Raleigh: Four (or 36) alternatives for Wake County’s transit future

Wake_transit_logo_full_colorToday, Wake County (the Raleigh, North Carolina area) released our report outlining four possible directions that the community could take in defining a future transit network.  Download it here.  Happily, the local newspaper's coverage is clear and accurate.  

This begins a period of public discussion about the report and the choices it outlines.  That discussion will give us direction on what form the final recommended plan should take.  That plan, in turn, will form the basis for a proposed referendum on a sales tax increment to fund expanded transit.

Actually, there are more than four possible futures, and the final plan won't look quite like any of these.  Read on:

The key idea — as in much of our work — is to build an "alternatives space" in which people can figure out where they want to come down on the two most difficult policy tradeoffs:

  • Ridership vs coverage?  What percentage of resources should to go pursuing a goal of maximum ridership — which will tend to generate frequent service in the densest urban markets — as opposed to the goal of coverage — spreading service out so that as many people as possible have some service nearby?
  • Infrastructure vs service?  How much to spend on building transit as opposed to operating transit.  Obviously infrastructure can make service more attractive and efficient, but too much infrastructure can lead to not enough ordinary bus service covering the whole county.  

Both of these tradeoffs are explored in detail in Chapter 5 of our report.

The idea is to use these four mapped alternatives to imply 36 alternatives, as follows:

Alternatives Space

The four red squares are the four mapped network alternatives, while the white squares are other possible positions that we can tabulate.  The idea is to ask people questions roughly of this form:

  1. "Which alternative is closest to what you want?"
  2. Would you like that alternative even more if it moved a bit toward coverage or toward ridership? (a step left or right in this table)
  3. Would you like that alternative even more if there it moved a bit toward infrastructure or toward service? (a step up or down in this table)

Obviously the questions can be phrased in ways that don't require the user to visualize this matrix.  This is just a high-level description of what we'll be after.

This approach allows everyone responding to navigate us to one of 36 squares indicating their preference, giving us feedback that is both nuanced and yet quantifiable.  Most public feedback is one or the other but not both.   And that's good for everyone who's responding, because in my experience, tabulated feedback is more influential feedback.  Written feedback is certain still welcome and will be reviewed, but tabulated feedback really tells what lots of people are thinking.

If you live in Wake County or know anyone there, it's now time to get involved.  Download the report, read at least the executive summary, form your own view, and express it!  The more people respond, the more confident we'll be in defining the final plan based on their guidance.