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“Trick Out Your Trip” With ioby and TransitCenter

tricked out

Photo: ioby

How would you improve your transit experience? OK, maybe not with a Persian rug and a harpist. But shelter and a place to sit couldn’t hurt, right? And how about some better lighting and safer pedestrian features along your way to the stop?

Those small, inexpensive improvements are the target of a new campaign by TransitCenter and the crowdfunding platform ioby. TransitCenter will be offering match funds to support “at least 10 ioby projects” aiming to improve the transit experience. That means you need to crowdfund support for your idea on ioby, and then TransitCenter will match it — up to $4,000. Projects shouldn’t exceed a $10,000 total budget.

Unlike grants to transit agencies — marked by cumbersome red tape and big money for big equipment — this process is led by the transit user. TransitCenter and ioby are out to “put riders at the center of creating, funding, implementing and stewarding amenities, entertainment, convenience and comfort in transit hubs,” according to ioby co-founder Erin Barnes.

The organizations call the matching fund campaign “Trick Out My Trip,” and they’re hoping to find cheap and easy ways to make the commuter experience “faster, more reliable, more comfortable (in terms of lighting, sounds, temperature and smell), safer, with more opportunities to get home faster (with pedestrian friendly paths, carpooling or bike sharing) and to take care of other errands as part of the commute (to go to the post office, library or grocery), and to make it easy on the people who need better transit options most, like families, the very young and the very old.”

Bike-share, ride-share, and pedestrian improvements are also fair game. TransitCenter and ioby are up for funding improvements to any mode of “clean transportation.”

“While we always support better service overall, we hope small-scale projects will inspire institutions and governments and other communities to consider non-capital improvements for their customers, the riders of public transportation,” says Shin-pei Tsay of TransitCenter.

You have until October 6 to let them know you’re interested. Visit ioby for details.

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Talking Headways: Jeff’s Milkshake

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Forgive us for the unacceptable two-week gap between podcast episodes but this one is totally worth the wait. Feast on our in-depth exploration of three transit lines (in order of fantasy to reality): Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.

Despite having population density that rivals Manhattan, the Las Vegas strip doesn’t have high-quality transit running along its full length, but that might be about to change. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, a light rail line is inching closer to reality but its route stops just short of the densest parts of the region, making it far less useful than it could be. And in Salt Lake City, a line that fails on many metrics is still being hailed as a great success.

And, do I still even need to say it? The comments. The RSS feedStitcheriTunes. That is all.

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TransitMix: A New App for Your Fantasy Map

I’m a little intimidated by sharing my first fantasy transit map with an audience that I know to include some ardent and accomplished fantasy transit mappers. But here goes: my first attempt.

38 starfighter

It’s a little circuitous, but it connects neighborhoods that don’t have great connections right now. I didn’t bring it all the way into downtown, which is only another few blocks south, but they’re slow blocks, and everything already connects to downtown. Now that I think about it, I could probably start the route a little south of Takoma Park and shave off a little time. When I increased frequency and weekend night service, the cost jumped. As you can see, I’m beginning to realize the tradeoffs that go into transit planning.

I made this map using Transitmix, a new tool from Code for America. By the way, the route name and number — 38 Starfighter — were their idea, and better than anything I would have come up with.

Here’s what a more talented fantasy mapper than myself designed for Seattle:
Read more…

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Why Transit Agencies Expand Even When They Struggle to Provide Service

This map shows transit routes in New Orleans that run less frequently than once every 30 miles at peak hour in red. Routes that run at 15-minute frequencies or less. Image: Ride New Orleans via Transport Politic

Frequent transit in New Orleans is scarce: The transit routes in red run less frequently than once every 30 minutes at peak hour, while only the routes in green run at least every 15 minutes. Image: Ride New Orleans via Transport Politic

New Orleans transit is in bad shape, as we reported recently. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has never recovered from Hurricane Katrina and service is at about 36 percent of pre-storm levels despite the region’s population rebound.

New Orleans’ frequent service lines have been slashed dramatically. Even newly built streetcar lines are running infrequently.

So why is New Orleans planning a major expansion that would dramatically expand the streetcar system, as well as add light rail and bus rapid transit? As Yonah Freemark recently pointed out at the Transport Politic, despite its inability to deliver frequent along its existing routes, NORTA plans to pour $3.5 billion into construction.

This case, Freemark explains, illustrates problematic incentives embedded in federal policy. Namely, the federal government makes money available for expansion projects but not for day-to-day service:

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Trading Cars for Transit Passes “in the Middle of the Corn and Soybeans”

The Champaign-Urbana managed to boost walking, biking and transit rates. Photo: Wikipedia

The Champaign-Urbana region managed to boost walking, biking, and transit rates. Photo: Wikipedia

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

If Champaign-Urbana can make it easier to leave your car at home, any place can. That’s what local planner Cynthia Hoyle tells people about the progress her region has made over the last few years.

With great intention and years of work, this region of about 200,000 has reversed the growth of driving and helped get more people biking and taking transit. Since 2000, Champaign-Urbana has seen a 15 percent increase in transit ridership and a 2 percent decrease in vehicle miles traveled. The percentage of the population biking to work is up, and the percentage driving alone is down. Champaign-Urbana tracks its progress toward these goals on a publicly available report card.

“What I tell people is that if you can do it out here in the middle of the corn and soybeans, you can do it too,” said Hoyle, a planner with Alta Planning + Design who helped lead the process. “Everyone thinks this kind of stuff just happened in places like Portland.”

Hoyle outlined a few key steps along the region’s path toward more sustainable transportation:

1. Coordinate between government agencies to create walkable development standards

Champaign-Urbana’s sustainable mobility push began with the adoption of a long-range plan in 2004. The plan was part of a collaborative effort by local municipalities, the regional planning agency, and the local transit authority.

Read more…

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Phoenix Light Rail Beats Projections, and the Mayor Wants More

Phoenix Metro light rail is besting expectations. Photo: Wikipedia

Phoenix Metro light rail is beating expectations. Photo: Wikipedia

Can Phoenix become a transit city? It’s looking like more and more of a possibility lately.

Phoenix’s Metro light rail system is less than six years old but has already surpassed ridership projections for 2020. The system is carrying 48,000 passengers a day, or 22,000 more than initially projected, according to the Arizona Republic. Extensions of the system, which currently has 20 miles of track and 28 stations, are already underway and eagerly anticipated in Phoenix and the suburb of Mesa.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton isn’t about to stop there. He wants to triple the size of the system by 2030. Business and civic leaders will convene soon to develop an expansion plan to bring to voters next year. The team will be headed by Mary Peters, U.S. transportation secretary under President George W. Bush, the Republic reports.

Phoenix has also been trying to make the neighborhoods around the rail system more conducive to riding it. The city used about $3 million in funds from the Obama administrations’ Sustainable Communities Program to plan for transit-oriented development around the system’s stations. The blueprint, called Reinvent Phoenix, lays out incentives and zoning rules to encourage walkable development around the stations.

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Congress Hits the Snooze Button on Transpo Funding Until May

Someone had to cave and last night, it was the Senate.

Closed for the summer. Photo: ##http://www.capitol.gov/html/EVT_2010061578974.html##Capitol.gov##

Closed for the summer. Photo: Politic365

The upper chamber had fought as long as it could to adjust the House transportation bill so it wouldn’t expire when the GOP controls both chambers of Congress. But senators were never willing to actually let the Highway Trust Fund go broke. U.S. DOT would have started cutting back on reimbursements to state DOTs as of today in the absence of an agreement.

After the House rejected the Senate’s amendment yesterday, hours before representatives were due to return to their home districts for the five-week August recess, it seemed the Senate had no choice. Then, news broke that the House was going to stick around a little longer to keep fighting about the border crisis.

Could the Senate have taken advantage of the House’s presence to toss the football back to them, on the assumption that the last team holding it will get blamed for the fumble? Maybe. Maybe the House would have been the one to cave, then. Maybe they would have sent the transportation industry into a tailspin. In a recent poll, 85 percent of transit agencies said they would implement service cuts if that happened.

At least we were spared that. But perhaps not for long. Former U.S. DOT official Beth Osborne, now at Transportation for America, noted that each extension seems to be getting harder. “The easy ways to pay for the program are gone,” she said. “It’s going to get harder doing this with bubble gum and band-aids.”

Who cares?

Last night on Twitter, Cap’n Transit paid me the backhanded compliment of my life by saying:

Read more…

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Decades in the Works, D.C.’s Silver Line Opens to Commuters

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By 10 a.m., more than 9,500 passengers had made trips that started or ended at the five new Silver Line stations today. Photo: @drgridlock/Twitter

Half a century ago, when Dulles International Airport was constructed in the farmlands of Virginia, planners were forming a blueprint for the Washington region’s new Metro system. Back then, they ruled out the idea of stretching the rail line 30 miles beyond the capital through rural counties to connect with the airport. Such a line would serve no purpose for commuters, they said, and would do nothing to help congestion.

But there wasn’t a total absence of foresight regarding the region’s potential explosion. Along with the airport came the Dulles Access Road — and through the center of it, a median reserved for future transit.

The new Silver Line, which officially opened to riders on Saturday after months of delays, runs along that exact path. Ultimately, the 23-mile extension — the largest infrastructure project in the nation – will connect not only to the airport but beyond it to Ashburn, Virginia. The $2.9 billion first phase laid 11.7 miles of new track along five new stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, expanding the Metro system’s mileage by 10 percent.

Today is the first weekday for commuters to try out the new line, which runs east from Reston through the city to Largo Town Center in Maryland. WMATA predicts ridership will be low at first, then eventually reach as many as 25,000 boardings a day. As of 10 a.m. today, more than 9,500 people had passed through the five new stations, the agency said.

It took over five decades for the Silver Line to get here. The last 20 years were particularly contentious, as the project overcame political strife, cost overruns, financing complexities, and construction delays.

Read more…

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The Secrets of Successful Transit Projects — Revealed!

Green Line Trax at Gallivan Plaza

The Trax light rail system in Salt Lake City has the hallmarks of high-ridership transit. Photo: CountyLemonade/Flickr

All across America, cities are investing in new transit lines. Which of these routes will make the biggest impact by attracting large numbers of new riders? A landmark report from a team of researchers with the University of California at Berkeley identifies the factors that set successful transit investments apart from the rest.

The secret sauce is fairly simple, when you get down to it: Place a transit line where it will connect a lot of people to a lot of jobs and give it as much grade-separated right-of-way as possible, and it will attract a lot of riders.

What makes the work of the Berkeley researchers, led by Daniel G. Chatman, remarkable is that it compiles decades of real-world data to predict how many people will ride a given transit route. Their conclusions should bolster efforts to maximize the effectiveness of new transit investments.

The report authors examined 140-plus factors to build these ridership models, based on data collected from 55 “fixed guideway” transit projects, including rail and bus rapid transit routes, built in 18 metropolitan areas between 1974 and 2008.

They found the success of a transit project is almost synonymous with whether it serves areas that are dense in both jobs and population and have expensive parking — in short, lively urban neighborhoods. In the report’s model, the combination of these factors explains fully 62 percent of the ridership difference between transit projects.

Surprisingly, the only design factor that seemed to have a significant effect on ridership was whether the route is grade-separated (in a tunnel or on a viaduct). In isolation, transit speed, frequency, or reliability did not have significant impacts, but the great advantage of grade-separated routes is that they can run quickly and reliably through high-density areas.

While it may seem like common sense to put transit routes where they will connect people to jobs, agencies don’t always choose the best routes — often opting for expedience over effectiveness. Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner commuter rail service, for instance, very closely parallels a newly widened I-15, and many stations are located in low-density industrial or residential areas. Ridership has fallen short of expectations.

Elsewhere in Salt Lake City, the authors identify the University/Medical Center Trax light rail route as a good example of a high-ridership transit project. It connects major high-wage job centers — notably the university, its hospital, and downtown — and also many leisure destinations like museums, sports stadiums, the state fair park, concert halls, and nearly half of the region’s hotel rooms. Locals have embraced light rail as an alternative to costly parking, as well: Parking demand on the growing University of Utah campus has fallen 30 percent since the route opened. The route carries 78 percent more riders than initially projected.

Read more…

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Why the Federal Funding Emergency Matters for Transportation Reform

Why does it matter if state departments of transportation get less money?

In light of last week’s news that the U.S. DOT might have to ration its payments to states in the absence of new revenue for the federal transportation program, we posed that question to David Goldberg, communications director at Transportation for America. After all, a lot of states are pursuing wasteful boondoggles, like Kentucky’s Ohio River Bridges Project and the Illiana Expressway.

Several states have said they will hold off on planning new projects until they have some certainty that they will be reimbursed with federal funds. And if Washington can’t deliver those funds, good projects will be shelved as well as bad, Goldberg said.

Transit agencies will also feel the pain if Congress can’t come up with a funding solution. The Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, which provides money to the nation’s transit agencies, is running low and on track to go into the red by October. ”Transit agencies are starting to say, ‘We better not let contracts because we don’t know where the money’s coming from,’” he said

Losing any portion of federal funding for transit agencies would be “devastating,” said Goldberg, as many of them are already stretched very thin.

Furthermore, Goldberg said that if Washington can’t find a solution to the transportation funding problem, it will bode poorly for attempts to solve other problems — like enacting federal policies that make transportation safer, greener, and more efficient.

“This is an opportunity for people in Congress, for Americans in general, to consider what the point of these programs are,” he said. “If we can’t take it seriously, we can’t ask for those progressive things.”