TOD: Incentivising Time over Dollars
“No matter the cost of gas we need to get to work and each minute shaved off the commute is a minute-golden and fat and glowing- added to our real lives, the life that begins after work, at home, in the bars and restaurants, with the children and the bills and the dog.” T. C. Boyle, The New York Times.
My ideal self-narrative goes like this: I am a huge proponent of Transit Oriented Development. I bought my house on the Sound Transit Link Light Rail line because I won’t drive my car. I live in a community with coffee shops, small boutiques, restaurants, bars, a farmers market and a butcher. My kid’s school and extra-curricular activities are located within my “walk-shed.”
My real-life narrative goes like this: I am a huge proponent of Transited oriented development (darn, that biker keeps making me pass him! He should just let me go first because I’m just going to pass him again when this light turns green!) I intentionally live close to the Link Light Rail because I (would totally) take the train to school (if I didn’t have to rush straight from school to hot yoga, if I am going to get a workout in today, because I have to take Mychal to her tap class.) Her class is an hour long and I chose this studio because it is near the house and we can ride bikes or walk there (score!) except I will need at least 30 minutes to ride my bike, and I only will have 15 minutes to get there. (Plus I can go to the grocery store, which is only a 5 minute car ride away from the studio, and shop for my family of 5 and be back before her class ends.) It’s off to work and I will take the light-Rail because it goes right to the airport! (But then I will have to leave an hour earlier and I need that hour.) The train is cheaper (ooh except it isn’t free and $2.50 is more than the gas I already paid for. I have to get an Orca Card soon.) It’s faster, though… (except it is not faster because my walk to the train is about 15 minutes and another 15 minute walk to the terminal, in addition to waiting for the train and the 10 minute train ride.)
In the end, I somehow convince myself that my ideal self-narrative is my real self-narrative. Guilty as charged. I drive every day and yet I still hear myself saying “yes, I live right by the train, it is so convenient.” Here is the reality; the small family-owned vintage theater in my neighborhood closed after years of financial struggle. I loved that theater because I went there all the time (No, I didn’t.) No, that’s more of my self-narration; I didn’t because giving the choice, the theater that was a 15 minute drive from my house with a huge parking lot was more convenient than a theater that is a 10 minute walk. Why , because it’s cold? Raining? I have a tight schedule? The kids? Yes! Yes! Yes! And Yes! The crux of the issue is: Choice and Convenience.
The modern family, not to mention the modern commuter, isn’t rooted to one spot. “We live a life in wide and complicated orbits that take in the whole sprawling metro region and we’ve got technologies (such as cell phones) that encourage movement without loss of productivity.” -Berger
Technology offers efficiency of whatever the technological advance’s purpose is. For example the technical advance of social media has enabled the democratisation of information, disseminating it with speed and efficiency. While technology makes for more efficient economies, it creates the expectation of immediate production. The car, like the cellphone, email or the airplane, is an example of a technology that created efficiency in travel and expanded our choice. The rise in efficiency created by technological advancement leads to a rise in expectations further enhancing auto dependency. Would it be unreasonable for you to tell your boss that “the memo is on the way, I mailed it a couple days ago it should be there any day now” or “Just boarding the train, see you in a week and a half”? Time is a precious commodity of modern life and monetary deterrents such as raising gas prices, taxes or tolls may not be enough to offset any meaningful amount of time saved.
Unfortunately New York City is not a good model for its high use of public transit because of the unique transportation history and when its public transportation system was developed. In addition, the city's density is a major factor to its “time-competiveness of using transit instead of a car in the city.” (A-P Hurd, The Carbon-Efficient City.) According to Anthony Downs, author of Still Stuck in Traffic, he addresses the issue of congestion as not “itself the problem-in fact, congestion is the only feasible solution to this more basic problem.” While a carbon tax may not be enough to motivate our real-narrative to align with our ideal narrative on our approach to T.O.D., traffic and congestion will offset convenience and begin to shift expectations.
Currently we are living in a growing region. There is said to be an expected four million more people moving to the region by 2050 and congestion is inevitable. I think it was Albert Einstein that suggested that time is a measurement that is consistent. However, it does not move at the same rate for each person. This makes sense when we think of how one dog-year equals seven people-years. And so a day to a dog must feel like a week and an hour must feel like one day. I am not saying that we are all dogs but I am suggesting that age, schedules, and even perception of life span all affect how we view time, or lack thereof. If this is true, then time is not a consistent measurement and cannot have a consistent value. But regardless if one minute equals a week or a split of a second one thing remains consistent: the less time you have the more valuable it becomes. Unless you are a character in a vampire novel, you are aware that TOD has to incentivize time, not just save you a couple of dollars.
Sustainable Cities Collective