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Talking Headways Podcast: Are We Taking Fewer Trips?

This week, we’re joined by an absolute legend in the livable streets movement: Angie Schmitt, who talks about her positive feelings about the coming train boom.

8:54 AM EST on January 25, 2024

Photo: Angie Schmitt via X|

Here’s Angie Schmitt showing how dangerous SUVs are.

This week, we’re joined by an absolute legend in the livable streets movement: Angie Schmitt, former Streetsblog USA editor and now owner and principal at 3MPH Planning and Consulting. We chat about changing travel behavior in cities, the impact of recent social isolation on social trust, and polarization in policy solutions.If you prefer to read rather than hear, click here for a full transcript, but also know that an edited conversation is below the player.Here’s the edited section:Jeff Wood: How are you feeling about this year and transportation policy going into 2024.Angie Schmitt: Well, in some ways, I’m pretty bummed. Like in 2019, I would not have been like, “I hope we’re down 30 percent in transit ridership.” That’s a blow — a huge blow. And some of those trips might be trips avoided that are people telecommuting. That’s the only silver lining I can sort of see in it. So that’s what’s going to be a difficult problem to fix. I also cited information in my article showing that walking is down dramatically — 36 percent since the pandemic, which is astronomical and we were already hardly doing any walking, so that’s disappointing.Jeff Wood: How did we lose so much walking? Like is it all those work trips in New York City or is it like, is it just people you know working from home, not walking to the bus every day? The trip level was like 250 feet or something — like a quarter of a quarter of a mile — a really small amount. So I’m wondering where that loss and drop came from. Is it everybody taking bikes in cities? I don’t know, I might not take as many trips, but I feel like I still walk the same amount or a similar amount as I did before, but maybe not.Angie Schmitt: I don’t know. I mean maybe people are just less active — there’s some evidence that children are less active. I’ve been looking at sort of since the pandemic when, say, all your sports were canceled for a year, and it’s so easy to just flip a switch and go back to normal. There are habits and patterns that develop.One thing that was kind of exciting and encouraging this year: I got to ride The Brightline in Florida this year. It’s pretty cool. I spoke in Orlando and then my sister lives in Fort Lauderdale, so I thought, I’ll go visit her. I’ll take the Brightline. And that was like kind of surreal. I mean it’s beautiful. It was just kind of surreal to be able to hop on a train like that in Florida and get where I needed to go with the kids. It was great. They were really accommodating to children.It was honestly fancier and nicer than the trains I’ve taken in Europe, granted I was in Ireland which isn’t known for having a nice rail system, but regardless.Jeff Wood: I was in Miami back in 2022 and we rode the line and it was really, really impressive. I feel like this is something that we overlook sometimes, but it felt very clean; the aesthetics of it were very nice. It didn’t go super fast — it’s not a high-speed train or anything like that — but it just felt comfortable, and that can go a long way to getting people interested in taking a train.Angie Schmitt: I would go further and say it’s almost kind of like luxurious, which is what my sister said, too. Hopefully there’ll be large adoption. It was nice. And now we have this new era in passenger rail because Biden, the Democrats, God love ’em, did get through the infrastructure bill, which included a big increase in spending for inner city passenger rail. And it’s starting to get out there and it could have a big impact. It could be a biggest-in-our-lifetime increase. That’s something that people like me have been dreaming about for more than a decade. And there’s starting to be some progress. I mean, riding Brightline was cool. You could see how maybe in a few years, Texas, maybe Los Angeles to Vegas, you know, someday Los Angeles to San Francisco, Acela. Right, right. You know, there’s no guarantees about that,Jeff Wood: Crossing my fingersAngie Schmitt: Pour big money into the Northeast corridor, so some of our most populated regions get connected by rail and then connect a lot of our less-huge cities as well. And improved service for people that live, you know, in smaller areas that have been underserved. So that’s exciting and cool.

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