Walkability, Weaponized

Some people will read a book from beginning to end, but many are browsers, nibbling here and there.  Some people want to be told want to do, while fewer want to plumb the depths of why.  So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more list-books, lists of things to do with only brief explanations of each.  Most are terrible.

The great list-books are by people who have written the long book first.  You can trust Michael Pollan’s fun book Food Rules — a set of memorable rules about how to recognize good food, each explained in a page — because it’s a summary of his longer book on the topic, In Defense of Food.  Likewise, you can trust Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules because it’s a summary of Walkable City, one of the most important books in modern urbanism.

Speck calls his new book “an effort to weaponize Walkable City for deployment in the field.”  War metaphors are appropriate, especially in the US, where so many pedestrians die on the roads, and so many more are forced to drive because it’s too scary to walk.

These rules are practical interventions in the decisions that local governments make every day.  As with transit, great walkability is not the result of “pedestrian planning.”  It arises mostly from other decisions that seem to be about other things: zoning, development review, street design, housing policy, parking policy, and even law enforcement.

Imagine Speck striding through your City Hall.  (He is tall, but with a disarmingly soft voice.)  He leans into each meeting, listens for a minute, and then inserts the one idea that those people, working on that exact issue, need to hear.  That’s what the book feels like.

Of course, you want me to comment on his treatment of transit, but full disclosure: I had a small role in this part of the book, including commenting on a draft.  Two sections are based partly on my work and we exchanged ideas about some of the rest.  So while this is definitely his book, written from the standpoint of an urban designer, it might seem self-promoting to single this part out for praise.  Having said that, it says important things and it says them well, in a language that policymakers will understand.

Speck and I disagree on a tiny number of points [1], but overall, this book brilliantly describes not just the challenge of being a pedestrian and how to make it better, but also exactly how to shift each decision to achieve that, in every room of City Hall, and beyond.

Jeff Speck. Walkable City Rules  Island Press, 2018.

 

 

[1] I defend countdown clocks at signals, while Speck wants to remove them.  And while he and I will never perfectly agree on how to talk about streetcars, his streetcar chapter is the most candid I’ve ever seen from someone in the urban design profession.

An “Opinionated Atlas” of US Transit by a Great Transit Traveler

The massive redesign of Houston’s bus system, which has helped grow ridership as many US transit agencies are losing riders, would not have happened without Christof Spieler. Within the Houston METRO Board, he was the one member who rode transit, thought constantly about transit, brought professional credentials as an urban planner, knew what needed to be done, and knew how to argue for it to people of many different ideologies and cultural backgrounds.  The Board, which was itself ideologically and culturally diverse, was inevitably guided in part by his expertise, passion, and patient persistence.

Since then, Christof has been traveling the US, studying and thinking about transit.  Every week, it has seemed, he tweets from some new city.  Finally, all that thinking has come together as Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit.  

The first two parts of the book are a sensible explanation of what good transit planning is:  Think about people rather than technologies.  Think about networks rather than lines or corridor projects.  Think about frequency rather than just speed.  These are arranged in simple one-topic pages, with a summary paragraph and bullet points — ideal for skimming.

Christof’s map of Los Angeles. Note what a small area has frequent service both north-south and east-west. (Orange lines are frequent buses, and all rail is frequent except the purple commuter rail lines.) (Island Press, 2018)

But it’s the third part, the atlas, that will really suck you in.  For the 50 largest metro areas in the US that have rail or Bus Rapid Transit (that’s everything bigger than Fort Collins, Colorado or Eugene, Oregon) he provides a loving description of the city’s network, its demand pattern, its recent history, and its issues.  Denizens of each city may disagree with what Spieler chooses to emphasize, but he certainly will start a lively conversation, not just within cities but about the comparisons between them.

What’s new about this atlas?  Spieler shows you the frequent bus network for every city, thus helping you see not just where trains go, but where people can go easily.

Christof’s map of Chicago at the same scale. Note the substantially larger area with both north-south and east-west frequent lines. (Island Press, 2018.)

For example, his Los Angeles map reveals that despite the vast area of moderate density in that city, a complete frequent grid (with both north-south and east-west lines near most people) exists only in a tiny area of about 7 x 7 miles (the size of San Francisco), extending roughly from downtown to the edge of Beverly Hills and from the Hollywood Hills to just south of I-10.  Everything else, including highrise centers like Century City, Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena as well as vast areas of mostly 2-3 story housing, has frequent service in only one direction, if at all.  Another map of Los Angeles includes densities, and shows how much high-density area lies outside the frequent network entirely.

Spieler’s map of Chicago, by contrast, shows  a remarkably complete grid over very similar densities in a city with even fewer major destinations outside of downtown.

Spieler’s book is perfectly designed to be both readable and browsable — a great gift for an urbanist or transport geek and a great book for the coffee table.  You can read around in for a long time, exploring different cities, their strengths and their missed opportunities.  Let’s hope it produces a smarter conversation about urban transit.

Christof Spieler:  Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit: Island Press, 2018 

 

Sydney: The Committee for Sydney Podcast

While I was in Sydney last week I didn’t have a public event, but I did do this podcast, interviewed by Committee for Sydney’s Eamon Waterford.  Not the best sound quality, but it might be interesting.  It’s here.

Auckland: Let’s Talk about Freedom on 22 November!

I’m in Sydney and Melbourne the next two weeks, but sadly have no public events booked.  After that, though, I’ll be in Auckland, New Zealand.

I’m really honored to be invited back to Auckland City Council’s Auckland Conversations series, 5:30-7:00 PM on 22 November.  I’ll talk about “Transport Planning as Freedom Planning.”  Sign up to attend here!  It looks like there will be a livestream here.

The City Council’s website also did a nice little interview of me.

The event will include a panel featuring Jessica Rose from Women in Urbanism Auckland, the City’s senior hearings advisor Eddie Tuiavii, Auckland Transport Manager of Strategic Projects Daniel Newcombe, and my old friend Ludo Campbell-Reid, the head of Auckland’s Design Office and its official Design Champion (great title!)

Auckland has just finished rolling out a new bus network that I helped design back in ’12, and is one of the most exciting cities anywhere for public transport and sustainable urbanism right now.  I’m looking forward to riding some buses there!

Welcome, Atlantic Readers

If you’ve just landed from my piece on “microtransit” at the Atlantic, welcome!  Here are a few key things that will help you understand where that piece was coming from:

And for the big picture of what I’m about, try the introduction to my book!

Job: Come Work for us! Transit Analyst Position. Apply before Nov 15!

You get to draw cool visualizations, and invent new ones!


Our firm has a fulltime opening for a transit analyst.  (Also, watch this space for a senior planner and project manager position to be posted soon!)

Here are the details:

Jarrett Walker and Associates is a consulting firm that helps communities think about public transit planning issues, especially the design and redesign of bus networks. The firm was initially built around Jarrett Walker’s book Human Transit and his 25 years of experience in the field. Today, our professional staff of nine leads planning projects across North America, with an overseas practice including Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand.

You can learn about us at our website (jarrettwalker.com) and at Jarrett’s blog (HumanTransit.org). For a sense of our basic approach to transit planning, see the introduction to Jarrett’s book Human Transit, which is available online. For a typical report of ours, showing some of the analysis we do, see here.

We are seeking a transit analyst based in Portland, Oregon, or Arlington (Crystal City), Virginia.  The position offers the potential to grow a career in transit planning. As a small firm, we can promote staff in response to skill and achievement, without waiting for a more senior position to become vacant.  Everyone pitches in at many different levels, and there are many opportunities to learn on the job.

Duties include a wide range of data analysis and mapping tasks associated with public transit planning.

Required Skills and Experience

For this position, the following are requirements. Please respond only if you offer all of the following:

  • At least two years of professional experience using the skills listed in this section, OR formal training in these skills (such as at a college or university). Directly-applicable coursework is valuable but not essential.
  • Fluency in spoken English and proficiency at writing in English. In particular, an ability to explain analytic ideas clearly.
  • Understanding of basic statistics and experience with analysis and visualization of quantitative and statistical information.
  • Experience in spatial data analysis (GIS).
  • Experience working in Adobe Illustrator.
  • Experience in cartography, evidenced in at least one mapping sample that is clear, accurate, and visually appealing.
  • Availability to start full-time work in Portland or Arlington on before the first week of January, 2019, at least 32 hours per week.
  • Legal ability to work in the US.

Other Desired Skills and Experience

The following are desirable but not essential.  Candidates with the required skills listed above but none or few of these desired skills are still encouraged to apply.

If you have any of the following skills, please describe them in your application

  • Experience with public transit issues.
  • Experience using analysis programming languages (such as R).
  • Experience with qGIS, Remix or InDesign software.
  • Experience in advanced database analysis. (Postgres/PostGIS, MySQL, etc)
  • Expertise with transit-focused routing software, such as OpenTripPlanner.
  • Experience describing issues from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of different types of people, and different professions.
  • Graduate degree in urban planning, transportation, or a related field.
  • Foreign language ability. Spanish is especially useful but other language skills are valued as well.
  • Experience working with minority and disadvantaged communities.
  • Experience managing small teams.
  • Experience and comfort in public speaking.

Compensation, Benefits and Place of Work

Compensation will depend on skills, but will start in the range of $25-32/hour depending on skills and experience.  Raises of over 10% in the first year are typical for excellent work.  Our benefits program includes medical, dental, and disability insurance; a 401(k) program; subsidized transit passes; paid sick leave; and paid time off.

This position will require working out of either our Portland, Oregon, office or our Arlington, Virginia, office. JWA does allow employees to set work schedules that include working from home or other locations.  This position requires travel, to work with clients directly, at least a few times per year.

How to Apply

To apply, please send the following materials to hiring@jarrettwalker.com .

  • 1-page cover letter, explaining your interest in the position.
  • 1- or 2-page resume, describing your relevant experience and skills.
  • Links or electronic files for up to three (3) samples of your work. If possible, please include a map, a piece of writing, and a demonstration ofa spatial analysis. (A single sample may satisfy more than one of these requests.)
  • Contact information for 1 to 3 references who can attest to your experience with the skills listed above.
  • Please do not include any information about your prior compensation.

We will be redacting from your materials any explicit information about your name, race, gender, or sex.

Diversity and Inclusion

JWA follows an equal opportunity employment policy and employs personnel without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status.

This policy also applies to management of staff with regards to internal promotions, training, opportunities for advancement, and terminations. It also applies to our interactions with outside vendors, subcontractors and the general public. 

Timeline

The deadline for applying is 11:00 pm Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, November 15th. Submitting earlier is advantageous as we will review applications as we receive them.

We will ask a select group of applicants to perform a simple analysis and mapmaking test on their own, and then to join us for an interview. The test will be assigned on November 20 and due on November 27. We wish to hold interviews (in person or by phone/web) on November 29 or 30.

Thank you for reviewing this listing. Please share it with others you know who might be interested. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Come Work With Us! Apply by Nov 15.

You get to draw cool images like these, and invent other kinds that nobody has thought of yet.


Our firm has a fulltime opening for a transit analyst.  (Also, watch this space for a senior planner and project manager position to be posted soon!)

Here are the details:

Jarrett Walker and Associates is a consulting firm that helps communities think about public transit planning issues, especially the design and redesign of bus networks. The firm was initially built around Jarrett Walker’s book Human Transit and his 25 years of experience in the field. Today, our professional staff of nine leads planning projects across North America, with an overseas practice including Europe, Russia, and Australia / New Zealand.

You can learn about us at our website (jarrettwalker.com) and at Jarrett’s blog (HumanTransit.org). For a sense of our basic approach to transit planning, see the introduction to Jarrett’s book Human Transit, which is available online. For a typical report of ours, showing some of the analysis we do, see here.

We are seeking a transit analyst based in Portland, Oregon, or Arlington (Crystal City), Virginia.  The position offers the potential to grow a career in transit planning. As a small firm, we can promote staff in response to skill and achievement, without waiting for a more senior position to become vacant.  Everyone pitches in at many different levels, and there are many opportunities to learn on the job.

Duties include a wide range of data analysis and mapping tasks associated with public transit planning.

Required Skills and Experience

For this position, the following are requirements. Please respond only if you offer all of the following:

  • At least two years of professional experience using the skills listed in this section, OR formal training in these skills (such as at a college or university). Directly-applicable coursework is valuable but not essential.
  • Fluency in spoken English and proficiency at writing in English. In particular, an ability to explain analytic ideas clearly.
  • Understanding of basic statistics and experience with analysis and visualization of quantitative and statistical information.
  • Experience in spatial data analysis (GIS).
  • Experience working in Adobe Illustrator.
  • Experience in cartography, evidenced in at least one mapping sample that is clear, accurate, and visually appealing.
  • Availability to start full-time work in Portland or Arlington on before the first week of January, 2019, at least 32 hours per week.
  • Legal ability to work in the US.

Other Desired Skills and Experience

The following are desirable but not essential.  Candidates with the required skills listed above but none or few of these desired skills are still encouraged to apply.

If you have any of the following skills, please describe them in your application

  • Experience with public transit issues.
  • Experience using analysis programming languages (such as R).
  • Experience with qGIS, Remix or InDesign software.
  • Experience in advanced database analysis. (Postgres/PostGIS, MySQL, etc)
  • Expertise with transit-focused routing software, such as OpenTripPlanner.
  • Experience describing issues from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of different types of people, and different professions.
  • Graduate degree in urban planning, transportation, or a related field.
  • Foreign language ability. Spanish is especially useful but other language skills are valued as well.
  • Experience working with minority and disadvantaged communities.
  • Experience managing small teams.
  • Experience and comfort in public speaking.

Compensation, Benefits and Place of Work

Compensation will depend on skills, but will start in the range of $25-32/hour depending on skills and experience.  Raises of over 10% in the first year are typical for excellent work.  Our benefits program includes medical, dental, and disability insurance; a 401(k) program; subsidized transit passes; paid sick leave; and paid time off.

This position will require working out of either our Portland, Oregon, office or our Arlington, Virginia, office. JWA does allow employees to set work schedules that include working from home or other locations.  This position requires travel, to work with clients directly, at least a few times per year.

How to Apply

To apply, please send the following materials to hiring@jarrettwalker.com .

  • 1-page cover letter, explaining your interest in the position.
  • 1- or 2-page resume, describing your relevant experience and skills.
  • Links or electronic files for up to three (3) samples of your work. If possible, please include a map, a piece of writing, and a demonstration ofa spatial analysis. (A single sample may satisfy more than one of these requests.)
  • Contact information for 1 to 3 references who can attest to your experience with the skills listed above.
  • Please do not include any information about your prior compensation.

We will be redacting from your materials any explicit information about your name, race, gender, or sex.

Diversity and Inclusion

JWA follows an equal opportunity employment policy and employs personnel without regard to race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, veteran status, military obligations, and marital status.

This policy also applies to management of staff with regards to internal promotions, training, opportunities for advancement, and terminations. It also applies to our interactions with outside vendors, subcontractors and the general public. 

Timeline

The deadline for applying is 11:00 pm Pacific Standard Time on Thursday, November 15th. Submitting earlier is advantageous as we will review applications as we receive them.

We will ask a select group of applicants to perform a simple analysis and mapmaking test on their own, and then to join us for an interview. The test will be assigned on November 20 and due on November 27. We wish to hold interviews (in person or by phone/web) on November 29 or 30.

Thank you for reviewing this listing. Please share it with others you know who might be interested. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

My Debate with Randal O’Toole: Video

It was fun to finally meet famous anti-transit and anti-planning writer Randal O’Toole, and spar politely with him in a Washington DC event sponsored by the Cato Institute.

We inevitably talked past each other a bit, but it was a great session.  I only wish there had been more hard questions from libertarians.  Here’s the video.  You can also download a podcast here.

Wellington: Notes on that Newsroom NZ Piece (updated)

According to Newsroom NZ’s Simon Louisson, I am “the US Consultant behind the Wellington bus nightmare.”  Wellington, New Zealand is having some problems with recent bus service changes.  I have had no role in Wellington for the last six years, and did not even know the service changes were happening until I read about them in the media, but I, being a foreigner, must be to blame!

Jarrett Walker, the US consultant that has united Wellingtonians in their loathing for the chaotic new bus network, has also redesigned Dublin’s network and has met an even more rigorous negative response.

The entire article is false and defamatory, so if you read it, please also read this.

Through my employer at the time, the Australian firm MRCagney, I did a project for the Greater Wellington Regional Council on the design of the bus network in Wellington (the city only).  This work was mostly in 2011, ending in early ’12.  My role ended with the completion of the draft network plan.  I had no role in how the plan was presented to the public, and when that didn’t go well in 2012, I assumed it was dead.  That is always a possible and valid outcome of a public consultation process.

This year, a somewhat similar plan was implemented without my knowledge and involvement.  The implementation has not gone well, for a variety of reasons, most of them not related to the network design.  One of the big ones was a decision to switch operating companies at the same time in a way that changed the drivers’ working conditions, something I always advise against.

At it happens, my role in Wellington was exactly the same as my role in the Auckland redesign, which has been rolled out over the last several years to great success.  In Auckland, too, I led the original design process six years ago, then had no further role except to offer encouragement.

But no facts will prevent Newsroom NZ from constructing me as a cartoon villain, through an astonishing series of blatant falsehoods about who I am and what I believe.

Jarrett Walker, head of JWA, is one of America’s foremost advocates of public transport over cars, but he sees the intense reactions of Wellingtonians and Dubliners as a welcome part of the process. His stance opposing ride-sharing has led Tesla manufacturer Elon Musk to call him “a sanctimonious idiot”.

My exchange with Elon Musk had nothing to do with ride-sharing.  It was about Musk’s insulting and ignorant comments about public transport which I identified as an example of elite projection. And while it’s true that I anticipate negative feedback on my plans, that doesn’t mean my goal is to make people upset, as he seems to imply here.  All I have said, in many ways, is what every politician knows: Changing anything will upset some people.

In paragraph after paragraph, Mr Louisson wanders around the internet finding things I wrote that sound vaguely incriminating to him, and uses these to construct false descriptions of my views:

Walker takes a very binary view of change. In his blog he says cities should either totally revamp a network or leave it as it is.

That appears to be a perversion of this post, which points out that network plans have a degree of interdependence that limits how much they can be revised without falling apart.  People who need me to be a villain imagine me saying “my way or the highway,” which is nonsense.  Plans get revised a lot through public consultation, and that’s a good thing.

And anyone who knows me will burst out laughing at this:

His company, Jarrett Walker [and] Associates, is very comfortable with the neo-liberal mantra of user-pays, and a strong commercial imperative underlies much of its design work.

Bonus points if you can figure out what text of mine was misread to fabricate this, because I can’t think of one.  I have always advocated heavy state subsidy of public transport.  As for commercial, that’s a confusing term that I never use myself, because it gives the impression that the only reason to serve lots of people is greed.  (Tip: Sometimes you do it because you want to improve lots of people’s lives.)  And even so, of course, I don’t bring an imperative to carry lots of people, because I encourage each city to think about the ridership-coverage tradeoff.

Mr Louisson formed all these insights without interviewing me, but you won’t find out why unless you get to paragraph 28:

Asked to comment on the implementation of the Wellington redesign, Walker seemed at pains to distance himself, saying in an email, “Unfortunately, I have not had any role in Wellington since 2012, and have not had time to study recent events there closely enough to have an opinion.”

While JWA’s work had involved developing a network redesign proposal, “I had no role in the public consultation at that time or in anything that has occurred since.”

My quoted words are indeed the only words I sent to Mr Louisson.  I was trying to establish that it would not be interesting to interview me, because I could tell him nothing about what had happened to transit in his city in the last six years.

Does this make me “behind” a revised plan, implemented without my involvement or even my knowledge six years later?  And does my unwillingness to comment on something I know nothing about license a reporter to just make up stories about who I am and what I believe?

Remember, if you don’t want your name dragged through the dirt in the media, it’s an easy thing to avoid:  Say nothing.  Do nothing.  Propose nothing.  Change nothing.

That’s why nothing gets done.