One of the things that we are constantly told in Metro Vancouver is that transit needs density to be successful. Many people have taken this as gospel true, but I have always questioned the correlation between transit usage and density.
In my observations, transit ridership has a stronger correlation with frequency and the directness of transit routes. For example, a route that runs in a straight line with service every 15 minutes or better will have higher ridership than a route that runs every hour and loops around an area (all other things being equal.) One of the other things I’ve observed about successful transit routes is that they contain a variety of land-uses along the corridors they serve. This doesn’t mean that the corridor needs to be full of mixed-use buildings with shops on the ground-level and office or residential above (it does help), but a route must passes through residential areas and commercial areas. Finally, a transit route with strong ridership will connect to other transit routes with frequent, direct service.
In Metro Vancouver, the 502 bus that runs along Fraser Highway is the perfect example of how density doesn’t drive ridership, but the other attributes that I mentioned do. When I was in Los Angeles and Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia a few weeks ago, my observations about transit ridership were further enforced.
Sepulveda Boulevard in a major corridor that runs north/south through the Los Angeles area. This corridor is served by both local bus service and B-Line-type bus service. The southern terminus of the transit corridor is LAX and the northern terminus is UCLA. It takes about an hour to go from one end of the route to the other. Along the way, the route passes through single-family housing, walk-up apartments, a regional shopping mall, and many commercial strips. The density of along this corridor is similar to Fraser Highway, yet supports frequent local transit service and frequent express transit service.
|Public transit in Middleton, Nova Scotia. Population 1,700. Bus with standing-room only. Select image to enlarge.|
To take this idea even further, the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia has a population of about 123,000. The Valley is rural with small communities of between 300-2000 mostly located along the Route 1 highway, a two-lane road. It takes about 3 – 4 hours of driving 100km/h to get from one end of the Valley to the other. While at a completely different scale, there is a variety of land-use along the corridor and the transit service runs in a straight line. Every in this extremely rural area, transit services is provided at least every hour and there is even express bus service.
Saying that Surrey or Langley doesn’t have the density to support frequent transit service is just an excuses to not provide transit service to the area. I’m not going to beat-up TransLink about the lack of transit service in some parts of the South of Fraser as they are barely keeping up with demand in Vancouver. But once stable funding is found for the system, I don’t want to hear the excuse that lack of density is the reason for not providing frequent service in the South of Fraser.
I should point out that in the South of Fraser Area Transit Plan, TransLink has recognized the benefit of running direct transit routes and has been slowly straightening out routes in the sub-region.