Colin Marshall sits down in southeast Portland with Jarrett Walker, public transit consultant and author of the blogs Human Transit and Creature of the Shade as well as the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives. They discuss how Portland “turned the battleship” toward sustainable transport in that least likely of all decades, the seventies; the city’s discovery of its own extraordinary capacity for self-promotion in the nineties; his adolescence there spent in fascination at the buses departing to all their myriad destinations; how thinking about transit makes thinking about cities more interesting; the unfortunate divide between urban design and transport planning; how the North American revolt against highway-building also hampered the construction of transit infrastructure; a city’s transportation system as the ultimate test of its citizen’s freedom; the close relationship between a city’s density and its transit possibilities, and why fantastically inefficient systems are always pleasant to ride; how he has come to love Los Angeles, during its current transitional moment, as someone who has hated it; Los Angeles’ place as a “city on the edge” that always captures the imagination, no matter the petty judgments it draws; Los Angeles’ distinctive geography offering the best possible opportunity for transit-building; the questions he asks about whether a city wants him to understand the whole of its transit system, and whether it treats him as a free actor; the surprises that delight him now that he’s gotten used to confusing, sad, and unpleasant transit experiences; airport stations and their tendency toward “symbolic transit”; and the importance of whether a city treats transit as a commuting device or as an all-purpose urban structure, and whether or not it’s motivated simply by the coolness of the vehicles.
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