dissent of the week: stop spacing and transit’s multiple goals

Ben Smith from Toronto defends closely-spaced stops, on my post on imagining cities without mobility, which suggests the need to focus more on widely-spaced "rapid transit" stops. 

I'd like to be the devil's advocate for a minute and defend somewhat tighter stop spacing. Think of transit as an elevator: You're on the 7th floor and decide to walk up to the 8th floor, and feel that having the elevator stop there is a waste. However, someone who is getting on at the ground floor may also want to get off at the 8th floor, so having a stop there isn't a waste.

I'm not trying to say that transit should stop at everyone's doorstop, but there is a case for having a more local oriented transit with SOMEWHAT frequent stops. However, if demand and density is having your transit vehicle stop every 100m with a large number of passengers boarding at each stop, then it makes sense to use a higher-order transit vehicle with wider stops.

The easy answer to this is that if you can walk from the 7th floor to the 8th floor to get from one to the other, you can take the same walk from an express elevator that stops only at the 7th.  But that may be too easy. 

I personally am willing to walk as far to useful rapid transit (for a long trip across the region) as I will to a final destination.   My personal mode choice algorithm (as far as I understand it) is that I want to (a) minimize total travel time and also (b) get exercise and (c) avoid waiting and especially passive uncertainty.   So I'm as willing to walk the same distance to a place regardless of whether that place is my destination or I'm planning to catch rapid transit there.

Does my philosphical viewpoint on this depend too much on my own abilities and preferences?  In other words, am I assuming that secretly everyone wants to be just like me?  And if so, am I doing this more than anyone else does?

Obviously, as always, we need to recognize a portion of the population that can't walk far, but at the same time we have two widely articulated policy goals that push the other way:

  1. health goals that support encouraging people to walk if they can. 
  2. sustainability goals that require transit with highways rather than with walking and cycling, which means competing for the trip that is well beyond most people's walking distance

Those considerations lead me to a provisional view that the main prioirty for public transit investment needs to be rapid transit that's worth walking to, not slow transit that stops near everyone's door and that looks intimate and friendly in a New Urbanist mainstreet.  That was the core of my argument with Patrick Condon.

Obviously, there need to be mobility options for senior and disabled persons who have greater need for short-distance transit.  There are also other logical markets for short-distance trips where very high frequency is possible (recalling that waiting time is often the disincentive for short trips) such as downtown shuttles. 

But right now, a lot of transit (in North America especially) seems designed to compete with walking, rather than with the car.  Do we have the balance right?

UPDATE!  Ben Smith, the author of the dissent, has had an epiphany!

39 Responses to dissent of the week: stop spacing and transit’s multiple goals

  1. Annonymous April 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    Great post! As a bus rider in Seattle, I’ve slowly worked out the rule of thumb that in most situations, the minimum distance worth riding a bus is approximately 2 miles and for anything less than that, it’s faster (or at least less stressful) to simply walk or run to my destination. When I have my bike with me, the minimum distance worth taking a bus for increases to about 5-10 miles, except for special situations.
    Similarly, for longer trips that I do use the bus system for, I will commonly walk or run up to 2 miles to turn a 2-seat ride into a 1-seat ride, or a 3-seat ride into a 2-seat ride.
    For trips in the 2-4 mile range, I will often walk or run the whole way one direction, then take the bus back in the opposite direction.
    This style of bus riding demands fast, frequent, and reliable routes along major corridors, but de-emphasizes the minimization of walking distance. This is very different from the traditional approach which claims that the line 1/4 mile away is usable, while the line 1 mile away is not usable without a connecting bus to get to it.

  2. In Brisbane April 10, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Get a bicycle!
    Put bicycle racks at bus stops. Problem solved.
    Maybe we can cycle the last mile.

  3. Nicholas Barnard April 11, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    So I’m a bus rider in Seattle. King County Metro has finally started on a process of culling extra stops. There are many routes where stops are within a block or two of each other. This is one thing in a downtown district where it works out pretty well, but I’ve seen this contribute to excessive bus bunching, which I hate. Its an inefficient use of resources.
    I’d agree with Ben Smith if you could put the close in stops, and keep the spacing between runs evenly spaced during peak times, but that is pretty tough, and unlikely to happen.

  4. Richard Emerson April 11, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    This strikes me as an issue where PRT could make a big difference, since vehicles wouldn’t be required to visit stops which weren’t relevant for their occupants.
    I’m a fairly new reader here (and not a transit specialist by any means), and I haven’t seen any mention of PRT on this blog. Is it considered to be a Bad Idea, or just irrelevent because no-one’s stuck their neck out to build a good one? Just asking 😉

  5. John April 11, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    “But right now, a lot of transit (in North America especially) seems designed to compete with walking, rather than with the car. Do we have the balance right?”
    I think the balance is off, and I think it’s largely a legacy of the streetcar era, when transit only needed to be faster than walking to draw a huge mode share. In that situation, minimizing walking distance made sense. Then the competition changed when cars came along and average trip distances increased. The streetcars were removed, but nobody ever bothered to change the stop spacing. Now transit isn’t time-competitive, and in most cities it serves only the transit-dependent and niche markets like express routes to the CBD.

  6. ant6n April 11, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    I think there’s a certain ridership threshold:
    If there are fewer passenger boardings per run than rapid transit stops along the line, then the consolidation of local stops into rapid transit stops might have basically no effect — if only one person gets on/of at a stop anyway, then it doesn’t matter whether there are a lot of local stops that just get skipped. This may be relevant for example for night bus routes, where a lot of the stops tend to get skipped.

  7. Nate Wessel April 11, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    I think it’s problematic to have increased walking as an objective. It seems patronising, and is only desirable in the short term. Once people got in shape, would more stops be added?
    Walking’s great and all, but it takes time and adding it to a transit trip seems arbitrary. Why not seek regulations to increase the distance from the door to the bank teller’s window too? That would serve the same purpose.

  8. Brendan H April 11, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    I guess my question would be how wide are we talking exactly? In a Toronto context “wide spacing” can mean only stopping every two kilometres at the major grid streets, like on the Eglinton-York Mills section of the Yonge subway. For me that just feels way too far.
    If 1km (like on Allen Road) or 650m (like the Jane-Bathurst stretch of Bloor) is what counts as “wide”, then sure I’m fully on board. But I don’t think I would want to go much wider than that.

  9. Tom West April 11, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I know people for whom the amount of walking is a significant turn-off for using transit. Bear in mind I live in a town where the weather makes walking unpleasent more than half the year (either sub-zero with cold winds, or 30C+ with horrible humidity).
    I think there is a differnce between stops which serve an [i]area[/i] (such as a residential neighbourhood), and stops whcih serve a [i]point[/i] (such as a mall). The former will require always require some people to walk a noticable distance; the latter can be positioned to minimise walking.
    Further, it seems you are trying to use transit to achieve health aims – which is seperate from its transportation aims.

  10. Zoltán April 11, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    My experiences in Leeds and Baltimore confirm the validity of a 400m standard for stop spacing. Rarely do you get to experiment with reducing or increasing stop spacing, but we can look at the sum of the experience of the two cities.
    In Leeds, there have been a number of routes, normally small single-deck buses running every 30-60 minutes, that have stopped frequently and taken local roads to penetrate various neighbourhoods better than the frequent, relatively fast buses on the main arterials.
    These have pretty much all disappeared with time, because people always proved willing to walk about 400m to the main arterials, which is about the furthest you’re ever expected to. My experience of occasionally catching one of the slower local routes is that I would be the only passenger.
    So, this demonstrates that people really are willing to walk to speed and frequency.
    Meanwhile, in Baltimore, buses do stick to the main arterials. But they stop at every corner, just like the streetcars before them, which in Baltimore is about every 120 metres. And hell, are they slow – from Catonsville, MD to downtown Baltimore, I frequently spent 50 minutes to an hour to travel 8 miles that can be driven in about 20 minutes.
    What’s more, it’s an uncomfortable ride, because the bus pulls violently to the corner at every corner, to keep the hell out of the way of traffic. And that’s actually the problem with the frequent stops in Baltimore – while boarding time is a bit more complicated (though there’s a fixed element to people getting up and making their way out of the bus, and people waiting for the driver’s nod to start boarding), you can basically multiply the time spent waiting to pull out back into traffic by the number of stops.
    So what you have is a slow service, and by that virtue, a less frequent service, because one bus can make fewer trips. So, if people will walk to speed and frequency where delivered by different routes, then we can assume that people will also walk to speed and frequency on existing routes when that’s achieved by means of widely spaced stops.

  11. Bronwyn April 11, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Well, here in Ottawa we have long yucky winters, and a transit system that has both types of routes: long distance, fast, few stops, versus local, slow, many stops. Which I want to take depends on what I’m doing and how much I’m carrying. It’s alright to walk the 6 blocks or so to the transitway station to commute to work or visit a friend. But when I’m going grocery shopping I take the slow local route that stops very close on both ends, so that I don’t have to carry 6 heavy bags further than necessary!
    Plus, even young people can be slow walkers, especially when slogging through snow and slush with a long heavy coat. When that’s so, it can be faster to use the slow route with stops close to origin and destination, than the fast route with the kilometer walks at the ends.

  12. EngineerScotty April 11, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Fortunately, the new poster above only spoke the cursed invokation twice, and not thrice. Were he to mention the Hypothetical Transit Technology Which Must Not Be Named a third time, then a legion of gadgetbahn-peddlers would descend upon Human Transit like a biblical plague of locusts. ‘Tis better to have a visit from Cthulhu.

  13. Anne April 11, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Excellent comments here, and in the previous ‘mobility’ thread. I particularly appreciate the observation that we are sometimes building transit as an alternative to walking, rather than as an alternative to driving.
    I think the transit situation Bronwyn describes above – two distinct transit approaches for two distinct situations – is an important consideration, one that I’m puzzled isn’t given more attention in transit debates. From Bronwyn’s post, it looks like sound design considerations were made. I’d be interested to hear what other Ottawa riders think of this two-‘mode’ approach, and what benefits/challenges they find.
    That relates to two considerations I posted about on another thread: “needs analysis” and “fit for purpose”. Rush-hour commuters, for the most part, have rapid mobility transit requirements. Most (but not all) mid-day commuters (e.g. retirees, parents with young children/strollers, etc…) have increased local mobility requirements. I’ve never understood why some transit planners feel that we have to choose one over the other. Any community can have needs for both, and many systems successfully interleave them, as in Bronwyn’s example.
    Both may run less frequently as a result. But I confess that I don’t get the fixation with ‘frequency’. Admittedly, I grew up in the country where my exposure to buses was limited to the school bus. It came twice a day only, once in each direction, you knew what time it was coming, and if you missed it your options were to get your parents to drive you, or walk (which never happened – it was eight miles to school). So you planned accordingly. Every old B&W English movie shows people looking at the timetable to plan their trips and their connections. Is that really such an invalid approach?
    Years ago I visited a friend in Edmonton (midwinter) and I remember clearly how he had the local bus schedule taped to the inside of his cupboard door. It didn’t really matter that the bus only ran every 30 minutes; you knew exactly when it was coming because they kept to their schedules, and you could plan your life around it. At -40 degrees (which is the same in Celius and Farenheit) knowing exactly when your bus is coming is far preferential to waiting for variable headway any day. Here in Toronto I gave up the unreliable variable headway local-service ‘frequent’ streetcar to pay double fare for the less frequent (approx. 20 minutes) express bus – because I knew exactly when it was leaving, I could plan my morning schedule to the minute, and I got to work quickly and reliably.
    Re: needs analysis, the needs of my 80 year old in-laws to shop locally, or access medical services across town, are very different than
    my own needs to commute to work. They can’t walk far, but are just fine to drive. They used to drive to the subway parking lots midday to get themselves downtown to medical appts. And they chose to have tests done at Toronto Western, because it has good transit connections between the subway and the hospital (streetcar). But then the city, in all its wisdom, shut down some of the parking lots, because transit planning seems to be about PC ideology these days, and that ideology says that you have to take either transit OR the car, but not a combination. All of those transit advocates in Toronto should find an 80 year old to accompany to Toronto General, Princess Margaret, Mt. Sinai, or Scarborough Centenary Hospitals to see just how accessable they truly are. One of my in-laws was ill recently, and I’m thankful that we had recently given up on our local only transit system and bought a second car.
    Getting back to rush hour commuters, Ben and the TC transit advocates have neglected to mention a very important point: Toronto has one of the highest commute times in North America, if not the world. And, according to studies by Statistics Canada, transit riders are the ones who overwhelmingly bear the brunt of that.
    So, great topic Jarett. Glad to see it getting some discussion.

  14. Anne April 11, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    “Were he to mention the Hypothetical Transit Technology Which Must Not Be Named a third time … ‘Tis better to have a visit from Cthulhu.”
    Hmmm. Wasn’t the “Beetlejuice” express a PRT?

  15. EngineerScotty April 11, 2011 at 11:46 am #


  16. David Paschich April 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    The thing that struck me about the dissent is the comparison between an elevator system and a transit system. I think the comparison doesn’t hold water, unless you have a transit system where:
    * The longest possible time in transit is 3 minutes.
    * Vehicles show up on demand, within 3 minutes.
    * Each vehicle has its own dedicated right-of-way, not shared with anything else – even other vehicles!
    * Most trips start or end at one end of the system (ground floor).
    Even then, you see optimizations in the taller buildings where some vehicles serve the terminus and a few closely spaced stops; or there are express and local vehicles.

  17. mika April 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    In specific implementation, stop spacing needs – or rather pros and cons – are impacted by placement as much as distance. Proximity when traveling with groceries has been mentioned. Visibilty – can you see the next bus coming, or that you’ve missed it? Is it safe or even efficient to cross a busy street at the closest stop or better to use a stop further away at a major intersection? If the bus stopping blocks or impedes a traffic lane, does vehicle traffic flow better (efficiency, safety) with the stop just before or just after an intersection? (I prefer stops after intersections but haven’t examined why that might be).
    So many factors, and improving travel time by reducing the number of stops could sometimes be achieved without making people walk more than they already were. Would fewer stops have a significant influence on reliable scheduling, which has been pointed our a possibly more valuable than frequency?

  18. Zoltán April 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Issues with predictable low frequency services are betrayed by my having lived in a rural area that provided exactly that. There was one regular bus that ran at a schedule precisely every two hours, with timepoints every few miles. I knew exactly when to leave the house for it, but that’s about all that could be said for it.
    Say I wanted to get to a meeting in Penrith at noon. I had to get a bus at 10:33, arrive in Penrith at 10:58, and then find something to do for more than an hour. Say it ended at 1:00, another hour to wait to get back.
    Say I wanted to go on to another town. Then I’d tend to have to wait half an hour or more to make the connection.
    All of this was much worse on winter evenings, when nothing would be open and it would be really cold – so much for that setup being so great in cold winters!
    And leaving the end of my road at predictable times wasn’t even that great. If I couldn’t find my keys, my wallet, etc., then I’d get into a panic trying to find them before that precise time that I had to leave the house – rather than, as with where I live now, just getting the next in 20 minutes and being a little late.

  19. anonymouse April 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I think there’s room for both rapid service with infrequent stops on the main arterials and service making local stops on the side streets. But it need not be an equal level of service for both. Passengers who are particularly sensitive to walking distance would have to wait longer for a less frequent service that gets them exactly where they’re going.
    Take, as an example, the now-defunct 26 Valencia bus in San Francisco. It ran a long block away from Mission Street, which has one of the busiest bus corridors in San Francisco. So why would anyone wait for the 26? Well, if you’re lugging an old computer monitor, it might not be the best idea to try to get on the 14 or 49, which tend to be very crowded. Likewise if you’re elderly and would prefer to sit. But in those cases, you’d be willing to wait for a while to get a bus that gets you closer to your destination and is less crowded. Of course all this only works in a place where there are already enough resources to provide frequent service on the main routes.

  20. Zoltán April 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    By the way, I think that we can overestimate the number of people that can’t walk quite 400m but can reasonably use mainstream public transport, as opposed to the sort of “mobility” service most areas provide. Let’s think of taking a bus.
    You have to stand at a stop while you wait. You have to walk down the bus to get a seat, and it might be in motion at the time. You might have to stand. And you probably have more than one activity in mind at your destination, which might require walking between locations.
    As such, those whose mobility and needs match up perfectly with an ability to walk, say, 200 metres, to take a bus, and to walk 200 more metres, but not to walk 400 metres, almost certainly exist as only a very, very narrow part of the spectrum of ableness and mobility.
    Here we see the difference between service reform in the face of budget reduction and service reform simply as a reallocation of existing resources. Were the 26-Valencia withdrawn as part of the latter, the resources going on providing it could have instead gone to more seating capacity on the Mission routes
    However, there certainly is some benefit in providing your local services on streets penetrating neighbourhoods better than the arterials. Here – http://nqrw.blogspot.com/2011/04/baltimores-quickbus-and-tradeoffs-made.html – you’ll see a map extract showing the limited-stop 40 on an arterial in Baltimore, and the way that the local buses meander around the nearby neighbourhoods. Where the street layout means there can sometimes be quite a walk to reach the arterial, this is particularly appropriate.

  21. anonymouse April 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    @Richard Emerson as far as I’m concerned, the idea of PRT is just that: an idea. There aren’t any particularly compelling examples of real-world implementations, and until there are, it’s not really relevant to discussions of solutions problems of urban bus networks, seeing as most solutions are considerably cheaper, simpler, and better understood.

  22. Aleks Bromfield April 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    @Richard Emerson: The elevator example lends itself very well to PRT, since elevators *are* PRT — except in very large buildings, they’re on-demand, point-to-point service. They just happen to be vertical.
    This works, because elevators have very low per-ride costs (no operators, very little energy), and sparse demand (so you can have on-demand service without congestion). But for most cities which have bothered to build transit at all, the demand on transit corridors is already so high that any kind of PRT service would be overwhelmed.
    There’s something to be said for *allowing* demand-responsive service. For example, King County Metro (Seattle) has a “night stop” policy of allowing you to exit the bus anywhere along the route, even if it’s not officially a stop. You could imagine doing something similar for boardings, either with something high-tech (request a bus using a smartphone), low-tech (distribute reflective flags that passengers can use to wave down a bus), or a combination of both. But ultimately, those solutions only work for places and times with low transit demand.
    @Anne: You’ve perfectly described the problem space for commuter-oriented transit. If you make the same trip on a daily basis, then as you’ve pointed out, it’s great to optimize for speed and to assume that people will consult a schedule. But modern urban life inevitably generates a number of spontaneous trips. What if I’m at home, and my friend calls me up and asks if I want to meet her at a coffee shop in 15 minutes? For trips like that, infrequent scheduled services might as well not exist.

  23. Zoltán April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    @ Aleks Bromfield @Anne
    Actually, she perfectly described the problem space for morning commuting. There’s evidence that while most people have to get in for the same time every morning (or begin shifts at fixed times), they often finish work at slightly varying times and therefore prefer frequency in the evening. Consider that:
    – While most peak express routes around Leeds have now been withdrawn in favour of more frequent local buses, I can think of at least three routes that ended their lives as single trips in the morning, with no afternoon equivalent.
    – On the remarkably friendly commuter rail line from DC to Baltimore Camden station, if you ask after someone, they’ll often be referred to by the morning train they take – “He’s an 8:26 person”; “Oh, she takes the 6:53”. Meanwhile, which of the half-hourly trains you’ll find particular people on in the afternoon varies more often than not.

  24. Scott Wood April 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Zoltán, you can underestimate the number of such people as well. It’s not simply a question of “can walk X meters but not X+Y”. Things to consider:
    – whether all the walking is done at once, or is broken up (a little before the bus, a little at the destination, a little after the return trip)
    – whether standing bothers the person nearly as much as walking a long distance
    – it may be a continuum of greater difficulty and more pain as the distance increases, not a threshold where transit system A can be used and transit system B cannot.
    Whether prospective riders have a mobility impairment or not, if you’re starting with a car-oriented city, you’re not going to win a lot of converts by telling them they have to walk 1/2 mile at both ends (including to get to the street the bus runs on), in bad weather, while carrying things, etc. Even for slow, local transit, in most U.S. cities, you’re competing with driving, not just/mainly walking. Especially if the area is not particularly pedestrian-friendly.
    There’s also diminishing returns; going from every block to every other block is going to speed you more than going from every two to every three, going from three to four even less, etc. Every other block seems about right to me for local service, unless the blocks are particularly short.
    Rapid transit is a different situation, of course, and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all spacing answer there. I don’t think rapid transit should be the exclusive “prioirty for public transit investment”, though. We need both.

  25. Andrew April 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    Generally I think that local service isn’t very important for transit systems. The purpose of transit especially in a big city like Toronto is to get people around the city quickly, and reduce traffic congestion. It is inevitable that one will have to walk some distance from destinations on side streets to the main road, so walking a few hundred metres extra to a bus stop makes little difference. Toronto’s streetcar system has too many stops, is slow and frequently overcrowded, and is totally inadequate for a city of Toronto’s size. Though very costly I think that if a busy streetcar line like Queen were to be replaced with a subway line with 1km stop spacing it would be a big improvement even without a local bus route with frequent stops. As for moving around heavy items and people with disabilities, this is not the purpose of transit and a taxi or car is far more suitable for this purpose.

  26. Ben Smith April 12, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Wow, I’m honoured that my comment was picked! 🙂
    Anyways, maybe I should put in some distance references in for my example. The distance between “floors” would be the equivalent to about 250m, or about 1/4km. The way most buses stop, in many places the stop spacing can be from 200m to under 100m, so that would be like the elevator stopping in the middle of the stairwell.
    The reason why I personally suggest that the stop spacing should be 250m rather than 500m (1/2km) is to create enough contrast between a local and a rapid transit route. If the local bus stops every 1/2km while the rapid bus stops every 1km the latter may not be fast enough to be of benefit. In lower density areas with less demand, local buses stopping every 500m might work better.
    Then again, maybe I’ve been listening to too many downtown “urbanites” who feel transit should stop very frequently. Living away from downtown, I would not be against local transit stopping every 500m while rapid transit should stop every 2000km.
    (These examples are presented with Toronto-friendly numbers where city blocks are 2km x 2km large. Convert accordingly for cities based around 1 square mile city blocks)

  27. Ben Smith April 12, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    @Anne, for the record I’m defending appropriately spaced stops on local routes, of approximately 250+ meters, not obsessively close stop spacing of under 200 meters. I for one agree with you that the TTC has an asinine stopping policy, and have been quite vocal here and elsewhere that the Transit City “LRT” stopped much too often to be of use as planned. I’ve even been critical of the Bloor-Danforth line’s sub-800m stop spacing.
    Here is my comment in its entirety:
    I’d like to be the devil’s advocate for a minute and defend somewhat tighter stop spacing. Think of transit as an elevator: You’re on the 7th floor and decide to walk up to the 8th floor, and feel that having the elevator stop there is a waste. However, someone who is getting on at the ground floor may also want to get off at the 8th floor, so having a stop there isn’t a waste.
    I’m not trying to say that transit should stop at everyone’s doorstop, but there is a case for having a more local oriented transit with SOMEWHAT frequent stops. However, if demand and density is having your transit vehicle stop every 100m with a large number of passengers boarding at each stop, then it makes sense to use a higher-order transit vehicle with wider stops.
    This comment and its replies are very refreshing. Most Torontonians who support public transit believe in Condon’s theory; that urban transit should focus solely on a local need and feature frequent stops, this includes light rail and metro lines. Any long distance travel should be serviced by the separate commuter transit services. The previous LRT “rapid transit” plan presented by the previous mayor of Toronto would have spent billions of dollars to have trams stop every 400m in low density areas. This would not have provided the improved mobility worthy of this investment. With that said, I do strongly disagree with the new mayor’s position of simply killing the plan, and feel it would be much wiser to try and fix some of its shortcomings than to scrap it and start from square one.
    Furthering on this, I also agree with what some have said regarding using transit to concentrate mobility within the city rather than expand it. With transit fares costing as much as $3 per ride, in some cases each way, why would one take a slow moving bus or streetcar for their local needs when they can simply walk or cycle to their destination?

  28. Alon Levy April 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    @Ben: rapid transit is already differentiated from surface transit in that it doesn’t have to deal with traffic. For example: the M15 SBS in New York makes about the same stops as local subway lines, but averages about 2 blocks per minute while the local subways average 5.
    To be honest, I’d be fine with putting longer-distance travel on commuter rail, as in Germany, if only Canada had the same passenger rail-friendly regulations as Germany. German U-Bahns have short interstations, but commuter service consists of frequent rapid transit-style trains rather than the at best hourly off-peak service that Canada has.

  29. Wad April 13, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    @David Paschich, there is a special type of elevator that does share its right of way with other vehicles.
    It’s called a paternoster. It’s a vertical conveyor belt with a continuous chain of cars moving in the up and down directions in a continuous loop. The device got its name for its comparison to a rosary.

  30. SpyOne April 14, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    To: In Brisbane:
    A bike rack at the bus stop only helps at one end of the trip, and then only if your bike won’t get stripped while locked there (I have seen many bike racks with part of a bike locked to them: everything that could be removed was.)
    A bike rack ON the bus, however, means you can use a bike route that is further from your start AND further from your destination.
    Our local buses have a rack on the front that will hold 2 bicycles, and it seems to work pretty well.

  31. SpyOne April 14, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    Our local bus lines (Hampton Roads Transit) used to do it like this: a bus will stop anywhere along its route for passengers who are waiting, or flag it down, but will only stop to let passengers off at designated stops. Those stops were generally about 200m apart.
    The changed recently: they eliminated half the stops and the bus won’t pick up passengers anywhere else. I don’t know how this affected the system, but it affected me very little. The closest stop to my house is now further away, but I generally walked to that one anyway, since there were usually people already waiting there, and it seemed rude to make the bus stop at every single stop when I can walk 200m more to the next one. Rude to the driver, and to every single person already on that bus, or waiting for that bus further along, as I make them wait while the bus stops just for me.
    Similarly, if someone else calls for a stop at the stop before mine, I get off there and walk, so the bus only has to stop once. Doing anything else seems rude, unless I have a very good reason.
    How far I am willing to walk depends on a number of factors.
    First, we need to remember that we want transit to be accessible to EVERYONE, not just the physically fit. I’m not ready for a handicapped parking plate (and I would probably decline one if I could get it, as others need it more than I), but I have a knee injury from tripping over a seat belt 23 years ago, and just shopping at the mall is going to be more walking than I really want to do. A big piece of why I don’t like to shop at Walmart is that the closest Walmart is 700m from the nearest bus stop, and I have to walk about 500m to get to a bus from my house. 700m isn’t a deal breaker, but combined with a destination where I am going to be doing a lot of walking it is.
    If our goal is transit that allows people to choose to live without cars, we need to remember what that means. Not every trip from the house is to work. Not every trip involves bringing things one can easily carry on a bicycle.
    Here are a few of the errands I’ve had to run in the last year that were complicated by the need to walk a long distance to a bus stop: I bought a 19″ LCD TV at Radio Shack. I bought a new laptop at Best Buy. I have a desktop PC tower that needs repair and I haven’t taken it to the repair shop because I’d have to carry it 500m to a bus stop.
    Now, if you go buy a new sofa, the store will almost certainly deliver it for you. But there are a lot of things that are smaller than a sofa, small enough to fit within most cars, so delivery isn’t really an option, yet you wouldn’t want to walk 200m carrying one.
    Is, “Well, you CAN live without a car, but any time you buy something bulky, or buy used furniture, or just buy a lot of groceries, you’ll want to take a cab, and owning a car really only costs about the same as taking a cab twice a month or so” really the model we are shooting for?
    Now, I’ve seen the flip side of this also. Because all our buses are “locals”, they take forever to get anywhere. A local mall that is a 20 or 30 minute drive is 5 HOURS away by bus. I feel the solution to this is not to replace our existing service with rapid transit, but to add rapid transit service in addition: on most routes there are transfers to other lines about every 15 minutes, and if they added to the most popular lines a bus that stopped only at these intervals, where you could then transfer to a local that would stop within 200m of your destination, I think ridership would go up dramatically.
    Basically, a HUGE difference is made by not just how frequent the stops are, but how close the ROUTES are, too. In Jarrett’s diagram with the overlapping diamonds: what about the people outside the diamonds? Is there another bus route to the north they can walk to, or is the one we see the only one for miles? It can be argued that if you’ve already walked a mile, another 1500 feet won’t kill you, but it also can be argued that if I had to walk a MILE just to get to a bus route, the bus had bloody well better stop where I’m standing.
    Our region is currently dealing with two different demands on its transit system: reducing congestion along corridors, and reducing congestion in localities. That is, can we reduce the number of cars on the interstate at rush hour? To do that requires that we offer a transit service that is FAST, and will quickly get people from where they are to where they want to be. But can we also reduce the number of cars milling about downtown all day? That will require service that is cheap and frequent, so that people put their car in a garage and then use transit to get around downtown.
    And those two feed each other: if you didn’t even bring your car, you are more likely to ride a shuttle out for lunch, and if getting to a restaurant from the office is a hassle without a car, you are more likely to drive to work in the first place. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard, “I’d like to take the bus to work, but I’m going to need my car later … ” I’d be a rich man.

  32. teme April 14, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    Personally, I don’t like being forced to walk while I can spare a few minutes. Taking walks is a different thing. And when it comes to people in general, assuming that they are indeed lazy seldom fails. Observe the amount of time people spend circling for a spot in parking lots just to get bit closer to the entrance.
    That said, it is a balancing act. I tend to think euro standard of about 400 to 600 meters in a city and about 800 in less densely populated areas is about right. Depends on the distances travelled off course.

  33. Ben Smith April 14, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    @Alon: While I am aware that “rapid transit” generally refers to a transit line’s grade separation, in “slang terms” it is becoming to refer to transit lines with a semi-express stopping pattern of about 800-1200m between stops – give or take.
    Besides, I’ve been on subway rides where the train was operating very slow for whatever reason (reduce bunching and maintain headways, poor track conditions, etc.) where if I took an at-grade bus route it would have been faster. Especially if it was during an off-peak period where there was little traffic.

  34. Alon Levy April 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    I really don’t know urban Toronto’s traffic, but in New York, unless the train breaks down, it will be faster than a bus. Slowest train ride I can remember was about 3 blocks per minute, whereas the special rapid buses average 2 blocks per minute and the regular buses 1.5-1.75. Those buses are slow enough that there’s no point slowing them down further just to differentiate the subway brand.

  35. david vartanoff April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Joel Garreau in Edge Cities states that 609′ is the maximum acceptable parking distance from a mall entrance. Failing a spot within that distance he asserts the potential customer will drive to another location. That is less than 200 meters.

  36. Alon Levy April 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    @David: I don’t find this surprising. I, too, am willing to walk distances on city streets that I wouldn’t walk through parking lots. I’ll walk a kilometer to a good subway; make me walk a quarter of a kilometer through a mall parking lot and I’ll not make the trip.

  37. david vartanoff April 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Alon, I too, am willing to walk further when not carrying a full backpack. It is 1 1/4 mi. from my house to the Berkeley campus. I take a bus when heading to class; often walk home. I cited Garreau because I believe he has the pulse of the sprawlburbs at least when he wrote.

  38. Ben Smith April 20, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    You know, today I may have had a bit of an epiphany:
    My commute to university has me walk or cycle about 1.6km to the main arterial where I can take either a ‘local’ bus which has request stops every 250m or a ‘rapid’ bus which has request stops about every 1000m. Generally speaking, I usually take whichever comes first since between congestion, lights, people walking the extra distance to the ‘rapid’ stops, etc. the time savings between the two over my commute along this corridor tends to be small.
    Today I happened to get a ride to a point which was 500m between two ‘rapid’ stops. Since I was going south, I walked to the south stop. Granted it was a downhill walk and I am relatively young (mid-20s), but I paid attention to the comfort of the walk and found it more than acceptable to walk this distance.
    The bus that came was a local one, and for whatever reason it happened to stop at pretty much every stop along the route. It had been a while since I had been on a bus which stopped this frequently, but the ride felt surprisingly slow and jerky.
    I suppose my epiphany is that we have really slowed transit to degrade itself to the lowest common denominator. Using my elevator example, I stated that 250m would be the ‘floors’ and stops any less would be in between floors, in the stairwells. My experience today leads me to believe that number should be approximately 400m-500m (1/4 mile to 1/2km, depending on how your city grid is laid out).
    Furthering on this, if our ‘local’ did buses stop at this kind of pattern, is there the same need to have ‘rapid’ buses which stop every 800m-1000m (1/2 mile to 1km, depending on how your city grid is laid out), essentially only skipping every other stop? Capacity and grade separation aside, if we are looking to create ‘rapid’ transit designed to move people over medium to long distances, maybe stops along these types of lines should be 1600-2000m apart instead (1 mile to 2km, depending on how your city grid is laid out).

  39. SpyOne April 21, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    I’m with you on the rapid transit spacing, Ben. Even if you don’t move the local stops further apart, every one in 4 serving both seems a bit close to me.
    The rapid “Express” or “Limited” service stopping every mile or so seems fine. Actually, it seems a little close.
    My basic idea for adding such service to our existing locals was to connect stops that are currently 15 minutes apart. That’s about 5km, I think. The idea is, if you are traveling a short distance (less than 7km?), you stay on the local, but if you are traveling further you take the local to the next express stop, wait just a few minutes for an express, and then transfer back at the express stop closest to your destination. Because it does not stop at intermediate stops, the express can cover those 5km in half the time, which can shorten a long commute considerably, while at the same time reducing crowding on the local because the only people on the bus would be people who get on or off in that specific 5km stretch.
    Your elevator analogy has a major flaw, though, and that is that getting off in between floors doesn’t really serve ANYBODY.
    An elevator analogy for a bus that stops too often would be something like a Star Trek “Turbolift”, and it delivers you right to the office door of the place you were going. That is convenient when you are the only person on it, and inconvenient when you have to wait for a dozen people to each get off at their individual stop on the floor below the one you were going to, and you’d find yourself thinking “Couldn’t we have just dropped them all off in that floor’s lobby and they walk from there? Because if we did, I’d be at my dentist’s already.” In fact, if that happens to you a lot, you’d probably just take the stairs because you know it will be much faster. That is an elevator that serves people so poorly (when it is in high demand) that people seek alternative transportation instead, which is like a bus that serves so badly that commuters take cars, bikes, taxis, walk, etc. instead.