Transit Choices: Jarrett Walker Leads Workshop at Portland State

Nathen Lamb, Communications Intern

What makes for a good transit system? What are the key issues that planners and policy makers focus on? Are our current transit systems serving the needs of the community? These were the questions at a recent workshop in Portland led by consultant Jarrett Walker.

Jarrett Walker

The Urban Sustainability Accelerator program at PSU held a conference on July 25, that hosted a workshop by Jarrett Walker, who shared his ideas and innovations in the world of transit planning. Jarrett has worked with cities and communities all over the world, and has been instrumental in bridging the gap between transit experts and other key stakeholders.


The workshop was designed to challenge the wits of participants in the Urban Sustainability Accelerator (USA) program, by playing a game to design a transit system in the imaginary city of “Prairieville”. The USA participants come from cities all over the country; the program is designed to help them develop skills for improving sustainability in their communities.


Jarrett described transit planning like this: “It’s like carpentry. Until you’ve touched the material, the principles will be very abstract.”

Teams were allotted a period of time in which they had to work on a budget to be able to prioritize what exactly they wanted their transit system to accomplish. Deliberation among the teams brought about remarks such as:

  • “Serving away from the central city is more expensive.”

  • “Seniors won’t be willing to walk a mile.”

  • “Do we ignore the mayor wanting transit investment in the corridor?”

  • “The hubs should be where we have the overlapping routes.”

  • “People out here need to have the opportunity to ride.”

One of the hypothetical transit diagrams.After examining what the participants came up with, Jarrett discussed what he believes are some of the most important aspects of transit planning. Jarrett described the difference between radial vs. grid systems, ridership versus coverage, and frequency versus speed.

In the end, participants learned that a transit system must serve the unique needs of the particular community it’s meant for. And it takes creativity and communication to determine just what those needs are, and how to meet them.

Learn More about Jarrett Walker and the Urban Sustainability Accelerator.

Jarrett Walker photo: "thisisbossi", Flickr. Creative Commons.