Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Roadways played out?

The lock and key combination of the highways and the automobile unleashed an explosion in the supply of urbanizable land. While traffic congestion has grown on exponentially on population growth, only recently have the cumulative effects of congestion outstripped the capacity to maintain and expand the highway network. As a result, the value of centrality is again rising, and there is once again a need for real urbanism, and not just the faux "New Urbanism" railway suburbanism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Portland Curiosity

Busily mapping light rail systems, and as I look upon Portland, I realize--two shopping centers inside the beltway. We're not talking regional malls here--we're talking large strip centers. In Salt Lake in Phoenix, they are legion. Some might attribute it to the light rail, or the smart growth boundary, but I personally wonder if block sized does not play a major role. Portland blocks are about 200' on a side--tiny. Salt Lake's are 660' x 660', which makes for ten-acre blocks. Portland's blocks must be... 40,000 SF? Less than an acre, and certainly smaller than the 'anchor' tenants at even a small shopping mall. Closer inspection shows that 'Pioneer Place' has a skybridge, joining two blocks, and a 6-story parking garage next door. The second 'shopping center' is the Portland Galleria, a 5-story converted industrial warehouse. Certainly not your standard item.

Friday, December 14, 2012

UTA needs to plan more light rail

UTA needs to plan for some more light rail. It's like planning for arterials roads--it represents a key link in the transportation network. Think of it this way: Commuter Rail = Highway. Thus, without to connect to, a 'highway to nowhere'? Governance scale also relevant--Commuter rail is the MSA, light rail a County-level project, and street-car a city level project. However, for roads, the Feds pay for most of the highways, the state pays for the major roads (most arterials are 'state highways'), and only the smaller roads are actually handled by cities. On that analogy, there is actually no transit 'small' enough that a city can handle it.

Regardless, Salt Lake County has it's light rail, and Weber, Davis and Utah all have commuter rail now. But UTA wants to build something--they've developed the capacity, and well, 'when you've got a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail'. I'm unpersuaded about the value of streetcars (however awesome Portland's has been), but still devoted to light rail and it's capacity for doing the things a bus can't do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I increasingly suspect that the primary advantage of rail transit over bus may be in the planning. Rail costs per foot of guide-way, and so routes are direct. Likewise, acceleration and stopping are slow, so station spacing has serious implications for speed and travel time. I suspect a similar dynamic may apply to BRT--stations are costly, so there is pressure to limit them, rather than scattering them liberally.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Courthouse TRAX station

Staring at an aerial of the UTA Trax, reflecting how awkwardly close the courthouse station is to both the Gallivan Center and Library stations. Wonder how much it would cost to move the station a block south (yellow star), so that it would provide direct access to the Grand America and Little America hotels, rather than to the Matheson courthouse? I have to imagine the ridership would be better. Currently, conventioneers have to walk the block to the station to get on TRAX. It would also add some redevelopment potential from that large cleared lot a block away.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Light Rail Lines

I just spent a pleasant couple of hours looking at light rail lines. There are a surprising number coming in at greater distances than I expected. I thought the 'minimal operable segment' would be about 15 miles. I did not see that very often. Lines actually coming in between 7-20 miles, with the 18-20 range well attested to. (Not counting the bizarre Tacoma Link at 1.6 miles). Difference in initial distance seems to be the availability of an existing rail corridor. If you've got one, it's easy to go longer. Without one, using ROW from a freeway, or street right of way, the costs and complexities are higher, and the initial line tends to be shorter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Transit Distances & Cost

Browsing planning documents, I came across one by the city of Winston-Salem, talking about the potential for a BRT or light rail between itself, and the nearby city of Greensboro. Rough distance is about 25 miles, which is far too far for a light rail line. There are certain numbers, that when I hear them, I know that the people proposing haven't done their research (or hired someone who has). Just some of my personal rules of thumb, for 'starter lines'.

Streetcar: 1-4 mile.
Light rail: 8-20 miles.

I forget where, but I once saw a graphic of all operational streetcar lines, super-imposed on one another. They were tiny, most of them between a mile and two miles. A rare few got as high as three. The Fed's funded Albequerque, which is four miles long, but they already had a 1 mile 'vintage' trolley they had been operating for the better part of a decade.

Charlotte has a plan for a 10 mile long streetcar LINE. That's not a line*--that's a system. It's a ridiculous distance to try to build at once. Streetcar networks get built one line at a time, in small segments, not enormous mega-projects. Certainly, I understand the political calculus of it. Charlotte is not going to tell the other members of its funding coalition the they aren't going to get their 'part' of the streetcar line for twenty years, during which time it may be 'delayed indefinitely' (and never built). But that's just bad transit planning.

The numbers break the bank. A 'cheap' light rail costs $25m/mile, with the average being about $35m/mile. At the $35m price, a 20 mile line runs about $700m. Assuming the Feds pick up half the price tag, the local city/MPO/transit agency still has to come up with $350m worth of NEW money.

That's not counting operations. Operations cost data is (irritatingly) mostly available in formats like "cost per passenger" or "cost per passenger mile". Cost per hour operating costs for vehicles is rare, which is irritating, because that is what is needed to determine actual operating costs. Calgary gives $163/hour for its light rail, and is considered cheap at that price.

Let us start with our hypothetical 20 mile train. Let us be (extremely) generous and assume (average) 20 mph operating speeds (actual average is 16.4), for stations a mile apart. At 20 mph, a train can go between stations in about 3 minutes. So in 15 minutes, that's five stations. Assuming 20 stations, that's 4 trains per hour, per direction (8 trains total). So that route requires 8 hours of train time every hour, at a cost of $163/hour, for 14 hours a day.  That's about $18,000 a day. Assume the train runs 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Annual operations cost is per mile is $5.5m.

$350m to buy the train and $5.5m to pay for the cost to run it. Assume that the initial cost doesn't have to be collected all at once, that it can be financed. UTA was paying about 15%, and has a pretty stellar credit rating. Borrowing $350m at 15% over 30 years means an annual payment of about $50,000, so such a train would cost $6m annually.

Which is a very large number, and not money most places just have lying around. The State of Utah had about $1.5b in taxable sales last quarter. Obtaining an extra $6m would mean raising the tax rate by .42%, or about .5%. So the sales tax rate would go from 7.0% to 7.5% to fund such a light rail system. That's politically difficult to achieve. For a County with an economy half the size of Utah's, (.75b in taxable revenue), double the tax raise would be necessary. Asking for a 1% rise in sales tax at the ballot box tends to fail. Half percent increases are more politically feasible. UTA got the first TRAX line built on .25%, and the expansion done on another .25%.
*A 'line' is a functionally independent unit of a transit network, that could operate on its own, cut off from the rest of the network. Most places are starting their rail networks with a single line, and building their networks from their. Each subsequent line is easier because of the network effect. By connecting by already accessible destinations

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rail Transit Distances

How far does each mode go?

Streetcar:  1-4 miles   (Sugarhouse)
Light Rail: 8 - 15 miles  (TRAX)
Commuter Rail: 20-40 miles  (FrontRunner)
Inter-City Rail: 60-300 miles (Amtrak Acela?)

So Winston-Salem to Greenboro is really talking about Commuter Rail, not light rail or BRT. Funny to think that UTA has now stretch FrontRunner from Ogden to Provo. 88 miles, give or take. Stations every ten miles. While TRAX has stations every mile or so. Ergo Inter-City rail has stations every 100 miles or so? Acela stopping every 30 miles or so.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Average Speed & Travel Speed

This should be obvious: Average speed is not the same as maximum speed.

If I drive between my house and the University along the freeway, I'm reaching 80 mph (and traveling at that speed for a goodly portion of the distance). I think of my 'travel speed' as 80 mph, regardless of the time I spend waiting at lights, or driving cross-town to access the freeway. But when I use the distance traveled (~17 miles) and actual travel time (45 minutes) to calculate* my rate, I find out my average speed is much, much lower--about 23mph.

When transit planners talk about transit, they habitually talk about the AVERAGE speed, rather than the maximum speed, but fail to make a distinction between the two. For a bus, an AVERAGE speed of 8-10 mph is normal. 12 mph is really really good, while 4 mph sucks. A back of the envelope calculation on the AVERAGE speed on TRAX between Sandy, Utah and Downtown SLC is about 30 mph.

*Distance = Rate * Time, thus Time/Distance = Rate

Monday, November 19, 2012

EmX goes BATS

Normal buses also have to deal with the consequences of running within a stream of automobile traffic. 
To avoid snarling traffic, buses must pull off the right of way, in a 'bus pullout'. It prevents them from slowing automobile traffic, but has significant consequences for the bus.  First, the bus must slow down and turn out of the travel lane rapidly, jolting passengers on board. Second, the bus must wait for a gap in traffic to re-enter the lane, which substantially slows the bus.

The EmX suffers from none of these flaws. The EmX doesn't quite have it's own lane, but it has a 'BAT', a 'Bus and Turn' Lane. No cars permitted, unless they are turning into either a curb-cut, or at an intersection. Not quite as good as a full lane, but certainly better than a shared lane.

It also seems to have been cheap and easy to create. It looks like the EmX's BAT lane used to be the 'safety area' at the edge of a high-speed arterial. The safety area is a 8' wide stretch of pavement between the outmost travel lane and the curb, and is designed to let drivers veer several feet without either running off the road or running into anything. More than wide enough for a lane, and many safety areas vanish as they are re-striped as lanes as traffic volumes grow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

EmX - When curb quality counts

Normal bus stops are just bad. To pick up passengers, a bus must leave its lane, lumber into into a slanted, debris filled gutter, jolting and tilting everyone on board. And they must approach slowly so as not to spray waiting passengers with the mud and slime in the puddle.

The EmX stations are a strange hybrid between normal bus stops and transit stations. They are a contiguous part of the sidewalk, (so no land or ROW costs), but with very different curbs.The edges of roadways are typically described as 'curb and gutter', reflecting their duel function in preventing cars from running off the road and in channeling water. (Roadway engineers design a 'hump' into the road it aid the latter function).

The EmX curbs are 12" high (compared to a normal 6" or 8" curb), and covered gutters. For normal buses, entering the debris filled and slanting gutter means jolting everyone on board, and splashing anyone at the stop with the water in the gutter. It also leaves a 'gap' between curb and bus floor that's impossible to cross in a wheelchair. In contrast, the EmX stations make it possible for the bus to roll up right next to the curb, with minimal gap. The taller curb matches the hight of the bus floor almost exactly. Wheelchairs can roll on and roll off without the need for a lift.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Favelas Exist

Favelas are generated when rapid urbanization causes population to outstrips the existing housing supply. The rapid growth in population drives up the value of housing. In a normal market, that triggers the development of additional housing until the two equalize. But  the essential input of housing is urban land. As the value of housing is rising, so is the value of urban land. Because of the durability of buildings, urban land can be developed only once per generation, so it makes sense to wait to develop until the value increase in urban land has stopped/slowed. While the present  value of urban land is high, the expect value of urban land in the future is higher still. As a result, rather than developing a property to its present ‘highest and best use’, landowners instead hold out for the future, when the highest and best user will be even more profitable.

With low land taxes, the cost of ‘holding out’ and waiting until a later time to develop is actually very low. 
Because the majority of the value of a land is actually  in its future value, the present value of land is largely irrelevant (especially in the context of high inflation), so interim uses are irrelevant—squatters and slums do not matter, insofar as they cannot claim legal title to the land, and can  be removed/cleared when the time is appropriate to develop the parcel.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stair-Step Walking Distances

A study of Seattle-area park-and-ride lots found that for suburban lots, 50% of
the park-and-ride facility’s demand is typically generated within a 2.5-mile (4-km)
radius of the facility, and that an additional 35% comes from an area defined by a
parabola extending 10 miles (16 km) upstream of the lot and having a long chord of
10 to 12 miles (16 to 19 km).(R28) This market area is illustrated in Exhibit 3-8(a).

I need to make a diagram that is an analogue of this for walking. The 'stair-steps' of distance decay, and their trip-generation potential. The half mile radius around transit stations is simply not the whole picture. It's an average, rather than a distribution. And if there is a big, nice pocket of density, just beyond the half-mile circle, it's not going to capture the full effects of transit station accessibility.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bus vs. Rail

I am going to punch the next feckless moron to conflate the costs of mixed-traffic bus system with a dedicated running-way rail system. It's simply not an apples to apples comparison, in either cost or quality of service. One is a Buick, and the other is a Cadillac. While both enjoy the same potential ridership (in terms of the built environment), there is a vast difference in performance. To call out one aspect in particular: system delay. As the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual is good enough to point out:

This point of view also includes measures of
facility capacity in terms of the numbers of transit vehicles or total vehicles that can
be accommodated. Because transit vehicles carry passengers, these measures also
reflect the passenger point of view: passengers on board a transit vehicle traveling at
an average speed of 12 mph (20 km/h) individually experience this same average
travel speed. However, because these vehicle-oriented measures do not take
passenger loading into account, the passenger point of view is hidden, as all vehicles
are treated equally, regardless of the number of passengers in each vehicle. For
example, while a single-occupant vehicle and a 40-passenger bus traveling on the
same street may experience the same amount of delay due to on-street congestion
and traffic signal delays, the person-delay experienced by the bus is 40 times as great
as the single-occupant vehicle.
It's not a question of bus versus rail, (as many BRT projects are empirically proving) but a matter of right of way. Dedicated running-way provides value, but at a price. Whether the value is worth the price depends on the project, not the technology. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Schedule Span

Catching up on Wikipedia transit updates, I happened across this chart of annual ridership, and ridership on a per-mile basis.  While I was pleased as punch about TRAX's success (#9 in the nation), I was less psyched about the ridership per mile. Reading up on other systems, something about the Seattle's 'Central Link' struck me--"Service operates seven days a week, from 5 am to 1 am Monday through Saturday and from 6 am to midnight on Sundays".

I spent most of last night reading chapter 3 of the 'Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, 2nd Edition'. One of the ideas it brought to my attention was the idea of 'schedule span', which is the transit equivalent of hours of operation. The Central Link is operating 20 hours a day. TRAX calls it quit at about 10:30-11, and it starts later! I think that's reflected in the per-mile ridership numbers--almost 2000 vs. just over 1500 daily riders/mile. Central Link is 33% higher than TRAX, for ~33% higher hours.

I've previously commented on the lack of late-night service for TRAX, which (as one commenter noted) has actually been declining over time. Anyone who has read the history of transit is familiar with the ridership sabotaging effects of reducing service. Less service means fewer riders, which means less money, which means less service---it's a downward spiral.

Miles of track are expensive, running between $60m and $100m per mile. We should make as much use of it as possible.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Great Cities and Their Traffic

Thomson* notes an inverse relation between the number of center city jobs and the number commuting by car. The implications of Thomson's data are significant because of it's age. Most of it is drawn from 1963 and 1973. Detroit had only 80 thousand jobs (Thomson 35). That makes some of the  'center cities' of Thomson's age are equivalent in size to Garreau's 'Edge Cities' of today. Automotive sprawl had become the dominant land use pattern by 1970, and the public tram-ways were long since replaced by buses. Yet the relationship remained...the question remains--is it a matter of share of total regional jobs, or merely the geographic concentration of jobs?

*Thomson, Michael, J. Great Cities and Their Traffic. London: Victor Gollancz ltd. 1977

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Growing a Transit Network

As far as I can tell, building a good rapid transit system is pretty simple: Good planning and incremental investment. That seems to be why San Diego has done well, Salt Lake has done well, and Denver's Fast-Track is a bit of a boondoggle. Doing it incrementally makes it possible to apply 'lessons learned' to subsequent expansions. It could be argued that SLC's last expansion (4 lines at once) 'overdid it', but I don't think so. While it was funded as a package, UTA has been pretty clever in phasing the construction time of the different lines so that everything hasn't been happening all at once. The South Jordan and West Valley lines started service on the same day, but neither the Airport nor Draper lines have completed construction. I suspect that made it possible to re-use construction equipment/staff time on the different lines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TRAX vs. Streetcar

I was browsing UTA's website, and came across this map, for the West Valley TRAX line.

It begs the question why the line doesn't just connect directly to the 2100 South Sugarhouse Streetcar, rather than requiring a transfer at the station. To me, the answer is clear: Different types of trains, so different types of funding, so different projects.

But it raises an interesting point regarding expert knowledge: What is common sense to me is not to my non-expert/non-professional friends and family. But I still need to be able to articulate that understanding, and to do so on a ad-hoc basis: There is no time to prepare a lengthy exposition. I need a ten word 'Elevator Speech'. (And that, I increasingly come to believe, is the essence of expertise: The seemingly effortless performance of public competence.) What will my ten word explanation be? "TRAX trains are too heavy". The issues of rail types, station spacing, double track versus single track, and the engineered weight capacities of different soil types are irrelevant.

Update: Scuttlebutt is that UTA actually plans to use regular TRAX trains along the Sugarhouse 'Streetcar' route. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eugene BRT Guideway

I recently visited Eugene, Oregon to have another look at their 'Emerald Express' (EmX) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. I was very impressed. I worked on a similar project for Ogden, Utah. Their solutions to a number of traffic engineering problems were very impressive, both in the quality of the engineering but also in the quality of the investment.

The EmX did well. Franklin Boulevard has a large grassy median, and the EMX carved a couple of bus-ways out of that.

Let me talk about guide-way a little bit. The EmX has a mix of guide-ways.
  • Mixed Traffic
  • Dedicated Lane (Center Running)
  • Dedicated Lane (Side Running)
  • Busway with concrete curbs
  • Double Busway with concrete curbs
'Mixed Traffic' is the same as a normal bus. The western 50% of the EmX line is mixed traffic along a 6-lane wide arterial/state highway. It includes a couple of bridges, one of which is probably a quarter-mile long.

'Dedicated Lanes' is where the bus gets a 'bus only' lane.  In the EmX's case, rather than spending money annually to repaint the 'bus-only' lanes, it seems to have done them in concrete, while the rest of the street is asphalt. (I'm not sure if that was part of the original design, or an upgrade over time). Examining the aerial images, the bus lanes just seem to be re-done turn lanes, with some minor curb-side changes. The center-running were once a center-turn lane, and the side-running is the remainder of a right-turn lane and perhaps parking area. Examining different ages of aerial images (via ESRI and Google Earth), it appears that part of the dedicated lanes were originally Mixed Traffic, and only upgraded later on. Cars don't seem to have an issue crossing the bus lane to access curb-cuts for retail businesses.

I'm a little confused by the decision not to provide a dedicated lane in the Glenwood area between I-5 and the Willamette River.  There is certainly plenty of right of way. When building a fixed guide-way urban transit system, right of way is the killer. It's difficult to acquire, either through takings from property owners, or from the local Department of Transportation. While using DOT property seems simple, they may already have that pavement 'budgeted' for future planned increases in traffic, and loath to give it up today. Perhaps the speed of the road may have made doing so a safety hazard?

'Busway' is where there is a curb, so cars can't cross in front of the bus. It means the bus can travel much faster than in a dedicated lane, because a car cannot veer suddenly from an adjacent lane. Riding the EmX along the Busway was both exciting and a little alarming. I don't think I've ever been on a bus moving faster than 35 mph, and I think the EmX was pushing 60 mph on that segment. It makes about a quarter of the route. It has a middle section with two bus ways, side by side so that buses can pass one another. Most of the Busway is along Franklin Boulevard, which is a state highway with large grassy median, which provided the necessary right of way.

'Frequency' was excellent. The schedule indicated 15 minutes all day, with 10 minute peak times. The buses do not stack up, but neither do they linger. There is one 'stall' for the EmX at each end of it's route. When the arriving bus enters the station, the other bus departs.

The EmX does very well on average speed. The entire journey from boarding to de-boarding was under 20 minutes. Travel time was under 18. Google Earth tells me the route distance was about 3.78 miles. That gives an average travel speed of 12.6 mph.  (For reference, a 'slow' bus travels at an average 3.6 mph). The UTA TRAX, traveling a similar mix of guideway and distance (Arena to Center Point station) takes about 16 minutes, so it's not actually much faster...TRAX through downtown SLC is brutally slow.
The EmX's success does not appear to be entirely contingent on mode. More, I think it is a matter of network design. Both ends of the EmX have substantial transit centers, which are also the terminus for multiple other buses, including a large number of double-articulated buses (functionally identical to the EmX).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Transit Station Accessibility

The literature on transit oriented development suggests that pedestrian scale design, a fine-grained street network, and small blocks size are important factors in the importance of transit oriented development. These factors are important because they serve to increase the total area that can be accessed within the typical 'time budget' of a walk trip. The literature on the effects of transit on the building environement indicates that the beneficial effect of proximity to transit extends between a quarter mile and a half mile from the station. At a normal walking pace of 3 MPH that represents a 5-10 walk. However, the distribution of walk trips is not even, but rather follows a pattern of logarithmic decay. The vast majority of trips occurring within the smaller distance, and only a small minority willing to walk the full ten minutes. Thus, the impact of accesibility is more significant in the area adjacent to the transit station. 

--Presuming no obstacles or barriers, it is thus possible to access about 500 acres in a 10 minute walk, or 200 acres within a 5 minute walk. The presence of obstacles or barriers between the transit station and a walkable destination decreases the 'directness' of a route and increases the necessary distance traveled. For a destination on the opposite corner of a block, a pedestrian must travel along the block-face, increasing the total distance by 50%. The larger the block, the greater the amount of distance traveled.--

Monday, October 22, 2012

10 Minute Fare

I rode the Eugene, Oregon BRT ('Emerald Express', or EmX) last week from end to end. Very quick journey, not more than 18 minutes for the whole trip. Strangely enough, this was almost exactly the amount allotted my by my fare card. I found the idea of a 'timed' ticket rather relevatory, for it provides a solution to several issues UTA is having.

1) The 'Free Fare Zone' in downtown SLC. UTA promised it to the downtown merchants about a decade ago, and is not pleased with it. Ideally, any trip that begins and ends in downtown is free. Normally, patrons pay when boarding the bus. In the Free Fare Zone, this is not so, and passengers who leave the Free Fare Zone are supposed to pay without exiting. This aids and abets fare-beating, as passengers will board in the free zone, and disembark without paying, with not a thing the driver can do about it. Thus, UTA would very much like to do away with it, but downtown is very interested in keeping it for the convention crowd and the office worker lunch rush. Nobody wants to buy a $2.50 ticket to ride the train a couple of blocks, or even to ride the train a mile.

Currently, a one way TRAX tickets have a 2.5 hour limit, which is long enough to get from one end of the system to the other, such as from Central Station to Sandy. It's also long enough to make a short trip, run an errand, and get back, (although that can be a chancy thing).  So what about a 'Dollar Ticket'? Purchasable only from select downtown locations, and only good for 1 hour, and only sold at downtown stations? 

Some transit systems have a 'zone system', where you pay a different price depending on the number of zones you travel in. Within Zone1 might be one price, Zone1 to Zone2 a different price, and Zone1 to Zone 4 a different and much higher price. It forms a matrix of zone-pairs, and if you're not familar with it, trying to figure out which ticket to buy can be confusing.

But the dollar ticket is easy: Cost $1, gets you 10 minutes of travel-distance. More than enough to get around downtown. Buy a second one to return. Or you could include a 'right of return' option on it, so you can travel to any point within 10 minutes distance of the original station. Long enough to get lunch for the business crowd, and suitable for the convention crowd. It could even last all day. With the right of return, it's perilously near a zone system, but the time budget+origin station provides a bit more flexibility.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Granary District

"Bounded by 600 and 1000 South, and 300 West and I-15, the Granary District is named for the Salt Lake City RDA project area and former granary silo history". Granary district getting a lot of planning attention of late.  It has a lot of RD-owned property, it is  part of several BID areas, and the likely location of the streetcar. Very near the freeway, so likely redevelopment area. Someplace to watch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Embedded KML Viewer.

Ever want to share the maps you've made on Google Earth? It's now simply and easy. Check it out! 


Monday, October 15, 2012

'They aren't making any more of it'

Conventional wisdom has it: "Invest in real estate--they aren't making any more of it". While it is true that when rising demand meets fixed supply, the price must rise, that's not the whole story. But the supply of urban land is not fixed, but rather expands in response to transportation improvements. Development of skyscrapers and multi-story retail ceased with the advent of the automobile age--cheaper, equally accessible land was available on the urban fringe.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

9-Line BRT

Looks like UTA is planning to put some transit in place along 800 South/Indiana Avenue. Or so it appears from their ROW purchase plans. My best guess at the alignment for the BRT would be:

Start at 900 South Trax Station, West along 800 South, to Navaho Street.
Option A: Continue West along Indiana Avenue to Redwood Road
Option B: Head south along Navaho Street to Glendale 'Rose', then southeast to California Avenue.
-b1: Return to 1300 S. Trax
-b2: Continue West to Redwood Road.

And then hence south along Redwood Road, terminating at one of many TRAX stations, viz:
  • Redwood Junction
  • West Jordan City Center 
  • Sandy Civic (at 10600 S. and State, following route 218)
  • 114/118/Pioneer Road in Draper

Extending the 9-Line Streetcar

 In an earlier post, I discussed adding a streetcar to the existing 9-Line linear park. In this post, I'm going to suggest a possible extension and second phase for the proposed streetcar. It would start at the 9-line Navaho Street Station, proceed south along Navaho Street, around the edge of the Rose Park 'Rose', and into Glendale Shopping Center. It would hence go southward along Glendale Drive, terminating at California Avenue, near the schools. It would only make sense to do so if the long, deep single family parcels along Navaho Street could be redeveloped, which would almost certainly require the use of eminent domain, and thus actions by the Redevelopment Authority (RDA). I'd estimate it would require acquiring about 2.6 acres on each side of Navaho, from 32 different parcels, for an area of about 700' by 150'.

View 9-Line in a larger map

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

9-Line Streetcar

With such a sweetly preserved rail corridor, there is no reason that the 9-Line Rail trail should not support a streetcar as well as an urban linear park.

Phase 1 is the section between 9th South TRAX and the Jordan River (1 mile).
Phase 2 is is the Jordan River to Redwood Road (1 mile).

Stations at 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile intervals. 
  1. 9th South TRAX
  2. Under I-15, at about 600 West. 
  3. Bend in the River
  4. Parkview School (Emory Street/ 1100 W.)
  5. Navaho Street
  6. Redwood Road (1700 W.)
  7. (Possible intermediate Station at 1500 W.)
Station 1 may share platform with TRAX. May also follow existing railroad right of way to become parallel to 1300 TRAX station.

Station 2 becomes a public market, like Portland's Saturday market. Under the freeway reduces impact of freeway noise, provides shelter for passengers, and works to keep the area free of trash/debris.

Station 3 includes a redevelopment element--Takes houses or parkland in the area near 900 South of Montegue Ave. Potentially use the ox-tongue area between the Jordan River. High density townhomes looking out over the river, using the river as a 'fence'.

Station 4 serves the elementary school (which presumably serves some community center role), and provides access to some of the large parcels adjacent. Some single family houses directly adjacent may be 'ripe'. Regardless, parcels nearby large enough for townhouse or garden court style structures.

Station 5 provides accessibility, access to Glendale Shopping Center. (Additional transit may be required. UTA route 516 currently providing 'circulator' service in the area.). Also suggests an alternate/future alignment (Alignment 2A) for the streetcar to head south to the Shopping Center to a new retail/mixed use development.

Station 6 has very strong redevelopment potential, with large parcels located adjacent to a high-capacity arterial. Current use currently automotive sales, and depreciated industrial. It also provides connectivity with UTA's existing and planned Redwood Road.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"UTA only knows how to build Light Rail'

I was looking at the illustrations for Sugarhouse Streetcar, and the criticism that UTA only knows how to build light rail sings true. Sugarhouse Streetcar looks like a TRAX line--a dedicated corridor, with a gravel bed and fences along both sides. I've ridden streetcar systems in Portland and Barcelona. Like the name suggests, streetcars run in the street...sometimes on the edge, sometimes down a center median.

UTA built most of the TRAX system using old railway corridor (Sandy--SLC--Mid-Jordan) and seems to be comfortable and familiar doing so. It certainly makes sense to do so. Building in an existing corridor reduces utility conflicts, and makes the property acquisition for right of way relatively simple.

Cost-wise, I know that the per-mile costs associated with running TRAX light rail through Salt Lake City on city streets was fairly high compared to the initial Sandy-Salt Lake stretch, and certainly more complex in terms of traffic engineering, and the need to come to negotiated agreements with UDOT and Salt Lake City.

The next phase of the Sugarhouse Streetcar will have to be along roadway (east on 21st, or north on 1100 East), so UTA is going to have learn how to build 'real' streetcar, and not just TRAX-lite.

TRAX shares right of way with automobiles only at intersections (typically left turn arrows). The rest of the street right of way is protected by curbs or jersey barriers separating the train from auto-traffic. That wasn't originally so, but a two or three cars got themselves t-boned as they tried to make (illegal) turns across the TRAX right of way). Hence, curbs.

But that's not something that is going to work with streetcar, which is going to have to run 'in traffic', right with the cars. That it is possible to do so is really the big difference between the two vehicles. A light rail car weights about 98,500 lbs, while a streetcar weights about 30,000 lbs, or about 1/3 as much. Thus, faster, more responsive stopping capacity.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Court Co-op

A developer friend argued that too many single family homes for rent in a neighborhood was dangerous to the neighborhood, because renters failed to keep up the property. The planner in me bristled, considering this nothing more than blatant NIMBYism. But after longer discussion, I was forced to agree.

Non-occupying owners, don't receive any of the use-benefit from even minor improvements (new paint, new windows). As a landlord, it's very hard to know if an improvement is worth the money. Will repainting increase the rents? (Market information on residential rents is scarce).

As a renter (with a lease only a year long), I'm very reluctant to fix anything, let alone make improvements--I know the only value I can obtain for doing so will be utility over the next year, so it's not in my interest to make improvements that will endure beyond my lease.

How to make rentals (and thus affordable housing) available in single family neighborhoods? I would suggest 'Court Co-ops'. A 'Court Co-Op' would consist of adjacent single family homes clustered around a shared street, with a Co-Op Ownership structure.

 Co-ops are most often seen in Manhattan apartment buildings. A co-op is like condo association, but instead of the condo property being owned by an outside company, the owners of the condos are also the owners of the condo corporation, with a board of directors chosen by residents. 'Private communities' or 'planned communities' already represent a trend toward 'private government' in the form of HOA (Home Owners Associations), which have the power to exact a mandatory fee from residents, and then use those funds to make repairs and improvements to common resources.

HOA's make sense because a not insignificant portion of the value of a home is 'neighborhood value', as a result of the quality of your neighbors home. Providing a mechanism to guarantee the maintenance of all houses in the neighborhood (to the cost of to households) represents and equitable sharing of risk and benefit. (Although I'm less fond of their deed restrictions on renting....).

Salt Lake City would be an excellent place for this. Due to the large size (660' on a side) of blocks in Salt Lake City, many have 'courts', or mid-block alleyways, with small houses built on each side of the alley. Some courts are city streets, while others have only decrepit asphalt paving, installed by the original owner before it was subdivided into house parcels. Changing the courts into 'Court Co-ops' would provide a mechanism to both revitalize the areas and ensure that the properties are maintained, thus generating benefit for all occupants, whether owner or renter.

*The developer friend stated that the same effect was not true for multi-family units, because they enjoyed the services of professional management companies (with much better information on rents, the ability to adjust rents in response to changing conditions, legal liability with the city...).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rapid Transit Office Index

Reading up on the Rapid Transit Office Index, which basically says 'Be within 500m or don't bother'. 500m is a about a third of a mile. Which has implications for TOD design. I think SANDAG nails is pretty well with this graphic.

Thinking on Cottonwood Corporate Center, on I-215 in SLC, UT. It's a large office complex with a lot of skyscrapers, basically in the middle of nowhere. It has good visibility from I-215 (on the hill) and a freeway exit, but it's hardly the only place with one. According to Christine Richman, the whole place got started with a build to suit developed for a specific tenant, and the whole cluster grew up around that.

Now, thinking of the RTOI, I wonder if it might not be possible to establish an office cluster around FrontRunner on that same basis. If you are going to work, Rapid Transit is certainly a plus. Sit down, read the paper, read a book, go over some documents. But it's difficult to get any work done on TRAX because there is nothing to write on. So, instead focus development around FrontRunner, which has a) Some seats with tables, and b) Wifi. Effectively, it becomes possible to treat FrontRunner as a rolling office. Roadway access would of course still be key, so a not too distant interchange seems like a good idea. To me, this suggests the otherwise abominable Station Park in Farmington. The only trouble is getting that first tenant...

Monday, June 18, 2012


"Free, fast and simple mobile apps for mass transit riders worldwide"
Pretty please, UTA?!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bus vs. Trains

I was reading Human Transit today, and thinking about the rail map. SLC has a similarly complex bus system. Why is not possible to have a similar map? Jared Walker has the right of it when he says 'many transit services that are stuck in mixed traffic'. This is the fundamental divide--not bus vs. train, but dedicated right of way vs. mixed traffic. Trains, being heavier and slower to stop, frequently get their own. Buses do not, and that makes all the difference.  Effective BRT means dedicated right of way

Friday, April 27, 2012

Renters vs. Owners - Conflicts of Interest

Owner-occupiers take actions intended to maximize property values, either as part of an effort to maintain and increase resale value, or as a consequence of improving the amenity value of the house for their own use. In contrast, landlords seek to maximize return on investment, which entails maximizing rents while minimizing expenses. As neither landlords nor tenants are able to enjoy the full benefit of making improvements on a house, both groups are inclined to avoid maximizing the amenity value of the house. This can lead to long term disinvestment in the house, causing it to become run-down.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neighborhoods & Amenity

In abstract, a house can be understood as a bundle of characteristics that determine its value. The value of a house is not determined solely by the characteristics of the house, but also by its location. These characteristics represent sources of amenity. Two broad classes of amenity exist: Amenity of structure and amenity of location. Structural amenities are typically defined by number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage, and other characteristics of the house. Amenities of location are typically characterized in terms of proximity to sources of amenity (shopping, recreation) and dis-amenity (air pollution, crime, noise). 

The importance of location is widely recognized in real-estate. All property occupies a unique location in space, and thus all real estate is unique and non-replicable. Nearby locations sharing similar characteristics often act as complements.

But there exists an additional package of amenities of location not contingent on proximity, typically characterized in terms of ‘neighborhood’. The concept is poorly defined, formally referring to a geographic area, but also referring to a less well articulated set of aspects associated with that that. Neighborhood membership is typically defined by proximity, but the boundaries of neighborhoods are rarely well defined, and may change over time.  

Neighborhoods are important because geographic proximity implies more frequent interaction. Whether interaction represents an opportunity or threat depends on the compatibility of residents. Does not imply social conformity, but rather social compatible—norms about the use of space, social presentation, privacy, and behavior do not conflict. Desirable neighborhoods are characterized by compatible socio-demographic groups. ‘Areas in transition’ represent shifts in the socio-demographic characteristics of a neighborhood, as different groups move and in and out.

Houses in a similar neighborhood already share amenities of proximity and amenities of neighborhood, so that neighborhoods with houses with similar amenities of structure also show highly uniform prices. This affects housing affordability, and results in a strong association in socio-economic status with neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


The ongoing expansion in housing units square footage per person and acres per housing unit is usually justified using the 'Economistic' idea that humans are rational self-interest maximizers, capable of gauging the marginal value of an additional increment. In reality, humans are not rational optimizers, but rational satisficers and irrational maximizers. People make decisions on the basis of meeting perceived needs. Once those perceived needs are met, they act to maximize any offered considerations, regardless of their desirability.

High Tech Development

The race for high tech industry as an economic development plan has a political component. High tech industry is (ironically) most sought in towns that lack anything resembling it. Thus, high tech firms are the beneficiary of the largest public largess in places where it is least suited. High tech industry felt to be desirable, but because no similar local firm exists to contest the distribution of that largess to a competitor. Likewise, existing manufacturing do not contest the public subsidy, because the subsidy is not directed toward an industry that would compete the the existing or historic industries.

Ironically, the same mechanism which provides for this political acceptability ensures the economic failure of 'high tech' industry in that locality. Lacking competitors, any high tech firm that does move in cannot draw on the an existing 'ecosystem' of suppliers, nor hire from an existing pool of skilled workers, and so must import both. This high degree of imports ensures that the impact of 'high tech' on the local economy will be minimal, and that local high tech firms will be at a competitive disadvantage to high tech firms located in more suitable contexts.

Economic Growth

Begs the question--why is economic growth important? The traditional explanation is that their must be continued economic growth to match population growth. Even without economic growth, the population will continue to grow, thus resulting in a rising unemployment rate and a falling quality of life. However, this presumes that the distribution of the benefits of economic growth remains constant... Let no one doubt that the distribution of the benefits of economic growth are grossly unequal.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


"Competitive firms do not scruple to savage their competitors". Instead, they limit the entry of new firms into the market by imposing high-start up costs, or by imposing 'compliance costs' through burdensome regulation.

Thursday, February 2, 2012



Define problem/Research Interest
Define Objective
Develop Conceptual Model
Implement Model
Verify and Calibrate Model
Validate the Model

Monday, January 9, 2012


As an economic base grows, so does the demand for employees. In a growing economic region, the rate of economic growth exceeds the rate of natural increase, necessitating immigration. The demand for employees in excess of supply leads to rising wages, which then attracts households from other metropolitan regions. As the number of households rise, the vacancy rate of available housing (rented and owned) falls, and the rising value of property/rents stimulates new construction. (This relationship characterizes one of the virtuous cycles that helps power economic development in growing metropolitan regions).

Intro to Python Notes

Integrated window--IDLE. Type in, responds directly. There are a lot of things that python just does automatically, through automatic presets--simpler once you know it, but more of a learning curve. Python is case sensitive.

If you want to get decimals, you need to include at least one of the numbers as a non integers. 19.0/3 will return decimals, 19/3 will only return a integer--6. Standard order of operations. 19%3=1  % is the character for 'remainder'. Considered as 'division' in order of operations. ^ is not used for exponent--** is used instead.

Alt+P retypes the last command you exectuted--may 'scroll back' through multiple commands--not just last, but commands previous to that.
#/Sharp/Hashtag used for commenting.
Used for commenting code.  

Seems like variables can be any string. Will accept strings or numbers.

Allows and echo like:
frog*6 gets communismcommunismcommunismcommunismcommunismcommunism
May set mathematical operations as variables:

Saving, must add the extension .py. If you miss it, not critical--will have to open IDLE and then open the file rather than just being able to double-click it.

Create new is out of the main python terminal, which allows you to execute multiple line scripts. In the main editor it runs each line as you type it in.

Variable types = string, number, tuple, list, dictionary...
List needs end-brackets [], separated by commas.

>>> print "My number is", MyNum
My number is 1
#automatically adds the space before a variable?

"append" adds a name to a list.
>>> names.append('catherine')

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ideal Design

The ideal spatial distribution of trip ends would would result in in an arrangement where the trip-ends for the most frequent trips were in closest proximity. In reality, the distribution of trips ends is more arbitrary.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ring Residential

The historic 'ring' structure of industrial and manufacturing-centric urbanization, with residential around an employment core is caused by the need for transportation access. The core forms around essential transportation infrastructure--ports, rivers, railways, highway interchanges. Access to transportation is an economic necessity, and are capable of 'outbidding' competing land uses.  At the edge, 'outbid' residential uses locate. Because residential uses require more land area per person than industrial uses, they eventually come to 'ring' the industrial uses, impairing their expansion potential.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Urban Land Supply

The rate at which urban land is being made available for development exceeds the demand for new urban land. This is indicated by the prevalence of fully depreciated vacant buildings and vacant lots present in the urbanized area.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Not all urban uses are amenable to more intensive use—for some uses, it is not cost-effective. Multi-story construction is significantly more expensive than single-story construction. Thus, limited developable area acts as a constraint on economic growth.