Transit Prompts

Urban densities are dependent entirely on core-to-core mass transit like trains and planes. Therefore, low-density communities and financially sound public transportation services are unworkable. Really?

The facts contradict this assumption. For example, Portland has a low population density of 4,300 people per square mile (2000) with an extensive mass transit system. Portland’s density is less than Nassau County (4,700), east of New York City on Long Island. Here two transit centers struggle to survive, yet Mineola is double, and Hempstead is triple the density of Portland. Nassau County is just one example illustrating the high speed vs. low-speed strategy for introducing transit alternatives in the northeast.

How is a high-speed rail link from Boston to New York and Washington D.C. going to work when a struggling Long Island commuter and Metro-North rail system can barely stay on their tracks? Both seem ready to collapse at any minute from any of a thousand “last straw” causes. Killing people on rail crossings is just one of them.

Bike MeThere is one difference, it is not possible to take a “bicycle for two” or anything other than a car to anywhere in Long Island. But biking is rapidly developing in Portland and Denver. It is possible to ride from Brooklyn to Westchester through Manhattan (virtual tour) and the Critical Mass revolution. Bike Long Island (here) is a small, thriving tourism effort. Unfortunately, public policy resists developing and designing long-term projects covering the cost of dedicated rights-of-way everything from bikes to high-speed rail. 

The ability of a person to move from place to place in a community should not require being encased by plastic and steel. The bottom rung on the infrastructure ladder is this freedom of movement.  The lack of multiple mode options brings risks associated with life for the absence of the public right of way to move freely. Although developing alternative ways to get from place to place is coming to the New York Metropolitan Area (NYMA) very slowly, it feels frightening and unsafe. Evan Friss recently published On Bicycles: A  200-Year History of Cycling in New York City. Interesting podcast interview (here).


Reshaping the environment so “the car” is a widely helpful mobility instrument is a public interest issue with a long record of accomplishment. To continue the development framework in which all of this will be the addition of personal urban mobility aids (PUMAs).

The most visible choice of personalized vehicle is the Segway. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s opinion is these vehicles are “consumer products” and, therefore, unregulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This designation may change if more personal mobility devices become standard. The critical result is market-driven regulation to protect citizens.[1]

  • 43 States and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing the use of Segways.
  • 5 States (C.O., CT, MA, ND, and W.Y.) have no legislation permitting the use of Segways.
  • 2 States (A.R. and K.Y.) have no statewide prohibitions against Segways, but local regulations exist.

Urban living stimulates alternative transportation markets, and mobility diversity supports renewable energy sources. Speeds limits set for these vehicles at 12mph, York City’s speed limit is 25mph. Both are safety advancements that reduce energy consumption. Furthermore, human-powered vehicles (HPVs) will add various “power-assist” features and functions on all surfaces,  including stairs. They offer the economic benefits of an innovative industry for design and assembly in the city.

A refined urban surface landscape is what cities do best, but there is a third dimension. Tight urban grids facilitate the movement and management of everything from electrical power for communications to the transport of water, gas, and waste. Altering surfaces to accommodate many vehicle “lanes” or dedicated routes is not tricky.  The long term is set by what people will be capable of acquiring.  Routine or commute use of mass transit in NYC will cost an individual $1,200 to $1,600 per year.  Roughly the cost of an HPV or a PUMA for use over many years.

The ingenuity of urban living may range from the mind-boggling demonstrations of environmental factors that go from epigenetic impacts (everything but DNA) on human health to thousands of natural system webs that show how nothing is lost or wasted putting lithium battery packs on the top of the list.[2]

 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The IEEE‘s (image above) optimistic predictions for driverless cars, complete-street trials, and alternative vehicles will follow the traditions of the automobile. This should be discouraged. Vehicular density will increase with the diversity of transportation options. Unfortunately, dedicated rights-of-way for human-powered and licensed power-assist vehicles remain compromised in NYC. The infrastructure is little more than lane paint, along with signs reading “Share the Road.”

The challenge is stated clearly in the sign on the right.

A 2016 DOT survey (summary pdf here) found bike patronage growing exponentially. Still, it was also more dangerous (here for pdf of 2005 study). The increase in the use of PUMAs would be more significant if paint could protect people from the fear of vehicular conflicts. Safety technology added to vehicles and the lane for travel will produce dedicated rights of way to protect people but remains invisible and of little impact.

The sticky issue is the competition for road space. The lobby for a dedicated right-of-way advocated by the cycling and HPV community would serve multiple market test requirements. Hence, the addition of a truly urbanized testable infrastructure and an affordable and popular “share the road” vehicle is required. Investors that see these new vehicles as little more than golf carts or bike-share programs will not get excited without a publicly funded demonstration. Retirement villages are not likely to advance transit policy legislation beyond what the Segway has already proven to be insufficient to “go to scale.” Bikes for tourists and a few others will not build a PUMA industry in a dense residential world.  It will take public leadership to rethink the roadways.

[1] Source:

[2] Renewable energy data is everywhere, but the urban nature/nurture debate is less known.  See: Randy Jirtle is director of the Laboratory of Epigenetics and Imprinting at Duke University

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