General

Miami-Dade: Una Nueva Red de Transporte Público, Plan Borrador

This page is available in English here.

 

Durante el último año hemos estado trabajando en el proyecto Better Bus para rediseñar el sistema de autobuses en el Condado de Miami-Dade, Florida, en colaboración con el grupo de interés local Transit Alliance. Este es un caso inusual ya que Transit Alliance está usando fondos recaudados para pagar por gran parte del proyecto, aunque Miami-Dade Transit ha sido un miembro activo del equipo desarrollando un plan que ellos pueden implementar.

El plan borrador de la Nueva Red ya se publicó y está listo para recibir comentarios del público. Puedes leer el informe completo aquí.  Esta Nueva Red se diseñó considerando los comentarios que recibimos del público en la fase de los Conceptos el otoño pasado. Siguiendo los resultados encontrados en este proceso de participación ciudadana, la Nueva Red refleja un cambio en el balance entre más frecuencia y cobertura, resultando en más servicio de alta frecuencia (que aumentaría el número de usuarios). Esta Nueva Red se creó en conjunto con Transit Alliance, el Condado, empleados municipales, y en particular empleados de las Ciudades de Miami y Miami Beach, quienes han ayudado a guiar el rediseño de los trolleys municipales.

El periódico local, el Miami Herald, publicó un buen artículo sobre la Nueva Red y las mejoras principales que afectan positivamente a la mayoría de la comunidad de Miami-Dade. Si vives en Miami-Dade, deberías revisar la Nueva Red y tomar la encuesta antes del 31 de marzo.

Previamente, publicamos un Informe de Opciones que destacaba una de las mayores deficiencias del sistema actual, la falta de una red frecuente. La Nueva Red crea una red más frecuente en las partes más densas del sistema a través de la consolidación de rutas muy cercanas unas de las otras, cambiando la función entre algunas rutas del condado y los trolleys (especialmente en la Ciudad de Miami) y algunas reducciones en cobertura, particularmente en municipios que ya tienen servicio de trolley.

A continuación podrás ver unas secciones de la Red Existente y la Nueva Red en el centro de la región (haz clic para ver los mapas completos de ambas redes).

la Red Existente

la Nuvea Red

En esta nueva red, 368,000 residentes más están cerca de una ruta frecuente, lo cual hace que el número total de personas cerca de servicio frecuente suba a 25%. En la Red Existente, solo 11% de los residentes viven cerca de una ruta frecuente.

El poder de la red frecuente significa que hay una expansión significativa en los lugares a donde la gente puede ir dentro de un tiempo razonable. A continuación, hay una animación que compara los lugares a donde una persona en Liberty City (NW 12th Avenue and 62nd Street) puede llegar en 45 minutos en transporte público y caminando. La zona gris muestra a donde una persona puede ir hoy, con al Red Existente. La zona azul claro muestra a donde una persona puede ir con la Nueva Red. La red frecuente en la Nueva Red provee una expansión muy grande a tu libertad si vives aquí. Podrías acceder a 60% más oportunidades (trabajos y servicios) y 55% más personas.

Podemos evaluar este cambio para todas las personas y todos los lugares del condado. El resultado se muestra en el próximo mapa. Las zonas azules muestran en donde la gente puede acceder a más trabajos y las zonas rojas en donde la gente puede acceder a menos trabajos con la Nueva Red. Cada punto en este mapa representa 100 personas.

El mapa muestra que la gran mayoría de la gente y los lugares ven un grande aumento en el número de trabajos accesibles. El promedio a lo largo de todo el condado muestra que el residente típico del condado puede acceder a 33% más trabajos en una hora de viaje con esta Nueva Red.

Estas mejoras son parte de compromisos dolorosos. Esta red enfatiza más las metas de alta frecuencia que la Red Existente. Por lo tanto, algunas rutas de baja productividad con metas de proveer cobertura se han eliminado para poder proveer más servicio en lugares que son más densos, caminables, y lineares. Aproximadamente 3% más de los residentes estarán a más de ½ milla de servicio con la Nueva Red.

La Nueva Red cuesta lo mismo que la Red Existente y es completamente implementable dentro de seis a nueve meses, pero esta red no se implementará antes de que el público, las partes interesadas, los usuarios, y otros interesados, tengan la oportunidad de revisar estos cambios y comentar. Por lo tanto, lee y dile a Transit Alliance lo que piensas.

Si estás de acuerdo que esta Nueva Red será una beneficiosa para Miami-Dade, es importante que lo digas porque mucha gente que se beneficiará con este plan no estará prestando atención y no lo dirá. Si no te gusta este plan, por favor déjale saber a Transit Alliance y a MDT como se puede mejorar. Pero recuerda, cualquier cambio se debe hacer manteniendo un presupuesto neutro. Por lo tanto, aumentar el servicio en un lugar significa que hay que quitar servicio en otro lugar. Siempre recibimos buenísimas ideas de los comentarios públicos en esta fase.

También es importante pensar más allá de los usuarios actuales y pensar en todos los otros intereses que se beneficiarán. Una expansión grande en el acceso a empleo, servicios, y comercio en el condado. Empresas pueden ver como el plan mejora el acceso a sus empleados y clientes. Finalmente, a todo el mundo que le importan los beneficios del transporte público – económicos, ambietales, o sociales – le debe importar lo que este plan puede lograr.

Finalmente, como consultores, nosotros no decimos que este es todo el servicio que el condado necesita; esto es solamente lo que el condado y las ciudades pueden pagar ahora. Claramente hay lugares donde inversión adicional en el servicio podría mejorar el acceso a miles de personas. Algunas ideas de donde se puede mejorar el servicio están documentadas en el Informe de la Nueva Red, como aumentar la frecuencia de servicio en las rutas de 20 minutos en al Nueva Red (Rutas 9, 62, 88). También, la mayoría de la red frecuente se reduce a 20 minutos los domingos. En una región con tanta actividad turística, el servicio de los domingos debe ser más como el servicio de durante la semana y los sábados.

Los Angeles: The End of the Metro Rapid?

They were red! They made fewer stops! It was so cool! (c. 2005)

When they were first rolled out around 2000, the Los Angeles Metro Rapid lines were the hottest thing, so hot that a famous system of branding (Rapid buses red, local buses orange) was developed around them.  Rapid buses run long distances along major boulevards, stopping every half mile, while local buses run alongside them stopping every two blocks.  I too was a booster of the idea at the time, and soon “rapid bus” products were appearing in many cities.

But of course, the branding distinction was about speed, which all motorists understand, as opposed to frequency, which they often don’t.

The first two Rapid lines (Wilshire and Ventura Blvds) had all kinds of great features.  There were architecturally designed shelters, and the City of Los Angeles helped with signal priority.  Then, however, the forces of envy set in.  Rapids made sense only where:

  • the agency could afford very high frequency (generally no worse than 10 minutes) on both Rapid and local buses, so that it was worth waiting for the Rapid even if the local came first, AND
  • corridors were extremely long with long average trip distances, because you have to be going some distance for the speed advantage of a Rapid to be worth any added walking or waiting that a Rapid would require.

But once the first two Rapids succeeded, there came the cries of “why does their street get this cool thing and mine doesn’t?”.  And while the two points above were good answers to that question on many streets, LA Metro was pressured to roll out Rapid lines all over the region, in places where they made sense and places where they didn’t.  Some, like Soto St, were just too short for the speed difference to be valuable to many people.  Others didn’t have the frequency needed for their speed to be useful, with some coming as infrequently as every 30 minutes all day.  Most of them had nothing like the signal priority of the initial two, nor the distinctive shelters.  The buses were red, though, so it looked like some cool thing had been spread across the region.  (For more on this political dynamic, which I call the Fishing Pier Problem, see here.)

So the result was outcomes like this:

Source: LA Metro NextGen Visual Workshop (for a trip of seven miles)

If you’re on Venice Blvd but between Rapid stops, as in this example, you could walk less and use a local bus or walk further and use a Rapid.  As this shows, the difference in travel time isn’t enough for that to make sense.  The Rapid is only three minutes faster for that distance, but you’ll spend six more minutes walking.

The upper blue bar shows that by combining the Rapid and local buses into a single line that runs twice as often (with fewer stops than the local but far more than the Rapid) the result is a shorter total trip, because of the shorter wait.  In this case, the customer walks six minutes to a single line instead of four (because the local stops are a little further apart) but then waits half as often (because the two lines are combined) and rides a trip that’s a little bit faster than the current local (again, because local stops are a little further apart).  It turns out that lots of people along these long boulevards are in this situation.

Combining Rapids and local into a single more feequent line is one of the key recommendations of the newly proposed Los Angeles metro bus network redesign, the work of our respected competitor Transportation Management & Design (TMD) working with Cambridge Systematics.  Russ Chisholm of TMD, whom I used to collaborate, actually led the planning that created the Rapids in the late 1990s, so it’s fitting that he’s also gotten to plan for their obsolescence.

Here are the outcomes.  (“Reconnect with our customers” is the no-growth redesign, the plan that reallocates existing service instead of adding new service.  “Transit First” adds bus lanes and other infrastructure, for even more improvement without adding operating cost.)

Source: LA Metro NextGen “Virtual Workshop”

The vast increase in the number of people with access to frequent service, from 900,000 to 2.15 million, is the key to why this plan is likely to succeed.   A huge share of this outcome results from combining the Rapid and local services into single lines, since many streets that formerly had both a local and a Rapid every 15 minutes will now have a bus every 7.5 minutes or so.

As always, a redesign that doesn’t add more service involves cutting some unproductive service, but here only 0.3% of riders losing walk access to transit, which is also impressive.  These are the least transit-oriented places in the region.  Still, we can expect ferocious complaints.  It may seem like 0.3% of the ridership isn’t much, but they and everyone they know, with some public relations skill, can make it sound like the plan is a disaster.  Even if nobody were losing their service, some people will be angry when you change anything.  So if you live in Los Angeles, it’s important that you engage with the plan!

That brings me to my main critique.  In exploring the website, I found the plan difficult to learn about. There’s no shortage of materials selling the plan to me, and there’s no shortage of route-by-route details, but I wish there had been a report that makes the argument for the plan and explains the thought process that led to its design.  (No, PowerPoint slide decks are not reports, because they don’t show the logical relationships between ideas; they are useful only with narrating voice attached.)  The plan’s data viewer is pretty good, especially the tool that helps people see how the plan changes where they go. We do similar things on our projects and they should be standard procedure now.

But I can’t find much on the website that seems to be speaking to non-riders, including anyone who cares about outcomes that the plan improves (congestion, climate, urban redevelopment, access to opportunity, social justice etc etc).  If you might support the plan for any of those reasons, the comment survey (a tab within the data viewer) will frustrate you.  It assumes that you’re evaluating the plan only selfishly, in terms of whether it will improve your travel.  (This also discourages feedback from non-riders who could see other selfish benefits, such as a business that gets better access from potential customers and employers, or a benefit for a friend or relative.)  Getting these plans across the line requires selling a big picture to the biggest possible audience, especially given that some angry riders will be yelling.  I hope that, in some forum that I can’t find on the website, that pitch is being made.

I wish LA Metro the best with this redesign.  It looks great.  It presents huge opportunities for better access to opportunity, more sustainable urban form, climate benefits, reduced local emissions, and safety.  It deserves to be allowed to succeed.

Kansas City: A Draft Network Redesign

About a year ago, our firm started helping the Kansas City Area Transit Authority (also known as KCATA or RideKC) on a short-term bus network redesign for the City of Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO).  While the regional agency covers a larger area, this study is only for KCMO, which pays for transit service directly from city funds.

The Draft Plan for this redesigned network was released last Friday, and you can read up on it at RideKCNext.org. If you live in Kansas City, there’s also an online survey, which you should respond to before March 16th.

This plan was not easy. Kansas City is an extraordinarily challenging place to plan transit service, a perfect storm of all the issues that beset most large US cities:

  • Low-density built environment combining hollowed-out parts of the urban core and ever-increasing suburbanization.
  • profound residential segregation by income and race.
  • some awkward jurisdictional boundaries, especially north of the Missouri River.  These matter because local funding arrangements mean we had to think about the City of Kansas City separately, which in some places can be like thinking about only the black squares on a chessboard.

At nearly 500,000 people, Kansas City, MO, is only a third of the Kansas City region by population. But this includes nearly all the region’s relatively dense, transit-oriented areas. KCMO also provides about 80% of local transit funding, and 90% of all regional transit ridership originates in KCMO.

The Good News

First, the good news. As a result of the Draft Plan, nearly 20% more KCMO residents would live near frequent service, with a bus coming every 15 minutes or better.

Weekend service would also be greatly expanded, with service every 15 minutes on Saturday, and every 20 minutes on the eight most important routes in the network.This compares to the You can see the expansion of the frequent network, and improvements in weekend service in page 11 of the plan, shown below. (Click to enlarge and sharpen)

 

Put together, these changes would go some way to address the biggest problem of Kansas City’s bus network, which is that it just doesn’t provide enough access to opportunity. If the Draft Plan were implemented, the average KCMO resident could reach 7% more jobs on weekdays, and 22% more jobs on Saturdays in 60 minutes or less using transit (including any time spent walking, waiting, or transferring), all with no new investment in service.

As you can see above, the big expansion of access is the result of an expanded frequent grid with more frequent east-west elements.  This is especially urgent because of the geography of race and income.  Kansas City (south of the Missouri River) features a north-south strip on the west side where almost all of the prosperity is, and, further east, a north-south strip that is heavily low-income and minority residents.

Job and opportunity density is concentrated in a north-south strip on the west side of the city.

Low income (and minority) residents mostly live further east.

Most existing frequent transit in the city is north-south, converging on downtown at the north end.  But low income people need to get from their homes in the east to wherever they are going on the west side of the city, not just downtown.  A high frequency grid does this.  People can travel westward more easy to connect to whichever north-south route meets their needs.  For that reason, much of the plan’s benefits arises from improvements in east-west frequency on streets like 12th, 39thand 47th/Blue Parkway.

Difficult Tradeoffs

But this good news comes at the cost of some painful compromises.  The plan is designed for fast change, and KCATA is in the midst of a parallel effort to eliminate transit fares in KCMO. So the Draft Plan assumes no new revenue is available.

That means all proposed improvements would come at the price of service reductions somewhere else. In the urban core, the plan would remove several infrequent bus routes that operate ¼-mile or less from a more frequent route. In outlying areas, the plan would entirely remove bus routes from several neighborhoods where ridership is extremely low. Overall, about 1.5% of KCMO residents would no longer be within ½-mile of any kind of transit.

Perhaps the most obvious shortcoming of the plan is that it would continue to provide very limited service in the suburban Northland, where over a third of KCMO’s population live, but densities are much lower and average incomes tend to be a little higher.

Ultimately, it’s a lot harder to efficiently invest KCMO’s very limited transit resources in the Northland. This is because relatively few people live close enough to any street where you might run a bus, the street networks make it harder to walk, and destinations tend to be far apart. And much of the Northland’s most likely transit street (North Oak) is located in enclave cities who contribute much less for service, reducing KCMO’s incentive to invest.

See below for full maps of the existing and proposed network. Because KCMO covers such a large area, you’ll be able to see these a lot better by clicking and expanding them. You can also get a detailed view of how transit service would change in each part of Kansas City by clicking here.

Existing network.

 

Proposed network.

As consultants, we make no claim that this is the best of all possible transit networks from KCMO. It’s clear to us and to KCATA that Kansas City would benefit from investing significantly more money in transit service; the plan identifies several incremental improvements that KCATA should prioritize if revenues improve. But we think this is what can be achieved with the resources currently on the table.

(with Daniel Costantino)

 

San Jose and Silicon Valley: Welcome to Your New Network

Finally, the long deferred new network design for Valley Transportation Authority — which covers San Jose and much of Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, is going live as I write this, on December 28, 2019.  The plan arises from a major study that we led in 2016.

[Implementation was delayed so long due to delays in completing the BART rapid transit extension from the East Bay into San Jose, which the plan is intended to complement.  VTA planned on the line opening tomorrow, but a last minute delay (too late for VTA to postpone their plans) has pushed that opening into the spring, so express buses will be providing that link in the meantime.]

What’s new?  A massive high frequency grid covering most of San Jose, where transit demand is highest, but also bit improvements for the “Silicon Valley” area to the west.  A new frequent north south line runs through Sunnyvale and Cupertino.  Routes are simplified and made straighter. The light rail system was redesigned at the same time, to make it more gridlike as well.  Nothing new was built, but the service pattern is also more of a grid, with a new continuous east-west line across the north side of the region that will connect tens of thousands of jobs to BART for travel to the East Bay.

Here’s the old network, with red denoting high frequency.  (Click to enlarge and sharpen.)

The old VTA network. Red = 15 minute frequency or better. Note the lack of a high frequency grid apart from the lowest-income area in the far east. Map by Jarrett Walker + Associates.

And here’s the new one, by our friends at CHK America. The style is slightly different from ours, but still, high frequency is in red, and the broad colored lines (black in our map above) are the light rail network.

The new VTA network. Red=15 minute frequency or better. Map by CHK America.

Also, an historic event about which I’ll write more:  A two-segment very low-ridership light rail segment has been closed, between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Almaden stations in southern San Jose.  I believe this is the first time that a modern US light rail segment — i.e. built since the 1950s — was permanently closed, with the exception of a single station in Pittsburgh.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

And yes, some low-ridership segments disappear, though very few people end up losing all of their service.  Often, the deleted routes provided some link inside an area that already had other service, and while some of these routes were fiercely defended by locals, there was no way to justify them when they achieved neither high ridership nor unique coverage.  Another important part of that story is that many of the wealthier Silicon Valley cities have their own transit services, and while of course they would prefer that the county pay for their service, they have the option of running some of these low-ridership links themselves if they decide it is important to them.

Meanwhile, the center of gravity of the network remains in the east, not just because incomes are lower there but also because the geography is more favorable to efficient transit, with fewer barriers to walking and a more regularly gridded street network.  Google’s move into the Diridon station area of San Jose is a great first step toward bringing jobs and prosperity into a landscape that efficient transit can serve well.

All this resulted from a clear discussion with the VTA Board, and the community, about the ridership-coverage tradeoff.  The old system was about 70% justified by ridership, while the new network is closer to 90%.  Getting to the right balance of ridership and coverage goals was the result of a long conversation, in which we showed the public alternatives and got their feedback before the Board made a decision.

To all of Silicon Valley and San Jose, welcome to your new network.  It’s been a long struggle (for VTA more than for us) but you can finally go places you could never go before, and soon.

 

Chile: Planning as Everything Changes

Santiago resembles Los Angeles in geography and climate, but the mountains are much higher, the city is denser, and of course there is much more poverty (not pictured).

My planned week in Santiago, intended to be for the CEDEUS conference, was wildly rearranged by the civic uprising that’s transforming Chile, which until a month ago was famously the most stable country in Latin America.  Bigger events than ours had to be cancelled, since nobody could guarantee security in the center of Santiago while the protests took their uncertain course.

You have probably heard about the appalling vandalism of the Santiago Metro and the destruction of businesses.  You may not have heard that these are massive protests whose underlying grievances have broad public support, even though almost everyone deplores the destruction.  Suddenly, the word on everyone’s lips is desigualdad — inequality.

But of course immobility is part of inequality, so around the edges I thought I might still have something to offer.  Some low income people in Santiago are over 90 minutes travel time from their jobs, giving them no time to either seek a better life or care for their families.  As always, this is both a transport problem and a land use problem, one I did my best to explain in purely geometric terms.

The graffito in yellow reads: “It wasn’t peace, it was silence.”

My host Juan-Carlos Muñoz of the Catholic University of Chile made an extraordinary effort to make good use of my time, even though nothing could be planned for certain.

We had planned an overnight trip to Concepción, for example, to speak at the university there, at the invitation of transport engineering professor Juan Antonio Carrasco. But Juan Carlos had to call me the day before to tell me there would be a general strike the next day, so while we could fly there tonight nobody knew if we would be able to get back tomorrow.  Also, there would be no public transport and students would be in the streets, so nobody knew if anyone would come to my talk.  He invited me to cancel, though he encouraged me to go.

The courageous, dashing consultant that I’d like you to think I am paused for effect and then said, in a gravelly voice: “Let’s do it.”  In fact I leaned hard on Juan Carlos’s optimism, and I’m glad I did.  Our spare time in Concepción was consumed by the work of getting around barricades and fires, so the only sightseeing we could do in that beautiful city was to gaze in shock at the looted and burned big box stores.  In the end, I was delighted to see over 40 people, including journalists, show up for my talk, and asked great questions.  Later I did a similar presentation back in Santiago (summarized in Spanish here) to a similar number. [1][2]

From left, Professor Juan Carlos Muñoz, I, Chile’s Minister of Transport and Telecomminications Gloria Hutt and Vice Minister José Luis Domínguez.

And there were great casual chats, including with activists from the sustainable transport advocacy group Muevete, and with dedicated and energetic staff from the government public transport authority, Transantiago.  Finally, beyond my expectations, I had an hour with Chile’s Ministry of Transport Gloria Hutt to talk about immobility in the context of the dramatic transformations in public transit that they are trying to achieve. [3]

Finally, there was a series of conversations with Lake Sagaris, one of the most fascinating people I know.  She’s now a Canadian-Chilean transport professor, but she was also one of the key journalists and authors who chronicled the Pinochet dictatorship and its aftermath.   Today, she’s a leading expert in the now-urgent task of fostering a constructive and inclusive public conversation.

One of the most remarkable features of the current crisis is the spontaneous generation of many thousands of cabildos, locally generated groups of people, beyond the usual interest groups, who gather to discuss the crisis and paths forward.  These groups, often organized by local government, are widely viewed as credible, and their ideas are strongly influencing the conversation as presented in the media.

Land use planning in Concón, Chile: a little too laissez-faire?

With such fractured but intense impressions, what can I say about Chile in this remarkable time?

The word revolution comes to mind but is too strong, and premature.  The Chilean media tend to call the recent events el estallido (explosion, outbreak, shattering), which conveys the force and disruption without implying a point of view on the grievances or a belief about how things will turn out.  The conservative government is showing openness to dramatic change, including a new Constitution, so perhaps things will evolve in a peaceful way.

Mostly, Chile is just deeply uncertain.  Uncertain in daily life:  Will we be able to travel tomorrow, and if so will we be able to come back?  Can a meeting in inner Santiago be planned for next week?  Will anyone come?  Will a random strike close a national park, stranding all the international visitors staying nearby?  And more deeply:  How much more violence and destruction lies ahead?  How real are the promised transformations?  What will the new constitution say? What kind of country will Chile be five years from now?

Chile presents a rapid alternation of the utterly normal and the utterly disrupted, and nobody knows where the future equilibrium is.  If there’s reason for optimism, it’s that there seems to be widespread consensus to deplore the violence but insist on the urgency of change.  And as always, equality isn’t just about how much money people have.  It’s also about mobility, access to opportunity, so land use and transport are at the center of it all.

 

Notes

[1]

The courageous, dashing consultant that I’d like you to think I am did all these events in fluent Spanish, despite not having studied the language at all until 6 months ago.  In fact, I was at a stage where I could give a prepared speech in Spanish but not really take questions in it. [2]  This is what I look like when I’m doing that.  Walking a tightrope, basically, or trying to invoke any available deity to give me the next word when I need it.  Note the heavily light of inspiration slightly missing me to my right:

[2]

A further challenge to comprehension is that the Chilean accent tends to omit vowels (which, to be fair, is a common complaint about the American accent in English.)  Thus I had conversations like this:

I:  A qué hora devolverán mi ropa mañana?  [when will they return our laundry tomorrow?]

She:  Awa owo.

I:  Um.  Otra vez?  [again?]

She:  Awa owo!  Eight!

I:  Ah!  “A las ocho?”

She:  Sí!  Awa owo!

This endless humiliation had its uses, of course.  It kept me from feeling that I could figure out the place too easily, and so slowed the inevitable slide from curiosity into judgment.

[3]

Chile is going through the same process that I was part of in Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland: bringing over-privatized bus services together into a single network that government controls and markets, while private companies still compete to operate the services.  It’s the only way to get a coherent and efficient network design that maximizes mobility while also yielding the benefits of competition in operations.

 

I Am Not a Bus Advocate

What, you say?  But you wrote an article in the Atlantic called The Bus is Still Best!  You redesign bus networks for a living!  You’ve been a skeptic about all kinds of new alternatives to the bus, from monorails to streetcars-stuck-in-traffic t0 “microtransit.”  Have you changed your mind?  

I am a freedom advocate[1], which means that I like it when people can go places, and therefore do things, and therefore have better lives more rich with choice and opportunity.  And when I analyze how to deliver freedom cost-effectively, the fixed route bus turns out to be the right answer in a huge percentage of cases.  It’s not right in all cases, and where it isn’t I don’t recommend it.  (Where a community has other goals, that too can yield a different answer, which is fine.  It’s their community.)

But it’s increasingly common to read things like this

Entrenched beliefs that the bus or rail is best, period — and that ridership and scalability are all that matter — stop us from seeing all the places where we can leverage technology and new ideas.

[UPDATE:  This article has since been revised in response to my objections.]

The word “bus” was a link to my Atlantic article, whose headline, “The Bus Is Still Best,” I dislike but could not control.[2]  The implication of this link is that I am “entrenched” in an emotional attachment to buses the way that many people can be emotionally attached to trains or airplanes or Porsches or whatever.[3]

Such attachments may also just be financial interests.  For example, huge amounts of venture capital are being spent making it sound like microtransit is a world-changing idea, and to attack those of us who honestly can’t make mathematical sense of that claim as being rigid, stuck in our ways, “entrenched.”[4]

In fact, I feel no emotions about transport technologies.  My shelves are not full of cardboard model buses.[5]  And where the right answer to the problem of efficiently providing freedom isn’t a bus, I don’t recommend a bus.  I have recommended all kinds of technologies in different situations. I want to achieve goals, and I look for tools that do that in each situation.

Above all, I hope I’m known for suggesting that our thinking should start with goals rather than emotional excitement about technologies, and that this requires some serious effort, because every technology salesperson wants us to do the opposite: first, get excited about a technology, then try to come with a goal that could justify it.  As soon as “innovation” becomes a goal in itself rather than a tool, we are headed down that slippery slope.

So I’m not surprised that I get attacked now and then, and now here’s a post as a ready-made response.  Next time you see someone say that I am (or you are) a “bus advocate,” or “entrenched,” just send them a link to this.  Thank you!

 

Notes

[1] Or, if you prefer, a mobility or access advocate.

[2] Never, ever link to something based only on the headline!  Headlines express the attitudes of the publication, not the writer.  (I am slapping my own wrist as I write this, because I’ve been guilty too.)

[3] … which is not to criticize emotional attachments.  I have them too about many things. As always, I am describing myself, not judging you!

[4]  This assumption about financial interest also gets projected onto me sometimes, so for the record: I have no financial link with any bus manufacturer, bus operating company, etc.

[5] … though if yours are, that’s wonderful!  As always, I am describing myself, not judging you!

Santiago: I’m Coming Anyway

Photo: Carlos Figueroa, Wikimedia Creative Commons.

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

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

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

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

On Flying Cars

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

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

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

They will be cool to ride, though.

 

Cleveland: See Where You Could Go

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

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

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

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

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

RTA Existing Network

Current Funding Concept

Expanded Funding Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

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

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

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

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