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One last thing to point out about that transit deserts paper is that their metric does in fact take frequency into account, so it's not like they're simply pushing for a naive coverage model- rather, while they don't use these terms specifically, they seem to be arguing for increasing *ridership-quality* service in transit-dependent areas.
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"I haven't claimed that there aren't areas that could support higher order transit than they have. Many cities could support subway networks in denser and more walkable areas, including parts of New York. Many US medium-density areas could support vastly more bus service than they have, as the experience of comparable Canadian cities proves." Well, it's nice that you belatedly acknowledge the existence of these areas. What would be better would be if you could take that critical eye and train it on your own rhetoric, and see how your first comment here very clearly implied that such areas do not exist. Physician, heal thyself. Furthermore, I don't think your gloss on the transit deserts paper is particularly fair or accurate. The authors don't really say that "the reason we don't serve some people is that we don't know about them"; and they don't really focus on "low-ridership coverage areas", either. Rather, they specifically mention transit deserts in "low-income, inner-city areas" (i.e. places that do in fact have the right geography for transit), and cite how " transit subsidies have been concentrated primarily on serving lower-density, higher income areas and improving transit access only for suburban residents", which is making a political argument for sure, but one which ought to dovetail neatly with your approach. The implication is not that transit agencies "don't know about them", that's a strawman. The implication is more that the agencies may know about these populations but due to political pressure misallocate resources towards wealthier areas instead (c.f. Scotty's point about express buses and commuter rail). And *some* of these areas do, in fact, have the right geography for transit. The desert metaphor is thus not something we can use as an all-in-one measure, but which in concert with other tactics can shine light on some of the inequities and political issues surrounding transit funding. There are a lot of interlocking issues– geometry is one, an important one, but it's not the *only* one– and the transit desert frame is only "silly and ignorant" if you misidentify the facet it's trying to influence. As for specific examples: if, say, Houston's transit funding doubled, would it be possible to expand the areas that receive high-ridership transit? Almost certainly. While some geographies are intrinsically hostile to transit, I don't for a second believe that geography is *more* of a limiting factor than funding in any agency outside of small-town and rural services. Yes, holding the budget constant forces one to make certain tradeoffs, and you're very good at working within those constraints... but at a certain point it needs to be explicitly said that maybe we *shouldn't* resign ourselves to holding the budget constant? And, for Staten Island, sure much of it would not be able to support subway levels of service... but I'm pretty sure the North Shore could- maybe not as much as some other deserts in NYC, but that's a ludicrously high bar. And, not coincidentally, the North Shore also has the highest proportion of transit-dependent people on the island. Reactivating the North Shore line would be a win for both equity and geography, if there was the funding and will for it. But your preferred frame seems to rhetorically annihilate those possibilities.
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I like your explanation of the "rhetorical annihilation" and the examples used make sense... but man, your comment upthread is a perfect example of that technique in action. In particular, it annihilates the possibility that there exist neighborhoods which are transit-dependent, and which are geometrically and physically amenable to transit, but which are not well (or at all) served because the overall funding level (or the amount of service that can be provided at any particular funding level) is too low. For example, there's the subway desert map which was going around: It's not without its issues: the circles are probably drawn too tightly, and the "deserts" tend to have bus service, so it's not like they are transit-free (though NYC buses provide, even with the best of frequencies and routings, pretty substandard service). But, man, these are still real deserts: millions of people living in areas with gridded streets and off-the-charts density (take a look at Jackson Heights, or East Flatbush, just for starters). These are areas that have all the ingredients for successful rapid transit, but don't have the infrastructure to match. These are areas, that in your dichotomy between low-ridership "coverage" areas and places well-served by transit, have been rhetorically annihilated by you. And this is just NYC proper, an outlier among outliers. Take a look at NYC's inner-ring suburbs and you will see towns that are very dense by American standards (often several times as much as central cities in other parts of the country), have good-enough street grids... but very few non-captive riders beyond commuter rail because there is so little funding given to transit. Or, to take an example from the paper, look at the Chicago map. Sure, the far-out collar county exurbs are a spurious "transit desert". But there are also areas within the city itself- areas that are high-density and/or far from El service, which are truly underserved by the current system. I mean, you can't seriously believe that transit providers are able to serve every serve-able neighborhood on the budgets they currently have? Sure, you're not going to ever get good service on acre-lot cul-de-sac sprawl... but if you were able to secure appropriate funding for transit you *would* get good service on a much larger area. And that's *also* an adult conversation we need to be having, one which this frame seems meant to advance.
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Aug 8, 2015