Mobility Lab http://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Tue, 26 Jul 2016 20:16:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Outside of the Northeast, Amtrak plays an overlooked role in connecting communities http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/26/amtrak-plays-overlooked-rural-role/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/26/amtrak-plays-overlooked-rural-role/#respond Tue, 26 Jul 2016 16:14:00 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18723 Editor’s note: This is part six of our summer Transpo(nation) series, as Andrew bicycles across the U.S. – from San Francisco back across to Washington D.C. – to report on transportation-demand issues. Due to a series of tornado watches and significant hail storms, I had trouble biking out of Denver to cross the Great Plains. Especially... Read more »

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transponation smEditor’s note: This is part six of our summer Transpo(nation) series, as Andrew bicycles across the U.S. – from San Francisco back across to Washington D.C. – to report on transportation-demand issues.

Due to a series of tornado watches and significant hail storms, I had trouble biking out of Denver to cross the Great Plains. Especially since I was traveling alone, severe thunderstorms aren’t something I wanted to play with.

Falling behind schedule and testing the patience of my friend whose couch I had commandeered, I decided to take the train to Chicago. Gazing at the great expanses of cornfields, I remembered an advertisement I’d seen tucked behind Amtrak’s baggage claim in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. It touted the important, underrated role Amtrak plays as a vital link for rural communities around the U.S. by providing the only scheduled passenger service among numerous places.

SoldierBy bike and now by train, I began to understand how disconnected some rural communities really can be from our transportation network. Airlines and bus companies such as Greyhound have been cutting services to small towns for a few decades, leaving many with cars as their sole transportation option over vast, empty distances. Far from interstates and commercial airports, the world can be hard to reach for such small population centers. For those along Amtrak routes, I could see how daily train service really does serve these small towns.

Long-distance relationships

In Amtrak’s 2015 fiscal year, its long-distance services carried 4.5 million passengers, many of whom live in rural communities that lack other reliable transportation connections. Certain towns along the California Zephyr, Empire Builder or Southwest Chief are far from the interstate and have limited to no commercial transportation services. Without the daily train service stopping in town, options for residents are restricted to lengthy drives, and those who cannot drive might not be able to travel at all.

By providing an alternate transportation option, long-distance train routes move people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to travel, such as Mennonite families who cannot utilize other travel methods to visit far-flung relatives in other remote areas, or disabled people who are unable to utilize air travel. More than 8 percent of passengers – a bit more than 2.5 million people – say they would not travel without Amtrak service.

There is a unique social aspect to long-haul trains as well: they bring people together in a way that other transportation modes don’t. Between the isolation of individual cars and the discomfort of airplanes, it was a noticeably different atmosphere on the train. The mode has developed a culture, with social media bringing enthusiasts together to celebrate train travel.

The communal spaces in the observation car, with its panoramic windows allowing wide-angle views of the scenery, and in the dining car where fellow riders share a table, encourage strangers to talk to each other and experience the ride together. On the California Zephyr to Chicago, I conversed and played cards with multiple riders from these small towns who I likely would never have met otherwise, and – ever the proselytizing cyclist – even may have convinced a few to replace some of their car trips with bike rides.

Rail connections not only help residents get out, but help bring visitors in. Many areas, particularly along the Empire Builder line through the northwestern states, are isolated enough that states like Montana would lose significant numbers of visitors without train service, taking a significant toll on their tourism economy.

Economic connections

Amtrak map_smallLong-distance trains connect rural communities economically as well. According to the Denver Post, the national network’s routes contribute significantly to local economies, creating an “economic stimulus that reaches over a 70-mile radius at every stop.” Through employment, procurement and tourism, the service adds millions of dollars to towns that otherwise would not likely see such income.

Amtrak directly employs thousands of rurally based workers, providing millions in wages across small towns for train and maintenance crews, as well as through employing manufacturers and their subcontractors for equipment and infrastructure. The service economy benefits as the trains draw people toward stations, travelers visit new areas, passengers wander on longer stops, and local vendors serve as supply stops along the routes.

Opportunity on rails

Amtrak service has proved its necessity to rural communities. What especially proves this is how hard small towns will fight to gain and keep stops. Due to consistent capital funding shortages, the burden frequently falls on towns for infrastructure and station costs. Yet many lobby hard for years, band together and buy in to the system to keep passenger trains rolling through, providing an economic boon to an isolated region and giving residents an efficient and environmentally friendly option to access the rest of the United States.

In a report on the Empire Builder line’s economic benefits to Montana, multiple officials refer to the service as a “lifeline” in some form, a sentiment reflected by the communities fighting for the Southwest Chief and other routes.

Long-haul passenger routes have proven their worth to areas that are typically overlooked in the national transportation system. They continue to grow as a result, with multiple non-northeastern routes setting ridership records in FY2015. The service to rural communities offers a non-driving option and boosts economies in a way that likely could not be replaced with car traffic.

And, watching the lightning from the shelter of a train car, I too came to appreciate how valuable a connection Amtrak is across the expansive landscape of the United States.

Photo: Jonathan Reyes (Flickr, Creative Commons). Images courtesy of Amtrak.

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New sources of data are reshaping transportation planning http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/22/new-data-reshaping-transportation-planning/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/22/new-data-reshaping-transportation-planning/#respond Fri, 22 Jul 2016 15:47:29 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18715 Data, data, data. Does it have the same cachet as “location, location, location?” Big data. Open data. Standardized data. Personal data. If it doesn’t yet, it soon will. Transport planning has always been rich in the production and use of data. The difference now is that data is producing itself, the ability for the transport... Read more »

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Data, data, data. Does it have the same cachet as “location, location, location?” Big data. Open data. Standardized data. Personal data. If it doesn’t yet, it soon will.

Transport planning has always been rich in the production and use of data. The difference now is that data is producing itself, the ability for the transport sector to mine data collected for other purposes is growing, and the datasets themselves are multiplying. Transport planners are challenged to keep up, and to keep to their professional aims of using the data for the good of society.

Talk after talk at a recent Transport Practitioners’ Meeting 2016 in England – including my own presentation on bikeshare – mentioned the trends in data that will guide transport planning delivery in the future, but more specific sources of data were also discussed.

Some were not so much new as newly accessible. In the UK, where I live, every vehicle must be registered to an owner and, after three years, must pass an annual service test, called an MOT. A group of academics has been analyzing this data for the government in part to determine what benefits its use might bring. Participants in the workshop discussion at the conference agreed the possibilities were extensive.

Crowd-sourced data, on the other hand, could be called new; collected on social media platforms or by apps like Waze. Local people using local transport networks share views on the quality of operation, report potholes, raise issues, and follow operators’ social-media accounts to get their personalized transport news. This data is the technological successor to anecdote; still qualitatively rich, but now quantitatively significant. It helps operators and highway authorities respond to customers more quickly. Can it also help transport professionals plan strategically for the future?

Another new source of data is records of “mobile phone events” – data collected by mobile phone network operators that can be used to determine movement, speed, duration of stay, and other factors. There are still substantial flaws in translating this data for transport purposes, particularly the significant under-counting of short trips and the extent of verification required. However, accuracy will increase in time, and apps that are designed to track travel such as Strava and Moves can already be analyzed with much greater confidence.

Even more reliable are the records now produced automatically by ticketing systems on public transport, sensors in roads and traffic signals, cameras, lasers, GPS trackers and more. Transport is not only at the forefront of machine learning, but the ”Internet of Things” is becoming embedded in its infrastructure. Will such data eventually replace traditional traffic counts and surveys, informing reliable models, accurate forecasts and appropriate interventions?

It is certainly possible that we will be able to plan for populations with population-size data sources on a longitudinal spectrum, rather than using sample surveys of a few hundred people or snapshots of a short period of “neutral” time.

However…

Despite attempts to stop it (note the impossibility of ignoring Brexit in any field; its shadow hung over the conference proceedings), globalization is here to stay and data operates in an international ecosystem. Thus, it cannot be used to its full potential without international regulations on sharing and privacy and standards on format and availability.

Transport planners also need the passion and the skills to make data work for us. Substantial analysis of new datasets is required to identify utility and possibility, requiring not only statistical and modelling training, but also instruction in analytical methods. People with such skills are in limited supply, as is the time and money for both training and analysis of new datasets.

Therefore, perhaps the most important lesson of all is that sharing best practices and successful data-centric projects  – online, locally, and through conferences like TPM2016 – is more important than ever.

Photo: A man texts while walking (sidkid, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Even in Silicon Valley, people need to be educated about transportation options http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/20/silicon-valley-education-transportation-options/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/20/silicon-valley-education-transportation-options/#respond Wed, 20 Jul 2016 17:45:43 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18693 The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in northern California is considering cutting all bus service in Palo Alto other than two lines that connect to San Jose. But instead of focusing on its stated goal of increasing ridership and revenue, the VTA would be wise to invest in transportation demand management, including tweaking its bus... Read more »

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The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in northern California is considering cutting all bus service in Palo Alto other than two lines that connect to San Jose.

But instead of focusing on its stated goal of increasing ridership and revenue, the VTA would be wise to invest in transportation demand management, including tweaking its bus service based on trends in travel patterns.

What’s contributing to this? In Palo Alto, California’s most educated city, 19 percent of the population would like to use the free, city-run Palo Alto Shuttle but doesn’t know how, according to a 2015 survey.

Yes, you read that correctly. In the epicenter of Silicon Valley – home to Stanford University, Hewlett-Packard, and Tesla, and where Facebook, Google, Waze, and many others were incubated – nearly one in every five potential transit riders haven’t taken the time to learn how to ride the shuttle.

It’s not because Palo Alto residents don’t consider other transportation options. The city has an impressive ratio of households without cars and a relatively low (65 percent) commuter drive-alone rate. Further, an impressive 9 percent commute by bicycle, 6 percent walk, and 5 percent take transit (the highest in the region).

Sue Dremann of the Palo Alto Weekly reports that the interest for more transit does exist:

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they would be motivated to take buses if the vehicles came more often – as frequently as every five to 15 minutes.

A nearly identical number, 52 percent, said they want “bus routes that drop me closer to my destination.” And 47 percent want “routes closer to where I live,” according to the survey.

The city concluded, “Opportunities to expand the shuttle’s reach into new geographic areas and ridership markets include a focus on service,” particularly serving seniors, students, Caltrain commuters, workers at Palo Alto businesses, and residents in the southwest part of Palo Alto.

For the moment, plans for the expansion of the Palo Alto Shuttle system are on hold, pending a firming up of VTA’s plans, city officials said. Money, as always, is part of the sticking point.

TDM investment pales in comparison to the dollars required to build roadways or even to add new bus lines or transit infrastructure. Strategic outreach and education can shift significant numbers of trips from overloaded pathways to less-crowded options. It’s one of the best answers when trying to do a lot with a little.

Photo: An empty bus shelter in Palo Alto (Antti Nissinen, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Unique express bus service fills a transit gap between Denver and Boulder http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/18/unique-express-bus-service-denver-boulder-flatiron-flyer/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/18/unique-express-bus-service-denver-boulder-flatiron-flyer/#respond Mon, 18 Jul 2016 15:28:19 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18646 Editor’s note: This is part five of our summer Transpo(nation) series, as Andrew bicycles across the U.S. to report on transportation demand issues. Continuing my summer cross-country bike journey east, I twice encountered situations where, to avoid what appeared to be harrowing highway rides, I hopped aboard regionally operated bus services. From Carson City, an... Read more »

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transponation smEditor’s note: This is part five of our summer Transpo(nation) series, as Andrew bicycles across the U.S. to report on transportation demand issues.

Continuing my summer cross-country bike journey east, I twice encountered situations where, to avoid what appeared to be harrowing highway rides, I hopped aboard regionally operated bus services. From Carson City, an Intercity bus connected me to Reno, and in Colorado, the express Flatiron Flyer, launched in January, brought me from Denver to Boulder.

These bus routes – in Washoe County, Nevada, and the Denver region – serve as public transportation options that commuter rail might typically provide in other large metropolitan regions. Both regions’ services play different roles than usual systems by connecting major cities and the communities in between using public bus transit, rather than private companies, such as those in the Washington, D.C., region. The Flatiron Flyer, in particular, occupies a unique space in the regional transportation system.

Service adaptation

The Regional Transportation District, Denver’s regional agency, originally planned to build its Northwest Rail Line through Boulder into Longmont, to the north, as part of its extensive FasTracks rail program. However, due to low tax revenue and increased costs, that line’s opening has been delayed until 2044. A three-decade timeline does little to serve a growing metropolitan region, and the Flatiron Flyer routes look to bridge the commuting gap in the meantime.

FlatIronFlyer-Map-0415

The Flyer route, in which RTD labels it a BRT system.

The Flyers provide needed service in a place where rail became financially unfeasible. The system already averages 14,428 weekday passengers, removing crucial single occupancy vehicles from a congested corridor.

A unique transit option

Denver’s transit agency markets Flatiron Flyer as a bus rapid transit system, though it does not fit the standards of typical BRT systems. Critics have insisted RTD choose a different description. The largest sticking points focus on the fact that buses travel in mixed traffic express lanes rather than along dedicated rights of way, and the route lacks efficient amenities like off-board-only fare collection.

That said, riding the Flatiron Flyer is still an enjoyable and efficient experience. Underneath the trains at Denver’s Union Station is a bus concourse with assigned gates, intuitive information displays and ticket sales that help expedite boarding, the latter a noticeable improvement on critiques, as nobody on either of my trips had to pay their fare onboard. Flyers also have dedicated ramps onto U.S. 36’s express lanes, and can travel along the highway’s shoulder to bypass slower moving traffic. Along Route 36 are six stops set back from the highway, each with shelters, ticket machines, and bike-trail access. Additionally, while Flyer buses arrive every 10 minutes during rush hour, off-peak frequencies are on 30-minute cycles, which can be a turn-off.

When I rode north during rush hour, the bus had to wait an extra light cycle leaving one stop, but otherwise cruised past the thickening traffic in the other, non-express lanes. From Denver to Boulder, the ride was only five minutes longer than it would be in a car without traffic (40 minutes by bus, about 35 minutes by car). Considering it was rush hour, we moved faster than those driving cars outside the express lanes.

The Flyer certainly functions as an express commuter service, even if it’s not a true BRT. It was also significantly more comfortable than similar long-distance routes, like the Intercity in Reno or Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s 5A to Dulles International Airport, which use traditional city buses. while the Flatiron Flyer is a higher capacity coach bus with reclining seats, WiFi and power outlets.

While East Coast intercity travelers may be more familiar with Greyhound or Megabus charter buses, the Flatiron Flyer is an integrated part of RTD’s network. I was able to travel between Englewood, a suburb south of Denver, and Boulder for $9 round trip, utilizing the light rail and local bus systems in coordination with the Flyer on a single day pass. The Flyers also have the capacity to carry up to eight bicycles, and the stops along Route 36 provide access to the U.S. 36 Bikeway, encouraging active transportation to fulfill the first- and last- miles of some trips.

What also strikes me about the Flatiron Flyer network is that it exhibits a certain level of adaptability in a space that typically lacks flexibility. For a traveling newcomer, it’s a strong service, and shows that even stopgap measures can be fairly comprehensive. The buses are comfortable and the routes are fast, working toward providing a similar experience to commuter rail.

Intercity services like this are important for growing regions lacking the necessary rail connections that exist in denser metropolitan regions. Flatiron Flyer shows how an express bus system can fill a gap where trains are not available or feasible, still providing a key transportation option.

Photo: Travelers board a Flatiron Flyer bus in a promotional image (36 Commuting Solutions, Twitter).

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Mobility Lab Express #90 – Base TDM http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/15/mobility-lab-express-90-base-tdm/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/15/mobility-lab-express-90-base-tdm/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 19:53:25 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18640 Cities and transit agencies can often learn a lot from their competitors when it comes to communicating non-driving modes. In last week’s episode of the transportation and urbanism podcast Talking Headways, Mobility Lab’s Paul Mackie spoke with host Jeff Wood about better ways to reach out to people about switching modes. Also, we would be... Read more »

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Cities and transit agencies can often learn a lot from their competitors when it comes to communicating non-driving modes. In last week’s episode of the transportation and urbanism podcast Talking Headways, Mobility Lab’s Paul Mackie spoke with host Jeff Wood about better ways to reach out to people about switching modes.

Also, we would be remiss to not mention Pokemon Go, and its jump-starting of a national conversation on walking and walkable communities. While the game can often create a distraction, its insistence on taking the experience outside is notable, as are the revelations about how different it is to play it in cities as opposed to car-dominated suburbs.

Also covered in this week’s Express: surveying travel habits at an Arlington military base, REI sponsors Capital Bikeshare in DC, and more.

Mobility Lab Express #90

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REI knows that free Capital Bikeshare rides is sound business strategy http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/14/rei-knows-free-capital-bikeshare-rides-sound-business-strategy/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/14/rei-knows-free-capital-bikeshare-rides-sound-business-strategy/#respond Thu, 14 Jul 2016 15:46:31 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18627 For business owners, embracing bicycle and pedestrian traffic – not to mention transit access – should be a better business strategy than getting car traffic to their locations. Realty companies understand this, and they should know better than most. But REI, the outdoor-adventure store, is taking this fact to the highest level: it is offering... Read more »

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For business owners, embracing bicycle and pedestrian traffic – not to mention transit access – should be a better business strategy than getting car traffic to their locations.

Realty companies understand this, and they should know better than most. But REI, the outdoor-adventure store, is taking this fact to the highest level: it is offering free rides – no strings attached – this weekend on Capital Bikeshare throughout the Washington, D.C., region.

The promotion is part of REI’s 100 days of events planned leading up to the October 21 opening of its new store in NoMa’s Uline Arena (the famed site of the Beatles’ first U.S. concert). Other events will include things like free entry to parks and free paddleboard and kayak rentals on the Potomac River.

For Capital Bikeshare, anyone can go to this site, type in their name and email, and receive a promotion code that allows for a free 24-hour pass on the system this weekend.

So, why in the world would a company like REI spend thousands of dollars to purchase a sponsorship from a regional transportation system? And what could possibly be the return-on-investment?

“We know that cycling is incredibly important to REI members,” said Matt Liddle, REI’s outdoor programs and outreach, Mid-Atlantic manager . “In anticipation of our new store, which will be accessible from the Metropolitan Branch Trail, we invited 150 members to a listening session and the single loudest thing we took away was ‘bikes bikes bikes.’ We can’t have enough bike parking, it’s great we’ll have access to the trail, … will people be able to wheel their bikes in?”

Liddle added that making money isn’t what drove the company’s decision to sponsor the bikes or any of the other parts of the 100-day United Outside D.C. campaign. He said an “amazing outcome” would simply be if Capital Bikeshare set a daily or weekend record for number of non-member bike rides, which would essentially show that REI did its part in getting more people to try bikeshare, and discover parts of a healthier, outdoor-adventure lifestyle.

While the REI bikeshare promotion is novel, it’s not unprecedented.

  • Nestle’s San Pellegrino partnered with bikeshare operator Motivate last month to sponsor free rides for Citi Bike in New York City, Divvy in Chicago, and Bay Area Bike Share in San Francisco. The promotion was part of a launch of the brand’s new app Delightways, which encourages people to pass significant landmarks rather than always taking the fastest route.
  • Volkswagen has sponsored free bikeshare rides on the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System for a day each year when the USA Cycling Professional Road Race National Championship comes to town.
  • MasterCard sponsored free rides in New York City this past Earth Day as a way to show its support of environmental protection, leading to the day with the most trips that month.

The new REI location does not open for three more months, but the Capital Bikeshare promotion is setting the stage for the company’s further support of active transportation options.

Photo: Capital Bikeshare riders cross U Street NW (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr).

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Analysis of military base travel choices leads to improved pedestrian connections, more transportation options http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/13/analysis-military-transportation-improved-pedestrian-connections/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/13/analysis-military-transportation-improved-pedestrian-connections/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 20:31:29 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18619 Arlington’s work to improve military base transportation options gets top marks Look at a map of Arlington County, Virginia, and it’s easy to see just how much of it is covered by Arlington National Cemetery and the crescent moon-shaped Fort Myer-Henderson Hall military base on its western border. But, considering Arlington’s wide array of public... Read more »

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Arlington’s work to improve military base transportation options gets top marks

Look at a map of Arlington County, Virginia, and it’s easy to see just how much of it is covered by Arlington National Cemetery and the crescent moon-shaped Fort Myer-Henderson Hall military base on its western border.

But, considering Arlington’s wide array of public transportation options, it’s eye-opening that the people living and working on the base cannot access many of the options available throughout other parts of the county.

That should change on August 1, when Fort Myer-Henderson Hall’s Henry Gate – completely closed to pedestrians and drivers since September 11, 2001, for security concerns – becomes accessible for military pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Right outside the Henry Gate along Arlington Boulevard, there is Capital Bikeshare, bus stops, a bike trail, and Zipcars,” said Brendan Casey of Arlington Transportation Partners, which worked with base officials, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, and Ashley Robbins of Mobility Lab to explore ways to reduce the vast ratio of people driving to get in and around the area.

Robbins added, “The barracks are in close proximity to the Henry Gate, but the enlisted officers and their families who live on base currently have no easy access to the facilities just outside of that gate. In order to get to a bus stop or even bikeshare, they have to leave from a gate much further away and walk nearly half way around the base.”

Over about eight months, ATP and Mobility Lab met with base officials, culminating in a survey garnering 467 responses across both military and civilian populations.

The survey found that 88 percent of the commuting population drives alone. Some recommendations to lower this include:

  • Most military personnel commuting to the base report at the same time, so drive-alone rates could be reduced by forming carpools or vanpools. Currently, there are very few due to lack of awareness of local ride-matching and incentive programs like Vanpool Connect and Commuter Connections.
  • The underutilized current government-vehicle fleet could be downsized and in some cases replaced by more cost-effective private carsharing companies like car2go and Zipcar. This would ultimately reduce the need for long-term parking on base, which will become even more necessary as the cemetery expands onto the base’s land.
  • Re-opening the Henry Gate to pedestrians, which received overwhelming support among all surveyed, including those who live off of the base.

Along with other key findings in the survey, some of the most interesting information came from comments written into the survey by respondents, including:

  • “While I lived on post a few months back, I would request an Uber or taxi. One of two things would happen. One being the Uber directions took them through Henry Gate which I could not reach. Two, taxis have to wait 20 mins for background checks and searches in which case they hate to leave their vehicle so they would just refuse to come. Henry Gate being opened for pedestrians would be overall beneficial to these young soldiers to leave and enter post. Using Uber, Lyft, taxi, bus routes, and bicycles all around in any fashion would help these soldiers.”
  • “Considering the difficulties that taxis, Uber, and Lyft have getting on post, all of which are perfectly understandable for security, it has become increasingly difficult to access public and really ANY form of transportation. Opening Henry Gate will open up a whole new world to the soldiers, civilians, and families who live and work here. Metrobus is right outside the gate, taxi’s and other forms of car rides could pickup and dropoff at Pershing Shoppes. Metrobus will give much better access to Metrorail, Capital Bikeshare will allow everyone more access to extracurricular activity and exercise, AND it will boost the local economy. More importantly, it will encourage our soldiers to get out of the barracks and boost morale. I cannot stress how many times when we’ve gone out, including with our neighbors, to Clarendon and discussed how much better it would be if the Henry Gate were open so we could just walk to our destination! PLEASE OPEN THAT GATE!”

Casey of ATP confirmed that lots of rides booked on the base through Uber and Lyft are indeed cancelled. Part of the plan once the Henry Gate opens is to create a “geofence” – a set pickup location across the street from the gate – where Ubers and Lyfts can retrieve passengers.

Fort Myer-Hendeson Hall location

The location of the Henry Gate, with Fort Myer-Henderson Hall to the east.

In a letter to ATP and Mobility Lab, Todd Bowers, director of UberMILITARY, applauded the analysis that informed the move. “The research that you and your team provided was incredible and should be a national standard (in my humble opinion) for every military installation. Without understanding the problem in full, we will never solve the issues at hand.”

While opening the Henry Gate will vastly increase the ease of access to transportation options around the base, base officials still needs to address the difficulties paratransit services have accessing the base in order to serve people with disabilities. The base would like to have a pre-screened list of paratransit drivers who have passed a background check so that they can efficiently get on base for pickups and drop offs. However, MetroAccess and STAR do not have cleared drivers on staff. Without a large pool of pre-screened drivers, this potential solution will be difficult to implement.

No doubt there are unique needs – such as security concerns – on military bases around the country. But there may often be too little coordination between transportation agencies and these bases. Drive-alone rates and accessibility to public transportation are two of the first baseline statistics to grasp. From there, it becomes easier to start measuring progress and, more importantly, positively blending our military population into communities in ways not previously considered.

Photo: The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance (black box in the center of the image) in 2012. Since then an improved portion of the Arlington Boulevard Trail has been added to the streetscape. (Image from Google Streetview)

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Communicating transportation options, on “Talking Headways” podcast http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/11/talking-headways-transportation-options/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/11/talking-headways-transportation-options/#respond Mon, 11 Jul 2016 20:24:42 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18588 How can cities and transit agencies better reach out to commuters and guide them towards modes that aren’t driving alone? How is the transportation landscape changing to include a greater breadth of transportation options? Mobility Lab’s communications director Paul Mackie recently discussed these questions and more with host Jeff Wood on the transportation and urbanism podcast Talking Headways. Referencing a communications... Read more »

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How can cities and transit agencies better reach out to commuters and guide them towards modes that aren’t driving alone? How is the transportation landscape changing to include a greater breadth of transportation options?
TalkingHeadways

Mobility Lab’s communications director Paul Mackie recently discussed these questions and more with host Jeff Wood on the transportation and urbanism podcast Talking Headways. Referencing a communications struggle raised by previous guest Peter Norton, in which automakers dominate the culture of transportation by making cars the default “cool” mode, Mackie said the transit and active transportation industry has its communications battle cut out for itself:

“Maybe public transportation can’t afford to have 20 Super Bowls [like the car companies], but it feels like we’re so defensive. [The industry] reinforces the idea that biking, walking, and taking transit are unsafe activities, maybe even unfriendly activities. Why don’t we tell more positive stories about public transportation?”

Catch this discussion on the below episode of Talking Headways:

Photo by Sam Kittner, for Mobility Lab (www.kittner.com).

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Better data collection and accessibility would help advocates get kids walking and biking to school again http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/08/better-data-advocates-safe-routes-school/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/08/better-data-advocates-safe-routes-school/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2016 15:25:17 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18579 How do we get back to a simpler time, when kids physically exerted themselves on the way to school by bicycling or walking, and in the process made themselves healthier, more attentive in class, and happier? Believe it or not, one answer may be with technology. Through accessible and usable data, advocates can use fact-based priorities... Read more »

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How do we get back to a simpler time, when kids physically exerted themselves on the way to school by bicycling or walking, and in the process made themselves healthier, more attentive in class, and happier?

Believe it or not, one answer may be with technology. Through accessible and usable data, advocates can use fact-based priorities to shape walking and bicycling infrastructure – not to mention educational efforts – around schools. A report, “By the Numbers: Using Data to Foster Walking and Biking to School” (PDF), from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, makes the case for holistic data collection, access, and usage in local Safe Routes to School programs.

“But for data to be useful for planning, funding proposals, and implementation 
of Safe Routes to School initiatives, the data needs to be comprehensible,” note lead authors Michelle Lieberman, Marisa Jones, and Sara Zimmerman in their report, which was released this week.

That’s easier said than done. There can be all kinds of barriers to understandable data: a lack of economic resources and internet access, missing technological knowledge, and language barriers, not to mention a shortage of people willing to take on the data-to-storytelling effort at the local level.

“Accessible data means [community members have] the ability to directly institute better programs and initiatives on the ground,” the authors write, adding that it helps equip the community to play an active role in the decision-making process.

SRTS data sources

Useful data to for advocates to collect, as shown the report. Click to enlarge.

This data, however, cover a vast array of issue areas: there is a multitude of information that must be gathered in order to increase active transportation to school (see above graphic). Such data gathering is already being presented in a number of creative ways, as “By the Numbers” documents:

  • The Safe Routes to School program in Solano County, Calif., is using Google Maps to show parents and students the best routes to take to school. Route results also allow parents to mark suggestions and concerns on the map.
  • The City of Los Angeles has a multi-agency initiative called People Street that displays data in user-friendly ways, identifying low-cost, high-impact mobility projects, such as parklets, plazas, and bike corrals.
  • In Arlington County, Va., advocates have used bike-counter data to convince the county to plow the bike trails after they discovered that it wasn’t the winter weather that kept people from riding, but rather the unusable trails.
  • The Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, which coordinates a regional Safe Routes to School program, recently launched a New Jersey Walking School Bus App that connects families to groups that walk together.
  • Community Commons is an online mapping tool that enables anyone to play with data in order to tell stories and create maps of specific geographic regions containing thousands of data indicators.

These are too often the exceptions, as the need for greater data accessibility comes from the current state of local Safe Routes to School programs, which are left to collect data only on a case-by-case basis. And since the data comes from individual volunteers with clipboards, the authors note that they are typically “stuck” with that area, inaccessible to other advocates in the absence of a centralized site.

The report recommends cities continue to be proactive and transparent with their data and work to create communities of advocates. Several Capital Bikeshare projects from Mobility Lab and Transportation Techies, for example, appear in the report as benefits of sharing and hosting open data: the system’s jurisdictions receive the feedback for free and thereby establish a closer relationship with the bicycling community. Meanwhile, sites such as Open Data Philly can fulfill an essential role as one-stop resources for detailed map analyses.

As generations younger and older alike begin to understand the possibilities by having the facts in hand and the tools to make them comprehensible and actionable, better decisions will begin to happen in many communities. Schools won’t be built at the end of highways, strong infrastructure like protected bike lanes will connect communities to their schools, and parents will understand that driving their kids to school every day isn’t necessarily the best decision.

Open, accessible data, and the communication tools and wide-ranging partnerships they will help create, will ultimately all make students’ routes to school more safe – and even fun.

Photo: Students walk and bike to school in Arlington County, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com)

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Crowd control: Simulating congestion in the D.C. Metro http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/05/crowd-control-simulating-congestion-d-c-metro/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/07/05/crowd-control-simulating-congestion-d-c-metro/#respond Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:06:51 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18563 The D.C. Metro system and its hundreds of thousands of daily riders are routinely tested with singletracking, delays, and train breakdowns. In its fifth Metro Hack Night last week, members of the Transportation Techies Meetup group presented a number of ways to track and communicate these disruptions, from fires to inaccurate arrival predictions. Congestion modeling,... Read more »

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The D.C. Metro system and its hundreds of thousands of daily riders are routinely tested with singletracking, delays, and train breakdowns.

In its fifth Metro Hack Night last week, members of the Transportation Techies Meetup group presented a number of ways to track and communicate these disruptions, from fires to inaccurate arrival predictions. Congestion modeling, in particular, offered new insights on how riders navigate the system and where crowding could be alleviated.

Exactly how crowded is that station platform?

At the previous Metro Hack Night at the WMATA headquarters, speakers from WMATA said they were interested in congestion modeling for the Metro system. Presenter Dan Larsen did just that, focusing on morning congestion on the red, blue and silver lines. Why these lines? Largely, to test some Metro conventional wisdom that the Red and Blue lines are notoriously crowded and that the Silver line runs more trains than necessary.

Using publicly available data from PlanItMetro, Larsen created a simulation that measured when a train was completely full during 12 to 15 minute increments – the maximum level of specificity given current data sets. In order to estimate the number of people on each train, he combined the data for number of people swiping into a station with the train schedules.

Larsen - red westbound

Orange and red indicate train cars at their highest capacity.

For westbound Red line trains at 9:12 am, trains were at capacity from Silver Spring all the way to Metro Center. Capacity typically means 720 passengers for six-car trains and 960 passengers for eight-car trains. Gallery Place, the most popular station for onloading, boarded 211 passengers in the 7:45 am time slot. For offloads, the highest number was 252 at Metro Center at 8:45 am.

Larsen - blue line congesiton

Moving to the Blue line, eastbound congestion was consistently high between 7:12 am and 9:24 am, with fully-loaded trains stretching from Pentagon City to Foggy Bottom. Pentagon station was by far the busiest with 1,340 passengers offloading between 9:30 am and 10:00 am. Larsen also looked at “balks” at the Pentagon station, the number of people who were waiting for a train but couldn’t find space. He found that from 9:00 am to 9:12 am, 1,286 passengers were unable to board at Pentagon, showing the crushing demand on just one Blue line stop.

The problem of congestion is so serious – especially with lower train frequencies during SafeTrack – that WMATA’s planning team developed a Metrorail Capacity Analysis. Justin Antos, a member of that team, said that prior to this analysis, Metro employees were placed at the most congested stations and asked to manually count the number of people on each car. Each person had approximately 40 seconds to count up to 120 people per car – and WMATA had no way to verify the accuracy. Now, using a modeling method similar to Larsen’s, WMATA is counting passengers digitally but with a much more specific data set.

How MCAT works

How WMATA’s modeling tool estimates individual routes and train crowding.

WMATA can combine exact data from each SmarTrip card with train arrivals to assign each rider to a specific train. Obviously, transferring riders do have some route choices between their starting and ending point, so WMATA looked at “bursts” of rider exits at certain stations to determine the lines that riders took.

Justin Antos of WMATA

Justin Antos of WMATA

In testing the tool, the simulated passenger counts have been very similar to the manual counts. Overall, the model shows that Orange line trains are more crowded than Silver line trains by the time they arrive in Rosslyn, due to a demand mismatch after the last combined stop of East Falls Church.

So far, congestion data is only available after trips are completed, but the desire for real-time congestion data is there. One major issue uncovered by the model so far: the clocks at the Rhode Island Metro faregates are consistently wrong, causing issues with the accuracy of the data from the station. Antos noted that this and other potential roadblocks are being smoothed out so that the analysis tool can be employed on a more reliable basis in the near future.

How long is 10 minutes in WMATA time?

Joseph Haaga, a freelance software developer, presented his attempt at a command line utility to track train arrivals. While his utility was ultimately inconclusive due to an inability to reliably run every 10 minutes, it did document an additional timing issue for Metro: in at least one instance, a train was slated to arrive at Brookland station in 18 minutes. But 10 minutes later, it was recorded as being 10 minutes away. A new arc in the space-time continuum, perhaps? This all-too-common issue opens another avenue for future projects.

James Pizzurro and Jennifer Hill, creators of the MetroHero train-tracking app, showed off some new features, including a mapped visualization of all trains currently running on the system. They’ve also started compiling tweets of Metro problems that MetroHero can then funnel into an alert system for app users.

Pizzurro also noted that, despite forthcoming real-time train positions from WMATA, they still see a demand for their own, proprietary API on train arrivals. The WMATA data will provide the base, but MetroHero then will add in its own predictions based on delays reported via Twitter and other sources.

There’s also the tongue-in-cheek ismetroonfire.com, created by Nick Stocchero, which scrapes Twitter for data on whether or not Metro is “on fire.” Though he notes it started as a joke, yes, Stocchero found there is demand for that information. Unfortunately, the keywords system used for scraping data and then spitting out a tweet isn’t always accurate. Take, for example, one recent day in which the @ismetroonfire Twitter account reported that all lines were on fire after a tweet mentioned the range of stations affected by singletracking.

While not entirely successful at being a reliable news source, Stocchero said it opened up additional possibilities for tracking where smoke is seen on the Metro and other details from Twitter.

Although MetroHero does have an information page regarding SafeTrack, it was striking that none of the presenters mentioned the program’s ongoing impacts to Metro’s well-documented congestion and timing issues.

For more on past and future events from Transportation Techies, sponsored by Mobility Lab, visit the group’s Meetup page.

Photos, from top: A crowd waits for an Orange Line train in Ballston (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Justin Antos presents at WeWork Crystal City (M.V. Jantzen, Flickr).

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