Monday, November 29, 2010

Public Lounge Chair

Earlier, I wrote about the need for a 'public lounge chair'--a place for long-term seating, for a several hour wait, such as between planes or trains. The immediate objection will be: "But people will sleep in them!" But that is exactly the point--a chair comfortable enough to sleep in, at least for a few hours. (For the weary, for the jet-lagged.)

Smelly homeless dudes is another matter. Longterm, as rail transit becomes faster and more prevalent, I expect to see more airport style passenger/passerby segregation--with facilities provided only for those who have purchased a ticket. You are only permitted on the platform for the Phoenix LRT if you have purchased a ticket, for example. This suggests the emergence of 'semi-public' spaces.

Basic public seating is durable and  easily cleaned. For outdoor seating, this means metal or plastic. For indoor uses, this can include limited use of cloth. Bonus points for the ability to be repositioned, as well as the ability to be stacked. Alternately, heavy can be a virtue, as theft prevention. Padding ages poorly, and so must be minimal, making shape even more critical. 

For volume seating, ledges and benches are difficult to beat, and can entail some personal space issues. (One of the reason airport seating is broken into attached chairs, I suspect. 

I invite you to imagine what a 'public' lounge chair would look like. Google images provides some ideas.

'Mesh' nature of chair evokes other outdoor seating.
Reclining and potentially stackable?
Nice shape, but swiveling capacity is unnecessary
Nice shape, but looks fragile
Very simple, but legs seem vulnerable
Strange, but structurally sound
Functional, but no arm support
No legs, but look very comfortable

Semi-public sofa

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Limits on Connections

Jared Walker talks about connections here. He's established a 'floor' for connections, demarcating when it becomes useful to use connections and avoid the spaghetti overlay. What about the ceiling? How often is is reasonable to ask people to make a connection, in terms of a) Connections per trip, and b) distance between connections?

Regarding a): Personally, if a transit trip involves more that one connection, I either find an alternate that involves a greater than half mile walk, or don't make the trip.

Regarding b): The urban* heuristic is: "Is it faster to walk"? is always a good metric. Ie, if the wait time+transit travel time > walk time, walk. Assume urban Salt Lake City conditions (15 minute headway, 8 blocks/mile). Assume 'random' wait times, so that connections have not been timed, any connection imparts a 7.5 minute wait time. At 3 mph walking pace, you can walk 3/8ths of a mile in that time--3 SLC blocks. At an average 12 mph bus speed (time spent at stops included). Thus, a bus will carry you 12 blocks in the time it takes you to walk 3, once you get on it.

This implies that it is worthwhile for the average person to make a connection, if it will save three blocks of walking. But this analysis presumes a time-only comparison, where real connections have other factors to be considered.

*At the suburban scale, it's almost always faster to wait, simply because the distances you are taking transit is measured in miles, not blocks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Connections Suck--and how to make them better.

I've waited for the bus in the cold, dark, pre-dawn hours, uncertain, doing the 'bus-bob', as I look up the roadway to see if I can spot the bus coming yet. Alone, hoping I'm there at the right time--when the bus actually comes, not when the schedule says it is coming. Sometimes standing in snow, sometimes with a face full of freezing sleet, and sometimes in the burning sun. Asking me to make a 'connection' between two buses asks me to do this twice. As I've mentioned, I'm totally unwilling to make two connections in a transit trip. I'd rather walk a half mile than wait twenty minutes someplace unpleasant. In fact, for most trips, I'm unwilling to make even a single connection between two buses. There is too much uncertainty.

A notable exception is when I'm waiting for TRAX. It's less the vehicle than the amenity the TRAX platform represents. I'm out of the rain, can find some shelter from the wind, and don't have to stand on snow or ice. But it's more than that--I'm not alone. I can see that there are other people there, that a train is coming (I haven't misunderstood the schedule, or just missed the train). And I have access to a train schedule, and a clock, so I know how long my wait is going to be. And, should I so desire, I have someplace to sit. Which is an insignificant thing for a first five minutes, and welcome respite thereafter.

Want to improve the quality of connections? Improve the quality of the connections location.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Central Station' is not so central...

Salt Lake's 'Central Station' is central to very little. The map below is a pretty good depiction of Salt Lake's downtown. The 'Central Station' is the Intermodal hub at the far periphery of the lower left hand corner of the map. For those unfamiliar with SLC, it has very large blocks-- about 8 blocks to the mile. That puts 'Central Station' a long way from downtown.

If downtown SLC continues to grow westward and redevelop the industrial properties there, the area near 'Central Station' might become a vibrant urban center. But that's an idea I find unlikely. Check out the map below. The big blue line in I-15, a major 'through' interstate. It's over a 100' wide, and a significant barrier to urban growth. I find it much more likely that development will turn head south, until it reaches the 10th South exit.

As it is, it takes Salt Lake's various transit services a long way out of their way to reach it.

Making it worse will be when the new 'Viaduct Station' is completed at 500 W. and North Temple. Right now, the Central Station serves as a node for buses, Trax, FrontRunner, Amtrak, and Greyhound. Once the North Temple line is completed, the talk is of adding another FrontRunner station, to permit easy transfers between the two.
From a transit planning perspective, it's a great idea--it will make traveling by commuter rail to downtown a great deal easier. But it will do a lot toward reducing the activity level at Central Station, which has never been high to begin with.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mortgage Sausages

I knew it was taking up to a year for some banks to foreclose on houses, but I was always under the impression they were simply overwhelmed. But it appears there may be a more sinister explanation...
Most mortgages have been chopped up and securitized and if a lender can’t prove they hold the entire mortgage, they don’t have the right to foreclose. - Carl Bunch
That adds an entirely new twist to the mortgage crisis. Traditionally, the bank or at least Freddie Mac/Fannie May would hold your ENTIRE mortgage. Sliced into bits and ground into sausage for mortgage backed securities, the new reality is rather different. Thus the bank reliance on voluntary short-sales to clear housing inventory.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This is strangely fascinating.

In order of highest spending per capita:
Alaska, New York, Wyoming, Delaware. All the other states follow a pretty linear trend. New York and Delaware could be explained by being high-social net states, but.... Alaska and Wyoming? Although, in fairness, the total population of each state is about the size of a mid-sized mid-western city.

It does a lot to explain transfers of Federal money to the west, though. The price of pork necessary to buy western consent for eastern regulation really isn't that expensive.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Skyscraper Forum

For the best, most up to date, relevant planning and development information on the web, is hard to beat. There are some very smart, and very thoughtful people on the forums there. My hat is off to 'arkhitektor' for producing this very fine diagram:

Transit maps really need to be done at two scales-- a diagrammatic 'system map', and a scaled 'station area map'. Trying to do both with a single image has serious problems for either purpose.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SLC on Transport Politic

It's always nice to see your home city in the news. 

Mostly notable for the diagram. It's a pretty good overview of where major transit expansions are being planning in Salt Lake County in the next 20 years. Certainly, some of the 'bus routes' are news to me. I wonder if these are the routes were mapped as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the Long Range Plan?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Transit Density

While I've blogged elsewhere about the danger of using 'average density', averages are good for making back of the envelope calculations, which tell you which calculations are actually worth making. The danger lies in using the averages themselves to make the decisions.

Again, my hat is off to the people at We Alone on Earth

10^4 is 10,000 people per square kilometer. There are about 247 acres in a square kilometer, giving it an average density of about 40 people per acre. I'll call that 'Transit Density'. With an average household size of 2.5, that is about 16.2 units per acre. Historic 'Streetcar Suburbs' built out at an average density between 8-12 units an acre, about 5,000 square feet per lot. That is about as tightly as you can pack detached single-family units without turning them into townhouses or apartments. Ergo, ANY detached housing is unsuitable for Transit Oriented Development. That provides a very simple, and very useful metric for assessing developer submitted plans for a 'TOD'.

Also notable is the density 'cap', a level of density at which even NYC has very few people living. 10^5 is about 160 units per acre. What does that kind of density look like? How tall is it? What is considered 'maximum' human density varied by use:
  • Prison Design: 35 sq. ft/prisoner
  • Schoolchild: 50 sq. ft/child 
  • Home Design: 200 sq ft./inhabitant
  • Call Center: 100 sq ft/user
  • Class A Office: 600 sq. ft/person
  • Dorm Room: 180 sq. ft/person 
  • Average 1950's House: 290 sq. ft/person
  • Average 2000's House: 900 sq. ft/person 
 The average American 2 bedroom apartment runs about 1100 square feet, so an acre of ground could be sectioned into about 40 units. Shocking. That means that 'extreme' NYC density averages about four stories of 1100 sq. ft. 2 bedroom apartments.

Even assuming a car for every apartment, at 200 sq ft/car, (for a total of 1300 sq. ft per unit), and 10% of the land area for roads/paths/circulation, that yields about 30 units/acre. Suggesting that the 'most extreme' NYC density of 160 units/acre is only about 5-6 stories tall.

That puts a whole different spin on density--its not how tall the buildings are, but what percentage of the ground acreage they are using. Devoting half the lot to parking and landscaping halves the buildings 'floor area', and doubles the number of stories.

That also puts the employment intensity of NYC in perspective. A 40 story office building on a quarter-acre lot, at 430 sq. ft./employee represents 1,000 jobs.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

University Line Extension

The WFRC RTP shows a an extension to the University line along 400 S. to the University Line, reaching to 400 W. before heading north to the Salt Lake Central Station. I'm instinctively leery of downtown loops. They tend to suffer from a King David Effect--faced with two parties in competition for adjacency for a rail line, there is an effort to split the service, and offer each side 'half a baby', to the detriment of everyone. Two halves of adjacent transit lines tend to compete for riders, to the detriment of both lines. But with four blocks (half a mile) between the lines, that may not happen.

But that will depend on the operations plan. I feel certain the the Downtime Rising and Chamber of Commerce people will agitate for a dedicated TRAX circulator running around the on a continual basis. A better operation plan will include a direct route from the Central Station to the University of Utah, facilitating transfers between FrontRunner and the U of U. Possibly including a station along 400 S. near enough to Courtyard to facilitate transfers between the two locations.
But the North Temple Line will be complete long before the University Extension is, bring another TRAX line down 400 W. Where that will fit into the operations plan remains an open question. Presumably it will terminate at Salt Lake Central Station. An alternate operations plan would route it along the 400 S. University extension to connect directly to the University of Utah.
Time will tell.

Monday, November 8, 2010

TRAX in downtown

The purpose of the Free Fair Zone was always to facilitate  Trax as an 'urban circulator' to shuttle visitors/tourists/convention-goers around downtown, and facilitate the 'out of office lunch'. No one has to buy a ticket, fool around with the ticket machines... just wait, hop on, hop off.

It's the reason that the main line goes from Sandy to Area, rather then Sandy to University--both the University Line and the Main line proceed through downtown, effectively doubling frequency, so that the average headway north of Gallivan is only seven minutes.

 I'm not a big fan of TRAX in downtown.  Once I'm in the area, I tend to get off an walk. Once, coming from Sandy, I rode the Trax around the northern arc to get to the Twilight Concert Series in Pioneer Park, at 300 W. and 200 S. It was slow going, and seemed to take forever. The UTA schedule claims it's a 12 minute trip, over about 7.5 blocks, giving the TRAX an average speed of about 5 mph going through downtown.

I was displeased when Rocky Anderson demanded that UTA add two stations in the TRAX extension to the Salt Lake Central Station. Every station adds five minutes to travel time, for deceleration, boarding, waiting for the signal to turn green, and acceleration. Having two stations instead of one saved about a blocks worth of walking time, and added half a blocks worth of travel time. 

The next concert, I got off at Gallivan Center, and walked the four blocks west. It took about 15 minutes. I had plenty of company on the walk, so I expect a lot of people were doing the same thing. And I was coming from Sandy, so I didn't need to make a transfer. Even with a 7 minute headway, that's a 3.5 minute waiting time, giving TRAX a negligible advantage over walking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Short Hop Transit

Is it possible to do distance based pricing for Trax? Currently, a pass runs $2.25 and allows 2.5 hours of riding. Which is, depending on trip length, enough to run a short errand, like dropping something off and then returning home. The standard price is great for the longer distances along the Sandy-Salt Lake line.

But paying $2.25 for a trip between any two downtown stations is blatantly ridiculous. None are more than two blocks apart, and most are closer. Fortunately, most of the area is covered by the Free Fare Zone, rendering the question largely moot.


But along 4th South, for the University line, east of the library station, the question is not. Library is 2.5 blocks from Trolley, and Trolley 3 blocks from 9th east. With Salt Lake's 1/8 mile blocks, the distances are not insignificant. But the distance is hardly worth the money--$2.25 is a steep price to save three blocks of walking. I have to imagine fare evasion is rampant.

The obvious option is to expand the free-fare zone to the east, until it reaches 900 E. That would do a great deal to tie downtown to the Transit Oriented Development along 400 S. But the 'free fare zone' isn't free--UTA suffers considerable lost revenue from it. Expanding the zone would entail further loss of revenue.

This suggests a 'Cheap Fare Zone', running along the University Corridor, where a ticket is much cheaper ($1 or so) and only lasts an hour. But I'm extremely leery of the zone model of transit pricing--I'm an 'expert' in transit, and I still find deciphering them to be deeply confusing. It's a memory issue-- 'free-fair-zone' vs. 'not-free-fair-zone' is a binary dichotomy, and simple to remember. Adding another option is twice as difficult to understand or remember--the 'decision tree' of memory has to make two operations.

There has been some discussion of a Salt Lake Streetcar running from the Intermodal Center on 600 W. along  400 S, and reversing on the cross-over at about 500 E., but the Downtown Streetcar Study hasn't been published yet. Time will tell.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I smell a research project

Transit outcomes don't really depend on how much of this low density stuff there is in a city. They depend on how much high density stuff there is, and the average density of the whole city will tell you nothing about that.
 Average density is a useless statistic when it comes to transit planning. While the WFRC model has a field for % of pop within a half mile of the transit station, that may not be the best metric for transit planning.

..residential density is ideally the density of a single parcel: one house or apartment building. What percentage of the population lives on detached homes on quarter-acre blocks? What percentage lives in buildings taller than five stories? 
 WFRC has pretty good data for the UrbanSim model, data I've recently been told exists not at the Traffic Analysis Zone level, but on the parcel level. This changes everything, because it permits a housing units/households comparison on a per-parcel basis, giving a pretty good idea of the location of transit suitable density.

 I've never seen a map published containing the data, so I presume there must be some sort of privacy issue, although I can't see how the number of housing units per parcel could be considered invasive.

I wonder what kind of data exists as Public Use Microdata from the American Community Survey? The Census collects data on a per-household basis, but the information is geo-coded to a specific address. If the geo-code for census data can be matched to parcel data, it would be possible to connect the two. I assume it would be possible to do some sort of database operation to cluster all the numbered units into a single parcel ID....

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High Speed Rail in Utah

It's funny, but staring at the ARRA map, it occurrs to me that high-speed rail could totally bypass Utah. 

The fact that Utah has so many highways is a curious accident---we just happened to be along the way.

After all, SLC is not exactly in the big leagues insofar as metropolitan areas go.

And that doesn't seem likely to change.

But High Speed Rail really isn't about city size... it's about city PAIRS. What do you 'pair' any of Utah's cities with? You need distances of about 250-350 miles for a good high speed rail pair.

Denver is 378, 
Boise is 338, 
Las Vegas is 416,
St. George simply isn't large enough. 

 And between Denver and the Wasatch Front lies the Rocky Mountains, no friend to railroads, let alone high speed rail. Even the Western High Speed Rail Initiative doesn't consider Boise to be viable. (Why Reno is considered to be viable I cannot guess. )

There is a certain logic to the proposal--all suggested HSR routes follow existing railroads.

But the game has changed a little bit since the railroads were built-- we have this funky new thing called air travel. I was discussing air service earlier today. If a long distance trip is worth making, the airlines usually have route connecting the two cities.

Perhaps the Federal funding process should start classifying transportation funding by modes, and making states pick--"High Speed Rail or Air Travel?".