Friday, June 30, 2017

Streetcar vs. Automobile in 1917

Free roads and free parking subsidize the automobile. Why not transit?

"Because it benefits so few people--only 3% of people take transit to work".

And how many people took automobiles to work in 1917*?

That's right. Because we have no idea.


 We know that about 30% owned cars. (No idea how many had access to transit--have to find that out someday)

Compare that to the number of people who were riding transit at that time:


In 1917, there were 14 Billion transit riders, so about 131 transit trips for every person in the United States. Sadly, no data for auto users, so we still can't make an apples-to-apples comparison.


We have some estimate of how many automobile miles were driven: About 30 billion. Or, for a U.S. population of 106.5 million, about 289 miles a year. With 260 working days in a year, that is about a mile a day.

Data for transit is proving difficult to find, and even APTA doesn't have it for before the 1970's. The best they've got is vehicle miles**:  In 1920, there were 1,922 million vehicle miles (1,922,000,000)..but that's just how far the trolleys traveled, not how far the people on board them traveled. Without knowing how many people were on board, we can't compare person-mileage.

*Streetcars reached their apex in 1917, the same year Federal funding of roads started. Whether the Feds just switched to what would have been the winning horse anyway is difficult to know.

** I'm leaving out subways and commuter railways so there can be no "that's just New York" whining.

Urban Phase Shift?

One of the comments on this article was so great I had to repost it:

When I took my Urban Economics course from Barton Smith, one of the observations Smith told us in class was that whenever prices for major goods and services in an urbanized area keep going up (and housing is certainly a big part of most people's budgets), eventually prices will reach a point where they will become a market signal to everyone that the urbanized area needs to stop growing. Population growth will either come to a halt, or people will start leaving until prices fall to an equilibrium where people can afford to live there again. - Neil Meyer 
I think it gets to the core of why city promoters like transportation improvements--without affordable housing, cities can't grow. Affordable housing includes both rents and access costs. As rents in one area rise, people can offset that by moving to nearby areas with lower rents (and higher access costs).
In pre-industrial (and third world slums) the only access available is by walking, and so some truly hideous densities result.

It's theoretically feasible that a city might stop growing***. But most cities don't--instead, they invest in transportation improvements. NYC built it's first subways in the name of "De-Congestion".

One of the ideas I'm kicking round is an urban scaling induced 'phase shift' in the effectiveness of transportation improvements. Namely, total metro population drives average metropolitan density. (As you get bigger, you naturally get denser). At small sizes and low densities, auto-mobility works: Land is cheap, parking is available, walking anywhere is madness. And it keeps working, as long as your addition of automobile capacity keeps up with congestion.

However, while travel is an 'derived demand' in terms of the number of trips made, it's a 'induced demand' in terms of the length of trips made. If you make traveling cheap and easy, people go further.* Urban form is 'set' by the dominant transportation mode at the time of construction**. So places developed under conditions of auto-mobility tend to be low-density with segregated land-uses. The large amount of travel required to get around for basic needs is 'baked-in' at that point.

This is problematic, if the metropolitan area keeps expanding.


As the number of zones increases, the average distance from one zone to another also increases. Which means, all else equal, the amount of travel required to get to all the places you want to go also rises. Simply because things are scattered about: home in one place, work in another, groceries in a third, kids-school in a fourth, soccer in another, ballet-practice in another, dentist in yet another.

The big problem is that the increase in average distance between all of these things is non-linear. Every additional 'zone' you add to a city, the average distance rises more than it did for the last zone.
Even if the road lane miles per capita (and associated costs) remain constant, the amount of travel doesn't. As travel demand outstrips supply, congestion results.

Some cities try to fix this increasing congestion with massive increases in road-building. Failure is inevitable. Exponential increases in travel require exponential increases in road capacity, imposing exponential costs on a linearly growing population.

And so at some point, every city gets the 'rapid transit bug'. And it has to be rapid transit, because only rapid transit makes it possible to avoid congestion. Non-rapid transit, such as regular buses and streetcars, are undeniably cheaper to build than rapid transit (sometimes by an order of magnitude).

But that doesn't matter. Rapid transit is premium transit*****. It's transit for choice riders (people who could drive, but choose not to). And to get people to make that choice, it has to be better (in some way) that the driving alternative.

Non-rapid transit suffers from congestion. It's less convenient, less reliable, and less comfortable than  your personal automobile. You don't have a 'locker' to store things in, and hauling groceries is difficult. Thus, it can almost never compete with a private automobile (excepting when parking costs/hassles are enormous).****

Rapid transit is better than the personal automobile when it is a) faster, b) cheaper, and c) more reliable. 'a' only happens when congestion is fierce; transit vehicles make repeated stops. 'b' seems simple, but for most people a car is a 'stock' of mobility they can draw upon even with no money, while transit is a 'pay-per-use' thing, so it seems expensive, even if it is less expensive in aggregate. Again, 'c' is reliant on congestion to work.

In summary: Auto-mobility works until it doesn't. It stops working because average travel distances increase exponentially as the metro area expands, while population increases linearly. This makes it impossible to keep expanding roadway capacity to match demand. (Some try; all fail). As travel demand outstrips supply, congestion results.

The total amount of delay drivers experience is exponentially proportional to the amount of congestion (from: The AADT/C ratio is the ratio of traffic to capacity.


***This may be one of the reasons for competing cities, closer together. When a city reaches maximum walkable density, it makes a great deal of sense to go elsewhere. Of course, large cities have huge advantages in terms of access to resources and agglomeration economies, which (typically) more than offset the cost of congestion. I expect the only time you'd really see such a switch is for 'Twin cities' like Minneapolis-St. Paul, or the Texas MetroPlex.

*The reverse is also true. As congestion increases, trip length should start falling.

**The trouble being that urban form is fixed at date of construction, and is very difficult to retrofit for alternative transportation modes. Adding highways to NYC came at enormous financial and social cots. Retrofitting auto-dependent cities will likely be painful/costly as well.

****Which is why buses to downtowns, Universities and hospitals work--they are all places with terrible parking.

*****The political quid-pro-quo of rapid transit for dependent riders is that "Hey, you too can ride the premium transit!". The flip side to that is that the high cost of rapid transit means less of it is provided--its goes fewer places. Typically, bus operations get cut to pay for capital improvements, which leaves the transit-dependent population worse off.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

How does the WFRC model deal with trip chaining?

Was drafting a blog post on trip lengths vs. trip frequency, and the though struck me:

We know that the evening peak is longer and 'lower' than the morning peak. I think that's because people run errands after work (rather than before work). 

Economically speaking, as congestion worsens, the average amount of distance per unit of time falls. As the cost of that time rises, people travel less. I'm thinking that the way people travel less is by chaining trips together. 

The home to work journey is typically the longest people make. Assuming that journey is the hypotenuse of a triangle, the maximum journey  of chained trips is an equilateral triangle. Given the triangle inequality (the sum of two sides is always greater than the third), the minimum diversion is tiny. Looking at the maximum diversion, the greatest distance from the hypotenuse is radical(3)* the hypotenuse, or about 87% of it. So for any trip up to 87% of the distance of your work trip, it makes sense to chain that trip with the work trip. 

I know the WFRC model has HBW, HBO...but is there a WBO (Work-based other)? Or does that just get rolled into the HBW?

BRT vs. Traffic Lane, Part 3

Continuing our series on BRT vs. Traffic Lane (Part 1, Part 2), another exploration how how the two compare. Mike Brown observed that:

  1. A 5-minute, fully loaded BRT would carry about as many people as a standard Arterial lane
  2. Unless you can trust that you can fully load each bus for an hour, then a 5-minute BRT will not move as many people as standard cars would.
  3. That's not necessarily a reason to go with cars.  Cars create car dependency, and they max out in what they can carry, but BRT can be increased to more than 5-minutes.
  4. "BRT" need not be a single route. In many downtowns, some block segments have a bus each minute, and sometimes more often.  
  5. Dedicating a lane exclusively to buses in these cases will result in more people per lane, assuming most buses are quite full.
  6. If automated vehicles and vehicle sharing begin to overtake private ownership, it is possible to imagine lanes where auto occupancy might reach 4 or more passengers carried in "minivan"-type vehicles.  In this "jitney-like" transit scenario, lanes even outside downtowns can start to carry far higher numbers than 5-minute suburban BRT," which is very aggressive service for suburbs.

Mike came up with the following numbers:

I'll add a few comments to what Mike has said.

1) I don't think it's physically possible to run 60 buses an hour, even dedicated bus pullouts. That would require a bus to decelerate, board, rejoin traffic, and accelerate. Even with elevated platforms, off-board fare collection and multi-door boarding, I think that would be a hard standard to achieve. And even one late bus would make all the buses in the queue later, and congestion would ripple down the line.

 The really serious BRT routes (Gold Standard) have four lanes: A curbside lane (to reduce time spent re-entering the travel lane) used for boarding, and a bypass lane. This seems to permit operations at headways as low as a minute and a half. But that would be four lanes, and outside our scope of analysis. Hit with capacity constraints, the current solution is to make a bus more train-like, but adding another unit, using double-articulated buses rather than just articulated buses. Double-articulated buses with capacities up to 180 are currently in use in Utrecht. Volvo has a 300 person capacity bus that is being tested on the TransMilenio.

2) Rare is a system that could load such a bus so heavily. But it might be possible. Daily ridership on route 830 (the route that the Provo-Orem BRT is to replace) reached 3,000 per day. The BRT was projected (in 2011) to have 12,900 daily riders. Assuming 10% of ridership takes place in the hour of the morning peak., that's 1,290 riders. Assuming the planned five minute headway is used, that's about 107 riders per bus. Or course, they won't all be on the bus at the same time. But it does suggest that the Provo-Orem BRT will be pretty heavily used. In 2030, the BRT is projected to have 16,100 daily riders, or about 137 riders per bus. Again, they won't all be on the bus at the same time.

3) BRT does scale better. Moving to a double-articulated bus would boost capacity to 120. At five minute headway, such a bus could carry 1400 persons per direction per hour , greater than a major arterial at 5pm. Alternately, just adding 3 more buses (to boost headway to once every 4 minutes an hour) increases it to 1400 persons per direction per hour. A bus every four minutes seems like something a single lane could manage. TRAX puts a train through an intersection every 5 minutes regularly (400 S. and Main). On 'crush load' (game) days, it might be as high as double that.

4) Branded Bus Corridors are a great idea. But they are only as long as the 'rainbow' portion of the corridor, where multiple lines overlap. Beyond that, you have to transfer. TRAX is a 'rainbow' corridor from 2100 South to Courthouse station. For trains with limited amounts of guideway, service laps are almost inevitable. But for buses, I'm not sure about inter-lining services: Does it just add more confusion? I think it only really works when buses are converging on a termini. I don't see it on the Salt Lake County or Utah County map, but you can see where one should be branded on the downtown Salt Lake Map: State Street from 5th South to North Temple, and thence west along North Temple to 300 West. All of North Temple could be branded, and both 200 South and 400 South might also be candidates.

5) The key question is not "Will the buses be full?" but "When will the pavement carry more people as a bus lane than as an automobile lane, during the peak hour." Not at five minute headway and 90 person loads, but at 100 persons/bus (at 5 minute headway) or 80 persons per bus (4 minute headway), a bus edges ahead. Based on the 2030 numbers, it seems likely that a BRT is a better long-term investment than a traffic lane.

6) A full discussion on automated vehicles is going to require a full blog post.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

In Defense of Land Use Regulation

Arguably, any public regulation of land, by limiting the either the use or potential use a land-owner can make of the land. Yet a total lack of regulation of land is neither fair nor reasonable, as things which happen on your neighbors property directly affect yours. The oldest case would likely be mandatory building set-backs so as to provide fire-breaks. More recent cases would be 'public nuisances'; if your neighbor begins to use their garage as a concert space, the whole neighborhood suffers from the sound, while receiving none of the benefit. *

*I joined the 'Market Urbanism' group on Facebook, because I'm interested in congestion pricing and dynamic pricing for parking. Instead, I find myself engaged in debates about the virtues/values of land-use regulation. (As an urban planner, I'm generally for it). But it is forcing me to sharpen my rhetorical skills, so I suppose that's a plus.

No new freeway will reduce pollution

Adding a new freeway will never reduce pollution, because that does not reduce vehicle miles traveled. Vehicle miles traveled generate half the air pollution in SLCo. Adding more miles traveled will not help.

Our air quality fails twice yearly: pm2.5 (winter) and ozone (summer). We are in "Serious Non-attainment". Which means we may lose all Federal funding for me roads. (The feds pay for 80 percent of new freeways.) Only California and Phoenix are in similar circumstances. Note that both, after decades of freeway expansion, are now engaged in huge programs of transit construction. This suggests the same will occur in Utah.

It is unlikely freeway construction will stop. But it is likely that what will be built will not be grade separated freeway. Rather, the most expensive part of new freeways (interchanges) will be omitted or delayed. Hence, most new roads will be more like Bangerter highway, with innovative intersections rather than interchanges.

Alternately, more like Mountainview corridor: phased segments and widths. A sort of boulevard treatment for a freeway. First, the access lanes (frontage roads) get built (as minor arterials) with a big space left in the middle. And then the freeway lanes in the middle get built.

In any case, the 'surge' of additional mobility historically generated by a new freeway is likely gone for good. And hence the massive profits from developing farmland. The land value uplift will still take place, but at a slower and more gradual rate.

The market knows this, even if it doesn't know it knows. The price of 'raw land' in the county, (even marginal and difficult to develop land) is rising like mad. And housing pricing reflects this. New houses typically cost 5x the cost of the land. So as land prices rise, either new houses get more expensive, or lot sizes fall. I think we see both happening.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Public Policy always implies subsidy--either to someone, or to their competitors.

Reading Peter Gordon's blog always reminds me that all public policies imply subsidies--either to someone, or to someone's competitors.

When they began, our health and safety regulations are a 'subsidy' for companies already engaging in them. The Dodd-Frank Act on banking is often decried as a subsidy for big banks, because the cost per customer of compliance is lower than for smaller banks.

My friend Rob refers to me as a 'Parking Republican' as I have zero issue with pricing either parking or roads. And why not? It's fiscally sound and economically efficient. Von Thunen pointed out that there is always direct trade-off between rents (real estate) and transportation costs, and the whole field of urban economics is based on it. As a nation, we invested piles of money in lowering transportation costs (adding roads). This massively lower the cost of transportation, which then massively lowered the cost of urban land. (Hence turning central cities into slums for a fifty years).

Free roads and free parking subsidize the automobile. Why not transit?

SLC Transit Master Plan: Community Outreach

Today, we look at the Community Outreach appendix.

  1. It would be nice to have documented the timespans of the outreach events, as well as the dates. 
  2. Please don't use pie-graphs: they are inferior to bar graphs for comparison, even for percentages.
  3. A summary of the routes/corridors most indicates in the 'Mapping Excercise' to display density of suggested improvements would have been a nice way to display where the focus of concern/interest was. 
  4. Detailing the methodology (budget of allocated points) for the conversation boards would be welcome. 
  5. Some way of aggregating rankings would be welcome. Something like a Borda Count would work; viz:  "The Borda count determines the outcome of a debate or the winner of an election by giving each candidate, for each ballot, a number of points corresponding to the number of candidates ranked lower". This would be a substantial improvement over language like "25 percent chose this option as their primary consideration", an approach which entirely disregards the importance of secondary and tertiary preferences. 
  6. "LIMITED neighborhoods" needs defined earlier than page 27; the appendix should stand on its own. The idea of such neighborhood also merits greater discussion--transit dependent older adults who are either unable to drive or afford driving, but who live in autocentric neighborhoods.  

SLC Transit Master Plan: Gap Analysis

Today, Appendix C: Gap analysis

First, some umbrage:
  • Transit Use: Currently, 6% of Salt Lake City residents take transit to work. 
Please stop using 'Journey to Work' data aggregated to the city level. It's a very serious methodological error: First, there is Modifiable Areal Unit Problem: The average of all the census tracts is very very different from the average of census tracts. Secondly, it's geography of aggregation is the place of residence, not the place of work. So it only refers to workers who live in SLC, not those who commute TO SLC. SLC is a major employment center, and a large proportion of the transit riders to SLC do not live in SLC. 
  • Transit Service and Connections: More bus service is provided than service on any other modes, but evening and weekend transit service is limited. Capacity constraints and limited layover space are limiting to transit service.
I'm curious where and when the layover constraints are hitting.  
  • Transit Performance: Transit boardings in Salt Lake City increased since 2011, but at a slower rate than the system as a whole and at a slower rate than service hours.
This is the natural consequence of adding more service hours. Service hours added at more marginal times have lower ridership, because fewer people are traveling. 
  • Access and Amenities: Large block size and other barriers makes first/last mile access to transit difficult. 
Some more umbrage at the issue of block size as an issue. Undeniable, transit is dependent on walk-access, and smaller block sizes make walking easier by providing a more direct route. SLC would  benefit from more mid-block pathways. But compared to the suburbs, SLC is a wonderland of connectivity. For major impediments walking in SLC, I'm more inclined to cite the wide streets, which are dnagerous and unpleasant.
  • Eighty-three percent of bus stops do not have a bench or a shelter for people to wait for the bus to arrive
It would be great if more bus shelters had a place to sit. But there must be several hundred bus stops in SLC, and the cost to outfit all of them is prohibitive. Part of what makes BRT effective is the FTA requirement  that BRT systems have 'substantial stops', which makes them costly, which makes them less frequent, which makes BRT faster. 

The map on C-2 needs work. The same is generally true of many of the other maps. The iconography used to represent boardings is confusing: why two circles? Secondly, the scaling on the circles should be changed to a different magnitude: the resulting cirles are too large. 

The 'Transit Propensity Index' (TPI) being used is junk science. Gallingly, it fails to control for transit stations. While activity density (jobs+residents per acre) is a useful metric, the TPI pays no attention to transit service, which is a far more important characteristic in determining ridership. (You can't take a bus that doesn't exist). I strongly recommend moving to a 'Direct Demand' or 'Direct Ridership' model.  

There are huge numbers of boardings in some low density locations...because that is where the TRAX stations are. Then there is a lack of boardings in the surrounding area, because why on earth would you wait for a bus when you can walk the 2-3 blocks twice as fast? Rapid transit stations often generate such 'transit shadows' over nearby areas. 

Regarding transit mode share, I strongly recommend the article "Transit commuting, the network accessibility effect, and the built environment in station areas across the United States" (2017). I've summarized the conclusions here.

I take umbrage with the statement that: "Of Salt Lake City’s 44 bus routes, only six routes operate service that is available every 15 minutes or less". Different bus routes serve different markets (express, coverage, flex, etc) and not all routes should be frequent service routes. Assuming a Frequent Transit Network (FNT) spaced every 2-3-4 blocks:

North-South Routes
Foothill Boulevard
23rd East
13th East
9th East
5th East
State Street
Main Street
4th West
Redwood Road (17th West)

East-West Routes
21st South
17th South
13th South
9th South
4th South (TRAX)
1st/2nd South

That's 15 routes. Holding all routes to the FTN standard (as Figure C-7) does is inappropriate and distortive.

Travel Time Ratios

Regarding Figure C-13: Not sure why the Salt Palace was used. And which gate? I assume the 100 south and West temple gate (as that is what Google gives me). That's a block from TRAX, which is going to add 5-7 minutes to all travel times. It should be a direct shot, streetcar to TRAX. Google maps from: "Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S W Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84101" to
"Sugar House Shopping Center, 2274 S 1300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84106", arriving at 5pm, gives me very different numbers: 40-51 minutes, depending on my selected route. 

Service Stability

The draft report notes that 
"Service Stability UTA has the option of making changes to their system three times per year, which creates uncertainty about system stability and undermines the City’s ability to organize growth around transit". 
While undeniably true, it's a bit of a cheap shot. UTA is funded by sales tax revenue, for something like 3/4 of it's budget. Sales tax revenue fluctuates, and when it falls, UTA must cut service. If Salt Lake City wants to get serious about funding permanent transit around which development can be organized, a special taxation district is almost a necessity. It's not a novel approach--it's how both Portland and Seattle funded their respective streetcars.

The cost of transit is most burden some for short trips. Paying $2.50 to travel four miles seems reasonable; paying $2.50 to travel 4 blocks is not. Yet one of the most valuable things a transit system can do in a CBD is act as a 'pedestrian extender'. The Free Fare Zone policy reflects this. 

It would be feasible for SLC to cooperate with UTA to insititute a 'zonal' system where trips within SLC are prices differently than those across SLC boundaries, with discounted tickets/passes for the former.

Predicting Mode Share

Renne, John L., Hamidi, Shima and Ewing, Reid (2017) "Transit commuting, the network accessibility effect, and the built environment in station areas across the United States", forthcoming in 'Research in Transportation Economics' is a great article. I've taken the liberty of reproducing some of the relevant results here. (I've removed the discussion of significance, which is more relevant to academics rather than practicioners)

At the Neighborhood Level

  • A doubling of the average household income across the station area results in a 17.7% decline in transit commuting 
  • A doubling of the intensity of jobs and people yields a 17.5% increase in transit commuting. 
  • A doubling in the share of nonwhites across the station area yields a 14.4% premium for transit commuting. 
  • Light rail/streetscar (vs bus) increases ridership by 22.5%
  • Heavy rail/metro increases ridership by 30.6% over a bus. 
  • land-use mix is captured by the jobs-population balance index, which indicates that neighborhoods with more balanced land uses exhibit higher shares of transit commuting. A doubling of the values in this index yields a 23.2% increase in the mode share for transit commuting. 
  • Doubling the number of 4-way intersections increases transit commuting by 9%
  • Doubling the walk-score increases transit commuting by 27.6%
  • Doubling in transit service frequency yields an 18.6% bonus for the mode share of transit commuting.
  • For a doubling in the share of Hispanic residents, transit commuting decreases by approximately 12%.

I feel that, given these numbers, it should be possible to do a benefit-cost analysis for all of these things....

At the Regional level:

  • A doubling in the share of regional jobs and population within a half-mile of all stations in the region, also known as the network effect, yields a 38.6% increase in the mode share of transit commuting in station areas. 
  • For each doubling in annual travel delay, the average share of transit commuting increased by 91%-124%,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

SLC Transit Master Plan: Things I am completely jazzed about

These are all good ideas:
  • 200 S—Key East-West corridor, and possibly, future bus rapid transit and/or streetcar) corridor between downtown and the University. 
  • State Street/500 E/900 E—north-south enhanced bus corridors spaced about a half mile apart extending from southern city limits through downtown to major destinations, including the State Capitol and LDS Hospital, and into the Avenues neighborhood. 
  • 400 S—continuous east-west bus corridor between Redwood Road and the University. 
  • 900 S and 1300 S/California— continuous east-west cross-town bus corridors in the center of the city, including service to the Poplar Grove and Glendale neighborhoods. 
  • TRAX light rail improvements—capital improvements to resolve capacity issues that preclude direct service between the Airport and the University. 
  • Regional access corridors—support regional transit on corridors such as Redwood Road, Foothill Blvd, and Beck Street (to South Davis County).

With this material, you get a real feel for what SLC is proposing. A 'super-grid' of frequent transit vehicles, stretching accross the city. The longest gap is 400-900 south, so you would (as most) be five blocks from a Frequent Transit Network (FTN) route. I find it really odd that they left 1300 East off that list....

I'm excited at the idea of a 400 S. Transit corridor from redwood to the U. I'm a bit wary it will duplicate the TRAX along 400 South. Stetching corridors accross the city looks good to me.

SLC Transit Master Plan: More Executive Summary Commentary

See here

Page 17 says:
"Employer-oriented shuttle services in West Salt Lake City and on-demand ride services in low density residential areas connect to the FTN".
First, the idea of 'employer oriented shuttle services' doesn't pass the smell test for me--no example is presented. Which employers? Are they going to pay for the service? If not, why do they get special transit service? Who is going to provide the service, UTA, or is SLC going to start buying buses?

Second, using Uber/Lyft to patch transit doesn't work very well. I understand the desire--use transit for the line-haul portion of the trip, and then Lyft/Uber for the last mile. It can be done, but it's not great. Getting a Lyft/Uber outside of the central city means a long wait, and the drivers aren't as good. For some areas, you can forget ever getting one. It's also expensive. The 'flag-drop' to start a ride on either is about two bucks ($2) and higher in peak times; it runs about $6 to travel a mile, or $12-15 to travel 3 miles.

"Let's hire a taxi for everyone too far from the bus!" is not a solution.

There is also an equity concern: Transit dependent riders may not have smart phones or credit cards. While you can hail a taxi (contrary to widespread public belief), being able to do so is no guarantee of there being a taxi to hail, especially at peak times.

Low density residential areas probably should not have transit. Some low density residential areas have great transit, because they are on the way. That same degree of service can't be extended to everywhere.

SLC Transit Master Plan: More Executive Summary

Looking at the Executive Summary again.

It says:
Why a Grid Network? Salt Lake City’s existing, centralized hub model is effective for regional connections but is inefficient for some local trips. Currently, many of UTA’s routes terminate at Central Station, which provides good connectivity to commuter rail service, but creates challenges for people who need to travel to other destinations throughout the city, necessitating multiple transfers and/or indirect trips. The FTN builds on Salt Lake City’s strong street network grid. 
This concerns me a bit, because it displays a lack of understanding about transit operations. Many routes terminate at the central station, because that's where UTA has a facility.  Bus drivers, like other employees, get breaks and need to use the bathroom. UTA has a break room at Central Station for that reason.

Secondly, anyplace you have an 'end of line' you need someplace to store transit vehicles. This is especially true of places with high 'peak' loads (morning/evening/event). So many buses wind up at the Central Station because the Central Station has a place to store them. I asked someone at UTA how much land it takes for a bus center, like the ones at TRAX stations, and was told 2-3 acres. That's a lot of land.

Third: Transfers are actually a good thing, as Jarrett Walker point out. Essentially, with a fixed budget, you can choose longer waits but direct service, or shorter waits with a transfer. Research shows that transit riders hate waiting even more than they hate transferring.

I am all for the Frequent Transit Network (FTN). Higher frequency means shorter wait times. But frequent transit is always going to be in limited supply, because high frequency comes at the cost of coverage. That means only a few corridors are going to get it, which means most streets aren't going to get it. The street grid is irrelevant in this regard.

SLC Transit Master Plan: Executive Summary Comments

Good day to you.

Just a few comments on the executive summary:

  1. Competing with the automobile for travel times requires rapid transit (BRT or LRT). Any transit vehicle has 'terminal time' associated with stopping to pick up/drop off passengers. Hence, a bus will always be slower than a car. The only way a transit vehicle can make up the difference is if it can avoid automobile congestion with dedicated right of way. UTA requires 26' of ROW for a light rail, and something like 20' for a BRT.  The only road on the east bench that can support that is Foothill Drive. 
  2. By your own analysis, most of your riders are Millennials. They walk a lot, and don't mind doing it. Suit stop spacing to them. 
  3. Everyone walks to transit. You can increase walking distances to stops if you make the walk to transit easier (sidewalks in good repair, crosswalks striped) and have someplace to sit down while waiting. This is especially critical for the elderly.
  4. Speaking of waiting at stops, the part of the transit trip riders hate the most is waiting for the bus. The literature suggests that transit equate 1 minute of wait to four minutes in in-vehicle time. Please prioritize reductions in wait times through increased frequency.
  5. The main trouble with current east-west connections is that passing through downtown stinks. There is no good way to get from University to Gateway/Farmers Market area by transit. (And believe me, I have tried). The 400 South TRAX is never going to happen, so please prioritize investments on 200 South. Greater frequency on Saturday would be very welcome. 
  6. Please stop using 'Journey to Work' data aggregated to the city level. It's a very serious methodological error: First, there is Modifiable Areal Unit Problem: The average of all the census tracts is very very different from the average of census tracts. Secondly, it's geography of aggregation is the place of residence, not the place of work. So it only refers to workers who live in SLC, not those who commute TO SLC.
  7. The talk of shuttles on page 17 really concerns me. Shuttles are really expensive to run, and there are only three cases where there implementation is successful: Connecting peripheral surface parking lots to high density activity centers, hospital/university campuses, and 'Google Buses'. Uses them as 'transit extenders' is nonsense.
  8. Last I heard, UTA had bought the spur-line on 400 West, to deal with the capacity issue. This is not discussed, and is a glaring omission.
  9. The lack of discussion on UTA's proposed 'Central Bus Hub' at 200 South and State is another glaring omission.  

SLC Transit Master Plan: Appendix D Commentary: Open Letter


This is bleak: 

"Coverage rather than speed is the goal for the local network. Stop spacing as close as 600 feet can be acceptable in some cases".

It is also nonsense. I have zero issue with buses making special 'courtesy stops' for the elderly or disabled, but providing bus stops every 600' diffuses riders, meaning buses have to stop more often, which means buses are slower, which means fewer people ride them. (The #2 bus through downtown is already my personal bete noir.)

Jarrett Walker does an excellent job of explaining why spacing stops so closely is bad. To quote:

"transit planners generally observe that the walking distance that most people seem to tolerate — the one beyond which ridership falls off drastically — is about 400m (around 1/4 mi) for a local-stop service, and about 1000m (around 3/5 mi) for a very fast, frequent, and reliable rapid transit service"

A quarter mile is 1,320. I understand the impetus for the small stop spacing: Coverage is a valid goal. But there are trade-offs associated with it, namely duplicate coverage (when an area has coverage from two areas).

 Again, to quote Mr. Walker:

  1. Which is worse, creating duplicate coverage area or leaving a coverage gap?  It depends on what you’re trying to do.  In fact, this is arguably connected to the tension between designing for ridership and designing for coverage, generally to meet social service needs.  If you care mostly about the latter, you want to minimize the coverage gap so that everyone has access, and you don’t care that much of the resulting line is slower and therefore less attractive to other riders.  On the other hand, if you want to maximize ridership, you’ll worry more about the duplicate coverage gap, because in addition to representing wasted coverage, closer stop spacing means slower operations.  Both more expensive to operate and less attractive riders; so you’ll tend to want to push stops further apart.
UTA is 'stingy' with service for just these reasons. There is not point in have empty buses, even if they stop every block. Those buses could be better used elsewhere. UTA does have legal 'coverage' requirements from the FTA, saying that it can't cut routes to low-income/minority communities. 

UTA also strives to maintain 'equity' in their service provision, so that service miles provides in a city is proportional to the subsidy provided by that city. It has to--as a public authority, it  is beholden to its member cities. If SLC wants more transit, it's going to have to pony up more money. 

Thank you for your time and attention.


SLC Transit Master Plan

SLC has a transit master plan out, with what seems undue haste. (I missed the comment period, and I am what one might called 'engaged' on the topic, being both a transit planner and a SLC Citizen.

Check it out here.

Looks like it was started in 2015, which public data collection done in mid-2015. And is just being released now? I know SLC lost it's transportation director, but the 'hang-fire' on this makes me wonder if there isn't something else going on, politics-wise.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rail Transit

Rail Transit makes sense where there is an existing rail corridor. Outside of that, not sure it does. Last mile links might count. But those tend to grow, into their own corridors. Any end of line location needs a place to store vehicles (which is why Central bus depots are terrible). So a rail line call never naturally terminate in a CBD--it must pass through.

That said, for single line networks, the terminal station can store one train, and operate such that when a train on one track arrives, the train on the other track departs, so there is always a track available for an arriving train. Trax operated this way for years. Now days, UTA builds long tail track at termini to store trains. Which works at peripheral locations, but not for a CBD location.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mall Sites as Major Redevelopments?

I'd known UTA had a fetish for connecting to Salt Lake Community College campuses. But I hadn't realized how many malls they reach.

The last few months, I've been making use of TRAX to visit City Creek Center. Last month, I took the FrontRunner to Station Park at Layton. Last week I realized that Valley Faire mall is on the green line. And, of course, Gateway has been connected to TRAX for years. And the shops at Traverse Ridge are planed to get a station in the near future. The Provo Orem BRT will reach both University Mall in Orem, and the Provo Town Center Mall.

On one level, I really like it. In terms of shopping and transit, malls are way more walkable than strip-centers. On another level, I wonder if UTA doesn't have long-term redevelopment plans. Malls in America are not doing well--we built too many of them in the first place, and then Amazon has slaughtered them. So the question becomes: How to re-purpose malls, and their acres upon acres of surface parking?

Business Insider suggests a variety of novel uses. You will recognize most of them as the same businesses that are now making uses of derelict strip malls. Like the hermit crab, low-rent land uses will use any available shell. (Smoke shops, nail salons, and architect's offices are reliable indicators).

But personally, I'd rather see most most of the parking redeveloped. Malls are typically located in premium locations near freeway interchanges, and that's a hard location to beat for new offices. Transit access only improves the location.

Even better would be to phase things. Keep the mall, but remove some parking. Start with a few office buildings (with reduced parking requirements due to transit access). Keep that up until the additional nearby activity perks up the malls retail a bit. Then start adding some high-rise residential: Good freeway access, good transit access, retail/services nearby, and you might be able to walk to work!

MAUP-ing it up.

Geographers are well aware of the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP). Basically, MAUP causes the results to change when you change the unit of aggregation. This is especially true of things like rates. 

As I've written elsewhere, what unit of geography you use for urban analysis matters. Anytime anyone uses city boundaries, be suspicious. By cherry-picking cities (either within the nation, or within a metropolitan area), you can generate all sorts of spurious correlations, and really bias what your results are.

Urban Boundaries

Using cities for urban analysis is a joke. Travel behavior (commuting, shopping, traffic) doesn't stop at a city boundary. Cities are surrounded by suburbs, and suburbs are tied together by commuting flows. That's been recognized since the '70s, with the advent of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. Not to say that MPO boundaries are perfect.  Metropolitan Areas are made up of county boundaries, and inclusion within an MPO is based on the urban commuter flows.  Counties are large, and contain rural and urban parts--many analyses (notably of density) naively use county area totals. The best unit of analysis I know is the Federal Highway Urbanized Area boundary files. Sadly, each state prepares its own, and there is no central repository. 

Randal O'Toole likes to cherrypick his examples.

"By comparison, the average speed of auto travel in most American cities is more than 30 mph. The slowest city is New York, at 17.6 mph, which helps explain why New York also has the highest rate of transit usage. The only others under 20 mph are San Francisco and Washington. At the other extreme, average speeds in Kansas City and Tulsa are more than 40 mph, probably because those cities, unlike so many others, haven’t actively tried to discourage driving in a doomed effort to get people to ride transit." - AntiPlanner

Comparing Tulsa to NYC is a joke. NYC has a population of 8.5 million; Tulsa has a population of barely 400,000. Which means NYC is 20 times larger. 

O'Toole didn't present from the Texas Transportation Institute, which has data for the top 50 metropolitan areas. And guess what? The top 10 are all really congested!

It would be nice if Randal O'Toole could do more than take cheap shots.

It would be nice if Randal O'Toole could do more than take cheap shots. We would have better transit if we had thoughtful criticism of it. Instead, we have thoughtless criticism and uncritical boosterism.

This bit is mostly rhetoric--although he makes a few good points:

  • Trip chaining on transit is misery. 
    • The more kids you have, the more trip-chaining you have to do. 
      • The more time-sensitive 'emergency' trips you have to make.
    • Running errands to arterial strip malls is misery.
    • Getting groceries is tough.  
      • A wheeled shopping basket is really useful. 
      • Bike baskets are great
      • Being able to Uber home is so worth it.
    • Big suburban shopping malls are great to take the train to. 
      • Lots of shopping within a walkable distance.  

  • For less than half a mile, walking is usually faster. 
    • Putting transit stops too close together is stupid. 'Too close' is 400m, which is about 2 Salt Lake City blocks. Personally, I'd prefer 600m (3 blocks) because I think the 600 East and 900 East Trax stations are too close together. But I recognize not everyone is young and healthy. 
  • For any distance shorter than two miles, it's faster to bike. 
    • Weather matters. Rain, snow and ice can all be dealt with, but they do suck. 
    • Bikeway quality matters. I'll bike on anything, but my wife loves the protected bikeways. And with a kid in tow, so do I. 
  • "For most Americans, transit doesn’t serve the complexity of most of their adult lives"
    • Nor does it need to. Transit doesn't have to be for everyone, all the time. 
    • It does offer a chance to cut down the miles that have to be driven, the cars that have to be owned, and the 'trips to fetch' that have to be made. 
      • Living in suburban Sandy, my mom took the train to work downtown for years. Saving (30 miles a day at 50 cents a mile) $15 a day, every day. 
      • My brothers and I took the train to University for years.
      • My wife and I owned two cars, then one car, then no cars.  I estimate that means we have 15% more of our income to spend on other things. 
        • No more sudden thousand dollar bills for car repairs.