Monday, August 10, 2009

Thinking About It Wrong

Travel time just isn't that important for short distance routes.

At an 8 a.m. meeting of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and suburban officials at St. Louis Park City Hall, HDR consulting engineers will give estimates on what it would cost to build and operate a light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, how many people would ride it and how many minutes the trip would take.

"The No. 1 thing that those numbers are going to tell you is: Do we have a viable project?'' said Katie Walker, manager of the rail study for Hennepin County.

I'm not saying travel time is not an issue at all, but fundamentally such projects are about reducing car dependency and changing land use patterns. We generally don't talk about them like that, and the Feds mostly don't think about them like that, but that's really what they're about. Simply speeding people from point A to point B isn't the purpose, the purpose is to provide a different way to get around and eventually a different environment in which to get around. If travel time is too important, then basic utility might be sacrificed by, for example, reducing the number of stops.