If You Build It, They Will Come

After decades of road expansion, planners and traffic engineers are coming to the realization that we can’t build our way of road congestion. This insight is supported by a growing understanding of “induced demand“: If you build more roads, you will get more cars. Could this also be true for other modes? Recent cases suggest yes. In March, Seattle opened two new LRT stations, an act that was greeted with optimism by some, but skepticism and arguments of tax waste from others. Now, the first transit ridership figures calculated after the station openings are in. Seattle is using LRT like never before. Down the coast, cities in Orange County are embracing bicycle infrastructure, after years of reluctance. This appears to result in part from recognition among planners and politicians that car-based growth has its limits and serious challenges, but also from local inspiration. Long Beach, is “Southern California’s undisputed leader in innovative infrastructure for safe and convenient bicycling.” It appears that the city’s neighbours are taking notice, and demanding more from their own local governments. North of the border, over the past 10 years, Vancouver has made a concerted and sustained effort to improve bicycle infrastructure quality and expand the network. The result? Bike riders now account for 7% of total mode share and over 10% of trips to work. While hardly an exhaustive study, these cases demonstrate that:

  1. If you build it, build it well.
  2. If you build it well, riders will come (your neighbours might visit too).
  3. Induced demand has application for biking and transit.

These findings suggest that with a commitment similar to that shown to cars in years past, cities can significantly alter their respective mode shares. With limited urban space, along with concerns about safety and air quality, this could be very good news.

Mitchell Reardon

Mitchell Reardon is the TH!NK by IBI blog curator, a land use planner and urban experimenter. His interdisciplinary work centres on people and how they live, work and move through the city. Mitchell is enjoying life in Vancouver, after 6 years of living and working in Stockholm, Sweden. Catch up with him on Twitter: @MitchellReardon

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