Slate’s Matthew Yglesias recently wrote a fantastic piece about how different kinds of public transit create different types of communities. He points out that in communities like Boston or Brooklyn, mass transit has created dense, high-value, walkable communities. In the D.C. area, however, one transit line treats train travel more like car travel by emphasizing the speed of the trains and by spreading out stations. In other words, it focuses on how quickly it gets people from point A to point B.
Yglesias’ point is that a federal law may soon allow a different approach to transit, but the distinction he makes is an incredibly important one: some public transit focuses on intra-community travel and walkability, while other transit looks at how to move people quickly over long distances. Both kinds of transit are important, of course, but Yglesias aptly argues that in order to create valuable, walkable communities transit stations need to be located close to one another and surrounded by dense structures. In other words, intra-community travel is what really has the biggest impact on a community.
Unfortunately, Provo’s coming commuter rail is more like the D.C. example Yglesias uses. The stations will be spaced far apart with the emphasis on getting people from one distant community to another. That’s obviously better than car transit, but it won’t necessarily make a major dent in the car-to-resident ratio. Yglesias’ argument also suggests that transit like Provo’s won’t necessarily have a significant revitalizing effect on the surrounding area downtown Provo because it isn’t designed to facilitate intra-communty walking or density.