Monday, May 30, 2011

Transit and Journey to Work (JTW)

There is a famous census table called the 'journey to work', which asks "What mode of travel did you take to work'?, and lists alternatives such as 'private automobile', 'motorcycle', 'carpooled', 'worked from home', and a couple of different forms of transit.

The actual percent of people who take transit to work is pretty low. As the figure from shows, the vast majority of American's drive to work alone. Anti-transit propagandists like to harp that this number is little changed, despite significant investments in transit over the last decade.  Portland is a favorite target, because it shows minimal mode-shift, despite enormous record transit construction.

 But I was reading the latest Brookings report, and this phrase struck me:
The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30 percent of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes. 
Using Mode share to estimate transit usage is using the wrong divisor--it's like being told someone 'drove' from Florida to Puerto Rico--impossible. (Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that 1.5 hours is a reasonable amount of time to spend traveling to work--it's not). If only 30% of the jobs can be reached by transit, then the effective transit mode share needs to be revised. Multiple that by the mode share, you get a bit over 16%. If we lower the travel time to something saner (an hour), I'll bet the multiple rises, and so does the actual share of work-trips being made by transit, until it start looking a lot more like Melbourne, Australia:

Looking at the whole metro area, the car is clearly dominant. Looking at the CBD (a transit-rich area) and things look very different.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Salt Lake City Piling up the Accolades

The Utah Transportation Report tells me that:

SALT LAKE—A national study on transit by the Brookings Institution listed Salt Lake the third best city in the U.S. for coverage and job access for a transit system and noted that 15 of the top 20 cities are in the West.

The study found that 89 percent of Salt Lake City metro area residents are near a transit stop; transit users wait an average 8.5 minutes for a transit vehicle during rush hour; and 59 percent of all jobs in the metro area are reachable via transit in 90 minutes or less.
In addition to Salt Lake City, top performers include Honolulu, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Washington, Tucson, Fresno and Las Vegas. 

The study found that public transit is a critical part of the economic and social fabric of metropolitan areas. Nearly 30 million trips are made every day using public transit. Almost all of these trips occur in the nation's 100 largest metro areas, which account for over 95 percent of all transit passenger miles traveled. People take transit for any number of reasons, but one of the most common is to get to work.

However, when it comes to the question of how effectively transit connects people and jobs within and across these metropolitan areas, strikingly little is known. With governments at all levels considering deep budget cuts, it is increasingly important to understand not just the location and frequency of transit service, but ultimately how well transit aligns with where people work and live. To better understand these issues, the Metropolitan Policy Program developed a comprehensive database that provides the first comparable, detailed look at transit coverage and connectivity across and within the nation's major metro areas.
An analysis of data from 371 transit providers in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas reveals that: 

Fifteen of the 20 metro areas that rank highest on a combined score of transit coverage and job access are in the West. Top performers include metro areas with noted transit systems such as New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, but also Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Fresno, and Las Vegas. Conversely, 15 of the 20 metro areas that rank lowest are in the South. 

These trends have three broad implications for leaders at the local, regional, state, and national levels. Transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority in their spending and service decisions, especially given the budget pressures they face.

Metro leaders should coordinate strategies regarding land use, economic development, and housing with transit decisions in order to ensure that transit reaches more people and more jobs efficiently. And federal officials should collect and disseminate standardized transit data to enable public, private, and non-profit actors to make more informed decisions and ultimately maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.

Nearly 70 percent of large metropolitan residents live in neighborhoods with access to transit service of some kind. Transit coverage is highest in Western metro areas such as Honolulu and Los Angeles, and lowest in Southern metro areas such as Chattanooga and Greenville. Regardless of region, residents of cities and lower-income neighborhoods have better access to transit than residents of suburbs and middle/higher-income neighborhoods. 

In neighborhoods covered by transit, morning rush hour service occurs about once every 10 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter. In less than one quarter of large metro areas (23), however, is this typical service frequency, or "headway," under 10 minutes. These include very large metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington. Transit services city residents on average almost twice as frequently as suburban residents.
The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30 percent of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes. Job access differs considerably across metro areas, from 60 percent in Honolulu to just 7 percent in Palm Bay, reflecting variable transit coverage levels and service frequencies, and variable levels of employment and population decentralization. Among very large metro areas, the share of jobs accessible via transit ranges from 37 percent in Washington and New York to 16 percent in Miami. 

About one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via transit within 90 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter, compared to one-third of jobs in high-skill industries. This reflects the higher concentration of high-skill jobs in cities, which are uniformly better served by transit. It also points to potentially large accessibility problems for workers in growing low-income suburban communities, who on average can access only about 22 percent of metropolitan jobs in low- and middle-skill industries for which they may be most qualified. 

You can read more about it at Brookings, or download the full report here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Data Trove

Apparently, the University of Michigan has an impressive trove of metropolitan travel survey data. It's funny to which learning to do research in any given field is an exercise in knowing where to go for what data resources, and who to call on when you get in trouble.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Car Pool Lanes Statistics

Car Pool Lanes, according to SLC Trib.
Take a look quick, before the pay wall goes up for this week!

Break down of users goes like this:
60% - Car pool
30% - Easy Pass Users
4% - Clean Fuel
2% - Motorcycles
1% - Buses

The car pool lane is 10 mph faster than the regular lanes. About 9,000 people bought transponders. Seems to me that there is an untapped market for congestion pricing out there.

Utah Transportation Report

The Utah Transportation Report is a great blog that updates regularly. I signed up for his emails, and I've been enjoying them quite a bit. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

North Temple Transfer Station

I had heard tales of a North Temple Transfer Station between Trax and FrontRunner, but no official confirmation. You can read about it in the Deseret News here or watch the video here. I won't call the station pretty, (it's very utilitarian) but it's not hideous either. It will be nice to have alternative access/egress from the viaduct--viaducts are never comfortable walking environments because it's impossible to detour. It would be really nice if the FrontRunner station on the ground level also connected to the local street grid. I didn't see any ticket vending machines or seating in the video, but that may be a lack in the animation, rather than a lack in planning.

Friday, May 20, 2011

TRAX vs. Bus

Living in a suburb of Salt Lake city, I walked a mile to reach the TRAX Light Rail every morning. It's not uncommon for me to walk a mile home from the TRAX. But I've NEVER walked that far to catch a bus, despite years of being car dependent. Part of that is Salt Lake Counties peculiar geography--in a mountain valley, it's hard to more than a mile or two from a TRAX station. But part of it is the sheer dependability of TRAX. I'll walk a mile rather than wait 15 minutes for a bus, even heavily loaded. It is less uncertain and less boring. 'High capacity' transit is bundled with a whole host of other transit improvements, and those improvements provide a great deal of the benefit we associate with rail transit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stop Spacing and Mode

I was reading a post on stop spacing at Human Transit where Jarrett Walker talks about streetcars vs light rail, and makes the distinction:
The terms streetcar/tram and light rail will be most useful if we use them to refer to the prevailing stop spacing, not the exclusivity of the right-of-way. 

Staring at the last graphic, I had an epiphany: With the addition of so many stations in downtown, and such indirect routing, TRAX is being asked to operate as a streetcar. It's kind of an open secret that the TRAX ridership between the Arena Station and the Salt Lake Central Station is terrible. Old Greek Town station is FAR too close to both Salt Lake Central Station and Planetarium Station. Salt Lake's blocks may be 660' long, but stop spacing for transit is supposed to be about twice that. 

From 10000 South in Sandy to about 500 South (Courthouse) in Salt Lake, stations on the TRAX line are about a mile apart. The 900 South stop breaks the pattern, but it was a mid-point stations added later as an early effort by UTA to promote TOD. SLC then-Mayor Rocky Anderson then demanded TWO additional stations when the TRAX line was extended from Arena to Salt Lake Central Station. But as a result, between 1300 South and Salt Lake Central Station, there are now NINE TRAX stations over a distance of 3 miles, and it takes about half hour to cover the distance. That gives it an average speed of about 10 minutes a mile.While the stop spacing is reasonable for 'local' transit service, it's kind of a waste to use Light Rail for that purpose. TRAX covers the distance between 10600 South and 1300 South in LESS time than it takes to wind through downtown.

Ergo, efforts should be made to preserve TRAX for rapid transit, and use a different (and less expensive) vehicle for downtown circulation. Perhaps a streetcar....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

UTA 2 Go Trip Planner

The UTA trip planner remains as frustrating to use as ever. It's a great idea with (unremarkably) poor implementation.  The UTA trip planner relies on recognizing addresses*. The software that runs the trip planner relies on matching the address you enter to an address in its database.

The geodatabases used for the software are typically derived from U.S. postal files--great for keeping track of where to send mail, less useful for finding a physical address. Further, differences in notation may confuse the software. "150 S State Street" may be parsed as:
  • 15000 South, State Street
  • 150 South, State Street
  • 150 South State Street

But UTA is hardly alone--this is characteristic of most transit planning tools.
I recall Portland's as being remarkably different, with one reason: It did not rely on addresses, but on intersections. I recall it as being something like this:

START: "23rd @ Burnside"
END: " Burnside @ NE 6th AVE"

Needless to say, there are vastly fewer intersections than addresses, making it much easier to for the software to find a match, making finding a start and end location much faster.

 *The trip planner also recognizes some landmarks. Finding out which ones are acceptable is a matter of trial and error. "U of U" is not, while "University of Utah Bookstore" is.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Old Greek Town Station needs to go

Currently, SLC has a problem: It's kind of an open secret that the TRAX ridership between the Arena Station and the Salt Lake Central Station kind of sucks. And I think I know why: Old Greek Town station is FAR too close to both Salt Lake Central Station and Planetarium Station. Salt Lake's blocks may be 660' long, but stop spacing for transit should be about 1200', and the station is within 1000' of both. I know WHY it's there--SLC's former Mayor, Rocky Anderson, demanded it as a nexus for additional 'Transit Oriented Development' in downtown. It was a bad idea at the time, but UTA permitted it because Salt Lake City was paying for the line. 

Along the Sandy line, each additional TRAX stop adds about 3 minutes to the journey. Downtown, I'd estimate it's greater. The Sandy line has dedicated Right of Way, and so never needs to deal with traffic lights. Downtown, making the stop at Greek town means the train has to match up with the traffic light. When it fails to do so, that requires waiting for the light to cycle, adding another minutes worth of wait time. 

Adding the 9400 South TRAX station cost about $2.1, so closing a station represents a pretty blatant waste of funds, plus the additional political cost of confusion by riders attempting to board or disembark at a non-functional station. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

UTA 2 Go Trip Planner

I am glad that UTA has moved the trip planner onto the front of the web-page.

But it could still take a line U-Car-Share on usability. My U-Car-Share account lets me add several different locations--not just work and home, but as many as I want. That would be a great function to add to the trip planner. About 75% of my transit use is between 3 locations (Home, work, school) , and 95% of the rest of my transit use starts at one of these locations, it would be  great help to already have 1/2 of the data filled in.
 The airlines have been doing it for years. Both Southwest and Delta have been pretty good about anticipating what flights I'm going to be interested in.
Given that over half my flights are either to Phoenix, AZ or NYC, NY, this makes a certain amount of sense.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Salt Lake City Downtown Streetcar Route

Thought I'd push this up for broader public consumption:

I'm confused and not a little displeased by the routing in Phase 1. Specifically, by the bizarre 'jag' at 450/500 West. A quick inspection of the aerial image furnishes the reason why: There is a historic railroad station in the way.

But why detour down to 300 South at all? The initial proposed routes were much more direct.

I expect the land uses as 300 S. were too much of a temptation to avoid. There is large hotel and quite a few restaurants one the street. When building a streetcar line, the urge to connect ALL the 'dots' can be overwhelming. Going under the station had previously been discussed, but the FTA has specifically inveighed against tunnels in the Small Starts instructions. Tunnels tend to be vastly more expensive, even without the consideration of the difficulty of building a tunnel underneath a historic structure.

All said, I am opposed to that part of the alignment. TRAX is already located along 200 South. Building a second high capacity transit line within a block the the existing one smacks of hubris. The FTA will never fund it, and without Federal funding, it will never get built. Far better to make use of all the existing TRAX track along 200 S.

The rest of the alignment seems reasonable. It will pass directly by the Salt Palace convention center, the US Bank building on Main Street, Gallivan Center, the Marriott Hotel, and there are two major office towers at 250 East and 200 South.

The '2 the U' bus on 200 S. has excellent ridership, carrying riders from FrontRunner and TRAX to an area just sufficiently far enough from TRAX to be inconvenient. Hopefully, the stop spacing is done properly, so that the stations lay between TRAX stations and not directly parallel to them. That will reduce competition with TRAX for riders.

Assume the existing TRAX station at 500 W. is used. That puts the next station between 200 and 300 West. Probably closer to 300 West, because the Salt Palace will certainly have one on their doorstep, on 100 West Street. I'd expect one at Gallivan as well--there are some very tall buildings there, and it would facilitate the transfer to TRAX. That would put the next stop at 200 East, where the alignment turns. I'd lay money they put the station after the turn, putting the final station on the South side of 100 South, just east of the Questar Gas office tower.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bus Lanes

Much as I love how distinctly painted Bus Lanes are, I dislike them for reasons of economy. Road paint and it's pretty expensive--Something like 15 cents a square foot. Meaning a mile of painted bus lane (an acre of paint) costs about $9,000 to renew. And road paint doesn't last very long--it needs to be renewed about every three years.

As a temporary measure to impress upon drivers that the bus lane is NOT a normal traffic lane, I approve. But long-term, something else needs to be done. Shifting to a zebra stripe or chevrons instead of a solid would certainly help out, the longterm will probably involve painted rumble markers.

Enforcement is also key--note the car in the bus lane. According to the 'Broken Windows' theory of crime, this guy is merely the test case. If he can get away with it, everyone will be doing it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

20 year MAX planning

MAX currently only runs west of I-15. What if it were to be extended East, all the way along 3300 South, to where the road terminates at the junctions of I-215? A quick look at Google maps shows Eastwood Elementary School is located at the terminus of 3300 South. To me, this would make an excellent location for a future Transit Center.

The North parking lot is already clearly designed for bus use, and the playground leaves ample paved area for additional parking. Further, it's not impossible to convert an existing school into alternative uses. Kennedy School in Portland in a fine example of what can be done.

Further, Summit County (home of Park City) has recently indicated a desire to join the Utah Transit Authority, and so link up bus service between SLC and Park City. So a bus comes down from Summit County, and ends at the 'Eastwood Transit Center', which is the terminus for three other routes:
  • 'MAX East' along 3300 South westward for 3300 South TRAX station and existing 'MAX West'
  • Foothill/University/Downtown MAX*
  • Current 313/810 buses 
This would solve several issues: It would provide access for west-side service workers to the University of Utah and Park City, reduce demand on I-80, and fix Foothill Boulevard.

Foothill Boulevard is a perpetual mobility problem. I-215 is built too far east to serve its intended transportation purpose. Pushed up agains the mountain, it can only draw users from the west. Further, it fails to reach the University of Utah. And so Foothill drive handles all the traffic bound northbound and westbound from I-215 and I-80.

The T-bone of I-215, I-80 and Foothill has long made the area unsuitable for rail transit like TRAX. But a series of BRT with a central transfer point would be an effective solution.

*Stops at Stringham Avenue, Skyline Drive, Foothill Village, Mario Cappechi Drive, Rice-Eccles Stadium, and SLC Central Station.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Transit Tourist

Much as I enjoyed the 'bucket list; of JMD's post, I don't think it reflects my own transit experience particularly well, since a substantial portion of my experience comes from outside the country. I've also riden a fair number of private transit systems I think are worthy of inclusion.
What I've ridden:

  • 2000: MTC Subway (NYC), San Francisco Bay Area - BART, Portland MAX (Blue Line)
  • 2002: UTA Bus (SLC), Valley Metro Bus (Phoenix), UTA TRAX (SLC)
  • 2003: Paris Metro, Paris RER, French TGV,TrenItalia, Monaco Metro
  • 2007: Long Island Rail Road, Washington DC - Metro, Portland MAX (Airport Line), Portland Streetcar
  • 2010: MTC Bus (NYC), GreyHound, BoltBus, Chinatown Bus, Boston Green +Silver Lines, Chicago 'Loop', Phoenix 'Metro' 

As I said in a previous post, there have been a number of cities I've visited, where the system seemed too similar to what I already knew to bother ride. Denver and Baltimore LRT systems being notable examples. But there are a fair number of cities I visited where I didn't get a chance to explore the transit system. I particular regret missing out on Baltimore's subway system, the Eugene 'Emerald Express' (EMX) and the Albuquerque 'RoadRunner'.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Platform Screen Doors

Apparently, the system of dual-doors for the platform and the train I see characteristic on the JFK SkyTrain is rapidly become the 'norm' for metros, instead of the NYC-subway style system where you can touch the train directly from the platform.

Many of the the NYC subway trains run multiple conductors, to make sure that everyone is clear of the trains, and that no one is 'subway surfing' by clinging to the edge of the train doors. Given that labor costs are one of the major drivers of transit service, reducing long-term costs by the installation of a labor-saving feature seems like a reasonable thing to do.

The only issue is door spacing. Without screen doors on the platforms, the train doors can open anyplace on the platform, and transit agencies can run any combination of any style of trains, in any sequence. With screen doors, the distance between doors has to become an industry standard.