Monday, April 26, 2010

CNM and ABQ Ride: Working Together?

For everyone reading this post not from Albuquerque, CNM is the local community college in the Albuquerque metro area. ABQ Ride is the local transportation agency in the city of Albuquerque.

CNM and ABQ Ride do not have best relationship.

Sure, there are a few ABQ Ride routes that access the CNM campuses. Sure, ABQ Ride acknowledges the existence of CNM. However, compared to the amount of support received from ABQ Ride by UNM, almost no attention is payed to CNM. After all, the 3 Rapid Ride routes all pass by UNM.

How many CNM campuses are served by even one Rapid Ride route?


A closer partnership between CNM and ABQ Ride should be a no-brainer:
1. CNM is the largest secondary education institution in the state
2. CNM students, just like UNM students, have free access to transit. One reason the Rapid Ride has been so successful has been the fact that it serves UNM, a huge bank of citizens with free transit passes.
3. Community college attendees generally have average lower income than UNM attendees, making them perfect candidates for improved transit access.

The reasons behind the lack of a partnership between CNM and UNM are understandable. First, UNM has one major campus; CNM has many campuses scattered across the city.

Here is a map of the CNM campuses:

As you can see, there are many campuses with many locations. This is significant because many students take classes at multiple CNM locations. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the three largest CNM campuses: Main, Montoya and Westside.

Connecting Montoya and Main: The Montoya campus is currently poorly served by bus service. Main is also lacking significant connections.

The current bus situation for Montoya: Two routes nearby (the #1 and the #5), but none that are even close to the front door of the campus.

The current bus situation for Main: Two bus routes-the 96 Zuni (which only runs on weekdays, stopping at a frequency of once per hour) and the 16/18 BUG (which has an extremely inefficient convoluted route). Solutions to improve the 16/18 are discussed here as well.

My solution: 1 new bus route and 1 enhanced bus route.

The enhanced bus route would follow the current route of the 96 Zuni route, but it would be enhanced by having a significant amount of distance added to it. The majority of this added distance would be the continuation of this route along Morris until it reaches the CNM Montoya Campus.

The route would look like this:

View 88 Morris/Zuni in a larger map

The two place marks on here are the two existing CNM campuses that this route would serve.

The benefits of this alignment are discussed in further detail in this previous post.

The other route I propose is a Rapid Ride route along Montgomery and University Blvd. The southern terminus would be the airport and the eastern terminus would alternate between CNM and the Montgomery/Tramway Park and Ride (on weekends, all the Rapid Ride trips would end at Montgomery/Tramway and on weekdays, the terminus would alternate between trips).

The route would look something like this:

View 725 Montgomery/University Rapid Ride in a larger map

Once again, the place marks designate CNM locations. This route also serves UNM and the UNM Hospital, which is growing very rapidly. This route would complement the current #5 route along Montgomery. This is similar to a route I proposed on this Duke City Fix post, which was then later discussed on this post.

Connecting the Westside campus to the ABQ Ride System
: Currently, the Westside campus is served by zero bus routes. This is understandable, considering the sprawling nature of its location. However, it is relatively close to the Northwest Transit Center, making it a good candidate for the terminus of a regular weekday route with half hour frequency.

The route would follow this alignment:

View 101 McMahon/Ellison in a larger map

The marker on the left is the Westside CNM Campus, and the marker on the right is the Northwest Transit Center. This route would be guaranteed success, based on the theory of anchoring transit lines discussed in paragraph five of this post:
So transit planners are always looking to anchor their lines. Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line. A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.

Let's review:

Currently, all CNM students, and all UNM students, have free ABQ Ride bus passes.

CNM needs to have a closer relationship with ABQ Ride.

Three (3) new bus transit lines would vastly improve this connectivity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cyclivia in Tucson: The Posibilities for the Future

This past weekend, Tucson had its first cyclovia event.

On Sunday, from 10 AM until 2 PM, four sections of different streets were closed off to automobile traffic, freeing the streets for non-motorized activities for miles. This page has more information, and this blog has a good write up of the event.

The purpose of a cyclovia is to allow all uses other than automobiles on the streets. The problem with doing this in Tucson is the quality of the pavement. Most sections of the route were not smooth enough to allow for skateboarding, long-boarding, roller blading and other activities that require smooth pavement. This is unfortunate because some members of the community really enjoy these activities and would love to have an entire street to participate.

Overall though, it is hard for me to be pessimistic about this event. There were a lot of people out participating and interacting with the built environment in a more sustainable way. When people move more slowly through a place, they can interact with it better. They can see how bad of condition the streets are in and contact the city, demanding improvement. They can find neat restaurants and cafes they never previously noticed.

The best thing about cyclovia is taking street space away from cars. Though it was only for 4 hours on one day of the year, it represented an opportunity to take back the streets. For too many years, American transportation policy has dictated that cars are the only way to get around efficiently.

This is simply not true. Plenty of places in America are easily accessible by foot, bike or transit.

For the places that are not yet accessible,efficient land use policy can help to change this unfortunate reality.

It is also telling that much of this cyclovia route will soon be home to the route of Tucson's first modern streetcar. Construction will begin this fall (Oct./Nov. 2010), and according to project managers, the project will be complete in about 15 months. This means that next year on April 18th, the cyclovia route will look very different.

In five years, the route will probably be very different as well. Construction on the streetcar will have been completed for a long time. Development will probably be occurring along the route, and the recession will hopefully be far over.

However, the real question should be what will the first Tucson cyclovia route look like in ten years? Only time, and progressive planning policy, will tell.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Urban Solution vs. the Rural Solution: The Internal Conflict Within the Green Movement

When environmentalists talk about the sustainability/green movement, many times you hear two different solutions:

Solution #1
One side discusses the benefits of urban density. Everyone must live in dense walkable areas that stimulate community connectivity. We need to reduce automobile dependence by living close to most of our daily services and ideally, close to our jobs as well. This is the best and most logical solution to our current problem.

Solution #2
The other side uses terms such as "locavore" and "permaculture". This side discusses the benefits of everyone producing their own food. Everyone should have a beehive, three chicken and a vegetable patch in their backyard. Everything you eat, or possibly even use, should be produced within ten miles of your home. Native plants and animals can and should be utilized for food, instead of exotic and foreign plants and animals. Off-grid solar panels, rainwater harvesting and natural design should be top priorities.

This weekend, I spent a large amount of time on one of these backyard production sites. It was fascinating and amazing. I learned about all the valuable flora and fauna that exists in the deserts around the city of Tucson. I drank delicious prickly pear lemonade. I was one with the Earth.

My average day takes place in a more urban setting. I bike to school and spend the day walking around the University of Arizona, one of the densest sections of Tucson. I survive pretty well without a car and get to have interesting unique human interaction all day, every day.

Here is the question: which method or technique is better? Which one is better for me? The environment? The community? Humanity in general?

These are important questions that are partially covered in the book Green Metropolis by David Owen. This book discusses the many benefits that result from living in a urban setting. In fact, Owen goes as far as saying that the green ideal of "living in the country" has resulted in suburbia itself. It makes sense: everyone wanted to live out side of "the city", so they created a place that is not quite urban, but not quite rural: suburbia.

This argument would suggest that the people who support Solution #2 are actually stimulating the growth of suburban sprawl. This may be true, but this issue is not just black and white.

Most modern suburban dwellers have very little connection to the natural world, the origin of their food, the benefits of sustainability and the concept of "walkability" in general. Then again, many urban dwellers are in the same boat. In general, few people understand the interconnected systems and supply lines that keep us alive and wealthy.

Though I agree with many tenants of this book, the key to finding great solutions to our long term problems are education.

There are no high school classes called "urban planning", "sustainability", "the modern economic systems", "the future of urban form", etc. Many of these classes do not exist in college as well.

Maybe if people understood the connection between sprawl, the natural world and the innate desire for nature among humans through education, there would be more momentum for creating an urban system that benefits everyone instead of just car owners.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Methods Can We Use to Prevent People from Buying a Car in the First Place? 1. Carsharing

I would like to start this post with a disclaimer: I am not an anti-car person, and I never will be.

Motor vehicles are amazing inventions. They increase mobility for the users and allow owners of cars to go wherever they want whenever they want.

However, there are a few drawbacks to a car oriented society: not everyone can afford one because they are expensive to maintain. Also, since our entire build world has become so motor vehicle centric, not owning a car has become a major disadvantage. Our roads are overcrowded, so how can we prevent people from needing to buy a car?

I say "need" because many times, cars are not bought on a "want" basis. Though many times they are, plenty of people buy cars based on "need".

People buy cars if their transportation needs are not adequately met by transit, walking, biking or car sharing. Most of America fits into this category, so it makes sense that most Americans own cars.

Why do I want people not to buy cars?

Well, this is how it usually goes: once someone buys a car, all they use is a car. They no longer consider using buses, bikes or walking because a car is such a large investment. It doesn't make sense for someone to make a large investment for something they will use occasionally. Also, our modern build world reinforces high intensity vehicle usage. When someone buys a car, they reinforce this entire cyclical system.

Though the solution to this problem is multifaceted, I see car sharing as the most important solution to this problem.

I would like to use my own personal life as an example.

I do not own a car. Though I had one when I attended high school in Albuquerque, my brother now uses that car so I have no car out here in Tucson. I have no problem with not owning a car. I enjoy biking to school most days because it stimulates my mind and gives me exercise. On the days when I do not feel like biking (sick, raining, windy, lazy, etc) a bus route passes very close to my house and takes me directly to campus. This bus route is pretty good, as it comes every half hour on weekdays from 5 AM to 10 PM. Since most of my time is either spent on campus or at home, the bus and bike connections work very well for my commute.

But what about everything outside of my daily commute?

Most American driving miles are no longer the simple commute to and from work or school. People need to get to baseball practice, the mall, Baskin Robbins, the movie theater, concert and a billion other locations and events. In most cities, since everything is so spread, you sometimes truly do NEED a car to get to many of these locations.

For example, I need to buy groceries once a week. I prefer going to Trader Joes, which is too far to bike to and inaccessible by bus. Luckily, I have some awesome roommates who let me borrow their car once a week for this journey.

Alas, most people do not have my awesome roommate situation. It is at this point when most people decide that they must own a car. It is these kind of journeys that need to be tackled in order to reduce car purchases. Car sharing is the answer.

How does car sharing work? The most popular car sharing program in the nation, ZipCar, works like this: cars are distributed in a given area. People in this given area sign up for a membership. When members want to use a car, they get on the Internet (or iPhone), find the closest one, scan the car with key less entry, and go for as long as they want. The longer they go, the most they have to pay so there are incentives for people to bring the cars back ASAP.

Now, if there was a bank of these cars in my neighborhood, I would totally sign up. I would not be the only one, as my neighborhood is filled with lower income car free dwellers. The problem is, Zipcar is still a for-profit company. They will only expand into areas where profit margins are high and risk is low. Central Tucson is probably not high on their expansion list.

This is why Ray LaHood and livability proponents need to start doing more work to get local car sharing programs jump started. I am so happy to see the federal DOT give so much more credit to bikes, pedestrians and transit, but these solutions will only go so far. Car sharing should also be a big part of their push for livability.

Though car sharing still involves cars (which I am not a huge fan of) they are an essential part of any solution in society that has only been building car based for at least 70 years. Honestly, they are the most realistic solution to getting cars off the road. Just look at this infographic, and this article (both from FastCompany), for proof.

Let's stop the cycle of people needing to buy cars; add car sharing to a growing list of great solutions.