Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What does Non-attainment actually mean?

If you hadn't heard, the Salt Lake and Provo area failed the last round of EPA air quality tests. It's not a big surprise--we've been just skating by for years. But what does that mean? Well, I asked my good friend Google, who directed me to the EPA website.

  • All requirements above, with
    • Major source threshold 50 tpy
    • NSR offset ratio 1.2:1
  • 18% RFP over 6 years
  • Enhanced monitoring plan
  • Modeled demo of attainment
  • Milestone contingency measures for RFP
  • Enhanced I/M
  • Clean fuels program (if applicable)
  • NSR requirements for existing source MODS
  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) demonstration, and transportation control measures if needed
Which is a pile of acronyms, and not very helpful. Decoded, it reads:

  • All requirements above, with
    • Major source threshold 50 tons per year
    • New Source Review offset ratio 1.2:1
  • 18% reasonable further progress over 6 years
  • Enhanced monitoring plan
  • Modeled demo of attainment
  • Milestone contingency measures for Reasonable Further Progress
  • Enhanced Inspection and Maintenance
  • Clean fuels program (if applicable)
  • New Source Review requirements for existing source MODS
  • Vehicle miles traveled demonstration, and transportation control measures if needed
'Major Source' I presume to mean any single polluter emitting more than 50 tons a year of anything gets hassled; hence, any major single company is going to have a hard time (which may make them reluctant to come to Utah, or stay here).

'New Source Review' covers new polluters; they can pollute, if they can obtain 'offsets' by reducing pollutants from other sources. We're now at a 1.2:1 ratio, so for every 5 tons of new pollutant a New Source would emit, they have to find a way to reduce 6 tons of pollutant someplace else.

'18% Reasonable Further Progress' seems to indicate that while we don't have to fix the air quality immediately, we will need to demonstrate serious effort to do so; that serious effort being an amount of reduction in the next 6 years; ie, 18% of the total necessary reduction. 'Milestone Contingency' measures is related to this--things that we agree to do if we fail the 18% reasonable Further Progress. 

VMT & 'Transportation Control Measure' is the scary one: It's a mandatory 'hard cap' on the amount of driving people are allowed to do. (57% of emissions in Salt Lake come from vehicles, I seem to recall). Crazy things like 'alternate day driving'.

All this makes me wonder how other places are doing: Current Non-Attainment Counties

In 'Serious' Non-attainment.
AZ: Maricopa, Pinal
CA: Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, King, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, Ventura..

In 'Severe' Non-attainment:
CA: El Dorado, Los Angeles, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Solano, Sutter, Yolo.

In 'Severe' Non-attainment:
CA: Fresno, Kern, King, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare.

I don't think any of these are part of a club that Utah wants to be part of. Barring two counties in AZ, these are all in California. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) can do some pretty draconian things. 

Oh, and if Utah (for mad reason) elects not to comply with air quality standards, we don't get our share of the Federal Gas Tax funds. Which pays for 50-80% of all roadway and transit projects. (80% for freeways). So, without that money, the amount Utah taxpayers would have to pay our per freeway QUINTUPLES.

Non-Attainment and Future Transit in Utah

Found this on SkyScraperForum. Fascinating.

Posted May 3, 2017, 3:55 PM, by Makid

     ..Coming back to the part above about the State possibly providing funds for Trax. I do think that the increased talk we have seen about Trax to Lehi/Utah County in the Legislature increase further. It may not be the next session but I do think that 2019 or 2020 the State will need to step in and probably force the Proposition 1 increase in Utah and SL Counties (if the counties haven't yet passed it).
     The State would do this with the intention of bringing Trax to Lehi/Utah County as well as Trax extending towards the relocated prison. This will also bring Trax through the International Center as well as through the Inland Port (Probably #1 or #2 topic of the 2018 session).
     I do think that the State will also directly provide funding to additional transit along the Wasatch Front soon. This is mostly due to the EPA classifying the majority of the area as a Serious Non-Containment Area. If the designation doesn't change soon, the State will lose funding for Roads and be forced to pass all laws that other states have enacted to improve air quality. This may include some of the statewide transit authorizations that some states have passed to help with air quality...
....without additional transit funding and usage, Utah will have the same air quality regulations and laws that California has....Dedicated Transit Funding, Stronger Limits on Emissions for all vehicles as well as Industries (MagCorp), Limits on Mining and air particles (Rio Tinto, Point of Mountain (North and South), and Limits on Coal Power emissions. These are the minimum that could be forced on the State by 2020...

I hate to cheer when my home state is about to take a punch to the gut, but....Serious Non-Attainment is no laughing matter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The bottom line is money"

"The bottom line is money. Developers always want to squeeze more units"

Any developer for who money isn't the bottom line isn't a developer for long. Per square foot of construction, more units generate more rents. Two studios generate $600 a month, vs. $900 for a 2-bedroom, for the same floor-space. Three and four bedroom apartments are almost non-existent for this reason.

The only way to get a 3-4 bedroom place in the city is either to buy an hold house, or buy a condo. Houses are attractive, because they can always be expanded by 'sweat equity', at some later time. 

Semi-Public and Public Spaces

"Developers always want to squeeze more units without open space for gathering and mingling."

The inclusion of 'gathering and mingling' spaces in multi-family tends to be a function of the market--ie, when rents are falling, developers start competing on amenities. You can mandate the inclusion of these amenities by regulation. And, when the market is strong, developers can and will bear these costs. But bearing those costs requires spreading them over a larger number of units. Which means one of two things happen: The only structures that get built are very large multi-family units, or that  the average number of bedrooms per unit falls.

Historically, the 'mingling' spaces of urban places have been semi-public spaces: Hallways, alleyways, small streets, and the plazas where two streets intersect at odd angles. Larger spaces (plazas, squares, parks) tend to be public, and publicly owned. Perhaps density added through infill of multi-family on single family lots should be charged a 'park fee' per unit, and that money used to provide more parks.

New York has managed to carve out a number of plazas by permitting developers to add the square footage 'lost' by doing so to the top of the building, although that has some limitations due to elevator capacity.

Waiting For Transit

"Service frequency determines the average wait time for transit, and thus much of the overall travel time for a trip"

Q: Reallly? People spend that much time waiting for transit? 

A: Not average trip time, average wait time. Wait time, however, is a substantial portion of many transit trips, and the part of the trip people hate worst. The lit says that riders treat a minute of wait as the same as multiple minutes of in vehicle time. Many UTA buses (especially in Utah County) run at 20, 30 or 60 minute headways. Once you include the amount of time you have to wait when the bus is late, this can mean substantial waits. Given that people choose transit based largely on its time competitiveness to the automobile, this is a significant issue. It's most significant for short trips.  TRAX is frequent and (generally) reliable,. A 10 mile bus journey on a local bus is pretty miserable. WFRC likes to use 5-10 minutes for the wait, but I don't that that effectively reflects how miserable the experience is. It assumes people know where the bus stop is, how long it will take to walk there, and how long the wait will be. That is valid if you are taking the bus to work, once per day, but doesn't reflect the experience of using the bus for general transportation. The longer the headway, the higher the time-cost of missing a bus, so the more likely you are to leave your current location early to make sure your make it. If you have to use an (unreliable) bus connection to make that connection (such as bus to FrontRunner), there is even more waiting, because you can't control if you arrive 10 minutes early or 2 minutes too late, so you have to be 25 minutes early to be guaranteed a connection. Hence, I prefer to assume random arrival, at 1/2 headway, for any bus. This becomes increasingly important as UTA moves away from the '1-seat ride' model and toward the more efficient 'transfer network'. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TRAX is about done in Salt Lake County

The more I look at it, the more I think that TRAX is done in Salt Lake County*. Barring an odd stretch of the Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad, I don't think there is any unused railroad track left in Salt Lake County**.  Almost all of what which existed in years past has been removed or converted to roadway. And that means converting roadway to dedicated right of way, at which point you might as well built a BRT.

There are a few cases where light rail might be appropriate: 

  • Granary TRAX along 400 W/700 South. Only a mile long, and reduces congestion on the 400 South and Main Street intersection.
  • Salt Lake International Airport. Airports need circulators, and it might as well be TRAX.
  • S-line to Westminster. (Maybe) Again, about a mile long. 
  • 400 South to connect the Red Line to FrontRunner direct. This has been part of the long range transportation plan for a decade, without happening. 200 south is increasingly play the role of connection FrontRunner to the University, making this irrelevant. 
  • Misc. streetcar, but anyplace they add a 'tram' portion (dedicated/shared guideway) to TRAX is going to have to be short, or else it will be so slow that no one will use it.
  • Streetcar from Westminster to 900 East. It would connect two rail lines, and links the University to Sugarhouse.
  • 9 Line SC, from 900S/400W to Indiana Ave/Redwood Road. TRAX on one end, BRT at other terminus. 2 miles long.
  • The extension from Draper to the Utah County line is planned, but being put off until Utah County matures enough to support TRAX. I admit a certain amount of skepticism this will happen. 
  • Red line extension to Herriman/Draper Town Centers. A bit noodely, but greenfield development without an existing roadway, so reasonable. 
  • Draper FrontRunner to LRTP Highland Drive/Minutemand Drive TRAX stop. Connects two rail modes, uses the 'grayfield' of the Prison site for exclusive right of way, and makes it possible to get across I-15 by rail. Bonus points in they add a ped bridge.
  • Any freeway median. BRT would be cheaper, LRT might be better. 

Not appropriate 

  • Fashionplace TRAX to the U, via I-215 and Foothill. Better as BRT
  • Sugarhouse to Parley's Transit Center. Via roadway, so better as BRT.
  • Highland Drive from end of Blue Line to 1100 East in SLC. Better as BRT
  • Daybreak-to-Draper along 114th South. Better as BRT.
  • 'Cottonwood Coaster' from Historic Sandy TRAX to Cottonwood Transit Center. Better as BRT
  • Draper Town Center to nowhere(?), along 123rd. No rail terminus, no connection to TRAX or Frontrunner on the east end.  I understand the desire to connect this end of the Red line extension to the rest of the valley, but TRAX is not the way to do it. 
  • I specifically disdain the DGRW Garfield Branch between Magna and the Old Bingham Highway. No major uses connected, and substantial out of direction travel. 
  • DGRW Branch from Old Bingham, to 5600 West, North to Amelia Earhart Drive and thence to the airport. The 5600 West portion is better as BRT, and connecting to the airport would require constructing substantial track is an area already full of ramps. Converting the rest of 40th West to freeway standards provides better airport access.  A BRT from the airport to the business park and thence south on 5600 South is likely just a better alternative. Converting the DGRW branch from railway to exclusive BRT would be better than TRAX.


*I know it's still in the running for Mountain Accord in Little Cottonwood; but so are a BRT and a cable car system. I laughed at the idea of a cable car, but if the ski resorts want to fund one over Guardsman Pass, it's their money.

**The extension from Draper to the Utah County line is planned, but being put off until Utah County matures enough to support TRAX. I admit a certain amount of skepticism this will happen.


To built more Rapid Transit, it should be BRT rather than LRT. Bus Rapid Transit is simply cheaper per mile, which means more of it for the same price.

LRT's advantages are as much political as technical.

First: LRT's primary advantage is that it can use rail corridors to achieve rapid transit status. Cars can't use railway right of way, so there is no competition with cars. This advantage is not limited to LRT. As both the BRT tunnels in Pittsburgh and the Orange line in LA have shown, BRT can use railway right of way quite well. Buses, driven by professionally trained drivers, can pass each easily in 22' (11' per bus). I recall the buses in Eugene, Oregon, coming scarily close. (Railway right of way is only ~22' wide at different points, which is too narrow for even two lanes of car traffic 10' lane + 10' lane + 8' safety area + 8' safety area). Word on the street is that international Fire Code mandates 26' of clear space as necessary for emergency operations.

Second, LRT vehicles are heavier, so they stop more slowly, which makes sharing a lane with cars much more dangerous, especially at high speeds, and consequently less likely to happen.A train in a highway median gets to keep its separated guide-way, and no crank(y) politician can change that. BRT 'Freeway Flyers' (BRT in an exclusive freeway lane) inevitably become BRT in a HOT lane, with consequent degradation in speed and reliability. Trains don't have the problem.

There may be one area where LRT has an actual advantage: Elevated track, with very right clearances. There have been experiments with 'guided' BRT, using things like optical sensors, guidewheels, or specially constructed guide-track. 'The Gap' between vehicle and platform can be an issue, and I'm not sure how well BRT does in that regard.

However, a 'train' portion (exclusive/separated) guideway is expensive. Denver, Seattle, and LA all achieved it by putting light rail in freeway medians. LA is increasing achieving it through the use of elevated lines (albeit at very high prices). Seattle has tunneled, at a cost of over a hundred million dollars a mile.

Previously, I've talked only about 'Rapid' transit in separated/exclusive guide-way. If we want to talk streetcars, it's only fair to compare them with their wheel counterpart, buses. The advantage of streetcar is (again) political. Chambers of Commerce like streetcars, due to their permanency. They are also cheaper and less politically fraught. A 'tram'-type light rail (AKA street-car) is cheap, because it runs in dedicated/mixed traffic right of way. So there is no need to take right of way from cars, or eliminate parking. But this type of right of way comes with costs. It makes the service slow and unreliable--it's like a bus on steel wheels.

Streetcars are also (politically) easier to build, because the FTA helps pay for them. Streetcars can get 50% FTA funding for capital expenses, such as vehicles, TSP, and station platforms. There is no reason a bus couldn't enjoy these same benefits.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The essence of BRT is dedicated guideway. BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit. 'Rapid' is a technical jargon for exclusive right of way.

A BRT that shares right of way with cars is just a bus. Be it double-articulated, double-storied, multi-door boarding, off-board fare collection, significant stations, with 5-minute frequency. It may be a very nice bus. The FTA can call it 'BRT-lite'. Nonsense. Not BRT.

Contrast with Real rapid transit:
'Metro': Grade separated crossings, underground or elevated track (both exclusive).
'Pre-Metro': Grade-separated crossings, exclusive track
Light Rail Train: Time-separated crossings (railroad gates), exclusive track.
Light Rail Tram-Train: Time-separated crossings (intersections), exclusive track.

Nor Rapid Transit:
Light Rail Tram (Streetcar): Time-separated crossings (intersections) dedicated or shared right of way.

Getting away from 'dedicated' right of way, and obtaining exclusive right of way is hard. Demand for right of way for automobiles is constant, and most severe at intersections. The UTA Trax shares left-turn pockets with automobiles, to it's detriment, and to serious detriment of safety. And rare is the 'BRT' that doesn't have a side-running section where it sits behind right-turning cars.

Read the ITDP BRT Standard. When someone tries to sell you BRT, ask what 'grade' you are getting.

Grades of Guideway

Right of way comes in three grades: 'Separated', 'Exclusive', 'Dedicated'.

Dedicated is the lowest grade. A lane nominally belongs to one mode, an obligation more commonly honored in the breach. Think of HOV lanes and bicycle lanes.

Exclusive can be though of as 'excluding'; exclusive use is maintained through barriers. Exclusive guideway is never continuous--there are always gaps in it, typically at intersections.

Separated is similar to exclusive, except that it is continuous. Typically, this requires grade separation, if only where the guideway intercepts other rights of way.

Heavy railways (commuter rail, freight rail) have separated guideway, for the simple reason that trains can't stop quickly. Where they must cross other roads 'time-separation' (railroad gates) are used. Where this generates unacceptable levels of delay for the cross-streets (a train can take minutes to pass) grade-separation is used. Typically, this requires an overpass for cars traveling over the road. In cases where there are too many roads, the railroad may be buried. The 'cut and cover' model of a trench with a roof were how the first subways were built. (Actual tunnels came later). In some cases (Alameda Corridor, in LA), digging an uncovered trench for the railway is simpler than many bridges.

Light railways have a mix of Separated, Exclusive, and Dedicated. Most light railways make use of some portion of old freight track, which are already time-separated. Some light rail systems provide Separated guideway by running down the center of freeways (Portland) or on elevated structures (Los Angeles, Salt Lake). Light rail on streets (a train in in tram-mode) typically has Exclusive guide way, with intermittent sections of Dedicated guide way. San Diego and Buffalo, two or the first cities to build light rail, made use of this. Light rail vehicles weigh less than heavy rail vehicles, and so can stop more rapidly. Streetcar/Tram vehicles weight even less, so they can stop faster and are even more suitable for on-street use.

The decision to use either Exclusive or Dedicated right of way is one of cost and safety. Without barrier separation, conflicts with turning cars results in accidents. Sadly, even Exclusive guide way is no guarantee against human stupidity.

Higher barriers, which prevent drivers from crossing them, may be safer. The trade-off is that first responders/emergency vehicles lose the ability to make left-turns and U-turns across the street, due to the curb. To accomodate this, curb heights vary between systems.

There is a fourth grade of right of way: Shared. This is what regular buses have. It offers no speed advantage to the transit vehicle over a regular automobile. Once the time consumed with exiting the flow of traffic, boarding and alighting passengers, and re-entering the flow of traffic is considered, transit vehicles in shared right of way travel at about half the speed of an automobile.

In contexts where right of way is scarce or political will lacking, Shared and Dedicated guide way are more common, to the detriment of transit vehicle speed, reliability and safety.  A streetcar operating in shared guide way has minimal advantage over a bus. (The minimal advantage  is that is cannot leave the flow of traffic, and so loses less time entering/leaving the traffic lane).

BRT systems are cheap to build, and largely unregulated. Consequently, they vary wildly. They make use of every kind of guide way.


(LA Orange Line), for a time. Drivers ignored them, causing crashes. It still experiences issues with drivers running red lights. Grade-separation is in the works.

Exclusive - Fenced

Exclusive - Curb

Dedicated - Median

Dedicated - Side

BRT vs. Traffic Lane 2

A traffic engineer friend of mine was good enough to point out some issues with my earlier post. 

One flaw in your math is that 1900 is not what arterial streets carry.  That is the “ideal saturation flow rate” which means if there were green lights all the time and no other interference, you’d probably measure 1900.  From there you apply reduction factors. The biggest factor is the green-time factor, which may be .6 on arterials, and .35 or so for collectors.  So .6*1900 = 1100.  But in truth, a road like the Provo BRT corridor will be closer to 750 or 800 vphpl.  Then you have the occupancy factor, which at peak times might be 1.3 or 1.4.  So say 800*1.4 = 1100 people/hr/lane, if carried in cars.

Taking this into account, I'll set forth another set of scenarios:

First set is a full BRT with 90 person on it. This is a bit flattering to BRT, because it assumes that the BRT is 'full' all the time.  It was a simplifying assumption. But the ideal BRT would move more people than the ideal traffic lane. (2439 vs. 1596).

But if we make that more realistic, and assume that the bus is half full during the peak hour (perhaps generous, but plausible), the numbers are much less flattering to BRT. Even at max buses/hour, it moves about as many as an actual travel lane (1215 vs. 1330/1064). However, during rush hour, 30 buses/hour compares favorably: 1215 vs. 1045/836. Hence, during rush hour, a BRT simply carries more persons than any traffic lane, even at 50% full.

 However, dropping the number of buses per hour significantly undermines that advantage. As 5 minute headway (12 buses/hour), a half-full BRT only has a capacity of 486, less than half of that for traffic lane, even during rush hour. Each bus would need to be full (90 people) during rush hour, to equal the capacity of a traffic lane. 

For automobile travel, passengers per vehicle is the real wild-card. As the chart shows, an HOV lane, even minimally loaded (2 persons) at its worse (1520) carries more persons than all the BRT systems except the full loaded BRT at 3 or 4 minute headways. 

This suggests a system of on-arterial HOV lanes would be a more effective strategy than BRT. But that will be the topic for a later post. 

Notes on Parking for Railvolution

Parking as a 'common property resources'
-rivalrous, non-excludable
-Tragedy of the commons results
-Almost all parking management is based on shifting it from being a common-pool resource to a public good, by increasing excludability.
1) Exclusion through 'club lists' (resident parking permits)
2) Exclusion through pricing (metered parking)
Inline image 2

The first is generally seen as more equitable, but the latter is understood to be more efficient. The ethical acceptability ties into the political acceptability. There will be a political backlash against any policy that makes some some people better off while making others worse off, especially if the harms are concentrated and the benefits diffuse. Right now, in Utah, Brigham Young University started to charge to park on campus. Suddenly, all the on-street parking just off-campus is jammed. Residents who were using it are enraged-their free available parking is gone, through no action of their own. 

After a few mobs-with-torches situations, politicians get gun-shy about parking. And hence cautious, doing so in limited cases. Rare indeed are cases like Britain (where minimum parking requirements are now forbidden, nation-wide) or the city of Buffalo (where minimum parking requirements have been eliminated city-wide). This sort of disjointed incrementalism should be welcomed: Better some than none. And better to discover potential problems during a test-case, rather than everywhere, all at once. 

The 'equitable' approach itself has serious equity issues of its own. Limited passes to those currently parking is unfair, as that is to the detriment of those who are not currently using the parking--it seems only fair that everyone should get an equal number of passes. Doing so vastly undermines the effectiveness of the program. Current parking use is responding to the actual supply of parking. Over-providing permits swamps the supply, doing little to ensure parking availability. It is also inefficient, as residents 'loan' unused parking permits to friends and family, which is neither efficient nor equitable. 

Pricing parking efficiently has problems as well. My dad refused to drive downtown, because he wasn't willing to pay for parking. When we did, we parking in strange marginal lots, many blocks from our destination. Berkeley, California, has one of the best, where on-street parking (the most available) was made more expensive, while off-street parking was made cheaper. This both increased the perceived availability of parking, and provided an incentive to go to the (cheaper) garages.