Raleigh: Four (or 36) alternatives for Wake County’s transit future

Wake_transit_logo_full_colorToday, Wake County (the Raleigh, North Carolina area) released our report outlining four possible directions that the community could take in defining a future transit network.  Download it here.  Happily, the local newspaper's coverage is clear and accurate.  

This begins a period of public discussion about the report and the choices it outlines.  That discussion will give us direction on what form the final recommended plan should take.  That plan, in turn, will form the basis for a proposed referendum on a sales tax increment to fund expanded transit.

Actually, there are more than four possible futures, and the final plan won't look quite like any of these.  Read on:

The key idea — as in much of our work — is to build an "alternatives space" in which people can figure out where they want to come down on the two most difficult policy tradeoffs:

  • Ridership vs coverage?  What percentage of resources should to go pursuing a goal of maximum ridership — which will tend to generate frequent service in the densest urban markets — as opposed to the goal of coverage — spreading service out so that as many people as possible have some service nearby?
  • Infrastructure vs service?  How much to spend on building transit as opposed to operating transit.  Obviously infrastructure can make service more attractive and efficient, but too much infrastructure can lead to not enough ordinary bus service covering the whole county.  

Both of these tradeoffs are explored in detail in Chapter 5 of our report.

The idea is to use these four mapped alternatives to imply 36 alternatives, as follows:

Alternatives Space

The four red squares are the four mapped network alternatives, while the white squares are other possible positions that we can tabulate.  The idea is to ask people questions roughly of this form:

  1. "Which alternative is closest to what you want?"
  2. Would you like that alternative even more if it moved a bit toward coverage or toward ridership? (a step left or right in this table)
  3. Would you like that alternative even more if there it moved a bit toward infrastructure or toward service? (a step up or down in this table)

Obviously the questions can be phrased in ways that don't require the user to visualize this matrix.  This is just a high-level description of what we'll be after.

This approach allows everyone responding to navigate us to one of 36 squares indicating their preference, giving us feedback that is both nuanced and yet quantifiable.  Most public feedback is one or the other but not both.   And that's good for everyone who's responding, because in my experience, tabulated feedback is more influential feedback.  Written feedback is certain still welcome and will be reviewed, but tabulated feedback really tells what lots of people are thinking.

If you live in Wake County or know anyone there, it's now time to get involved.  Download the report, read at least the executive summary, form your own view, and express it!  The more people respond, the more confident we'll be in defining the final plan based on their guidance.

20 Responses to Raleigh: Four (or 36) alternatives for Wake County’s transit future

  1. Tom West May 13, 2015 at 7:01 am #

    The other way you could label the axes is in terms of capital and operating cost (well, subsidy). Verticla axis is capital; horizontal is operating/subsidy.
    What I’d like to know is what advantages the ‘more infratstcure rail’ brings to justify the higher capital cost? Is it shorter journey times than BRT?

  2. Jarrett May 13, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Yes, in the specific situation in Wake County, rail is much faster because it’s already in an exclusive and largely grade separated ROW. BRT’ benefit is that you don’t necessarily have to transfer when you get to the end of the infrastructure.

  3. M1EK May 14, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    I can’t believe that after Austin (and even Portland and New Jersey), any transit activist is even considering any DMU-based rail service whatsoever. When will you learn?

  4. Jarrett May 14, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    M1EK. You will never stop asking this question, will you? It’s because we know how to distinguish between a technology and its specific application. The fact that DMUs have sometimes been used to provide marginal services in the US says nothing about the utility of DMUs in general. There are disappointing LRT and BRT projects too, but these say nothing about the utility of those technologies. It’s all in how you use them.

  5. William C. May 14, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    I grew up in Orange and Durham Counties, just next door to Raleigh, so I know the area if not the details of urban Raleigh. I’m with you in my shock at the city’s low level of service. In this context, I’m surprised to see the rail plan only proposing thirty-minute trains on the Atlantic Avenue line. Even though it parallels Capitol Blvd, wouldn’t it be better to extend all the trains there?
    On the regional level, I’m pleased to see all-day BRT planned for SR 54; the lack of any service there northwest of Cary is one of the biggest holes in the current regional network. But I’m confused by the lack of any reference to the Triangle Transit bus center on Slater Road, several blocks from any freeway exit. The old Davis Drive location was much better both for freeway access and for rail access; are you presuming it’ll move back there, or simply ignoring it?

  6. Owen E May 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    The Go Triangle Regional Transit Center (RTC) on Slater Road is (1) in Durham County, so outside the scope of this study, and (2) was never intended to be a permanent facility. The “permanent” RTP area bus hub is supposed to be at a big TOD development planned near the corner of Miami & Slater. At any rate, if and whenever some high-capacity transit corridor is built through RTP, it is a safe assumption that the RTC will move in order to be on the corridor.
    My comments as a former resident of Raleigh and a current resident of Cary:
    1. I’m not as impressed as I thought I would be by the extent of the 15-minute frequent network, even in the “BRT-Ridership” plan. Or more to the point, by how well it matches the urban geography of Raleigh. The core of the city is dense, but there are vast swathes of “Inside The Beltline” Raleigh that are actually very low density, and the density picks up again once you get close to or just outside the beltline. Crossing these “valleys” of low density unfortunately stretches things out quite a bit.
    2. I would like to see a plan that contains true “BRT” on the I-440 Beltline. The routes proposed seem to recognize that this is an important corridor tying lots of dense nodes together, but snaking along on local streets would be quite a slog. I think that full-on BRT would be fairly easy to implement on this corridor: Bus pads at the offramps and BOSS (Bus On Shoulder System to bypass congestion when it’s there.
    3. Have discussions already been had with North Carolina Railroad and Norfolk Southern over the viability of this DMU plan? Are they on board? Given item 1 above, I honestly think I like the rail alternatives – however, I would be very reluctant to put my eggs in that basket without assurances that the freight RRs won’t demand some absurd, budget-blowing mitigation like six foot thick solid concrete crash walls between freight and DMU tracks.

  7. Owen E May 14, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    I could also make some rather nitpicky details about the specific routes (eg. serving Duraleigh Road is much more important than having routes on both Edwards Mill AND Blue Ridge Road north of Rex Hospital) but I think we’re not at that point in the study yet, are we?
    I guess my overall stance would fall somewhere between Rail Transit Ridership and Rail Transit Coverage. Maybe right in the middle
    As a side note, I wonder how much would have to be removed from “service” and allocated to “infrastructure” in order to build Beltline BRT (#2 above.) Or if it would even be feasible at all.

  8. William C. May 15, 2015 at 12:11 am #

    Owen, the North Carolina Railroad is owned by the state, and it’s signaled it’s quite willing to have regular passenger service there. I’m not sure just how many improvements would be needed, though.
    And thanks for your explanation about the regional transit center.

  9. Jim May 15, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    In the long term, the more coverage you have, the less service you will be able to provide. Ridership also means revenue, even if it’s 20-30% of op cost, it’s still revenue that helps pay for service. A system that is focused on coverage eventually will kill itself off. In addition to lack of fare revenue, it will suffer from encouraging people to live further and further out, forcing you to provide even more coverage. It’s a vicious cycle. Transit agencies need to come to terms with this and start talking about transit growth boundaries and encouraging people, especially those who rely on transit, to live more centrally.

  10. Jim May 15, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    Also, even worse than encouraging urban sprawl, coverage also means the significantly higher added cost of providing paratransit door-to-door service. So not only are you losing fare revenue, you’re also costing the entire community in paratransit services and also hurting those who rely on paratransit service by making it less efficient and more costly. Basically, you’re being irresponsible and cruel to the most vulnerable people in society. Whenever some citizen says, why don’t you have bus service out to new suburbia, you should reply, well why the h*ll did you move out to new suburbia if you wanted bus service???

  11. Brent May 15, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    Jarrett, you’ve presented this as being a way to help users visualize the range of scenarios when deciding individually where they sit on the trade-offs. Unsaid (but presumably you have this in mind) is the advantage in aggregating and presenting the results. You can’t do individual dot placements (like in some similar exercises such as plotting one’s political ideology against key figures), but you can sum up the number of responses in each square and then use shading or colours for each square to visualize the aggregated results.

  12. Owen E May 15, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    I guess my beef is that I don’t think the grid of red lines, even in the “BRT-Ridership” plan, covers enough of the city to be really transformational, and that therefore makes me question if that approach is the right one for Raleigh.
    The problem with Raleigh, is that there is the high density gridded core, then to the north and northwest, a three-mile gap of beautiful and wealthy but quite low density neighborhoods with very high car ownership. The density actually picks up a bit once you cross the beltline. Many of the red, high-frequency routes, as drawn in the plan anyway, expend more than half of their length crossing this chasm, and terminate at the beltline. To use the Human Transit terminology, of the four “ingredients” for high ridership, the density and continuity are low on many of these routes. Combine that with the spotty linearity presented by Raleigh’s mostly gridless street layout, causes me to wonder if the “ridership” approach of building a frequent grid of bus routes would really generate much in the way of ridership at all.
    You also can’t get too caught up in the idea that Inside-The-Beltline = urban, and Outside-The-Beltline = suburban. As mentioned above, there are plenty of areas inside the beltline that are not supportive of transit at all, and plenty of areas outside the beltline that are. Mini City in the Northeast has some of the highest transit ridership in the city, and I believe that other dense nodes with lots of multifamily housing like Duraleigh & Edwards Mill, Falls of Neuse & Millbrook, or even the Crossroads/Nottingham Drive/Dillard Drive areas in Cary have similar potential, if only the service were there.
    If you could expand the definition of “central” Raleigh a bit to include the above nodes, say, to Millbrook on the north, New Hope on the east, Tryon on the south, and Duraleigh/Edwards Mill/Buck Jones on the west, and then cover that with a grid of red lines, I would be much more impressed.
    Maybe cutting or trimming that long, slogging crosstown route that parallels the beltline along neighborhood streets (or, my suggestion: making it faster and thus less expensive to run, by turning it into a full blown BRT line on the beltline itself!) would give enough headroom in the budget for the extensions I mention.

  13. Brian Guy May 19, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    Notice that BRT Ridership can afford a lot more frequent route network than Rail Ridership. There are trade-offs to spending more on capital than operating.

  14. Michael D. Setty May 19, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    “Notice that BRT Ridership can afford a lot more frequent route network than Rail Ridership. There are trade-offs to spending more on capital than operating.”
    But in the long run, operating costs dwarf capital, even with the rebuilding of rail lines needed every 30-40 years.

  15. Brian Guy May 20, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    “But in the long run, operating costs dwarf capital, even with the rebuilding of rail lines needed every 30-40 years.”
    But in the near term, residents want frequent service that connects the most popular destinations.
    BRT Ridership can be built sooner, run more often, and access more jobs.

  16. S M Sabri Ismail (sabre23t) June 2, 2015 at 12:51 am #

    Hi Jarrett. Apologies if you answered this before but Wake Transit expanded report choice of DMU for RRT option intrigues me. In my neck of woods (Kuala Lumpur), seems the EMU/DMU choices have been squarely towards EMU. Was there a more detailed comparison of EMU/DMU that lead to the Wake Transit report choice? Perhaps something like this Caltrain report by JPB in 2011, http://www.slideshare.net/alevin/caltrain-emu-dmu-comparison ?

  17. Jarrett June 5, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    S M Sabri: Electric multiple unit (EMU) requires a commitment to high frequency. it’s often something you introduce after you’ve been running DMUs for a while.

  18. Nathanael June 12, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Jarrett: DMUs which can share tracks with mainline trains are *not currently purchaseable* in the US. This makes them a “kill the project” choice for Wake County.
    The regulatory environment and the current status of manufacturing ARE important aspects worth considering in making a project choice.
    Non-FRA-compliant DMUs are OK, the RiverLine in New Jersey uses them.
    On the whole, this is a bad report. I wouldn’t have paid you for it. It’s ignoring all kinds of pertinent facts in favor of vague generalities.
    And it manages to utterly obscure the most important issue — exclusive right-of-way.

  19. Nathanael June 12, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    OK, I’m going to give you some more useful criticism.
    This “report” has a fundamental failing. It’s not clear who it’s supposed to be read by.
    If it’s intended to be read by people who have some understanding of what they’re talking about, or want to delve in depth, it’s dumbed down to an absurd degree.
    If it’s intended to be read by people who don’t really have a clue or don’t have time for more than the executive summary, it’s *too long*, *too verbose*, *meanders too much*, and has no clear “bottom line” sound bites.
    This means it has no target audience.

  20. Nathanael June 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    And if someone *does* just read the executive summary, they’ll end up going for high-frequency buses, caught in traffic, going very slowly, costing a fortune, and then it’ll all get dismantled at the next budget crisis in five years. Bad executive summary, will lead to bad conclusions.

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