Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Most Read: 82 Foot Buses for the Orange Line

Yesterday's most read article was about a piece of legislation (bill text) that would allow 82 foot buses on the Orange Line BRT in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.  The article mentions that 65 foot buses have been in operation since 2007 when the longer buses were first tested and put into service.

Metro 65 Foot Bus via Flickr User L.A. Urban Soul

In doing some research looking for the bills that allowed the original change from 60 to 65 feet, I found a few strange things including no record of a bill passing that would allow for 65 foot buses.  SB 650, which was the original legislation, reached a third reading and was vetoed by then Governor Schwarzenegger.  But by veto time, the subject of 650 had changed.

The California Vehicle Code still says that articulate buses have a limit of 60 feet but according to the MTA, "Metro has been granted an exemption from Caltrans to permit operation of the 65-foot vehicle exclusively on the Orange Line transitway."

So they finally passed the bill to make 82 feet totally legal, without exemptions, and with 17 extra feet.
This bill would authorize the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to operate articulated buses that do not exceed a length of 82 feet on the route designated as the Orange Line in the County of Los Angeles. The bill would require the authority to establish a route review committee prior to operation of those buses, as specified...
The question is, why wasn't it legal before?  And why an arbitrary length such as 82 feet?  Well 82 feet equals 25 meters.  So it seems as if it's cluing off of international standards. But then there are 30 meter (over 100 foot) buses used in Dresden, so I'm not sure why not go all out if they might be available.

Auto Tram Extra Grand Used in Dresden

We've seen longer bi-articulated buses in action in places such as Curitiba on dedicated right of ways and in European cities but why haven't they found their way to the United States?  If I were to venture a first guess, it would be that we don't have many lines that necessitate the length.  The few that do are on busy city streets where turning and visibility with much smaller vehicles becomes an issue.

Research in the US (TCRP 75) focused on higher capacity buses found that articulated buses or "artics" were good at some tasks but not others.  The one task that agencies said overwhelmingly that standard articulated buses in their fleets were better was turning radius.  They found however that the buses were underpowered and poor at climbing hills and fuel economy.  The under-powering in one instance led to longer running times on corridors.  Another issue brought up was maintenance, with managers saying that another axle meant more repairs and less reliability.

However a case study of King County Metro in 2007 found that the buses were more cost effective per seat mile and had less maintenance issues than their 40 foot siblings.

Safety issues reported were instances where older articulated ends had a propensity to slide out wide on turns in addition to difficulty seeing boarding passengers towards the rear of the vehicle.

It was hard to find information on buses longer than 60 feet or even safety discussions, however in TCRP 90 it was noted that articulated buses have larger turning radii and overhang.  There also is a need to have longer bulb outs and stops to accommodate longer vehicles, which of course would increase costs. Maintenance facilities need to be set up for longer buses as well and I've heard that if maintenance managers had their way, they would get rid of trains and artics and just run 40 foot buses everywhere. Unfortunately for many of them they have customers.

I know this isn't a completely exhaustive look at longer buses but I was curious about them, after making claims without researching before that it was a safety issue that was keeping longer vehicles off the roads.  It still feels like this would be an issue when operating along side autos, bikes, and especially pedestrians, but for now, this is what I know.

I'm interested to see how LACMTA will implement this new rule on the Orange Line, and whether it will lead to increased ridership, as well as increased fighting on the bus vs rail argument.  As a frequent bus and train rider here in San Francisco, I will say I will always choose the rail route if possible.  But we can discuss preferences at another date too....    

Monday, October 5, 2015

Podcast: Learning About Louisville

This week on the podcast, Branden Klayko of Broken Sidewalk comes on the blog to talk about Louisville Kentucky.  Learn about this history of the city, the 8664 freeway fight, and local urbanist Grady Clay.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Direct Transfer's Most Read for September 29

Quote of the Day

On USC's cancelling of thier successful transit pass program

" ...this is just a pay cut for anybody at USC who has a disability that prevents them from driving and the university’s lowest wage workers." - USC Professor Lisa Schweitzer

Most Read #1

Yesterday San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee sent a letter to the board of supervisors saying that he would veto an Idaho Stop law that had enough votes to pass.  His reasoning?  He "will not trade away public safety for convenience"  You mean like the five times he's been caught doing it himself with his city funded car?

Most Read #2

Adam Gopnick writes in the New Yorker that cities just can't win.  In their lowest times they are horrific places to be and on high they are unaffordable and unjust.  But his main point is to review a book on the New York City grid.  He notes "The grid, useful as an accelerant for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, ended up being unintentionally well-adapted to the imperialism of the car." 

Most Read #3

Kevin DeGood of the Center for American Progress writes about three white elephant transportation projects and how they are making a mockery of the federal process.  He argues for a competitive process, I'm not sure I can argue against him. 

Bonus Read

Telecommuting works best in moderation.  Too bad we can't say that work itself is best in moderation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Vienna's Land Use and Transportation Integration: Maritime City (Seestadt)

I love Vienna (Wien).  It's one of my favorite cities after a trip I took there in 2007 with my family. It's a beautiful city with lots of history and a great transportation network.  So I tend to follow it from afar, especially when it comes to transportation developments.

Last week I came across an article in my daily search that piqued my interest.  Kind of a short ho-hum piece about Vienna extending it's subway and tram network in the International Railway Journal.  This was the line that caught me.
Under the plans, which were announced by the city's deputy mayor Mrs Renate Brauner on September 7, three extensions totalling 5.2km will be built linking new developments at the Nordbahnhof and Nordwestbahnhof sites to interchanges with the S-Bahn and U-Bahn networks.
When I dug a little deeper, I noticed that they were doing even more expanding in addition to something that we have been complaining about lately here in the US.  Building fixed guideway transit to stoke development in the city.  

I've discussed this before on the blog with references to Salt Lake City and Freiburg, but the Salt Lake example is much different than Europe due to higher densities and strict growth controls which have left open fields proximate to European downtowns with heavy development prospects.  We don't see that as much here in the United States with more sprawling auto-oriented development patterns.

The only US comparison that comes to mind is Portland with the South Waterfront which has had its own controversies, but the comparison is still apt.  The wholesale redevelopment of vacant or very underutilized property unlocked by transit investment.

But Vienna has a stout subway and tram network so it's a bit different in that they are connecting into lines with existing heavy ridership for their subways and tramways which are the focus of development change.  Subway extensions they've already built are currently changing open fields while they build new lines to alleviate pressure on the existing system (See U5 Below).

Here are the plans for expansion. The orange are tram extensions and the colors purple and blue are U-Bahn in the expansion map below.  I'm going to talk about the two nothernmost orange lines in a future post, but today we'll talk about Seestadt or Maritime City.

The Line 2 Seestadt U-Bahn Station opened in October 2013 on an old airport site in the Aspern area after almost 20 years of planning and construction.  It's a a perfect example of building transit to an area ready for new development.  It's the furthest right on the overall plan above. Luckily google can take us through a visual history with aerial photography.

Seestadt 2003 - Home to an Opel Auto Plant

Seestadt 2010 - Starting to Build U2 Extension

Seestadt 2014 - Housing Coming to U2 Line

 Seestadt Future Tram Extension and Existing U-Bahn

 Here's 2012 From a More Aerial View (via Google)

Here's a 2014 Construction Image

Here's a current image from the developed part.

As the crow flies, this development in Aspern is only 6 miles outside of downtown.  The subway extension to this area has been in the planning works since 1994 together with the development according to the city's planning page (translated).  The extension of line U2 has been under construction since 2002 and expanding slowly outward (translated).  It's taken 11 years and now traverses over 13km (7+ miles).

The development plans are for 20,000 housing units and 20,000 jobs on ~600 acres.  Assuming a 2 person per unit average over the whole development, that's 100 ppl/acre (workers+residents).  The only problem I have from the map plan above i that it seems like instead of an extension of the surrounding neighborhoods, it feels cut off from its surroundings.  

What's interesting to me about this project is the long tail, but also the fact that we aren't doing this type of thing all over the United States with the exception of a few western cities.  We have trouble building transit, let alone coordinating long term development policy.  Right now places like Raleigh have to fight off the state government which continues to try and kill projects. 

I didn't have time to go down the rabbit hole to see how much affordable housing was on site or whether there were massive subsidies, but we know that some folks in the US see the development of massive roads the same way Vienna see's transit.  You might argue that we need better transit to start with but we also keep arguing about it while the roads get built and the countryside sprawls.  In fact Tori Gattis of Houston was making comments about the Grand Parkway being able to open up enough land for Houston's sprawl-tacular growth.  Hurl...
As far as the Grand Parkway being the last ring we’ll need for a few decades, remember that the area of a circle is pi * r^2. As that radius increases, each additional mile adds a *lot* more land area. The Grand Parkway will be 170 miles long – almost here to San Antonio! Assume development 5 miles on either side of it, 170 x (5+5) = 1,700 sq. miles, at 3,000 people per mile is 5.1 *million* people being accommodated out there, which is almost a doubling of what we have now in the metro (6.5 million) and definitely a few decades of our growth
Does anyone....seriously....anyone.... think that is sustainable at all??  I'd rather have Vienna's model than Houston's outside the beltway.  

We'll cover more on the expansion of tramways in Vienna in another post soon.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Most Read: Dam the Mediterranean

Yesterday's most popular article was one from City Metric that discussed a crazy 1920's idea to create a super continent by damning the Mediterranean Sea.  The purpose of which was to promote energy through hydro-electric power and peace through connectivity.

Of course this is an interesting look back at a time when refugees are clamoring to get into the EU from Syria and other nations. The connectivity is something that doesn't seem wanted by nations that feel they are more advanced than those who are producing refugees.  Each place has cultures and customs and even the EU which is very close together in terms of space has many varying looks at culture and norms.  It actually makes me think that the United States is pretty amazing given its vast geographic space.  Though we are mostly immigrants ourselves.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't discuss the huge amount of ecological damage this 1920 plan would have done.  At the time they thought it would make Northern Africa more habitable for European settlement but it would have also created a tangible connection that wasn't by boat.  

But what gets me really thinking about this is when I think about all the ideas to fill in San Francisco Bay.  While I marvel at our ability to move land and sea in ways that are amazing, it also makes me think that we're trying to fix something that's ever changing.  The Earth is a living, breathing thing and even our bridges and buildings will be forced out of place by moving plates and changing climates.  Best to design with nature, than against it.

Podcast: Telling Stories of Innovation in Transportation

This week I'm joined by the Transit Center's Shin-pei Tsay to talk about a report they wrote on transportation advocacy and innovation.  It's a great look at things advocates have done to change transportation fortunes in their cities and has tips for those who want to make change. 

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Most Read: Are Self Driving Cars Just Us Ignoring the Real Issues?

I'm going to start a new series on the blog called "Most Read".  It will feature the most read article from the day before on The Direct Transfer Daily as well as some thoughts I have on it.  It's been hard to blog lately but I need to get into it again to put some half baked thoughts to screen.

Today's most read piece was one by Jim Bacon entitled "The Slow, Inevitable Demise of Traditional Mass Transit"   In it he talks about WMATA's declining transit patronage in the region and that part of the blame goes to the union while local government support will not be able to keep up with demands. 

He then mentions the blue state transit model failure which just seems like tossing red meat to me. 
By “blue state,” I refer to a set of attitudes that are most prevalent in blue states: a sympathy for transit unions, which means high compensation costs and low productivity; a reluctance to charge riders the full costs of providing their service, which depresses revenues; and a proclivity to seek federal aid, which comes with expensive regulatory strings attached.
I don't have sympathy for bad work rules but I do think people should be paid fair wages.  I'm not necessarily pro union when these things are blatantly wrong but since when did anyone pay the full cost of the transportation service they use?  Well, everyone pays full cost but it's just snuck out of your pocket instead of a direct charge.  As many have said before and many will say again, why do we always have to pull out the "pay for itself" trope.  We know that nothing does!  If we did our cities would look a LOT different as there's a lot of subsidies flying every which way.

When Kevin DeGood came on the podcast, he had the numbers to prove it.  Data liberalization is amazing! He found 5.5 percent of roads carry 55 percent of the traffic.  That's definitely not paying for itself  and it shows an over-reliance on highways in major cities that carry so many cars, they can't keep up.  The interstates between cities many times do actually cover costs in gas tax revenue.  Once we get into the details. interesting findings come out.

But let's step outside this often debated construct for a bit and talk about "shared-ridership revolution".  At first blush after watching the debate for a while, I'm going to come out and say I don't like it.  Sure there are first mile/last mile solutions that make sense and they can be useful in a pinch, I just don't like the inevitability of self driving cars and the demise of transit in cities because I think its short sighted.  I think Tom Vanderbilt's article on futurism pushed me more towards the skeptical side as well.  He shares points other have made...
As the psychologist George Lowenstein and colleagues have argued, in a phenomenon they termed “projection bias,” people “tend to exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes.” 
To me, bike share isn't usually the main focus of the topic while "Ride Hailing" otherwise known as Uber or Lyft is.  But these are just more convenient taxis and they are still two tons of metal running around on constrained streets in urban areas.  People also focus on self driving cars as if they are a panacea but I don't know if people noticed that 10 car BART trains and Muni buses and LRVs are always crush loaded at rush hour.  I'm sure many WMATA buses and trains are the same way.  

That is a GEOMETRY problem that these apps won't solve because they are projecting in their current paradigm. Suburban car problems.  Kind of like lots of tech and apps being 20 year old man problems.  If everyone in a city decided to hail a self driving car, we'd still have traffic but even more of it!  Think about those 60 bus riders each in those little google cars.  Still taking up way more space! 

The problem in my mind is that we continue to try and solve issues we created ourselves in a strange circular fashion. Technologists have always been saying we are going to keep moving out and will need mobility solutions for that change.  But going back to the "pay for itself" argument and the actual usage of roads, we find that the free roads are used to the point of congestion and are not actually supported at current "usage fee" rates.

So the question for me then is, are self driving cars the next freeway? Why are we trying to solve a problem (congestion and living too far from work) with more vehicles when all we have to do now is price roads accordingly and free up land uses?  When self driving car corridors get overused, are we going to have to price those corridors too?  Did we just build a whole system that went back to the old problem because we wanted a techno fix for something that only required economics?

Cities are still thriving.  People want to be near other people.  And while ride sharing is useful in cities now, it's only useful because transit many times is not.  Guess what the problem is usually with transit and even biking and walking.  CARS ARE IN THE WAY!  Give me self driving buses that come every two minutes in a grid with their own lanes.  Do you think we'll need as many self driving cars in cities then? I bet at some point we'll even have to create congestion cordons just for self driving cars.

So why are people saying transit will be changing under the disruption of the "shared ridership revolution"?  Instead of this circular problem I feel like we're creating, why not just address the main problems?  Housing affordability and road pricing.  Tech can't seem to wrap its collective heads around those problems though because right now, those are political problems.  So let's just build a car that will drive itself. 

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Podcast: Your Brain on Two Legs with Antonia Malchik

This week we talking with Antonia Malchik who recent wrote a piece at Aeon Magazine called "The End of Walking" We talk about experiences walking around the world and in foreign countries. We also talk about the importance of your brain in motor function.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Podcast: The Urban Displacement Project

Miriam Zuk of UC Berkeley joins me this week to talk about the Urban Displacement Project.  They take a look at gentrification and displacement in the Bay Area.  Definitely have a listen.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Podcast: Remaking California's Transportation System

This week I'm publishing a audio series that I did for the NRDC Urban Solutions program that discusses California's greenhouse gas policies and their effects on transportation policy.  It's gotten some good reviews but also a bit wonky, so I know you all will enjoy it.