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The transit network effect

Matt Yglesias, in speaking about the relative merits of intercity train travel, makes the following observation:

Transportation is always a network phenomenon — part of what makes taking the train from DC to New York appealing is that when you arrive car-less in New York, that’s fine. Indeed, driving from DC to New York would becomes an expensive/annoying proposition when you consider the difficulty/expense of parking in New York and a car’s limited utility in terms of getting around. Even if you live in the suburbs, it makes sense to take Metro to union station and take the train up to NYC rather than driving. But if you took the train from Tucson to Phoenix you’d probably wind up needing to rent a car anyway, so why not just drive?

So in terms of what can be done, it’s more a question of a thousand cuts than a single broad stroke. Every time any city anywhere does anything to make itself less auto-dependent, it’s a step in the right direction. And then it’s just a question of deciding that this is important to us. Building new high-speed rail lines is expensive. But it’s not as if building new airport terminals or new freeways is cheap, either.

Now that commuter rail between Houston and Galveston is officially on the table, I think it’s worth keeping this idea, which has been raised here before, in mind. I figure by the time that gets built there will be a more robust network here in Houston. There will certainly still be room for more, and the point is that whatever else gets built won’t just be for folks who live here now.

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3 Comments

  1. Jaime says:

    I sincerely hope our city (and state for that matter) stops building freeways like the monstrosity that is I-10, and start building feasible mass transit systems. Correct me if I’m wrong but was it not jailbird Delay who killed the plans for a inter-city railway from Houston-Austin-Dallas?

  2. Kevin Whited says:

    Isn’t Houston-Galveston much more like Tucson-Phoenix than it is DC-New York?

    I don’t think anyone disagrees that New York is a dense, compact, transit-friendly place.

    But Houston is not New York.

  3. That may be true now, but it will be less so in a few years, and my point is that we can continue to make it less so if we choose to.

    And by the way, Phoenix is building a light rail system, too. So that comparison may not hold up much longer, either.