Chocolate and Gold Coins

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Some Thoughts on Mass Transit

I came across an interesting blog the other day: Political Calculations (via Gongol). I suppose I’ve read a few posts on it before, but I never visited the blog to see what it had. It’s not exactly blog-candy. In fact, a lot of the posts are often way too long. But there are a lot of very good graphs and pictures there.

One post that caught my eye was this post on linear cities and mass transit. Washington D.C. has a mass transit system WMATA. I don’t use it because it isn’t convenient. It’s a mile from my home, it doesn’t go anywhere near my son’s school, and it takes a transfer and a shuttle for me to get to work. This is the fundamental problem with mass transportation, it is one-dimensional and it cannot very efficiently cover an ordinary two-dimensional city. If cities were arranged in line along the mass transit system, then maybe people could rely only on mass transit. Here’s Political Calculations’ explanation of a wild idea by an Italian architect for the Arizona desert:

So, to make public transportation viable as the primary means of transport for an entire city, cities themselves need to be designed to closely follow a single transportation corridor. This is where the concept of Solare: A Lean Linear City comes into play. Born in the mind of Paolo Soleri, the leading architect behind some very ambitious urban reconsiderations, including the Arcosanti (unfortunately this website is defunct) project near Cordes Junction in central Arizona, SOLARE has been conceived as a "continuous urban ribbon" especially designed for China. Soleri's linear city concept consists of:

Two main parallel structures of thirty or more stories extending for kilometers to hundreds of kilometers.... Each [urban] module can accommodate a population of about 1500 people and the spaces for productive, commercial, institutional, cultural, recreational, and health activities.

The fundamental economic problem associated with linear cities and mass transit in general is that it makes the land near the mass transit very expensive. A real estate agent that I know told me that there is a 20 to 30 percent premium on homes that are right on a mass transit line. This means that the benefits of mass transit don’t go to the users, they go to whoever was lucky enough to own the land that was adjacent to the mass transit line when the line was announced. Forcing people to live near the mass transit line will mean forcing people to pay too much for their housing.

But here’s another idea: should we really count the mile walk to the metro station as part of the commute? We all need exercise and a mile walk to and from the metro station would be an easy way to fit some exercise in. I might consider it if my son’s school were anywhere close to a metro line.


  • I think the linear city is a neat idea.

    What really kills all possibility of mass transit is exurbanization. Which is what he have in the DC area, the fault being the stupid zoning regulations that prevent greater density in DC.

    By Blogger Half Sigma, at 7:41 PM  

  • Ithink that it’s actually land near stations, not the line, that goes up in value. (That, of course, depends on how many stations there are per km. 4 or 5 like Paris? Or 1 like Moscow?)
    When the Jubilee line extension was built in London there was a determined effort to capture some ofthis value from the commercial (but not residential) landowners. I don’t know quite how sucessful it was but know that it raised at least some of the cost of building the line....especially from Canary Wharf, at the end of the line.

    By Blogger Tim Worstall, at 1:17 PM  

  • Hi Tim
    Of course you're right, it does no good to be right on the line and half-way between stations.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:02 PM  

  • The Arcosanti website is not dead. Check out

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:36 PM  

  • What you are missing in your calculations is the idea of a feeder service.

    Trains are extremely good at point to point service. To get people to the train stations, you need a good feeder service. (1 mile isn't very far, about 10 minutes of walking). Traditionally, buses have been used as short distance feeder services for mass transit. So your commute would be (one leg):

    Home -> bus stop -> station -> station -> bus stop -> workplace.

    I grew up in a city with working mass transit, and I really miss it now. The bus stop was ~ 500 metres from my house, with a bus every 10 minutes at non peak hours (7 at peak).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:47 AM  

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