CityLab published an article last week on multi-modal cities that caught my attention (because it used a picture of Toronto with about 3 or 4 streetcars stacked up along Queen Street). The premise of the article is that all of this car vs. transit debate is actually missing the bigger picture: our cities are multi-modal and we need to be planning for that.
That’s not to say that the shift away from cars isn’t a good thing. It is. But it’s not as simple as saying that, instead of driving, people should now only take transit. In today’s cities people walk, bike, take streetcars, take buses, take subways, take taxis, take private shuttles, use Uber, and, yes, they still drive.
From my own experience, this is absolutely how I get around Toronto today. I walk to the gym. I ride my bike whenever I’m going somewhere downtown. I take the subway to my office in midtown because it’s far and I would be too sweaty if I biked there. I use Uber and Hailo when I’m going out at night. And I drive when I need to go to the suburbs or leave the city.
But the key takeaway here is that we now have a much tougher challenge on our hands. When we were only optimizing for cars – however detrimental to our cities that was – we only had one mode to plan for. Now we have several. Some of which are public and some of which are private.
However we also have access to technologies that we didn’t have before. We are networked in ways that weren’t possible before and we’re at the dawn of many profound mobility changes, such as driverless cars. (Have you read about Tesla’s new Autopilot feature yet?)
So as I’ve said before, I really believe that we need to look at this, not as a war on the car, but as a war on inefficiency. The problem we are trying to solve relates to mobility: What’s the best way to move lots of people around dense urban regions? Stop focusing so much on the technologies and focus more on the people.