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Transit is Cleveland's ticket to liberty, Jarrett Walker tells church crowd

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/02/16 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Transit, Transportation

Respected transit consultant and author of the book “Human Transit” Jarrett Walker opened his keynote address of the Mobility Matters series held at downtown Cleveland’s Old Stone Church with the now famous image (seen below). The City of Münster, Germany set up the shot to make a point about the efficiencies of space.

“It’s one of the irrefutable arguments for transit,” Walker said. “If you’re going to build a city, there’s not much space. Big things don’t fit in small spaces.”

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Rational as the universe may appear in this photo, people make irrational decisions. Beyond the efficient use of space, Walker thinks the photo illustrates how transit is about liberty.

“What opportunities can I access,” he starts.

Speed and frequency are less important that liberty, Walker says, because the goal of transportation is to bring people into greater contact.

“You can’t meet someone unless you are on the same block,” he said. “You’re here because your parents were on the same block.”

Transit is asked to make many false choices, Walker says. For instance, between affluent people and those who are "dependent." That creates other false choices like rail vs. buses.

“If you’re wealthy, there’s not as many of you,” he said. “Transit is about lots of people. If you want maximum freedom, you have to stop caring about wheels versus tires."

For example, Walker consulted with the City of Houston on what he calls a revenue neutral plan which consolidated bus routes in its downtown: Fewer lines meant buses come and go with more frequency.

“True permanence relies on ridership, not infrastructure,” Walker says, adding that the move saved Houston operating costs that it can use to pay for the labor of running a smaller system with greater frequency. “People are willing to walk a little farther for better service.”

As Greater Cleveland RTA contracts from its (state) funding crisis, its service cuts will make it leaner, but it could also be an opportunity for RTA to improve service. (Transit advocates have been pressing RTA for some concessions like restoring transfers which were cut almost a decade ago).

Walker admits there is a point of diminishing returns for the least mobile riders like seniors and disabled from increasing the walk to the bus.

He advises helping transit by developing more density; more people sharing the same space.

“Density and walkability trumps income,” he concludes. “Where you live determines your likelihood of using transit.”

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