Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry / Robert Cervero -- Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998.

The Transit Metropolis offers good analysis and rich data on the transit systems of select cities from multiple continents. Presenting twelve case studies from Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and Canada, Cervero covers not only the form and technology used in the transit system, but also supportive policies and relevant political and institutional arrangements. A ‘transit metropolis’ is “one where enough travelers opt for transit riding, by virtue of a workable transit-land use nexus, to put the region on a sustainable course.” This broad net captures cities that use their transit systems to guide urban growth (adaptive cities), others that create a transit system to serve their more spread out land use pattern (adaptive transit), cities whose downtowns are transit havens (strong-core cities), and cities who use a mix of adaptive-transit and adaptive-city methods (hybrids).

Rather than laying out hard and fast rules for transportation planning, the book offers a wide and impressive array of methods. The only absolute offered is that transit should support land use policies and not vice versa. Although repeated pointing out that quality services attract more riders, Cervero does not couch this as a universal recommendation, noting that pricing transit affordably may mean lower quality vehicles in poorer cities.

From the case studies, it seems clear that cities with good transit are primarily wealthy cities outside the United States. For those primarily interested in the United States, comparison with U.S. cities is provided in many of the case studies, and the final chapter provides shorter examples of U.S. cities recently improving their transit systems. My own interest is primarily with developing cities, and I was disappointed not to have any examples from Africa or from poorer Asian cities (Singapore and Tokyo were the Asian examples). Nonetheless, the case studies clearly presented ways of designing transit systems that suit local conditions and aims.

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