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Traffic and Mass Transit Overview #1229
Updated: 9/14/03 OS/platforms(s): All Versions: All

Contributor/author(s): Bobthefunkyfish

In Sim City 4, transportation of sims and freight has remained a relatively simple concept. Although the new feature of region play presents a new factor in commutes and commerce, these basic guidelines will allow for a smooth and efficient system of mass transit, automobile traffic, and large capacity buildings like seaports and airports.

If you've planned your city grid and have laid or know how you will lay all your roads and streets, you're ready to grow and expand, and, sooner or later, consider mass transit. If you notice in your road layout of preference that traffic is increasing, as well as pollution, and sims are complaining, odds are you need to consider other transportation initiatives. Keep in mind this will happen with whatever type of city grid you use, whether its a reliastic layout or a auto-zone block by block gird, so buckle down and be prepared for bad traffic and inevitable mass transit when it comes.

To start with, it is important to understand that traffic is not all that bad. For one thing, a high amount of traffic along your streets presents a desirable area for all types of commercial. While you must still control and pay for garbage removal, fire coverage, and other such desirability factors, a very large portion of commercial desirability can be attributed to the amount of traffic in the surrounding streets. Also, your city will not be rich enough for a fully efficient mass transit system that relieves the traffic-crowded streets while still bringing in the number of customers, so its important to actually ignore your bad traffic indicators while you are raising money and a stable budget in your city.

However, traffic is obviously not that good. It creates pollution, which lowers desirability (though not to the point of really hurting your commercial demand) and is especially hurtful to residential and industrial desirability. Also, commute time is greatly affected and your residential zones farther out may become abandoned or less wealthy as their commute to available jobs becomes unbearably longer. This can also hurt region play tremendously, as your neighboring residential suburbs are even farther from your main city central. Although small cities of industry and clustered high-tech sectors may allow for good residential areas throughout your region, it is still essential that traffic be eliminated once possible.

One more thing: Before you go adding mass transit and such, be sure all your streets are roads. Although you may not think so, roads do not cost much more and hold much more traffic. Take the money to do so and see what your traffic looks like after you upgrade all streets to roads before placing a costly highway.

Once your city is well on its way (a nice 12-15K of simoleons a month qualifies you splendidly) and you have used your high traffic areas as much as possible, it is time to consider your other transportation options. For one thing, buses present an extremely cheap and reliable form of getting sims out of their cars. While placing them in good corners and then remembering and keeping track of their locations can be tricky, buses will be extremely helpful in the long run. Considering their cheapness, they ought to be placed first, or at the same time as trains. Place them at four or three way intersections that are colored red in the traffic data view. Be sure to place plenty of them in all three of your types of zones so that your buses go all over your city. Keep in mind that this only creates a route for your buses and stations for your sims to get on--sims can get off anywhere they please (but if the buses don't go to certain place because there's no stations, sims can't get off there). As with all other stations, it would be wise to place a train and subway station nearby if possible, assuming you placed your bus stops in a smart location (duh). Remember that buses are not inter-city. The bus system of Happy Town does not travel to stations in neighboring Happyville, and vice versa.

Trains are capable of moving large amounts of people very quickly. It is wise to to let railroads run through one edge of your map and out the other (into neighboring cities, of course). This presents a quick and easy way for sims from one neighboring city to pass to other, going through yours. The quickness of trains allows this to be acceptable to finnicky sims across even the largest cities, assuming you don't have too many stops in the middle one (10 or more may cut it). This shouldn't stop you, though. Trains are excellent for intra-city travel as well. Although sims prefer using trains to go to industrial jobs, (including hightech and agricultural ones) they will also use them to go to commercial jobs. While you may not want a train running straight through downtown, it would be wise to place a station and rail on the edge of your skyscraper haven. As always, make sure there are stations near residential and industrial zones too. Combining stations of other mass transit with train stations is extremely efficient and helpful, and be sure to always leave more room for additional stations should one become inefficient(having more than 2000 people use it in one day). Freigh stations should be placed close to industrial sectors far away from the edge of your city. It is not longer the case that industries prefer trains to ship cargo--they take the shortest route out of your city (excepting seaports). Freight stations should service only out-of-reach industries and if you have the space, or next to a seaport.

Subways are just like trains, only more costly, underground, and ultimately better. Aside from the money they need, subways take almost no space (the stations are a sixth the size of a train station and can tolerate just as many people) and are just as efficient as trains. Don't get me wrong: trains are still good when you need subways, and both can work together wonderfully. However, sims prefer using subways to get to commercial zones. In fact, subways should be smack in the center of your city, and all over your residential zones. Once you decide to get subways, place more stations than even your bus stations, including right next to your bus stops, as sims prefer subways to buses like fat kids prefer candy to vegetables. As with buses, place your subway stops close to high-traffic streets, and all over your zones, especially between your commercial district and your apartments. Subways are also inter-city, but they tend to be used infrequently and don't really need to be connected to your neighbors unless both cities are really dependent on each other. Good subway systems relieve traffic tremendously, and can provide accesability to your railroads to out-of-reach sims, increasing your train usage. In fact, buses and subways work great getting people around the near vicinity and to high capacity transportation modes like trains, airports and seaports.

Before I go on to highways, airports and seaports, it is important to say that when you see a station being used above its efficiency capacity, this is good and bad. This means this station is being used by too many people, which means many things. First of all, it means you placed the station well (good job), but it also means you need way more stations in that area. Be prepared to bulldoze buildings in a one to two block radius to create a sort of station power zone. While overcrowded stations means people are using them, it is measured as a rating of efficiency (don't get excited at seeing 6000 people at your train station--its clogging your rails and trains). Fix this by placing stations as close as right next to the station or as far a couple of blocks a way. Ideally, you'd like each station to have maximum capcacity but not overflow (give or take 200 sims) That way your stations are used efficiently while servicing the nearest amount of people efficiently possible.

Highways cost even more than subways, generate automobile pollution and take up space. These are a last resort when your city is so huge that even trains, buses, and subways don't cut traffic enough. Also, highways are almost as good as trains for regional transportation, so consider highways to cut through cities like my train example (the highway is even better cutting through a ciy, as getting on and off a highway takes less time than at a train station, since the train has to stop whereas other cars do not when people get on and off a highway). While highways do remove large amounts of cars off your surface roads, they are expense to place and maintain and still create car pollution. They should be placed slightly out of the way of all zones but with short access to these, to eliminate pollution problems (odds are if you need a highway, your traffic so bad its affecting pollution in a very horrible way). If you have the money to place a highway, take the time and moeny to connect it to your neighbors--the extra commute options to your neighbors and the fluidity provided may make the difference between an unused highway and a congested New Jersey Turnpike.

Airports should have access to all your forms of transportation, including the above and roads. Make it bigger as necessary, and start at whatever size your transportation advisor advises you too (if, as often happens, he displays the news ticker news requesting all three airports, place the biggest one). Be srue you can afford up to the biggest airport, to prevent disasters such as immediately needing to upgrade and not being able to afford the bigger airport. In fact, now that I mention it, be sure you can afford everything and then some when placing stations, subways, rails, etc. Especially be aware of building maintenance fees. Airports, however, tend to take care of themselves. Just keep it close (but not too close) and give it good transportation.

Seaports are the same, except place them close to industry when possible and especially attempt to connect to a rail line with a freight station. Keep it away from pumps and towers and commercial and residential zones (especially residential), as it creates water and air pollution. You may want to place a water treatment plant directly adjacent to it. Upgrade when required. Thats about it!

If you still can't curb traffic, there are several ordinances you can enact. A few are extremely costly and may very well be the same as several more subway/train/highway lines or stations, so decide which may be better and go ahead and spend. Watch your traffic data closely to see if the ordinances help your particular city--otherwise, go with the option of using the montly budget on other things (preferably transportation related, unless you have bigger problems; :/ )

With these options, you should be able to curb traffic and lessen commute times by quite a bit. Intra-city transportation should be extremely fluid and comfortable, whereas inter-city commutes should be short and sweet. Always watch your wallet, but keep in mind that a very good mass transit system (buses, subways, and rails) should pay for itself in fares. If you have accomplished this, know that your city's mass transit is truly worth your time--but don't stop helping it out. And, as always, see my basic beginners guide and my utilities guide for additional help.

See also
SC4: Getting Started.
How to make dedicated bus lanes
Commute times / trips
Mega income from toll booths

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