The Guadalupe-Lamar corridor was, Project Connect conceded, by far the most popular option at the three public information sessions held throughout the city. Still, the team contended that based on the crowds’ preferences for priorities — congestion and development potential, for example — the Highland and East Riverside routes were actually better fits.What does this quote mean? Well, the context is that we are discussing Austin's light rail proposal. Unfortunately, this quote cuts to the quick of everything that's wrong with our mass transit engineering process today:
The Guadalupe-Lamar corridor was, Project Connect conceded, by far the most popular option at the three public information sessions held throughout the city.There's a reason for this: this is the highest-ridership route in Austin. In European mass transit planning, the rule is: reinvestments get priority. If you have sardine-can packed buses and empty light rail, you're doing something wrong. Light rail, as a mode, has higher capacity than buses and so is best used alleviating pressure on high-demand corridors. That is, a busy bus route is a demonstration of the need for light rail.
So what's going wrong? The statement
...the team contended that based on the crowds’ preferences for priorities — congestion and development potential...suggests an intrinsic failure of the planning process. While I agree that we the professionals need to listen to members of the community, I fear this is the point when things start to go to far. If we tried to give the public their every demand, we'd wind up with a fat, blatantly self-contradictory, service-intensive set of asks and not a single new penny to pay for it (indeed, our coffers would likely be lighter). Part of the point of being a professional, of actually spending the time and energy learning the discipline, is to be able to winnow what the public actually needs out from what it thinks it needs. Of course, as Jane Jacobs helpfully pointed out in Death and Life, and Chuck Marohn points out on Strong Towns today, bad professional priorities cause their own problems, so this drives a professional ask: accountability that our priorities and standards are current and reflective of reality.
Seemingly in the (misguided) belief that the first half of the 20th century was a golden age in the development of architecture, urban planning, and transportation engineering, however, our professional priorities skew towards prescribing the ideals of Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier, etc., and proscribing the traditional development pattern that they rejected. These ideals have, over the past fifty years, proven to be remarkably far from reality.
But of course the final statement (there is some overlap)
...priorities — congestion and [economic] development potential, for example — the Highland and East Riverside routes were actually better fitsis where the hammer really hits. The Boomer buzzwords "congestion" and "economic development" were never the crowds' priorties--they're the engineers'. In fact, the crowd has made it clear what their priority is: better transit down the busiest route in the city. The problem is that this priority doesn't jive with the consultants' priorities--the Suburban Growth Experiment build-it-and-they-will-come idea instead of maintenance and intensification of a proven success; it doesn't jive with the City's priority, as they wish to service a new-build district; and it doesn't jive with U. of Texas' administration's priority, which for some asinine reason wants to keep the light rail away from the campus's west side--exactly where the greatest student concentration (and hence ridership) is. These all converge in the northeast corridor.
And the futon
So you're consultants with years of experience developing in suburbia caught in pitched battle. On one side you've got proven ridership and public desire for light rail in Corridor A; on the other administrators galore breathing down your necks for Corridor B. So what do you do? Why, you split the difference, of course, and roll out a compromise Corridor C!
...Except that this corridor is like the stroad of transit investments. It's too far from the ridership core that gives Corridor A its strength; it's too far from the underutilized infrastructure that gives Corridor B its strength. What it is, instead, is a corridor that is of use to the people living along it, but fails to capitalize on either of the (opposing) corridors being advanced. It is, in every objective sense, a failure, a futon.
Austin already has one mass-transit futon. Does it need another one?