One of the most troublesome aspects of any discussion regarding transportation is that we nearly always talk about supply. "Do we have enough? Should we build more? What's the supply now?" But we rarely evaluate the demand side thoroughly, and try to take efforts to reduce it. If, for example, a city can reduce the number of people driving into a downtown (while obviously still retaining homes and businesses) then the whole question of supply can be re-evaluated.
Why is this important? Well, primarily because building supply is expensive, for just about any form of transportation. Managing demand can by comparison be far cheaper. Seattle has been undertaking a pilot program called In Motion to do just this. Eric Jaffe writes:
In Motion piques participant interest with local incentives: fare passes, discounts on car-share memberships or bike shop purchases, special offers from neighborhood businesses for program participants, and so on. It also helps local residents understand the full extent of their trip options with a customized neighborhood multi-modal map. The idea behind the map, says Cooper, is to introduce participants to accessible transit and travel options they might not have known existed.
"The low-hanging fruit is the people who have never taken the time to find out what's around them," she says. "There's still a lot of those people out there."
Participants make a mode-shift pledge and report back on the changes during their neighborhood's campaign, which typically lasts three or four months. To date In Motion claims success in 29 King County neighborhoods. Cooper says she sees a fairly consistent 20 percent reported drop in drive-alone travel (with figures slightly lower in low-density suburban neighborhoods), and very high intent to continue the new travel behavior.
Infrastructure of virtually all kinds is costly and the budgets are increasingly too strapped to even maintain what we have. Chuck Marohn has an excellent deep-dive into the problem (as it pertains to Minnesota) here, including some specific recommendations on what to do. It's thought-provoking and worth the read. Here's hoping more cities (and states) start to find ways to maximize resources first by managing demand, rather than resorting to only supply-side solutions.