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Posts from the Studies & Reports Category


How the MTA Can Improve Access-a-Ride Service While Cutting Costs

The per-ride cost of New York's paratransit service far outpaces those of other cities. Image: Citizens Budget Commission of NY

The cost per trip of the MTA’s paratransit service is staggering. Table: Citizens Budget Commission of NY

For customers, the price of a trip on Access-A-Ride, the MTA’s service for New Yorkers with disabilities, is the same as a subway fare. But for the MTA, the cost of providing the service is much higher. At $72.65 per trip (the cost has risen since 2014, when the figures for the above table were compiled), Access-A-Ride is the most expensive paratransit system to operate in the nation. The high costs of the program eat into the MTA’s ability to provide subway and bus service.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The MTA can provide service for passengers with disabilities at much lower cost while improving the customer experience, according to a new report by the Citizens Budget Commission with support from TransitCenter [PDF].

The MTA began operating Access-A-Ride in the early 1990s, taking over a city program created after the Americans with Disabilities Act required “door-to-destination” service for people unable to access fixed-route subway and bus lines. As Access-a-Ride use grew in the first decade of the 2000s, costs more than doubled.

When the recession took out a big chunk of MTA revenues, the agency took steps to rein in Access-A-Ride costs by renegotiating contracts, tightening eligibility requirements, and increasing the use of taxis and livery vehicles instead of large vans. While the program isn’t growing as fast as it was a few years ago, the cost per trip continues to escalate.

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DOT’s 5-Year Plan: Faster Buses, Smarter Parking, 5-Boro Citi Bike, Lots More

NYC DOT published a new strategic plan yesterday [PDF], marking the first time the agency has refreshed its guiding document under Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

stratplanIn addition to synthesizing a lot of work that DOT has previously announced (pedestrian safety plans, Select Bus Service routes, a wider Brooklyn Bridge promenade), the update includes several new projects and initiatives. The big headline-grabber is a center-running two-way protected bike lane on Delancey Street connecting the Williamsburg Bridge and Allen Street, slated for next year.

Advocates have been calling to complete that missing link in the bike network for ages. With the L train shutdown coming up in 2019, time is of the essence to get a safe, high-capacity bikeway on Delancey to handle the swarms of people on bikes who’ll come over the bridge. The Delancey project is one of four bridge access projects DOT aims to complete in the next two years. Though DOT doesn’t name the other bridges in the plan, it says the projects in its Harlem River bridges initiative will be a priority.

There’s a mountain of other stuff in the strategic plan. While some of the goals should be more ambitious (10 miles of protected bike lanes per year isn’t enough in the Vision Zero era) and the benchmarks for success could be more specific (most timetables call for hitting key milestones either by 2017 or by 2021, the last year of a hypothetical second term for de Blasio), the ideas are solid.

In a way the document underscores the urgency of securing more funds and political backing from City Hall for DOT’s initiatives — given sufficient resources, DOT is going to put them to good use.

Here’s my compilation of new ideas and goals from DOT that I think Streetsblog readers will find especially interesting.

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No, Uber’s Not Going to Replace Buses, But It Can Complement Them

Not a day goes by without a raft of stories about “new mobility” providers — ride-hailing companies like Uber or car-share services like Car2Go that have tapped into recent technological advances to provide new ways to get around.

ansas City is using the private vanpool service Bridj to link two neighborhoods with weak transit connections. Image: Bridj

Kansas City teamed up with the private vanpool service Bridj to link two neighborhoods that the bus network didn’t connect well. Image: Bridj

In a new report, “Private Mobility, Public Interest” [PDF], TransitCenter deflates some of the hype surrounding these services while laying out several opportunities for productive collaboration between public transit agencies and private mobility providers.

Despite what you may have read, none of these services will replace transit — at least not buses and trains that move large numbers of people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help transit agencies improve service, diversify their offerings, and operate more effectively.

Based on interviews with more than a hundred people working on mobility in the public and private sectors, TransitCenter’s report examines the opportunities for transit agencies to team up with mobility companies. If transit agencies keep the core values of providing “equitable, efficient, affordable, and sustainable transportation” in mind, TransitCenter writes, they can forge new partnerships that yield broad public benefits.

Here are some of the most fertile areas for collaboration.

Convenient, Cost-Effective Paratransit

Paratransit for riders with disabilities is usually among the most expensive types of service for transit agencies to provide. This can strain budgets and drain resources from other transit services. If agencies can provide paratransit at lower costs per trip, they can free up resources to run more bus or train service.

Both Boston and Washington have started to experiment with contracting paratransit to taxi and ride-hailing companies that can not only operate the service more cost-effectively, but also offer riders more convenience.

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When Cities Force Developers to Widen Roads, Everyone Loses


At L.A.’s Vermont-Wilshire Towers, the city made the developer cede land and pay for 6,000 square feet of road widening. Photo: Google Maps

It’s a common practice for cities to make developers widen a street when they put up a new building. The thinking is that development creates car trips that must be accommodated with more asphalt.

But new research suggests these policies don’t help anyone. The main effect is to increase the cost of building, making housing less affordable.

“As traffic management exercises, many widenings appear unnecessary,” concludes UCLA researcher Michael Manville in a paper published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use [PDF].

Manville looked at how this policy is carried out in Los Angeles. In L.A., all multifamily housing projects (and some other types of construction) are assessed by city traffic engineers to determine whether the developer should widen nearby streets. This is like “blaming Disneyland for increased air travel, and forcing the theme park to expand runways whenever it adds attractions,” he argues.

Manville spoke to developers compelled by the city to pay for various road widenings. The costs varied. In one case, the street widening added an estimated $11,000 to the cost per unit of a multifamily housing development. In another case the figure was $50,000. In another, just $65 per unit. Where the costs of street widenings are substantial, the policy drives up costs for renters and buyers.

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DOT Lays Out a Strategy to Make Left Turns Less Dangerous

Left turns accounted for 30 percent of pedestrian and cyclists fatalities in 2015. Image: DOT

Motorists tend to take left turns faster than right turns, leading to a higher rate of injuries and fatalities. Image: DOT

DOT will be ramping up the use of intersection treatments to protect pedestrians and cyclists from left-turning drivers, the agency announced today. The initiative is paired with a DOT study, “Don’t Cut Corners” [PDF], that illustrates the disproportionate danger of left turns. Mayor de Blasio had announced in January that reducing the risk of left turns would be a focus of his administration’s Vision Zero agenda this year.

Drivers turning left account for 19 percent of serious pedestrian and bicyclist injuries in New York City — three times the share caused by right turns, according to the DOT report. Motorists tend to take left turns faster than right turns, a risk that is further compounded by the vehicle’s “A-pillar” (between the windshield and the driver’s door) obscuring the driver’s vision, the pressure of both oncoming traffic and traffic behind the driver, and a greater area of exposure for pedestrians.

Based on crash reports, DOT found that injuries involving left turns typically occur when the driver turns from a minor street (usually one-way) onto a street 60 feet or wider (usually two-way).


The posts in this “hardened centerline” prevent left-turning drivers, like the person behind the wheel of the Lay’s van, from cutting corners and taking turns too fast. Photo: David Meyer

The study also found that seniors are more likely to be injured or killed by left-turning vehicles: The average age of victims in left-turn crashes was 67, compared to 50 for victims of right-turn crashes.

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When Media Outlets Cover Delivery Cyclists, They Rarely Talk to Them

Image: Biking Public Project

Image: Biking Public Project

NYC’s mostly-immigrant food delivery cyclists don’t have it easy, working on car-centric streets through all sorts of weather, all while under pressure to make their deliveries as quickly as possible.

But media coverage of delivery cyclists tends to dehumanize them, failing to convey their perspective or consider the difficult working conditions they contend with.

That’s the conclusion of a report from the Biking Public Project [PDF]. The authors identified 74 stories about delivery cyclists published in NYC newspapers and online outlets (including Streetsblog) between 2004 and 2014, and found that only 27 percent included at least one quote from a food delivery person.

The result is that media tend to portray delivery cyclists as “foreigners without documents” who bike unsafely and flout the law, the authors argue. Their analysis found that stories that failed to present the point of view of delivery cyclists were 68 percent more likely to portray delivery cyclists as “bad or deviant.”

Take, for example, a 2010 column from the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo about delivery cyclists on the Upper West Side:

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Report: Access to Car-Share and Bike-Share Is Worse in Communities of Color

Graph: Shared use Mobility Center

In many major American cities, communities of color have worse access to car-share and bike-share than majority white neighborhoods. Chart: Shared Use Mobility Center

Car-share and bike-share services are making it easier to go without owning a car in American cities, but access to “shared-use” systems remains limited in communities of color compared to majority-white neighborhoods, according to a new analysis from the Shared Use Mobility Center [PDF].

Urban areas with low car-ownership rates and strong transit are ideal for car and bike sharing. But a SUMC study found communities of color were being left out. Map: Shared Use Mobility Center

SUMC’s map of where car-share and bike-share would be most useful in Portland.

SUMC developed a method to analyze which places have the most potential for car-share and bike-share usage across 27 American metros. Areas with relatively high transit ridership, low car ownership, and small blocks (which enhance walkability) are where share-use systems can be most useful, according to SUMC.

SUMC then compared these areas of “opportunity” for car-share and bike-share to areas where the services are actually available. In many cities, SUMC observed that dense low-income neighborhoods lack access to shared-use systems even though they have the necessary characteristics for success:

While they have been often passed over by private operators, these neighborhoods have many of the key qualities — including high population density, transit access, and walkability — needed to support shared-use systems. Additionally, the opportunity to scale up shared modes in these neighborhoods is especially compelling since they stand to profit most from the benefits of shared mobility, including reduced household transportation costs and increased connectivity to jobs and opportunities outside the immediate community.

A clear racial disparity is apparent in many cities. In Chicago, for instance, 72 percent of low-income, majority-white neighborhoods have access to shared-use systems, according to SUMC’s analysis, but only 48 percent of low-income communities of color do. The disparity persists regardless of income levels. In well-off majority-white Chicago neighborhoods, 77 percent of households have access to car-share or bike-share, compared to just 49 percent in affluent majority-minority neighborhoods.

Not all cities have these disparities, but the pattern is alarmingly common.

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It’s Time to Think Big to Turn Around Lousy Bus Service in NYC

 Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership has dropped 16 percent in NYC since 2002, even as population and subway ridership have increased. Image: TransitCenter

Bus service in New York is getting worse and losing riders, and unless policy makers step in and make systemwide improvements, those trends may accelerate in a vicious cycle. New York can turn things around, advocates say, with a suite of policies to get buses moving quickly and reliably again.

Today a coalition of transit advocates unveiled their blueprint to fix the city’s surface transit system and win riders back over. The solutions they propose in “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses,” a new report from TransitCenter, are broad and thorough but eminently achievable — rethinking the bus network, modernizing fare technology and dispatching, and expanding street design features that have already sped service on a handful of routes to improve routes all over the city.

The poor state of bus service in New York amounts to a crisis, said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. With an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, New York’s buses are among the slowest in the nation, and they’re getting slower. Making matters worse is the lack of reliability — traffic congestion, lengthy routes, and shoddy dispatching often cause long gaps in service as buses bunch up in clusters of two or more vehicles.

It’s no wonder that bus ridership in New York has steadily declined even as population and jobs have increased.

TransitCenter’s report touches on a number of ways the MTA and NYC DOT should improve bus speeds and reliability while redesigning routes to reflect current rider needs, including:

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Report: As Cities Add Bike Lanes, More People Bike and Biking Gets Safer


Cities adding bike infrastructure are seeing a “safety in numbers” — more people on bikes plus lower risk of severe or fatal injury. Graphs: NACTO

The more people bike on the streets, the safer the streets are for everyone who bikes. This phenomenon, originally identified by researcher Peter Jacobsen, is known as “safety in numbers.” And that’s exactly what American cities are seeing as they add bike infrastructure — more cyclists and safer cycling — according to a new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF].

The report is part of NACTO’s research series on implementing equitable bike-share systems. NACTO makes the case that large-scale bike-share systems can improve access to jobs in low-income communities by extending the reach of bus and rail lines, and — citing the safety-in-numbers evidence — that good bike lanes have to be part of the solution. Otherwise dangerous street conditions will continue to discourage people from biking.

NACTO tracked changes in bike commuting, bike lane miles, and cyclist fatalities and severe injuries in seven U.S. cities that have added protected bike lanes and bike-share systems over the past decade or so. In all seven cities, cycling has grown along with the bike network, while the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has declined.

In five of the cities — Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland — the absolute number of cycling deaths and severe injuries fell between 2007 and 2014, even as cycling rose substantially. In the two other cities — San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — deaths and serious injuries increased somewhat, but not as much as the increase in bicycle commuting.

New York City, for example, has added about 54 miles of bike lanes per year since 2007. Chicago has added about 27 miles per year since 2011. Over that time the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has decreased by about half, NACTO reports.

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The “Choice” vs. “Captive” Transit Rider Dichotomy Is All Wrong

The conventional wisdom about transit often divides riders into two neat categories: “choice” riders — higher-income people with cars — and “captive” riders — lower-income people who must use transit because they don’t own cars.

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like wifi. Drawing via Transit Center

Transit riders are more conscious of time than they are of features like Wi-Fi. Graphic: TransitCenter

But this framework can undermine good transit, according to a new report from TransitCenter [PDF]. In the attempt to cater only to “choice” riders or “captive” riders, public officials often make decisions that don’t accomplish what everyone wants from transit — fast, frequent, reliable service that takes them where they want to go.

TransitCenter surveyed more than 3,000 transit riders across 17 regions — and conducted focus groups in three major cities — to get a better picture of why people take transit. The responses were combined with data from All Transit, a tool that assesses the quality of transit service in different locations, to inform the report’s conclusions.

While having access to a car does influence how much people use transit, other factors are more important. In walkable neighborhoods with frequent transit service, people with and without cars both ride transit more than people in areas with poor transit.

Far from being “captive,” transit riders without cars are in fact very sensitive to the quality of service. So-called “captive” riders have other choices available, like biking, taxis, and borrowing cars, and most do take advantage of them — almost two-thirds of car-free transit riders had done so in the last month.

A big problem with the “choice/captive” rider dichotomy, says lead report author Steven Higashide, is that it prompts planners to invest in “sexy” features aimed at luring “choice” riders out of cars — like Wi-Fi or comfortable seats. The notion of the “choice rider” has been used to justify mixed-traffic streetcar projects that operate slowly and don’t actually serve many people.

Regardless of whether transit riders own a car, what actually matters to them aren’t the bells and whistles, or even the type of vehicle, but the basics: service they can depend on to get places on time.

“Transit has to compete for every rider,” Higashide told Streetsblog. “There’s often this assumption that people without cars have no choice, have to ride transit. People are sensitive to transit quality regardless of car ownership.”

TransitCenter suggests another way to frame how and why people use transit — by looking at the types of trips they use it for:

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