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Posts from the "Transit" Category

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6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via Saporta Report

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##

This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

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Are Federal Transit Models Short-Changing Universities?

Planners of the new Tucson streetcar predicted that it would carry 3,600 passengers a day. Just three months after it opened, the figure is 4,700. Builders of the light rail between Minneapolis and St. Paul that started running in June foresaw 33,000 daily riders in 2015; the count has already passed 37,000.

Despite its slow travel time, the Twin Cities' Green Line is surpassing expectations -- in part because the FTA underestimates the university effect. Photo: ##http://www.cts.umn.edu/Publications/catalyst/2014/july/greenline##U of M Center for Transportation Studies##

Despite its slow travel time, the Twin Cities’ Green Line is surpassing expectations — in part because the FTA underestimates the university effect. Photo: U of M Center for Transportation Studies

These two rail lines have something in common: They pass through the heart of major state universities. Maryland’s Purple Line, which will break ground next year, does the same. There’s every reason to believe ridership will beat expectations there too.

The forecasts in Minnesota and Arizona did not fall short for lack of effort. A lot of work goes into ridership estimates, and they are carefully vetted by the Federal Transit Administration. Indeed, that vetting may be the cause of the lowball predictions.

Since the federal agency has the job of choosing the best among many projects seeking funding, it can’t let local governments puff up their numbers. So it insists that forecasters begin with computer models approved by regional planning agencies and lets them deviate only when hard evidence justifies it.

The models are slanted against transit. They ignore the ongoing return to the city and assume a future of more sprawl and more driving. On top of that, they treat universities like any other workplace. That’s a good enough approximation if you’re trying to predict rush-hour highway traffic, the purpose for which the models were originally put together, but it undercounts potential transit riders.

For many reasons, transit gets more use at universities than elsewhere:
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By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads

It's not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

If only our nation’s spending priorities more closely tracked public opinion: A new poll [PDF] from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that when presented with the choice, Americans would rather spend transportation resources expanding transit than widening roads.

In a landline and cell phone survey that asked 1,001 randomly selected adults how they prefer “to reduce traffic congestion around
the country,” 54 percent said they would rather see government “providing more public transportation options,” compared to 41 percent who preferred “expanding and building roads.” Five percent offered no opinion on the matter. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Attitudes varied by political leaning, place of residence, and other demographic factors. Urbanites were most likely to prefer transit spending (61 percent), followed by suburbanites (52 percent), then rural residents (49 percent), indicating that transit may be preferred to roads in every setting, though the pollster’s announcement doesn’t include enough detail to say so conclusively.

Among college graduates, racial minorities, people under 40, very high earners, and political liberals and independents, majorities favor transit expansion. Meanwhile, strong conservatives, evangelical white protestants, and white men without college degrees are more likely to favor road spending.

The poll release was timed in conjunction with Tuesday’s Washington Post forum on transportation issues.

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Got Transit Troubles? The Problem Could Be the Chain of Command

Boston's MBTA enjoys unique consolidation, but that hasn't spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

Boston’s MBTA consolidates the entire region’s transit network, but that hasn’t spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

If you still have to juggle multiple farecards for the various transit systems in your area — or if urgent maintenance issues in the city core are going unattended while the suburbs get a shiny new station — the problem might run deeper than the incompetence everyone is grumbling about. The root of it all might be embedded in the very structure of the agencies that govern your transit system.

Last year, infighting among members of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority about how to distribute funds led the agency to seek outside help. A team of researchers, including the Eno Center for Transportation, came to try to figure out what the trouble was. “It soon became clear that RTA did not actually have a funding distribution problem,” Eno wrote in its report.

In fact, the authors concluded, RTA had a governance problem, which in turn had far-reaching consequences beyond funding battles: Governance issues impeded RTA’s ability to coordinate regional transit services and investments and contributed to “chronic underinvestment” in Chicago’s transit network.

The Chicago area is home to three major transit operators: the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra (a regional rail agency), and Pace (a suburban bus agency), all members of the RTA. While the RTA has the power to distribute funding, that’s about all it can do. Even those funding decisions are largely based on outdated formulas set by the state. When there is some money that RTA has the discretion to allocate as it chooses, bitter disputes ensue among the three agencies — disputes like the one Eno and company were called in to mediate.

The RTA doesn’t coordinate or steer Chicago’s transit providers, so all three essentially operate separate fiefdoms. “The inherent problem is that RTA occupies an ambiguous middle ground where it is powerful enough to create challenges and bureaucracy, but not powerful enough to be productive in pursuing regional goals,” reports Eno. The Chicago officials and transit experts Eno interviewed wanted to see RTA either strengthened or eliminated, but they agreed the status quo is not productive, leading to jurisdictional battles without building regional partnerships.

Meanwhile, the state is all but absent in Chicago transit governance, which Eno says is “shortsighted” when “transit has such a large impact on the economic success of the state.” Aside from helping with coordination and regional visioning, the state could be providing needed funds.

Intrigued by the findings in Chicago, Eno then partnered with TransitCenter to study five other cities to see how transit governance structures affect operations.

Here’s a cheat sheet before we go on:

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Talking Headways Podcast: Zero Deaths, Zero Cars, Zero Tundra Voles

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Special guest Damien Newton of Streetsblog LA joins Jeff and me on this episode to tell us all about the Los Angeles DOT’s new strategic plan, which includes a Vision Zero goal: zero traffic deaths by 2025, a vision all of our cities should get behind. He walks us through the oddities of LA politics and the pitfalls that may await the plan, as well as one really good reason it could succeed. (Her name is Seleta Reynolds.)

Then Jeff and I move on to Helsinki, Finland, and its even more ambitious goal: Zero private cars by 2025. They have a plan to do it, which includes many elements that American cities are experimenting with on a tiny scale. We talk about what Helsinki has in store that could get them to their goal.

And then we research Finnish fauna.

I know you’re listening to this podcast on your phone while you’re on on your bike or whatever, but when you get to a safe place to stop, shout at us in the comments.

And find us on  iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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Census Data Shows How Much Less Millennials and Gen-Xers Commute by Car

Change in share of Generation X Commuters (aged 25-54) driving to work, 2007 to 2013. Image: Brookings, from analysis of American Community Survey data

Change in share of Generation X Commuters (aged 25-54) driving to work, 2007 to 2013. Image: Brookings, from analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

Nationally, most commuters are still revving up their cars to get to work every morning, but the picture is more complicated when you look across different age groups.

Based on the latest Census data from the 2013 American Community Survey, changes are underway for younger and older commuters alike, especially in the country’s largest metropolitan areas.* By and large, Millennials and Generation X are leading the charge toward a range of alternate modes, including public transportation and walking, while Baby Boomers continue to use their cars at even higher levels.

Indeed, while 82.4 percent of workers ages 16 to 24 — the youngest working Millennials — commute to work by car, that share has fallen by nearly 1.3 percentage points in large metros since 2007 and nearly 4 percentage points less than they did in 1983.

Young Millennials also represent the commuters who most frequently take public transportation (5.8 percent of them commute that way) and walk to work (6.6 percent). They’re not only ditching the car in traditional multimodal hubs like San Francisco but in several smaller metros as well. For example, Tucson ranked first nationally in its transit growth among these workers, seeing their share rise 5.5 percentage points since 2007. Meanwhile, more young workers are walking in other university-centric metros like Syracuse (+3.6 percent since 2007), New Haven (+2.4), and Austin (+1.7).

Still, driving dips aren’t limited to Millennials; Generation X commuters are shifting away from private vehicles in nearly equal numbers. Overall, workers aged 25 to 54 saw their driving rate fall by 0.9 percentage points between 2007 and 2013. That drop equates to roughly 750,000 drivers — about the total number of commuters in Milwaukee — switching to other modes. That might help explain the stalling amount of miles driven across the country.

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The 10 Best and Worst Cities to Catch a Bus to Work

This chart shows the number of jobs accessible by transit in Atlanta. Red indicates better accessibility by transit. Image: University of Minnesota

This map shows the number of jobs accessible by transit from a given point. Few parts of Atlanta have good transit accessibility compared to the nation’s top performing cities. Map: University of Minnesota

It’s been called “the geography of opportunity.” And David Levinson is trying to make a science of it.

In a new analysis, Levinson, a University of Minnesota transportation engineering professor, and his colleague Andrew Owen have ranked the 50 largest U.S. metro areas based on job accessibility by transit [PDF].

Levinson and Owen used transit schedules and walking routes to chart how many jobs are accessible in each region from a given point within a given amount of time. Adding Census data about where people reside, they were able to calculate the number of jobs the average worker in each region can reach via transit within 10-minute intervals. The rankings are based on those stats — the more jobs a typical resident can reach via transit in a short amount of time, the higher a region performed.

This chart shows job accessibility by 10-minute intervals for the Charlotte region. Image: University of Minnesota

This chart shows the number of jobs accessible via transit for an average worker in the Charlotte region, within 10-minute intervals of travel time. Graph: University of Minnesota

The top 10 cities for job accessibility by transit, according to Owen and Levinson, align fairly well with what you would expect:

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So Your City Is Adding HOT Lanes. Will They Work for Transit?

HOT lanes opened on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia in the time since the study period. Photo: ##http://www.aaroads.com/guide.php?page=i0495oava##AA Roads##

HOT lanes opened on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia in the time since the CNT study period. Photo: AA Roads

High-occupancy vehicle lanes can help incentivize carpooling (and let solo drivers sit in punishing congestion). But too often, transportation agencies spend millions of dollars to widen the road to make carpool lanes, instead of simply designating existing lanes. To recoup some of the expense, the agencies also let drivers pay to use the new “high-occupancy/toll lane.”

HOT lanes are often derided as “Lexus lanes.” But they can benefit transit riders, too, if cities and transit agencies know how to use them.

Most don’t, though, so the good folks at the Center for Neighborhood Technology wrote a guide, published last week in the Journal of Public Transportation.

HOT lanes, at their best, offer a form of congestion pricing — charging drivers a variable price to use a congested roadway depending on the time of day. And those tolls can help pay for more efficient transportation on that roadway.

In 2012, there were 12 HOT lanes operating in the U.S.,which CNT’s Gregory Newmark examined for his report. The great majority are in the South and West. Most of them are on interstate highways. All of them have bus service.

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Talking Headways Podcast: OMG Enough About Millennials Already

podcast icon logoJeff is back from Rail~volution with all the highlights from the sessions he skipped because he was deep in conversation in the hallways. Isn’t that what conferences are for? We discuss what we do and don’t get out of these big meetings.

We also get into CityLab‘s examination of the gap between public support for transit spending and actual transit ridership, and we bring in some illuminating survey results from Transit Center [PDF] (and of course, The Onion) to shed light on what the people want from their transit systems. And we agree: While millennials are an important cohort to look at as we examine changing trends in transportation habits, good lord we are sick of talking about them

Stay tuned till the end of the podcast for Jeff’s rundown of the conferences you can still attend this season — there are, according to his count, 50 bajillion more. Pick one and go skip all the sessions and hang out in the hallways like the cool kids.

And hang out with us by subscribing to Talking Headways on our RSS feedStitcher or iTunes.

The comments section awaits your contribution to our witty repartee.

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Why Transit Agencies Should Woo “Bohemian Boomers” and “Metro Moms”

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by geography. Graphic courtesy TransitCenter.

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by the region people inhabit. Maps: TransitCenter

A new national survey released today by TransitCenter seeks to understand not just the who, but also the why, of Americans’ increasing transit use. The survey found that Americans’ feelings towards transit and cities vary considerably by age, personal values, and whether transit provides a feasible travel option in their neighborhoods. Factors that don’t have much of an effect on transit use include having children at home, education level, having very high incomes, and the region of the country people inhabit.

The survey also identified several individual factors strongly linked to transit use. Residents of dense, transit-friendly environment, people with jobs or enrolled in school, people of color, low-income Americans, and people with access to high-quality transit are all more likely to ride transit, echoing previous survey findings.

The TransitCenter survey goes beyond prior research by trying to understand personal characteristics that might motivate transit use. Transit users are likely to have grown up in neighborhoods with convenient transit, to be open to new things and experiences, and to want to remain productive while traveling. These motivations are almost as strong as more basic motivations, like relying on transit because no other options are available.

transitcenter poll

The survey also reinforces prior research into the kinds of neighborhoods Americans want, finding that Americans generally want a blend of space and walkability, and that there are significant mismatches between the types of places people would like to live, and the places they actually call home. Only 37 percent of respondents who live in suburban residential areas preferred that type of neighborhood, for instance, and only 28 percent of them wanted to live in such a neighborhood as children. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) wanted to live in mixed-use suburban or small town areas, and more than half of people who live in those areas are satisfied with their locations.

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