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Friday, June 23, 2017

Public Policy always implies subsidy--either to someone, or to their competitors.

Reading Peter Gordon's blog always reminds me that all public policies imply subsidies--either to someone, or to someone's competitors.

When they began, our health and safety regulations are a 'subsidy' for companies already engaging in them. The Dodd-Frank Act on banking is often decried as a subsidy for big banks, because the cost per customer of compliance is lower than for smaller banks.

My friend Rob refers to me as a 'Parking Republican' as I have zero issue with pricing either parking or roads. And why not? It's fiscally sound and economically efficient. Von Thunen pointed out that there is always direct trade-off between rents (real estate) and transportation costs, and the whole field of urban economics is based on it. As a nation, we invested piles of money in lowering transportation costs (adding roads). This massively lower the cost of transportation, which then massively lowered the cost of urban land. (Hence turning central cities into slums for a fifty years).

Free roads and free parking subsidize the automobile. Why not transit?

SLC Transit Master Plan: Community Outreach

Today, we look at the Community Outreach appendix.


  1. It would be nice to have documented the timespans of the outreach events, as well as the dates. 
  2. Please don't use pie-graphs: they are inferior to bar graphs for comparison, even for percentages.
  3. A summary of the routes/corridors most indicates in the 'Mapping Excercise' to display density of suggested improvements would have been a nice way to display where the focus of concern/interest was. 
  4. Detailing the methodology (budget of allocated points) for the conversation boards would be welcome. 
  5. Some way of aggregating rankings would be welcome. Something like a Borda Count would work; viz:  "The Borda count determines the outcome of a debate or the winner of an election by giving each candidate, for each ballot, a number of points corresponding to the number of candidates ranked lower". This would be a substantial improvement over language like "25 percent chose this option as their primary consideration", an approach which entirely disregards the importance of secondary and tertiary preferences. 
  6. "LIMITED neighborhoods" needs defined earlier than page 27; the appendix should stand on its own. The idea of such neighborhood also merits greater discussion--transit dependent older adults who are either unable to drive or afford driving, but who live in autocentric neighborhoods.  

SLC Transit Master Plan: Gap Analysis

Today, Appendix C: Gap analysis

First, some umbrage:
  • Transit Use: Currently, 6% of Salt Lake City residents take transit to work. 
Please stop using 'Journey to Work' data aggregated to the city level. It's a very serious methodological error: First, there is Modifiable Areal Unit Problem: The average of all the census tracts is very very different from the average of census tracts. Secondly, it's geography of aggregation is the place of residence, not the place of work. So it only refers to workers who live in SLC, not those who commute TO SLC. SLC is a major employment center, and a large proportion of the transit riders to SLC do not live in SLC. 
  • Transit Service and Connections: More bus service is provided than service on any other modes, but evening and weekend transit service is limited. Capacity constraints and limited layover space are limiting to transit service.
I'm curious where and when the layover constraints are hitting.  
  • Transit Performance: Transit boardings in Salt Lake City increased since 2011, but at a slower rate than the system as a whole and at a slower rate than service hours.
This is the natural consequence of adding more service hours. Service hours added at more marginal times have lower ridership, because fewer people are traveling. 
  • Access and Amenities: Large block size and other barriers makes first/last mile access to transit difficult. 
Some more umbrage at the issue of block size as an issue. Undeniable, transit is dependent on walk-access, and smaller block sizes make walking easier by providing a more direct route. SLC would  benefit from more mid-block pathways. But compared to the suburbs, SLC is a wonderland of connectivity. For major impediments walking in SLC, I'm more inclined to cite the wide streets, which are dnagerous and unpleasant.
  • Eighty-three percent of bus stops do not have a bench or a shelter for people to wait for the bus to arrive
It would be great if more bus shelters had a place to sit. But there must be several hundred bus stops in SLC, and the cost to outfit all of them is prohibitive. Part of what makes BRT effective is the FTA requirement  that BRT systems have 'substantial stops', which makes them costly, which makes them less frequent, which makes BRT faster. 

The map on C-2 needs work. The same is generally true of many of the other maps. The iconography used to represent boardings is confusing: why two circles? Secondly, the scaling on the circles should be changed to a different magnitude: the resulting cirles are too large. 

The 'Transit Propensity Index' (TPI) being used is junk science. Gallingly, it fails to control for transit stations. While activity density (jobs+residents per acre) is a useful metric, the TPI pays no attention to transit service, which is a far more important characteristic in determining ridership. (You can't take a bus that doesn't exist). I strongly recommend moving to a 'Direct Demand' or 'Direct Ridership' model.  

There are huge numbers of boardings in some low density locations...because that is where the TRAX stations are. Then there is a lack of boardings in the surrounding area, because why on earth would you wait for a bus when you can walk the 2-3 blocks twice as fast? Rapid transit stations often generate such 'transit shadows' over nearby areas. 

Regarding transit mode share, I strongly recommend the article "Transit commuting, the network accessibility effect, and the built environment in station areas across the United States" (2017). I've summarized the conclusions here.

I take umbrage with the statement that: "Of Salt Lake City’s 44 bus routes, only six routes operate service that is available every 15 minutes or less". Different bus routes serve different markets (express, coverage, flex, etc) and not all routes should be frequent service routes. Assuming a Frequent Transit Network (FNT) spaced every 2-3-4 blocks:

North-South Routes
Foothill Boulevard
23rd East
13th East
9th East
5th East
State Street
Main Street
4th West
Redwood Road (17th West)

East-West Routes
21st South
17th South
13th South
9th South
4th South (TRAX)
1st/2nd South

That's 15 routes. Holding all routes to the FTN standard (as Figure C-7) does is inappropriate and distortive.

Travel Time Ratios

Regarding Figure C-13: Not sure why the Salt Palace was used. And which gate? I assume the 100 south and West temple gate (as that is what Google gives me). That's a block from TRAX, which is going to add 5-7 minutes to all travel times. It should be a direct shot, streetcar to TRAX. Google maps from: "Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S W Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84101" to
"Sugar House Shopping Center, 2274 S 1300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84106", arriving at 5pm, gives me very different numbers: 40-51 minutes, depending on my selected route. 

Service Stability

The draft report notes that 
"Service Stability UTA has the option of making changes to their system three times per year, which creates uncertainty about system stability and undermines the City’s ability to organize growth around transit". 
While undeniably true, it's a bit of a cheap shot. UTA is funded by sales tax revenue, for something like 3/4 of it's budget. Sales tax revenue fluctuates, and when it falls, UTA must cut service. If Salt Lake City wants to get serious about funding permanent transit around which development can be organized, a special taxation district is almost a necessity. It's not a novel approach--it's how both Portland and Seattle funded their respective streetcars.

Affordability
The cost of transit is most burden some for short trips. Paying $2.50 to travel four miles seems reasonable; paying $2.50 to travel 4 blocks is not. Yet one of the most valuable things a transit system can do in a CBD is act as a 'pedestrian extender'. The Free Fare Zone policy reflects this. 

It would be feasible for SLC to cooperate with UTA to insititute a 'zonal' system where trips within SLC are prices differently than those across SLC boundaries, with discounted tickets/passes for the former.











Predicting Mode Share

Renne, John L., Hamidi, Shima and Ewing, Reid (2017) "Transit commuting, the network accessibility effect, and the built environment in station areas across the United States", forthcoming in 'Research in Transportation Economics' is a great article. I've taken the liberty of reproducing some of the relevant results here. (I've removed the discussion of significance, which is more relevant to academics rather than practicioners)

At the Neighborhood Level

  • A doubling of the average household income across the station area results in a 17.7% decline in transit commuting 
  • A doubling of the intensity of jobs and people yields a 17.5% increase in transit commuting. 
  • A doubling in the share of nonwhites across the station area yields a 14.4% premium for transit commuting. 
  • Light rail/streetscar (vs bus) increases ridership by 22.5%
  • Heavy rail/metro increases ridership by 30.6% over a bus. 
  • land-use mix is captured by the jobs-population balance index, which indicates that neighborhoods with more balanced land uses exhibit higher shares of transit commuting. A doubling of the values in this index yields a 23.2% increase in the mode share for transit commuting. 
  • Doubling the number of 4-way intersections increases transit commuting by 9%
  • Doubling the walk-score increases transit commuting by 27.6%
  • Doubling in transit service frequency yields an 18.6% bonus for the mode share of transit commuting.
  • For a doubling in the share of Hispanic residents, transit commuting decreases by approximately 12%.

I feel that, given these numbers, it should be possible to do a benefit-cost analysis for all of these things....

At the Regional level:

  • A doubling in the share of regional jobs and population within a half-mile of all stations in the region, also known as the network effect, yields a 38.6% increase in the mode share of transit commuting in station areas. 
  • For each doubling in annual travel delay, the average share of transit commuting increased by 91%-124%,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

SLC Transit Master Plan: Things I am completely jazzed about


These are all good ideas:
  • 200 S—Key East-West corridor, and possibly, future bus rapid transit and/or streetcar) corridor between downtown and the University. 
  • State Street/500 E/900 E—north-south enhanced bus corridors spaced about a half mile apart extending from southern city limits through downtown to major destinations, including the State Capitol and LDS Hospital, and into the Avenues neighborhood. 
  • 400 S—continuous east-west bus corridor between Redwood Road and the University. 
  • 900 S and 1300 S/California— continuous east-west cross-town bus corridors in the center of the city, including service to the Poplar Grove and Glendale neighborhoods. 
  • TRAX light rail improvements—capital improvements to resolve capacity issues that preclude direct service between the Airport and the University. 
  • Regional access corridors—support regional transit on corridors such as Redwood Road, Foothill Blvd, and Beck Street (to South Davis County).

With this material, you get a real feel for what SLC is proposing. A 'super-grid' of frequent transit vehicles, stretching accross the city. The longest gap is 400-900 south, so you would (as most) be five blocks from a Frequent Transit Network (FTN) route. I find it really odd that they left 1300 East off that list....

I'm excited at the idea of a 400 S. Transit corridor from redwood to the U. I'm a bit wary it will duplicate the TRAX along 400 South. Stetching corridors accross the city looks good to me.

SLC Transit Master Plan: More Executive Summary Commentary

See here

Page 17 says:
"Employer-oriented shuttle services in West Salt Lake City and on-demand ride services in low density residential areas connect to the FTN".
First, the idea of 'employer oriented shuttle services' doesn't pass the smell test for me--no example is presented. Which employers? Are they going to pay for the service? If not, why do they get special transit service? Who is going to provide the service, UTA, or is SLC going to start buying buses?

Second, using Uber/Lyft to patch transit doesn't work very well. I understand the desire--use transit for the line-haul portion of the trip, and then Lyft/Uber for the last mile. It can be done, but it's not great. Getting a Lyft/Uber outside of the central city means a long wait, and the drivers aren't as good. For some areas, you can forget ever getting one. It's also expensive. The 'flag-drop' to start a ride on either is about two bucks ($2) and higher in peak times; it runs about $6 to travel a mile, or $12-15 to travel 3 miles.

"Let's hire a taxi for everyone too far from the bus!" is not a solution.

There is also an equity concern: Transit dependent riders may not have smart phones or credit cards. While you can hail a taxi (contrary to widespread public belief), being able to do so is no guarantee of there being a taxi to hail, especially at peak times.

Low density residential areas probably should not have transit. Some low density residential areas have great transit, because they are on the way. That same degree of service can't be extended to everywhere.

SLC Transit Master Plan: More Executive Summary

Looking at the Executive Summary again.

It says:
Why a Grid Network? Salt Lake City’s existing, centralized hub model is effective for regional connections but is inefficient for some local trips. Currently, many of UTA’s routes terminate at Central Station, which provides good connectivity to commuter rail service, but creates challenges for people who need to travel to other destinations throughout the city, necessitating multiple transfers and/or indirect trips. The FTN builds on Salt Lake City’s strong street network grid. 
This concerns me a bit, because it displays a lack of understanding about transit operations. Many routes terminate at the central station, because that's where UTA has a facility.  Bus drivers, like other employees, get breaks and need to use the bathroom. UTA has a break room at Central Station for that reason.

Secondly, anyplace you have an 'end of line' you need someplace to store transit vehicles. This is especially true of places with high 'peak' loads (morning/evening/event). So many buses wind up at the Central Station because the Central Station has a place to store them. I asked someone at UTA how much land it takes for a bus center, like the ones at TRAX stations, and was told 2-3 acres. That's a lot of land.

Third: Transfers are actually a good thing, as Jarrett Walker point out. Essentially, with a fixed budget, you can choose longer waits but direct service, or shorter waits with a transfer. Research shows that transit riders hate waiting even more than they hate transferring.

I am all for the Frequent Transit Network (FTN). Higher frequency means shorter wait times. But frequent transit is always going to be in limited supply, because high frequency comes at the cost of coverage. That means only a few corridors are going to get it, which means most streets aren't going to get it. The street grid is irrelevant in this regard.