Transport planning must be pretty complicated at times. Different projects interact with each other, you don’t want to unnecessarily dig a road up when you might need to dig it up again in the near future, you need to try to align service changes with infrastructure improvements and so on. I imagine that at times this complexity leads to very little happening with the inter-relationships between different projects and plans essentially making it seemingly impossible to do anything with confidence.
Jarrett Walker discusses this issue in a recent post, which is a worth while read.
Whenever I present a bus network redesign plan, I’m always accused of ignoring important things. How can I design a bus network, people say, without also planning for bus lanes, or bicycle parking, or road pricing, or parking policy, or urban structure? These things are all connected, they say!
Jarrett highlights one way of getting around this is to emphasise that things which are connected can still be separable.
Two projects are connected if they affect each other’s outcomes. For example, a network redesign and a bus lane project will certainly improve each other’s benefits over what either could do alone. A rail line and a bus line parallel to it are competitors that will undermine each other’s outcomes, so they are connected too. (Deep ecologists would say that almost everything is connected in this sense.)
Two projects are separable if one can be done before the others, and will achieve some benefits by itself, even while waiting for the other connected parts to happen.
This is important, because progress always move at the speed of their slowest element, which means that separating things is the only way to get them done.
So separating projects is the only way for anything to happen soon. We are not denying that everything is connected. We are saying we have to start somewhere, and make some progress, even as other pieces of the puzzle are in the works.
Jarrett applies this concept to implementing bus network changes, which is a good example when you think about Auckland’s new PT network (which Jarrett was a key part of creating). There are a whole pile of connected parts to this network, more bus lanes will help route changes, as will creating a whole heap of important minor bus interchanges across Auckland. But most of these infrastructure changes were able to be separated, leaving a few critical changes like the Otahuhu bus/rail interchange that really and truly couldn’t be separated. The new network has taken six years to become a reality, but if we were waiting for the many connected elements to this network to be in place, we would still be years away from seeing any improvement.
A good contrast to the pragmatic approach of the new network, is the lack of progress on much at all within the city centre in recent years. There’s obviously a lot to work around in the city centre, with City Rail Link construction, light-rail planning, America’s cup improvements and much more. This seems to have resulted in progress towards a more people-friendly city centre having ground to a halt in recent years, with the main change seemingly a step backwards in the removal of double-phasing for pedestrians at key intersections along Queen Street.
This means that High Street is still a mess, that buses get stuck in congestion on Wellesley and Victoria streets, and that many streets around motorway ramps are basically a concerted design effort to kill as many pedestrians as possible.
It seems to me that transport planning in the city centre needs to figure out what’s truly inseparable and where progress can still be made in the face of uncertainty and complexity. Let’s keep improving things, even if they aren’t perfect at first and even if that means it might be a bit more complex in the future. Otherwise we will forever be stuck playing six dimensional chess in trying to find a way that everything fits together perfectly, and the current situation of achieving very little will continue.