Portraits of Transit Professionals from across the US


If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about transit from people inside the industry, especially those in important roles at major US agencies, you may want to check out this new project. People Who Move People is an interview series with people occupying all sorts of roles in the field, including high-profile figures like current FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers, former US Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta and LA Metro CEO Phillip Washington. This may be of particular interest to our readers who hope to join the transit industry, as these interviews show the great variety of paths available to people working in the field.

Eugene: Let’s Talk Transit on November 30

Don Hankins via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

Don Hankins via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

On November 30 I’ll be in Eugene, Oregon for a public event organized by Better Eugene Springfield Transit.  It’s free but you need to sign up through Eventbrite.  (And if you sign up and then decide not to go, please cancel!).

The Eugene-Springfield area has been through an exhausting and polarizing debate about a Bus Rapid Transit line over the past few years.  As often happens, controversies about a specific project can make it impossible to have the larger conversation about a region’s vision for itself and how transit fits into that vision.  I hope I can help the community jump-start that conversation.

Look forward to seeing you there.


The Wikipedia Defense

A new practice I’m attempting:wikipedia-practice-crop

If you’ve read your favorite news sites in the last 24 hours, and feel an impulse to look at them again, look instead at Wikipedia.

Ignore any “recommendations” foisted on you by some versions of the site.  Instead, enter a few letters at random into the search bar, and scroll until you see something that isn’t obviously tedious to you.  (If you have an old version of the site with a “Random Article” button, just click that until you feel a twinge of curiosity.)

Read.  Learn something that’s at least as interesting as the news, if not more so.

In fact, this is news.

News isn’t all about the present.  All knowledge is news, if you haven’t discovered it before.  All of it sates curiosity, which is the reason you opened a browser or app at all.  And it’s all equally likely to be inspiring, intriguing, and useful.

Toronto-Hamilton: See You in Burlington Monday Night!

On Monday night, November 14, urbanist luminary Brent Toderian and I will be sharing the stage as part of Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring’s “Inspire Burlington” series.  The conversation will probably focus on retrofitting transit into a car-based suburban city, but you and your questions are welcome from all over the Toronto-Hamilton region.

It’s free, but you must reserve tickets here.






Cities Must, and Will, Take Care of Themselves (Election Notes)

It’s been a long night.  So just a few notes.

Nobody really knows what lies ahead for the US, but we are probably heading into a period when cities and metro areas must do even more to take care of themselves.  And there’s lots of evidence, from last night, that urban populations know that.

The sweep of victories on public transit measures is impressive.  Raleigh, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and the biggest transit plan of all this year, in greater Seattle.  In California, where revenue raising measures require 2/3, most of the Bay Area and Los Angeles area measures are on track to hit that very high bar.

This is becoming a common pattern.  There is a strong urban consensus about what it takes to make a great city, and the will is there, among urban populations, to do what needs to be done.

Some friends are despairing about federal funding for public transit, which is required to deliver the promised transit plans, and for other critical urban needs. I can’t predict what Federal policy may actually be like.  If you need reasons for hope, there are three:

  • This president-elect is from a big city, he famously likes to build things, and he campaigned on infrastructure spending.  It’s unlikely he will turn off the spigot on urban investments, or that a narrowly divided Senate would let him if he did.
  • I’ve also been through this moment — when one party appears to have won the White House and the Congress — several times.  Each time, it’s appeared that there’s now no impediment to the agenda, but it’s never been that simple.  When you can actually enact an agenda, you pause, especially when you have such a narrow majority in one chamber.
  • There’s simply no mandate here for an anti-urban agenda, or even for budget-cutting and fiscal austerity.  This election was just not about that.

But maybe the Federal role does shrink.  If so, cities and regions will have to do what needs to be done themselves.  Mayors and regional leaders may have to lead in larger and more courageous ways. Bruce Katz (The Metropolitan Revolution) and Benjamin Barber (If Mayors Ruled the World) have been charting this path for a while.   But if tonight’s transit measures are any indication, urban voters know what needs to be done, so the conditions for courageous urban leadership are there.

Personally, I have lots of other feelings about this election.  But when it comes to critical urban needs, one way or another, it can get done.


How “Innovation” Chatter Limits Urban Mobility Today: Election Edition

The new private players in urban transportation have learned to be careful about appearing to oppose public transit — at least, most of the time.  Uber is making a point of supporting some of the biggest transit tax proposals in the country.  Lyft wants you to know that they’re “friends with transit.”  These companies know that they rely on an urban, educated political base — people who can figure out for themselves that shifting lots of people from big vehicles into small ones is not the way to improve congestion, emissions, or pretty much anything that matters.

Still, the hype coming off the technology companies — even when not explicitly hostile to big-vehicle transit — feeds a vague notion that “innovation” will somehow sweep transit away.  And this attitude is damaging transit systems now.  

To make this claim I’ve usually had to refer to my personal experience as a consultant — and especially my constant conversations with local stakeholders and opinion leaders.  But right now, we have some examples, from the websites of opponents of transit proposals around the US.

My point in citing these is not to defend particular transit proposals.  We don’t endorse here.  And it doesn’t matter, to my point, which measures pass and which fail.

My point is that tech industry PR, with its meme of “innovation” somehow changing everything, is now a key source of anti-transit rhetoric.

Here’s the homepage of opponents of the rapid transit measure for the Seattle area, ST3.  It leads off with three big points, one of which is this:

Over in Indianapolis, there’s this, from an opponents’ press release:

If voters approve the transit referendum Nov. 8th, Indianapolis will buy a quaint 1940’s solution to a 21st Century opportunity.  When Uber and Lyft – the transportation innovation leaders of today — are initiating a transportation revolution in other communities, Indianapolis once again looks in the rear-view mirror.   Indianapolis leaders, IndyGo planners, and taxpayers should be anticipating the flood of change that will occur over the next few years—not building permanent bus lanes down the middle of major city thoroughfares which will be rendered obsolete.

Transit plan opponents in greater Detroit accuse a fixed rapid transit plan of “blocking” innovation — after first scaring us with the notion that buses or trains might get in the way of your car:

More Traffic Congestion

Major roads will have lanes closed to create ‘bus only’ lanes – congesting traffic.

Cities with bus only lanes also implement priority traffic signal policies that turn  stop lights green for approaching buses and red for cross traffic – further delaying motorists.

Blocks Mass Transit Innovation

The proposal spends billions on old transit tech like buses and rail while other cities are contracting out transit services to Uber, Lyft, Chariot and others that provide door-to-door service at substantial savings.

Advances in self driving vehicles may provide breakthroughs in personalized, cost-effective transit service that cannot be realized if our region is financially locked for decades into a dinosaur mass transit system.  [emphasis added]

Yes, there may be breakthroughs, which may have the outcomes we hope for, and this is reason enough to declare our existing tools to be “dinosaurs.”  The idea is that future inventions should destroy useful things today.  

It’s completely understandable that inventors want us to think this.  If we throw away our existing solutions to urban problems, we will be even more dependent on their inventions, which will be good for them.  That’s why we must lean in the the wind, being skeptical but not cynical about the good things invention may bring.

Why should we continue to invest in big-vehicle, space-efficient public transit, and protect what we have from degradation, when all this innovation may occur?

  • Technology never changes geometry.  In dense cities, the efficient use of space requires continuing to move large numbers of people in large vehicles, which is what successful urban transit networks are.  (The story may be different in low-density suburban areas, where demand is sparser and space is more abundant, especially if those places don’t intend to grow denser.)  The only way to move large vehicles efficiently and also attractively is first to run them frequently, and second, where possible, to protect them from traffic congestion.  Yes, this may get in the way of your car.
  • Inventions never turn out as hoped, and especially not as hyped.  They have downside impacts, some of them entirely predictable.  They destroy things that turn out to be valuable, especially because …
  • Making something easier causes more people to do it.  This is how autonomous cars could cause an explosion of vehicle trips that would overwhelm any space-saving benefits of the technology, congest our cities to the point of dysfunction, and thus trigger a new generation of urban sprawl.  Do you believe that autonomous cars will radically expand your liberty, even in the densest cities?  Do you imagine that you, a city dweller, will be able to get out into the beautiful countryside more easily, so that you could even buy a cabin in the woods?  That’s what the proponents of cars wanted you to believe 100 years ago.  The problem isn’t that you got those things, but so did everyone else.  So the liberty of the motorist became the prison of congestion, and everyone’s cabin in the woods meant there were no woods left.

Again, if you’re new to this, autonomous vehicles can be a wonderful thing.  The problem is the hype about things uninvented, and the way it encourages us to destroys things that we value, now.







Follow Transit Referenda on US Election Night

Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic has set up a page where you can follow election night returns about the 20 biggest transit-related referenda to be voted on November 8 in the US.   His summaries are good, always mentioning operating funds and local bus service, not just the big-ticket infrastructure.

The biggest are in the Seattle and Los Angeles regions, both of which are behind the curve on rapid transit development, given their size, density and growth rates.  Both measures, which raise sales taxes, are close things.  The Seattle-area measure covers a huge three-county region including exurban areas that vote against transit routinely.  Los Angeles County has clear majorities for almost anything transit-related, but the measure requires 2/3.

Personally, I’ve never had so much of my own work, and that of my firm, at stake in one cycle of referenda.

Two plans that we worked on extensively are on the ballot, in Indianapolis and in Wake County (Raleigh area), North Carolina.  Both are dramatic expansions of transit that create robust frequent transit networks in the denser parts of those cities, while Wake County’s also includes a commuter rail program.

In San Jose and Silicon Valley, in California, we are also in the midst of working on a network redesign to accompany the opening of BART next fall, and this design will be considerably more abundant, with less painful trade-offs, if Santa Clara County’s sales tax increment passes (also a close thing, as it needs 2/3).

We also did some work in Spokane, Washington, in the area of Board and stakeholder workshops, that helped lead to the Moving Forward plan on the ballot there.

As a consultant, I don’t make endorsements.  But peruse Yonah’s list, and if you live in one of these places, please read up on these measures to make sure you have an informed view.



Auckland: South Auckland Redesign Rolls Out

Back in 2012, I worked with Auckland Transport to design a completely new design for the city’s transit system.  (Auckland has a single city government covering the whole urban region, so you could also call this a regional plan.)

The old design — if it could be a design at all — had been the result of private operating companies designing their own routes to their own advantage, which led to enormous numbers of express buses into the Auckland city centre (where they created major bus congestion) but poor services for getting around locally or crosstown.  It was also just impossibly complicated …

Old network in southern Auckland. Can you see how to get anywhere?

Old network in southern Auckland, almost all infrequent. Can you see how to get anywhere?

The new network emphasizes all-day high-frequency services, connecting to each other in grid patterns and to newly frequent rail lines.  Read about that big picture, and its payoffs, here.

A small piece of the network, in the Green Bay area, was implemented last year, and achieved a 20% ridership increase (on no increase in service quantity) in the first year.  Now, the first really big piece has been rolled out across southern Auckland.  This area, formerly the City of Manukau, is relatively low-income, ethnically diverse, and features fragmentary, shredded street patterns that are a huge challenge to network designers.

A fragment of the old network is above.  Virtually none of it, including the train line, was frequent.  The overlapping lines with uncountable 3-digit-route numbers show local routes tangled up in express routes going all the way into the CBD far to the north, competing with the rail line.

Here’s the same slice of the new network (beautiful full map here):

New South Auckland network. Wide lines (31, 32, 33) are the Frequent Network

New southern Auckland network.  Wide lines (31, 32, 33) are the Frequent Network

Why the huge reduction in complexity?  Virtually all express buses to the CBD were replaced by buses connecting to the main rail line, which is now frequent.  Local lines were organized so that they form a logical network feeding into local hubs as well as to major rail stations.  Note that not all rail stations are bus hubs; the network concentrates only on certain rail stations so that buses connect with each other as well as with the trains, and so that consolidated station facilities can be built at these locations.  The biggest new hub, Otahuhu at the north end of South Auckland, has a huge number of buses feeding it, and got a shiny new bus-rail station for the new network’s opening day.

As always, there will be hiccups in the implementation process, as people adjust. But it’s great to see this plan, first sketched four years ago, on the street at last.

Guest Post … European Bus Maps: the State of the Art

Jug Cerovic is an Architect and Mapmaker. He leads the consultancy and workshop INAT Maps & Cityscape (www.inat.fr).

The notion that Europe has superb public transit does not always extend to the quality of public transit maps.  In fact, the struggle to improve transit maps is not much more advanced in Europe than it is in North America.  I have studied more than 250 European cities and their bus maps, and have also designed a few.  Here are some observations about the state of the practice.

All transit maps fall within two main categories: geographic maps that show the real scale and distances, and schematic maps that help you see the network structure. Some cities use geographic maps, some use schematic maps and some use both of them. The choice is up to each particular city, there is no national preference or link with population size or urban shape. Some tendencies appear though; in the South of Europe (Italy, Spain), geographic maps are predominant while Scandinavian countries and Switzerland prefer schematics. French and German cities tend to employ both.

Transit maps, both schematic and geographic, can be grouped into 3 distinct categories, depending on the primary meaning of color.

  • Color for technology.  These maps use one color for trams, another for buses, etc.
  • Color for lines.  Color is used to help you trace different lines through the network.
  • Color for frequency.  Color helps you identify high-frequency services, so that they stand out amid the complexity of less frequent services.


These maps assign a limited number of colors to each transport subsystem (bus, tram, metro) and do not separate single lines one from another.

With this kind of map, you can tell which street is used by public transport and which is not, as well as where the stops are located. It shows the space occupied by the network inside the urban territory but doesn’t tell the traveler how the network functions. With such a map it is difficult to plan even the simplest journey as you need to search for consecutive line numbers along a route. Complex journeys with transfers are next to impossible to plan.

Surprisingly enough, a lot of cities publish such useless maps, failing to inform the users about the real potential of the network.

I can only speculate as to why they do so. Perhaps they just do not care, and showing that the network exists and covers the entire territory is enough politically. Maybe they fear that showing the exact state of the network will reveal inconsistencies and provoke resentment or demands from citizen. Or, it may simply be that they consider the network to be too complex to be shown otherwise!

monochromatic: london and rome

Color-for-technology in a geographic map: London and Rome


Color-for-technology in a schematic map: Copenhagen and Munich


These maps show assign each line a particular color. You can therefore easily follow a line’s route from end to end, without any ambiguity or confusion. Seeing each line separately enables a traveler to visualize complex journeys with several transfers or modal changes. Instead of sticking to the one line you know best, you can plan an onward journey different from the backward one. Unlike monochrome maps, a multicolored bus map doesn’t show a territory occupied by public transport but a network of lines and their stations with all its details and potential journeys.

It works even with very complex and dense networks such as Paris even though the legibility hits a limit in some very crowded areas where more than 10 lines share the same street segment.

A major weakness of a standard multicolored map is the egalitarian representation of all lines which can be misleading when they differ substantially in frequency.  If you are on a line that runs every 30 minutes but there’s a useful line nearby that’s every 5 minutes, you’d never know from these maps.


Color-for-line in a geographic map: Paris and Antwerp


Color-for-line in a schematic map: Brussels and Zurich

Frequency Maps

The problems of the previous two styles of map are addressed by frequency mapping, which this blog has advocated for many years.

Not only does it single out lines and show the network, but it also assigns to each line a frequency marker, usually a difference in width or color, which instantly differentiates lines with frequent service from lines with less frequent service. This makes it possible avoid long waiting times. These new maps seem to illustrate a change of perception of the network, both by the operators and by the users. A general shift in working time and communication access has transformed the simple commute to work into a much more complex web of journeys. A frequency map is an information tool that enables such a complex travel pattern and also serves as a communication medium between the operator and its users.  It can also assist people in choosing places to live so that they will have access to good transit.

As of today, European frequent maps are found in only 5 clusters in Europe: Slovakia, Scotland, France, Germany and Benelux.

Slovakia: Bratislava, Kosice

Slovakian maps indicate a difference between Main lines and Secondary lines, with a difference in thickness and color. One can guess that Main lines are more frequent or faster than secondary lines but the legend doesn’t state it clearly.


Main lines map: Bratislava

United Kingdom: Edinburgh, Glasgow

In Scotland you can find some real frequency maps where lines are strictly classified as frequent or less frequent. Unfortunately both the Glasgow and Edinburgh maps suffer from 2 limitations: the bus stops are not indicated and the city center is shown only on a separate inset, leaving the most important part of the network blank on the map.


Frequency map: Edinburgh

France: Amiens, Bordeaux, Dijon, Grenoble, Lyon, Metz, Orléans, Reims, Toulon

France has enthusiastically embraced frequency maps, with numerous examples of both the geographic and schematic types. Most cities even publish maps of both types. The maps are comprehensive, with all necessary information about stops, routes and line types, sometimes even a bit too much, overwhelming the user with information.


Frequency geographic: Orléans


Frequency schematic: Orléans

Germany: Aachen, Braunschweig, Chemnitz, Dresden, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Onasbruck, Rostock

One of the best European Frequency maps is in Leipzig. Lines are singled out, a color is attributed to each of them and frequency is shown with a difference in width. But most of all, lines and colors are organized in a way that shows how the system really functions. The layout is focused on the centrally located circular loop surrounding the old town and all lines serving this area are color coded according to their common routes. This makes the network intuitive and unambiguous for the map reader.


Frequency map: Leipzig

Benelux: Luxembourg, Utrecht

Here, I must inform the reader that I am the designer of the new official maps of Luxembourg and Utrecht. These are frequency maps in full, with additional improvements in line grouping, symbolism and combined scales. Here in the thinking that led to these designs.

Line grouping

When two or more less-frequent lines share a long common route and when their timetables are synchronized, their frequencies add up and this common trunk route effectively becomes a single high frequency line. These lines are grouped on the map and assigned the same color; the trunk part is a thick line with thinner branches at each end. Lines are also color-coded and grouped according to their functions.

In Luxembourg, on the central corridor where more than 15 lines share the same street, lines are grouped by directions, forming only 5 thick trunk lines thus simplifying readability.

In Utrecht bus lines are grouped in 5 categories for legibility (terminal in the center, thru lines, university, tangent, local) and other transport modes have their own color (train, tramway). Line grouping is a way to simplify the network and intuitively convey its organization to the traveler.


Symbolic elements are highlighted in order to ease orientation and conform the map to the mental image of the city people may have.

In Luxembourg, the old fortress town, placed in the center of the map, is roughly pentagonal in shape and commands the angles at which avenues radiate from it. All line segments on the map are multiples of 18° as it allows for both orthogonal (18° x 5 = 90°) and pentagonal based (72°) axis.

In Utrecht the main landscape marker, apart from the old town, is the rail line cutting through the city at a roughly 60° angle. A 30°- 60°- 90° angle pattern  fits the street grid and overall layout marvelously.

Combined Scales

In both cities the network is very dense in the city center and sparser in the periphery. The city center is also the area where most pedestrian connections between lines are located. The map has to show two very different scales: the city center where walking distance is important, and the periphery which has fewer connections and can be simplified and distorted. Therefore on both maps the city center is enlarged and geographically accurate, streets and remarkable buildings foster orientation and enable pedestrian connections, while the periphery is shrunk and schematized while remaining topologically accurate.


Frequency map: Luxembourg


Frequency map: Utrecht

As these examples show us, European bus maps are witnessing an exciting new era of creativity and bus networks will benefit hugely from this improvement in representation, with maps that allow them to be perceived as comprehensive transport networks in their own right and not mere collections of independent lines.