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Posts from the Transit Category

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Of Course the GOP Transportation Platform Is a Catastrophe

In the past few years, Congressional Republicans tried and failed to turn the federal transportation program into a highways-only affair. Still, the GOP isn’t giving up on eliminating federal funds for transit, walking, and biking.

Donald Trump may have made his name building on the most transit-rich real estate in the nation, but he hasn’t changed the party’s stance on transportation at all. The transportation plank in the newly updated GOP platform [PDF] is as extreme and hostile to cities as ever.

Here are some of the lowlights:

1. Eliminating federal funding for transit, walking, and biking

The Republican Party platform calls for cutting all federal funding for transit, walking, and biking.

The loss of federal funding would cause chaos for transit agencies and transit riders, disrupting and diminishing capacity to operate, maintain, and expand transit systems. The reason this proposal goes nowhere in Congress is that even a sizable share of Republicans realize it would be disastrous to kneecap transit in the nation’s urban centers, where so much economic activity is concentrated.

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The “Choice” vs. “Captive” Transit Rider Dichotomy Is All Wrong

The conventional wisdom about transit often divides riders into two neat categories: “choice” riders — higher-income people with cars — and “captive” riders — lower-income people who must use transit because they don’t own cars.

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like wifi. Drawing via Transit Center

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like Wi-Fi. Graphic: TransitCenter

But this framework can undermine good transit, according to a new report from TransitCenter [PDF]. In the attempt to cater only to “choice” riders or “captive” riders, public officials often make decisions that don’t accomplish what everyone wants from transit — fast, frequent, reliable service that takes them where they want to go.

TransitCenter surveyed more than 3,000 transit riders across 17 regions — and conducted focus groups in three major cities — to get a better picture of why people take transit. The responses were combined with data from All Transit, a tool that assesses the quality of transit service in different locations, to inform the report’s conclusions.

While having access to a car does influence how much people use transit, other factors are more important. In walkable neighborhoods with frequent transit service, people with and without cars both ride transit more than people in areas with poor transit.

Far from being “captive,” transit riders without cars are in fact very sensitive to the quality of service. So-called “captive” riders have other choices available, like biking, taxis, and borrowing cars, and most do take advantage of them — almost two-thirds of car-free transit riders had done so in the last month.

A big problem with the “choice/captive” rider dichotomy, says lead report author Steven Higashide, is that it prompts planners to invest in “sexy” features aimed at luring “choice” riders out of cars — like Wi-Fi or comfortable seats. The notion of the “choice rider” has been used to justify mixed-traffic streetcar projects that operate slowly and don’t actually serve many people.

Regardless of whether transit riders own a car, what actually matters to them aren’t the bells and whistles, or even the type of vehicle, but the basics: service they can depend on to get places on time.

“Transit has to compete for every rider,” Higashide told Streetsblog. “There’s often this assumption that people without cars have no choice, have to ride transit. People are sensitive to transit quality regardless of car ownership.”

TransitCenter suggests another way to frame how and why people use transit — by looking at the types of trips they use it for:

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Philly’s Railcar Meltdown and America’s Disastrous Train Regulations

Philadelphia’s commuter rail system has been plunged into turmoil after transit officials discovered a defect in SEPTA railcars this weekend.

Hyundai's Silverliner V train cars debuted in 2010. Photo: Plan Philly

SEPTA’s Silverliner V railcars had to be built to specs outside international norms. Photo: Plan Philly

All 120 railcars delivered just three years ago by Hyundai Rotem, an American subsidiary of the Hyundai Motor Group, have cracks in load-bearing components. SEPTA officials say caution requires them to remove the cars from service for repairs.

That means 30 percent of the regional rail system’s rolling stock is out of commission, and SEPTA doesn’t have many trains to spare, reports the Philly Inquirer. Crowding, delays, and a general diminishment in service are expected to last through the summer as the agency works with the supplier to correct the problem.

In the interim, SEPTA may try to borrow cars from NJTransit or Amtrak, according to local news sources. But major disruptions seem unavoidable. The Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers is advising its 400 members to look into flextime or telecommuting.

“I guess I’ll start driving,” one rider told the local NBC affiliate after waiting an hour for a train. “It’s too much.”

Hyundai Rotem’s Silverliner V model was supposed to be SEPTA’s “most advanced” railcar. Even before this critical defect, however, there was a long delay in delivering the cars.

The supplier is taking heat for shoddy workmanship. But SEPTA’s railcar troubles are also linked to two key sets of federal regulations.

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Park & Rides Lose Money and Waste Land — But Agencies Keep Building Them

Transit agencies shell out big bucks to build and operate parking facilities. But how much do we really know about what they get for their money?

branchave

The surface parking lot at WMATA’s Branch Avenue station. Photo: TRB

Researchers Lisa Jacobson and Rachel Weinberger surveyed 37 American transit agencies about park-and-ride facilities. They found that despite the expense of park-and-rides and the fact that many spaces go unused, most of the 32 agencies that manage parking are still planning to build more of it.

Here are six big take-aways from their recent report, published by the Transportation Research Board [PDF].

1. Most transit passengers don’t park and ride

People who park at stations account for about 22 percent of total ridership across the 32 agencies that offer park-and-ride facilities. Even looking only at commuter rail and express bus service — the two modes closely associated with park-and-rides — most passengers don’t use parking. For commuter rail, 41 percent of passengers park and ride, and for express buses the figure is 30 percent.

2. Many park-and-ride lots don’t come close to filling up even at peak hours

Even during weekdays, park-and-ride lots are, on average, only 65 percent full. The authors say this “would be considered underutilized based on parking industry standards,” meaning a private company with so much empty parking stalls would consider doing something else with the land.

“On average, this sample of transit agencies has approximately 155,000 unused parking spaces on any given day,” the report states. That’s about a square mile of empty parking.

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Send Us Your Nominations for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Last year's winner: this sorry bus stop in greater St. Louis

Last year’s winner, a very sorry bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in greater St. Louis.

Streetsblog’s “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest is back by popular demand.

Last year, readers nominated dozens of forlorn bus stops to call attention to the daily indignities and dangers that bus riders have to put up with. This sad, windswept patch of grass between two highway-like roads in a St. Louis inner suburb took the prize.

We’ve been hearing from readers and transit advocates who want another shot to name and shame the public agencies who’ve let bus stops go to seed. So the Sorriest Bus Stop competition is back. (If you have a great bus stop you want to recognize, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a different competition later this year.)

We’ll be doing the contest as a Parking Madness-style, 16-entry single elimination bracket. Below is an early submission from downtown Austin and reader Chris McConnell, who says, “This has to be the saddest #busstop in Austin. It has no shade, no seating, and no stop ID for checking times. AND it’s at the main transfer point downtown. FAIL.”

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Reminder: Just Laying Track Is No Guarantee Riders Will Come

Atlanta's streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Atlanta’s streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Laying track isn’t enough to build a successful transit system — as some cities are learning the hard way.

A slate of new rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers. Some of these projects may be salvageable to some extent, but for now, they don’t provide the speed, frequency, and access to walkable destinations that make transit useful for people. Here are four cautionary tales about the inadequacy of just putting down rails and praying things work out.

Dallas

Dallas’s streetcar line opened last April and is attracting just 150 to 300 riders a day, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 1.6-mile streetcar connects downtown Dallas to the neighborhood of Oak Cliff. It cost $50 million, and the city hopes to expand it.

Before it opened, Peter Simak, writing for D Magazine, said the line was simply too short, and Dallas simply not walkable enough, for it to have much of an impact. The entire line covers ground formerly served by four bus stops. Still, some advocates maintain that ridership will climb once new development fills in and planned expansions are built.

Atlanta

Ridership on Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar has been underwhelming as well. The project has been roundly panned by the local media, who have pointed out it’s barely faster than walking.

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USDOT to Shut Down Nation’s Roads, Citing Safety Concerns

Crossposted from City Observatory.

WASHINGTON, DC – Citing safety concerns, today Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced he was contemplating the closure of roads to all private vehicles in nearly every city in the country until he could assure the nation’s drivers that they would be safe behind the wheel.

The announcement comes on the heels of comments by Secretary Foxx that the Department of Transportation may shut down the Washington Metro heavy rail system because of ongoing safety issues.

Since 2009, 14 Metro riders and employees have died in collisions, derailings, and other incidents. On an annual basis, that translates to about 0.48 fatalities per 100,000 weekday riders.*

However, Secretary Foxx noted that this is exceeded by the fatality rate of car crashes in every single American metropolitan area for which data was compiled in a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In San Francisco, 3.75 people died in automobile crashes per 100,000 residents in 2014, a rate 7.8 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro. In Raleigh, NC, the automobile crash fatality rate was 7.50 per 100,000, or about 15.6 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro. And in Dallas, the automobile crash fatality rate was 12.02 per 100,000, or about 25.0 times higher than the fatality rate on Metro.

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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

NACTO_transit_lanes

Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of a cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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New Orleans Bus Service, Devastated by Katrina, Starts to Rebound

Members of Ride New Orleans rallied to support badly needed transit service increases yesterday. Photo: Ride New Orleans

Members of Ride New Orleans rallied to support badly needed transit service increases Tuesday. Photo: Ride New Orleans

Bus service in New Orleans never quite recovered from Hurricane Katrina. As of 2015, a full 10 years after the devastating floods, only 35 percent of bus service had been restored, according to the transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans — even though 86 percent of the city’s population had returned.

On Sunday, residents of The Big Easy got a much-needed transit boost, when expanded bus service went into effect. The regional transit agency increased service along 22 routes — 21 bus routes and one streetcar route — including restoration of late night service on nine routes. Overall, that represents an 11 percent increase in service, according to RTA. The funding to provide more bus runs came from an unexpected increase in sales tax revenues to the agency.

Ride New Orleans had been critical of the city’s rush to restore streetcar service — the more tourist-oriented mode — at the expense of the bus system that carries more riders and local residents. In 2015, New Orleans streetcar service was actually 3 percent higher than before the storm, Ride New Orleans reported.

On Tuesday the group held a rally to support the changes, but much more still needs to be done to get bus service back to where it should be.

“It’s just a really solid step in the right direction,” said Ride New Orleans’ Alex Posorske. “They were hearing from advocates and from us and from other advocates that there is a need to restore service and they were hearing that loud and clear.”

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How Good Is the Transit Where You Live? Measure It With AllTransit

transitrank

The top ten rankings are great conversation fodder, but the real strength of AllTransit is its deep reservoir of data, enabling multifaceted analysis of transit quality at many different scales. Table via AllTransit.

Do you have the sense that transit in your city could be a lot better, and you want to show your local elected officials what needs to improve? Look no further: Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology has produced a new tool called AllTransit that assesses the quality of transit down to the neighborhood level.

AllTransit lets you evaluate your local transit system in several ways. You can look up how many people in your city live within a half mile of transit service, for instance, or how many jobs are conveniently accessible via transit from your neighborhood compared to your city as a whole.

The tool combines route and schedule information from 805 American transit agencies with a wealth of Census data, making a broad spectrum of uses possible. With AllTransit, you can compare different facets of transit service across neighborhoods, cities, regions, states, or electoral districts.

To help people summarize complex comparisons, AllTransit offers an overall “performance score” incorporating several factors, including the extent of frequent service and how well transit connects people’s homes to jobs and other destinations.

The emphasis on frequency is unprecedented, said Linda Young, director of research for CNT. “Frequency is so important because it’s really the determinant of how people are going to use transit,” she said.

Here are a few ways you can use the tool, with Madison, Wisconsin serving as an example. Keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive list. Below are the city’s performance score and top-level stats — click to enlarge.

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