Each day, millions of people depend on reliable transportation for access at a high level of efficiency; and in this way, cities are the largest people movers around. From a logistical standpoint, the efficiency as well as effectiveness and sustainability of these systems is directly correlated with intelligent planning techniques that are able to react to changing population needs.
Transportation networks are synergistic, and become more functional and effective as transport modes are interlinked. This is because one mode is not able to service an entire city; systems must be multimodal to address weak points in first and last-mile connections and other low-service areas. To achieve this type of network with efficient transfer points involves coordinating schedules and stops of bus routes, streetcars, subways, urban rail lines, and car and bicycle sharing stations. For example, European cities, such as Milan and Paris, have high population densities that support these services and facilitate movement because of mass accessibility to public transportation.
The American context shares both ends of this spectrum. It can be argued that historical dense cities such as New York and Boston are both products of their intricate transit systems. However, overcoming system deficiencies in contemporary automobile oriented places, such as Los Angeles or Atlanta, is complicated due to an automobile-scale characterized by extensive sprawl. Transit systems in these cases are more expensive from large infrastructure and distance demands, and even a developed network will still have problems with connections between individual homes and transportation nodes.
Ameliorating this issue is no simple task, and has inherent conflictual demands. We can choose to live in dense city centers, but relinquish the precious personal space found in more suburban areas. In return, we gain proximity to work and school, and added health benefits from increased physical activity. Higher density areas can even further induce demand for services as the effectiveness and accessibility to transportation options increases.
At this point we must ask ourselves: which lifestyle do we want, and at what cost?
Credits: Photographs by Maxwell Vidaver. Data linked to sources.