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