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Posts from the Transit Category

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If Not for Trump, Last Night Would Have Been Great for Transit

Last night had the makings of a historic election for transit. Voters in cities as varied as Raleigh, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles turned out to support ballot measures to dramatically expand bus and rail service. But the election of Donald Trump and the retention of GOP majorities in both houses of Congress cast a pall of uncertainty over transit agencies everywhere, with continued federal support for transit suddenly in doubt.

Transit backers had a stellar night in local elections, but the Trump win brings funding uncertainty. Photo: Seattle Chamber

In local elections, transit ballot measures performed well, but the Trump win brings broader uncertainty. Photo: Seattle Chamber

In the regions with major transit ballot initiatives, the returns look good. (You can track the results at The Transport Politic.)

Indianapolis area voters approved a comprehensive transit expansion package that will significantly upgrade bus service throughout Marion County.

Raleigh and the rest of Wake County voted for a similar package of additional bus service and BRT routes, as well as a commuter rail connection to Durham.

Atlanta handily passed a half-cent sales tax that will expand MARTA’s rail and bus networks, as well as a separate measure to fund local complete streets projects.

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What the Heck Is Wrong With Boston’s MBTA?

Last week, the engine on one of Boston’s Orange Line trains overheated and ignited some trash, filling traincars with smoke. Passengers broke windows to escape. Three people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

An MBTA Orange Line train caught fire last week in Boston. Photo: JIlly Sull

An MBTA Orange Line train caught fire last week in Boston. Photo: Jilly Sull

The scare focused attention on long-standing maintenance problems for the T: It’s underfunded, upkeep is falling behind, and the quality of service is suffering. Orange Line trains, many of which are three decades old, were in line for replacement later this year. Not soon enough to prevent last week’s meltdown.

The MBTA is mired in debt and has a $7.3 billion repair backlog. Following the Orange Line debacle, Mayor Marty Walsh called for a new funding source.

“The problem we have is a problem of literally decades of disinvestment,” former Massachusetts DOT director Jim Aloisi told Streetsblog.

The MBTA operates the nation’s fifth-largest transit system, serving about 1.3 million trips per day. And ridership has been growing rapidly.

But state and local support for the MBTA is far below what peer agencies receive, according to TransitCenter, leaving the agency at the whim of federal funding sources. Compared to New York’s MTA, for example, the share of the agency’s capital budget that comes from federal sources is nearly two-thirds higher. If state and local support for MBTA capital expenses were proportional to the MTA, it would add $3 billion to the agency’s five-year capital budget.

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Transit Vote 2016: Raleigh’s Chance to Grow Smarter

Map: Wakeup Wake County

Wake County’s transit package would build 20 miles of BRT and bring frequent bus service to 83 additional miles of streets — vastly expanding the extent of bus routes that run at least every 15 minutes. Map: Wakeup Wake County

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Wake County, North Carolina. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, Detroit, and Atlanta.

Ask Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson how Raleigh’s transit system is currently functioning, and he doesn’t sugarcoat it.

“I just really don’t think we’ve got a functional transit system now,” says Hutchinson. “It’s definitely not something you can rely on for people to get to work.”

The booming Raleigh area has only 17 miles of bus routes where buses run at least every 15 minutes. There’s no high-capacity service like rail or BRT. And if you need to take the bus somewhere on a Sunday, good luck.

Voters have a chance to change that next Tuesday. On the ballot in Wake County is a measure to raise $2.3 billion over 10 years to improve and expand the transit system, via a half-cent sales tax and a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees. The package would enable the region to quadruple the extent of frequent local bus service, build 20 additional miles of frequent-running BRT routes with dedicated bus lanes and off-board fare collection, and construct a 37-mile commuter rail connection to Durham.

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Transit Vote 2016: Atlanta May Finally Expand MARTA and Beef Up Bus Service

Atlanta's MARTA rail (left) hasn't expanded much since the 1980s. On the right, D.C.'s Metrorail, which has grown substantially. Credit: Greater Greater Washington

Atlanta’s MARTA rail (left) hasn’t expanded much since the 1980s. On the right, D.C.’s Metrorail, which has grown substantially. Credit: MARTA, Greater Greater Washington

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit.

Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, creating one of the country’s best high-capacity urban transit networks. But in Atlanta, MARTA’s rail lines pretty much cover the same ground as in the 1980s.

Unreliable bus service is a huge problem too. The FX show “Atlanta,” as Grist pointed out this week, depicts the struggles facing Atlantans who rely on transit, especially in suburban areas where trains don’t reach.

Proposed rail transit expansions for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

Proposed rail expansions and infill stations for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

The Atlanta region has had some opportunities to improve transit recently, but the political stars never aligned. That could change next month, when city voters weigh in on two issues:

  • A MARTA expansion, funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $2.5 billion over 40 years.
  • A “TSPLOST” measure that would raise the sales tax by .4 percent for five years, generating $300 million for complete streets and the “Beltline” — the rail-plus-trail project that encircles the city’s central neighborhoods.

The MARTA measure would pay for major bus service upgrades and up to 30 miles of light rail expansion. The City Council has selected a menu of transit improvements that will be eligible for funds, but the tax revenue won’t be able to pay for all of them.

One improvement that will certainly receive funding involves doubling service frequency on major bus routes from every 30 minutes to every 15.

Also eligible for funds: building light rail along the Beltline; seven miles of bus rapid transit with exclusive lanes, level boarding, and off-board fare collection; five enhanced bus routes with 10-minute headways and limited stops; and up to 17 infill rail stations.

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What the Price of Parking Shows Us About Cities

Check out the interactive chart at this link.

To see where your city falls, check out the interactive chart at this link.

Cross-posted from City Observatory

Earlier, we rolled out our parking price index, showing the variation in parking prices among large US cities. Gleaning data from ParkMe, a web-based directory of parking lots and rates, we showed how much it cost to park on a monthly basis in different cities. There’s a surprising degree of variation: While the typical rate is somewhere in the range of $200 a month, in some cities (New York) parking costs more than $700 a month, while in others (Oklahoma City) it’s less than $30 a month.

As Donald Shoup has exhaustively explained in its tome, The High Cost of Free Parking, parking has a tremendous impact on urban form. And while Shoup’s work focuses chiefly on the side effects of parking requirements and under-priced street parking, we’re going to use our index of parking prices to explore how market-provided parking relates to the urban transportation system.

In the United States, the majority of commuters travel alone by private automobile to their place of work. But in some places — in large cities and in dense downtowns — more people travel by transit, bicycle or walk to work. It’s worth asking why more people don’t drive. After all, the cost of car ownership is essentially the same everywhere in the U.S. The short answer is that in cities, parking isn’t free. And when parking isn’t free, more people take transit or other modes of transportation.

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Transit Vote 2016: With Historic Decision, Detroit Could Heal Old Divides

The highlight of metro Detroit's $4.6 billion transit plan is four bus rapid transit routes connecting the city to suburban job centers. Map: Michigan RTA. Click to enlarge.

The highlight of metro Detroit’s $4.6 billion transit plan is four bus rapid transit routes connecting the city to suburban job centers. Map: Michigan RTA. Click to enlarge.

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Detroit. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis and Seattle

The four-county transit ballot measure before voters in Southeast Michigan this November is truly historic.

It took 40 years and 23 failed attempts for Detroit and its suburbs to establish a regional transit agency. They finally won state support to establish the RTA in 2012. At the time, Detroit was on the verge of bankruptcy, and its general-revenue-supported transit system was in dire condition.

Transit service in the region is fragmented and unreliable, even though a quarter of city residents don’t own cars. The severity of the problem was encapsulated by the story of James Robertson, whose commute to a factory job in the suburbs required taking two buses and walking 21 miles.

The Detroit region is the largest U.S. metro area without a unified regional transit system. This photo shows a suburban "Smart" bus. Photo: Michigan RTA

The Detroit region is the largest U.S. metro area without a unified transit system. This photo shows a suburban “Smart” bus. Photo: Michigan RTA

The RTA can’t deliver a better transit system without funding, and that’s where the vote in November comes into play.

The Detroit region has put together a $4.6 billion, four-county plan to improve transit. The centerpiece is a network of bus rapid transit lines extending out from downtown. Funded by a 20-year property tax increase, the measure would cost the average homeowner in the region about $95 a year.

Megan Owens, director of the advocacy group Transit Riders United, says the measure is important for a few reasons. Right now, urban and suburban transit services are poorly integrated. That’s what messed up James Robertson’s commute — the suburb he worked in opted out of the suburban transit system. The lack of coherent transit connections makes the region’s notorious job sprawl an even bigger problem.

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Transit Vote 2016: Seattle’s Huge, Imperfect Transit Expansion

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Seattle. The first installment of this series examined Indianapolis.

The transit expansion plan on the ballot in Seattle this November is a big one.

Seattle's "ST3" plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Seattle’s “ST3” plan would add 62 miles of grade-separated light rail. Map: SoundTransit3

Known as ST3, the proposal calls for a 62-mile expansion of grade-separated light rail extending across three counties, including about four miles that will run underground in central Seattle. Also included: bus rapid transit routes along two highway corridors, and $20 million to plan transit-oriented development.

The total package comes to $54 billion, which will be paid for by a mix of property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes. And it will take more than 20 years to complete.

Sound Transit estimates that under this plan, ridership will nearly double by 2040 to 800,000 daily trips, and that 361 million miles of driving will be averted each year [PDF].

There are some downsides to the plan, which has drawn criticism for devoting too much to park-and-ride transit in car-centric areas. While expanding the transit network could create new walkable communities across the region, different suburbs have shown varying levels of commitment to transit-oriented development.

ST3 calls for spending $661 million on parking at suburban stations, which works out to $80,000 per space. And much of the suburban light rail will run along highway rights-of-way, which is a bad fit for walkable development.

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Transit Vote 2016: Indianapolis’s Chance to Get a Real Transit System

indyconnect

The Indy Connect plan would dramatically expand frequent transit routes (in red). Maps: Indy Connect. Click to enlarge.

The presidency and Congress aren’t the only things at stake when voters go to the polls next month. In several cities, people will also be deciding the future of their transit and transportation systems. With the odds of increasing federal transit funding looking remote in gridlocked Washington, these local ballot measures take on even more importance. Before the election, Streetsblog will be looking at what’s at stake in some of the big transit ballot initiatives, starting with Indianapolis.

Indianapolis is a growing city, but the region’s bare-bones transit system is not keeping up. Bus routes that provide service at least every 15 minutes are almost non-existent. Only about 2 percent of the city’s commuters take transit to work, compared to 8 percent in Cincinnati and 18 percent in Pittsburgh.

Voters will have a chance to change that in November when they decide on a major expansion of the region’s transit system, funded by a .25 percent income tax hike. If it passes, the Indy region will dramatically expand frequent bus routes, extend service hours, and build three bus rapid transit lines.

Kevin Kastner, who writes at Urban Indy, says right now the bus system does not provide service that people want to use.

“Every 30 minutes is the best you can do,” he said. “The bus I rode this morning, I don’t want to say it was falling apart, but it was in about as bad a shape as a bus can be.”

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Sprawl Is a Global Problem

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Even in the places with the best transit systems, there’s a steep drop in transit access once you venture outside the central city. Graphic: ITDP

Sprawl isn’t just a problem in car-centric America. Even cities with the world’s best transit systems are surrounded by suburbs with poor transit access, according to a new report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. As billions of people migrate from rural to metropolitan areas in the next few decades, these growth patterns threaten to maroon people without good access to employment while overwhelming the climate with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

For 26 global cities, ITDP looked at the share of residents with access to frequent, high-capacity rail or bus service within 1 kilometer of their homes, or roughly a 10- to 15-minute walk. Then ITDP looked at the same ratio for the region as a whole. The results suggest that coordinating transit and development will be a major challenge in the fight against global warming.

In Paris, for instance, fully 100 percent of residents have access to good transit. But the city of Paris is home to only 2 million people in a region of 12 million. And looking at the region as a whole, only 50 percent of residents live within walking distance of good transit. That still manages to beat most other regions ITDP examined.

In New York, the highest-ranked American city, 77 percent of residents live within reach of high-quality transit, but region-wide only 35 percent of residents do.

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Finally Some Relief for Memphis Bus Riders

The shameful state of Memphis’s bus system is one of the more outrageous stories in American transit.

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, there have been a number of fires. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

Buses in Memphis are in such bad shape, they’ve been known to catch fire. But help is on the way. Photo via Memphis Bus Riders Union

When we checked in with the advocates at the Memphis Bus Riders Union in March, they told us the local transit agency, MATA, was running buses so poorly maintained that they were known to catch fire. In the midst of this crisis, local business leaders had marshaled enough cash to restore the city’s historic trolley system, which mostly serves tourists. Meanwhile, MATA was struggling just to maintain bare-bones operations, with a 17 percent service cut looming.

The current condition of buses is so poor, riders can’t even be assured a bus will arrive no matter how long they wait, said Bennett Foster of the Bus Riders Union.

“Some routes are not being served throughout the day due to a lack of buses,” Foster told Streetsblog. “When a bus breaks down they don’t have another bus to send out. There are people in the city every day who experience just no buses running.”

But the advocacy of the Bus Riders Union is getting results. Mayor Jim Strickland has allocated an additional $7.5 million from the city budget toward the transit system this year. About $5 million of that will be reserved for replacing buses — an absolute necessity.

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