After looking at many successful regional transportation systems, such as Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), it seems to me that one of the foremost ingredients for a successful regional transit involves having holistic buildings/infrastructures. Certainly, some may argue that the major issue of U.S.’s regional transportation lies within its profitability, which relates to the inadequate ridership, lack of government effort/support, and more importantly, people’s dependence on private vehicle use. And the answer often points to the density of population and businesses. The dilemma is that many do not see cities in the U.S. will grow to as dense as Hong Kong to support massive regional transportation like MTR. However, by focusing on how holistic buildings/infrastructures can bring higher population and business density and public transportation use, I would like to argue that regional transportation in the U.S. can be as successful as MTR (even though the scale may not be as massive).
First of all, it is important to notice that successful mass transportation connects hubs where all kinds of activities take place. In which case, the hubs by themselves are dynamic and serve multiple purposes to fulfill people’s needs. The best examples can be seen from recent MTR projects where the land uses rights were given by the government to MTR and its partnering developers to build mixed-use buildings on top of the stations. This approach does not only ensure that people will use MTR because they live and/or work there, but the profits from their real estate activities can also quickly compensate a major part of the enormous upfront costs of the construction and so on, making the system profitable through creating population and business density on its own.
Then, it is also important to favor mass transit by creating and giving it its right-of-way. The idea is that the existing infrastructures, especially highways, were built to favor private vehicle use. Therefore, they are often monomodal which leads to the norm is that it is more convenient and efficient to drive than taking public transit. However, if public mass transit were given its own right-of-way, it will soon be realized that it is more efficient when drivers are stuck in traffic and seeing buses continuously passing them. Obviously, this method requires the existing highways to have the capacity in the first place. But once an existing highway’s capacity has been realized, ideas and plans can take place to transform the highway into a multimodal infrastructure. One of the best examples is Sound Transit’s East Link Extension. In the process of planning how the East Link can extend its service to areas east of Lake Washington, Sound Transit assessed both I-90 and SR-520 bridges. As the I-90 bridge holds a higher capacity, it allows its transformation to become multimodal. I believe that many existing highways fall into the same category when governments assess existing highways, opening options for regional mass transit to flourish.