Transit does depend on density, but there are three problems with saying that “transit requires high density.”Of course, we hear this argument all the time when transit is raised here in Kansas City. Transit can be a way to build up density. But since we already have low density, transit won't work here.
* First, it offers no hope to places that are already built at low densities and unlikely to change.
* Second, it gives public transit in low-density areas an excuse for descending into a cycle of underinvestment, official neglect, and lazy operations, because after all, nobody expects public transit in low density areas to be any good anyway.
* Third, it invites sweeping claims about transit’s viability based on the overall average density of a city, claims that, as we’ll see, make no sense at all.
I think this is an astute point as well:
The emotions are inevitable: Whenever we talk about urban form, people hear us making judgments about their homes. I can stand in front of a group of citizens and talk about how a certain kind of development pattern implies certain consequences for transit, and thus for sustainability, and thus for civilization. As we talk, it may appear that we’re having a thoughtful and educational discussion about good and bad design. But some people in the audience have chosen to make their homes in the very development pattern that I’m describing, and to those people, I’m saying that their home is good or bad.If you talk about say a RCP light rail plan and the need for higher density, you will get resistance from Northlanders...even suburbanites for whom the the rail will not even affect. Some of that I'm sure is anti-tax sentiments, but I don't think we should overlook the defensiveness of suburbanites. No one likes being told they are making bad choices, particularly about big things like the choice of where and how to live. Implicit in the arguments for density and transit is a critique of suburban sprawl.
KCPT ran a program last year called "The Next American Dream" about the revitalization of downtown. They advocated for even greater density and urbanization of the metro area. But they were also smart not to criticize suburbanization. They emphasized greater "choice" - urban living for some, suburban living for others. This will be key for any discussion on light rail or higher density plans.
The last point I think is key:
Transit reacts mainly with the density right around its stations. It is in the nature of transit to serve an area very unevenly, providing a concentrated value around its stops and stations and less value elsewhere. So what matters for transit is the density right where the transit is, not the aggregate density of the whole urban area.What matters not is the density of the Kansas City metro area, or Kansas City proper, or even the imaginary boundaries of the River Market/Crown Center/Plaza corridor. What matters is the density around the transit nodes we select. If you put transit stops at the River Market, in the Financial District, at the Convention Center/Power and Light District/Sprint Center, at the Crossroads, at Crown Center/Union Station, at Westport at the Plaza, at Brookside/UMKC - will there be sufficient densities around those nodes?