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A Better Bus Stop: Big Ideas From Transit Riders for a Better Wait

Streetsblog has been calling attention to the dismal state of transit waiting areas with our Sorriest Bus Stop in America tournament. Transit riders have to put up with conditions that no one should stand for — bus stops with nothing to sit on and no shelter, bus stops by dangerous, high-speed roads with no sidewalks, even “secret” bus stops with no visible marker that they exist.

Every bus stop ought to be a safe, comfortable place to wait for the bus, and riders across the country have ideas about how to go a few steps further than that. Bus riders in 10 cities have proposed some creative ways to improve bus stops in the annual “Trick Out My Trip” crowdfunding initiative from ioby (“in our backyards”). Through the end of this week, all the funds raised for these bus stop improvements will receive a match of up to $10,000 from TransitCenter.

Here’s a look at what bus riders are proposing in three cities. You can check out all 10 bus stop ideas (and give generously) at ioby. The matching period ends Friday.

Memphis: Bus Stops as Bike Repair Stations

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Volunteers in Memphis are raising money to install bike racks and bike repair stations at three bus stops in key locations. These will help address the “last mile” problem by making it easier to bike to the bus.

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De Blasio Sounds Prepared to Let the L Train Crisis Go to Waste

The impending L Train shutdown should be a blessing in disguise — the impact of losing service west of Bedford Avenue for 18 months is so great, there’s no good option that doesn’t involve carving out lots of street space for buses, biking, and safer walking. Major redesigns of 14th Street, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the streets connecting to the bridge are called for.

It’s up to City Hall to claim that space from cars. Fortunately, that happens to align with the mayor’s two main transportation priorities: better bus service and safer streets for biking and walking. With hundreds of thousands of people in need of L Train substitutes, Mayor de Blasio would have the wind at his back if he decided to set new precedents for street design that prioritizes transit, biking, and walking.

But this week de Blasio has resorted to finger pointing at the MTA instead of laying the groundwork for a major rearrangement of how streets function.

The mayor was at it again this morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. Asked about the city’s role in addressing the shutdown, de Blasio deflected responsibility:

Of course we will very energetically be dealing with the MTA, both privately and publicly, on these issues to get fairness for everyone who takes the L train. Yes, I am concerned. The MTA — I like to remind all New Yorkers — is run by the State of New York, not the City. And therefore, we see the MTA do things sometimes that are not pleasing to us as New Yorkers. So, this decision — although I’m sure it has a practical, underlying rationale — announcing it without a plan to deal with the impact is troubling to me. It’s a long time. And we’re certainly going to push hard to see — does it really have to be so long? Is there any other way to go about this?

The primary responsibility for mitigation, for providing alternatives — falls on the State and the MTA — and obviously buses along the route would be the most obvious. But it’s a tough situation. It’s a very crowded line. It’s an area where it’s hard to get buses around compared to some others. So we’re going to look at different things we can do. One good news piece of the equation — our new Citywide Ferry Service starts next year. And that’s going to actually — because it happened to hit some of those areas to begin with where the L train serves — that’s going to be a helpful piece of the equation. So that was happening anyway. We might adjust schedules — one thing or another — in light of the L train dynamic.

Ferries that connect piers on each side of the East River are no substitute for a train that goes from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue. The projected ridership of de Blasio’s entire expanded East River ferry system is below 15,000 passengers per day, an order of magnitude less than the 230,000 people who travel under the East River on the L train daily.

But when Lehrer raised the prospect of making 14th Street car-free, de Blasio again deflected:

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Mayor de Blasio Needs to Step Up to Keep L Train Passengers Moving

This morning the MTA announced that starting in 2019, it will close the L train between Eighth Avenue and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg for 18 months to repair damage caused by Superstorm Sandy — surprising no one who’s been paying attention.

For several months now, it’s been obvious that the MTA and the de Blasio administration will have to work together on a plan to keep hundreds of thousands of L train passengers moving during these repairs. The MTA will have to adjust subway service and run more buses, and the city will have to allocate space on the streets for high-capacity busways and safe bicycling.

But in a statement to the Times, Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris framed the shutdown as a problem of the MTA’s own making:

We are deeply concerned that it would announce an 18-month shutdown of this critical service without a clear plan or a commitment of resources for mitigating the impact of this closure on hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Well before this shutdown occurs, New Yorkers deserve clarity from the M.T.A. on how it intends to minimize inconvenience and keep people moving throughout the duration of the construction.

And when Mayor de Blasio addressed the L train shutdown this morning, he didn’t stray from that message:

So, we’re looking at that very seriously. First of all, I’ll remind everyone the MTA is run by the State of New York. The amount of time that they have projected — the 18 months — is a very big concern for me and for the City government. We’re going to have some very serious conversations about the MTA, about whether it has to take that long and how it’s going to be handled. I want to make sure there’s a lot of redundancy in place. By the time it happens, one — small but important factors — we’ll have the citywide ferry service in place, so that’ll be helpful, but we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously. So I want to press the MTA to show us that 300,000 riders really will have good and consistent alternatives. And we’re certainly going to look at what we have to do in terms of the bridge as part of that. We’ll have an answer on that after those discussions with the MTA.

Noticeably absent from de Blasio’s statement is a specific mention of buses and bikes as “redundancy” measures. Ferries can help, but setting aside street space to move large numbers of bus passengers and bike riders will do more to make up for the loss of L train service.

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Stuck With Slow Bus Service? Cuomo Is Completely Oblivious to Your Pain

You can tell Governor Cuomo doesn’t get on a New York City bus unless it’s for a photo-op about on-board USB ports.

The latest evidence came yesterday, after a coalition of transit advocates released a major report on the deterioration of bus service in New York City. With bus speeds declining, ridership has dropped 16 percent since 2002. In their “Turnaround” report [PDF], TransitCenter and other advocates outline proven techniques to improve bus service, pointedly noting that it will take concerted political leadership to reverse the decline of the city’s bus system.

Cuomo is the politician whose leadership is needed most. But Politico’s Dana Rubinstein reports that the governor blew off a question about improving bus service yesterday afternoon. “If people in Manhattan are choosing to jump on the subway because the subway is faster, because there’s traffic that a bus has to deal with,” he said, “that’s not an imprudent choice, right?”

In one sentence, the governor betrayed his ignorance of NYC’s bus system in several ways. Here are three of them.

Buses and trains don’t do the same things

The subway system is largely a radial network, with lines converging in Manhattan below 60th Street and extending out from there. It works well for an astounding number of trips, but New Yorkers still have to get places that the subway doesn’t reach efficiently. For these trips, there is no parallel subway service that people can just “jump on” instead of taking the bus.

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Streetsblog USA
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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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Streetsblog USA
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Park & Rides Lose Money and Waste Land — But Agencies Keep Building Them

Transit agencies shell out big bucks to build and operate parking facilities. But how much do we really know about what they get for their money?

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The surface parking lot at WMATA’s Branch Avenue station. Photo: TRB

Researchers Lisa Jacobson and Rachel Weinberger surveyed 37 American transit agencies about park-and-ride facilities. They found that despite the expense of park-and-rides and the fact that many spaces go unused, most of the 32 agencies that manage parking are still planning to build more of it.

Here are six big take-aways from their recent report, published by the Transportation Research Board [PDF].

1. Most transit passengers don’t park and ride

People who park at stations account for about 22 percent of total ridership across the 32 agencies that offer park-and-ride facilities. Even looking only at commuter rail and express bus service — the two modes closely associated with park-and-rides — most passengers don’t use parking. For commuter rail, 41 percent of passengers park and ride, and for express buses the figure is 30 percent.

2. Many park-and-ride lots don’t come close to filling up even at peak hours

Even during weekdays, park-and-ride lots are, on average, only 65 percent full. The author say this “would be considered underutilized based on parking industry standards,” meaning a private company with so much empty parking stalls would consider doing something else with the land.

“On average, this sample of transit agencies has approximately 155,000 unused parking spaces on any given day,” the report states. That’s about a square mile of empty parking.

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Streetsblog USA
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“Opportunity Score” Shows Best Places to Find a Job Without Owning a Car

This screenshot shows how many jobs are available near the author's house. Addresses at more than 350 cities are searchable and ranked by jobs within a half-hour's trip by walking or transit. Image: Redfin/Opportunity Score

The 30-minute transit shed near the author’s house, overlaid with a heatmap of jobs paying $40,000 or more. Image: Redfin/Opportunity Score

Which places put economic opportunity within reach for residents who don’t own cars?

There’s a new tool to evaluate housing locations according to the accessibility of jobs via transit and walking. Redfin, the company that runs Walk Score, today released “Opportunity Score,” which ranks millions of addresses across 350 cities based on the number of jobs within a 30-minute walk or transit ride.

The above map shows the results of a search near my home in Cleveland. My neighborhood grades out as a “job-seeker’s paradise,” according to Opportunity Score, with 64,000 jobs paying more than $40,000 within a half hour car-free commute. Compare that to the cul-de-sac where I grew up in Hilliard, Ohio — which has an Opportunity Score of 1.

Redfin created the tool in partnership with the White House’s Opportunity Project, which seeks to address inequality “by putting data and digital tools in the hands of families, communities, and local leaders.” Opportunity Score combines jobs data from the feds with Redfin’s software measuring transit and walking travel times. The tool also factors in population, otherwise the biggest cities would all rise to the top (here’s the formula).

Redfin ranked 50 major American cities according to Opportunity Score, and the result was a top ten list with some surprises:

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Streetsblog USA
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Send Us Your Nominations for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Last year's winner: this sorry bus stop in greater St. Louis

Last year’s winner, a very sorry bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in greater St. Louis.

Streetsblog’s “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest is back by popular demand.

Last year, readers nominated dozens of forlorn bus stops to call attention to the daily indignities and dangers that bus riders have to put up with. This sad, windswept patch of grass between two highway-like roads in a St. Louis inner suburb took the prize.

We’ve been hearing from readers and transit advocates who want another shot to name and shame the public agencies who’ve let bus stops go to seed. So the Sorriest Bus Stop competition is back. (If you have a great bus stop you want to recognize, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a different competition later this year.)

We’ll be doing the contest as a Parking Madness-style, 16-entry single elimination bracket. Below is an early submission from downtown Austin and reader Chris McConnell, who says, “This has to be the saddest #busstop in Austin. It has no shade, no seating, and no stop ID for checking times. AND it’s at the main transfer point downtown. FAIL.”

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Ryan Russo on DOT’s “Mobility Report” and the Need for Better Bus Service

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Using vehicle location data from MTA Bus Time, DOT is able to analyze where bus routes need a speed boost with a greater level of specificity. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” [PDF], released earlier this week, is the agency’s first overview of NYC transportation trends in three years. As the number of people and jobs in the city has grown prodigiously in the past five years, DOT reports, the subway system and, increasingly, the bike network have allowed more New Yorkers to get where they need to go. But there are signs of strain — bus ridership is declining and bus speeds are slowing, and traffic congestion in the Manhattan core is rising.

Streetsblog spoke with DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Management & Planning Ryan Russo, who oversees the agency’s long-term strategy and the projects that bring that strategy to fruition, about the report and its implications.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo.

Russo told us what he sees as the big takeaways from the report, why it lends more urgency to the agency’s efforts to improve bus service and bicycling, and how DOT is applying the information it contains. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What are the key themes that come out in this report? Were any of the findings surprising or unexpected?

We think of New York as a built-out place, right? I don’t think people think of it as changing so quickly. And just this half-a-decade is kind of astounding in terms of 500,000 new jobs. You know, many states don’t even have 500,000 jobs, and those are our new jobs. You know, 370,000 new people. And the number of new tourists we have are all the tourists who go to the city of New Orleans in a year.

So that jumped out, that this city’s changed a lot. While we did have the slow down on the streets, all of those new residents, new jobs, new tourists, they all have to move around the city. We did it really on the backs of some wise decisions we made recently, but also decisions that were made a generation ago to reinvest in the transit system.

The subway system has clearly been the workhorse here in serving that growth. We think we’ve been smart and wise in terms of emphasizing the pedestrian environment which helps support transit, building out a bike network, adding bike-share, trying to keep buses moving with the Select Bus Service program and our partnership with New York City Transit. We think DOT has been a pretty big part of this, but it’s really kind of an amazing story that we did all this growth without — you know, we didn’t develop on greenfields in the suburbs, we didn’t build a boatload of parking, and we didn’t add a lot of traffic trips particularly in the core.

I think that’s really the main theme there, but there are these harbingers or challenges that this frames. We all know that the subway system is pretty strapped. And seeing the data now — seeing bus ridership going down, seeing congestion go up — we’re starting to become victims of the success, so we all have to decide together how we’re going to keep this going.

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DOT Mobility Report: As NYC Grows, So Are Transit and Bicycling

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More people and jobs, more subway and bike trips. Note that the subway and bus ridership numbers are annual figures. Graphic adapted from NYC DOT’s Mobility Report.

With New York City’s population swelling to a record size, subways and bikes now account for about 700,000 more trips each day than 16 years ago, according to a new report from NYC DOT [PDF]. Car trips into the Manhattan core, meanwhile, are declining, but so is citywide bus ridership.

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” follows in the footsteps of the Bloomberg-era “Sustainable Streets Index” — an annual update on city transportation trends. After skipping two years, DOT is out with its first edition of the report under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, adding some interesting data.

The stats are a testament to the importance of transit and bicycling to New York’s ability to welcome more people and sustain more economic activity. They’re also sobering. What happens if the subways and streets can no longer keep up with the city’s growth? And why are New Yorkers abandoning the bus?

Ridership is straining the limits of several subway lines, with crowding a frequent source of delays. But capital improvements to increase subway capacity take too long to complete, cost too much, and are backed by a mountain of debt. (Don’t worry, Governor Cuomo’s got this — Wi-Fi and USB ports are on the way.)

The subways are, by and large, beyond the city’s control. But NYC DOT does control the streets, and while the Mobility Report isn’t prescriptive, if you read between the lines the implications are pretty clear.

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