Transit – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:55:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 See how space for cars, trains, and bikes stacks up in New York City https://mobilitylab.org/2017/06/23/space-cars-trains-bikes-nyc-moovel/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/06/23/space-cars-trains-bikes-nyc-moovel/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 17:10:02 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=22827 How much space cities provide to different transportation options is an easily-visualized hint into how they prioritize different ways of getting around, a relationship made even more evident through the basic geometric inefficiencies of driving. As an exercise to investigate just how unfair this allotment of space can be, Moovel Lab, the creative side project of... Read more »

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How much space cities provide to different transportation options is an easily-visualized hint into how they prioritize different ways of getting around, a relationship made even more evident through the basic geometric inefficiencies of driving.

As an exercise to investigate just how unfair this allotment of space can be, Moovel Lab, the creative side project of app company Moovel, released a project that categorizes and directly compares all of the car, train, and bike space in New York City.

“What the Street!?” identifies and measures parking, rail, and street space from OpenStreetMap across New York City. Users are asked to input their guesses as to the percentage of public space given to each mode (hint: it’s stark) and can see the shape of each parking lot and street stacked in a graphical comparison.

Click on the individual bike lane, train right-of-way, or street, and OpenStreetMap opens to show you where it is. Scrolling through the 107 million square meters of New York “car space” makes quite an impression when compared to the small stacks of “bike space.”

Source: Moovel Lab.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the above triangle chart, which compares how much space is provided per mode against how people in that city actually get around. For New York, for example, the majority of residents get around by subway, hence the long differential down the rail side of the triangle. When you move people more efficiently through transit and bike infrastructure, the saved space becomes available for uses open to more people than just drivers. And on the flip side, Moovel Lab notes that the existing highways and parking lots are a strong incentive for many to choose driving over transit or biking.

Moovel Lab acknowledges that the project is limited by a number of factors and is not meant to be a scientific analysis of infrastructure. For one, the identification of different types of space depends on the accuracy of contributions from OpenStreetMap volunteers. Nevertheless, the project is a fun look into recognizing a relationship that’s often taken for granted.

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GMU “blueprint” study suggests avenues for expanding reach of Arlington’s transportation options https://mobilitylab.org/2017/06/08/gmu-blueprint-study-suggests-avenues-expanding-reach-arlingtons-transportation-options/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/06/08/gmu-blueprint-study-suggests-avenues-expanding-reach-arlingtons-transportation-options/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 13:45:06 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=22563 This is part one of a two-part series on a report by George Mason University graduate students. Students were tasked by Mobility Lab with creating a new transportation blueprint for Arlington, Va., geared toward connecting more people to its transportation network. This part focuses on passenger transportation – part two will examine freight and deliveries.... Read more »

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This is part one of a two-part series on a report by George Mason University graduate students. Students were tasked by Mobility Lab with creating a new transportation blueprint for Arlington, Va., geared toward connecting more people to its transportation network. This part focuses on passenger transportation – part two will examine freight and deliveries.

Arlington County, Va., has one of the nation’s most connected transportation networks, with nearly every resident living within a half mile of a transit option.

Even still, graduate students of Professor Jonathan Gifford’s transportation policy class at the George Mason University Schar School of Government and Policy have compiled recommendations – based on field observations and interviews – to make it easier for residents to forego a personal vehicle for other transportation options.

The recommendations generally fell into three areas: improving bus service, improving Metrorail connections, and improving transit information through technology.

Making ART bus service better

The report, entitled “Connected City: A Blueprint for Arlington County,” notes that Arlington Transit experiences problems familiar with many fixed-route bus systems: “ART faces service gaps in areas of Arlington County that are the least densely populated. For areas that have a higher population, buses often experience overcrowding.”

The students found that the ART 41, which runs from Columbia Pike to Courthouse, is the busiest route, with 34 percent of all ART trips in the 2015 fiscal year occurring on that route.

On the other end of the spectrum:

ART routes 53, 62, 74 and 92 fail to meet the productivity and cost-efficiency standards [identified in Arlington County’s latest transit development plan]. In 2015, these four routes combined had an operating budget of $1,264,897 (13 percent of the overall operating budget) and 131,397 riders (only 4.7 percent of total ridership). They recovered $116,245 (4 percent) of the $1,264,897 operating costs from riders’ fares in 2015.

So with some ART routes regularly experiencing overcrowding, some routes struggling to maintain ridership, and some areas where service is not convenient, the students recommend that county officials explore ways for on-demand taxi services to complement ART bus service.

Policy should require these partnerships replace underutilized bus routes with private ridesharing companies. It should also restrict service between origin, public-transit access points, and destination. Similar to other cities, cost savings as a result of bus replacement could be used to subsidize travel of passengers, or to low-income households.

More cities are considering similar kinds of public-private partnerships, but actual results have been difficult to come by so far. The report details one example worth following:

Direct Connect in Pinellas County, Fla., allows commuters to take Uber, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport to key bus stops and hop on a bus to their final destination. The county pays half of a commuter’s Uber fare (up to $3 per ride) if trips begin and end at designated stops, remain in a designated zone, and occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The subsidy is applied by entering a promo code in the Uber app. United Taxi is used by those who do not have access to the smartphone apps needed for Uber rides. Its website shows that Lyft will be an option soon. Direct Connect replaces an under-performing route with an average weekday ridership of 26. While it costs  $160,000 to operate the connector, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority forecasts costs for Direct Connect to be around $80,000.

Improving accessibility to Metrorail stations

A highlight of Arlington’s “first/last mile” options is the continued enhancement of bike- and carsharing throughout Arlington. But the students see room for improvement by way of Uber and Lyft: for people who can’t incorporate Metro conveniently as part of their trips.

Although some partnerships like this have struggled to succeed – take Bridj’s recent Kansas City program, for example – the students note that partnerships with Uber, Lyft, or other potential providers are still worth exploring and “would not only improve transit service in Arlington County, but could potentially reduce the cost of their public-transit programs.” The report cites examples from several cities to show how this could work:

  • Uber became the official ride-hailing partner of Chicago-area commuter rail agency Metra, with agreements to encourage rides to transit and an Uber payment of $900,000 for ads in Metra stations.
  • Ford’s Chariot vans service fixed routes to transit. It operates in San Francisco, Austin, and Lake Tahoe, with expansion to more cities planned this year.
  • Scoop offers ridesharing for co-workers, and it has a cost structure in place that could be attractive for companies to offer their employees.

Make transit technologies easier for Arlington residents

With technological applications in transportation moving rapidly, the students concluded that access to information is lagging when it comes to learning about and using Arlington’s transportation options.

Mobile networks play a vital role in day-to-day life and real-time tracking of services has become a necessity for busy commuters. Current smartphone applications are constrained by variations in technology platforms and do not allow real-time tracking for all of Arlington County’s transit services. [Uber and Lyft] are also not integrated with these platforms. Mobility Lab’s web-based service, CarFreeAtoZ, has worked toward integration by providing travelers with a comprehensive multimodal trip planning tool. Developing this tool as a mobile application would create greater convenience for commuters.

Whether or not the county should get involved in building an app may be up for debate, but the students explained during their presentation that this could be another area ripe for public-private partnering. Several noted that the Transit app is regarded as a leading real-time information app, and that Boston’s MBTA, for one, has an agreement to promote using it to navigate the city’s system, clearing up the problem of having to choose from many competing apps. The endorsement also allows Transit to work closely with the transit authority on piloting new features.

In a related vein, while Arlington performs TDM outreach through programs that educate residents, businesses, and property managers about existing options, the students recommended that the county could “develop strategies to facilitate two-way dialogue that encourages more public feedback on future transportation decisions.”

The My Arlington app could be more user-friendly in facilitating user feedback (much like how the ArlingtonVA Service Request app allows for the reporting of non-emergency issues) and could incorporate more engaging real-time transit information. However, the students said these apps alone are not sufficient to generate meaningful community engagement. They also noted that more intercept surveys of people at or near transit stations could provide additional input on how to improve Arlington’s options.

Taken together, the recommendations suggest improving access for Arlington residents to transportation options through a combination of better information and service.

Next, look for our summary of the group’s findings on how freight movement impacts congestion in the county.

Photo: People getting on and off an ART bus in Arlington County, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab; www.kittner.com)

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Low-stress streets mean more biking, greater transit access https://mobilitylab.org/2017/05/17/low-stress-streets-biking-transit-access/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/05/17/low-stress-streets-biking-transit-access/#comments Wed, 17 May 2017 15:46:22 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=22384 New study examines how bus and bicycling travel times interact in stressful street networks As cities move forward with ambitious plans to revamp bus services and add dedicated bike infrastructure, which in turn will help draw riders and bicyclists, the level of comfort in nearby streets still play a large role. Streets free of the... Read more »

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New study examines how bus and bicycling travel times interact in stressful street networks

As cities move forward with ambitious plans to revamp bus services and add dedicated bike infrastructure, which in turn will help draw riders and bicyclists, the level of comfort in nearby streets still play a large role. Streets free of the stress from dangerous, fast-moving traffic can not only support bicycling, but also expand the accessibility of nearby transit stops.

For planners, the solution is to create a network of roads with moderate traffic, fast enough for buses but comfortable enough to encourage bikes and pedestrians. So concludes a new report, “Improving Livability Using Green and Active Modes,” from the Mineta Transportation Institute. “Our study looks at a classic trade-off between livability and mobility as it relates to green and active modes, specifically between bicycling and transit service,” explains Dr. Bruce Appleyard of the San Diego State University School of Public Affairs, one of the report’s authors.

The research relied on detailed information about specific cities, neighborhoods, and streets, including their “transit travel times, frequency of service, and access networks.” The authors used a 2012 model, “Low Stress Bicycle Network Modeling,” also developed by the Mineta Institute, to compute the study areas’ Level of Traffic Stress, or LTS.

The scale of levels begins with LTS 1, which is generally too slow for bus and other traffic, and goes as high as 4, with crowded, speeding traffic in multiple lanes, which only a few fanatical bicyclists will brave. LTS 2 proves ideal for modes that mix biking or walking with buses, as well as for entirely non-motorized trips. The main conclusion is that a street network should maintain a LTS 2 to encourage bicycling and walking in a mixed-mode environment.

Levels of stressful streets mapped in Denver, Colo. Source: MTI.

Levels of street stress mapped in Denver, Colo., show low-stress neighborhoods separated by thoroughfares. Source: MTI.

Importantly, the report shows how high-stress streets make it hard to access transit, while low-stress streets create larger catchment areas for pedestrians and bicyclists. In other words, networks of LTS 2 or LTS 1 streets support higher bus ridership, because they allow people to bike or walk to stops. Of course, LTS 1 is too slow for most bus service, making LTS 2 ideal for all modes.

While less appropriate for children on bikes, LTS 2 appeals to the majority of bicyclists and potential bicyclists while creating a safe, pleasant walking environment. An LTS 2 road is one where “cyclists are either physically separated from traffic or are in an exclusive bicycling zone next to a well-confined traffic stream … or are on a shared road where they interact with only occasional motor vehicles with a low-speed differential.” Turn lanes are configured to give bicycles priority, and safe street crossing are available for pedestrians. Depending on conditions, car speeds should top out at around 30 mph – which, in practice, means a posted speed of 20 or 25 mph – and street width should be limited to two or three lanes.

Along with achieving LTS 2, the report suggests other enhancements to encourage walking and biking, including connectivity, effective transit, and accessible stations. Specifically, the report recommends “transit-only lanes, transit priority lanes at the intersections, transit-stop bulb-outs, and integrated networks of pedestrian and bicycle routes.”

The idea is to create a network that will appeal to “interested but concerned” bicyclists, that large group who would bike to work if only it weren’t so difficult and dangerous. As the report puts it, “The single most important factor for bicycle travel is safety.” Creating a safe and comfortable biking environment would draw out more women riders, as well as younger and older people, conditions that currently exist in Denmark and the Netherlands. In the United States, by contrast, the much smaller number of bicyclists consists largely of young men.

Separated bike lanes are an additional improvement, one strongly encouraged by bicycle advocacy groups, that can help create safe, bikeable networks. Explains Appleyard, “Creating separated bike paths that would increase comfort for cyclists through greater separation from traffic, would be an effective solution for improving Level of Traffic Stress.”

The caveat to such improvements is that making a street network safe and inviting for bicycles means some ridership competition with buses, as it will often be as fast simply to bike. Since buses and bikes both maintain a speed of around 12 mph, she who begins a trip on a bike might choose to stay on a bike, if conditions permit.

As Appleyard puts it, “lower levels of traffic stress (LTS 1 or 2) make the choice between a bicycling/bus transit and bicycle-only modes become equally attractive and substitutable.” He adds that, “There are health benefits to consider, as well as a bicyclist’s sense of independence.” (It is, however, important to maintain bus service as an alternative mode when bad weather makes bicycling difficult or impossible.)

LTS3 service denver

The street network along a bus route in Denver, if one considers all streets up to LTS 3. The report explains that differing colors near bus stops mean either the “stop may not be used because it is not connected at that level, or its travel time is more than another accessible stop at that access speed.” Source: MTI.

The report examines the cities of Denver, Colorado and Oakland, Calif., in detail. It finds a majority of streets to be LTS 1 or 2 in both cities, with Denver particularly navigable by bike, possessing a whopping 81 percent of LTS 1 roads. The problem comes with main thoroughfares at LTS 3 and 4, which block access to other streets, fragmenting networks.

While the report concentrates on buses as a public transit mode, higher speed transit is available, including rail and bus rapid transit. In such cases, people are willing to travel a greater distance to access transit, greatly increasing coverage area. Future research is needed for such situations, but this report lays the foundation.

As Appleyard puts it, “policymakers can make choices that work for all modes. It is important, however, that they consider the needs of these modes comprehensively.” “Improving Livability Using Green and Active Modes” offers an important lesson for decisionmakers wishing to design a pleasant, multimodal city in which low-stress streets support multiple non-driving options comfortably.

Photo, top: An ART bus and a bicyclist share the street in Arlington County, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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WMATA Metrobus data projects explore effects of fare payments, disruptions https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/18/wmata-bus-techies-data/#respond Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:23:23 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21941 Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is... Read more »

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Other presenters at Transportation Techies’ Bus Hack Night shared projects to help riders better understand their local bus routes

Though the D.C. region has one of the busiest bus systems in the country, with more than 120 million trips in 2016, it’s still part of the nationwide movement to stem recent bus ridership declines. As such, WMATA is looking to better understand how to provide reliable, efficient service that keeps daily riders and draws others back.

Catherine Vanderwaart of WMATA’s Office of Intermodal Planning is working on just that. Speaking at Tuesday’s Transportation Techies meetup, “Bus Hack Night,” she presented a wide range of findings pulled from multiple aspects of bus performance and rider behavior.

bus transaction time - wmata

Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA

Vanderwaart presented the time costs of fare payment and her findings that tapping a SmartTrip card averages two to four seconds per transaction. The time it takes passengers to pay by cash or reload their card varies widely, however, taking anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds per person, which can impact a bus’s dwell time at a stop, and therefore its overall performance. Because this dwell time accounts for 19 to 25 percent of a bus’s run-time, according to another WMATA staff member, speeding up the payment and boarding process could make a noticeable difference along some routes.

Given its unique service changes, WMATA’s ongoing SafeTrack campaign has provided abundant information on how riders react to disruptions. Vanderwaart’s office has collected data on the shuttle buses (called “bus bridges”) that connect closed stations to better understand how to deploy them. Since, prior to SafeTrack, self-reported data only existed on established routes, the agency at first faced delay issues with its shuttles, but eventually established methods to automatically track shuttle ridership. With more robust tracking during each surge, WMATA now has a better sense of how to space out the bus bridges and improve their service.

surge 4 shuttle times

A day of shuttles from Surge 4. Chart by Catherine Vanderwaart, WMATA.

Vanderwaart also presented lessons from last year’s system-wide rail safety shutdown, which provided a unique chance to examine reactions on bus ridership. Using anonymous SmartTrip data from the previous 30 days as a baseline for typical ridership, Vanderwaart compared it with those riders’ behaviors during the shutdown to determine how people shifted their commutes. Those who typically combine bus and rail dropped out of the system that day – avoiding transit or working remotely – but a large number of new or infrequent users tried the bus. Overall, Metrobus saw 20,000 more riders, a 5 percent increase, than on a typical day.

Turning around bus performance

JD Godchaux, of civic tech group NiJeL, worked with TransitCenter to convert New York MTA buses on-time performance into an advocacy tool for better bus policy. Bus Turnaround NYC collects historical data on every bus route in New York and provides a performance report card. These categorize the problems facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system and help explain why it is losing ridership despite a growing population. Now, Bus Turnaround is developing report cards for the buses of every elected official’s district in the region, to draw attention to the need for a better bus network and the ways to fix it.

Back in D.C., the District Department of Transportation’s District Mobility project has helped to visualize the broad concepts of congestion and reliability and their effects on accessibility. The site’s tools show the most crowded roads, bus routes, and even individual stops, as well as on-time performance in an effort to define and measure the idea of urban mobility.

What’s in a wait?

On the ground, there are a number of tools in development to help passengers understand the services available to them and how long one can expect to wait for a bus.

  • Michael Eichler of WMATA shared Metrobus Explorer, which maps the Metrobus system and shows users how they can navigate it from any point. By selecting an individual stop, or drawing a box around a group of them, users can identify routes and the frequency of buses at each location and get a sense for how the tangle of lines translate into bus lines.
  • Mobility Lab’s Michael Schade built a similar tool that maps all of the region’s transportation operators. Users can select agencies to see their service area, and select individual routes to highlight and to pick out their stops in order to see how they fit into the region’s larger transportation network. Schade built this using MapZen’s Transitland project, a “community-edited data service” that aggregates the feeds of transportation services around the world, which MapZen’s Dave Nesbitt briefly demoed.
  • MetroHero, Max Grossman, and Daniel Turse are all building tools to estimate bus wait times and when to expect them. Turse’s wait-time tool uses PlanItMetro’s historical data, which includes bus positions but also time between stops, dwell time, and what every bus did at every stop, such as skipping one. With that, the tool helps users determine how wait times vary for any route across the region and by time of day.
  • Grossman’s DC Latebus uses WMATA’s live bus position information to visualize bus lateness along every segment of a route. By comparing arrival times at each stop to the published schedule, the tool measures median deviation to show which parts of every route are most likely to bog down your bus. Grossman and Turse’s projects launched a discussion of how to measure bus delay, especially taking into account how riders might ignore schedules and focus more on frequency.
  • MetroHero‘s bus-tracking tool, a beta webpage in the same fashion of their original Metrorail app, shows current bus positions along their routes, and allows users to click on each one for performance information. Users can also click on specific stops to see estimated arrival times, and how many stops separate them from each predicted bus.
  • Ranjani Prabhakar of Fehr & Peers dove into the gritty details of traffic planning by explaining the Poisson Distribution that planners can use to predict the probability of events over time, such as if cars traveling behind a bus might be backed up into the “upstream” intersection. By understanding the flow of traffic on any stretch of road, and how buses travel along them, planners can work out the likelihood that a bus stop’s location will cause nearby vehicles to actually increase congestion.

Photo: A Metrobus picks up passengers in Rosslyn, Arlington, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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Disparity across D.C. region’s commute times a “serious equity problem” https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/17/disparity-across-d-c-regions-commute-times-serious-equity-problem/#respond Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:33:58 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21900 An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.... Read more »

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An analysis from the Washington Post, with transit-mapping software provider Mapzen, highlights several severe disparities in the availability of reliable, frequent transit options for parts of the D.C. region. The animated map lays out shifting isochrones, or areas reachable within similar time frames, that reflect projected transit travel times during a given period of the day.

Washington Post reporter Faiz Siddiqui notes that the map shows serious revelations regarding commuters’ proximity to the District and their ability to reach frequent transit:

… [D]ata shows that wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs have an easier time tapping into it, while residents of poor and lower-income neighborhoods on the eastern side of the District and, farther east, across the border in Maryland face longer and often more-complex commutes.

… Most striking, commuters in some areas in Southwest and Southeast Washington and close-in Prince George’s have longer trips to get downtown than more transit-connected locations dozens of miles away from the White House.

Speaking to the Post, Mobility Lab’s managing director Howard Jennings expressed concerns that the disparities in transit access will only worsen with the coming cutbacks to Metrorail’s operating hours, set to come into effect in June. “People who are used to being rail riders, who are not bus riders, you’re going to have a real shift there in awareness of options. The onus is really going to be on providers of information.”

mapzen faiz - mvj

Faiz Siddiqui, John Muyskens, Howard Jennings, and J.D. Godchaux look over the Mapzen visualizations at Bus Hack Night. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

Using Mapzen’s Mobility Explorer and Transitland interfaces (both featured at last week’s Bus Hack Night at WMATA headquarters), The Washington Post also constructed an in-depth display of who exactly “gets left behind” by these changes. District residents in Wards 7 and 8 east of the river, for example, comprise the most concentrated areas of low-income households who are also regular transit riders.

Using the isochrone mapping technique, the Post analysis shows just how these neighborhoods would be cut off from late-night transit access under Metrorail’s new late-night schedule. Clicking from “PM rush” to “Late, no Metro” shows many areas east of the Anacostia requiring 45 to 60 minutes of travel to reach downtown.

See the full set of visualizations here, which include current peak-hour commute times and projected travel times under the new late-night schedule.

Ed. note: Contrary to the quote from Howard Jennings in the Washington Post article, WMATA is the fifth-largest transit system in the United States, not the second, based on average daily trips.

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A visualized day of New York’s transit options, working together https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/11/nyc-visualization-transit-options/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/11/nyc-visualization-transit-options/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 19:54:48 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21882 New York City is blessed with a lot of ways to get around town. From MTA buses to regional Metro-North rail lines to the omnipresent subway, the overall transportation system moves millions of people every day. A new visualization puts 24 hours of them together, showing how each works together in the broader context over... Read more »

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New York City is blessed with a lot of ways to get around town. From MTA buses to regional Metro-North rail lines to the omnipresent subway, the overall transportation system moves millions of people every day.

A new visualization puts 24 hours of them together, showing how each works together in the broader context over the course of a day.

Multimodal Symphony from Will Geary on Vimeo.

Will Geary, a graduate student at Columbia University, recently constructed the video by incorporating transit data from a number of sources. Speaking with John Metcalfe of CityLab, he explained how, depending on the option and the availability of the transit data, some of the sets were taken from schedules, while others were real trips.

“Data on taxi and Citi Bike trips are drawn from a single day in 2015, and most of the rest he obtained via schedules downloaded from various transit agencies. ‘So this is static data according to the timetables, not real-time data that would reflect delays or deviations from the schedule,’ he says. ‘It is also worth noting that information is only available on the pickup and drop-off locations for each taxi and Citi Bike trip—not the actual route taken—so the visualization simply draws a straight line from point A to point B.'”

In the transportation demand management industry, programs emphasize “transportation options” in spreading out the demand for streets across many different modes, from transit to vanpools to bikes.

What Geary’s visualization captures is not only the origins and destinations of that demand (typically from the entire region into Manhattan, and also a steady stream to and from the three airports) but also how the different modes complement each other. Northeast Regional Amtrak trains bring commuters into midtown from New Jersey and Connecticut, while buses fill in gaps in the outer boroughs. Other options, like the barely-visible navy bikeshare dots, provide options for unique shorter trips where a bus may not make sense.

While few other cities have the spread of transit options New York does, it’s enlightening, and even fun, to see the system working in a broader sense.

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Atlanta’s I-85 disruption shows importance of transit, flexibility of demand https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/05/atlantas-85-disruption-transit-flexibility-demand/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/05/atlantas-85-disruption-transit-flexibility-demand/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 14:17:28 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21803 Current estimates of Atlanta’s I-85 collapse give the freeway at least several months before it is repaired and re-opens. When the fire collapsed a section of the highway last Friday, a major route became closed for commuters. Like similar emergency disruptions in other major metropolitan areas, the situation is a clear glimpse into how people... Read more »

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Current estimates of Atlanta’s I-85 collapse give the freeway at least several months before it is repaired and re-opens. When the fire collapsed a section of the highway last Friday, a major route became closed for commuters.

Like similar emergency disruptions in other major metropolitan areas, the situation is a clear glimpse into how people shift their traditional commuting habits, and the significance of transit in providing alternative options.

On Monday morning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported MARTA stations flooded with new commuters looking for a non-driving way into downtown Atlanta. Fare sales provided an early look into how many new riders were trying out rail this week.

Sales of Breeze cards were up 100 percent in some stations. Or more: Sales were up 111 percent Monday morning at North Springs and a whopping 172 percent at Sandy Springs.

“What we’re also finding is that people weren’t buying just one (trip) on a Breeze card,” Taylor said. “They were buying 10 trips or monthly cards, because they know this is going to be a long haul.”

And as Joe Cortwright notes at City Observatory, the predicted “Carmageddon” – similar to other daunting shutdown situations in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. – never quite appeared on Monday morning.

The fact that Carmageddon almost never comes is powerful evidence of induced demand: people travel on roadways because the capacity is available for their trips. When the capacity goes away, so does much of the trip making.

Transit options like MARTA rail play a key role here. When disruption occurs, commuters, fearing clogged highways, have the option to shift their trips off of the road. These emergencies create an environment in which people who would not typically try rail or bus take it for the first time, potentially changing their habits. Together with other flexible options, such as telecommuting, the potential for congestion on alternate highway routes is reduced.

But telework may not necessarily be a sustainable long-term option for many Atlanta commuters as they wait for the I-85 to be repaired. Georgia politicians are already citing the I-85 collapse as a key reason to fund expanded MARTA transit service and capacity.

Photo: A man waits for a MARTA train (Druh Scoff, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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How do we encourage more transit-accessible sports stadiums? https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/04/encourage-transit-accessible-stadiums/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/04/04/encourage-transit-accessible-stadiums/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 20:33:11 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21797 As baseball season begins this week, the Atlanta Braves officially relocate from Turner Field – much closer to Atlanta’s downtown – to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County. The move raises interesting questions about the transit accessibility of new stadiums. Part of the Braves’ stated reason for their relocation was that Turner Field was not easily... Read more »

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As baseball season begins this week, the Atlanta Braves officially relocate from Turner Field – much closer to Atlanta’s downtown – to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County. The move raises interesting questions about the transit accessibility of new stadiums.

Part of the Braves’ stated reason for their relocation was that Turner Field was not easily accessible to transit. Even though the field was close to downtown, the closest Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) station was a mile away, requiring bus shuttles on game days.

But now SunTrust Park will likely have even greater challenges bringing people to games via transit. For one, the new stadium has no MARTA rail access. And the incentive to drive may be too great, since the park is nestled right at an interchange of two of Atlanta’s busiest highways (I-75 and I-285).

That said, the Braves plan to have a shuttle service connecting major points of interest in metro Atlanta to SunTrust Park. MARTA suggests taking a MARTA bus as close to the stadium as possible, then taking on-demand services or a Cobb County bus. There is also CobbLinc, a bus service connecting Cobb County to Downtown and Midtown Atlanta.

SunTrust Park currently has no rail access, but the region envisions an extension of rail lines into Cobb County. This would be roughly on par with Turner Field’s rail access, with a rail line connected to the field via shuttle.

The bike amenities look to be improved, though now in an area less conducive to biking. Turner Field’s closest bike racks were a mile away, and SunTrust Park is planning a bike valet. In addition, SunTrust Park will soon have a long pedestrian bridge across the freeway.

suntrust park sept 2016

SunTrust Park under construction in September 2016 (Google Street View).

Yet, most of the emphasis is placed predictably on personal vehicles. Turner Field had up to 12 parking lots on high-demand days, with some accommodations for handicap parking and drop-off. SunTrust Park will have an app with real-time traffic updates about the games, the connection to the nearby Galleria’s parking, and the surrounding interstates. There will actually be 30 percent less parking at SunTrust than at Turner Field.

By comparison, FedEx Field, where the Washington Redskins football team plays, out in the Washington D.C. suburb of Landover, Md., was ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL stadiums in 2012 for accessibility.

Sure, at the Landover location there are acres of parking, luxury vehicles for rent, and bars that provide free bus trips to the games. But the closest Metro is about a mile away, there’s no Capital Bikeshare in Prince George’s County, and little evidence of bike racks, not to mention a bike valet like the one at Nationals Park. The congested Beltway is by no means inviting for non-driving fans, either.

While FedEx Field is miles from central D.C., there are stadiums in city limits, so aren’t those more accessible? After all, cities tend to have better transit than the suburbs.

Nationals Park, within Washington, D.C., has two Metro stops within three blocks of the stadium, though it also has eight parking garages within 10 blocks. The DC Circulator stops half a block away from the stadium and there are eight options for Metrobus within blocks. There’s even bikeshare: three stations within three blocks, corral service for some games, and a free bike valet.

And the fact that Nationals Park works closely with the D.C. Department of Transportation and its transportation demand initiative goDCgo to publicize the many transportation options is important as well. From initial research into the matter, there appears to be little TDM being practiced at FedEx Field or SunTrust Park.

For one example, goDCgo’s Nationals-centered Bus to the Ballpark campaign raises awareness of the Navy-Yard – Union Station Circulator. This connection is especially important because Union Station connects to the broader region through Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, and other services.

It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds in Atlanta at the Braves’ home opener on April 14 – how will people get to SunTrust Park? How will drivers in the area react and how will traffic be affected? Perhaps there’s just not enough incentive for sports franchises to want their products to be more accessible to more fans in more ways. And that’s a shame.

Photo: Nats fans at the Navy Yard Metro station (bootbearwdc, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Breaking the mold in the quest for the ultimate connected city https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/breaking-mold-connected-city/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/breaking-mold-connected-city/#respond Thu, 09 Mar 2017 22:17:17 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21529 This is part 2 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities. Part 1 examined public agencies reshaping their transportation priorities. Pinellas County, Fla., just west of Tampa Bay, is one of several local governments in the nation to essentially embed Uber and Lyft into the local transit system. Transit riders can... Read more »

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This is part 2 of a two-part series on how advocates can create connected cities. Part 1 examined public agencies reshaping their transportation priorities.

Pinellas County, Fla., just west of Tampa Bay, is one of several local governments in the nation to essentially embed Uber and Lyft into the local transit system. Transit riders can get $5 back if they use those ride-hailing companies to connect to a bus stop.

Such a program from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority encourages a healthy public-private relationship and, more importantly, should make it easier for more people to not rely on private car ownership or be left in isolation because of their distance from transit.

Transportation should be viewed like a smartphone. It should allow everyone to be connected to opportunities throughout the rest of society, at reasonable and low cost. And this ride-hailing partnership with transit is a crucial example of how local governments can catch up and be responsive in a fast-moving world of technology-driven transportation options.

No longer should agencies partition buses and rail from all the newer private solutions. Simply put, shared services can be complements to transit. But this is just one way that cities can look beyond traditional thinking in their mission to better connect their transportation systems.

Public agencies must engage with private service providers

Like the auto companies that have begun aggressively investing in ride-hailing efforts, many transit agencies are ramping up efforts to form partnerships with providers like Uber and Lyft. Paratransit is one area ripe for cost savings and real-time service (rather than having to book rides days in advance) through transit agency use of private services like Lyft.

The major caveat here to work out is whether ride-hailing vehicles – with drivers who can spend lots of time driving in between fares – are actually making traffic in cities worse. The only place this has been measured, New York City – which has a unique, data-sharing contract with providers – shows that Uber and Lyft are worsening congestion. The research from the American Public Transportation Association, the University of California-Berkeley, and others have said the jury may still be out on the traffic impacts, but this is an area for local governments to concern themselves. Uber at least has taken steps to help the greater cause, having entered an agreement with Washington, D.C., and several other cities to share data with transportation planners in an effort to better manage traffic flows.

Once ride-hailing arrangements are smoothed out, the next great frontier is autonomous vehicles. In 2016, the U.S. government announced a $4 billion program for self-driving cars, and Pittsburgh took steps so Uber could use the city as an AV testing ground. How can other local governments feel comfortable and confident when considering to do what Pittsburgh has done? Or what Local Motors with its mini-bus Olli – formerly operating outside Washington, D.C. – is doing? For starters, cities need to map out all the pluses and minuses (especially financially) that AVs will bring. From there, they can implement regulations, policies, and plans to safely integrate in this mode of the future.

Don’t forget about transit

“The first thing we need to do is talk with our public institutions to try and make more partnerships, more connectivity, between the different modes, new and old,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, at a panel I moderated at this year’s TransportationCamp DC. “It’s not an easy task. Transit is one of the biggest areas we can do this.”

Indeed, the cities that create connections best will do so basing it off the existing core infrastructure of roads and mass transit. But we also can’t forget that to truly make this ultimate city work, people need to buy in to the concept of multimodalism. To help get there, companies like Ford  are leading the way toward one interactive pass or app that allows people to book, pay, and communicate with all travel options from anywhere. This seamlessness is key for the commute of the future.

Broadening the possibilities of the transit ride is also key. Where partnerships for transit might make the most sense is to have private companies “get people to transit from in-demand areas during off-peak hours,” according to Mobility Lab Director Howard Jennings, quoted in APTA’s Passenger Transport. This can reduce costs to transit agencies for pricey, low-ridership routes and bring in a wider customer base – a prospect that should be a more aggressive part of the mission for transit agencies. So-called “first-mile, last-mile” options are an area ripe for transit agencies to get involved, and some places are even going so far as to subsidize rides to and from transit. Orlando suburb Altamonte Springs, Fla., became the first city, about a year ago, to subsidize Uber rides to transit.

Another APTA report finds convincing evidence that on-demand modes, in many cases, complement – not replace – public transit. Transit consultant Jarrett Walker notes, “Many people who work inside of big companies [like Uber and Lyft] understand perfectly well how the profit motive conflicts with what you’d do if you were just trying to foster a better city, and many welcome regulation precisely to plug that gap.” As evidence appears that Uber may not be the answer to traffic dilemmas, the necessity for companies like it to work within a congestion-reducing framework grows even stronger.

And pricing itself will need to be worked out between all travel modes, which means car travel and parking prices need to reflect their true costs. When it’s cheaper to drive and park downtown than it is to take the bus or train or Uber, the multimodal, connected city goal will remain a fantasy. But there are signs of creativity to balance incentives: some European cities are paying residents to bike to work rather than drive.

Ideas for breaking molds

There are many directions cities could go to become “connected.” And while it could take larger cities with more staffing power to be able to do everything well, smaller cities could at least focus on a handful of these ideas, and do them well.

And as ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft get even more attractive as alternatives to transit, with dynamic in-ride app entertainment and cheaper casual-carpooling options, more and more transit agencies are examining how to use software like TransLoc that can make it easier to take services like Uber and Lyft to and from transit stations. Journalist Esther Dyson, who also spoke on my recent TransportationCamp panel, thinks this general idea can succeed far beyond city centers. “[Uber and Lyft] would have a real opportunity in small, less dense communities where there are people without jobs but with cars. They can dynamically schedule themselves,” she said, adding that hubs like hospitals and campuses could be ride-hailing hubs.

Parking is a ripe place for innovation, as it is generally overbuilt and underpriced. Santander, Spain, has become “the most connected city in Europe” because it’s focused on installing “smart” infrastructure such as sensors that monitor parking spaces. Sensor infrastructure can improve information about parking, and help people choose whether to drive or take other options.

Autonomous vehicles seem to be the elephant in the room. Cities want to prepare for them, but they don’t know how. Federal regulations and standards would certainly be a help in order to even the playing field, but there will likely be large shifts – more people might drive, parking and signage will need major reconfigurations, housing patterns will need to change – involved for the least-prepared places. A draft manifesto from several Cal Poly professors examines how AVs interact with pedestrians and people on bikes, but what about how AVs work with and complement mass transit? I’ve asked before: When cars can be summoned with a button and don’t require attention from humans, will it become even more difficult for transit to compete with the experience of autonomous vehicles? Grush Niles Associates have noted that planners should start mapping out various scenarios in which AVs could be linked into the existing transit foundations, including loops, small areas, large areas, cities, megaregions and routes where buses negate the need for AVs.

Biking, bikeshare (which increasingly see slight increases in travel share thanks to better bike parking and street infrastructure) and walking may soon have some company from electric additions: battery-powered people movers. Electric skateboards and hoverboards and electric bicycles could all soon close a lot of gaps in connecting people to transit options. It helps that 67 percent of those surveyed say they need a shower after a conventional bike trip, while 74 percent say they don’t after an e-bike trip, according to Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Center.

And last but far from least, transportation demand management – which includes clear information about options – presents an inexpensive, effective path for forging and solidifying those connections. Arlington Transportation Partners in Virginia works with 221 local organizations in its Champions program to make sure residents and employees know about the many transportation options throughout the county. Places are also learning that their front-line transit information – maps – simply need to be clearer, because most of us don’t understand them. And, finally, to catch up with the allure of the personal car, TDM and marketers can promote these options to connect in more exciting ways that portray transit as the norm.

Having the freedom to walk from home to take bikeshare to the subway to get to work, then maybe take a Zipcar on the way home, should present an exciting opportunity for cities. Racing towards the ultimate connected city could allow for places to provide innumerable benefits like improved traffic, health, safety, environmental conditions, and overall quality of life for many more people.

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

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Transit as a lifelong habit: Early transit use informs choices later on in life https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/09/transit-lifelong-habit-study/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 15:31:33 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21514 Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors... Read more »

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Travel choices are a habit, and not just one for a day-to-day consideration. A new study by Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein found that people who lived near reliable transit options early in their lives, such as in their 20s and 30s, were more likely to choose transit later on. Writing on Planetizen, the authors note this held true even when people later moved to areas where transit was less reliable. These people were also more likely to live “car-light” lifestyles, owning fewer cars than average.

The study, “Rembrance of Cars and Buses Past,” published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, used a survey of households maintained since 1968 in order to follow transportation choices over long periods of time.

According to Smart and Klein, the study has implications for how planners address ridership rates and regard investments in reliable transit, many of which also apply to potential transportation demand management programs.

“Planners should consider transit as a long-term investment in neighborhoods and the people who live there. By encouraging exposure to transit at an early age (for instance, through free or reduced transit passes for students, recent transplants, or new hires), transit agencies and advocates could “plant the seed” for future ridership. These long-term benefits may be difficult to quantify and incorporate in cost-benefit analyses, though our research suggests the payoffs may be substantial.”

While many campuses might offer some kind of discounted transit pass already as a way to manage near-term issues of parking crunches, these findings support a longer-term justification. In the D.C. region, the unlimited Metro passes offered at American University and Howard University may be influencing transit riders decades down the line, so WMATA might consider the program an investment in future ridership.

The authors also point out that the findings could have considerable implications for younger people currently moving into cities at higher rates. Even if they eventually move to less-dense areas as they have families, they may take transit at higher rates than others and will likely own fewer cars.

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

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