Leadership from Columbus: A Great Transit Advocacy Website

As someone who designs transit networks for a living, it’s often lonely trying to promote good network design.  When changing services to create a better network, everyone who is negatively impacted complains at once, while those who would benefit (including people who care about the efficiency and usability of their city as a whole) tend not to tune in.  So the political process of getting change approved is often unpleasant to say the least.

I-71NExpressRoutes_GoogleMap-large It would help if every city had advocates promoting basic principles of efficient network design.  For a good example of what this might look like, have a look at the Columbus Bus Rapid Transit Plan.  This appears to be the work of a local advocate who signs comments as “John,” but like Shakespeare he seems to have completely submerged his identity under his work.  I can’t find out anything else about him, nor does he have an obvious place to get feedback.

(And if you know nothing about Columbus, as I did, let the Urbanophile fill you in.  Capital cities with major universities are a great mix for making a town both prosperous and transit-friendly, or at least transit-hopeful.)

John’s site is more than a Bus Rapid Transit plan, although it does have an interesting idea for basic BRT along I-71, from which I took this image.  John also addresses basics such as frequency, Frequent Network mapping, and stop spacing for Columbus readers.

The whole focus is on things that can be done now or very soon.  Successful transit agencies have a continuous focus on short-term improvement that runs parallel with whatever long-range major infrastructure they may be working on.

The value of John’s site is that it not only focuses on the short-term, but lays out clear principles underlying its proposals.  Without that, it’s easy to sound like just another raver hurling statistics.

Does your city’s transit agency think this way?  If so, does it explain its thinking as clearly as John does?  If not, you might want to put together something like John’s site.  With links to Human Transit, of course, where I plan to continue doing articles on the basic principles.

(Afterthought:  My only criticism of John’s work is this little bit:

Freeway BRT is a concept I created that would allow express buses to exit at diamond interchanges, drop off and pick up passengers for transfers to other bus lines, and then immediately re-enter the freeway.

That is, indeed, a good option for very preliminary, low-cost BRT,
but John didn’t create it.  In fact the Portland city bus that I rode
to school in the early 1970s did exactly that at a place called Sylvan,
since replaced by light rail.  It isn’t done more widely because (a) it
exposes buses to the signal (or worse, stopsign) to cross the
intersecting street and (b) many major cities don’t have a lot of diamond
interchanges anymore, especially at the busiest locations where you’d
most want BRT to stop.  Moral of that story:  If you have a brilliant
but simple idea about transit, you’re probably not the first.  But so
little knowledge-sharing goes on between agencies, and between
generations, that you can still be a pioneer of a good idea in your own
city.  In fact, an idea that has a history is usually a much easier
sell than an idea that you claim to have invented.)

8 Responses to Leadership from Columbus: A Great Transit Advocacy Website

  1. Louis Haywood January 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Indeed, my scheme for BRT in Baton Rouge also includes “Freeway BRT” along I-110.

  2. EngineerScotty January 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    Back in the 1970s, a bus could pull off of US26 at Sylvan, take in/drop off passengers, and re-enter free flowing traffic most of the time. Beaverton and Hillsboro were farm towns back then, not girnormous bedroom communities and industrial centers. Today, running busses on the Sunset Highway is a dubious proposition due to the high probability they will be stuck in traffic…. which is why most outer westside busses now feed MAX. The fact that MAX runs at about 5-minute headways during rush hour between Beaverton and downtown makes this transfer less bothersome.

  3. Corey Burger January 5, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Interesting. I live in a capital city (Victoria, BC) with a major university (University of Victoria) and yet we remain transit-hopeful.

  4. Alon Levy January 5, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Why doesn’t the plan include more bus line density in the center of the city?

  5. Louis Haywood January 5, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    I’d also add that Baton Rouge, LA is a capital-university town of 400,000, very transit hopeful.
    One thing I appreciate from John’s Columbus Plan is the naming of each stop on the frequent map. In Europe, many cities have bus maps on which every last stop has a unique name. Paris, Brussels, Marseilles, and several more. I can see how this is more difficult in North American/Australian cities with grids, but individual names for stops is invaluable for branding and coherence.

  6. John January 6, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks for the write-up and links. Since you couldn’t find out who I am, here’s some background.
    I’m a transportation engineer/planner at Jacobs Engineering in Chicago who was born and raised in Columbus. I started that site when I was an undergraduate student at OSU, but haven’t done much work on it since I had my first child nine months ago. I do have a contact link to my e-mail on the site if you need to get in touch. I also post frequently for Xing Columbus.
    As to your one criticism, I kind of guessed that other places might have “Freeway BRT,” but I did think of it independently. In fact, I kind of created my concept of BRT in general in about 2000 or 2001 before I found out that it was an actual thing.

  7. Alon Levy January 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Um, forget my above comment. I wrote it based on Jarrett’s map here, which is only a small portion of the overall map proposed by John, which has decent inner-city density.

  8. John January 6, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification Alon. I actually would like to take the time to update my plans, but I probably won’t have time to do it. Some things I want to work on include more overlapping routes on the highest demand corridors, more of a transit center concept for the outlying areas, and an easier to understand downtown map.
    I suppose it’s not all that important that I update it though since it’s just my fantasy for Columbus transit service. Nevertheless, it’s a more pragmatic fantasy than the ones we post here, so maybe it’s of some value. Thanks for the positive feedback.