When is the next bus route?

“Although people think building more highways will alleviate congestion, it actually increases it,” says Nicholas Savelli, a Brock University undergraduate student and urban geographer. He was speaking at Congress 2014 at a symposium on urban development.

Savelli and several colleagues have been studying the relationship between urban growth and public transit.

“Currently, 50 percent of world’s population lives in urban dwellings. By 2030, that will be 60 percent,” he said. “How do we make our cities smarter and more efficient? This is a global issue, and we are four undergraduate students. We wanted to localize things close to home. We monitored the change of land use and land cover in the cities of St. Catharines and Thorold. We wanted to determine if the St. Catharines public transit system meets the need of its future users.”

He’s interested in making better decisions about new public transit lines that reflect and serve an ever changing city.

His current data suggest that bus routes lag behind changes to the city – areas get denser or spread wider, and these changes are not reflected in local bus routes. The trick, he says, is to understand not just how things have changed, but how they will change.

“One of the big things is planning,” he says. “If we can draw people into the core, and provide a system that works for them, then we can develop more effective transit routes that alleviate congestion.”

He’s working not only on better data collection and analysis to inform decisions on public transit routes, but also is looking at ways to objectively measure the effectiveness of existing transit systems around the world.

“For the past half a century, we’ve had all this faith in the automobile,” he says. “I think that’s an opportunity for us to change, and correct our transportation networks.”

Like most university researcher, he is interested both in knowledge creation, and also in seeing to it that his insights and ideas have an impact. As his research continues, he and his colleagues are already in talks to develop a working relationship with the St. Catharines Transit Commission.

“I would love to see walkable cities, and cities where all forms of transportation have equal value – where public transportation isn’t perceived as something for second-class citizens,” he says. “In the information age, big data and smart cities are the way of the future. If we continue to lag behind, we’re not going to be able to realize this vision.”

 

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