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- Dr. John
Pucher's lecture on improving the U.S. transportation
On 11-23-99 a reader forwarded to
us the following summary of lecture on improving U.S.
transportation given by John Pucher of Rutger's University,
held at the Community and Regional Planning School at the
University of Texas. We regret that we don't know the author
of the summary, who was identified only by the name
Dr. Pucher began by asking two main questions
which we should ponder. Do we want to live in compact,
clustered cities or in cities sprawled out? Do we want to
continue to rely on cars to get around or can we provide
safe, sensible alernatives? In short, where do we want to
live and how do we want to get around?
- He outlined six major transportation problems we
need to deal with:
- 1. Accidents, deaths and
injuries. In the U.S. (in 1997 I think) there
were 6.6 million accidents, 34 million injuries, and
42,000 deaths related to the automobile.
- 2. Air, noise and Water
Pollution from cars
- 3. Mobility problems for
poor, elderly and disabled -- isolation from work, health
- 4. Congestion.
Hours of travel delay due to congestion has
doubled in US cities over the last 15 years.
- 5. There is no choice. It's
either the car or nothing for many.
- 6. Financing.
There are huge subsidies for highways and
transit -- $20 billion per year for transit subsidies,
$100 billion per year for free parking subsidies, and $96
billion for automobile infrastructure.
- He then compared modes of transportation used in
different countries as compared to the United States. In
the US, 89% of all trips are made in the car, 2% on
public transit, 1% on bikes, 6% walking, and 3% other. In
Canada those numbers are 76%, 10%, 2%, 10% and 2%
respectively. The Netherlands has 45%, 7% 28%, 18% and 2%
- One tangential -- The British medical society
recently studied the effects of walking and bicycling and
determined that for ever hour spent doing these
activities, a person could prolong their life by an hour.
For every hour spent driving in congestion, an hour is
reduced from someone's life, on average.
- He really stressed walking and bicycling as
under-used transportation alternatives. They're cheap and
relatively easy to implement. And very healthy.
- He also looked at transportation mode choice as
populations age in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S.
In the former two countries, car dependency goes down and
bike riding and walking increase. In the U.S. the
opposite is true. Incidentally, the average life
expectancy in the Netherlands is four years longer than
in the U.S.
- In Germany and elsewhere, transit use, walking and
bicycling are encouraged in the following ways:
- 1. Vast improvements to public transit systems --
coordinated and attractive systems.
- 2. Continual improvements of pedestrian and bicycle
facilities. Extensive auto-free pedestrain zones which
are strictly enforced. Never resting on their
- 3. Sharp restrictions on auto use in central
- 4. Land use policies that discourage suburban sprawl.
Canada artifically restricts land to raise land prices to
discourage cavalier use of land.
- Developers cannot develop subdivisions unless they
can prove that every house in that development is within
500' of a transit stop.
- Next, Dr. Pucher outlined policies to encourage
transit ridership. These include:
- Marketing! Call transit tickets "Environmental
- Combine transit tickets with mass events, so you
automatically get free ridership to and from major
concerts, UT football games, etc.
- Offer a wide range of types of tickets -- monthly,
- Make them transferable and multiple-use
- Give special discounts for off-peak use.
- When fares must increase, place burden of increase on
occasional users and build loyal ridership by keeping
regular users prices low.
- Coordinate bus service with metro service with light
rail service with bike and pedestrian facilities!
(Stressed this one quite a bit)
- Spatial and temporal coordination of transit modes.
Coordinated schedules, parking adjacent to bus stops and
- Modernize rail vehicles, busses, stops.
- Create reserved bus lanes and give traffic signal
priority to commuter busses.
- Improve information systems for transit riders.
Provide not only schedules of when the bus is supposed to
be there, but provide real-time digital updates of when
it actualy will come.
- These are carrot approaches. He thinks a combination
of carrots and sticks will be most effective so the stick
approach is also needed:
- Increase taxes on gas prices. Prices in
Western Europe and Japan are 4-5 times higher than in the
U.S. and this is due predominantly to higher taxes. Also
increase taxes on auto ownership. In Denmark, a car with
a small motor pays a 105% tax, those with a large motor
pay a 180% tax.
- Overall recommendations:
- Restrictions on auto use during the highest use
conditions in the form of taxes or tolls.
- Discourage new roadway facilities.
- Raise cost of gas, sales tax on cars
- Use proceeds in a way that public can visibily see
the direct benefits to be gained from these taxes. Get
- Careful cost effectiveness studies on proposed
transit alternatives to avoid the Red Line of L.A.
- Improve walking and biking facilites. Bike parking at
bus stops and covered bike parking will encourage more
people to choose this mode of tranportation.
- Public transportation solutions need to be a
coordinated, integrated package of policies that utilizes
all modes of transportation.
"The main reason urban transport policy has not
been very effective in the United States is that it has
been far too piecemeal. For transport policy to be
effective, it must be a coordinated package of mutually
supportive policies to restrict auto use, control parking
supply, facilitate bicycling and walking, and integrate
transit services and fares. Discouraging low-density
sprawl through land-use regulations is also crucial for
enabling walking, bicycling, and transit to provide
feasible alternatives to the car." -- Dr.
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