Streetcars (Trams)

san francisco: winning speed and reliability battles

38 GEARY V A HospMajor San Francisco transit lines take longer than they did a century ago, as they have been obstructed by traffic and slowed by heavy passenger loads using (until recently) inefficient pay-as-you-board methods. A New York Times piece by Zusha Elinson lays out the statistics.  

(It's important to clarify, right away, that this has nothing to do with streetcars as a technology.  You could easily be misled by this subtle bit of anti-bus bias:

In 1920, the F-Stockton streetcar carried passengers from the Financial District at Market and Stockton Streets all the way to the Marina at Chestnut and Scott Streets in a zippy 17 minutes. Today a very similar trip on the 30-Stockton, the successor to the F-Stockton, takes a half-hour if the stars are properly aligned.

In general, streetcars replaced by buses have slowed down more, over the last century, than those that remained streetcars, but that's an expression of how much more was invested in streetcars than in buses.  The main lines that use the Market Street Subway — J through N — have picked up or shed just a couple of minutes from their 1920 times, even though back then they ran on the surface along Market St (about 3 miles) while now they're in a subway, effectively functioning as rapid transit.  No such improvements were made for streetcars that became bus lines, so of course their performance deteriorated more.  In fact, the 30-Stockton relies heavily on maneuverability in unpredictable Chinatown traffic; a streetcar in exactly the same traffic, unable to move around obstacles, would be even slower and less reliable.)

The real message of this story, though, is the need to have a conscious intention about the speed and reliability of transit.  Highway planners ruled the late 20th century with their clearly defined notion of "Level of Service" or cars, which mowed down opposition through its simplistic A-F letter-grades.  Just after 2000, the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual sought, at first, to claim this same authority-through-simplification for transit.  But while the TCQOS is a spectacular reference guide, few in the business believe that a single A-F score can capture the many important ways that transit succeeds and fails.

My own work in this area has always advocated a stronger, more transit-specific approach that begins not with the single delayed line, but rather with the functioning of an entire network.  Don't just ask "how fast should this line be?" which tends to degenerate into "What can we do to make those forlorn buses move a little faster without upsetting anyone?"  Instead, ask "What travel time outcomes do we need across this network?"  Or turn it around: How much of the city needs to be within 30 minutes of most people?  – a question that leads to those compelling Walkscore travel time maps, which are literally maps of individual freedom.

A network speed standard would identify necessary speed standards for each service type, but especially for the Frequent Network, because high frequency means greater impact of delay — both on passenger freedom and the agency's bottom line.  We* used this approach in a Seattle Transit Plan study about 7 years ago:

1.  Define the Frequent Network (every 15 min or better, all day, every day), including any segments that are "Rapid" (faster with fewer stops)

2.  Define the policy operating speed standard for each product (frequent local vs rapid)

3.  Map the existing scheduled speeds on each segment against this standard, creating a map with screaming red segments meaning "deficient."

4.  Prioritize interventions to improve transit speed based on those deficiencies.  

This is quite different from a classic cost-benefit approach in which we count the riders currently on a segment and assign value based on their total travel time saved, because it acknowledges that (a) a dysfunctional segment is probably driving away customers regardless of how many are on it now and (b) the outcome is the network, not just a single line.

We had a lot of success with this in Seattle at the time.  Once the deficiency map was drawn, engineers noticed segments that they hadn't identified as problems before, and went to work on fixing them.  Note too that the method cleanly separates problem from solution.  Don't start with what you think is possible.  Start with what you need.  Define the absence of what you need as a citywide problem that affects the whole network.  Then fix those deficiencies.  If you're going to go to war with three businesses over "their" strip of on-street parking, you're more likely to break through the "big agency attacks struggling small business" frame if you're defending the entire city's transit system.  

Remember: a line is only as reliable as its least reliable point, and a journey through a network is only as reliable as the least reliable of its lines involved.  So one localized problem affecting speed and reliability (such as stops too close together) actually affects a vast area, and drags down public expectations for an entire network product.  If it costs the agency money (as slower service always does) then it's also a direct detriment to the overall abundance of transit service.  That's the frame in which you win battles over three on-street parking spaces, a signal phase, or even an entire tranist lane.

San Francisco's Transit Effectiveness Project is, to a great extent, the culimination of exactly this thought process.  I remember in the 1980s or early 90s a time when Muni proposed to eliminate just one consequential bus stop;  17th & Mission.  The story became: "Big, bad transit agency launches personal attack on the people and businesses at 17th & Mission."  The TEP has worked to change that conversation, emphasizing that on high-frequency services, the speed of every segment is part of the whole city's transit outcomes.  The same process has made it easier to do a range of other locally-hated citywide goods such as removing parallel routes that were too close together.  

Does your city's transit system have a similar project underway, one that moves beyond route-by-route analysis and looks at how every speed/reliabilit deficiency harms the whole city's transit system?

 

*I was with Nelson\Nygaard at the time.  The project was the City of Seattle "Urban Village Transit Network" study of 2004, which became a foundation of the Seattle Transit Plan.

one-way splits as symbolic transit

 Now and then I see a professional study of a transit line — often light rail or streetcar — that suggests that the two directions of service should be a little bit apart from each other, say on different streets, so that they "cover more area."

This is the clearest and simplest example I've seen of the conflict between symbolic transit and actual transit.  If you are creating transit for symbolic purposes — say, to give the appearance of permanent mobility so as to stimulate development, then it's certainly true that separating the two directions, so that rails and stops appear on two streets instead of one, will spread that appearance over a larger area.

However, if you care about people getting where they're going, the one-way split reduces the area served by a transit line.  That's because for a two-way line to be useful, you have to be able to walk to both directions of a service.  The further apart the two directions are, the smaller the area (light blue) that will have a reasonable walk to both of them.

 

One way split

If you're wondering whether a project is about getting people where they're going or just appearing to do so, the handling of one-way splits is often a clue. 

Obviously, one-way splits for transit are often required by a one-way street pattern, but even in these cases, when we're planning for both legibility and ease of use, planners sometimes suggest combining the two directions on one street.  This can be done by giving transit a lane that allows it to travel against the main traffic direction (called a contraflow lane), so that although traffic is split between two streets all transit is on one.  That maximizes the area actually covered by the line, but of course, it may reduce the area that has symbols of being covered! 

to save time is to lengthen life

That was the slogan of this 1912 advertisement for the first segment of subway rapid transit to open in the Boston area, the Cambridge segment of the Red Line.  Thanks to the TRB History Committee.  

Red line ad

Yes, I know that slow, fun transit is supposed to make us enjoy the ride more, and the ride is part of life.  But if you're not riding for fun, wouldn't you rather get where you're going?

outtake: on endearing-but-useless transit

Here is an outtake from an early draft of my book, written at a time when I intended to confront technology choice issue more directly than I ended up doing.  (There turned out to be a book's worth of stuff to explain that was even more important than that, so the next book will likely be about technology choice.) 

Darrin Nordahl's My Kind of Transit argues the opposite of my view here.  Since I am debating Darrin tomorrow in a webinar (for US Green Building Council members only, alas) I thought I'd post this in the spirit of cheerful provocation.

In Chapter 2 of Human Transit, I argue that useful transit can be understood as involving seven dimensions or elements.

1.    “It takes me where I want to go.”

2.    “It takes me when I want to go.”

3.    “It’s a good use of my time.”

4.    “It’s a good use of my money.”

5.    “It respects me.”

6.    “I can trust it.”

7.    “It gives me freedom to change my plans.”

The dominant mode in a community is the one that best addresses the seven demands, compared to the available alternatives, in the perception of the majority of people.  In a rural area, or a low density suburban one, the automobile meets all seven demands handsomely.  You can drive to just about anywhere (demand 1).  The car is in your garage when you need it (demand 2).  It is the fastest way to get to most places (demand 3) and thanks to many government subsidies it is relatively cost-effective to own (demand 4).  It is comparatively comfortable (demand 5).  You maintain the car, so you have some control over its reliability (demand 6).   Finally, it’s easy to change your travel plans mid-trip (demand 7).

In core areas of Paris, London, or New York, these same demands explain why the rapid transit system, not the automobile, is dominant.  Rapid transit goes to every part of the city that many people want to go to (demand 1).  It runs every 5-10 minutes for 18 hours a day or more, so there is always a train coming in a few minutes (demand 2).  It can easily be faster than driving (demand 3), and is certainly cheaper given the high cost of big-city parking (demand 4).  It is probably weakest in demand 5 — the comfort and sense of respect — but some systems do a good job at this, especially away from the crowded rush hour, and in any case the high speed means a fast trip where a period of discomfort is more tolerable.  It’s reliable (demand 6) -– or at least, it’s big news when it fails, so you’re likely to be forgiven for being late.  Finally, the rapid transit systems of these major cities offer a level of freedom (demand 7) that is hard to achieve in a car, which faces the constant problems of parking and congestion.  You can spontaneously get off at any station, for example, knowing that when you’re ready, another train will be along soon to complete your journey.

The seven demands collectively define the dimensions of a transit service that most people in a society would rationally decide to use.  If transit satisfies these seven demands, to the standards of the people that it is trying to serve, and compared to their alternatives, then the transit service is usefuluseful service to denote service that is good enough in its seven dimensions that given the alternatives, many people would rationally choose to use it.

(Note that by useful (and later useless) I mean useful or useless as transportation, because that is transit's primary task, just as firefighting is the fire department's primary task.)

Now here’s a key point:  “many people” may not mean “people like me.”  An effective strategy for maximizing the use of transit can't serve everyone, because some people are just not cost-effective to serve, so success as a strategy may be different from usefulness to you or the people you know.  If your friends will only ride streetcars rather than buses, but your town is too small to fill streetcars to the point that their capacity is needed, then your friends may just be too expensive, and too few, to be a good service investment for a transit agency focused on citywide demand.  Likewise, if you live in a low-density area, and you wonder why transit isn’t useful to you, the answer may be that you form too sparse a market for transit to efficiently focus on.  Chapter 10 is all about the challenge of hard-to-serve markets and how, or even whether, subsidized public transit should be trying to serve them.

Still, most public transit services aspire to attract a wide range of people, and breadth in the market is important for political support.  Of course, most transit agencies cannot hope to capture a majority of the travel demand in their communities, or even to their downtowns, but they can provide services that many people will find useful — enough to get many cars off the road and dramatically improve mobility for everyone.  A great deal of research has been done, and much remains to be done, about the seven dimensions of the useful and how good transit really needs to be at each of them to achieve a city’s goals.

The key idea, though, is that useful transit will appeal to a diverse range people with different origins, destinations, and purposes.  The more diverse the market that can be rationally attracted onto one transit vehicle, the greater the potential for the service to grow and prosper, and to help the city achieve higher levels of economic activity with lower numbers of cars.  Again, though, some people will be too expensive to serve, and if you’re one of them, you’ll need to distinguish between your private interest and the public good.

Endearing Transit

A vast range of public comments fall into the seven values that form useful transit.  Did we leave anything out?  Well, what about comments such as:

            “I like the logo.”

            “I like what it says about my community.”

            “It’s on rails, and I just like rail.”

            “Streetcars make the community more attractive.”

            “They gave me this really cool coffee mug.”

            “It’s lots of fun to ride.”

These comments may seem to overlap some of the vaguer demands that fall under the fifth element of useful transit (“It respects me.”) but there is a crucial difference.  The concept of “respect” in the definition of useful transit includes demands that are subjective and perhaps unmeasurable, but there is wide agreement about these demands in a given culture. 

In most societies, at least in the developed world, most people will not choose to sit in a seat next to a pool of urine.  Pools of urine in a seat indicate the failure of the service to respect the passenger, and thus a failure to be useful, because the revulsion that a pool of urine causes is nearly universal in the society.

Some cultures may react differently to a pool of urine, so clearly, the boundary of the useful is culturally relative, but it can still be defined for a given society.  Useful service, in its subjective fifth dimension of “respect,” is determined by what the vast majority of people in the society, or at least the target market, consider acceptable.

But many subjective comments are not universal, such as the ones listed above.  A beautiful free coffee mug may motivate some people to feel good about transit, or even to try riding it once, but most people do not make their routine mode choices based on such gifts.  Even if a coffee mug lures you onto the bus or train, it is unlikely to make you more comfortable sitting next to a pool of urine.  Clearly, the absence of a pool of urine is a fundamental requirement in a way that commemorative coffee mugs are not.  The absence of urine, then, is part of the definition of service that “respects me,” and therefore part of the definition of useful service.  The commemorative coffee mug is … something else. 

For aspects of a service that do not fall within the culture’s requirements for useful transit, but are nevertheless perceived as fun, nice, good to have, attractive to tourists, etc., let me propose the term endearing transit.  By this term, I mean any aspect of a service that engenders good feeling, but that do not seem to be essential for achieving ridership.  The boundary between demand #5 of useful transit (“It respects me.”) and demands for endearing features such as a cute paint scheme is simply the boundary between values that are nearly universal in the culture and values that are not so universally shared, or that seem to be a lower priority in people’s actual decisions about how to travel.

Another way to think about the useful/endearing distinction is that useful features of transit encourage regular use, but endearing features encourage occasional use motivated by curiosity or pleasure, which is why endearing services are often justified by the economic rewards of tourism and recreation.  Endearing transit is often about fun, or about the way that the service contributes to the community’s general “look and feel,” but it also includes obsessions with any transit technology that go beyond that technology’s usefulness. 

“Endearing” may seem like a loaded word, but the other words commonly used for these values are simply too vague.  We constantly hear about service needing to be more “convenient” or “attractive,” but if you press on these terms they usually come apart into some measurable element of usefulness, such as speed or frequency, plus some strong but obscure sentiment that isn’t really about the service at all.  The endearing, then, includes all of the values people bring to transit that are not related to whether transit is useful, where useful is defined by the seven demands that we’ve summarized. 

Endearing-but-Useless Transit

Endearing aspects of transit are important, because subjective perceptions unrelated to service do influence whether people choose to use transit. However, there remains a vast difference in importance between the endearing and the useful.  The difference is this: Many people will use service that is useful, even if it is not especially endearing.  Relatively few people will use service that is endearing but useless, with the major exception of tourists and others who are travelling for pleasure.  Endearing transit may attract tourists and others for whom the ride itself is the purpose of traveling, but if the service is useless, it will not attract anyone who needs to get somewhere at a particular time, and it is these people – people who just need to get somewhere – who make up the vast majority of travel demand in all but the most tourist-centered communities.

Effective transit planning, then, must start with a diligent focus on the useful.  It will make the service as endearing as possible, but it never sacrifices the useful for the sake of the endearing, unless a tourist or recreational market is its primary aim. 

If tourism and recreation are the aim, the success of the service is not measured by whether it gets you where you’re going within acceptable bounds of time and cost, because there are enough people who will use the purpose solely for the purposes of fun.  Endearing-but-useless services succeed or fail not on their value as transportation, but on their value as entertainment.  If our goal is to add a new kind of attraction to our community, then they may meet that goal, but we must not mistake these services – essentially amusement-park rides with multiple access points — for a useful service that many people will logically choose to ride day after day.  We may all enjoy riding a Ferris wheel, but that doesn’t mean we’d enjoy commuting on one. 

800px-London_Eye_Twilight_April_2006

(Many endearing-but-useless services can be understood as amusement rides with multiple points of access.)

Perhaps the world’s most famous endearing-but-relatively-useless transit services are the cable cars of San Francisco, particularly the lines running to Fisherman’s Wharf and particularly during the daytime.  Developed in the late 19th century as a strategy for serving hills that were too steep for horses, these charming vehicles have been preserved on three lines as part of the city’s identity and tourist appeal.  Until recently they were presented as essential parts of the city’s transit network, but their contribution to actual transportation within the city is minuscule. [1]  Now, because they are so specialized around tourism, recent budget cuts have raised their fares dramatically to capture their high operating cost, further separating them from the vast and integrated transit network that most riders use.

Cable car sfCable cars run on tracks, but unlike other rail services they have no means of propulsion within themselves.  Instead, they have handles that reach through a slot in the middle of the trackway and grab onto a cable that slides continuously underneath the street at a speed of nine miles per hour.  Cable car “gripmen” learn the delicate art of grabbing this cable in a gradual way that provides some sense of acceleration, while a second crewman, the “conductor”, operates brakes located at the opposite end of the vehicle.  When no braking seems to be needed, conductors also collect fares.  Because the grip apparatus and the brakes are at opposite ends of the car, cable cars require two transit employees, so they cost much more to run than typical buses or rail vehicles, even before we take into account the expense of maintaining a technology that is now unique in the world.

In high season, tourists may stand in line for half an hour or more to board these cars at the foot of Powell Street.  Once they reach the front of the line, they scramble to fill a car to bursting.  A cable car has a small enclosed cabin, but most of its riders sit on side-facing seats that face directly onto the street without any protective railing.  Around the edges of the car is a narrow platform with vertical bars.  The last or most adventurous passengers stand on this platform and cling to these supports.  On a fully loaded cable car, about 30% of the exterior surface consists of customers’ bodies.

Finally, off we go.  In the first three blocks of Powell Street, the cable car mixes with traffic, often in severe congestion.  Through this segment, the car is rarely faster than the pedestrians walking alongside it.  Finally, we begin the steep climb on Nob Hill.  On the ascent, the cable car has its own reserved lane, which finally allows it to reach its maximum cable-driven speed of nine miles per hour.  Passengers on the side platforms lean inward as cars and trucks fly past at three or four times that speed.

When we reach the top of the hill, we go back to sharing a lane with cars, and from there to Fisherman’s Wharf we stop constantly – not just for passengers, but for the obstructions of left-turning or double-parked automobiles, delivery trucks, and so on.  Perhaps we even stop for 15 minutes while a tow-truck is called to remove a poorly-parked car that is blocking the rails.  In theory, the cable cars run every few minutes.  In fact, they encounter so many obstacles[2] that it would be unwise to count on them to be on time. 

I lived for seven years just a few blocks from the Powell-Hyde and California cable car lines, but I used them only late at night, when traffic was low and the crowds were gone, and even then, the parallel buses were usually more useful.  Most of the time, the cable cars were useless to me.   Many people who live in the neighborhoods served by the cable cars reach the same conclusion, so the riders packing the cable cars tend to be mainly tourists, who are riding for recreation rather than to reach a destination quickly.  After a 1993 cable car accident, the San Francisco Examiner listed all of the occupants of the car.  Only two lived in San Francisco: the conductor and the gripman.

Describing the cable cars as endearing-but-mostly-useless doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them.  They are a crucial piece of recreational infrastructure in a very scenic and tourist-oriented part of San Francisco.  Their very high operating cost per passenger is borne by the city as an investment that pays off in attracting tourism – fundamentally the same kind of investment decision that causes cities to buy distinctive streetlight fixtures or encourage horse-drawn buggies for hire.  It’s an amenity, one that makes San Francisco obviously special in ways that tourists in particular will value.  Those may be good investments, but they’re quite separate from the core purpose of transit, which is to help people get where they’re going.

Making Transit Useful

Again, by useful service I mean service that addresses all of the six basic demands of transit.  Useful service takes you where you want to go, and when, in a way that is a good use of your time and money; it offers a decent level of comfort and courtesy, and gives you the freedom to change your plans.  Nevertheless, the logo may not be to your liking, and the type of vehicle may not be what you prefer.  The agency may even lack a commemorative coffee mug.

In many transit agencies, well-intentioned people are pouring their time into making useless services more endearing.  Often, marketing specialists are charged with simply improving the “image” of the agency, regardless of whether the agency offers useful service.   The effort isn’t totally futile, but it is often close.  Although it’s harder to measure than the useful, the endearing is easier for many people to talk about.  Endearment is about feelings after all, so on the surface, it’s a domain where any opinion is as valid as any other.   In conversations about transit, many people focus on the endearing not because they accept transit’s uselessness, but because they aren’t sure how to talk about what makes transit useful. 

To compound this problem, the features that constitute useful transit – features such as frequency, speed, and so on — are often described as “technical.”  This term misleads us in two critical ways.  First, it wrongly suggests that only experts can understand these features.  Second, it suggests that these features can’t possibly be as important as things we all know how to talk about, like logos, slogans, color schemes, or the indisputable “romance of the rails.”

In fact, the seven values that comprise useful transit are easy to understand if we stop to think about them.  By contrast, if we ignore them in our passion for the endearing, we risk creating services that are endearing-but-useless.  If this book focuses heavily on the useful, it’s not because the endearing is unimportant, but because the idea of useful transit is so taken for granted that it’s actually quite poorly understood.  Explaining useful transit is the core challenge of this book.

 

 


[1]         In a city where total daily transit ridership is around 700,000, the three cable car lines combined carried about 24,000 daily trips, as measured by the SFMTA Transit Effectiveness Project in the summers of 2007 and 2008.   http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rtep/tepdataindx.htm

[2]   This unreliability is shared by all transit vehicles that must run in mixed traffic, but especially rail vehicles, as they cannot maneuver around a small disruption – such as a poorly parked car intruding slightly into its lane – as buses routinely do.

welcome, readers from portland’s willamette week

If you've come from today's interview of me in Portland's free weekly Willamette Week, please note that while I certainly stand by my own words, my work on "rail vs bus" questions is easily misunderstood.  In fact, my work is all about giving you better ways to frame the question, ones that focus on the outcomes that we want.

For a quick intro to my work on the issue, see especially these articles:

And there's a lot more in the "Streetcars (Trams)" category.  A full list of categories is in the next column –>

… but above all, buy the book, after first reading the introduction!

 

paris: did rail worsen freeway congestion?

Can transit projects be judged based on the "welfare" of various user groups?

IMG_0771 If you know how to equate the "welfare" of a transit rider with the "welfare" of a motorist, and are not concerned with any other forms of welfare, you can do a calculation that appears to say whether a transit project was a good idea.  

From a new paper in World Transit Research by Rémy Prud'homme. 

In Paris, an old bus line on the Maréchaux Boulevards has been replaced by a modern tramway [the T3, opened in December 2006]. Simultaneously, the road-space has been narrowed by about a third. A survey of 1000 users of the tramway shows that the tramway hardly generated any shift from private cars towards public transit mode. However, it did generate important intra-mode [shifts]: from bus and subway towards tramway, and from Maréchaux boulevards towards the Périphérique (the Paris ring road) for cars. 

… The welfare gains made by public transport users are more than compensated by the time losses of the motorists, and in particular, by the additional cost of road congestion on the Périphérique. The same conclusion applies with regard to CO2 emissions: the reductions caused by the replacement of buses and the elimination of a few cars trips are less important than the increased pollution caused by the lengthening of the automobile trips and increased congestion on the ring road. Even if one ignores the initial investment of 350 M€, the social impact of the project, as measured by its net present value is negative. This is especially true for suburbanites. The inhabitants (and electors) of Paris pocket the main part of the benefits while supporting a fraction of the costs.

So here is our plate of facts:

  • On series of boulevards running parallel to the Périphérique, the motorway that circles Paris, traffic lanes were removed and a light rail line was added.  This was done less than five years ago.
  • The light rail line didn't attract new riders beyond those already on the bus and subway systems.
  • The closure of traffic lanes caused traffic to shift from the boulevards to the motorway, increasing congestion on the motorway, therefore affecting many motorists traveling long distances around the edges of the city. .
  • As a result, the benefits tended to fall heavily within Paris, among public transit patrons on affected boulevards, while the disbenefits fell on suburban motorists.

All that may be true.  Does this mean the rail line was a mistake?  Discuss.

connection-activated civic squares

A few days back I asked for examples of connection-activated civic squares, public squares that serve as both a symbolic and functional heart of the community, but where people connecting between transit lines form part of the square's activity.  I was looking for a real-world example of something like this, which is a design for a (non-existent) square in Surrey, an outer suburb of Vancouver:

  Surrey Central Plaza-1

The idea arises from the desire to have bus-rail connections happen in an interesting urban setting, rather than a typical suburban bus interchange that features an area where only bus passengers would be. 

First, I should answer this comment

Isn't the idea to reduce transfer penalties, not to deliberately increase them for other ends? Getting off the train on a cold, stormy night, I think I would resent being made to animate an otherwise deserted public square – running 200m for my bus, with my umbrella blown inside out, dodging puddles. Even worse if it was on the way to work in the morning!

Indeed it is.  I always want connection walking distances to be as short as possible.  The square above is 100m wide, so maximum walks would be no more than that, and that's not out of line compared to what you'll do in tunnels in many of the great subway systems of the world.  But I'm not sure that walking across a square is more onerous than walking along corridors or tunnels, so long as there's some reasonable alternative in bad weather.  And of course the urban designers are always telling us that visual interest makes walks feel shorter.  When walking along a typical subway tunnel lined with shops, I feel reduced to the status of consumer.  I would much rather walk across a square on a nice day.

One reason that these arrangements are unusual, and that I should have noted, is that they require buses to be organized in an inverted couplet.  In a country that drives on the right, you would expect that a westbound one-way street would be north of its eastbound partner.  That's the way two-way streets normally divide.  In this Surrey proposal, we set up the car traffic to do that but the buses to do the opposite in contraflow lanes.  That's how we got the bus stops to be on the square rather than across the street from it.  This is a great trick in situations where you already have one-way couplets of streets.  It gets buses out of traffic and puts them with their doors facing each other so that they can stop at opposite sides of a square (or even just at opposite ends of a pedestrian street or lane). 

(Portland's transit mall is a famous example of an inverted couplet — the northbound street is west of the southbound street — and if the Pioneer Courthouse Square were one block further east, it would be a spectacular example of a connection-activated square.  The mall couplet does help create an effective square at PSU Urban Center Plaza, where the mall and the streetcar intersect.)

It was quickly clear from the reader suggestions that really large connection-activated squares have to be in pretty big cities.  Even there, size can be a problem.  Note how Lyon's Place Bellecour, below, is reduced in width by a bit of landscaping.  The whole block is 250m x 170m, but the trees reduce the purely open space to about 100m wide.  At that, it's still the largest clear square in Europe, says Wikipedia.  There's room for two soccer fields in the remaining open space, three if that guy on the horse would get out of the way.

Place bellecour lyon

Place Bellecour does have a bus stop facing onto the square on the east side, but the main east-west bus movement is east on the south side, west on the north side, which in France puts the stops across the street from the square.

Many readers pointed to Berlin's Alexanderplatz, a vast and intense area that includes Berlin's iconic tower, the Fernsehturm.  Alexanderplatz is technically the northeast part of this image, but it's all intimately connected.

Alexplatz

The interaction here is between rapid transit ("U") at the center of the image and tram and bus lines.  One of the tram lines extends northeast and northwest from just south of the rapid transit station.  As I recall some of these trams turn to stop alongside the station (so are not activating the plaza) but others do not, so some people do walk across parts of the plaza.  Also relevant are buses on both the far northeast corner of the image and on Spandauerstrasse, which is the street cutting across the southwest corner.  Greater Alexanderplatz is a series of spaces where the interaction of transit and urban life is quite intricate.

A clearer big-city example is Syntagma Square, Athens.  It's about 110m on a side, and seems to work well, though Google is a little fuzzy there:

Syntagma

Syntagma has an underground metro station on the east side of the image, including entrances right into the square.  Buses are organized as a couplet, and in this case, it appears to be an inverted couplet so that the buses open into the square, but I can't quite be sure.  The Athens Tram also terminates there.  The position next to the Greek parliament building ensures that the square is a symbolic center of the city and nation.

Several readers suggested Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, UK.  I had in mind hardscaped plazas, but this one is interesting as an example of how much transit work a grassy park with a fountain can do.  It's about 120m x 90m at its widest points.

Piccadilly gardens manchester"

This is clearly a major tram+bus terminal, with lots of space taken up by end-of-line storage as opposed to just stops.  That's part of why the transit operations seem to dominate the space to a degree that urbanists are likely to find objectionable.  Note that the main pedestrian links between connecting services are paved paths across the gardens.  The landscaping is a nice way of saying "this is a park, not just a transit interchange," even as the paths serve the interchange volume.

Last among big-city examples, I'm intrigued by Insurgentes station plaza in Mexico City, which is in a roundabout roughly 120m in diameter. 

Plaza insurgentes mex

Note that the red buses appear to cycle the circle in a contraflow lane, i.e. clockwise where all other traffic is counter-clockwise, so that they open onto the central plaza.  (UPDATEI am now advised that they are operating with-flow, counter-clockwise, but in their own lanes, and have doors on the left that enable them to open onto the plaza.  The two silver-roofed structures are their main stops).  Obviously, this is a massive bus-rail connection point.  The red buses are from the city's Bus Rapid Transit system.  This is certainly enough pedestrian volume to activate a space, and indeed it looks as though some kind of merchant activity is going on.  But of course a roundabout is inevitably more of an island than a heart, as you'll need to go underground, through the subway station, to cross safely to any part of the surrounding district.

But when we step down to smaller cities, or to outer locations that aren't major transit hubs, the successful squares are quite a bit smaller.  Several readers praised Mont Royal station plaza in Montréal.  The subway station is on the west side, with bus stops on the east and north sides.  This looks like a case where terminating buses are actually looping around the square. 

  Mont royal, montreal

But it's only about 50m wide.  Many readers suggested connection-activated squares on this scale, often in secondary nodes of big cities or in suburban areas, especially in Europe.  Many such squares were mentioned, but Stockholm's Odenplen is typical.  And even in North America, small open spaces, usually  less than 50m on a side, are common at some subway stations; Vermont/Santa Monica station in Los Angeles and the two Mission BART stations in San Francisco come to mind.  Another example, at a simiar edge-of-downtown scale, is the PSU Urban Center plaza in Portland, which handles interactions between an inverted couplet of north-south buses and an east-west streetcar.  The open space there, too, is less than 50m on a side.

So to sum up:

  • An obvious larger design point is that civic squares have to be scaled to their catchment area.  The bigger the city and the more central their role in it, the bigger they can be.  For squares that aim to serve a smaller suburban or neighborhood node, the squares are smaller, usually less than 50m on a side.  The plaza we sketched for Surrey (at the beginning of this entry) was probably too big.  Place Bellecour in Lyon a totally open space of 200x100m with only a statue as furniture, probably is too big.
  • At all scales, these squares can work as multiple-purpose plazas while also serving transit connections, and there seem to be many examples of these two functions supporting each other.
  • Inverted couplets are rare but work well with public squares.  The inverted couplet is a key unappreciated feature of the Portland transit mall. 

Thanks to everyone for contributing to this adventure!  I'm sure there are many other great examples I haven't mentioned. 

This work is important to me because many designs for great highrise urban nodes at rail stations collide with the needs of connecting and terminating buses, and it's often tempting to push the buses away.  These examples, at a range of scales, capture how transit connections and urban life can happen in the same place, and indeed support each other.  Links to other great examples are welcome!

guest post: scott johnson on “over-constrained projects”

This is a guest post from EngineerScotty, who blogs at Portland Transport and the Dead Horse Times. It is a follow-up to the recent series of articles on the issue of expertise vs activism, and it further explores the theme of the second article: projects which are over-constrained–those with excessive and sometimes contradictory requirements imposed on them by stakeholders. This post originally appeared at Portland Transport here; the version which appears at Human Transit has been edited and revised for a more global audience.  As always, views expressed in guest posts are interesting to me but not necessarily mine.

Jarrett has been investigating the proper role of the transit planner. Is (s)he a dispassionate expert, much like an engineer is expected to be? Or should planners and other professionals serve a more activist role–essentially serving as advocates of the transit-riding public, and defending their interests? Jarrett, who has made numerous remarks about the limits of mixed-traffic streetcar (and has been accused, unfairly in my opinion, of being a "bus fanatic"), noted that his job has elements of both: He does prefer to optimize for mobility outcomes, and streetcar frequently fares poorly as a mobility measure; but when he takes on a project he needs to live within the project's constraints: If a project which hires Jarrett as a consultant is chartered with building streetcars, then he will help the agency design the best streetcar network that they can afford.

But then, an obnoxious commentor (OK, yours truly) threw a wrench into the gears, asking the essential question. What if the project requirements are nonsensical to begin with? Jarrett's answer focused on the role of transit planners in addressing all of this; and I defer to his expertise on such matters. Instead, this article looks at the more fundamental problem: projects with fundamentally conflicting requirements.

Too many cooks

Many public works projects, especially those in a multi-layer democracy like the United States and other countries with federalist systems, have many, many stakeholders. And not all of those stakeholders have the interest of the general public at heart, let's be honest. Politicians love to show up at ribbon-cuttings, and may have ideological axes to grind. Agencies frequently seek to expand their scope, power, and influence. Developers, vendors, unions, and other parties often want to cash in, and frequently aren't shy at trying to influence decision-makers (often in ways which are perfectly legal). NIMBYs frequently show up who want it somewhere else.

Even among those stakeholders who actively support a project's goals, one can frequently find many demands on a project. Institutions can fall into the "golden hammer" trap, where their job involves swinging hammers and thus view every problem as a nail. Professional societies frequently have standards and practices which they view as sacrosanct, regardless of whether appropriate for a given context. Diverse communities of users may impose conflicting requirements. If grants are part of the funding package, the granting agency will often impose conditions of their own. And spools of bureaucratic red tape will surround the project, particularly if the United States government is involved.

All too often, public works projects collect so many differing requirements and constraints, both legitimate and not, that running the project is like squaring the circle. (For the non-mathematically inclined, constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only straightedge and compass, was proven impossible in the 19th century). And this is without taking into account financial and schedule constraints. Yet projects which attempt to square the circle–which attempt to satisfy simultaneously many conflicting requirements, often dictated by stakeholders with de facto veto power over the project–still happen way too often, often times with disappointing results.

At least two prominent projects in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area — one primarily highway, one exclusively transit — exhibit signs of being over-constrained. One of them is the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), a project to replace the Interstate Bridge crossing the Columbia River, between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. The other is the Lake Oswego-Portland Transit Project, a project which seeks to build a "rapid streetcar" line connecting the city of Portland with its inner suburb of Lake Oswego, using an abandoned rail right-of-way.

The Swiss Army Bridge

The fundamental goal of the CRC ought to be conceptually simple. Modernize (structurally and functionally) the primary crossing of the Columbia, providing multi-modal crossing support, while eliminating the draw span. Straightening out the shipping channel on the river is a bonus. But what has actually happened has been a mess. The first problem is governance. Given that it's a bi-state effort, there isn't any single entity which is an obvious candidate to run the project.  So management was given jointly to the Oregon and Washington State departments of transportation (ODOT, WSDOT), with the participation of the cities of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington; the counties of Clark and Multnomah; Metro [the Portland regional planning authority]; the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council; and the two transit agencies, TriMet and C-Tran.  ODOT and WSDOT drafted purpose-and-need statements that pretty much excluded any solution other than a new freeway bridge. Throw in a pile of rules from various highway manuals and "poof": rather than simply building a bridge, the project now involves rebuilding about five miles of Interstate 5. On Hayden Island, a small island south of the river's primary channel, a new proposed network of ramps and interchanges cuts a swath through the island, nearly as wide as a football pitch is long.

The city of Portland and Metro have their own requirements for the project. It must contain light rail (an extension of the MAX Yellow Line), and other "green" features.  Many in Portland's civic leadership have insisted on an "iconic design" rather than a simple truss bridge.  With all of these design elements, the total proposed cost reached US$4 billion. 

Financing for such a price tag will require that the bridge be tolled. Residents on the Washington side would allegedly bear the brunt of tolls, because many of them commute to jobs in Oregon. The mayor of Vancouver was recently unseated when his challenger ran on the issue of bridge tolls.  Many on the Oregon side have little sympathy for those in Vancouver, whom are accused of wanting the benefits of a large, dynamic city, but of not wanting to contribute to its upkeep. And so on.

The result, at this stage, seems to be a design that nobody really likes, that has a murky funding picture, that has cost eight figures to produce nothing but paper so far, and which has no end date in sight.

Did it have to be this way? That's a hard question. One fundamental issue is that the City of Portland objects to a key design goal of the highway departments on both sides of the river–"modernization" of the freeway (a catchall term which includes widening, ramp reconfiguration, and all sorts of other stuff designed to reduce congestion). While some of Portland's objections spring from ideological or environmental concerns that other stakeholders don't share to the same extent, the city does have a legitimate concern that redesigning the bridge simply will move the existing traffic bottleneck south into Portland's city center. The state departments of transportation, for their part, seem more than willing to hold Portland's transit expansion plans hostage (an ODOT staffer once reportedly suggested that the agency would block any attempt to extend MAX across the Columbia, unless as part of a larger project to widen I-5). And Vancouver doesn't want to be stuck with an ever-escalating bill. Part of the present dynamic seems to involve both sides wishing that someone (Governor Kitzhaber, the feds) would "see the light" and kick the other side to the curb.  

The Lake Oswego Quit Calling It Streetcar (At Least For Now) Project

Compared to the CRC, the Lake Oswego transit project (LOTP) is a model of piece and harmony. The "what" of the project was largely fixed: a streetcar line, running from the current south end of the Portland Streetcar, along the old Jefferson Branch line to Lake Oswego. The project goals make sense: Use an existing asset (the rail right-of-way) to leverage federal funds, and build a transit service running in exclusive right-of-way which ought to be faster than local bus service on Highway 43, a frequently-congested 3-5 lane surface route. Demonstrate the potential of "rapid streetcar" as a budget alternative to light rail for shorter corridors. A no-brainer, right? Unlike the CRC, where leadership was distributed among a handful of agencies with contrary goals and a decided lack of trust, the involved government agencies (TriMet, Metro, and the cities of Portland and Lake Oswego) aren't fighting over the project requirements. But the devil, as is often the case, is in the details.

The most fundamental issue is that the project is promoted as rapid transit–as an upgrade over the existing bus service (TriMet's 35 and 36 lines, which the streetcar would replace between Portland and Lake Oswego).  But this premise is undermined by the proposed implementation. The project is currently planned to be an extension of the existing Portland Streetcar system, which offers local-stop service along is present route, and which bypasses the main transit corridor downtown (the Portland Transit Mall). Portland Streetcar's current rolling stock (Skoda 10T streetcars and a clone produced by Oregon Iron Works), are optimized for mixed-traffic application, not for rapid transit use. In addition, many local merchants on Highway 43 in the Johns Landing neighborhood want streetcar service at their front door; whereas many condo owners along the existing right-of-way don't want trains past their front door. (Never mind that the rail line has been there far longer than the condos). Thus, the streetcar line is likely to make an expensive detour onto Highway 43–the same highway which is predicted to turn into a parking lot in the near future, justifying the mobility need for the project in the first place.

Unlike the new Milwaukie MAX line directly across the river, which is designed to function well as rapid transit until hitting downtown, the streetcar is not so designed.  It's likely to be slower than the existing bus between Lake Oswego and downtown, and that's without considering the need for riders travelling from/to beyond Lake Oswego to transfer.  Bus lines 35 and 36 from beyond Lake Oswego, which now flow through Lake Oswego into Portland, will have to be truncated, forcing a connection to the new streetcar.  This is necessary both to avoid duplication and to provide operating funds for the streetcar line.

The streetcar does offer modest capacity improvements over the bus, and has the cachet of being rail.  (That cachet is a source of debate in transit circles, but will likely have an impact given the demographics along the line).  But the mobility improvements of the project are close to nil; and for longer-distance commuters on the 35 and 36, probably a net negative.  Perhaps land-use improvements alleged to flow from the project will be worth the local investment, though much of the area along the line is already developed or not suitable for development. Perhaps the ability to get a big check from the US Government for a minimal local cash contribution–given that the federal government is willing to consider the value of the right-of-way in calculating their match–makes the project worth doing. This is a difficult case to make, however, to the transit-riding public, who tend to care more about headways and trip times than they do about property values.

Signs of an over-constrained project

Here at Human Transit, another commenter posed an interesting question: How do you know if a project has requirements or constraints that make it difficult to do a good job? The question was posed in the context of bad-faith requirements (such as developers engaging in rent-seeking), but the answers also apply to good faith attempts to square the circle. My response is here; the answers are also reproduced below, edited for brevity. (In particular, observations about the CRC and Lake Oswego streetcar projects which are redundant with the criticisms above are excised; if you want to see the original answers, click the link).

  • Overly constrained initial project requirements. It's useful to distinguish here bona-fide requirements from design/implementation details, the latter of which ought to flow from the former. But sometimes, elements which ought to be details are set forth in the requirements without adequate explanation of why this should be so. Sometimes these requirements aren't stated explicitly, but still are constrained enough that only the solution preferred by the powerbroker can meet them. [CRC used as example]
  • Decision criteria which may not match the stated goals of the project. For example, publicly identifying a project as "rapid transit" but then de-emphasizing speed and reliability, or basing decisions on highly speculative future estimates. [LOTP used as example]
  • Thee presence of strawman alternatives in the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) or equivalent planning/analysis document. By "strawman alternatives", I mean proposed alternatives which are obviously bad, and included only to satisfy process requirements that multiple alternatives be studied in depth. [LOTP "enhanced bus" used as example; in this case, a more robust BRT solution was excluded from analysis early in the project..which lead us to the next item…]
  • Viable project alternatives rejected early in the planning phase, often due to being "out of scope" (see the first item concerning overly restrictive requirements), or on the basis of vague or overly-picky technical factors. Look for signs that point to "this might work, but we really don't want to (or aren't allowed to) consider it, so we'll dispose of it as quickly as we can". [Many have alleged that the proposed "supplemental bridge" alternative to the CRC is another example].
  • Projects that appear "out of the blue", rather than the result of organic planning activities, or which are done "out of sequence" compared to their apparent priority. May represent a unique opportunity (such a project eligible for funding that isn't available for other projects) or it may be a sign that someone has his thumb on the scale.
  • "Economic development" being touted as an advantage is a frequent red flag.  This is always touted, of course, but if "economic development" is the main reason for doing a project (and especially if the "development" in question refers mainly to the project's construction effort itself and not to post-project activities the work will enable) a good response is to ask if there are any places to deploy the "economic development" that will have better post-project outcomes.  Paying someone to dig ditches and refill them can be considered "economic development" in that it does create jobs, but it's better to pay people to build useful things.
  • And one other, not in the HT article: The use of unproven or untested designs or methodologies in the project, or anything dubbed "experimental".  Until recently, the CRC was considering an experimental bridge design, until cooler heads prevailed.

Of course, not all over-constrained projects are failures. Westside MAX had some annoying constraints placed on it, but is overall a successful project.  Still, had ten extraneous stops been sprinkled along the line between Portland and Hillsboro, would the line be as successful?

Dealing with over-constrained projects

What to do about all of this?   The hard fact about overconstrained projects is that often, we have to live with them.  It's easy to fantasize about driving bad actors out of the process, and about having strong visionary leaders who have the foresight and the clout to sweep conflicting requirements out of the way, without losing support for the project.  But such individuals are rare, and in many of these projects — notably the CRC — nobody in the process, not even the governors, are in the position to act unilaterally.  Still, a few suggestions come to mind:

  • Governance matters. It's hard with multiple stakeholders. In the case of the CRC, the first step to fixing the project would be for the stakeholders to jointly hire an outside project leader; one who has no particular ties to either Oregon or Washington, or to the various modal factions, to lead the project. Of course, for such a leader to be effective, the various agencies will need to cede a fair bit of authority to said leader; I'm not sure any of them are willing to do so at this point.
  • Sunlight is the best disinfectant. A transparent process, one where decisions can be easily traced to inputs and planning work products are available for inspection, may help cut down on (or at least expose) some of the pettier forms of backroom dealing. Bad actors don't like being subject to public scrutiny. Transparency also helps good-faith projects avoid accusations of backroom dealing; virtually every large capital project gets accused of being done in order to grease someone's palm; an accusation which is frequently not true.
  • Be prepared to say no. The City of Portland has won some concessions on the CRC with this tactic, but if a project is really going off the rails, cancellation should always be an option.
  • Bifurcation and phasing may work. A controversial and difficult project can sometimes be split up into two or more separate projects.  Often, though, the political impetus is in the opposite direction, creating more linkages between projects so as to create a package containing something that everyone wants.
  • Better advocacy for users. One of the unfortunate parts of transit advocacy in the Portland area is a lack of effective organization of transit users. Freight users of the highway system are well-organized, and often asking government for better freight mobility. The auto lobby is likewise strong and forceful. Even the cycling community in Portland is relatively-well organized. Transit users in the city do have some organized advocates, but many of these activists represent subset of the overall transit community (such as lower-income inner city bus riders), not transit users as a whole. Beleaguered transit agencies, especially ones looking to grow their ridership base, can't always represent the interests of their existing ridership.

That said, not all gloom and doom is justified. Over-constrained projects do end up successful, despite warts. This is especially true when the bulk of the constraints come from actual community needs that happen to be in conflict (such as simultaneous demands for access and mobility). Portland's MAX system, overall, threads the access/mobility needle reasonably well, although not perfectly. Some critics of the system complain about too many highway-running segments without development potential; others complain that it's too slow downtown, and uncompetitive for crosstown trips. However, were MAX to offer streetcar-like performance over its entire length, it probably would not attract the ridership that it does (especially the large number of suburban commuters using the system); conversely, were it required to be built to "class A" levels of mobility throughout the system, it probably could not have been built at all. The flip-side of the overconstrained project is one which has too many degrees of freedom–and which may not be taking as many community needs into account as it should–or in the worst cases, such as the destruction wrought by urban freeway-building, result from the neglect of a particular community's concerns altogether.

rail-bus differences: premise or conclusion?

When you think about transit technologies, how do you categorize them?  And why?

Have a look at this first table, which sorts services according to the exclusivity of their right of way.  The terms Class A, B, and C are from Vukan Vuchic, describing the basic categories of "what can get in the way" of a transit service.

Is this table two rows, each divided into three columns?  Or three columns, each with two rows?  Which distinction is more fundamental, and which is secondary?

Right-of-Way Class vs Rail-Bus Distinction

 

Class A

Exclusive right-of-way and separated from cross traffic

Class B

Exclusive right-of-way,  NOT separated from cross traffic.

Class C

Mixed with traffic, including mixed with pedestrians.

Rail

Most rail rapid transit, using “third rail” power sources.  Most classic “subway” and “metro” systems.  

Most “light rail” in surface operations.  Parts of some European and Australian tram networks.

Most North American streetcars.  Many European and Australian trams.

Bus

Separated busways:  (Brisbane, Ottawa, Bogotá, and segments in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh)  Freeway bus/HOT lanes.

At-grade busways:  Los Angeles Orange Line, Western Sydney busways, etc.

Buses in mixed traffic.

Well, if your objective is to get where you're going fast and reliably, the Right-of-Way Class tells you a lot about a services's potential to do that, while the rail-bus distinction, in isolation, tells you nothing.  The fact is, both rail and bus technologies are capable of the complete spectrum of possibilities.  Both can average 6 mph (10 km/h) in Class C situations, and both can run Class A at 60 mph (100 km/h) or more.

RIght-of-way isn't the only thing that matters for getting you where you're going.  There's also stop spacing, with its inevitable tradeoff between speed and local access.

Stop Spacing vs Rail-Bus Distinction

 

Rapid, Limited

(faster = fewer stops)

Local-stop

(slower = more stops)

Express

(one long nonstop segment)

Rail

“Subway”, “Metro”, some commuter rail.

 Tram / Streetcar

Some commuter rail.

Bus

Bus Rapid Transit,
“Rapid Bus”, “limited-stop” bus

 Local bus

Commuter express bus (often on freeway)

 … and of course there are other essential distinctions like frequency, which are also entirely separable from rail and bus technologies. 

UPDATE:  Please note, yet again, that contrary to early comments I am NOT claiming that these are the only distinctions that matter.  As I laid out in some detail here, there are several distinctions that matter.  In fact, one of the reasons that people cling so hard to the rail-bus distinction is that the other crucial distinctions are a little more complicated and require some thought, and it's hard to think about this stuff in the political space where decisions get made.

Rail services do tend to be presented in ways that "package" the various crucial dimensions of usefulness.  Typical metro systems, for example, are guaranteed to be frequent, with rapid stop spacing, and Class A right of way, because all three are intrinsic to the metro technology, so there's a psychological "packaging" effect when you see a metro map; you can be confident that this means a certain level of service. 

I think these tables are interesting because now and then I meet someone who divides the world rigidly into rail and bus, often aligning these categories with a rigid class distinction (William Lind, say) or simply claiming that rail does beautiful things and buses don't.  In that view, the different columns of these tables are secondary and interchangeable, while the rows express something absolute. 

Patrick Condon, for example, proposes that instead of building one rapid transit line (Class A, rapid stops) we could just build lots of streetcars (mostly Class C, local stops).  That can make sense if you judge technologies entirely on their influence on urban form, and prefer the kind of form that seems to arise from streetcars.  But it will be just incoherent to a transit planner who's been trained to help people get places, and wonders if he's being told that nobody cares about that anymore.  Because if you do care about personal mobility — people getting where they're going, now, today — you have to care about the columns.

I hope to leave this topic for a while, but I do think it's worth coming back to tables like this to ask yourself:  Do I tend to divide the world according to the rows first, or the columns?  If so, why?  Is my way of slicing this table something I've discovered about the world, or something my mind is imposing on it?

basics: expertise vs. activism

The planning professions work in a grey zone between expertise and activism, and managing these competing impulses is one of our hardest tasks.

As a transit planning consultant, I don’t worry much about being perceived as an advocate of transit in general.  Experts in any field are expected to believe in its importance.  But I do try to keep a little distance between my knowledge about transit and the impulse to say “You should do this.”  A good consultant must know how to marry his own knowledge to his client’s values, which may lead him to make different recommendations than he would do as a citizen, expressing his own values. Continue Reading →