital to making transit more effective.

John Dornoff said...

Thanks Brad,

Yes bicycling and walking are important to the "big" picture.