Monday, January 28, 2013

Some Thesis on Transit

Goodness of service is measured in ridership per route mile. There are no other metrics.

If the service is good, people will ride it. The better the service, the more people will choose to ride it. Many things contribute to goodness of service--Speed, Frequency, and Reliability are all important.

 Why per route mile? If half the route length is junk, the numbers should reflect that. If cutting half the route destroys the whole route, it is not a very good route.

There is no help for a route that does not connect to places people want to go. If it goes someplace useful, it will be ridden.

Ridership per route mile does not measure development effects. Development does not affect goodness of service. Development is caused by goodness of service.

For planned routes, for which not ridership can be given, accessibility to jobs and employment (as measured by density) is a reasonable proxy.

Transit use is mediated by the attractiveness of alternate forms of transportation. The difference in time and cost between transit and alternatives is critical. ie: Parking availability, congestion, gas prices.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Phoenix 2013 - Barely a BRT

Last weak, I visited Phoenix, Arizona. While there, I took the time to ride both the Metro light rail (which is excellent) and the LINK bus rapid transit (which is not).

Link was a) late, and b) not keeping to its headway. According to the schedule, it was on a 15 minute headway, but I waited over 20 minutes. The reason for which quickly became apparent--the entire boulevard was torn up on one side, with one lane in each direction.

The buses are branded, but they use a combination of articulated and non-articulated buses. The presence of 'normal' buses was upsetting--if you can't fill the bus to capacity, how good can your bus be?

For a state with so many old people and veterans, valley metro is inefficient at loading wheel chairs. The sliding-board on the Eugene BRT really impressed me. In Eugene, wheel chair riders roll themselves on, and then back into a little slot directly across from the back door, where they boarded. The wheelchair ramp is activated by the driver, from where he sits. On the Link, it was much more like a regular bus. The driver got up, walked back, opened the door, made everyone standing move, lowered the ramp like a draw-bridge, let the guy roll aboard, made more people move, flipped up some seats, seat-belted the wheel-chair in. Then he turned to the old lady in a wheelchair on the platform, shrugged, and said 'There'll be another bus along in a moment'. It was like watching a transit horror story, enacted before my very eyes.

Station spacing was a little enraging. Multiple times, the stops are still near-side of an intersection. Which is two-fold terrible. First, it means a bus will almost certainly miss the light--approaching a green light, the bus will still have to stop, and almost certainly will wind up sitting through the red light. Far-side stops means the bus continues through on the green. Second, near-side stops conflict with with the right-turn pocket, so that the bus has to slow down, pull out of traffic (and into the gutter), conflicting with car traffic. Waiting passengers are also exposed to the constant screech of right-turning cars. I began to wonder how 'seriously' Phoenix had taken the whole concept of BRT

On-board fare collection for the Phoenix LINK. I had a transfer ticket from the light rail, so I didn't notice it at first. Many people had contact-less fares, but there was still a certain amount of fiddling with the machine, cramming creased dollar bills into the slots, as the whole bus sat and waited.

The lack of offboard fares made me wonder about how 'substantial' the stations actually were. I was not impressed. The area tends to substantial bus stations in any case, due to the absolute necessity for shade. The BRT stations were larger, with more metal and more seats....and that was it. No 'Nextbus' indicator, no offboard fare collection, no informational materials, nada. They do tend to have the raised curb that permits for level boarding, (which seems to be universal for BRT).

No bikes on the bus. Again, the innovations of Eugene are telling. Link had spots for TWO bikes (no more) attached to the front of the bus, like a normal bus. Eugene permitted bikes on the bus, in a spot between the 'flex' spot and the  wheel-well.

The Phoenix Link was brutally slow.  Start to end was a solid hour. Even including the delay from construction, that's a very long line. (And the longer the line, the greater the danger of delays and the more the difficulty of keeping to a schedule.) But, as one local put it: "Beats taking the local bus". There is a local bus running the same route, stopping more frequently. I can't even imagine how long it must take. Hours.

At one station, there was actually a driver switch. Another driver was waiting at the stop (which was next to a convenience store (bathrooms+food), and took over driving the bus. 

Superstition Springs Transit Center was actually pretty innovative. Good urbanism, fitting a new use into an old context. It's a park and ride lot situated on the edge of an older mall, where the most distant, marginal parking would normally sit. The access is provided by a ramp from the freeway on-ramp, so it's very direct--no detours through the mall parking lot. Two kinds of bus parking--one for buses you can board, and one (less accessible) for buses that are idling. And for the drivers, the Mall is both food-court and bathroom. Not to mention a major retail center. The only problem is that there is absolutely nothing BUT the Mall--a very 'mall or death' context.

METRO light rail
First, I was struck by how long the dwell time at the stations is for Metro. TRAX arrives, the doors open, people get off, people get on, and whoosh, it's gone. Metro seemed to sit a bit, which I found a bit strange. It's got low floors, which should speed boarding for both regular and wheel-chair riders. Perhaps it has a 'dwell' point in the mid of the system intended to provide a buffer if it's running late?

Secondly, it didn't reach downtown Mesa, somewhat to my confusion. Downtown Mesa had been the planned terminus for years. Instead, it stops about a half mile away, near a transit center. It's not an unreasonable terminus, but if the intent was to provide increased accessibility, so as to induce redevelopment, it failed. Several museums, restaurants, and government buildings are all in downtown Mesa, as well as a lot of aging 'mainstreet' style buildings.

As I walked the LINK route, I saw a sign stating "Future route of Metro light rail"! I have never seen so clear an example of BRT being used as a 'pioneer' for light rail. It also went a long way to explaining some of the crap-tastic elements of the LINK BRT route--they were never intended to last, and were only temporary placeholders for the light rail.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Phoenix 2013 Real Estate

Retail space in Arizona must be savagely vacant. So many vacant buildings! So many marginal businesses! (Pawn shops, thrift shops, etc). Assume vacancy varies with age of structure, so that the older buildings are the more vacant. But still! It makes so many marginal businesses possible.

Development is the competition between parcels (via their owners) for value adding development?

Sometimes the disamenity of proximity is sufficient to prevent adjacent land from developing. Where the land is cheap...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Standing on buses

My personal transit trifecta is 'Fast, Frequent, and Reliable'. I'm much less concerned about comfort, especially for shorter trips. For anything under a mile, I'm happy to stand. And willing, for much longer distances. But it is not so much the distance as the time. I stood for 20 minutes on the Eugene BRT, and was not unhappy for it.

The bus was not over-supplied with seats, but had plenty of wheelchair and bike space.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Nature Chair

Amusingly, 'Nature Chair' was a commonly used search term for this blog. So let us have another! Very nicely done, actually. Public seating, to convert hard-scape and the dead edge of a wheelchair ramp becomes public seating. The hay bales provide support, and an organic matrix for the grass to grow into. Certainly, they will dissolve over time, but cellulose dissolves slowly, while it's cheap enough to do quickly as almost an experiment.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Market Demand

Let us put a stake in the heart of the idea that sprawl is a market-created phenomenon. Sprawl is a dystopian outcome created by market-distorting regulation. Two specific factors that should be noted are the multi-billion dollar investments in roadway infrastructure, and zoning. (Someday, it would be interesting to suss out exactly how much of the value of suburban land is actually created by transportation investments). Of the two, zoning may actually be the more damaging. Many jurisdictions simply legislate the economically 'highest and best use' of the land (apartments) out of existence. And then compound that problem through the use of minimum lot sizes, so small houses (starter houses, bachelor houses, granny flats) cannot exist. Therefor, there exists not variety in housing types. Think of it as an analogy for stores--"No store of less thant 50,000 SF shall exist". And then no shop smaller than a Wal-Mart could ever be built.