Saturday, April 30, 2011
Conversations about mass transit frequently dissolve into a debate about "bus vs. train." Jared Walker from Human Transit talks extensively about this problem here. He also talks about specific differences between bus and rail transit and provides easy to read charts here.
To give a very brief summary of his posts, the perception of rail is generally better only because most rail stops by our house more often (frequency), does not have to share space with cars (designated right of way) and does not stop too often, moving faster. The point he makes is that all of these elements can be a part of a bus network!
Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a new term for a new, but rapidly growing, type of transit system.
If you have never heard of bus rapid transit, or you are not sure how it works, you should watch the video below. It will change your whole perception of bus transportation:
This video demonstrates that rapid bus networks can work like modern subway train networks. For this reason, bus rapid transit is sometimes called a "surface subway".
It can be hard to envision a system like this working in places such as Tucson or Albuquerque. However, the use of this technology is growing rapidly. One of the primary reasons is lower cost.
Average cost per mile - Light Rail transit: $34.8 million
Average cost per mile - Bus Rapid transit: $13.5 million
(Source: US General Accounting Office, p. 4 - PDF)
A good example of a mid size American city with BRT is Eugene, OR. Learn more about their successful network here.
In an era with limited funds and growing transit needs, Bus Rapid Transit has much potential. Making our busy commercial car corridors into places where someone can walk will be difficult. Bus Rapid Transit can be a strong step in the right direction.
This post is Post #50 on this blog. I will try to continue posting frequently. I have recently learned that for a portion of this summer, I will be working for NM Senator Jeff Bingaman in Washington DC. I am excited to spend time exploring the new DC bike sharing network, as well as the wonderful mass transit system in the area. I have continued working with the Living Streets Alliance; it has been fun and rewarding. I look forward to the bright future.
Thanks for reading!
Monday, April 25, 2011
Bisbee, Arizona is a unique town. According to local lore, a century ago, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Built on mining, it was also very wealthy. It followed the same pattern as many American mining towns: the mine closed and the city began to dissolve. However, Bisbee was saved from extinction by artists who visited and fell in love. Many decided to move there and the town became a tourist destination. On the other hand, it still has problems. With a constantly declining population and an economy dependent on tourism, abandoned lots and buildings litter the local landscape. From a purely economic and demographic standpoint, Bisbee, AZ is a place long forgotten.
If you look a little closer, the town is filled with life. This lush oasis in the Sonoran Desert, just ten miles from the Mexican border, offers neat and unique shops, colorful houses with lush gardens and a very walkable environment. In fact, I would say that this is the most pedestrian friendly place I have ever visited in Arizona. Narrow winding streets and pathways connected buildings and neighborhoods. Bisbee is an explorers paradise. It reminded me of small towns I have visited in Europe.
View Larger Map
Look at the series of pictures below. I have included pictures of Bisbee and pictures of Spanish and Italian towns.
They are different, but the parallels are noticeable. The reason?
All of these places were created before automobile dominance. When cities and town were built in the past, most places were accessed by foot. Therefore, places were connected by footpaths and narrow streets instead of multi lane roads. Local geography also played a role. Since the town is surrounded by huge hills, it made more sense to build up instead of out. Parts of Bisbee resemble older portions of San Francisco, California.
Americans spend large sums of money every year traveling to European hill towns that are similar to Bisbee. In Europe, many of those towns have failed from an economic standpoint; however, the governments understand the historic and intrinsic value of these places, spending large sums of money renovating these towns and attracting tourists.
Bisbee has potential. With a bit of a boost, I feel Bisbee could really become a thriving place. Right now, it is rocking between success and failure.
Bisbee is a good model for a place built for pedestrians. It is accessible by car, bike and transit as well. This is great. It means people living in Bisbee can truly choose how they want to move around. There is an important lesson here:it is easy to integrate cars into places built for people; it is hard to integrate people into places built for cars.
All places should be accessible by all modes: driving, walking, biking, and public transit. Then, people can truly have freedom of choice. Some people prefer to bike; others prefer to drive. We should build our cities, towns and suburbs to reflect these different preferences.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
On April 12, I attended a City Council meeting hearing where SunTran transit fare increases were being voted upon.
The reason for a fare increase in the first place was a decline in SunTran funding --> a result of City of Tucson cuts --> a result of the Great Recession. Basically, it came down to service cuts vs. fare increases. Most people, including me, agreed fare increases were a better compromise than service cuts.
The meeting was quite crowded. Many people spoke at the meeting, with the vast majority complaining about the increase of the low income fare from 40 cents to 60 cents. They argued that all the other fare increase were only by a margin of 25%, while the lower income fare increase was by a margin of 50%. The City Council, after some debate, agreed and decided to raise all fares across the board by 25%. However, this means that there is still a budget gap to be filled.
Two other important items arose:
1) Many city council member discussed the need for SunTran to do more advertising so they could gain more advertising revenue. The city councilors agreed that this was a good idea.
2) Councilor Romero recommended the development of a long term, 5 year plan for SunTran. This is a fantastic idea and it is hard to believe a long-term plan for SunTran does not currently exist. This is also a fantastic opportunity for the Living Streets Alliance to influence progressive long-term transit policy in Tucson.
Today I read about a new feature of Google Maps called Google MapMaker. I originally read about it here on the Transportation Nation website. This feature allows people to add aspects of their local area that are missing from the existing Google Map. According to the into video for this feature, you know your neighborhood better than anyone else. This is true. Google is using the power of crowdsourcing (crowd + outsourcing) to build and create a more effective product for everyone. They retain control because they will make the final approval on all the changes.
After looking at the Tucson portion, I intended to add portions of bike paths that my group and I had created for our UA Campus Bike Geovisualization. However, it appears as if other people have already added most of these routes! They are currently pending approval by the Google team.
I am thrilled to see Google moving into this new phase of openness on Google Maps. I can see these crowd sourced maps becoming very robust and filled with tons of useful localized information.
The future is truly here.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Every day, I continue to learn more about the world. While I could easily write for pages about the infinite universe we inhabit, I will stick to the topic of transit today.
A few weeks ago, the website Next American City wrote about a study documenting the effects of technology upon people who decided to give up their cars for a week to use transit instead.
This 3 part article series, titled "Tech for Transit" (link for Part 3 + links to Part 1 & Part 2) was filled with fascinating information, but one chart really stood out:
Click to enlarge graphic
It describes very well why people choose cars over transit and vice versa. Understanding this chart is crucial if we want to understand the direction to take regarding urban transit development in regards to modern technology.
Then, I saw this article on the main page of Streetsblog. It shows just how much ca$h money is involved in maintaining corporate car culture! In essence, entire business models are dependent upon car retailer advertising. And we wonder why opposition to transit expansion exists...
Finally, this video:
In essence, smart phones + QR codes + historical videos and pictures of Central Park NYC = a more robust, educational and interactive park experience.
How can we relate this all to making our transportation systems better and more useable?
In life, we are frequently motivated by rewards. For example, many hours working = more cash money. Turning transit into a rewarding experience is possible. As shown by the Next American City article series, technology is helping to make transit into a more desirable option for transportation. Realizing the amount of money used for the auto industry made me realize how important it is to work closely with the auto companies in order to accomplish long-term efficient urban transport goals.
Please post any thoughts or ideas about this post in the comments section.
Monday, April 18, 2011
It feels like 2008 all over again. Gas prices are on the rise and suddenly everyone is dusting off the bike or the fuel efficient four door. SUV's have gone back out of vogue and in some metro areas, transit use is on the rise. Of course, transit use has not risen nearly as dramatically as it did in 2008; this is a result of continuing high unemployment and massive service cuts as a result of the Great Recession.
I find it fascinating. Many are surprised over the increases in gas prices. This speaks volumes to the reactionary political policies in place regarding transportation, energy and the economy.
High gas prices are a great opportunity. They always stimulate great conversations about "sustainability" and creating a "post petroleum economy". Then, soon enough, prices decline again life returns to the car oriented status quo.
My hope is that this time, it will be different. Uncountable numbers of independent research groups and scientists have voiced concern over our oil addiction. Turmoil in the Middle East, as well as massive structural problems with our national economy, have only fanned the flames, feeding fear of failure. Without any political support for a gas tax increase, we may have major difficulties simply maintaining our existing infrastructure over the following decade, much less building new infrastructure. Just this week, all high speed rail funding for the next year was cut. I have a hard time understanding how long term infrastructure investments suddenly became partisan issues.
However, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic.
This week, thousands of students converged upon Washington, DC for the 2011 Power Shift Conference. This conference was put on by Energy Action Coalition. From the Power Shift website:
Energy Action Coalition is a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.
Working with hundreds of campus and youth groups, dozens of youth networks, and hundreds of thousands of young people, Energy Action Coalition and its partners have united a burgeoning movement behind winning local victories and coordinating on state, regional, and national levels in the United States and Canada.
This huge group of young people are spending the week training how to communicate with lobbyists, as well as constituents back home in their respective communities. Communication and education are two crucially important gaps that this conference is attempting to address.
Tucson is improving as well. Between Cyclovia, the Living Streets Alliance, Tucson Velo, the Tucson Modern Streetcar, and the University of Arizona, sustainable transportation and awareness is growing.
The pace is too slow. The issue is always funding. Our bike routes are terribly paved; road work money is always prioritized on high capacity automobile routes. I do not think that money for high capacity arterials is bad; far from it. I simply believe that the quality of our bike routes will only improve if there is a dedicated funding source (more on this issue here). Until then, biking as a form of transportation in Tucson, and elsewhere, will continue to be second tier.
Amsterdam has not always been the most bike friendly city in the world. In the 1950's, the streets were choked with automobile traffic so the city decided to pursue a policy of transit and bike oriented transportation policy. That's it. That's all they did. It took years and decades but it started with political action; it was not some random occurrence. The same goes for Portland, OR or Davis, CA. These cities decided that investments in alternative transportation were more beneficial than investments in car dominant infrastructure.
The American people have spoken: there is large demand for walkable urban development. How will the government and the private sector react to this news?
What do you think?
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I recently finished reading a great book titled "Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet" by Mia Birk.
Who is Mia Birk?
Mia Birk is the current CEO at Alta Planning + Design, a consulting company that works with various local governmental agencies across America to create safe streets for all users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians. Before she started this company,
Mia was the City of Portland Bicycle Program Manager from 1993-99, where she led a period of rapid growth of Portland's bikeway network.
This book is primarily about her painful struggles and inspiring successes during the process of transforming Portland, OR into the world class bicycle city it is known as today. Before reading this book, I naively assumed that Portland had been a bicycle friendly city for a long time. Therefore, this book was really eye opening. Mia provides a good framework and process for transforming the average American city into a city for people. Throughout the book, she provides footnotes with links to many useful websites and advocacy agencies, both within Portland and nationally. Reading about the very specific projects which were most difficult to implement, such as compromises with railroad companies on railroad right-of-ways, really taught me about the extreme complications involved with building a world class bike network.
Her motivation is inspiring to read about. It paints a realistic picture for me, a modern day livable community advocate.
Long story short: though much has been accomplished, there is still a very long way to go. This was a fact I was already aware of, of course, but now I know which aspects of the advocacy framework have been more developed and which have not. For example, she spoke frequently about editing the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
You may not have heard of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD or, simply, the Manual), but it is a major player in your daily life. The Manual dictates the signs, markings and signals that govern your travel behavior... It is referred to as the traffic engineer's bible. Unfortunately, very little bikeway design guidance is found in the Manual.Though this is still an obstacle to quality bikeway design, a lot of progress has been made on this front since the early 1990's. For more examples and great information about the whole process, read this book.
Conclusion: Overall, this book was wonderful. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is in need of any sort of motivation in their life, as well as people who are interested in the long process required to transform our current car-dependent cities into cities for people and bikes.
If you would like to know more about Mia and the work she does, here is a link to her great blog. Here is link to one of her posts where she discusses Tucson.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
When I am having conversations with people about "complete streets" or "road diets", I sometimes wish I had Streetfilms videos on me at all times.
Streetfilms is a part of the massive national alternative transportation blog network, Streetsblog. This giant blogging network had humble beginnings in New York City in 2006. It was created by Transportation Alternatives, a well known transportation advocacy group in NYC, along with a couple other groups. Since then, it has since become the predominant online presence within the livable streets community. The Streetsblog network includes hundreds of blogs and writers all over America. Currently, four metropolitan areas are covered by the blog itself: "NYC", "LA", "SF", and "Capitol Hill". There is also a section of the blog titled "Network", which covers stories from other areas.
Anyways, there is a section of the Streetsblog website featuring short videos about the livable streets movement: Streetfilms. These videos are professionally produced. They are short enough to be interesting and long enough to be educational. Recently, Streetfilms began a series of videos called "MBA: Moving Beyond the Automobile." They post a new video every Tuesday. Each short clip features information about Bus Rapid Transit, Car Sharing or some other aspect of alternative transportation.
Today they posted a great video about Road Diets:
Enjoy watching and check out the rest of the Streetfilms website for more of these great videos.
Friday, April 8, 2011
April 6: First Tucson Transit Task Force Meeting - I met with small group of people from the Living Streets Alliance and from other local groups to brainstorm a strategy for addressing issues of transit funding, expansion and awareness. I learned much about the history of transit in Tucson, from the relationships between the various governing agencies down to the relationships between bus drivers and riders.
The primary reason for our meeting was the discussion of proposed transit fare increases that will be enacted within the coming months. Basically, SunTran has two options: 1) increase fares or 2) cut routes. Increased fares seems like best option but this can sometimes lead to less people using the service, creating even less efficiency overall. However, the propposed fare increases are relatively small and they are probably a better alternative to cutting service.*
Another big discussion topic was the relationship between SunTran and the university. The proposed fare increases would have the most dramatic effect on the discounted annual U-Pass for University of Arizona students. After the meeting was over, it was clear that the future of quality transit in Tucson depended on a close relationship between the university and SunTran. I will continue to drive home this important point within this group.
Last year, I prepared a presentation/proposal for free transit in Tucson for university students. This is a common policy in college towns across the nation, including my home town of Albuquerque. I tried to push my message for a few months but it always fell onto deaf ears. Now, with this new task force, I have a better opportunity to create constructive dialogue with the university.
April 7: Imagine Greater Tucson; The Big Reveal - I attended the "Big Reveal" presented by Imagine Greater Tucson.
What is Imagine Greater Tucson? From the website:
Imagine Greater Tucson is a rapidly growing, community-based effort dedicated to protecting and enhancing our quality of life in the greater Tucson region. Our goal is involve the people of greater Tucson in creating a shared vision for our region’s future, and catalyze the development of strategies to realize this vision.
What does this mean? I had a hard time deciphering it. The event and presentation was interesting but not very groundbreaking. The concepts presented were commonly understood regional goals, such as job growth and quality education. All the attendees appeared to be passionate individuals with a lot of great ideas on how to improve the direction of growth in the Tucson/Pima County region. However, they presented no possible methods that could be used to accomplish the goals they presented. Apparently, these issues will be resolved in future community meetings. Only time will tell.
April 8: Featured on Tucson Velo - As previously discussed, the geovisualization created by my project group and I, "UA Campus Bicycle Geovisualization", appeared on local bike blog Tucson Velo. It was a well written post and I thank Mike for posting our unique Google mashup.
Thanks for reading and feel free to write comments. The more feedback I receive, the better.
*If you are personally interested in the bus fare increases, here is a list of the current fares and the proposed fares. The decision on these increases will be made at a City Council meeting next week. More information on this meeting can be found here.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
On the evening of April 5, I participated in the Tuesday Night Community Bike Ride for the first time.
This ride, in one form or another, has been occuring for years. In the past, it has appeared in the local news, receiving both positive and negative press.
I had known about the existence of it for awhile but I had never attended until this week.
First off, it was a blast! Riding in the street with so many riders (I would estimate about 150) was exhilarating. There was also the "saftey in numbers" factor, which made the ride even more enjoyable. I was surprised by the diversity of the group, both of people and bikes. There was a large crew of BMX bikers, a few fixie kids, a bunch of mountain bikes, some calm beach cruisers and plenty of other types. Spanish and English, old and young, loud and quiet all interspersed throughout the beautiful Tucson evening.
Though parts of the route were narrow considering our large numbers, the whole thing was scenic and enjoyable. I have mapped it out based on what I remember below:
View Tuesday Night Bike Ride, 4/5/11 in a larger map
This ride was a fun hybrid between a standard critical mass and an LSA style Family Fun Ride. The pace was mild but we definitely were not following all the traffic laws. We took up lanes, blocked traffic and the BMX riders were all over the place. However, all these aspects of the ride were really fun and interesting, making the ride exhilarating, exciting and fun.
I am glad I went and I am excited to attend another one soon.
American transportation, and especially "alternative" and "sustainable" transportation, is sometimes framed in a black and white, "car vs. everyone else" context. This type of framing is especially prevalent among certain portions of the population that only uses single occupancy vehicles to travel around. Since single occupancy vehicles use the majority of public road space, some (and let me emphasize the word "some") car users feel obligated to the road. As a result of this mindset, blowback can occur when space for cars disappears. This phenomenon has been most visible in recent weeks in the conflict over new bike infrastructure being constructed in New York City.
These arguments always confuse me. After all, more space dedicated to biking/walking/using transit usually leads to higher usage of these modes. Higher usage of these "alternative" modes leads to lower car traffic within the road network. This is a direct benefit for users of single occupancy automobiles.
A great way to reframe this argument could be through car sharing. Car sharing changes everything. "Car v. other" becomes "always using a car v. sometimes using a car."
Car sharing is not a new concept. It has been around for a long time in some regions, through it has experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Zipcar is the US leader in developing car sharing as a viable alternative for people who want to use a car occasionally.
However, car sharing is about to change and grow dramatically. This article, from the website TheCityFix, describes a new form of car sharing service appearing in Paris, France. The name of it is "Buzzcar" and it has potential to change the entire auto market. The reason for the appearance of this new type of car sharing are many, but technology and public policy both play large roles. This new type of car sharing is known as peer-to-peer or communal car sharing. It functions in the same way that peer-to-peer file downloading, or torrenting, functions. Basically, there is no central governing body; no one single entity controls the system. It is by the people and of the people. With communal car sharing, you control how much you want to charge for people to use the vehicle, how long they can use it, what condition it should be in, who the person is and much more. This has recently been facilitated through high ownership rates of smart phones and ubiquitous WiFi internet.
As of right now, communal car sharing is mostly restricted to small companies and areas where government regulations support the system. Auto insurance laws have historically restricted the growth of communal car sharing. Now, at least in Oregon and California, this is beginning to change. Since cars sit unused 95% of the time, this market has massive growth potential. Increased fuel prices will only feed this trend.
My recent endeavors
This evening, I attended my third Living Streets Alliance board meeting. We are finally making progress in creating a framework for this group. Trying to figure out how to best manage and divide the tasks we want accomplished will be difficult. Progress was made tonight with the creation of many task force groups, including a transit task force. I will be serving on the transit task force. I aim to address and research the proposed SunTran fare increases, as well as research the relationship between SunTran and the University of Arizona.
I am excited to begin formulating a tangible direction for the transit arm of the Living Streets Alliance. Now it's time for me to stop writing and begin researching.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Much has occurred in the past couple weeks since my previous post.
1. Cyclovia Tucson 2011. The event was amazing and everything operated very well. The estimated turn out was 10,000 people. I worked at an information booth on 4th Ave. and 30th St.
I do not frequently spend time in South Tucson so it was a great experience. I ate fresh tortillas, practiced speaking Spanish, listened to the blues band playing yards away from our booth and assisted people trying to navigate the 5 mile event route. Jorge, another bike ambassador, helped me staff the booth. We provided water, maps and advice to every spectrum of biker, older advanced riders to young enthusiastic beginners. I also rode the length of the route a couple of times.
I had a great time and I can not wait until the next one. For more Cyclovia Tucson 2011 coverage, visit Tucson Velo.
2. I have been working on another project for my GEOG416: Geovisualization class. For one of our assigned labs, my group and I decided we wanted to create a Google based geovisualization of various bike infrastructure within Tucson. Our focus was bike facilities in and around the University of Arizona. To collect data, we rode around the various pieces of bike infrastructure. We captured locations using photos and video. After the data collection was complete, we integrated the pictures and videos onto routes we had drawn on Google Maps. Here is the final product:
View UA Campus Bicycle Geovisualization in a larger map
As you can see, we have included a large quantity of data. However, if you zoom in on the map, the data quantity is less overwhelming. In the future, this geovisualization may be posted on Tucson Velo. I will report on this if it occurs.
3. At the request of Tucson BikeFest 2011 coordinators, I have designed a Google MyMap mashup to highlight events for the upcoming Bike to Work week, April 4 - 8.
View Tucson BikeFest: April 4th - 8th, 2011 in a larger map
As you can see, it is a relatively simple map with businesses listed and geolocated using various colored place marks. It is now live on the Bike to Work website and it was a fun project to work on. It also allowed me to discover which businesses are providing discounts and free stuff for the upcoming Bike to Work week.
4. I have joined a local non-profit startup called Open Tucson. The primary focus of this group is
to promote web and mobile technologies to foster civic participation through apps that facilitate communication between citizens and government, between citizens themselves, and that generally improve the quality of life in our community.At my first meeting on Tuesday, we discussed a wide variety of topics including government and public policy, how to integrate technology with the government, local vs. state level data, transit data and much more. We are currently working on a project that includes live real time bus tracking data, QR codes, and bus stops. I will write more about this project once it is underway.
That is a brief summary of the projects I am either currently working on have recently completed. As always, i am working with the Living Streets Alliance on a variety of items. We will be having a meeting again soon. My search for a summer job or internship continues. However, the process continues to be fun, educational and exciting. I will be posting again soon with more information and ideas as they arise.
Please comment or email me with any questions or comments.
Thanks for reading!