Human Transit: The First Year

Well, my Welcome and Manifesto post is dated 10 April 2009, so I’ve been doing this for a year.

I started this blog to provide a source of commentary about transit planning issues based on two decades of experience in that business.  I had no idea whether the blogosphere wanted such a thing.  I wasn’t sure where it would lead.  I wasn’t sure who the audience would turn out to be.

DSC01889 I also wasn’t sure what it would do to my consulting career. Some people in the business can react defensively when they hear anything other than their own official view. A certain amount of that defensiveness is understandable if your job is to get to yes on a controversial project, or to manage an agency that has problems of public image.  But I’ve found that the business is also full of people who want to hear a range of views and to have a chance to think through the fundamental challenges of the job, a step or two away from the battles of the moment.

So rather than taking firm positions on every issue, I’ve tried to use current news as a way of explaining principles and exploring underlying value judgments.  The goal is to help people hold clearer and more resilient opinions on transit issues — opinions that express their values, not necessarily mine.

So far, so good.  This is the 242nd post, so I’ve been posting almost once per weekday on average, with an emphasis on long posts rather than quick links.  The blog is now averaging around 2000 pageviews per weekday and has logged 3666 comments, the vast majority of them constructive and and interesting.  (That’s not counting spam, spam-alerts from commenters, and comments deleted for violating the comment policy.)  I’ve gotten around 150 emails from readers, which are also appreciated.

Google Analytics tells me that so far in 2010, about 2/3 of reader visits are from the US.  Half of the rest, or about 1/6, are from Canada.  About 1/12 are from Australia and about 1/20 are in the EU, with a scattering elsewhere in the world, 124 countries in all.  And everyone loves numerical rankings of cities, so the top 12 cities in readership are, in declining order: Portland, Vancouver (Canada), Sydney, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, Toronto, Melbourne, Chicago and Brisbane. It’s vaguely comforting that the top three are cities I’ve lived in, and that for all my international pretensions, the city I grew up in is at the top of the list.

Reading the comments, it’s easy to get the impression that readers are mostly advocates and students rather than working professionals, but there are many anonymous comments, some of them very informed, so I suspect many professionals are reading.  (The other clue is that pageviews drop by half on weekends, which suggests that a lot of people are reading this at work.)  While all constructive comments are welcome, I do especially welcome feedback from the profession: I explained here how I deal with emails and comments from professionals who need some degree of anonymity.

The friend I stay with when in San Francisco always says: “Remember, in our house, if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.”  It’s good advice; we’re all trained not to ask for things too directly.  But hey, it’s the blog’s birthday, so here’s my wish list:

  • Pass the word.  If you’ve found this blog useful or entertaining, stop right now and think of three people in your life who might enjoy it, and send them a quick email linking to it.
  • I’m tired of the banner, and want to do something sexier.  Is there someone out there keen on donating graphic design skills to build a new one, possibly a series of alternating banners as is the current fashion?  And is there someone out there who knows TypePad’s “custom CSS” code in which all that needs to be set up?  (I’m not a total Luddite, but my BA in computer science was completed the year before the Macintosh came out, and besides, that was three careers ago.)
  • Propose guest posts.  If you’re knowledgeable about something, and especially if you’re willing to step back and take a big-picture view of an issue, I’d love to get a guest post.  Obviously, I can’t agree to use them until I see them, but if you send me a draft, and a short bio, I’ll certainly give it a close look.
  • Let me know what’s important.  If you’ve been reading for a while, are there certain posts that stick in your mind as especially important or useful?  If so, tell me, and I’ll do more of those.  Is there a style of explanation that you found more or less useful?  Say so.  Aaron Renn at The Urbanophile does periodic replays of his more immortal posts.  I might do that too, but I’d rather not be the sole decider about which posts I should feature.
  • Request topics.  If there’s something you’d like me to post on, ask.  If there’s something I haven’t explained clearly, or that you’d like me to expand on, ask me to do that.  At least 1/3 of my posts grow from readers’ comments and ideas, and I’d like that rate to be even higher.
  • Finally, one more word to professionals:  I am a working consultant, so if you think I could be useful to something you’re working on, let’s talk.  If you’re in Australasia or Asia, I’m already in the neighborhood.  If you’re in Europe and North America, I’m there every northern summer anyway, so it’s not hard to build in some on-site time if we plan ahead.  I’m also open to longer-term arrangements that might give me longer stretches of time on-site.

If you have responses to any of those items, shoot me an email.  The button’s near the top of the next column, under the photo–>

And everyone, thanks for reading, and for sharing your own knowledge and curiosity.

30 Responses to Human Transit: The First Year

  1. mezzanine April 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Happy Birthday and thanks for producing a great, thought-provoking blog.
    FWIW, your blog has been invaluable to me as a Vancouverite, where we are still trying to hash out the final lines for our rapid transit grid, and there is ongoing debate about our skytrain technology versus lrt versus tram. your famous ‘streetcars: an inconvient truth’ post helped to crystalize my thoughts on that debate, and I have been posting that link to the debate in the local blogosphere.
    out of curiosity, what sort of response are you (still) getting from that post? that in itself should have a 1 year anniversary post….;-)

  2. Aaron M. Renn April 9, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    Happy Birthday.
    This is simply the best transit blog I’ve read. It comes with the absolute highest Urbanophile recommendation. If there is something more I can do to promote you, just shoot me a note. It took me over two years to get anywhere near the traction you got in one so your trajectory is right on track.
    First class content and superb writing. Keep up the good work – and find me a job in Sydney!

  3. K April 9, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Happy Birthday Human Transit.
    Highlights for me are the emergence of FAE and bringing of BRT discussion into a really great public forum. Congratulations are due to you Jarrett and everyone that makes the comments sections worth reading. Not many blogs can boast having so much worthwhile content.
    Lowlight was the spatial navigator post that featured a pair of feet (I suspect they were yours Jarrett) in socks with sandals. Socks with sandals!

  4. Alon Levy April 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    Happy birthday.
    To me, the highlight is the discussion of frequent networks. Too often, the presumption in transit circles is that the best services should be distinguished by infrastructure – electrification, streetcar tracks, physically separate lanes, perhaps separately branded vehicles. Bringing up service as a distinguishing feature is invaluable to good transit.

  5. Brent Palmer April 10, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    I notice temporary fencing in the banner. Does that signify a constant state of a system’s improvement?

  6. Chris April 10, 2010 at 5:24 am #

    I don’t know if this is a suitable topic for a post but one thing I’ve always wondered is how do transit authorities identify and prioritise corridors for investment in the first place. Are there different approaches to doing this and if so do they give consistent results? I suppose what I’m getting at is how far do the solutions proposed depend on how the question “what shall we build/buy?” is phrased.

  7. ws April 10, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    I’m with Renn, best transit (but so much more) blog out there. Keep this going, please!

  8. Grahm April 10, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Great work over the past year. The posts and discussions on here are second to none in regards to big picture transportation planning issues.

  9. CroMagnon April 10, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Which corridor goes first? Unless you’ve got engineers and technical planners running things, the answer is always politics; usually whichever stakeholder has the most money to leverage.
    Otherwise, great blog! Please continue, we need more blogs like this to get into the nitty gritty and eschew some of the transit hype, marketing, and feel-good urbanism stuff which obfuscates complex issues.

  10. Alon Levy April 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Chris: it depends on the city. I think the biggest issue is whether the plans are for a full system and the question is just which line to build first, or whether the plans are line by line. In either case, the planners usually look at what the most important corridor in the city is, what the most important travel direction is, and sometimes what hits the most destinations.
    For cities that plan on multiple lines, sometimes the first line built is a combination of several lines, which are split as the extensions are built. There’s also a very good chance that the first 3-4 lines will include two lines forming a basic cross-shaped system (almost always north-south and east-west, but Moscow and Rome have northwest-southeast and northeast-southwest instead).

  11. Midland57 April 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Jarrett, love your blog!! Very informative and insightful. Congrats!!
    I’ve lived in Montreal, Vancouver, Brisbane and Sydney and now I’m back in Toronto. Can we please get a mention in your category list? Just asking!
    Keep up the great work!

  12. John April 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Can’t believe this blog has only been around for one year – the level of thought and intelligence in your posts would suggest you’ve been doing this for a long time!
    As a transit advocate/student, your blog has been an invaluable resource of information on transit for me and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for it. As mezzanine said above, your “streetcars: an inconvenient truth” post really crystallized my feelings on the matter; you have a real gift for informing readers rather than telling them what to think, something that feels lacking in most urban planning blogs.
    Thank you for everything you do, Jarrett.

  13. Karl April 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    Happy anniversary from Ottawa! As a former student of urban planning (University of Quebec at Montreal) with a particular interest in transport planning issues, I have to say your blog is the best. Living in a city that’s about to convert part of a successful bus rapid transit system to light rail, I’ve especially liked your articles on BRT over the last year.
    Here’s to many more years.

  14. Graeme April 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    Thanks for this great blog. Your articles on frequencies and making the most of cuts were the most informative for me.
    The insight you bring from Australia is great too; other blogs from North America which look to other places are limited to Europe. For North Americans, I think Australia often provides better lessons for us than does Europe. The Australian BRT articles that you have written are informative. The only Australian system widely known until recently was the Adelaide O-Bahn.

  15. Ted King April 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

    Froehliche Geburtstag !
    I think if you polled your readers you would find a goodly number of rail-fans among us (count me as one such). Most of the transit blogs I read are either local to a particular city or technology.
    My interest stems from having grown up in a rail-fan’s Mecca – Northern California. I’ve still got several excursion lines to bag (e.g. Roaring Camp, Calif.State RR Museum, Bitter Creek) and need to try the Sacto. LRV and Valley-2-Bay commuter lines. Just about everything else has been done except for a garlic run to Gilroy and the wine train (I prefer beer).
    Thanks to you, Jarret, I’ve had a vicarious visit to some interesting transit nooks and crannies. Some of your posts have explained the theories behind why SFMuni is a nasty hybrid of road-runner and ruptured duck.
    Northern California Excursion Lines
    List of Calif. excursion RR’s (Caution – ads on the flanks)

  16. MU April 10, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    Ditto to all other commenters who stated that this is one of the best transport blogs out there. The amount of thought and work you put in is HIGHLY appreciated.
    On topic requests…I would be interested to see your take on how transit systems can better integrate bicycles into their plans to solve ‘last mile’ issues. Even on systems I’ve used that are relatively welcoming to bikes (see Berlin) it always appears to be something of an after thought and the awkwardness seems to discourage multi-modal riders.
    Since I am primarily a bicycle advocate, I’m also interested to hear any thoughts on how the bicycle advocacy groups could work better with transit system operators to improve both sets of infrastructure since they do seem to be mutually supporting when properly integrated.
    Apologies if you’ve covered these subjects before I discovered you.

  17. Brent Palmer April 11, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    The most interesting topics have been frequent-service networks (including the marketing thereof), and the definition of rapid transit. Plus it’s about time someone brought up the issue of the US being so rusted-on to the dollar bill, despite its practical shortcomings!

  18. Tessa April 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    I liked the articles on the grid, on frequent service maps, as well as the focus on service and not just technology. I especially like how you don’t tend to attempt to make up people’s minds, but rather post two sides to an argument. Keep on posting, especially in ways that make not just transit makers but riders better understand our systems and the theory behind different systems.
    And as I mentioned in an e-mail a while back, as I live in a small city myself I would love to see some posts on smaller cities from 40,000 to a few hundred thousand people and what those cities can do to create a strong transit system.
    I have to wonder in your little graph how many readers you have from Saskatchewan. Hehe.

  19. Jason April 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    Hi Jarrett
    I’ve read every post and I love this blog! The volume of your readership is a testament to how thought provoking your writing is.
    I’ll second MU’s request for more articles on the transit / bicycle interface. I was in Canberra when they first installed bike racks on buses. It was great PR, but since they weren’t on every bus, not actually somehting you could count on. I was in Melbourne when they banned bikes from trains, for about a week, until public opinion forced a rethink.
    China might provide a best practice model. Every subway station there has space for parking thousands of bikes. But in the developed world, seems that great cycling towns (Copenhagen, Kyoto) might not be great transit towns (Moscow, Tokyo)?
    congratulations on the first anniversary!

  20. Angus April 11, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    Jarrett – as a total amateur who just happens to find this stuff fascinating, I really appreciate your ability to explain professional concepts to a lay audience without patronising or oversimplifying. This is one of the few blogs where I read pretty much every word of every post.
    I’ll third the request for your thoughts on integrating bicycles with public transport (if you have any!).

  21. Wad April 12, 2010 at 1:49 am #

    Happy 1st birthday to Human Transit. Glad to see the site grew legs after the critique of streetcars.
    Keep up the good work, Jarrett.

  22. Steve Munro April 12, 2010 at 3:51 am #

    Happy 1st Birthday from Toronto.
    I’ve been running a transit blog here for over four years, and know how much work it is to stay on top of a wide variety of issues (not to mention moderating the comments). Your site provides a wonderful combination of professionalism, international outlook, clarity and variety.
    As an amateur/advocate, it’s good to see material like this coming from the professional side of the industry.

  23. M1EK April 12, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Good show and keep up the good work!

  24. Michael D April 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Happy anniversary! This blog is fantastic (as are the comment discussions) and I recommend it highly whenever I have the opportunity. I’ve found particularly insightful the posts about frequent networks, BRT, being on the way, good information as marketing, and others as well. There’s not many people out there carefully considering and explaining the human side of transportation in addition to the engineering side of it.

  25. EngineerScotty April 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    A bit of a belated happy birthday… I just got off an airplane and am thoroughly jetlagged. 🙂

  26. Stuart Donovan April 13, 2010 at 5:31 am #

    Happy anniversary and well done Jarrett; great to have you working feverishly at clearing away some o the befuddled thinking that bedevils modern-day transport planning.
    Your blog has not only provided insight, but also brought different people together from many different parts of the world to create a common sense of shared transit learning.

  27. Pedestrianist April 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Happy birthday indeed! Thanks for bringing your voice to the blogosphere, and for providing the environment for these discussions!

  28. MB April 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Congratulations from Vancouver!
    Your blog, Jarrett, does have a wide appeal a little beyond just transit. It presents very useful information in a well-crafted manner, possesses responding comments from well-informed readers, and has links to other informative and intelligent blogs.
    It’s my view that public transit is one of the most important components of resilient cities. However, a perfectly sustainable community wouldn’t need even transit. It would be full of self-contained walking neighbourhoods where all the necessities of life are located.
    Well, sometimes you have to aim for the rings of Saturn to get the moon. In that light I’d like to see posts that present transit as a melange with urban design, not just any old Transit Oriented Development, but human-scaled urbanism with award-winning architecture where streets are treated with as much attention as buildings, and where great urban public open space is a sign of an advanced culture.
    Perhaps taking a page from Jan Gehl’s work in Copenhagen (where he is based) and in other cities would be a good start.
    Thanks for your effort, Jarrett. I’m looking forward to what your second year will bring.

  29. Dave M April 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Congratulations Jarrett! I’ve also been away for a week and mostly off-line, sightseeing in Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, BC with the family and except for the last leg over Whidbey Island, traveling sans auto and trying out the buses, rail, Amtrak and ferries (many of which I’ve read about in your blog). It was fun, but a lot of work to plan and execute getting around on public transit! I’ve only read your blog for a few months, but find it very enjoyable and interesting, especially your always thoughtful content and careful descriptions of how things work in transit. Keep up the great work and thanks!

  30. Sarah April 15, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Jarrett, I’m a transportation professional working for a Vancouver transportation agency (hmmm????) and I have been following you more closely over the last several months. Really enjoying it, learnign lots and finding it a great way to stay a bit more connected with what is going on in the profession more broadly.
    As for your banner – the blog is called human transit, so i suggest you put some humans in it. What I like about your blog is that it isn’t about transit per se, its about what transit can do for your city.