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Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The bottom line is money"

"The bottom line is money. Developers always want to squeeze more units"

Any developer for who money isn't the bottom line isn't a developer for long. Per square foot of construction, more units generate more rents. Two studios generate $600 a month, vs. $900 for a 2-bedroom, for the same floor-space. Three and four bedroom apartments are almost non-existent for this reason.

The only way to get a 3-4 bedroom place in the city is either to buy an hold house, or buy a condo. Houses are attractive, because they can always be expanded by 'sweat equity', at some later time. 


Semi-Public and Public Spaces

"Developers always want to squeeze more units without open space for gathering and mingling."

The inclusion of 'gathering and mingling' spaces in multi-family tends to be a function of the market--ie, when rents are falling, developers start competing on amenities. You can mandate the inclusion of these amenities by regulation. And, when the market is strong, developers can and will bear these costs. But bearing those costs requires spreading them over a larger number of units. Which means one of two things happen: The only structures that get built are very large multi-family units, or that  the average number of bedrooms per unit falls.

Historically, the 'mingling' spaces of urban places have been semi-public spaces: Hallways, alleyways, small streets, and the plazas where two streets intersect at odd angles. Larger spaces (plazas, squares, parks) tend to be public, and publicly owned. Perhaps density added through infill of multi-family on single family lots should be charged a 'park fee' per unit, and that money used to provide more parks.

New York has managed to carve out a number of plazas by permitting developers to add the square footage 'lost' by doing so to the top of the building, although that has some limitations due to elevator capacity.

Waiting For Transit

"Service frequency determines the average wait time for transit, and thus much of the overall travel time for a trip"

Q: Reallly? People spend that much time waiting for transit? 

A: Not average trip time, average wait time. Wait time, however, is a substantial portion of many transit trips, and the part of the trip people hate worst. The lit says that riders treat a minute of wait as the same as multiple minutes of in vehicle time. Many UTA buses (especially in Utah County) run at 20, 30 or 60 minute headways. Once you include the amount of time you have to wait when the bus is late, this can mean substantial waits. Given that people choose transit based largely on its time competitiveness to the automobile, this is a significant issue. It's most significant for short trips.  TRAX is frequent and (generally) reliable,. A 10 mile bus journey on a local bus is pretty miserable. WFRC likes to use 5-10 minutes for the wait, but I don't that that effectively reflects how miserable the experience is. It assumes people know where the bus stop is, how long it will take to walk there, and how long the wait will be. That is valid if you are taking the bus to work, once per day, but doesn't reflect the experience of using the bus for general transportation. The longer the headway, the higher the time-cost of missing a bus, so the more likely you are to leave your current location early to make sure your make it. If you have to use an (unreliable) bus connection to make that connection (such as bus to FrontRunner), there is even more waiting, because you can't control if you arrive 10 minutes early or 2 minutes too late, so you have to be 25 minutes early to be guaranteed a connection. Hence, I prefer to assume random arrival, at 1/2 headway, for any bus. This becomes increasingly important as UTA moves away from the '1-seat ride' model and toward the more efficient 'transfer network'. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TRAX is about done in Salt Lake County

The more I look at it, the more I think that TRAX is done in Salt Lake County*. Barring an odd stretch of the Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad, I don't think there is any unused railroad track left in Salt Lake County**.  Almost all of what which existed in years past has been removed or converted to roadway. And that means converting roadway to dedicated right of way, at which point you might as well built a BRT.

There are a few cases where light rail might be appropriate: 

  • Granary TRAX along 400 W/700 South. Only a mile long, and reduces congestion on the 400 South and Main Street intersection.
  • Salt Lake International Airport. Airports need circulators, and it might as well be TRAX.
  • S-line to Westminster. (Maybe) Again, about a mile long. 
  • 400 South to connect the Red Line to FrontRunner direct. This has been part of the long range transportation plan for a decade, without happening. 200 south is increasingly play the role of connection FrontRunner to the University, making this irrelevant. 
  • Misc. streetcar, but anyplace they add a 'tram' portion (dedicated/shared guideway) to TRAX is going to have to be short, or else it will be so slow that no one will use it.
  • Streetcar from Westminster to 900 East. It would connect two rail lines, and links the University to Sugarhouse.
  • 9 Line SC, from 900S/400W to Indiana Ave/Redwood Road. TRAX on one end, BRT at other terminus. 2 miles long.
  • The extension from Draper to the Utah County line is planned, but being put off until Utah County matures enough to support TRAX. I admit a certain amount of skepticism this will happen. 
  • Red line extension to Herriman/Draper Town Centers. A bit noodely, but greenfield development without an existing roadway, so reasonable. 
  • Draper FrontRunner to LRTP Highland Drive/Minutemand Drive TRAX stop. Connects two rail modes, uses the 'grayfield' of the Prison site for exclusive right of way, and makes it possible to get across I-15 by rail. Bonus points in they add a ped bridge.
  • Any freeway median. BRT would be cheaper, LRT might be better. 

Not appropriate 

  • Fashionplace TRAX to the U, via I-215 and Foothill. Better as BRT
  • Sugarhouse to Parley's Transit Center. Via roadway, so better as BRT.
  • Highland Drive from end of Blue Line to 1100 East in SLC. Better as BRT
  • Daybreak-to-Draper along 114th South. Better as BRT.
  • 'Cottonwood Coaster' from Historic Sandy TRAX to Cottonwood Transit Center. Better as BRT
  • Draper Town Center to nowhere(?), along 123rd. No rail terminus, no connection to TRAX or Frontrunner on the east end.  I understand the desire to connect this end of the Red line extension to the rest of the valley, but TRAX is not the way to do it. 
  • I specifically disdain the DGRW Garfield Branch between Magna and the Old Bingham Highway. No major uses connected, and substantial out of direction travel. 
  • DGRW Branch from Old Bingham, to 5600 West, North to Amelia Earhart Drive and thence to the airport. The 5600 West portion is better as BRT, and connecting to the airport would require constructing substantial track is an area already full of ramps. Converting the rest of 40th West to freeway standards provides better airport access.  A BRT from the airport to the business park and thence south on 5600 South is likely just a better alternative. Converting the DGRW branch from railway to exclusive BRT would be better than TRAX.


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*I know it's still in the running for Mountain Accord in Little Cottonwood; but so are a BRT and a cable car system. I laughed at the idea of a cable car, but if the ski resorts want to fund one over Guardsman Pass, it's their money.

**The extension from Draper to the Utah County line is planned, but being put off until Utah County matures enough to support TRAX. I admit a certain amount of skepticism this will happen.


LRT vs. BRT

To built more Rapid Transit, it should be BRT rather than LRT. Bus Rapid Transit is simply cheaper per mile, which means more of it for the same price.

LRT's advantages are as much political as technical.

First: LRT's primary advantage is that it can use rail corridors to achieve rapid transit status. Cars can't use railway right of way, so there is no competition with cars. This advantage is not limited to LRT. As both the BRT tunnels in Pittsburgh and the Orange line in LA have shown, BRT can use railway right of way quite well. Buses, driven by professionally trained drivers, can pass each easily in 22' (11' per bus). I recall the buses in Eugene, Oregon, coming scarily close. (Railway right of way is only ~22' wide at different points, which is too narrow for even two lanes of car traffic 10' lane + 10' lane + 8' safety area + 8' safety area). Word on the street is that international Fire Code mandates 26' of clear space as necessary for emergency operations.

Second, LRT vehicles are heavier, so they stop more slowly, which makes sharing a lane with cars much more dangerous, especially at high speeds, and consequently less likely to happen.A train in a highway median gets to keep its separated guide-way, and no crank(y) politician can change that. BRT 'Freeway Flyers' (BRT in an exclusive freeway lane) inevitably become BRT in a HOT lane, with consequent degradation in speed and reliability. Trains don't have the problem.

There may be one area where LRT has an actual advantage: Elevated track, with very right clearances. There have been experiments with 'guided' BRT, using things like optical sensors, guidewheels, or specially constructed guide-track. 'The Gap' between vehicle and platform can be an issue, and I'm not sure how well BRT does in that regard.

However, a 'train' portion (exclusive/separated) guideway is expensive. Denver, Seattle, and LA all achieved it by putting light rail in freeway medians. LA is increasing achieving it through the use of elevated lines (albeit at very high prices). Seattle has tunneled, at a cost of over a hundred million dollars a mile.

Previously, I've talked only about 'Rapid' transit in separated/exclusive guide-way. If we want to talk streetcars, it's only fair to compare them with their wheel counterpart, buses. The advantage of streetcar is (again) political. Chambers of Commerce like streetcars, due to their permanency. They are also cheaper and less politically fraught. A 'tram'-type light rail (AKA street-car) is cheap, because it runs in dedicated/mixed traffic right of way. So there is no need to take right of way from cars, or eliminate parking. But this type of right of way comes with costs. It makes the service slow and unreliable--it's like a bus on steel wheels.

Streetcars are also (politically) easier to build, because the FTA helps pay for them. Streetcars can get 50% FTA funding for capital expenses, such as vehicles, TSP, and station platforms. There is no reason a bus couldn't enjoy these same benefits.