It's a bizarre claim when you look at how prosperous, sustainable, and livable high-congestion cities are. (They tend to be places where you don't have to commute so far, by example, and their overall emissions tend to be lower.)
Yet until now, all California transit infrastructure has had to conform to an analysis process that treats traffic congestion as a threat to the environment. A metric called Level of Service -- congestion experienced by motorists, basically -- could not be made worse by an infrastructure project, even one whose purpose was to reduce the impact of congestion on the economy, by providing alternatives to driving.
Thanks to a state bill nearing approval, this provision of the California Environmental Quality Act -- which has caused years of delay and cost-escalation on transit and bicycle projects -- will no longer apply to urban transportation projects or to much transit oriented development. Eric Jaffe's long article today from the barricades of this revolution is a great read. Key quote:
Level of service was a child of the Interstate Highway era. The LOS concept was introduced in the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual, at the very moment in American history when concrete ribbons were being tied across the country, and quickly accepted as the standard measure of roadway performance. LOS is expressed as a letter grade, A through F, based on how much delay vehicles experience; a slow intersection scores worse on LOS than one where traffic zips through. Planners and traffic engineers use the metric as a barometer of congestion all over the United States.
In California, LOS has an especially high-profile. As the primary arbiter of traffic impacts under CEQA—adopted in 1970 by Governor Ronald Reagan—the metric not only determines the fate of many transportation and development projects, but has the awkward role of promoting car use within a law designed to protect the environment. "We have one section of CEQA saying we've got to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says transportation consultant Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard, "and another section of CEQA saying we need to accommodate unlimited driving."
Level of Service is an example of rhetoric that we all have to learn to challenge: the effort to hide strong value judgments inside language that sounds objective or technical. A key move is to rely on terms that sound vague, neutral, and boring ("Level of Service") to describe something that's actually expressing a strong ideology -- in this case, asserting the superiority of some street users over others. If the Level of Service Index had been called, say, the "Free Flow of Cars Index" it would have been much clearer who was being excluded by it, and how blatantly it contradicted many other widely-shared goals for California's cities.
Tip: If a term sounds vague, neutral, and boring, demand a precise definition. Confused words imprison our minds. You'll be called a geek for caring about something as boring as "Level of Service," but in the end, you may help topple a tyrant.
Photo: Children with toppled statue of Stalin. The Times.
For a client in the Middle East, we are looking for good examples of this situation:
Two high speed streets intersect, and the intersection features sliplanes (shortcuts for right turns) which in turn create islands (in green above). The islands are big enough that bus stops can be placed on the island. Transit lines run east-west and north-south (not turning at this intersection.)
One bus stop on an island like this is common enough, but I'd like to find examples of the situation above, where two intersecting bus lines stop on the same island -- one nearside, the other farside -- so that the island becomes a very easy transfer point, at least if you're travelling (in this drawing) between points west and points south, or between points east and points north.
If you've seen this arrangement, please leave a comment! Thanks!
Next time someone tells you that transit has to be rail in order to affect real estate demand, send them this paper [paywalled] by Elin Charles-Edwards, Martin Bell and Jonathan Corcoran -- a dramatic example of bus infrastructure profoundly transforming residential demand.
Our scene is the main campus of University of Queensland, which is located on a peninsula formed by a loop of the Brisbane River. It's in the southwest corner of this image. The area labeled "Brisbane" is the highrise downtown. Most everything in between -- which is mostly on the south side of the river -- is dense, redevelopable inner city fabric.
If you look closely you can see a single faint bridge connecting the University across the river. This is the Eleanor Schonell Bridge, which opened in 2006, and which is solely for pedestrians, cyclists, and buses. No private cars. It's one of the developed world's most effective of examples of a transit path that is vastly straighter than the motorist's options.
Prior to the opening of the bridge, University of Queensland had a problem much like that of Vancouver's University of British Columbia. Its peninsula setting helped it feel remote and serene (the rarefied air of academe and all that) but it was also brutally hard to get to, especially from places where students and lower-paid staff could afford to live. While there are some affordable areas west of the campus, most of the immediate campus area is far too affluent and low-density to house the university's students or the bulk of its workforce. So commutes to the campus were long and difficult.
Apart from the geography of income, the issue here was classic chokepoint geography, and that was the key to the transit opportunity. Brisbane's looping river, and its extreme shortage of bridges outside of downtown, slices the city into a series of hard-to-access peninsulas. Motorists are used to driving way out of direction to reach their destinations, and until recently, buses had to do the same thing. The only transit that could do what cars couldn't was the river ferry system, CityCat, and while this system is immensely successful, it is still a small share of the travel market because (a) so much of the population is not on the river and (b) the river is a circuitous travel path as well.
Charles-Edwards et al show how the bridge created an explosive expansion of access (where can I get to, soon?) for the campus by walking, cycling, and bus service. Walking:
And by bus (focus on the triangle in the centre of the image, which is the campus):
It's worth noticing why this bus bridge is so effective: It plugs right into the Brisbane Busway network, which looks like this. ("UQ Lakes" is the campus stop.)
Direct buses from campus run along most of these paths, and connect to many other frequent services covering the area south of the river, including a couple of useful frequent rail lines extending southeast from downtown. This is the biggest and highest-quality busway system in the developed world, in terms of the degree of protection from private car traffic along complete travel paths, including a tunnel under downtown. So the access opened up by this bridge was extraordinary. The busway is so fast and reliable that even commutes from northern Brisbane -- on the same side of the river as the campus -- were speeded up by the new bridge because they could remain in busway for the entire journey.
The effect on the location of students and staff, from 2003 until 2012 (six years after the bridge opened) looks like this.
The colour choices are unfortunate, so pay attention to the legend and focus on "St Lucia" (the campus) and the inner city areas just across the river from it. Remember, too, that this is a map of percentage change, so don't be distracted by big colors far away from the action, which represent noise (percentage changes on a tiny base). You can see that students and staff have shifted in big numbers to the inner city across the river from the campus, but also to southern and eastern suburbs each of the river, which are more affordable and still easily reached by buses from the campus. In the author's careful words, the bridge caused "a significant redistribution of staff and students across the metropolitan area." It also had the likely effect of reducing overall commute times by enabling people to live much closer to the campus, though the authors don't mention that.
Because the project gave buses so much of an advantage in accessing the campus, the mode share shifted dramatically, enabling the campus itself to grow without choking on cars:
Between 2002 and 2011, the population accessing the campus increased by 23 per cent, ... all of which were absorbed by [non-car modes on] the bridge. There was an accompanying shift in the modal mix of trips away from cars to public transport. This was most marked among students, for whom less than one-quarter of trips were by car in 2011, down from two-fifths in 2002. Bus patronage increased among students from around a quarter of trips to more than half. Staff car usage declined from 70 per cent in 2002 to just over half in 2011, with buses, cycling and walking all increasing in popularity.
Eleanor Schonell Bridge is a powerful example of infrastructure that transforms a city's living patterns by transforming the isochrones of access. We can all think of trains and ferries that do this, but it's rare that buses are allowed to succeed in the same way. Once again, Brisbane has shown that it's not the transit technology that matters to people's location choices. It's where you can get to easily.
Revised in response to early comments.
Are you sure you know which of your transportation options is fastest? It depends on how you think about travel time.
A recent Boston Magazine article about the private bus service Bridj featured typical "race" between two transit modes: the MBTA subway and Bridj, which provices luxury buses on fixed routes and schedules running only at times of peak commute demand. The newspaper sent someone by each path at the same time. The outcome of the race is supposed to be decisive:
Why is this not a fair race? Well, it depends on when you start. From the article:
The MBTA passenger arrived last, [sic] even though she had a head start and boarded the train six minutes prior to Bridj’s departure.
Why a six minute headstart? Why not 10 or 20? What headstart would be appropriate? The headstart is your cue that there's something wrong with this methodology.
What's really happening here is that a service that is available all the time -- the subway -- is being compared to one that's only available at a few special times -- Bridj's specialized commuter buses. Any "travel time race," with any headstart, is going to miss the real point of this comparison.
The notion of travel time seems so self-explanatory that most people miss how deeply misleading it is in discussing transit. The imagined user is someone who happens to be going at the ideal moment for the preferred mode to succeed. We talk about travel time this way because it's how motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians experience it: as something that begins at the moment you want to go.
But that's not how transit travel time works, so the comparision implied by the term "transit travel time" is often a false one.
When I teach transit planning and rhetoric, I encourage people to think of a weighted sense of travel time that includes average wait time, or more generally the difference between when you wanted to go and when you went. A bus that's 10 minutes faster is of no use if gets you somewhere 30 minutes before you needed to be there [an 8:00 AM class or meeting, for example] because that's the only time it ran.
Purveyors of low-frequency transit services, such as classical North American commuter rail, do this as well, bragging about how fast you can get from A to B without mentioning that this travel time is available only once a day.
Unless you are sure that you will absolutely always travel at the same time each day, transit travel time figures have to be viewed with skepticism. Whenever you hear about travel time, ask about frequency!
I should not have taken the phone call from LA Weekly. As soon as the reporter said that he wanted to probe "why so few white people ride transit in LA", I should have said no, I will not give any more oxygen to the divisive and pointless conversation that the question is trying to encourage. I had already given the factual answer to that question in my article on "bus stigma" in the Atlantic Citylab, and I should have simply referred the reporter, Chris Walker, there.
Still, there's nothing wrong with the LA Weekly article:
[Jarrett] Walker tells L.A. Weekly:
"There is no reason to believe that Angelenos are irrational about their transportation choices. ... I believe a transportation system is reflective of its usefulness. The focus should be on making a more useful system. Do that, and [increased] diversity will be a side effect."
Walker argues that the way to get bigger ridership more reflective of Los Angeles is to increase density along L.A.'s transit lines: add special transit lanes for buses (as the city is currently creating on Wilshire Boulevard) and push for transit-oriented developments (TODs) that feature high-density buildings filled with offices and housing near the major transit routes.
But of course, this was too much for Breitbart News:
According to Jarrett Walker, a designer of transportation systems for a number of big cities, the Los Angeles bus system is designed in a way that offers better service to non-white Angelenos. No one uses the word racism, but the dog whistles in this clinical explanation will chill your spine:
But Jarrett Walker, who has designed transportation systems in multiple cities, says stigma and social standing are not what's keeping L.A.'s white folks in their cars.
In a blog post, he points out that white residents are more likely to live in low-density areas where bus service is not common or practical. Meanwhile, the population of the area served by Metro is well over 70 percent people of color, "which means that the number of white bus riders is not far off what we should expect."
What say we just stop with the word games, Los Angeles.
" And fancy language like "the number of white bus riders is not far off what we should expect" is just another way of screaming "honky."
What can one say? Well, this:
This is transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker, author of the book Human Transit and the blog humantransit.org. The author of this post clearly knows nothing about my work, though he could have looked me up easily enough, and like many race-obsessed folks he seems to know nothing about the law of supply and demand, or the nature of how organizations succeed.
If anyone wants to understand my actual views on this matter, see the original article of mine: http://www.citylab.com/commute...
Like any organization that seeks any kind of success, including every private business, transit in LA tries to respond to the demand for its product. It does this by focusing on areas where the nature of development makes it easy for transit to succeed. It's a mathematical fact that transit is more useful in places where density is high, the local street network is well-connected, and where walking is easy. If white people in LA are more likely to live in areas that are not like this, transit is not being racist in not serving them.
You know what I love about LA? It's way less obsessed with race than its media is. I suspect most Angelenos would never have asked how many white people ride the bus, because it's not an interesting question. As a white person I couldn't care less, and most of the white people I know couldn't care less. LA's prosperity arises from people working together, and getting where they're going together. Racial resentments get in the way of that.
Conservatives need to chose between their commitment to ethnic resentments and their commitment to prosperity. In an age of global collaboration, you can't have both.
I can now imagine a horde of commenters saying: "You're giving the merchants of hatred too much attention, Jarrett. Breitbart News deserves to be ignored." Yes, they do, but when ethnic hatemongering gets as much attention as Breitbart News does, there has to be a response on the record, and now there is.
Transitmix is a sketching tool for transit planners (both professional and armchair) to quickly design routes and share with the public.
Transitmix is simple way to think about transit in terms of bus requirements and real costs. Basically, the user draws a route on a map and plugs in span and frequency. The app then calculates a vehicle requirement and cost in both hours and dollars, factoring in an adjustable layover ratio, average speed and dollar cost per service hour.
Transitmix is very similar to (though much simpler and prettier) the sort of cost estimation methods used in transit design processes , and as it stands is a fun sandbox to think about transit in your city. It's still very much a beta, but the prospects are intriguing.
Its clear that the developers of Transitmix see it as much more than a curiosity. They've actively sought feedback from people in the industry, and are working hard to build an app that could one day replace some of the tedious documentation work of network design with an interactive, visually attractive interface. Apparently functions like summary tables, GIS file exports, and the ability to save multiple iterations of one design are all in the works.
I can imagine all sorts of possibilities for a tool like this, particularly if secondary data sources were incorporated. How about a public or stakeholder involvement process that would actually give people a way to view demographic and ridership data and make real, financially constrained transit choices with a familiar, modern toolset? Or an update to our transit network design courses, where participants are given the same information for a fictional city and asked to design a transit network from the ground up? It's great to see transit concepts picked up by a talented group from an organization as reputable as Code for America. A project worth keeping an eye on!
Are you a professional transit planner with 3+ years experience and a commitment to breaking through old paradigms and raising the standards of the profession? If so, my New Zealand colleagues at MRCagney may be looking for you. They are open to hiring from worldwide, so if you've ever dreamed of living in New Zealand, this may be your chance. Here's the listing.
I have a keen interest in this hire, because I'll probably be working with this person!
MRCagney is small and focused sustainable transport firm with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, and Singapore. Built around a group of former transit agency executives, it now does a range of work but is closely associated with BRT, bus network design, and public transit management, with many projects across Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
I worked for them fulltime for five years when I was based in Sydney (2006-2011), and I'm still on their payroll part time, helping out with the occasional network design study. In 2012, for example, I worked with them on a redesign of Auckland's bus network, which is being rolled out over the next few years, and we did a similar project in Darwin earlier this year. MRCagney is really the Australia-NZ firm for cutting-edge transit planning, which is why I stay involved with their work as much as I can. I like to think I've had some influence on MRCagney's transit planning values, so if you like what I've written on public transit, and have your own ideas about how to put these ideas into practice, that's probably an advantage!
Please pass this on to other professionals who might be ready for an adventure Down Under. It's an exciting time to be a transit planner in that part of the world.
Is there someone in your life who really needs to understand transit better than they do? Do you secretly wonder if you understand transit well enough?
My friendly, readable book Human Transit may be what you're looking for. Over in the sidebar to the right you can explore the introduction and contents and decide for yourself.
This weekend only, you can get the ebook on sale, for the ridiculously low price of US$7.99! Find it at Island Press, Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple, or if you prefer, it's also at that other gigantic company. In whatever form, I hope you enjoy!
Grad students Mike Barry and Brian Card have produced an impressive new set of interactive visualizations of Boston's subway system. It's worth having a look for yourself here; much is lost when these are reduced to a screenshot. They've looked at key transit metrics like travel time, passenger volume, vehicle delay, and station congestion among other topics, all drawn from MBTA's open realtime data, in a style inspired by the content-first approach of design guru Edward Tufte.
The image below is an example, showing the time of point-to-point trips of individual trains through the day. In this chart, the steeper the slope of the line, the longer the trip took. Scrolling through the day, the effect of the peak periods becomes apparent as the quantity and steepness of lines increases.
Another example of the type of work skilled information designers can produce when public agencies make their data available.
I'm just home from Indianapolis, where our firm is beginning work on something called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) update. The project is shaping up to be an important step in the transit vision for the city.
Many parts of Indianapolis are seeing a remarkable revitalization. Dense housing is growing fast in and around the walkable downtown core, galvanized by public works like the Cultural Trail and a strong base of downtown parks, monuments, state government, universities, and cultural institutions. There are even canals lined with housing, much like the Dutch might build.
Many neighborhoods are also vibrant and growing. The northern suburbs include Carmel, famous not just as the "Roundabout Capital of the US" but also for a very strong walkable downtown. Carmel is the sort of massive suburban transformation that is common in the west coast and northeast but still unusual -- in its sheer scale -- in midwest metros of Indy's size. The critical mass around walkable urban development is clearly developing fast in and around Indy, making it an important city to watch especially for its midwestern peers.
Sometime in the next couple of years, voters will be asked whether they want to make a commitment to improved transit service. That vision, called IndyConnect, includes a series of Bus Rapid Transit corridors but not much detail on how the total network would work. Our study (for the regional planning agency, Indianapolis MPO, as well as the transit agency IndyGo) will help build a clear and costed set of scenarios for how the total transit network could improve, extending the benefits of the rapid transit element well beyond the specific corridors it serves and telling a story about benefits to the entire metro area. (We also have a practical short term task, which is to figure out how to rearrange bus routes downtown to work with a new transit center opening next year.)
There will be plenty of opportunities for public comment over the next six months as the planning process proceeds. We look forward to lots of great conversations about this exciting and fast-changing city.
Photo: Chris Hamby
Columbus, Ohio's metro transit agency, COTA, has now released a new network plan for public comment. As in the recently unveiled similar plan for Houston, I led the network design task on this project as part of a consulting team led by IBI Associates.
Again, the core idea is to expand the Frequent Network -- the network of services that run every 15 minutes or better all day -- so that more people have service that is highly useful. Here's the existing Columbus area frequent network :
And here is the Draft Proposed Frequent Network:
In Houston, we achieved similar expansion solely by reallocating existing resources. In Columbus, there was a small budget for expanded service, but still, 90% of what is achieved here is the result of reallocation: removing overlapping routes and deviations, removing duplication, and in some cases removing service that very small numbers of people were using.
Details of the plan are on the COTA website, here. The total proposed network is here. Note that color denotes all-day frequency: red is 15, blue is 30, green is 60. The plan does many other good things, including a major expansion of weekend service.
You can upload the existing network, for comparison, here: Download Existing System Frequency Map
Again, if you're in the Columbus area, please comment to COTA using this special email: TSR@cota.com. At this stage there is no decision about whether to implement a plan such as this one. Any final plan will be revised based on public comment that comes in over the next couple of weeks. That means that if you like the plan, it's important to comment to that effect, as well.
Paris-based Serbian designer Jug Cerovic tipped me off a month ago to his remarkable work on subway maps, collected at his website and since hailed at Atlantic Citylab. If you want to geek out on beautiful detail, go to his website now. Here, I'm interested in looking from a fuzzier distance.
His work interests me because I'm always trying to help people see underlying principles of network structure, such as the high-frequency grid in all its forms, and often contending with the seductive allure of its opposite, the seemingly endless loop.
Cerovic's eye has picked out these forms, and fondles their contrast expertly: He picks out a central loop in every city that provides a hint of one, organizing map after map around a geometrically perfect circle or oval. Berlin:
His maps of comprehensive East Asian metros call out the circle line in most of them. Beijing and Shanghai are both rigidly circle-and-spoke like Moscow, but Beijing's outer circle is far enough out to create orthogonal grid effects in relation to the straight lines it crosses. Cerovic, perhaps sensing this, renders the loops as rectangles:
But it's hard to resist the beauty of the circle. Tackling Paris, Cerovic seizes on the ellipsoid loop formed by Metro lines 2 and 6, rendering them as a perfect circle that seems to unify the image. Only the color change signals that you can't go around forever.
I have long argued that the Paris metro is mostly an orthogonal grid system, with most routes in north-south or east-west paths that intersect to form logical L-shaped travel opportunities. In fact, it's a great example of a grid system fitted to a gridless city. Lines 2 and 6, and the more recent T3 tram that Cerovic renders as a quarter-circle, are really the only predominantly arc elements and even they function like east-west grid elements in the actual geography,
In Madrid, Cerovic reveals the Expressionist quality of the metro network: lots of emotive scribbles and personality quirks but without a clear structuring idea.
The gently collapsed loop at the center reminds me of a Jean Arp sculpture.
In London, he ignores the obviously potential of the Circle Line, which despite its new tadpole shape could easily have been made into a perfect circle or oval. Instead, the perfect circle that anchors his map is an emerging, ghostly London Overground, bristling with spurs:
I like Cerovic's maps for their stripped-down emphasis on the drama of line vs. loop. Lines are from Mars and loops are from Venus. They will never understand each other. The challenge -- in all the dimensions of design -- is in making them dance, and helping both impulses succeed.
Yesterday, Houston Metro began seeking public comment on what may be most transformative transit plan in its history. I'm honored to have been a part of it, as the network design lead* on the consulting team. Read all about it, in as much detail as you want, here. Explore the detailed map here. Note that the pulldown menus in the black bar lead to lots of cool maps and diagrams, as well as extensive data about the plan.
The plan shows that without increasing operating cost, Houston's frequent network -- the network of services where the bus or train is always coming when you need it -- could grow from this ...
This cool page toggles between the two, so you can see the system growing.
How on earth could we grow a network that much without new money? There are two answers:
1. That's how much waste there was in the existing system. Waste in the form of duplicative routes, and due to slow meandering routes created due to a few people's demands.
2. Hard choices are proposed about expensive service to very small numbers of people. The plan devotes 80% of Metro's resources to maximizing ridership, which all of these frequent lines do, and only 20% to providing access to people living in expensive to serve places. Currently only about 50-60% of resources are devoted to services where high ridership is a likely outcome. (See here for my paper on this analysis method.) This shift in focus will have negative impacts on small numbers of riders who rely on those services, but these were small numbers indeed . (About 0.5% of existing riders end up over 1/4 mile of service, and most of them are just over that threshold. Often, their longer walk is to a better service, a tradeoff that most people are willing to make in practice.)
The exciting thing is not just the massive growth in frequent services proposed, evident above, but the shape that they'll take. The core idea of the new network is the high-frequency grid, designed to enable anywhere to anywhere travel with a single fast connection. Everywhere on the proposed network of red lines, that kind of easy access will be possible.
Obviously, too, the whole geographic focus of the network had to shift. Houston is one of the biggest US cities that still has a radically downtown-oriented transit network despite decades of decentralization. The core area where the existing network converges has only 25% of the region's jobs, and while transit must favor the jobs that are in dense and walkable settings, there are now many highrise clusters around Houston that answer to this description to some degree.
Houston has been growing mostly westward and northward in the last few decades. Its densest residential neighborhood, for example, is Gulfton, located 7 miles west of downtown. Not far from there is its second-densent employment and activity center, Uptown-Galleria. Houston is a constellation of centers, and the transit network needs to be more decentralized to effectively service all of those centers where the density and walkability make transit viable. The high-frequency grid, shown above, reaches all of those places.
Houston also features a fascinating patchwork of incomes. There are rich and poor neighborhoods but there's no longrer a rich or poor side of town. That means that low-income people, too, will find the whole network useful. We have done our best to retain useful service on the historically low-income and minority eastside, despite declining population in some areas. The key strategy there was the anchor most services to the main universities in that area (University of Houston and Texas Southern U.) which are the surest drivers of all-day demand.
The huge no-cost expansion of useful service may remind you of a plan I worked on two years ago for Auckland, New Zealand, where it was also possible to massively expand the frequent network by redeploying duplicative services. Not all transit agencies have this much waste, so your city's mileage may vary. But if you suspect that transit could be doing more in your city, read all about the Houston plan. You'll be amazed, as we were, about how much is sometimes possible.
Finally, if you're in the Houston Metro service area, remember to submit a comment even about things you like. Sadly, most of the public comments received on transit plans are negative even if the plan is broadly popular, becuase people who like it falsely assume it will happen anyway. This plan will not be implemented if it does not attract strong support. We welcome constructive comments about the plan, which will be used to make the final plan even better. But if you like the plan, it's important to say that as well! Instructions for how to comment are here.
* This term means I led the design workshop that developed the design, but it does not mean I get all the credit. These plans are collaborations among many players, both on our large consulting team and of course at Houston METRO. The team was headed by TEI of Houston -- Geoff Carleton was the excellent project manager -- and included Carol Lewis, Nancy Edmondson, Dan Boyle, and Asakura Robinson. Kurt Lurhsen, METRO's head of planning, shepherded the project internally with the support of a great teams. The plan would also not have gotten to this stage without the preliminary support of METRO's Board, including Chair Gilbert Garcia and Strategic Planning Committee Chair Christof Spieler. Spieler has been an especially tireless advocate of this project from its earliest days. All of these people and organizations contributed substantially to the plan as it appears.
CHK America has done some of the better transit network maps I've seen in North America lately, like this one for Washington DC. They also do a range of other graphical information tools. If you're experienced in this field, now's your chance to join them in sunny Santa Barbara:
CHK America is adding to its staff. We are looking for an experienced senior information designer who has advanced skills in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Understanding of public transportation systems and service is required. Person will be working in a fast moving production environment and must be able to complete tasks within the established budget. Competitive salary and benefits package. Office is located in Santa Barbara, CA. This position is fulltime. Fax or email resume to 805-682-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From Henry Mulvey, of Massachusetts:
Hello, my name is Henry Mulvey, I am a tenth grader. I am a huge streetcar fan and I love the old Boston Elevated Railway. I hope to attend M.I.T. for urban planning then work the M.B.T.A. or the state on a big replica streetcar plan for the city of Boston. I just read your article saying streetcar aren't what they seem and I have some rebuttal points. I'm going try my hardest to be civil because I am a die-hard streetcar fan. The two things I see that you either underestimate or don't mention are the aesthetic appeal of streetcars and the environmental costs of buses. Streetcars look very different than buses and people like that. In the case of replica streetcars, they might not carry as many passengers as modern types but they make people think "ooh, that's cool! I want to ride!". Streetcars are more attractive than standard old buses, even an updated bus! Streetcars are also more environmental friendly than buses. Ideally streetcars do not omit any pollutants and are much more efficient than buses. I also think the connection between streetcars and economic development is well documented and you don't provide any evidence to the contrary, can you give me evidence? It's my belief that a streetcar line that uses replica streetcars does both provide great transit and showcases history. Boston is a city that loves history and has a need for streetcars so I think a streetcar would work incredibly there. Thank you for listening to me, Henry Mulvey
The Regional Plan Association, the New York-region planning think tank, has produced a great new map as part of their Fragile Success report:
This map takes the travel time methodology regular readers of this blog know well, but then within that area of access shows all of the jobs, categorized by sector, as a dot density map. The effect is to visualize the quantity and number of jobs that can be reached from a give point in a given time, by walking, transit, cycling, or driving. The map is also able to quickly calculate the number of jobs inside the AM peak travelshed on the fly, and even allows the user to toggle on and off different job classifications. If you want to see all of the education jobs within a 30 minute walk of a given location, now you can.
To revisit a 2012 post, this sort of map of personal mobility is useful for two reasons:
Helping people and organizations understand the transit consequences of where they choose to locate, and thus to take more responsbility for those consequences. This, over time, can help people who value good transit to locate where transit access is good -- something that's very hard to discern from a typical bus map but that becomes very obvious here. You can even assess access to specific things that you value, based on exactly where the blobs are.
Helping people visualise the benefit of transit -- access to your city -- as a freedom, and thus to understand more clearly what transit does for them. It broadens the narrow notion of travel time -- which is often understood for only one typical trip -- into a picture of your options for accessing all the things you value. The percentage of a city's resources (jobs, housing, retail etc) that is in the blobs for a particular location could also form the basis for a meaningful Transit Score that could replace the technologically biased scores now used by WalkScore.com.
TypePad, our host, has been undergoing Distributed Denial of Service attacks that have interrupted this blog and many others. A particularly ghastly side-effect of these attacks is that all domain names using TypePad (such as humantransit.org) are leading to an "Unknown Domain Name" error, giving the false impression that we're out of business. TypePad writes on their blog:
While most blogs are available and the application is up, some mapped domains are showing a message that the domain is "unknown", but there is no problem with the domain itself. We're working to correct the error on our end.
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Are your transit authority and city government working together to make buses as functional and useful as possible? A new TRB report summarizes the industry's own consensus on where the easy wins are for improving bus service. Peyton Chung has the rundown:
A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds“ surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.
- Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
- Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
- Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
- Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
- Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
- Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
- Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
- Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
- Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible ”headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
- Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
- Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.
Many transit agencies have adopted at least some of these changes. For example, Streetsblog has covered San Francisco Muni’s efforts to consolidate stops, launch limited-stop service, rebuild stops, install signal priority, and use prepaid fares to allow passengers to board at both doors.
The survey also asked about the major constraints that agencies faced when attempting to improve bus speeds. More than a third of them cited a lack of funding and competing priorities within the agency — streamlining a route, for instance, may reduce the area covered by the service. More than one in seven agencies cited a lack of support from other government agencies, like transportation departments in charge of streets and signals (in San Francisco, Muni benefits from being housed within the city’s transportation department). Rider opposition, particularly to removing bus stops, and existing traffic congestion, also thwarted some attempts to streamline bus operations. Interestingly, few agencies cited community opposition or a lack of staff time as constraints.
That last paragraph is crucial. Buses don't improve because the people who want them to aren't sufficiently organized and focused to balance out the kinds of resistance that the report lists. Most local elected officials who are responsible for transit get great earfuls from those defending every detail of the status quo, while advocates for improvement can sound vague and abstract by comparison.
(And by the way, our firm specializes in helping transit agencies work through all of these issues, including their political dimension!)