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Great things that happened on transit

Elon Musk’s apparent distaste for public transit and random strangers prompted a Twitter battle last week. Though for the record, Musk later clarified that he loves trains, most subways and London buses.

Transit planner Jarrett Walker retorted that Elon’s views are the “essence of elite projection”. What’s good for Elon Musk may not, in fact, be good for the broader society. Elon responded by calling him an idiot.

All of this prompted Brent Toderian – city planner and former chief planner of Vancouver – to initiate the hashtag: #GreatThingsThatHappenedOnTransit. It then took off and the transit stories started pouring in.

Not surprisingly, this has been getting a lot of attention. It’s Elon Musk after all. But billionaire celebrities aside, it does serve as a good example of the two sides of this debate.

Some people seem to think that I am anti-car. I can see why some people might think that, but I am not anti-car. I love nice cars. And I love nice trains. What I value first and foremost is the city. 

The kind of city you can build on the backbone of transit is very different than the kind of city that gets built around the car. And as a rule of thumb, I prefer the former over the latter.

But this is not to say that the public transit model is perfect. It’s far from perfect for many reasons. And it can get even more imperfect when we don’t pair it with the right land use policies.

Deploying heavy rail through low density areas – that are by design inhospitable to car-less humans – will not magically flip the modal split. Public transport alone cannot solve that problem.

At the same time, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I am enamoured by the possibilities of autonomous electric vehicles. I am not assuming that the “car” of tomorrow will look and perform anything like the car of today.

Mobility is such an exciting space right now.

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