How Critical is Population Density for Public Transit?

Although an important factor, there is a compl...
Image via Wikipedia (13 page pdf, State of Australian Cities Conference, Perth, 25 November 2009)

The author of the article under review today analysed density and transport patterns in Canada, the US and Australia He challenges the long-used assumption by urban planners that the viability of transit depends on high urban population density, pointing out that transportation policy can be changed much more rapidly than the built environment which is required for higher densities. He concludes that a much better measure of urban population density is needed to assess public transit potential and, on the other hand, car usage for commuting.

Key Quotes:

“For at least two decades, urban policy in Australia has been based on the belief that high levels of car use and poor public transport are mainly the result of low urban densities”

“Some cities (e.g.Brisbane) contain large areas of vacant land within their boundaries, while others (e.g. the City of Toronto) occupy only the inner part of the urbanised area. Therefore, more accurate density measures are needed”

“Far from being the archetype of sprawl, Los Angeles has the highest density of any urban area in the table, just edging out Toronto and San Francisco, and significantly higher than other Canadian and US cities”

“The US cities, apart from New York, have the lowest rates of public transport use and the Canadians the highest, with Australia in-between”

“Car usage rates are.. lowest in Canadian cities and New York; highest in the United States. Again, density is a poor predictor of car usage rates: New York and Ottawa are the only cities where the figure is below 70 per cent, but do not have particularly high densities”

“densities as low as 12 people per hectare would be sufficient to support an unsubsidised rail service supported by feeder buses, provided the railway serves a strong centre with a significant share of the region’s jobs and activity”

“the compact city is unlikely to solve the problem of automobile dependence, as the increases in density required to significantly change transport patterns on a metropolitan scale are impossible to achieve”

“we don’t need impossible increases in density to provide viable alternatives to the car. The relative attractiveness of competing urban transport modes seems to influence mode choice much more than differences in density”

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2 Responses

  1. one can argue that it can go both ways

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