Alexandria, Virginia: A New Network Plan

At about 15 square miles, the City of Alexandria is relatively small, but it is firmly within the core of the Washington metropolitan region with key job centers like the large Department of Defense facility at Mark Center, a historic Old Town that draws many tourists, burgeoning employment centers like Eisenhower East, and many leafy suburban neighborhoods. It grew and changed dramatically, along with the rest of Washington region, in the latter half of the 20th Century, much of it in an auto-oriented design. And like many of the inner suburban areas of the Washington region, Alexandria is trying to find its way to a more transit-focused future, because in the nations 6th largest metro area, there’s just not room for everyone to get around by car.

When looking at Alexandria in the context of the ridership recipe, a key feature is that most of the density is around the edges of the city, along the Metrorail lines to the east and south, and along I-395 to the north. But not all of that density is equally suited to high transit ridership. In the western parts of the city, much of the development is auto-oriented, with less connected streets and poor walkability. In the middle of the city is a large area of primarily low density residential that is not dense or walkable. This doughnut pattern makes the transit network design and planning work particularly interesting and challenging for Alexandria.

Old Town Alexandria (Photo: Ken Lund https://flic.kr/p/o5Pgtc)

Skyscrapers_on_King_Street West End Alexandria Virginia (Photo: Ser Amantio di Nicolao via Wikimedia.org)

In that context, we’ve been working with the City, its local transit agency (DASH), and the regional transit agency (WMATA), on the Alexandria Transit Vision since 2018. The City recently released the Draft Recommended Networks that we helped design.

The networks are designed around the policy direction from the DASH Board that, by 2030, 85% of resources should go toward high ridership service. The plan includes a short-term network that could be implemented as soon as 2022, with no new service hours. It also includes an option to improve evening and weekend service in the short-term with new investment. Plus, the plan includes the ambitious Vision Network, a 2030 plan to expand the frequent network and evening and weekend service to substantially increase access across the city, seven days a week.

A major focus of the plan is building up a frequent network from what is mostly a low frequency system with lots of one-seat rides today. That means some trips that a person can make today on one bus might require two buses in the future, but the frequency of service means that total wait time is the same, or less, than today.

The slices of the network maps below show the western part of the city, where today many overlapping routes provide low frequency service to many destinations, but you can’t get anywhere soon with such long waits. The 2022 and 2030 networks dramatically simplify service and increase frequency to expand liberty and access through connections to other frequent routes.

Existing Network

2022 Network

 

2030 Network

Outcomes

The 2022 Recommended Network would increase the number of jobs that the average person could reach in 45 minutes at midday on weekdays by 13%. That is with a network with zero increase in service hours, just reallocating existing DASH and WMATA services in the city.

An 8% increase in service in the short-term (2022) could improve evening and weekend service so more people could get more places all week long. Specifically, it would increase the percent of residents near frequent service on Saturdays from 36% to 65% and on Sundays from 15% to 59%.

The longer-term Vision Network for 2030 would increase job access even more, helping the average resident reach 18% more jobs in 45 minutes at noon on weekdays. Plus, it would increase evening and weekend service, brining frequent service to 79% of residents on Saturdays and 74% on Sundays.

The vast majority of people and places in Alexandria see substantial improvements in overall access and freedom via transit with these networks, but like any change there are some trade-offs. Some parts of the city, particularly in the lower density center, see a decrease in service and also a decrease in access by transit.

These trade-offs were part of the concepts phase where we helped the public, stakeholders, and city leadership think through what goals they wanted to prioritize for transit in Alexandria. The outcome of that phase was the Board policy direction telling us to put 85% of resources toward Ridership Goals and 15% toward Coverage goals.

Your Liberty

We’ve also put together an interactive webmap that you can use to explore the networks and see how they affect your liberty and access to opportunities: http://alexandriatransitvision.com/. The tool compares travel time isochrones for each concept and shows you the change in jobs reachable in 30 or 45 minutes.

In these maps, blue areas are newly reachable with the network concept, purple areas are reachable with both the existing network and the concept, and red areas are where you can travel with the existing network that is no longer reachable with the concept. You can also click the “View Routes” button to explore the network structure.

Here’s a quick comparison for the Landmark Mall vicinity showing the area that would be reachable in 45 minutes with the 2030 Recommended Network:

Screen Shot Landmark Mall Isochrone

The City is working with developers to remake this area of the City, adding new housing and commercial development. With the 2030 network, someone living here would be able to reach 76,800 more jobs than with the existing network. Of course, those jobs aren’t just places you could work, they also represent the shopping, education, recreation, and other opportunities you could reach in a reasonable amount of time.

More Information

There’s much more detail in the Draft Recommended Network Report and at the city’s website, including individual neighborhood details.

If you live, work, or visit Alexandria, you should consider these changes and take the survey about them here. At this stage there is no decision about whether to implement a plan such as this one.  Any final plan will be revised based on public comment that comes in over the next couple of weeks.  That means that if you like the plan, it’s important to comment to that effect, as well.

Santiago: I’m Coming Anyway

Photo: Carlos Figueroa, Wikimedia Creative Commons.

For months I’ve planned to be in Santiago next week, with a brief side trip to Concepción.  I was to speak at the annual joint conference of the Centre for Sustainable Urban Development and the Centre for the Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion.  I had visited the country in 2004, and looked forward to returning to one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Latin America.

So it goes.  Stability can always mask horrors that eventually have to come to light.  Chile’s extreme inequality had reached a point where a small increase in Santiago Metro fares sparked a broad social revolt. The initial outburst was violent, including looting of stores, burning of buildings, and terrible damage to the magnificent Santiago Metro.   The conservative government briefly tried out a confrontational response (“Chile is at war“) but backtracked the next day, apologizing, sacking much of the cabinet, and promising reforms. Today the protests continue as they should, mostly peaceful but with the inevitable scatterings of violence, and the country is debating profound reforms that Serious People deemed impossible even two weeks ago.

But the conference venue is right in the centre of Santiago, where protests are continuing, and the organizers have decided to cancel the conference, because, they write, “at this moment we do not have the conditions to complete the conference as it was planned.”  Instead, “we believe that the efforts of academics should lie in understanding and engaging in dialogue on the problems that confront our country, as well as cooperating to open paths to a more just country.”

I’m coming anyway. I’ll meet with some transport officials, and speak to a class at the university. In Concepción I’ll face the challenge of giving a talk in Spanish, a language I knew almost nothing of six months ago. I look forward to experiencing something even better than stability: a country transforming itself, as few countries dare imagine.

Dublin: A Revised Network Plan

Map: National Transport Authority of Ireland

After many months of thinking about the feedback we got on our draft, a new version of the bus network plan for Dublin is out today!  At this site you’ll find:

  • Links to our revised report, and to the report on the consultation process, at the bottom of the cover page.
  • A map of the revised network.  (Detail about frequency is no longer on the website’s map but is in the maps and frequency tables in Chapter 7 of the report.)
  • Local area maps with more detail.  We understand that the National Transport Authority will be sending these maps to every household in Dublin.
  • A helpful tool that shows how any trip you select would be completed in the new network.
  • A little video explaining how a spine works.  (Here’s a written explanation.)
  • A way to provide feedback or ask questions.

You may recall that the last draft received a lively and sometimes hostile response.  That’s the whole point of drafts: as a starting point for conversation.  The new network plan won’t resolve every complaint, but it shows NTA’s best effort (with our advice) to reflect what we heard, and to integrate those comments into a functional and efficient network.

The heart of the network design, the frequent grid of spines and orbitals, is unchanged, but many services have been added or revised.

We are at the end of our engagement with NTA, so we won’t be as engaged in Twitter discussions about the details as we were in the last round.  But we will be watching this project closely.

On Flying Cars

A journalist asked my opinion about flying cars. I wrote this.  Please tell me where I’m wrong.

For every technology pitch, you must ask not just “what is this like from the inside?” but also “what is it like from the outside?”  All vehicle technologies are sold based on how cool or useful it will be to ride them.  And most of these pitches do not want you think about what it will be like to be outside of them, or to share a city with them.

The issues with air taxis are obvious.  Even if they are much quieter than helicopters, they will introduce a new type level of noise to the city, anywhere near where they takeoff and land.  Their presence overhead in any numbers will have physical and emotional effects on the population.  They will introduce entirely new kinds of accidents that make everyone fearful of the space above them.  And in the end, by allowing elites to opt out of the transportation problems that everybody else in the city is having, they will encourage elite disinterest in solving those problems.

They will be cool to ride, though.

 

Cleveland: See Where You Could Go

We’re excited to share the next stage in our work in Great Cleveland, where the transit agency, GCRTA, has hired us to help think through their goals and different ways that their transit network can be designed to meet these goals in the next few years, and to help imagine what the possibilities may be with modest increase in operating funds in the future. For our readers in Cleveland, our last system redesign survey on is now open.  Learn more about the networks and let us know what you think!

In May of this year, we made a post about two budget-neutral alternative networks that illustrate what the transit network could look like if the agency shifted its focus more towards attracting higher ridership, and what the network would look like if shifted towards maximizing coverage. You can find out more about these alternatives here.

We surveyed the public on these alternatives, and RTA conducted a series of public meetings throughout the county. The result of the public process suggested that many people saw the value of the frequency improvements of the High Frequency Alternative, but that most people would not be in favor of a reduction in coverage to achieve the frequency improvements.

Based on this input, we worked with RTA staff to design two network concepts that illustrate how the network could look if it were designed with a slightly greater emphasis on generating high ridership, but without reducing the overall coverage area from today.  These networks illustrate for the stakeholders and the agency’s Board of Trustees the potential outcomes of this policy choice using only today’s funding levels and illustrate what sort of network those same design priorities could produce with additional funding for bus service.

You can click each map below to explore a larger annotated version.

RTA Existing Network

Current Funding Concept

Expanded Funding Concept

Remember, ridership and coverage and the opposite ends of the same spectrum so at the same funding level and without reducing coverage areas, opportunities to add ridership-focused service are very limited.

The Current Funding Concept tries to do this by minimizing duplication in the network, and by making some difficult tradeoffs about where to increase and reduce frequency. While everywhere that is served today would continue to have transit service with this concept, some lower-density places would see their frequency reduced (usually from every 45 minutes to every 60 minutes). Some key improvements include frequent service on busy corridors like Detroit, Lorain and Kinsman (all currently every 20 minutes), and frequent crosstown service on E 93rd and E 105th (Route 10).

These and other improvements are possible by reducing service levels elsewhere in the network. For example, the Center Ridge corridor on the west side of the county would be served every 60 minutes by a branch of Route 26 (which continues via Detroit towards downtown). Today, this corridor is today is served every 45 minutes, so this is a reduction in frequency, but it does come with the benefits of a one-seat ride downtown, and an extension to the new community college campus at the edge of the county (Tri-C Westshore).

Closer to downtown on the east side, low-frequency crosstown services on E 55th and E 79th would be discontinued with this design. Today, because of the crosstown routes’ low frequency and proximity to downtown, many trips along these corridors can be made more quickly by traveling in and back out along more frequent radial services (such as the HealthLine BRT, or routes 1 and 3).  Yes, that would mean having to transfer, but as we’ve explained in a past post, “transferring” can be good!

These hard choices are characteristic of a no-growth redesign; in this case, the network was designed to improve ridership potential and expand the frequent network, within the constraint of maintaining the current coverage area.

The Expanded Funding Concept deploys about 25% more bus operating resources that today’s network. With this greater resource level, this concept can increase the usefulness of the transit network in almost every part of the county that is served. Some key improvements include frequent crosstown service on W 117th in the west and Warrensville Center in the east, and on key radials like St. Clair, Superior, Quincy and Cedar. 30-minute service would be provided on corridors like outer Lorain, W 130th, and Granger where only infrequent or no service is available today.

More Information

RTA is conducting a survey in English and Spanish and public meetings on these concepts now, so if you are in Cleveland, head on over to their website to find out more: http://riderta.com/systemdesign.

We’ve also put together an interactive webmap (similar to what we were able to deploy in Dublin in 2018) that you can use to explore the network and compare some travel time isochrones for each concept: https://rtanetworkconcepts.com/viewer/. In these maps, blue areas are newly reachable with the network concept, purple areas are reachable with both the existing network and the concept, and red areas are where you can travel with the existing network that is no longer reachable with the concept. You can also click the “View Routes” button to explore the network structure of each concept.

Here’s a quick comparison for the Tri-C Western campus showing the area that would be reachable in 60 minutes with the Expanded Funding Concept:

With the Expanded Funding Concept, 30-minute service would connect TriC’s western campus to the W 130th, Pearl, Ridge and State corridors. Since the campus is only served with hourly routes today, this produces a big expansion in the area reachable from the college (the blue area shown on the map).

Finally, much more detail is available in our mini-report, which you can view here: http://www.riderta.com/sites/default/files/events/RTASRSPresentation201909.pdf

A Fine New Guide for Transit Activists

Steven Higashide, Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit. Island Press, 2019.

Why are American cities finally taking buses seriously?  Because, as Churchill famously said, “Americans will do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

I’ve been following transit in America for 35 years, and working in the field for 25. During that time, cities have growh frustrating to get around in, with dire consequences for people’s access to opportunity. But throughout that time powerful people have always been telling me that buses just don’t matter. Development interests cared only about rail or ferries. Technology marketers have always shiften the conversation to new patented things, of which some are useful but many are tragic distractions.  To the extent that buses have mattered to the powerful, it’s often been as a social service — a charity that they give pennies to out of pity but whose functionality they barely care about.

And that’s not even to mention the active hostility to bus service that transit planners encounter daily: the shopping mall or hospital that refuses to let a bus get anywhere near the building, the communities that want buses out, the urban businesses who think that motorists are the only customers who matter.

But having exhausted all the alternatives, American cities are finally rediscovering this essential tool. No remotely functional city in the world lacks a transit system, and the bus is always a critical layer – the thing that goes to all the high-demand places that rail can’t go.  As we enter the inevitable hangover from the mid-2010s sugar-rush of tech boosterism, people are finally doing the math to see why, for a city to function for everyone, buses simply must be allowed to succeed.

Steven Higashide has written a great little book charting the current and incipient bus revolution.  In a skillful balance of facts and stories, Higashide explores what successful bus services look like, and how to overcome the barriers to bus service reform. He interviews the architects of some of the most impressive achievements, and also delves well into the deep challenge of equity and public engagement.

Do I have quibbles?  My only serious one is that I wish the book were clearer about where activists should direct their constructive rage.  US transit agencies are less powerful than they appear and are often not the source of the biggest problems. Much of what they do is defined by their poverty and by the great mass of regulations and labor contracts that form the boundaries of their world.

At times Higashide understates the danger of telling transit agencies to do so many things that everything they do suffers from lack of focus.  Transit agencies desperately need to focus on designing and running good transit systems.  Demanding they take on other battles often comes at a cost to that core business, by dividing staff and elected attention.

For example, Higashide suggests that transit agencies lead on pedestrian infrastructure around stops, a massive task that falls in the city (and sometimes state) role in managing streets. Cities must be pressured to adopt their own transit goals that lead to those kinds of investments, as leading ones like Seattle have done for years.  Just because transit is connected to everything doesn’t mean transit agencies should have to solve every related problem with their own meager budget, as they are often told to do. That just leads to ever-lousier bus service.

But this book is so good in so many ways that I don’t mind disagreeing with it here and there. The messages are critically important. The writing is lively and fun.  You can read the whole thing in a couple of hours, and it’s short and logical chapters support easy snacking.  It’s a great tool for giving you hope, and focus. Buy it, read it, give it to people who need it. It will make a difference.

 

We’re Hiring in Portland!

Once again, our firm has an opening for a transit analyst in our Portland office.  We require strong analytic and cartography skills, but interest and in transit planning is also valuable.  So this can be a great place to start a transit career, especially if you like our work or my approach to transit planning.

See the listing here!  Deadline is November 1.  Please spread the word!

 

10 Years of Human Transit

This blog is 10 years old!  Please help celebrate by perusing the new Basics page!  There, you’ll find links to all the articles I’ve done that are likely to be most useful to people thinking about transit all over the world.  (If you think I’ve missed one, let me know!)

The blog was started by a frustrated American transit planner living in Australia.  Its first two years gestated the book Human Transit (introduction here) which in turn helped create our firm, Jarrett Walker & Associates, which provides transit planning and policy advice.

We’re 13 people now, with offices on both coasts of the US.  We’re proud of our recent track record of network redesigns.  Ridership is up as a result of plans we (or I) worked on in Houston, Auckland (NZ), Columbus and Richmond.  Our redesign for San Jose and Silicon Valley (VTA) goes live soon.  We’re currently doing similar work in Dublin (Ireland), Kansas City, Miami, Cleveland, and (just starting!) Dallas.  We’re also proud of our record in many smaller cities, from Anchorage to West Palm Beach.  And we’ve had some more distant adventures, including advising on the massive Magistral redesign of buses in central Moscow and a sojourn analyzing the network in chilly but friendly Reykjavik.

Some data for fun:  This is the 1225th post and the blog has gathered about 20,000 non-spam comments, many of which have started great conversations and generally made me smarter.  The top countries by readership over the last 3 years are, not surprisingly:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. Australia
  4. UK
  5. India
  6. Ireland

But the top countries by readership per capita (readership divided by population) are

  1. Ireland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Canada
  4. Australia
  5. Iceland
  6. USA

… all places I’ve worked! Not all of this is honest curiosity, of course.  A few people have been looking for things to attack me for. But that’s fine.  No such thing as bad publicity.

You may have noticed the rate of new articles slowing down, and especially this year.   I will certainly never return to the rate of posting of the early days, when all of my surplus energy went into the blog, but I’ll keep writing useful things as long as enough people keep reading them.

How to keep up?

  • You can subscribe using FeedBurner.  (In the bar under the banner above, it’s the symbol to the left of the “search” (magnifying glass) symbol.)  If you’ll click that you’ll see an option to get every post emailed to you.
  • Follow me on Twitter, @humantransit!  There you’ll find every post announced there, and you’ll also get a lot of other commentary.

I can’t say how grateful I am for all of the feedback over the last 10 years.  I look forward to continuing the conversation.

 

 

Miami-Dade: Tell us what you think about these conceptual networks!

Esta página está disponible en español aquí.

Our latest work on the Miami-Dade transit network is now available online, and we’re looking for people from the area to provide their input through this online survey.

The well-respected advocacy group, Transit Alliance, is leading the Better Bus Project on behalf of both Miami-Dade Transit and several of the key cities.  Transit Alliance and the County hired us this year to help develop transit network alternatives that would illustrate what the transit network could look like if the trolley networks were more coherently integrated with the overall county-wide network and if the balance between ridership and coverage goals were changed.

The local newspaper, the Miami Herald, has a good article about the networks and the choices they illustrate.

We previously released a Choices Report that highlighted one of the major shortcomings of the existing network, a lack of a frequent grid. The two network concepts we developed try to build a frequent grid, at least in the core of the network. Below are slices of the Existing Network, Coverage Concept, and Ridership Concept for the core of the region.

And the legend:

The concepts cost the same as the existing network, and they are fully implementable. If everyone loved one of the concepts, it would be possible for Miami-Dade and the cities to make the network changes and implement one of these in 6-9 months. But we aren’t asking people to pick one or the other. We’re asking people to tell us which concept they are closest to, so that the County Board and City Commissions can get input on the direction they should choose for Miami-Dade.

Some other key questions raised by these concepts include:

  • Should the trolleys be changed to make them complementary parts of a county-wide network? Both the Coverage and Ridership Concepts can provide more frequency on more streets because the city and county networks are designed to complement each other.
  • Should bus stops be placed farther apart so buses can go faster and people can get where they are going faster. Today, stops are about 1/8 of a mile apart. Both the Coverage and Ridership Concepts assume that stops are spaced about ¼ mile.
  • And, of course, how should the region balance the competing goals of ridership and coverage?

So if you know anyone in Miami-Dade County, send them to the project website to explore and express their views.  Encourage them to peruse the Concepts Report. And if you’re interested in reforming bus networks in general, watch the conversations around the concepts and the ultimate decisions by the local elected leaders. As with every network redesign we do, these concepts are here to help people decide what values they want transit to prioritize. We can help the community understand the options and the outcome, but it’s ultimately their decision.