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How Do You Grade a Bike-Share System?

Bike-share has exploded in the last decade — and in North America, just in the last few years. What started as a shaky concept in Amsterdam in the 1960s has matured into a viable transit option worldwide, with 600 systems offering more than 600,000 bikes.

bike-share-guideThe nonprofit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is taking stock. Most major cities, if they haven’t already installed bike-share systems, are at least exploring them – and there are a lot of different models to follow, especially as “fourth-generation” bike-share technology develops, like stationless systems.

“Right now is this exciting time where systems are growing and experimenting,” said Curtis Hughes, one of the authors of ITDP’s newly released Bike Share Planning Guide. But until now, Hughes said, “there hasn’t been an objective language” to measure bike-share systems.

The ITDP report fills the void with two major yardsticks: the average number of daily trips per bike (four to eight is deemed optimal), and the average daily trips per resident in the coverage area (ideally one trip per 20 to 40 residents). Based on these metrics, seven cities rose to the top of the bike-share heap, in order: Barcelona, Lyon, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Montreal and Mexico City.

But the new guidebook is less about ranking cities and more about sharing best practices, culled from 25 major bike-share networks across the world. “Our objective is to get more [systems] developed and to make them better,” said Hughes.

The infographic below summarizes the key ingredients of a successful bike-share, such as a recommended 300-meter distance between stations and a minimum coverage area of 10 square kilometers (a little less than four square miles).

The report also guides planners through the nitty-gritty implementation process, from feasibility studies and designs to financial plans. There’s a whole range of decisions to be made along the way. Should stations be moveable or permanent? What’s the government’s role? How do you monitor the performance of a private operator?

A bike-share launch can be an attractive project for a city administration, due to relatively low costs and short timelines compared to other transit modes. It’s typically achievable within a single mayor’s term. (Paris’s Vélib system, for example, took six months to install after contracts were signed.) Hughes noted that it’s usually considered a smart move for a city’s image, as well. “It shows a city is committed to quality of life, committed to health, and considered a clean, fun place to live,” he said. “Those types of investments are attracting the type of growth cities are looking for,” as opposed to “the highways and bridges of the past.”

A major question is how best to achieve financial stability. The report notes that bike-share subscription and usage fees offer stable revenue but rarely cover total operating costs. (Though Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, comes close, with a 97 percent recovery ratio.) While most systems rely on at least some public funding to cover the gap, a few new models — like New York’s Citi Bike — do not, and should be interesting tests for the all-private funding route.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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ITDP Debuts a LEED-Type Rating System for Transit-Oriented Development

A new TOD scoring system rewards projects that minimize space for moving and storing cars. Image: Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. Click to enlarge.

“Transit-oriented development” is probably one of the more abused terms in all of urban planning. Listen carefully in some cities, and you’ll hear urban development professionals calling parking garages ”transit-oriented development” without a hint of irony.

Last week, the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy released the first draft of a new scoring system that should help identify what really deserves to be called transit-oriented development and what is merely car-centric development pretending to be TOD.  ITDP hopes the system will function as an international standard for transit-oriented development — a LEED for TOD, if you will  — much like the organization’s standard for bus rapid transit.

If a development is more than 800 meters from transit, ITDP does not consider it transit-oriented development. Image: ITDP

The “TOD Standard” rates development projects based on factors like residential density and the length of blocks. A project can garner up to 100 points for characteristics that support transit use, while up to 50 points can be subtracted for characteristics that induce driving.

ITDP’s scoring criteria are divided into eight categories. The category with the greatest weight is “mode shift,” and it rewards projects that minimize space for parking and automobile traffic. The less space for cars, the greater transit’s mode-share will be.

At the Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark set out to see how some American TOD projects measure up according to the ITDP standard. He scored the Lindbergh Town Center project in Atlanta, the NorthPoint project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Vienna MetroWest in suburban DC.

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Taking the Guesswork Out of Rating BRT: An Interview With Walter Hook

Rio+20 - June 19

Transoeste BRT in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Michael Oko.

There’s a new global benchmark for rating bus rapid transit projects. Yesterday the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released the BRT Standard 2013, which lays out the requirements for bus routes to qualify as BRT and scores 50 systems in 35 cities around the world as basic, bronze, silver, or gold based on various criteria. The idea, which ITDP has been refining since a beta release in 2011, is to provide a concrete definition of what BRT is, and a reference for politicians, planners, and advocates who are interested in creating new BRT routes, as well as to rate the quality of existing systems.

People Creating Change: Walter Hook

ITDP CEO Walter Hook. Photo by Colin Hughes.

The standard rates more than 30 aspects of bus corridor design, awarding points for elements that improve system performance. Dedicated bus lanes, level boarding, pre-paid boarding and signal prioritization are considered basic requirements for BRT. Additional elements that score points include multiple bus routes running on the same corridor; passing lanes at stations; low-emission buses; attractive, weather-protected stations; real-time arrival info signs; integration with bike sharing and more.

Streetsblog recently caught up with ITDP CEO Walter Hook via telephone to get more info on the new guide.

John Greenfield: Congratulations on releasing the BRT Standard. So this is kind of like the LEED [green building rating system] for bus rapid transit, correct?

Walter Hook: Yeah, that’s basically the idea, with the additional caveat that the BRT Standard is also positing a minimum definition for what constitutes BRT at all, which is not really an element in LEED. I mean, LEED doesn’t say, “You’re not a green building if you don’t hit any of these things.” The BRT Standard now has a minimum definition. That’s new from last time.

When the U.S. promoted BRT they didn’t promote it with a very clear definition. So a lot of mediocre bus improvements were implemented that tarnished the brand.

JG: What is your minimum standard for something to be called BRT?

WH: It’s a fairly complicated formula but essentially it has to have a dedicated lane of at least four kilometers. If it’s on a two-way road, it has to run along the central median. If it’s a curb-running bus lane on a two-way street it’s pretty much ineligible. So there are a couple of baseline things, but there are a lot of details and nuances.

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Cleveland’s Center-Running BRT Route, the HealthLine, Sparks Development

Cleveland's HealthLine. Photo courtesy of ITDP

Last month the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released its report, “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit” [PDF], which proposed a LEED-like rating system for bus rapid transit projects and laid out a strategy for American cities to build systems as good as the world’s best BRT. While more than 20 American bus projects have claimed the BRT mantle at various times, the ITDP report named just five American cities with bus corridors that made the grade and earned the title “True BRT.” Streetsblog is pleased to publish a series of case studies from ITDP examining these innovative transit projects. We started with Pittsburgh and today, we focus on Cleveland.

Cleveland doesn’t often get recognition for being a leader in innovative transportation – but maybe it should. A recent report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) awarded Cleveland the highest rating of any American BRT system.

Cleveland’s first BRT line opened in 2008. The HealthLine stretches 6.8 miles along Euclid Avenue, connecting the city’s main employment centers, including downtown Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospital, coming within a half mile of more than 200,000 employees and 58,000 households. In just three years, ridership has increased more than 60 percent over the bus routes that formerly ran along the corridor. This promotional video shows how the HealthLine mimics light rail for a better passenger experience.

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Profiles of American BRT: Pittsburgh’s South Busway and East Busway

Pittsburgh's East Busway serves 15 bus routes and more than 25,000 riders daily. Photo: ITDP

Last month the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released its report, “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit” [PDF], which proposed a LEED-like rating system for bus rapid transit projects and laid out a strategy for American cities to build systems as good as the world’s best BRT. While more than 20 American bus projects have claimed the BRT mantle at various times, the ITDP report named just five American cities with bus corridors that made the grade and earned the title “True BRT.” Streetsblog is pleased to publish a series of case studies from ITDP examining these innovative transit projects, starting with the country’s first BRT routes, in Pittsburgh.

In recent years, Pittsburgh’s reputation has been rejuvenated. The former industrial hub is becoming an innovative model for urban re-development, and an attractive place to live and work.

Pittsburgh’s leadership on the urban sustainability front is not a recent phenomenon – in fact, it was the first city in the United States to implement elements of bus rapid transit, and it paved the way for more robust U.S. BRT systems.

In 1977, only three years after Curitiba, Brazil implemented the world’s first BRT system, Pittsburgh opened the South Busway, 4.3 miles of exclusive bus lanes, running though previously underserved areas of the city, from the western suburbs to the downtown. The city was concerned about worsening traffic congestion, and, lacking the funds to rehabilitate the city’s streetcar lines, took inspiration from Curitiba and created the South Busway. Funding for the system came from U.S. DOT, the state of Pennsylvania and Allegheny County. The Port Authority of Allegheny County, a county-owned, state-funded agency, operates the system.

The success of the South Busway helped the city leverage funding for the expansion of the network, and in 1983, the Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway opened. The East Busway began as a 6.8 mile network, with an additional 2.3 miles added in 2003, connecting the eastern suburbs with downtown. Fifteen bus routes run along its corridor. Its current weekday ridership is 25,600, with annual ridership close to 7 million.

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ITDP: American Bus Rapid Transit Can Catch Up to the Rest of the World

In ITDP's BRT rating system, the SDX route in Las Vegas eked out a bronze-standard rating, one of only five American routes to pass the threshold of "true BRT." Image: ITDP

Attempts by U.S. cities to build Bus Rapid Transit systems tend to get stymied by a Catch-22: Most Americans have no experience riding great BRT, so mustering the political will to build full-fledged systems — and reallocate the necessary street space from cars to buses — is often fiendishly difficult. The results — incremental bus improvements sold to the public as BRT — are too watered down to showcase the full extent to which bus-based systems can attract riders and get people to switch from driving to transit.

In Boston, for instance, bus speeds for one route on the Silver Line Waterfront corridor actually decreased despite the project’s $619 million pricetag. Meanwhile, cities in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are rolling out new, high-capacity BRT systems at a rapid clip, leaving American transit networks behind.

Cities can get away with calling half-measures “BRT” in part because there are no standards in place to define what truly qualifies as BRT. If all it takes is pre-paid boarding and longer spacing between stops, then the term loses meaning. In a new report, “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit” [PDF], the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy sets out to fill this void with BRT standards that American cities can shoot for.

ITDP is proposing a scoring system to grade bus-based transit corridors, which would work much like the LEED certification system for green buildings. The authors say their scorecard has yet to be perfected, but it already spits out results that make intuitive sense — like the fact that no U.S. city has ever built a first-rate BRT corridor. While American attempts to build bus rapid transit systems have shaved travel times and attracted new riders to transit, ITDP concludes that every single one has failed to meet the highest standards for BRT design.

“Based on what we’ve seen in our work in cities around the world, we think there’s still more that could be done,” ITDP director Walter Hook said in a statement accompanying the report. “Getting at least one truly world-class BRT system built in the U.S. could inspire cities around the country to rethink the way they use buses in the fight against increasing traffic congestion and rising fuel prices.”

More than 20 American bus projects have claimed the BRT mantle, the authors report, but only five even qualify as true Bus Rapid Transit: Cleveland’s HealthLine, Los Angeles’s Orange Line, Pittsburgh’s East Busway, Eugene’s EmX, and Las Vegas’s SDX. Those corridors all distinguished themselves by running buses in the center of the roadbed and physically separating them from regular traffic — two characteristics that factor heavily in ITDP’s 100-point scale.

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European Parking Policies Leave New York Behind

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Grosvenor Square, London, the site of Europe's first parking meter, shows how putting a price on parking clears up the street and makes parking available. Image: ITDP.

Flashback to Europe, sixty years ago. Just emerging from the ruin of total war, the continent was in the midst of a nearly unprecedented reconstruction. Over the next decade, industry finally was able to turn toward consumer products, from stockings to refrigerators and, of course, the automobile. Italians owned only 342,000 cars in 1950, but ten years later that number had increased to two million, according to historian Tony Judt. In France, the number of cars tripled over the decade.

With mass car-ownership fundamentally new for Europe, parking policy was practically non-existent. The first parking meter — an American invention — only made it to Europe in 1958, arriving in front of the American embassy in London. In most places, cars could park not only for free but wherever they wanted: on the sidewalk, in a public square.

When they realized that simply giving drivers free rein to park anywhere was untenable, Europeans attempted to build enough parking to meet the population’s galloping demand. Public space, from sidewalks to canals, was turned into parking space. Zoning forced all new development to use money and space for parking. All these concessions, however, only made European cities friendlier to cars and further drove up demand.

Today, however, all that is in the past. As outlined in the new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, “Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation,” the continent is now leading the world when it comes to innovative, intelligent and sustainable parking policy [PDF].

Across Europe, cities have come to understand that oversupply or subsidy of parking leads to too much driving. The effect is considerable. In Vienna, for example, when the city began to charge for on-street parking, the number of vehicle kilometers traveled plummeted from 10 million annually to 3 million. In Munich, the introduction of a new parking management system has resulted in 1,700 fewer automobiles owned in the city center each year since 2000.

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Fun Facts About the Sad State of Parking Policy

Wichita_Surface_Parking.jpgSurface parking stretches halfway to the horizon in the heart of downtown Wichita, Kansas. Image: Wichita Walkshop via Flickr.

If you haven't checked out the ITDP parking report we covered yesterday, it's a highly readable piece of research, walking you through parking policy's checkered past and potentially brighter future.

In addition to describing six cases of innovative parking strategies, the authors draw from a wide-ranging body of evidence about the woeful state of most current parking policy, marshaling revealing facts and figures. We culled some of the ones that leap out the most. Enjoy:

  • Ninety-nine percent of U.S. car trips begin and end in a free parking space.
  • The average automobile is parked 95 percent of the time.
  • Although many businesses today believe they benefit from free parking, curbside parking meters were actually introduced in 1935 by an Oklahoma City department store owner. He wanted to increase parking turnover so that there would always be spaces available for his customers.
  • Conventional parking policy counsels providing enough spots to handle car storage on the 30th busiest hour of the entire year, usually the weekend before Christmas. That means intentionally planning for an oversupply of parking the other 8,730 hours of the year.
  • At free parking spaces, 40 to 60 percent of vehicles overstay posted time limits.
  • Parking typically represents a full 10 percent of development costs. What's more, the people who actually park only pay 5 percent of the cost of non-residential parking, meaning that public subsidies and developer capital pay for the rest.
  • In San Francisco, parking requirements have reduced the number of affordable housing units nonprofit developers can build by 20 percent, with each residence costing 20 percent more to build than it would have without parking.
  • Seventy percent of Southern California suburban office developments built exactly the number of parking spaces required by law, suggesting that parking minimums are forcing developers to build more parking than they want to.
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Want to Foster Walking, Biking and Transit? You Need Good Parking Policy

The high-water mark for American parking policy came in the early 1970s, when cities including New York, Boston, and Portland set limits on off-street parking in their downtowns. They were compelled to do so by lawsuits brought under the Clean Air Act, which used the lever of parking policy to curb traffic and reduce pollution from auto emissions. This level of innovation went unmatched over the ensuing three-and-a-half decades. Only now are American cities implementing effective new parking strategies that cut down on traffic.

parking_graphic.jpgGraphic: ITDP
A report released today by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF] highlights the new wave of parking policy innovation that could pay huge dividends for sustainable transport and livable streets. If your city aspires to make streets safe, improve the quality of transit, and foster bicycling, then your city needs a coherent parking policy.

"There was a 35-year parking coma during which the federal government, cities, and environmentalists forgot why parking was important," said John Kaehny, who co-authored the report with Matthew Rufo and UPenn professor Rachel Weinberger. "This study shows people are starting to wake up and understand that parking is one of the most important influences on how cities work and what form of travel people choose to use."

The early 70s parking limits beat back the cycle of more car storage, wider roadways, and greater sprawl that decimates urban areas. The underlying idea was simple: Manage the supply of parking, and you can reduce the demand for driving. Yet in America this notion has gone largely unheeded, even in cities.

Instead, the authors note, parking policy is typically divorced from transportation policy and goals like reducing congestion or encouraging walking and biking. In most of our urban areas, planners determine parking volumes using suburban standards, drawing heavily on ill-suited recommendations in "Parking Generation," a manual published by the Institute for Transportation Engineers. The product is cheap, ubiquitous parking -- much of which sits unused most of the time.

Fully 99 percent of car trips in America end in free parking, an incentive that crowds out all other modes of transportation. "Even when the price of parking is free," said Weinberger, "it’s far from free."

The resulting congestion impedes the effectiveness of transit. Traffic volumes and double-parking make bicycling less pleasant and more dangerous. Walkable environments give way to curb cuts, dead walls, and land-devouring parking facilities that spread destinations farther apart. The whole vicious cycle is heavily subsidized, with the cost of parking absorbed into the price of everything from housing to movie tickets.

"In a time of economic distress, we can’t afford to continue these policies,"  said ITDP's Michael Replogle. "Continuing to subsidize parking is very costly for all of us."

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