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Friday, June 23, 2017

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.