Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Transit Roundup

Guerrilla Bus Shelters in Raleigh

Raleigh, NC is in big need of bus shelters but the city isn’t providing them. So what to do? According to New Raleigh, if the city won’t, then the public will.

The Raleigh area needs more guerrilla art and architecture….Something else Raleigh needs more of is bus shelters. I could probably count on one hand how many covered bus shelters are in the downtown Raleigh area. The city has sponsored multiple transit stop competitions and even with the new R-Line being seemingly successful, the city still lacks shelter for public transit riders….While this isn’t a complete combination of the two, some local artists have bounced around the downtown area and installed impromptu bus shelters to make a statement. The statement is clear: IF THE CITY WON’T BUILD SHELTER FOR OUR PUBLIC TRANSIT RIDERS, WE’LL DO IT OURSELVES!

And they did. Here are a couple of pictures:

Cities hate this stuff. They will always claim safety and such is the reason. There is something to that. But it is also true that when the citizens have to take matters like this into their own hands, it is an intolerable rebuke to those in power who have failed to provide the service the community wants and needs. It goes back to what I said about the weakness of Detroit’s government and that city being a new American frontier and land of possibility precisely because its government can’t get in the way of citizens doing things for themselves. So many cities don’t have the will or capability to take care of business, but they can stop other people from taking care of it.

Raleigh was also the home of the famous “barrel monster”, made by an Indy native who took some amazing photos for his No Promise of Safety site, which has been decommissioned after he had one too many brushes with the law. Luckily, somebody saved this one:

(h/t liberty-belle)

The FRA as Obstacle to a Modern Passenger Rail System in America

Back in my opus on high speed rail from earlier this year I suggested that some of the biggest barriers to the establishment of a modern passenger rail system aren’t from those opposed to it, but from the existing agencies in the business today: Amtrak and the FRA.

The good folks over at Skyscraperpage pointed out an article from 2007 taking the FRA to task. Called “How the FRA is Regulating Passenger Rail Out of Existence“, this is a must-read. A sample:

What if the FAA required that jet aircraft be able to survive crashes into the ground?

Or if the FWHA said automobiles had to survive any head-on crash at 60 mph into a tractor trailer without deformation?

Even if such vehicles could be engineered, they would be far too costly to operate. But for passenger trains, that is precisely what the FRA has been doing.

It is an arcane government agency few ever heard of. The Federal Railroad Administration was created in 1966 to set and enforce railway safety standards. And certainly in terms of safety, the FRA has been wildly successful passenger rail is perhaps the safest mode of transport in the US. But many rail advocates argue that the FRA regulations have not only come at too high a price (by making rail prohibitively expensive) but in many cases are completely nonsensical.

FACT: European style light trainsets have proven exceptionally safe in their operating environment. It’s not just about crash survivability, but preventing collisions in the first place.

The Chicago Olympic Bid and Selling the Vision

The outcome of the vote in Copenhagen was a big disappointment in much of Chicago. I don’t want to go too much into Olympic land, but clearly support for the games was less than universal. Some pundits suggested even in advance of the vote that a lack of public support would doom Chicago’s bid.

Jason Fried of 37 Signals wrote a piece on this that should sound familiar to those who read my call for a new vision of selling transit improvements in Chicago. Jason gets it on many fronts, so I thought I’d share some of his words here:

The 2016 announcement is just hours away. Will it be Chicago? Rio? Madrid? Tokyo? The favorites appear to be Chicago or Rio, but who knows. I’d like to see Chicago win.

As as Chicagoan, I’ve seen the campaign close up. A recent poll suggests Chicago citizens are about equally split on whether or not they want the games. The results show slippage from the 2-to-1 support found in an earlier Tribune poll in February.

I think this reveals a flaw in the local marketing of the games. And I think there’s a good lesson in all this: Chicago sold the features, not the benefits. Chicago didn’t tell its citizens why the games would be good for Chicago. Chicago didn’t lay out the lasting legacy of the games for the city. What’s really in it for us? Why should we really support it? What happens after they are over? 8 years of work for a few weeks of sunshine. Then what?

This is a bit of Friday-morning quarterbacking, but here’s what I would have loved to have seen: A campaign centered around Chicago 2017. Show us what the city will look like after the Olympics. Give us a reason to want the games for the decade after the games. Give us examples… If a kid’s 16 years old today, what will the city be like for her when she’s 26? How will the games make Chicago a better place for Chicagoans. Will it be a better place to grow up? Why? Will it be a better place to work? Why? Why would we want to put up with all the construction, traffic, congestion, and attention? Why will it all be worth it?

I do hope we get the games. I do think it will be great for the city. But I have a hard time communicating why. And if I can’t say why, I can’t tell other people why. Shallow support is barely support. That’s a problem.

It’s the exact same problem with transit.

Milwaukee Transit Update

Mayor Barrett recently gave an update on the city’s transit efforts, focusing on three different downtown streetcar alignments to be studied. I won’t go into details on this, since Urban Milwaukee already has it covered, complete with route maps.

I did want to note a couple things, however. If you look at the mayor’s presentation, you see two very important items:

1. It talks about streetcars in the context of the city’s overall transit strategy. I think this is generally important. (I will admit to having dinged Cincinnati for doing this, but that is only because voters already rejected a regional transit system).

2. It has some great photos showing aspects of Milwaukee – its economy, culture, and architecture – in the context of and measured against the world cities with which it aspires to be compared. In short, it markets this as about putting another piece of the puzzle together for Milwaukee’s 21st century aspirations. You can disagree with the direction, but the marketing is good. Here’s one slide to show what I’m talking about:

Indianapolis Express Bus Routes to End

This is the sort of thing that kills me. Indygo, the Indianapolis bus service, started a series of express buses from the suburbs to downtown using CMAQ funds. Launched when gas prices were high, these routes were over-subscribed. As gas prices fell and the economy slowed, ridership declined, but stabilized at a decent base for the Carmel and Fishers routes.

I thought the concept of these express buses was a good one. It gave people a taste of a transit service targeted at middle class riders in a city that had no experience with this. It could have been a way to start building a transit culture and a ridership base for future expansions of service such as rail.

Unfortunately, IndyGo used a temporary grant that will soon expire so the bus routes are scheduled to be terminated. This is devastating for the future of transit in Indianapolis. By stopping and starting service, all this does is pull the rug out from underneath riders, and, what’s worse, provide ammunition to anyone who would oppose transit expansion. Clearly, if Indy can’t sustain a couple of bus routes, why would anyone believe it can sustain anything more? If these routes are permitted to expire, it will be a big setback to the credibility of transit in the city.

More Transit

The Phony Coney has a look at US rail transit projects from 2000-2009.

Topics: Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee

9 Responses to “Transit Roundup”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    I'm sure every neighborhood group in Chicago is now breathing in sigh knowing that the urban cleansing will descend on Rio instead. Yay, favela clearance.

  2. Walker Evans says:

    There's a bus stop a few blocks from my house here in Columbus where I've always noticed "guerrilla" seating installed. People waiting for the bus had no place to sit, so they would turn over one of those free magazine vendors (apartment guides or job rags) onto its side and use it as a bench.

    Thankfully, someone at the Central Ohio Transit Authority realized the need for proper seating there and installed a real shelter a few months ago. No more dumped-over magazine boxes.

  3. Lynn Stevens says:

    Re: Chicago 2017, it's my hope that the city will now take on this approach without the Olympic distraction. "Imagine" a world-class transit system in place before the next attempt to bid for the games. Monied citizens could still show their civic pride by investing in lasting legacies.

  4. Alon Levy says:

    Or you can imagine a world-class transit system intended as a way of making transportation easier, rather than as a way of building monuments to the current-generation leaders.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Walker Evans — thanks for the explanation.


    I just righted a Chicago "Redeye" vending in front of my building in Oak Park yesterday. I should have left it as is. Clues, baby!

  6. Lynn Stevens says:

    Alon: Believe me, I'm not advocating for monuments. Just saying that those expected Olympic donors can still make their contribution to the city funding a world-class transit system. And maybe a stellar transportation system would be a bonus, a selling point should Chicago try to bid again.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The Olympics are a big party. I'd imagine that people are more likely to donate money to a big party they can attend where they'll be guests of honor, rather than helping build a subway station in a neighborhood they've never been to.

    Though idea of CTA chiseling the names of donors into bricks at a station or something like that might be worth looking into.

  8. cdc guy says:

    Aaron, re Indy transit:

    Doesn't this just reinforce the notion that the customer IndyGo should be after at the margin is me (and people like me) who live and work in Center Twp. rather than suburban commuters?

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Lynn, Anon: transit isn't like universities, which have to secure donations. The successful transit systems of the world all get their revenues from a combination of taxes, fares, road tolls, and real estate concessions. Monied interests are free to try to run the systems, but if they only want to contribute to a station named after them, it's not a stable source of funding.

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