I liked this article quite a bit. It echoed many of the ideas I'd heard from Peter Newman at a recent UBC talk. They cast traditional transportation planning in a modernist and reductionist light: functional isolation allowed civil engineers to see transport as something independent of land use.
In an historical light, this was almost an understandable mistake. They describe medieval cities as having a radius of 30 min. walk (2.5km), with a dense land use clearly required by the limited transportation. Streetcar cities had a similar time radius, with linear Main Street development forming along streetcar corridors. Suburban rail allowed settlement outwards in a radial pattern from the urban core. Only with the automobile did these limits seem to disappear, with the gaps between the radial rail lines filling in as they became accessible.
The significance of the automobile is that it appeared to provide a means of overcoming the transport-land use connection. It offered freedom in space and time—to live anywhere and get quickly to all destinations regardless of location. The transport engineering models of this era merely had to predict the necessary infrastructure to provide this.
Unfortunately for the engineers and those who felt transport utopia had arrived, it was never possible to truly reach this freedom. The road and parking requirements became a bottomless pit that seemed to absorb any traffic solution and replace it with a new set of congestion constraints. Individual desires for mobility in a city where individualized locations are not subject to constraint will inevitably mean traffic rises at super-exponential rates.
Fundamental to its demise is the limit now being experienced by most larger cities that have gone the way of the automobile. They cannot work when:
Cities without the political ability to increase the price of automobile use to account for its true costs will need to do even more in the planning area to minimize car use expansion. Thus interest has shifted to the planning process.
They conclude with a series of encouraging case studies. The Hong Kong and Singapore studies are very educational. The Zürich study is impressive:
In the 1970s Zurich had to make decisions about its trams. Instead of bowing to the car lobby it expanded its old tram system and upgraded the services so that its citizens never had to wait more than 6 minutes and trams and buses were given right of way at traffic lights.
`Suddenly trams became popular in Zurich. We found it impossible to attack the use of the tram ... People simply won't accept it,' says consultant Willi Husler. As trams became fashionable, public attention was directed to other amenities—pedestrian malls, and outdoor cafés, which were allowed to take up road space and parking lots. The strategy, says Husler, was `to point out other, better possibilities of use. That way we can fight a guerrilla war against the car and win.' People began to respond to the attractions of the public realm and made private sacrifices to be part of it.
Each year the city authorities reduce the central area parking by 3%. [...] They are finding that the public realm of the city is so attractive that there is a declining market for single detached homes on the urban fringe—they are apparently `too far away' and `too private'.
And I always love quoting positive blurbs about Toronto. The emphasis below is mine; a stunning statistic. It's too bad that Toronto has seen so much decline under Mel Lastman (and, more importantly, Mike Harris)... this feels like a former golden age. David Miller should turn things around, though...
Toronto has deliberately pursued a policy of transit-oriented development for several decades. While this has not always been consistently applied, it has been more successful than any other North American city. Its success is seen most of all by comparison with its neighbouring city, Detroit. Toronto and Detroit have had similar histories, they are only about 100 miles apart and they are very similar in climate, but they have very different transport patterns. In 1995, Greater Toronto had 51% of the per capita car use found in Detroit, and it is managing to control its growth better (Greater Toronto grew by 873 km per capita in cars between 1980 and 1990, while Detroit rose by 1298 km per capita). In Detroit less than 1% of its passenger travel (passenger km) is by public transport, whereas the figure for Metro Toronto is 25% and growing. Detroit's density is also considerably lower than Toronto's.
Toronto is far less dominated by cars and indeed is the best North American example of transit-oriented development . From 1960 to 1980 there was a large growth of 48% in Metro Toronto's transit use (passenger km per capita), while Detroit's declined. Greater Toronto had 210 trips on transit per capita in 1990, by far the highest in North America and some 35% higher than the next best city, New York. The central city of Toronto has continued to grow in population over the past decades (some 20 000 new dwellings were added between 1975 and 1988) . And Metro Toronto's density increased by 8% (particularly along its transit lines), whereas Detroit's city centre spiralled down very rapidly and the overall density of the city dropped by 25%. Two cities—two different histories. Why?
The Mayor of Toronto from that period, Art Eggleton, has told the story of how it happened. The city authorities were very influenced by the author Jane Jacobs, whose wonderful book The Death and Life of Great American Cities  stressed the need for people to go back to a more urban character and to rediscover the public spaces. She went to live in Toronto and was very influential in a movement there to stop the building of a major freeway called the Spadina Expressway (they built the Spadina subway line instead). From this experience a whole public community-based move for a different kind of city sprang up.
Once the freeway issue had defined the city's direction, the authorities decided to emphasize transit-oriented development in their planning priorities. Toronto changed in 20 years quite dramatically from a city that was becoming increasingly car based to one that is now substantially based around a transit network. As a result it has been able to revitalize the downtown area and develop a series of transit-centred sub-cities. In addition, Toronto has a strong `Main Street' programme aimed at increasing the inner-city population and revitalizing light rail/tram streets by incorporating a large quantity of new shop-top housing and other infill residential development.
Toronto's Mayor concluded his story in the following way: `Good efficient public transit and scarce costly parking is a key to being a successful city ... The other significant policy in Toronto was bringing people to live in the city centre and sub centres.
They have a blurb about Vancouver, but it's already very outdated; the last eight years have been very, very good to the city. One great stat stands out: "The historic West End around English Bay is an extremely dense, high-rise neighbourhood (second only to Manhattan in North America)"
From Portland, we hear a familiar story. It's interesting that 85% of all new growth must now be within five minutes' walk of a designated transit stop!