Once again, M(an)y Thanks to Janine Mendes-Franco for posting Jenius on Global Voices. This time it was in the Elections blog. Always an honor.
Is it possible for Us to develop an effective mass transit system? We do have a high population density (1,000+ persons per square mile) on a land mass that's barely 3,600 miles in area. We have a main hub (San Juan) whose population more than doubles by day, as roughly 800,000 people move into and through it on weekdays. And We have an elevated train/bus system in place with a population that has relatively low income per capita to pay for ever-rising expenses, such as gas and acquiring heavily-taxed new cars.
But We have more roads per square mile than any place in the U.S. of part of A.
So We're doomed. Because those roads are proof positive of two things:
1) Not enough centralized destinations to increase population density, and...
2) An ingrained culture of getting there at leisure.
The only places where mass transit works are where population density is enormous (Tokyo, New York City, Central London), traffic is slow and/or expensive (same cities) or where incomes are too low to buy and service cars (Mexico City.) San Juan's lack of urban planning has created a city where hundreds of thousands of people need to gather (work, services, entertainment), but in a scatter-shot way. So you get a relatively high density (close to 11,000 persons per square mile), but they must move in too many disparate directions.
The two solutions would have been to build up (as in height) so as to concentrate more people in smaller areas or plan for a hybrid "long distance/short shuttle" system that reached out to extend San Juan's "reach" while cutting down walking distances to most locations to under 8 minutes. The first solution is engineering; the second is social engineering.
The local Urban Train/Metro Bus systems fails to become a true mass transit option for many reasons, but the two basic ones are that it continues to force people to drive into San Juan for access (so you might as well keep on driving) and it truly covers only 35-40% of the final destinations passengers may have. Yes, it does "pass through" about 75% of the City, but when you have to walk 20 minutes to reach an office or store, you aren't close enough to use mass transit: You're better off using a car.
The old público system, "public cars" that drove set routes between outlying areas in towns and between towns worked well when cars were uncommon. On an Island where the average family owns 1.9 cars, this system is obsolete. Taxis are tourism-oriented in San Juan, thus they are expensive. Over the rest of the Island, taxis are públicos with a higher price; that's not a mass transit solution, either.
To create a mass transit system for San Juan would require tearing up most of the City's current structure and dropping a train/shuttle hybrid network in its place. That network would have to reach out about 10-12 miles from San Juan, so that commuters can drive quickly to access points and get into the City easily, while still being able to ride to within a short walk of their destination. (And if you think I'm harping too much on proximity, you're wrong and I'm right. When was the last time you walked 10 minutes through an urban area to get somewhere?)
Combine a high numbers of cars, a high number of paved miles and a high population density and you have a formula for gridlock. Toss in rising gas prices, increased taxes and government gouging in the form of penny-ante bureaucracy and you have a formula for road-based rage.
It's going to happen. If this Island's so-called leadership was stupid enough to let truckers block most of San Juan's traffic for one day over a mere dispute over license fees, imagine what will happen when truckers and cab drivers and private citizens fed up with feeling helpless while trapped in their vehicles for hours a day decide they want to make themselves heard?
Carmaggedon is too harsh a word...but it won't be far from the mark.
The Jenius Has Spoken.