Making the Trip to Downtown from the Suburbs

By Emy Louie.  Edited by MM.

William H. Whtye’s urban design and transportation comment in City: Rediscovering the Center, first published in 1988, holds true today, more than ever:

In computing costs and benefits, however, one of the greatest boons of a mass transit system is not considered at all.  It is what the mass transit system makes unnecessary: vast acreages of parking.  By reducing the dominance of the car and the parking lot and the parking garage, the systems reinforce the integrity of the center.  Mass transit makes a pedestrian downtown possible.  Crank in this benefit and such environmental benefits as clean air and lessened congestion–not to mention aesthetics–and mass transit begins to look like a bargain.

Many downtowns across the nation offer cultural attraction well worth the visit.
Appropriately plan your journey to downtown.  Find the most desired destination in downtown.  Then visit and type in the destination address to find the transit score and the walkscore.  Also look at travel guides, including the newspaper.  Begin to see the various traveling options.

Walkscore vs. Transit Score

Furthermore, put in your own home address in and take note of the walkscore and transit score.  For your own education, put in your relatives’ addresses and compare your walkscores and transit scores.  For example, an address with a good transit score, but a bad walkscore means that the residents at that location cannot walk to amenities with one mile, but can access public transportation within a mile.

If you shy away from going downtown from the suburbs, begin by traveling with a friend who finds excitement in visiting downtown.  Transit advocates and officials, locals, tour guides, and historians make for good travel guides and companions.

How many bus lines and trains reach your downtown destination?  Can you stroll and window shop on the streets?  Can you participate in bike-share programs? How many hotels lie within walking distance of your primary destination?

General guidelines for very busy city centers, especially during the day:

If you are driving from the suburbs to a busy city center with an excellent transit system, instead, stop at the closest park-and-ride and take the transit into downtown.  Always get out of your car and into transit as soon as you can.  Even though driving a sedan or minivan into the city center seems tempting, resist the temptation! Driving into the city center can be stressful for you as well as your fellow city drivers and contributes to congestion and pollution. Keep the streets as stress-free as possible for drivers that really need to be on the downtown streets.

Some things to consider when using park and rides:

Generally, transit charges a fee per passenger, so it costs more for seven (7) people to take transit vs. five (5) people to take transit.  Conversely, it costs the same to drive seven (7) people into town as it takes to drive five (5) people into downtown. Regardless, don’t be tempted to drive into a busy downtown when you can take good transit. Finding a parking spot in a busy downtown can be aggravating.

If you want to save some time, ask someone to drop you off at a park-and-ride so you can just hop onto the transit.

I think many parents use minivans, in lieu of transit, because kids get lulled and calmed when sitting in moving cars.  Kids fifty years ago went without minivans.  Kids could easily do without one today.  They can easily spend their downtime and entertainment time at a park.

I have to admit: traveling with young kids when the young kids outnumber the adults is a challenge, minivan or not.  There are nap times and personalities and just the excitement of travel itself, etc.  Perhaps another way to travel, should you want to spend considerable time in the city center is to rent a hotel room, then you use the hotel room as a temporary home base, rather than using the minivan as home base.

Use parks over the mini van to lull the kids. Shown here is Millienium Park in Chicago

General guidelines for moderately busy city centers, especially during the day.

If you head into a moderately busy city center with a so so transit system and you are driving from the suburbs, find the area that is walkable, according to Park at the edge of the walkable area instead of the centroid of the walkable area.  To ease car congestion and save gasoline, get out of your car as soon possible and start walking in a walkable community.

Be  aware of parking options.  Likely, several price options exist other than right at the destination.

  • Parking associated with the destination: expect to pay full freight.  These include hotel, restaurant, department store and municipal parking and parking decks.  Check for parking validation.
  • Parking a little further away, even a five to ten minute walk away.  These include other parking decks, parking lots, metered on street parking and free on street parking.  The further away from a popular destination, the less expensive it should be.

Hopefully, the above tips can help you make your way from the suburbs to downtown a much more enjoyable adventure.  You can entertain your kids without taking a minivan into downtown.  The more you enjoy your trips into downtown, the more likely you will come back again and again.

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