Growth and Environmentalism

I’ve been asked to write about the issue of growth versus no growth. This is in the context of planning, so broader questions of degrowth are not within this post’s main scope. Rather, it’s about whether planning for more growth is useful in combating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The answer is yes, though the reasoning is subtle. Smart growth is the key, and yet it’s not a straightforward question of transit construction and transit-oriented development helping the environment; it’s important to figure out what the baseline is, since a large urban apartment still emits more CO2 than the closets people end up living in in parts of San Francisco and New York.

The argument for growth specifically is that a high baseline level of growth is what enables smart growth and TOD policies. Vancouver’s secular increase in transit usage, and to a lesser extent the ongoing revival in Seattle and that of Washington in the 2000s, could not happen in a region with Midwestern population growth.

Smart growth vs. no growth

VTPI has many references to studies about smart growth here. The idea of smart growth is that through policies that encourage infill development and discourage sprawl, it’s possible to redirect the shape of urban areas in a greener direction. Here’s one specific VTPI paper making this comparison directly on PDF-p. 3.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there are at least three poles: in addition to sprawl and smart growth, there is no growth. And moreover, many of the bureaucratic rules intended to encourage smart growth, such as comprehensive zoning plans, in fact lead to no growth. The following table is a convenient summary of housing permitting rate vs. my qualitative impression of how smart the growth is.

The permitting rate is absolute, rather than relative to birth rates, immigration, and internal migration pressure as seen in average incomes. Tokyo’s permitting rate is similar to Vancouver’s – Tokyo Prefecture’s rate of 10 annual units per 1,000 people and so is Metro Vancouver’s, but Japan’s population is falling whereas Canada’s is rising. See also European rates linked here and American rates here.

The infill vs. sprawl dimension is qualitative, and combines how transit-oriented the construction is with whether the development is mostly in the city or in the suburbs. Berlin’s suburbs are shrinking due to the depopulation of East Germany, and growth in the suburbs of Tokyo and West Germany is weak as well, but city growth is going strong. Paris is building a lot of public transit and is very dense, but there’s more development per capita in the suburbs, and likewise in California most development is in exurbs rather than in central cities; Seattle is penalized for having bad transit, and Atlanta for having no transit, but in both there’s a lot more development in the city than in the suburbs. Stockholm and Vienna have growth all over and excellent public transit.

The significance of the diagram is that by the standards of European transit cities, California is not an example of smart growth, but of no growth.

Shaping growth

In the high-growth area of the diagram, the most interesting case is not Tokyo, but Vancouver and Seattle. In these cities, there is a transit revival. Metro Vancouver’s mode share went up from 13% in 1996 to 20% on the eve of the Evergreen extension’s opening. Moreover, for most of this period Vancouver saw car traffic decrease, despite high population growth. Metro Seattle’s transit revival is more recent but real, with the mode share rising from the “no transit” to “bad transit” category (it is 10% now).

Both cities invested heavily in transit, Vancouver much more so than Seattle, but it was specifically transit aimed at shaping growth. Before the Expo Line opened, Downtown had few skyscrapers, Metrotown did not yet exist, New Westminster had a low-rise city center, and the areas around Main Street-Science World, Joyce-Collingwood, and Edmonds were nonresidential and low-density. The combination of fast growth and rapid transit ensured that new development would add to transit ridership rather than to road traffic. Moreover, the strong transit spine and growing employment at transit-oriented centers meant existing residents could make use of the new network as well.

The same situation also exists in Europe, though not on the same transformative scale as in Vancouver, since the cities in question came into the new millennium with already high transit usage. Stockholm just opened a regional rail tunnel doubling cross-city capacity and is expanding its metro network in three directions. This program is not available to lower-growth cities. Berlin has grandiose plans for U-Bahn expansion and has even safeguarded routes, but it has no active plans to build anything beyond the U5-U55 connection and S21 – the city just isn’t growing enough.

Public transit without growth

By itself, growth is not necessary for the existence of a robust transit network. Vienna proper had more people on the eve of WW1 than it has today, though in the intervening generations there has been extensive housing construction, often publicly subsidized (“Red Vienna”), increasing the working class’s standard of living. However, in a modern auto-oriented city – say, anything in North America other than New York – it is essential.

This becomes clear if we look at the next tier of American cities in transit usage after New York, that is Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston. Washington is the odd one – it had a transit revival before the Metro collapse of this decade, and got there through TOD in choice locations like Arlington. The others inherited a prewar transit network and made some improvements (like the Transbay Tube replacing the Key System), but froze urban development in time. Essentially all postwar development in those cities has been sprawl. Chicago had big enough a core to maintain a strong city center, but outside the Loop the job geography is very sprawled out. Boston and the Bay Area sprouted suburban edge cities that became metonyms for their dominant industries, with a transit modal share of about 0%.

Chicago’s transportation situation is difficult. The city is losing population; some specific neighborhoods are desirable and some around them are gentrifying, but the most optimistic prognosis is that it’s akin to New York in the 1970s. If there’s no population to justify a public transit investment today, there won’t be the population to justify it tomorrow. Any investment has to rely on leveraging the city’s considerable legacy mainline network, potentially with strategic cut-and-cover tunneling to connect Metra lines to each other.

And if Chicago’s situation is difficult, that of poorer, smaller cities is most likely terminal. Detroit’s grandiose plans are for urban shrinkage, and even then they run into the problem that the most economically intact parts of the region are in low-density suburbs in Oakland County, where nobody is going to agree to abandonment; the shrinkage then intensifies sprawl by weakening the urban core. Even in European cities where the shrinkage is from the outside in, there’s no real hope for any kind of green revival. Chemnitz will never have rapid transit; its tram-train has 2.6 million annual passengers.

Idyll and environmentalism

The environmental movement has from the start had a strong sense of idyll. The conservationism that motivated John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt was about preserving exurban wilderness for rich adventurers to travel in. The green left of the 1960s dropped the explicit classism but substituted it for new prejudices, like the racism embedded in population control programs proposed by Westerners for the third world. Moreover, the romantic ideals of Roosevelt-era environmentalism transformed into small-is-beautiful romanticism. Even Jane Jacobs’ love for cities was tempered by a romanticism for old low-rise neighborhoods; she predicted the Upper West Side with its elevator buildings would never be attractive to the middle class.

But what’s idealized and what’s green are not always the same. Lord of the Rings has a strong WW1 allegory in which the hobbits (Tolkien) leave the Shire (the English Midlands) to go to war and come back to find it scoured by industrialization. But on the eve of WW1, Britain was already a coal-polluted hellscape. Per capita carbon emissions would remain the same until the 1970s and thence fall by half – and in the first three quarters of the 20th century the fuel source shifted from coal to oil, which is less polluting for the same carbon emissions. The era that Tolkien romanticized was one of periodic mass deaths from smog. The era in which he wrote was one in which public health efforts were undertaken to clean up the air.

Likewise, what passes for environmentalism in communities that openly oppose growth freezes the idyll of postwar America, where suburban roads were still uncongested and the middle class had midsize houses on large lots. But American greenhouse gas emissions per capita were the same in 1960 as today, and had been the same in good economic times going back to the eve of the Great Depression. Only centenarians remember any time in which Americans damaged the planet less than they do today, and “less” means 14 tons of CO2 per capita rather than 16.5.

The upshot is that in the developed world, environmentalism and conservation are opposing forces. Conservation means looking back to an era that had the same environmental problems as today, except often worse, and managed to be poorer on top of it all.

Growth and environmentalism

Strictly speaking, growth is not necessary to reduce emissions. The low-growth city could just as well close its road network, ban cars, and forbid people to use electricity or heating generated by fossil fuels – if they’re cold, they can put on sweaters. But in practice, low-emission developed countries got to be where they are today by channeling bouts of economic growth toward clean consumption of electricity as well as transportation. Regulatory coercion and taxes that inconvenience the middle class are both absolutely necessary to reduce emissions, and yet both are easier to swallow in areas that have new development that they can channel toward green consumption.

The environmentalist in the Parises and Stockholms has the easiest time. Those cities have functioning green economies. There are recalcitrant mostly right-wing voters who like driving and need to be forced to stop, but a lifestyle with essentially no greenhouse gas emissions except for air travel is normal across all socioeconomic classes. The Vancouvers are not there but could get there in a generation by ensuring future development reinforces high local density of jobs and residences. The pro-development policies of the Pacific Northwest are not in opposition to the region’s environmentalism but rather reinforce it, by giving green movements a future to look forward to.

The environmentalist in the Clevelands and Detroits has the hardest time. It’s even worse than in the Chemnitzes – Saxony may be a post-industrial wasteland with 10% fewer people now than it had in 1905, but it’s coming into the 21st century with German emissions rather than American ones. These are cities with American emissions and economies based substantially on producing polluting cars, propped by special government attention thanks to the American mythology of the Big Three.

But whereas the Rust Belt has genuine problems, NIMBYvilles’ low growth is entirely self-imposed. New York and Los Angeles have the same per capita metro housing growth as Detroit, but only because they choose stasis; where the price signal in Detroit screams at people to run away, that in New York and California screams to build more housing. Their political institutions decided to make it harder to build any green future not only for their current residents but also for tens of millions who’d like to move there.

67 comments

  1. Belal Said

    Is there any literature on housing supply constraint in NYC? It seems to be growing but not keeping up with population growth.

    • Alon Levy

      The only one I know that’s NY-specific is Glaeser from the early 2000s.

      The problem with looking at population growth is that it’s not exogenous. New York, London, San Francisco, etc. have their population growth rates constrained by lack of housing. You have to look at the price signal.

  2. IAN! Mitchell

    How are you rating Atlanta and Houston’s growth as less sprawling than Austin’s?

      • mdahmus

        Alon, Austin is almost identical to Houston; plenty of near-downtown infill along the corridors that got VMU zoning; but also an order of magnitude more sprawl. You should probably move Houston down to Austin’s level though, rather than bumping us up.

        • Alon Levy

          I thought there was more development in Houston proper than in the suburbs, and there was a bunch near the trains? But I’ll admit, the y-axis isn’t particularly rigorous, and it’s hard to tease out questions like development in the city vs. the suburbs from ones about TOD in general. (Paris gets penalized for building more in the suburbs than in the city, but it’s also building 200 km of suburban metro.)

  3. michael

    My critique is that high growth & sprawl are pretty correlated in the US. In highest growth US areas, real estate & the construction of sprawl itself is the primary industry of the economy. Even in the exurban fringe of no growth US cities, sprawl flickers on & ignites its own local economy like spontaneous combustion. So I question to what extent high growth rates in some metros (or parts of some metros) are completely dependent on sprawl related industries, & without it, would those growth rates persist?

    • Eric

      The question is, what percentage of construction in a metro area is new sprawl, and what percentage is infill. If 90% is infill I think you’re in great shape, even if a few subdivisions of sprawl are being built too.

      One data point: I remember reading that 50% of new housing units being constructed in Charlotte (not sure if the city or metro area was meant) are in TOD adjacent to their new rail line.

      • michael

        I’m not sure it’s that simple. Many American cities are already so sprawled out with such little job density, that even if there was nothing but infill for a generation, it would still take HEROIC levels of effort to ever be anything other than auto-oriented. Houston & Atlanta metros both have 70 mile diameters. IMO, most likely, they fill-in similarly to LA & eventually it’s a dense, but still auto-oriented place. Under the rosiest scenario, I see them transform into Toronto. Which has maybe 15-20 square miles of good, traditional streetcar urbanism, surrounded by 1000 square miles of random office & residential towers built along highways & major arterials equipped with quasi-acceptable bus service. Transit share is probably… 10%.

        But regarding sprawl building, if we look at the fastest growing US metros – typified by “The Villages, FL” – the major local industry is JUST sprawl building. It’s the fastest growing metro in the USA! How much of Orlando or Tampa or Phoenix’s “high growth” economy is similarly just transplants building 3 bedroom SFUs on cul-de-sacs and spending down a lifetime of savings on chain restaurant meals & hospital bills? If we take away the new SFUs from Myrtle Beach SC, I’m not sure there is growth economy.

        Anyway, I’m very skeptical that there’s a way to build a city green by making a “deal with devil” where there’s 50% low density growth and 50% smart growth. Maybe 30/70 if there’s decent underlying urban fabric – like Portland or Seattle. But doing it in a metro with nothing but curvilinear streets, segregated land uses, on-site stormwater management requirements, and commercial/retail sector calibrated for receiving deliveries with a 52 foot semis… i think it’s near impossible.

  4. Herbert

    I’m not sure I understand your sentence about Chemnitz never having rapid transit. It really doesn’t need any.

    Even cities of half a million are edge cases. Dresden has no subway, Nuremberg has one I think urban mobility works better in the former. Both have an S-Bahn that has next to no intra-city function…

    • Michael James

      I’m not sure I understand your sentence about Chemnitz never having rapid transit. It really doesn’t need any. Even cities of half a million are edge cases.

      Your point is that cities of below a certain size don’t have road congestion, but the real point is to remove car dependence and its pollution–you know, the planet’s future. Transport is now the US’s biggest contributor to its GHG output. Small towns make a disproportionately large contribution compared to big cities, ie. normalised to population.
      France has a plan to install a tramway in every provincial city and town of greater than 250,000.

      • Herbert

        No my point is that a tramway is BETTER at serving the population in a half million sized city. Rapid transit is not what we call in German “Selbstzweck” and if you have two and a half lines that cover some parts ultra fast and everybody else is sick with buses, how’s that better than a dozen lines covering everything even if the dozen lines are a teensy bit slower?

        Of course in cities like Berlin or bigger you need the extra speed of rapid transit. But in Chemnitz or Dresden? Not so much.

        Besides, subways conveniently get the squishy humans out of the way of cars. Light rail meanwhile takes space away from cars. So if you want to reduce greenhouse gases, love the tram.

        • Eric

          More to the point, in Berlin you need the extra *capacity* of rapid transit. The Berlin metro extends about 15km out from the city center. There are plenty of light rail lines in the world that extend that far or farther. However, with metro you can have double the frequencies (no traffic lights to wait for) and much longer trains (platforms can be longer than the shortest street block). These factors combine to give many times the capacity.

          • Herbert

            The rule of thumb given by tram boosters in Berlin is “twice the capacity, ten times the cost” – so subways apparently move twice as many people per line kilometer.

            And I don’t think we should underestimate the speed factor. Door to door commutes much longer than one hour one way are usually only done by few people at any given time, so if a hypothetical commute from the sticks to downtown takes longer than that, you have a problem. So if your city is (roughly) longer than twice your average speed of light rail in km/h you’ll need rapid transit. Sometimes S-Bahn Does the trick, but you’ll often have to use subways.

          • Eric

            Twice as many people – according to tram boosters 🙂

            A 15km commute by light rail can be much less than an hour if the stops are relatively infrequent. Tunneling is not needed for that.

          • Herbert

            Well in cities with particularly badly run trams and subways with 100 seconds headways the relationship may be more in favor of subways, but are the numbers you have?

          • Alon Levy

            The Parisian tramways average around 17 km/h, with dedicated lanes. The expression “light rail” covers several technologies that should really be distinct:

            1. Subway-surface lines, i.e. fast in the center, slow outside, e.g. Boston Green Line, Muni Metro, SEPTA Subway-Surface Lines, Cologne U-Bahn.
            2. Tram-trains, i.e. fast outside, slow in the center, e.g. typical postwar North American light rail (San Diego, Portland, Calgary etc.) or the Karlsruhe model. The US and Germany differ in that here the train part of the route shares tracks with mainline rail whereas in North America FRA and Transport Canada regulations keep everything separate so light rail requires abandoning the mainline or building expensive new tracks in the ROW.
            3. Surface trams, i.e. slow everywhere, e.g. French and East German tramways.

          • Herbert

            I thought new build in east Germany since about the seventies has its own right of way almost always. Back then they mostly built them out to new Plattenbau neighborhoods (smartly often during construction of the new housing to serve the construction workers) nowadays they build Rasengleis. There has even been some conversion of legacy lines to give them their own row.

            For comparison, Nuremberg tram (all roughly 35 km of it, compared to thrice that in Leipzig or Dresden) is about 40% shared right of way. In part because there has been only one major new build in the last thirty years (Thon to Am Wegfeld)

          • Eric

            17km/h with dedicated lanes and closely spaced stops, no? Surely if the stops were metro distance apart, the line would be significantly faster? In any case, 17km/h gets you to Berlin Metro range in about an hour.

          • Eric

            But it’s much less than typical metro distance (including new build metro distance in Paris).

          • Herbert

            Really?

            The average distance between stations on most metro lines in Germany is more towards 500 meters than towards 1 km…

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, Germany and France both have atypically low metro interstations.

            That said, a tramway’s optimal stop spacing really is shorter than a metro’s. The average speed is lower in any case, which has two effects:

            1. It reduces the stop penalty.
            2. It reduces the average trip length.

            Both of these effects reduce the optimal stop spacing.

          • Eric

            Another important factor is that metro stops are much more expensive to construct.

          • Herbert

            Which is why I never understood the urge to build ugly subway stations. You’re spending millions anyway. Don’t skimp on the couple hundred thousand € to avoid naked concrete…

            I mean a subway like few other things are the calling card of a city

        • Michael James

          No my point is that a tramway is BETTER at serving the population in a half million sized city.

          Not necessarily better but certainly a lot cheaper and more practical to install in smaller cities. Then hope that growth or shared road use doesn’t become a big issue.

          Anyway, Alon’s remark about Paris tramways is correct but misses the point (that he has made elsewhere) that in France, if the city size or likely ridership justifies it, they build Metro; ie. even in smaller cities like Toulouse & Lille etc. In Paris the tramways serve a very different function: circumferential not radial, and of course have more closely spaced stops because that is their function (as bus substitutes)–in fact the spacing of T3 stations is av. 330m so quite a bit shorter than the Metro average (despite this and the large number of busy radial arterial roads it has to cross, journey time is quite good). While it’s true that the original Metro system has very short inter-station spacing, it’s not true for anything that they’ve built more recently such as M14 (about double the spacing, 1km) or extensions such as the approx. 4km extension of M7 to Villejuif with approx. 1km spacing. The planned orbital M15 is 75km with 36 stations for approx. 2.1km average spacing, about four times inner Paris Metro.

          The separate functions of trams versus Metro means they can co-exist as they do in Hong Kong, ie. on HK Island where the tramway on the crowded surface exactly paralleling the Island Line Metro just underneath. With the tram crawling along the congested streets, without air-conditioning it came close to being closed down but is as popular as ever, carrying ≈200k pax per day and run by French Veolia. Because it can be more convenient than any other means to get between the high density of businesses along this strip.

          • Herbert

            Nuremberg has (metro and tram combined) some 70 kilometers of urban rail. Dresden, a city with a similar population has 135 km of tram. That means by mere math that the poorer city reaches more people by rail and door to door trams are often faster for short trips.

      • Herbert

        The city will never be long enough for the speed advantage if subways to pay off, or even exist door to door… (You need to walk up or down stairs for a subway or El and the stations are farther from one another, compared to surface rail)

      • lcpitkan

        I agree with Herbert that Chemnitz doesn’t need a rapid transit level in their system because the city is fairly compact. I’d also like to point out that the city public transport system has 32,8 million boardings a year, which isn’t too bad for a city that size. This includes the city trams.
        I see this as another case of urban vs. commuter transit. The tram-trains are commuter oriented.

  5. Herbert

    By the way, there is an old 1990s agreement between Brandenburg and Berlin to limit development to the rail axes forming a “star” out of Berlin. There was a lot of grumbling in a Deutschlandfunk piece by rural Brandenburg mayors whose towns aren’t within the axes of the star…

    Also, why do you seemingly dismiss the tram expansion plans? They can help raise public transit modeshare, too.

    After all, the average high transit city in the east had trams whereas low transit cities in the west didn’t…

    • Alon Levy

      At least the one tramway I’ve ridden here, the M10, barely saved me any time over walking. They’re investing in making it a little better, I think, but it’s still a mostly mixed-traffic route that has long wait times at complex cycles like where it hits U2.

      Leipzig has high transit mode share, but the dropoff from there and Dresden to the smaller Eastern cities is pretty steep – for example, Brandenburg is maybe comparable to the London commuter belt, both of which are a lot lower than the Paris suburbs.

      • Herbert

        There’s a huge difference between Brandenburg and the “Speckgürtel” within twenty, thirty kilometers of Berlin.

        I also doubt there are west German cities the size of Görlitz or Frankfurt/Oder with higher transit mode share.

        Yeah numbers in the east drop off after Leipzig and Dresden because those are the only half million people cities. The smaller the city, the shorter the average intracity commute, the more viable non-motorized modes become. Of course the German legal definition of “Pendler” only includes those who cross at least one municipal boundary on their commute.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, okay, the parts of Brandenburg that count as Berlin suburbs have somewhat higher mode share, but it’s still just 20% for work trips, about on a par with Reading, the more transit-oriented parts of Essex, etc. The Grande Couronne averages 30%.

          Stuttgart has very high mode share for its size – 26% of work trips in the entire VVS area. I don’t really have that much data for Germany since MiD likes reporting numbers as shares of all trips rather than just work trips, whereas Anglospheric and French numbers are just work trips, which have higher transit shares and lower walk/bike shares.

          (Links to all of my German numbers are here).

          • Herbert

            I meant in terms of gaining/losing population, not in terms of transit mode share… Look at population data for places like Fürstenwalde for instance and compare to Potsdam or Schönefeld

      • Herbert

        By the way, whatever the M10 is, it apparently is one of the highest ridership tram lines in the city. And given the state of Berlin buses, railstitution now would help a lot in many places…

          • Herbert

            I don’t, but the M10 gets A LOT of press coverage… Maybe because it runs from Hauptbahnhof to Friedrichshain…

  6. adirondacker12800

    Regulatory coercion and taxes that inconvenience the middle class are both absolutely necessary to reduce emissions

    You are stuck in 2010. The renewables are getting so cheap there won’t be any coercion needed, it will cost too much to burn stuff very soon.

    if they’re cold, they can put on sweaters.

    Or spend a few hundred dollars for more batteries so the heat pump can run longer.

    • Herbert

      NEW renewables may be cheap. But there are a lot of old power plants that cost basically nothing to run. That’s why the German nuclear power plant owners want to run theirs until the cows come home.

      • Michael James

        Germans have the right to close their nuclear power plants, though I am not sure if the process was properly argued. Wasn’t it just a lot of noise from so-called environmentalists followed by unconditional surrender by Merkel? Not building anymore, ok, but closing down almost new ones, no. I think they should keep them running as long as their planned lifespan, or maybe longer. And certainly much longer than after the cows come home (which for milk cows is every day!).
        I presume Germans believe their nuclear plants are well built. The thoughtful environmentalist (ahem!) would realise that the most serious challenge facing the planet is global warming and that the most critical period is the next 20 to 30 years. And beyond, but it is this near-term period that will determine our future and why having those low-carbon big energy sources displacing coal (Germany is still building new coal-fired generators; even the US is not doing that) and gas, is important. It would also free funds that could go to green tech and green R&D.

        • Herbert

          They passed a “coal compromise” recently aiming to shut down the last coal plant by the 2030s

          • Michael James

            That could be another 20 years operation of coal plants! Other than the two new ones being built, most will run out of natural life before then anyway. So, not much of a compromise.
            I understand the problem but that is why they should keep the nukes operating as long as they can (or if no longer needed but if they are going to run more of those hydrogen trains on Green Hydrogen (rather than brown or blue hydrogen) they really need a big and cheap source of electricity–overnight nuclear is perfect).

          • Herbert

            Well compared to the “mobility compromise” a few weeks later, the coal compromise was downright enlightened…

  7. Eric

    Where would Miami fit on your graph? (The largest US metro area not to be mentioned)

  8. michael

    That American housing series is interesting. If you look at the Total MF permits divided by Total permits over the whole whole 38 year series since 1980, it’s kind of interesting. The top 10 for MSAs with over 100,000 permits during the period is:
    – LA, 58%
    – San Jose, 56%
    – NYC, 53%
    – Naples FL, 52%
    – San Diego, 50%
    – Miami, 49%
    – Honolulu, 48%
    – Madison WI, 47%
    – San Francisco, 47%
    – Seattle, 47%
    – Milwaukee, 45%

    Some cities are quite a bit lower than I expected. Boston – 40%. Chicago – 34%. MSP – 29%. DC – 27%. Atlanta – 25%. Regarding the debate of Austin vs Houston. Cumulatively since 1980, Austin built 43% multifamily versus 31% for Houston. Dallas was 39%.

  9. Joseph Brant

    Is Detroit’s urban core really still declining? There’s a flurry of development in the downtown and midtown areas, a drop in office vacancy, and (small steps) a smaller population decline in Wayne County. Moreover, Detroit was one of a handful of American metros to increase transit ridership by rationalizing core city bus routes and adding frequent limited stop buses on the radial roads to the suburbs. There’s still a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked, even if there isn’t enough population density for rapid transit.

    • Alon Levy

      The Detroit metro area’s transit mode share is 1%, and that there’s development in one neighborhood doesn’t change the fact that it’s an area with population decline and a primary industry that exists 100% because of the federal government’s largesse.

      • Herbert

        I find it interesting how different the various “rust belts” in the first world have fared. The Ruhr Area seems to be doing better already and headed for an okay future. Northern England has it rough. And large parts of the American Midwest seem to be headed for terminal decline. Certainly part of this is due to different government approaches to crises but maybe it is also due to the way those areas looked going into the crisis…

        • Michael

          I take the opposite stance on the American rust belt from an environmental perspective. Where I live in Milwaukee is experiencing zero population growth, but the housing market is experiencing dual trends of SFU abandonment & MF apartment infill. That’s ideal combination for converting a city green.

  10. Matthew Hutton

    Infrastructure in northern Britain is weak – especially railways, but also Britain is small which makes moving around easier.

  11. Mike

    What would you consider appropriate transit for Seattle? How would that change its position on the graph, and what mode share would you target?

    • Alon Levy

      Seattle is at 10% now and I’d target 20% around 2030, which is more ambitious than Vancouver’s performance so far but comparable (and Vancouver hasn’t really prioritized SkyTrain extensions well). Appropriate transit consists of better commuter rail if there’s room on the Northern Transcon, and light rail extensions; ST3 has some problems with priorities and construction costs, but its core lines, like Ballard, seem pretty solid. As in Vancouver, Seattle should be planning on aggressive TOD, e.g. permitting high-density housing within a kilometer of rail stations, and not just right next to them as is the case at Joyce-Collingwood, Edmonds, etc. It should also permit high-density office towers in the center, since that’s where transit mode share for job geography is the highest, again looking at Vancouver as a model but also Calgary.

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