Does Busway Architecture Matter?

As I suggested in the last post, the decision to replace the Ottawa busway with light rail may well make sense, but that it should not be an occasion for anti-busway triumphalism, as the busway was never complete; the crucial downtown segment was always missing.

But I also think that design and architecture matter, and I wonder if some aspects of the original busway’s design made it hard for people to appreciate.

When I toured the busway in 2006, I have to say I felt overwhelmed, and sometimes a little oppressed, by the design choices.  First of all, the whole thing is very, very, very red.



The screaming red color of every non-concrete surface, including the buses, is helpful
if you’re trying to find your transit system in a snowstorm, but in all, the
Ottawa busway has a very 1970s look — a look that lasted about as long
as 1970s hairstyles.  Portland readers may note similarties between
that curving awning in the last image and the mushroomy curves of the 1978 Portland Mall bus shelters, removed during
the remodel in 2008:


fashions are powerful because they operate subconsciously.  To anyone
with any awareness of design or style — which is most of us — the
Ottawa busway feels intensely dated.  Modernism, which was current then, feels more brutal now, especially as the New Urbanists re-introduce us to the pleasure of awnings, pediments, and brick paving.  Of course, most of Ottawa is a very modernist city, and perhaps the busway fits into that reality …



… but once people start to find modernism oppressive, they’re going to find the busway oppressive too.  This is bound to have some
effect on whether the people using the busway see it as fitting into
their city, and their lives, in 2010.


It’s hard to know how to do this better.  Forty years from now, much of our current design vocabulary — like our hairstyles and clothes — is going to look dated.  I suppose I’m arguing for conservatism in the fundamental architecture of transit.  Lean toward aesthetic choices that have some history, some resonance with aesthetics and values that are more than a decade or two old.  Use public art, rather than architecture, for the more daring and confronting elements that may or may not look good over time.

(Public art can also do much to redeem unpleasant architecture of the recent past.  See, for example, what the Czechs did to their broadcasting tower after the fall of communism.  I don’t recall any public art in Ottawa’s busway stations, certainly nothing strong enough to interact with the stations’ design.)

DSCF7528Brisbane’s busway (toured here, here, and here) copied much of Ottawa’s, but seems to have gotten this right.  The design choices are comforable but not daring.  The most innovative idea in these outer stations is the freestanding individual letters of the station name over the entrance.  It’s catches the eye, but if the next generation hates it it’s simple enough to change.

Other ideas in these stations are mostly about new ways of expressing enduring values.  For example, the lower level platforms feature a glass wall in front of the structural concrete wall.  Between these, inaccessible to vandals, is a narrow planting strip whose plantings will eventually grow to partly enclose the waiting area in foliage.  These choices are safe long-term bets for a city that has always valued its lush subtropical setting.

DSCF7538The architecture of the Brisbane busway is a little conservative for some tastes, but transit architecture (again as opposed to public art) probably should be conservative, because our daily exposure to it makes it a powerful element in forming our aesthetic impression of a city.

It’s always tempting to make a strong stylistic choice that expresses our vision of the moment, which is what the Ottawa Busway did.  But this infrastructure must last for decades.  If our grandchildren decide that what we’ve built is brutal or oppressive or embarrassing, it will make them turn away from an essential element of their city.  Better to err in the other direction.  If our grandchildren find our transit architecture boring, they can add public art that will make it theirs.

UPDATE:  In response to early comments, let me say that my reaction to the Ottawa busway is my reaction.  I don’t need you to share it; I’m not implying that people who react differently are wrong.  Aesthetics is a space where we are all entitled to our gut reactions to what we experience, and the urban architect’s job is to understand those reactions and form ideas that address them.  I also agree with several commenters that postmodernism can be as irritating as modernism, which brings me back to the point that rather than argue over our favorite architectural -ism, we should avoid over investment in any particular -ism when designing long-life transit infrastructure.

Engineer Scotty questions why I focus on design here when elsewhere I’ve emphasised the importance of cost-effectiveness (e.g. in streetcar arguments).  The answer, of course, is that regardless of cost every piece of infrastructure has a design, and the design matters.  There’s no conflict between that observation and a concern for cost-effectiveness.  If cost pressures help transit architecture become more conservative, that may not be bad.  Conservative shouldn’t mean plain or dull, and I don’t think it does in Brisbane.  But if you aim for conservatism and end up with something people find plain and dull, you can come back later with public art.  I suppose you could also come back later and paint everything bright red, if that’s your community’s taste.

35 Responses to Does Busway Architecture Matter?

  1. Wad May 19, 2010 at 3:42 am #

    I think the red motif works well. It’s similar to the San Diego Trolley, and the color motif helps its design identity.
    I think the bus livery looks like a KFC box, though.

  2. John May 19, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    It’s interesting to ponder whether or not architecture could have any effect on ridership. In general, I would expect things like service characteristics and comfort to play a much larger role, but perhaps more people would be attracted to a more visually appealing station.

  3. EngineerScotty May 19, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    I’ll second John’s comments–and throw a bit more gasoline on the bus/rail flames. 😛
    In the context of the streetcar/local bus debate, you frequently point out that streetcars offer no mobility improvement over bus (correct), but often discount certain advantages of rail over bus as not particularly relevant. Here, I’m thinking mainly issues such as ride comfort, which is specific to the technology, not factors such as the fare collection scheme, which really have nothing to do with the wheels.
    And here you’re worrying about the architecture of stations–and in particular, the color of buildings? The juxtaposition of the two lines of argument probably could use some clarification.
    Obviously, branding and things matter, and matter moreso than they ought to. Were we perfectly rational beings, we would prefer a hayride that came every five minutes to a luxury liner that came every ten. But if branding matters, isn’t it possible that the streetcar technology itself is a powerful brand (regardless of whether the branding really means anything)–and that tangible factors such as ride quality matter even more?

  4. Jerard Wright May 19, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    I second the comments thus far. The other thing the Red color station architecture does for Ottawa is keep the costs of maintenance and operations down considerably -taking a more conservative approach- because there’s a kit of parts that the staff have to work with to touch up or replace.
    The Ottawa transitway is distinctive and rather perfunctory as it requires little guesswork as to what the station provides and where it is.
    Similiar to the Curitiba Bus tubes and Washington DC Metro “brutalist” style cofferred subway stations to provide a strong image and brand that is easy to recognize and easier to construct and maintain over time.

  5. Joseph E May 19, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    “I suppose I’m arguing for conservatism in the fundamental architecture of transit.”
    Any huge, public infrastructure project needs to be conservative, or “classic”, in it’s architecture style. Some dated design choices, like those of the Paris Metro, have managed to become classic over time, but you need some level of subtlety and restraint in the design to make it fit in with the current and future city.
    This is one of the problems with busways in general. Historic rail lines are already established in the public consciousness as representing classic urban design, while modern streetcars and LRT vehicles can achieve a sleek, seamless look that has never been realized in a bus, so far (though the renderings always look good before the fact).
    There’s also something a little out of proportion about a 4-lane-wide busway with a median divider. Even a two-track, center-platform subway looks a little daunting in an open trench or elevated station (Center platforms tend to be more pleasant, due to double the passengers in once space); 4 tracks or 4 lanes of concrete with an elevated walkway doesn’t fit in well with the city.
    Burying it preserves the street, but it’s a lot easier to build 2-track subway stations than 4-lane or 4-track stations. Her in Los Angeles, we’ve found that a 2-track downtown subway is feasible for federal funding, but 4-tracks (with dual platforms) would break the bank. That will limit us to 12 or 15 trains per hour per line.
    Now, I would be all in favor of devoting 2 lanes to buses on parallel streets in downtown, like in Minnesota, in addition to the new subway. But it’s not a complete solution, especially from a visual design standpoint.

  6. Justin Bieber May 19, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    I think busway architecture can matter. The funny thing about aesthetics and cycles of fashion is that design ideas come in, go out, and eventually come back in once they’ve been out long enough to acquire cultural weight and identity that can only come with time. Under this logic, design choices that were bad (overly unique?) initially can eventually build a relationship with the public and become a social/cultural asset. While I agree that a lot of modernist architecture seems brutal and unrelatable, a lot of new urbanist designs as they are built today are blandly nostalgic for other places than the ones where they’re installed. I guess that’s partly your point – better to be safe than sorry with public architecture. But while classic, convivial design features can help a non-place to develop a sense of place quicker from Day One, I think there’s another facet of the cultural ‘value’ of a design, which is accumulated over time, in a specific place for a specific community. We have to find ways to distinguish between designs that are just bad and will always be bad, and designs that are going through the ‘out’ part of the design lifecycle, and we have to have the wisdom and fortitude to preserve unfashionable designs that will one day become iconic. The Paris Metro stations were controversial when they were built, and I don’t know how the London Underground logo escaped ‘rebranding’ for all these years. Point being, I think it’s kind of a shame that Portland removed their toadstools. And, 70s haircuts are back, big time!

  7. John May 19, 2010 at 9:40 am #

    Maybe the best way to measure the effect of architecture would be to compare before/after ridership at stations that were recently renovated.

  8. dejv May 19, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Her in Los Angeles, we’ve found that a 2-track downtown subway is feasible for federal funding, but 4-tracks (with dual platforms) would break the bank. That will limit us to 12 or 15 trains per hour per line.

    With appropriate train protection, throughput can go as high as 40 tphpd (that is limit of Prague Metro, with 80 km/h top speed).

  9. Alon Levy May 19, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Without appropriate train protection, throughput can go up to 30 tphpd. That’s the limit in nearly every city in the world, even ones with ancient signaling like New York and London.

  10. anonymouse May 19, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    I think he’s talking about “per line”, which implies that each of the two lines through the Regional Connector will have 12-15 tph, and thus there will be 24-30 tph per track in the two-track subway. But given that the lines feeding into the subway are light rail lines with grade crossings and street running (though not in mixed traffic), I’m not sure you can really do more than 15 tph per line anyway. And if you’re doing something like building a new four-track grade-separated Blue Line, then you might as well build a new downtown subway to go with it.

  11. MB May 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Design most definitely does matter.
    Architectural ‘fashionism’ usually results when there is a dearth of original thought. A lot of people did not like the modernism movement up through to the 70s and blame it for its utilitarian character, but this is without looking at what modernism brought us: for the first time the perception of buildings pierced through the Roman and Greek-influenced facades to the internal structure, and views of the activity inside buildings became transparent and part of the architecture. The reaction against modernism is very much a reaction against the corporate interpretation of it; the earlier works of Schindler and Eames in Los Angeles are pure modernist and are a delight.
    Modernism was followed by a massive over-reaction called post-modernism where ornamentation became the Number One design strategy. Hence the overblown fake pink columns, neon palm trees in Edmonton (which is at 53 degrees latitude), and cartoon buildings with hollow arches of the 70s and 80s. This was to architecture what the Disco Decade was to popular music.
    It is unfortunate that the New Urbanists were so heavily influenced by PoMo and allowed their new towns to become so nostalgic of real 19th Century urbanism, elitist, and heavily regulated to the point most streets do not have dust on them, let alone the odd gum wrapper, busker or panhandler.
    Some architects were infuenced by PoMo, but never allowed it to drown out their modernist roots and their works stand today supported by a sense of restraint. But they seem to be a minority.
    Frank Lloyd Wright and Arthur Erickson (moderists at heart) both used light and site as heavy influences along with a client’s specific program requirements and an honest celebration of materials. Nowadays, the neo-modernists have had much influence and largely ground their works in site history and celebrate the structural assemblage along with a larger palette of materials than in the stripped-down modernism of the 60s.
    Lastly, architecture is about placemaking, not just utility and function. Try to imagine London without St Pancras Station or NYC without Grand Central. These are not only important, functional railway termini, but are beautiful works that have become part of the very core identity of two of the world’s greatest cities.
    The same attitude about placemaking is entirely possible at the smaller scale of municipal transit infrastructure. Brisbane — as so well documented by Jarrett — has many examples of delightful and refined architecture.

  12. Keith May 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    Indeed, the Ottawa busway architecture is harsh, and it has not necessarily stood the test of time. The red may stand out in a snow storm, but the glass roofs make the waiting areas and “walking tubes” especially uncomfortable in summer. To be certain, no special materials were used: paved surfaces are concrete and asphalt, and some of the larger transfer hubs have smallish shelters in the middle of vast paved areas. It’s also worn and needs a fresh coat of paint, so to speak.
    Perhaps Ottawa’s worst sin is the lack of “place” at stations. Other than those at the UofO, the stations landed in places designed only to be reached by bus. They make for an unpleasant walk in car-topia on a warm spring day; I can’t imagine trying to reach a station across a traffic-jammed arterial in the middle of a blizzard. Given that the current busway network feeds buses onto the transitway from neighbourhoods, the future rail system may be challenged to create destinations that are truly integrated with the stations.
    Still, Ottawa’s ridership is impressive by any standard and certainly for its size.

  13. Den May 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    @Justin Bieber, I also miss portland’s “toadstools”.
    To Jarrett: architecture hasn’t looked good for a long time, anywhere. It’s not the style that’s the problem, I don’t think, but the lack of human scaled detail. New urbanism cures the form at a larger scale, but doesn’t really seem to prevent blandness up close. I blame overuse of automobiles: nobody’s going slow enough to notice anything, so nothing worth noticing gets made.
    Anyway, a transit system will be used or not used based on its functionality, not aesthetics. Witness Boston’s subway stations, they look like a bad dream, but people ride the crap out of that system.
    Also: buses are to trains as tents are to houses: no commitment. A campground, not a city.
    BRT instead of rail is like moving in with your girlfriend, but not marrying her. Do you love her or not? Like,quit being so wishy-washy.

  14. MB May 19, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    @ Den: “…a transit system will be used or not used based on its functionality, not aesthetics. Witness Boston’s subway stations, they look like a bad dream, but people ride the crap out of that system.”
    I just wish we had the opportunity to enjoy the crap out of them too. It’s not a matter of resources — the private car sucks the life out of public transportation budgets almost everywhere in the industrialized world — but of priorities. Good architects can deliver delight as well as the on-time-on-budget functional criteria of beancounters.

  15. dejv May 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    But given that the lines feeding into the subway are light rail lines with grade crossings and street running (though not in mixed traffic), I’m not sure you can really do more than 15 tph per line anyway.

    The practical throughput is much higher – total throughput is limited by throughput of intersections and platform length. The biggest frequency at decent speed I’m aware of is 48 tphpd on one stretch of track shared by 3 lines with 5 minutes headways and another 2 lines with 10 min headways, speeds reach full street limit of 50 km/h. Off peak, the tphpd drops to 36 (two lines switch to 5 min headways) and that looks like this.

  16. dejv May 19, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    two lines switch to 5 min headways

    Sorry, they change from 5-minute to 10-minute headways.

  17. anonymouse May 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    dejv: those are fairly small trams, not the 3-articulated-car 270 foot long monsters. And they’re not running on tracks with protected grade crossings: 48 tph in each direction would mean that cross traffic would be possible at best for 20% of the time, which is basically unacceptable, especially for a major arterial, of which there are many crossing both the Blue and Expo lines. It’s really not the same sort of operation as your typical tram system, and is more like a metro, but with grade crossings and street running. Anyway, the point is, the lines feeding into the subway are almost certainly going to be a limiting factor before the subway is, or at least not much later than it. The Regional Connector is needed to work with the lines that already exist or are under construction. To deal with other lines that come later, LA might well need a third downtown subway anyway, and it’s better to put that along a different route to serve more of Downtown.

  18. Jarrett at May 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm #


  19. EngineerScotty May 19, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    One other thought on the subject of design and cultural cues. As Jarrett notes in his update, tastes frequently change, and that which looks elegant or trendy one year will look ugly the next, according to fashions. (Entire industries depend on this; but transit, being far more durable than clothing or cell phones; ought not overcommit).
    But they also vary by location and culture. In some cities, there may be a preference for a particular style, or for a particular technology (such as trams), in other cities, not so much. Many in North America seem to consider the streetcar stylish, an opinion which isn’t likely shared in Amsterdam (where the trams are, generally speaking, uncomfortable buckets of bolts that have been around since the war).
    And, of course, design cues–simple things like a coat of paint–go a long way. I rather enjoy (and this is strictly MY opinion) the primary-color schemes of the Portland Streetcar, which are painted in bright red, yellow, or blue generally; conversely, the various color-schemes employed by TriMet (for busses, WES, and MAX) evoke memories of things such as Winnebagos and/or delivery trucks. This observation has nothing to do with the transit-effective of any of these modes–but simply a personal belief that beige ought to be abolished on transit vehicles. Seattle’s trolleybusses, featured in a prior article here, look nice with their emerald-and-yellow colorschemes; why does TriMet insist on painting its light-rail trains like bread trucks? 🙂
    Your mileage may, of course, vary.

  20. Tessa May 19, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Having taken the Canada Line a few times now, I would say “conservative” is wrong. The line is so boring and plain and ugly it feels oppressive. I would rather a destinctive style that gets dated eventually (i.e. expo line on skytrain) than the Canada Line, which is never and never will be an enjoyable place to wait for transit, even with art, unless they do some serious renovations.

  21. Ron May 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    I agree that transit systems should not be designed to be trendy or fashionable – transit money – what little there is – shouldn’t be spent superficially “revitalizing” the look of a system that is still functional.
    i.e. don’t take a materialistic / superficial view of architecture or style. That’s what led to the wholesale stripping of adornments from classically styled buildings in the past (removal of cornices, cladding with panelling) – and what’s currnetly leading to the renovation of clean-lined “boring” modernist buildings of the 1970s today into multi-coloured kitschy theme-parks.

  22. Alon Levy May 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

    But given that the lines feeding into the subway are light rail lines with grade crossings and street running (though not in mixed traffic), I’m not sure you can really do more than 15 tph per line anyway.

    Calgary’s 7th Avenue transit mall tops at 24 tph, running 3-car LRVs with an option for 4-car vehicles. Its theoretical capacity is 30 tph, but it hasn’t been reached yet.

  23. David in Ottawa May 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm #,+Ottawa+Division,+Ontario&ll=45.396212,-75.752138&spn=0.002531,0.010772&t=k&z=17&layer=c&cbll=45.396157,-75.752281&panoid=jDPHUtkyFW3QvYyXpnpW-w&cbp=13,4.05,,0,2.85
    Above is a Google Streetview of ‘my’ station (Westboro). It looks like a bunker from the street. I’m pretty sure it’s the worst-looking station from the street on the entire system. Excepting Park & Rides and non-station stations (i.e. bus shelters only), it might just be the ugliest station in the country.
    The elevator shafts have even been separated from what one might call the main part of the above ground station (the near side one is just aft of the bus, with the Metropole tower in the background; the far side one is the bunker-like structure near the left with a tinted glass rectangle). It’s convenient in that there are no doors to open, but the cubby holes fill up with salt in the winter. Both elevators have at times been out of action for months at a time, almost certainly related to electrical faults. Because of that I’ve watched senior citizens with walkers having to cross the 4 lanes of the Transitway on the lower level and risk a $125 fine doing so.
    It’s not a BRT issue per se, but… it’s indicative of the mindset that came up with the Transitway concept. The users didn’t matter.,+Ottawa+Division,+Ontario&ll=45.394887,-75.755542&spn=0.001409,0.002693&t=k&z=19&layer=c&cbll=45.394973,-75.75563&panoid=F2CJZdjodK-owy56kCbfuQ&cbp=13,148.366556,,0,0
    This shows Westboro Station from a nearby street crossing of the Transitway trench, complete with dark fencing. The yellow thing on a ledge in the trench is a hand allegedly waving at transit users, installed a few years after the Transitway was built as a public art project… I say “allegedly” because since it’s on a ledge well above the roof of a bus no one on the buses can actually see it.
    The bridge in this picture carries Churchill Avenue over the Transitway. Churchill leads to the centre of Westboro, a village that was absorbed by Ottawa’s post-war growth (pan right). As such this is a major axis in the community. This location is where Westboro Station *should* be and where, as it happens, the community wanted it. But the BRT requirement for a 4-lane station cross section and a bus ramp (it’s just behind the fence pole to the left of the Metropole tower) to allow buses to go from local to Transitway service dictated a location in a former industrial area where there was more space (the corridor itself being a former railway). The BRT requirement for grade separation also meant that the station had to be below grade. So rather than getting an at-grade community-oriented light rail station on one of their main streets not far from the original CPR station, Westboro got a fenced trench cutting the community in two with noisy buses running in it (the rock walls don’t absorb much sound) and an out-of-the-way station that is still not part of the community.
    This is what the obsession with buses on the part of the Transitway’s designers did. They could have run light rail down a former railway corridor, but instead they blasted out a wide trench for a highway for buses.
    And a final image, this time of a nearby pedestrian/cyclist crossing:,+Ottawa+Division,+Ontario&ll=45.393024,-75.758458&spn=0.022542,0.043087&t=k&z=15&layer=c&cbll=45.393128,-75.7585&panoid=pgOshLmla5jCH8ViNq8kBQ&cbp=13,331.28,,0,-7.73
    Lovely, isn’t it?

  24. Rob Fellows May 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    Jarrett, I agree that the design is dated and somewhat overwhelming – but I question the premise. My impression is that the Ottawa busway was a success until it ultimately met capacity challenges in the downtown (not due to bus technology, but to lack of dedicated right-of-way). This post has a different spin – that the busway might not have been successful after all due to its design. Many underutilized transit systems would love to have the problem of reaching their capacity constraint – that’s a measure of success, not of failure.
    I visited Ottawa a few times, decades back, and transit folks I talked with recognized that eventually the system would require a downtown solution. But my impression at the time was (contrary to Den above) that Ottawa had broken with other bus facilities by building real stations. The busway stations were a serious investment and gave a strong sense of permanence and pride.
    Yes, there’s room for critiquing the design, but to me the stronger message was that a serious investment in stations goes a long way towards achieving the benefits of mass transit.

  25. Dan May 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    As someone who grew up using the Ottawa Transitway almost daily, I can attest to its stations’ many aesthetic failings.
    From my perspective the architectural/urbanism problem isn’t necessarily that they’re all virtually identical (kit of parts of concrete & red), but that the stations are mostly very isolated places. The Transitway mostly runs along an old rail-ROW, and even closer to the centre of the city its stations are big windswept (& freezing cold) places far from surrounding development and activities. That, more than the architecture itself, is what makes it feel isolating.

  26. dejv May 21, 2010 at 4:49 am #

    anonymouse –
    The throughput depends also on design of such grade crossings. If they’re every signalled like conventional road/heavy rail crossings with absolute preference for rail and they’re densely spaced, throughput will indeed suffer for both cars and rail. OTOH, if the crossings are futher apart (roughly 400m at least) and they behave as intersections with fixed cycle length, it allows trading a bit of average speed for much higher throughput. With 90-120 s long cycles and single train per cycle per direction, you get 30-45 tphpd limit. LRV phase of traffic lights then needs 15-20 s for clearing cars and another 15-20 s for train to pass, leaving 1/2 to 2/3 of cycle for cars.
    Note that in my example isn’t that far off, because:
    – all trains must slow down to 10-15 km/h to negotiate tight curve at intersection right before the church where they cross with all the car traffic
    – half of trains cross the other lane at the intersection right behind the stop, again at very low speed
    – there are two intersections with moderate to heavy cross traffic and two heavily used pedestrian crossings
    – the photo was taken at the weekend just after the refurbished street opened, so the pedestrian and car traffic is way below usual levels

  27. anonymouse May 21, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Dejv: what about stops. Do trams double-berth at stops, or is it a strictly one-at-a-time thing? That is, is it possible to have two trams stopped at a stop and letting people get on and off at the same time? Even if it’s not something that’s done all the time, the ability to do that can have a huge impact on reliability, because it’s generally dwell time that’s the limiting factor, and this would let you overlap dwell times between two trams. And again, the Blue and Expo lines are a different sort of operation. Your examples work great in their context, but in the context of a 90 km/h line, there’s no way that stopping the train at each intersection to line it up with the fixed cycle is going to be reasonable. The sort of operation you describe would likely be applicable to the shared segment between the portal on Flower St and Washington/Flower, and it’ll be interesting to see how that works out once it’s running.

  28. Ericorozco May 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Don’t restrain the designer! Styles quickly fade …and come back. Even brutalist apartment blocks are known to invoke nostalgia nowadays. I’d rather the design express the spirit of its age. Cities with dated infrastructure and buildings have a nicely layered, well-lived order. To me dated things are endearing. They express a city’s Wanting to Be at a spirited moment in its history.
    What makes things “timeless”, after all, is the context of history and good use.
    As far as style goes, I’d rather designers were bolder about celebrating the journey…that they get the need for zoom and whoosh and translate it for the modes of expression in their age. Of course, it is more important for me that they accomplish acts of urbanism using the draw of the service. Even with bad design!
    For example, my favorite activation of urbanism where it is not expected is a roundabout island transformed into an inhabited public space. Its design is an example of bold contemporary transit architecture which to me is beautiful but is using the draw of the service to achieve greater elegance in removing the barriers of access as a motif throughout. Subarquitectura’s Alicante tram stop celebrates destinations, both local and implied ones, both earthly and fantastic ones.

  29. dejv May 22, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    Anonymouse –

    Do trams double-berth at stops, or is it a strictly one-at-a-time thing? That is, is it possible to have two trams stopped at a stop and letting people get on and off at the same time?

    No, not because of two reasons – the schedules are arranged so that two lines sharing a route are interleaved to double effective frequency and the minimum length platforms (40 m, street configuration doesn’t allow more) can’t accomodate two standard 30m trains anyway. OTOH, the lines split just before stops, so the dwell time isn’t the limiting factor – it’s capacity of intersections.

    And again, the Blue and Expo lines are a different sort of operation. Your examples work great in their context, but in the context of a 90 km/h line, there’s no way that stopping the train at each intersection to line it up with the fixed cycle is going to be reasonable.

    Well I can’t imagine standard level crossing on such line with european kind of time between start of red lights flashing and actual train passage through crossing and US practice of flashing red light just 20 s before 50 mph 200 car coal train enters crossing is for me unacceptable. That way, crossing would be closed 90-150s for each train depending on actual train speed and that would make anything above 10 tph total unacceptable. A bit of average speed compromises for both road and rail can make throughput several times bigger. For example, if the crossings are located right next to stations where LRVs slow down anyway, intersection-like traffic control isn’t that big deal. In addition, limited speed through crossings makes accidents less likely and their impacts order of magnitude smaller, so disruptions after some accident happens is shortened to acceptable 15-20 minutes, instead of hours after high-speed accident where people in car are likely to suffer serious injuries or death and LRV is unlikely to get to yard on its own.
    If you’re building brand-new 90 km/h line, complete grade separation seems to be a very good idea anyway.

  30. anonymouse May 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Oh, so there’s no stops on this super-high-frequency section. That really doesn’t count then because, as I said, station dwell time is the biggest limiting factor. As long as the trams arrive more or less regularly at the merges and sometimes wait a bit to merge in, the sort of capacity you’re talking about is no problem. With stops it’s much harder, and possibly requires tricks like double-berthing. And the limiting factor is going to be the station with the highest dwell time. As for high speed accidents: the train, even if it’s light rail, rarely suffers any major impact with a passenger car. The real problem is trucks, which can cause difficulties even for freight trains. And while grade separation for new lines would be ideal, it’s sometimes quite expensive to build especially when you’re in a very flat area and any grade separation involves moving large piles of dirt.

  31. dejv May 23, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    Those two platforms for single train have similar effect as one platform with double-berthing. The point is, that maximum throughput of street running section is similar to that of grade-separated metro, albeit at lower speed, so street running section of feeder line can’t be the bigges bottleneck of the system.
    The trouble is when any serious injury or death occurs. Such accident always takes much longer to clear, because help to injured is absolute priority and subsequent investigation must be much more thorough. This results in several times longer service disruption. Braking distance also increases with square of speed, so in low speed, accidents are much more likely to be prevented. All combined, high speed crossing hurt reliability. Grade separation isn’t necessity for line with up to 20 tphpd, but some compromises to average speed are generally a good idea, for sake of both total throughput and reliability.

  32. Nathanael May 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    DC’s Metro is *aggressively* brutalist. And yet nobody complains.

  33. poncho June 1, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    I think the westlake station in seattle is one of the most beautiful subway stations in the US… kind of a timeless modern classical. I’d love to see more transit facilities go in its aesthetic direction.
    Westlake Station

  34. Bronwyn June 29, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    I’ve lived in Ottawa all my life and have been taking the buses there for about 15 years. There’s a bit of art in the southern stations, especially Riverside, Pleasant Park, and Walkley. The rest of them? Not so much.
    I agree that the downtown stretch needs help, but skipping stops is not a good method for riders. The reasons that the Albert/Slater strip is intensely useful are that (1) every single stop in the strip is a good transfer point for ALL buses on the corridor, and (2) there’s a lot of businesses and housing along this corridor, so only needing to walk 2 blocks east or west instead of 4-6 is much more convenient and pleasant. I’ve really wondered why they don’t just ban the cars in those streets instead!

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