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Posts from the Transit Category

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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.”

Read more…

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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.

Read more…

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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.”

Read more…

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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.

Read more…

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The Promise of Expanding Atlanta Transit Inside the City Limits

It looked like the Atlanta region’s ambitious transit plans might have been thwarted late last month when state lawmakers shot down a bill to allow Fulton, Clayton, and DeKalb counties to hold ballot measures potentially raising $8 billion to expand MARTA. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

Extending commuter rail to Alpharetta would have been very expensive. Image: MARTA via Curbed

Extending commuter rail to Alpharetta would be very expensive and divert resources from urban transit needs. Image: MARTA via Curbed

Transit expansion plans for Atlanta are moving ahead again in a new form. City leaders have decided to go it alone with a ballot measure that would put a city-only sales tax increase for transit expansion to Atlanta voters. The bill enabling the referendum overwhelmingly passed the House last week. If the Senate and Governor Nathan Deal approve it, and it musters a majority vote in November, the tax would raise about $2.5 billion for transit in Atlanta over 40 years.

Fulton County, which includes Atlanta’s northern suburbs, may also get a chance to raise its own tax for transit. But here’s why an Atlanta-only transit measure could be even better than a combined one.

To be politically viable in Fulton County, a transit tax would have to pay for commuter rail to suburban Alpharetta, 27 miles north of the city. That project would be very car-oriented — picture park-and-ride lots serving a rail line running along Georgia 400 — and very expensive: about $2.5 billion to construct, according to Curbed Atlanta.

Instead of building transit to serve sprawling suburbs, an Atlanta-only measure can focus on putting transit in the densest areas, where it can serve more people and support walkable development.

It’s not clear which projects an Atlanta-only transit tax would support, but Mayor Kasim Reed has said the funding would go toward “a much larger light rail component,” which, unlike the struggling Atlanta streetcar, would be separated from traffic. Those projects are likely to include rail along the Atlanta Beltline — the ring of transit, trails, parks, and new development taking shape along defunct freight tracks encircling the city.

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Subsidizing Uber for the “Last Mile”? An Orlando Suburb Is Trying It

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.35.13 PM

The view from the Altamonte Springs SunRail station. Credit: Google Maps

In a January 2015 paper, the Yale Law professor David Schleicher and Yale Law student Daniel Rauch published a paper on how local governments might regulate “sharing economy” companies, such as Uber, in the future.

Among their more startling predictions, perhaps, was that the very cities that have been battling to regulate startups like Uber — which have been accused of ignoring laws requiring their competitors to, for example, license their drivers or ensure a certain proportion of their fleet is accessible to people with physical disabilities — would soon spend public money subsidizing Uber trips.

Why would they do such a thing?

Well, we might ask the Orlando suburb of Altamonte Springs, which this month became the first US city to fulfill Schleicher and Rauch’s predictions by announcing that it would begin subsidizing Uber trips within its borders. The city will cover 25 percent of the cost of trips that begin or end at the city’s SunRail commuter station, and 20 percent of other trips. The idea is to make help solve the “first/last mile problem” with the rail station, since there are few homes, jobs, or stores close enough to the station to make walking reasonable, and even the city admits that bus service is too spare to be relied on.

The Yale paper makes the case that there are good economic reasons for this kind of subsidy. In particular, they argue that low-cost Uber trips might create a “public goods” surplus by, among other things, allowing residents to make trips — and potentially buy more goods and services, or reach more jobs, or even just visit more people — that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, ultimately improving on the “agglomeration effects” that are the economic basis of city living to begin with. Subsidizing ride-hailing services might also have a decongesting effect, by allowing a smaller number of vehicles to be used more intensively, and reducing the need for each household to keep one or more cars sitting idle for 23 hours a day. That would also reduce the need for homes, stores, and offices to hold large amounts of land for peak-use parking capacity, which also sits idle outside of work hours, or on low-shopping days.

Finally, they point out that there is a strong redistributive angle to this: Uber as a sort of public transportation. While the Altamonte Springs policy is not explicitly aimed at redistribution, it might conceivably be disproportionately used by lower-income people with limited car access. Other cities might attempt to target their subsidies more carefully, either by directly subsidizing trips for people below a certain income threshold — think of the reduced-fare transit cards that many agencies provide for low-income riders — or by simply requiring that ride-hailing companies provide a certain amount of reduced-fare rides in exchange for permission to operate. Think of it as inclusionary Uber.

But if this is going to become a broader trend, there are still a lot of questions to resolve.

Read more…

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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

Read more…

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Georgia Lawmakers Won’t Even Let Atlanta Vote on Transit Expansion

Once again, state lawmakers in Georgia have undermined urban transport in Atlanta. A bill to allow residents Fulton and DeKalb counties to vote on a half-cent sales tax to fund transit died in the Georgia Senate this week when leaders refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.

There's strong support for expansing MARTA among voters, but Georgia state lawmakers are stranding in the way. Photo: Wikipedia

There’s strong support for expanding MARTA among Atlanta-area voters, but Georgia state lawmakers are standing in the way. Photo: Wikipedia

A successful referendum would have raised $8 billion to expand the MARTA transit network. But for now there’s still no relief in sight for Atlanta’s stifling traffic and car dependence.

Polling by the local chamber of commerce revealed strong public support for the MARTA expansion proposal. But Georgia lawmakers won’t even give voters the opportunity to decide for themselves.

The bill was not taken up on the last day it could be considered by the House and Senate this legislative session. “It’s dead,” Republican Senator Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, who sponsored the legislation, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The news means “the future of metro Atlanta’s public transit is uncertain,” writes alt weekly Creative Loafing, which relays rumors that resistance from lawmakers in North Fulton County ultimately spiked the bill.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed does hold some leverage in the situation. Reed said yesterday that “the issue is not over” and that he would block revenue raising measures for road expansion unless the MARTA ballot issue is allowed to proceed, according to the Saporta Report.