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Simple, Creative Ideas to Build a Better Bus Stop

Waiting for the bus can be a pain. To make transit more appealing, nothing beats frequent service, but studies have shown that if you’re going to wait, small improvements like shelters and information about when the next bus is coming can make the wait feel shorter.

A community group in Denver, Colorado raised money to post walking directions signs advising riders of nearby destinations that are a sort distance by foot. Photo: ioby

WalkDenver raised money to post wayfinding signs pointing the way to destinations within walking distance. Photo: ioby

That was a big impetus behind “Trick Out My Trip,” an initiative that helped transit riders in cities across America implement creative ideas to make the rider experience better. The project was sponsored by TransitCenter and ioby (in our backyards), a crowdsourcing platform for community improvements.

Ten grassroots teams raised a combined $54,000 for their projects, matched by $26,000 from the sponsoring organizations. Among the ideas that got funding: play equipment at transit stops for waiting children in Denver and bike repair stations at rail stops in Atlanta.

Here are a few cool examples.

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Without Transit, American Cities Would Take Up 37 Percent More Space

Even if you never set foot on a bus or a train, chances are transit is saving you time and money. The most obvious reason is that transit keeps cars off the road, but the full explanation is both less intuitive and more profound: Transit shrinks distances between destinations, putting everything within closer reach.

A new study published by the Transportation Research Board quantifies the spatial impact of transit in new ways [PDF]. Without transit, the researchers found, American cities would take up 37 percent more space.

Transit-oriented development in Portland's Pearl District. Photo:

Transit-oriented development in Portland’s Pearl District. Photo:

The research team from New York, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City modeled not just how many driving miles are directly averted by people riding transit, but how the availability of transit affects the way we build cities.

By allowing urban areas to be built more compactly, the “land use effect” of transit reduces driving much more than the substitution of car trips with transit trips. Total miles driven in American cities would be 8 percent higher without the land use effect of transit, the researchers concluded, compared to 2 percent higher if you forced everyone who rides transit to drive.

On average, the study found, the “land use effect” of transit is four times greater than the “ridership effect,” or the substitution of car trips with transit trips. But the land use effect of transit varies a great deal across urban areas, the study found. In places like Greenville, South Carolina, it’s responsible for reducing driving 3 percent. In San Francisco and New York City, it’s 18 and 19 percent, respectively.

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North Carolina Lawmakers Try to Sabotage Durham-Orange Light Rail

A rendering of the 17-mile Durham-Orange light rail plan. Image: Go Triangle

A rendering of the proposed Durham-Orange light rail. Image: Our Transit Future

State lawmakers in North Carolina launched a sneak attack this week on plans for light rail between Durham and Orange County — and nobody’s sure exactly who’s behind it or why they did it.

Leaders in Durham and Orange are counting on the state to deliver about 10 percent of the funding for the $1.5 billion, 17-mile line, which would connect the booming area between Durham and Chapel Hill. But North Carolina residents learned this week that the state budget compromise between the House and Senate includes a new provision that would outlaw directing more than $500,000 in state funds to a light rail project. Lawmakers never openly debated the provision.

Durham-Orange light rail is expected to draw 23,000 daily riders. Image: GoTriangle

Daily ridership on the Durham-Orange light rail is expected to be 23,000. Click to enlarge. Image: Our Transit Future

The move was sudden and unexpected. “Nobody knew about it, and bang – it was there,” said Ron Tober, a retired transit executive who lives in the state. “It’s a fairly dramatic event that has occurred.”

Voters in Durham and Orange counties have approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the light-rail project. The plan also called for $138 million from the state, with federal funding to close the gap.

Just this week, the Federal Transit Administration awarded $1.7 million to GoTriangle to plan transit-oriented development around the stations. Project leaders recently completed a draft environmental impact statement and were preparing to approach the federal government for funds to begin the engineering phase.

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A Major Bike Lane Upgrade, Brought to You by Portland’s Transit Agency

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

It’s safe to say Portland has found a way to solve the problem of people confusing a sidewalk with a sidewalk-level bike lane.

The answer: lots and lots of green.

Here are some pictures of the raised bike lanes on Southwest Moody Avenue in 2013.

Comfortable separation between bikes and cars? Yes. Confusing interactions between people walking and biking? Also yes.

Now, here’s what a once-similar section of the same street looked like as of last week.

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Cities Lead the Way as U.S. Car Commuting Takes Historic Downturn

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Graph: U.S. Census Bureau

The decline is small in number, but in the scheme of things, it’s huge: New census data [PDF] out last week show car commuting among Americans is finally, after decades of growth, starting to reverse itself.

Driving to work is still the predominant mode to a depressing extent. Almost nine in 10 Americans get to work by car and about three in four drive alone. But those numbers are beginning to fall.

Since 1960, the percent of Americans driving to work rose from 64 percent to a high of 87.9 percent in 2000. Since then, it has declined slightly but meaningfully to 85.8 percent. The percent of the population commuting by car ticked down again in 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Even solo car commuting is down from its high in 2010 of 76.6 percent. Despite a precipitous decline in carpooling, solo car commuting was down to 76.4 percent in 2013, after two decades of rapid growth.

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Declines in car commuting for the 10 cities with the highest transit commuting rates by age. Table: U.S. Census

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People Won’t Ride the Tysons Corner Metro If They Can’t Walk to Stations

A Tysons Corner Metro station under construction in 2012. Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikipedia

A year after the Washington Metro opened the Silver Line in Northern Virginia, apartment rentals are booming and development is roaring ahead. But Martin Di Caro of WAMU reported Monday that the Metro itself isn’t meeting expectations:

Only 17,000 riders board the Silver Line on a typical weekday, a figure that includes more than 9,100 commuters at the Wiehle-Reston East station, the western terminus with a 2,300-space parking garage. The total is even less impressive when you consider roughly two-thirds of Silver Line ridership is former Orange Line commuters.

The Silver Line as a whole is operating at about two-thirds of predicted ridership.

The retrofitting of Tysons Corner’s suburban office park model into a walkable, mixed-use place has been called “the most ambitious re-urbanization project on Earth.” But according to Metro’s own analysis, progress on walking and biking infrastructure is lagging far behind the transit.

People simply can’t get to and from the Metro safely. While the Tysons stations were built for pedestrian access, without park-n-rides, the blocks are still too long, the street grid hasn’t been built out yet, and sidewalks and bike lanes are still lacking in many places.

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Transit Union Slams DRIVE Act

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ##

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants more protections for transit in the multi-year transportation bill. Photo: ATU

Yesterday, the Senate passed both a three-month transportation extension and a six-year reauthorization bill (albeit with three years of funding), which the Senate hopes to workshop with the House in the fall. The bill’s name itself — the DRIVE Act — raised the hackles of transit advocates. Looking deeper, it seems those advocates have more to worry about than just semantics.

The Amalgamated Transit Union summed up their top five concerns with the bill in a letter to the Senate before yesterday’s vote. The Union said that “people who care about public transportation” should vote against the bill because it:

  • Expedites New Starts grant funding for public-private partnerships, encouraging communities to get into deals with private entities. The ATU worries that this policy could lead to “bridges to nowhere” and calls it a “shameless, partisan, and unprecedented nearly $2 billion give away to private — mostly foreign — corporations that have a long history of providing low quality transit service all across the nation.”
  • Removes the requirement for metropolitan planning organizations to include transit agency representatives on their governing boards.
  • Seals information about truck and bus crashes, keeping the public in the dark. The ATU charges that many bus crashes are the result of underpaid and overworked drivers employed by non-unionized bus companies falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Fails to restore bus capital funding that was cut from $980 million to $440 million in MAP-21. The union says without proper funding, unsafe and antiquated buses stay on the road way past the end of their useful life.
  • Is the result of an undemocratic process, as Banking Committee Chair Richard Shelby “broke off negotiations and completed the public transportation title of the bill without reaching an agreement with Ranking Member [Sherrod] Brown.”

Meanwhile, Transportation for America criticized the Senate for missing a chance to give local communities more control over decisions that impact them. A bipartisan amendment from Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to direct more funding to towns and cities was rejected, and the bill instead reduces the overall amount of funding controlled at the community level by nearly $200 million in the first year alone.

And of course, T4A and many other observers are disappointed that the bill is funded — well, half-funded — with gimmicks and shell games rather than a sustainable income source that the transportation sector can count on.

The DRIVE Act will be the Senate’s contribution to a compromise to be worked out with the House, which hasn’t passed a bill yet. Maybe they will, or maybe they’ll go to conference without one, like last time, and just hack away at the Senate’s bill. Either way, House Speaker John Boehner says he’s “confident” they’ll pass a multi-year bill in the fall.

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Major MARTA Expansion Could Transform the Atlanta Region

MARTA hopes to expand its rail service in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Image: ## via WABE##

MARTA hopes to expand its rail service in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Map: ItsMARTA via WABE

Transit planners in the Atlanta area are getting serious about the largest expansion in MARTA’s history. MARTA officials have proposed new, high-capacity service into North Fulton County and east into DeKalb County that could link important job centers by rail for the first time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it could “change the face of Atlanta.”

The new rail service would finally connect residential areas to the rapidly growing area encompassing Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, just east of the city limits. It would also extend all the way north to Alpharetta, a booming business center 25 miles north of Atlanta in Fulton County.

Officials from Cobb County, just west of Fulton, have long resisted and even ridiculed the idea of bringing transit access there, and Gwinnett County to the east is too low-slung and suburban to consider rail service at this point. But Fulton’s charge ahead into a more urban future could cause its neighbors to reconsider their ways.

MARTA Board Chair Robbie Ashe says the transit expansion could propel a new model of growth in the region. “Corporations are increasingly demanding immediate proximity to transit stations,” Ashe told the AJC. “State Farm did it when they came here. Mercedes did it. Worldpay did it when it relocated. Kaiser is going to be located two blocks from here because of the Arts Center Station.”

Best of all, according to Darin Givens who blogs at ATL Urbanist, these new stations, even the ones far out in the suburbs, are likely to be surrounded by transit-oriented development rather than park-n-rides.

“MARTA has now accepted that it’s time to undo its park-n-rides,” Givens said. “They’re trying to turn all these park-n-ride lots around MARTA stations — around a lot of them — into transit-oriented development.”

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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.

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Program Would Make Transit Free for Commuters to Downtown Columbus

Downtown Columbus workers might soon have access to free transit. Photo:

Downtown Columbus workers might soon have access to free transit. Photo:

Only about 5 percent of workers in downtown Columbus arrive by transit daily, according to census data. So Columbus — technically the fifteenth largest city in the U.S. — isn’t a huge transit city, by any means. But an innovative new proposal could help dramatically increase the share of downtown workers who arrive by bus.

A group of downtown property owners is experimenting with a program that would offer free transit passes to those who work in downtown Columbus. The initial 18-month pilot, which recently received final approval, includes just five major employers and about 1,100 employees.

But if it is successful, the plan is to expand free transit passes to employees in a wide area encompassing most of downtown. Marc Conte of Capital Crossroads, the downtown special improvement district leading the initiative, thinks it could at least double the number of people taking transit into downtown each work day.

Some cities, including Boulder and Salt Lake City, have experimented with downtown transit pass systems before, but never on this scale, says Conte. The program is actually modeled after Ohio State University’s BuckID program, which lets all students ride COTA buses for “free” (the cost of the service is included in student activity fees).

Capital Crossroads, a voluntary association of 550 downtown property owners, was grasping for a solution to parking demand. Downtown Columbus office occupancy rates are climbing, and parking lots were developed, but those trends were placing stress on the existing transportation system. Capital Crossroads members, many of them condo owners, “kept asking us to do something about the parking problem,” Conte said. “If you have a big chunk of employees to park anywhere, you can’t find them any parking.”

The city of Columbus built two 700-space downtown parking garages. But the city isn’t interested in additional bonding to build more spaces, Conte says, and market parking rates aren’t high enough to justify private garages.

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