Posts Tagged: Transit Planning



Transit Oriented Development and CPT (Part 1 of 3)

Most readers understand the concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) – a planning approach that encourages transit ridership through increased development around transit stations. TODs are designed to create higher density, mixed use, walkable communities. In this way the day-to-day needs met by shops, cafes, and entertainment venues are located within the neighbourhood (usually near the station), and access to a rapid public transport network is maximised. Despite mixed successes, TODs are often touted as one of the great solutions to urban mobility.

TOD designs tend to occur within 800 metres of the transit station, which is considered the distance that people are willing to walk or cycle to reach public transport. However, depending on the transport mode and the ‘walking culture’ of the area, this distance can vary between 400-1200 metres.

Typically, TODs are associated with streetcars, LRT and heavy rail, although the developing world has implemented successful BRT TODs as well. A few examples of CPT and TOD also exist. The Metrocable in Medellin, Columbia utilises elements of TOD for the Linea L & J lines. The Metrocable in Caracas, Venezuela integrates retail, commercial and social services into customised CPT stations, although it appears that no coordinated development has occurred outside of these stations.

What is important to remember is that (for the most part) efficient public transport spurs development regardless of TOD plans. TODs simply try to offer an assurance that development will occur in a planned, coordinated way over a shorter timeframe (often determined by investors.) TODs can be master planned or guided redevelopment. Planning regulations are often tweaked to allow different land uses and higher densities. Property developers demand certainty to the type of development that is expected in order to reduce business risk. TODs usually involve a number of stakeholders and in some instances are implemented via innovative PPP arrangements. However, TODs are not always successful as there are multiple internal and external factors at play.

It is also frustrating that the very factor that make TODs possible – rapid transport systems – can also significantly hinder their success and have negative impacts on the adjoining land and people. Basically, ‘at grade’ transit presents a problem to the urban form; it bisects it, it divides it, it makes it unsafe for pedestrians. Tracks takes up valuable land. Buses are noisy and generate pollutants. Heavy rail is even noisier (unless underground) and produces vibration effects. These nuisances impact properties adjoining the infrastructure and can compromise the whole TOD model – which values land close to public transport.

TRB research finds that property prices are compromised as close as 200 metres from a transit line. For this reason, the 200-400 metre quadrant (from the transit station) in a TOD tends to be the most sought after by residents and therefore most valued. What should be the most desirable, useful and practical land – that closest to the transport station – is not maximised to its full potential. This is a serious issue and one that compromises the very outcomes TOD seek to achieve – liveability and sustainability.

What opportunities exist for CPT and TODs? I will tackle this issue next week in Part 2 of TODs and CPT.

This post was written by Ryan O’Connor, a planning and transportation professional based in Wellington, New Zealand. Ryan has been involved with Creative Urban Projects since March 2010.

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A Wait Time Thought Experiment

According to the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, wait times for transit are around 2 times more onerous to riders than actual in-vehicle time. They see that ratio rise to 2.5 times when wait times are coupled to transfers.

With that in mind, how long is the following journey:

  • A 5 minute walk from your front door to your bus stop.
  • A 7 minute wait for your bus.
  • A 10 minute bus ride to the LRT.
  • A 1 minute walk from bus stop to LRT stop.
  • A 4 minute wait for the next LRT.
  • A 15 minute LRT ride.
  • A 3 minute walk from LRT station to your destination.

Standard transit planning practice would say that the total journey time is 45 minutes. But is that accurate? Yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that it’s the actual journey time. No, in the sense that it doesn’t actually reflect the riders’ experience of the journey.

If the TRB is to be believed, the journey feels like it’s 58 minutes long, a 29% premium over actual journey time.

We know time flies when you’re having fun but the exact opposite is true as well.

So when you plan your transit models, shouldn’t you take the experience and subjectivity of your riders into consideration? After all, aren’t those the people you’re serving? Shouldn’t their experience be paramount?

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The Theory of Thunder & The Rational Comprehensive Model

When I was a child I had a marvelous theory about thunder storms:

Rain was held by clouds and thunder often accompanied rain.

Thunder sounded like a loud explosion and explosions destroyed things.

And since after it rained, no clouds could be seen, then thunder must be the sound of clouds exploding!

In my mind, I had come to an entirely wonderful and reasonable model of how a natural process worked.  I called it my Theory of Thunder.

My mother, with more important things on her mind – God bless her – informed me that I was correct.  You can imagine how well my Theory of Thunder held up against grade 4 science and a few things called condensation, evaporation and electro-static electricity.

Many planners are taught to utilize a method of decision-making (mundanely) called the Rational Comprehensive Model.  Like my Theory of Thunder, it is a wonderful and reasonable model that suffers only from being entirely worthless.

Calling it the Rational Comprehensive Model does not make it rational nor comprehensive. I suppose it’s still a model but only insofar as my Theory of Thunder was.

Models are often – and sometimes frequently – wrong. And when you rely on things like the Rational Comprehensive Model you only lull yourself into complacently thinking that in your work you are, indeed, being rational and comprehensive when you’re not.

You may  attempt to be rational and comprehensive, but ego, incentive and lack of time and resources will trip you up every time.

(Even worse, are those that pay lip-service to rationality and comprehensiveness, when they know full well they’re up to neither. Like Upton Sinclair once said: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!)

So why not just admit that?  Why pretend to hold yourself up to an unattainable ideal?

Why not just say:  “We’re doing our best, and because we know we’re not rational and not comprehensive, we’re going to do everything in our power to get you as close as we can to it.”

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Never Mind The Real World

If I gave you the choice between a transit technology that could carry 20,000 people and a technology that could carry 6,000 which would you choose? Clearly, youd choose 20,000.

Or what if I gave you the choice between a transit technology that operated at 100 km/hr or one that operated at 35 km/hr? Obviously youd opt for the faster one. Faster is better because faster means you get where youre going sooner.

And thats the problem.

Humans are irrational – no secret there – and were so hard-wired to grab the most of anything, well almost always opt for that which gives us the most. It doesnt matter that we dont even like three-quarters of whats on the Mandarin’s all-you-can-eat buffet, we just like to know the option is there.

So too with transit planners.

Theoretically, Light Rail carries between 6,000 – 20,000. Just ask Professor Vukan R. Vuchic, one of the only people to ever write a textbook on transit planning. His Urban Transit series of textbooks constantly state that LRT carries between 6,000 and 20,000 people. He also states that they operate at “maximum speeds (of) 70 km/hr or higher.”

Never mind that there’s no LRT system in North America that carries more than 4,000.

Never mind that there’s never been an LRT system built that carries 20,000 people.

Never mind the cost involved in staffing and purchasing vehicles that arrive every 1-3 minutes; the figure necessary to reach 20,000 people.

Never mind that the posted speed limit in most cities is 40-50 km/hr. To Vuchic, what matters is that Light Rail emcan/em go 70 km/hr or higher.

Never mind that Vuchic himself says that the average operating speed of LRT is as low as 15 km/hr.

Never mind that LRT stations are spaced 300 – 1,000 meters apart, completely preventing vehicles from reaching those top speeds.

Never mind stop signs, traffic lights, jaywalkers, slow-moving grandmothers, speeding teenagers and streetcar drivers who stop to grab a coffee while on the job.

In other words: Never mind the real world. Completely ignore what actually happens in cities and instead focus solely on what is theoretically possible. Focus on the text book and the equations in it, not the city block and the people on it.

Numbers like Vuchics are constantly used to justify technologies like LRT and we flock to them because they promise us the fastest, biggest, best technology around. It doesnt matter that the numbers prove otherwise. If you give people a narrative that appeals to them, they’ll believe it. Its cheap and easy politics and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Nobody ever said life was fair.

When you’re talking about billion dollar contracts and thousands of jobs, should you really expect government and industry to play fair?

Cable can carry more people than the industry publishes. It can also travel at speeds faster than what they publish. Ridiculously simple innovations like double decker vehicles would double the capacity over night. But the cable industry seems to want to play fair. They only want to talk about what they’ve done in the past, not what they’re going to do in the future.

That’s admirable, but it hurts the industry’s chances.

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Why Outliers Are Important

Bent Flyvbjerg is a scholar in Denmark and an expert in cost-overruns and demand-shortfalls in public infrastructure projects. In one of his more recent publications (“Cost Overruns and Demand Shortfalls in Urban Rail and Other Infrastructure”), he demonstrates the dramatic demand shortfalls that most urban rail infrastructure is met with. According to his study, actual ridership was, on average, 50.8% lower than forecasted.

Rightly, Mr. Flyvbjerg excludes two statistical outliers as each “strongly diverge” from the figures. Whereas most other systems studied experienced dramatic demand shortfalls, these two outliers experienced demand that was 158 and 60% greater than forecasted.

Now I’m not asking Mr. Flyvbjerg to include those outliers. It is standard statistical practice to forget about them. I do, however, want to know what happened in those two instances; particularly given that each outlier was in a German city. Don’t you want to know what the Germans are doing right? Don’t you want to know the story behind these two abnormalities? Don’t you want to know what made these cities successful against the overwhelming evidence that suggested they should fail?

Don’t ignore statistical outliers just because they corrupt your models and poison your results. Maybe your model’s wrong. Forget about your model for a second and instead ask yourself why did that happen?

A statistical outlier, whether positive or negative, is something that is unique within your models, and uniqueness is deserving of inquiry. There is a story there. And in that story are answers to important questions.

Predictable results may make for easy answers, but (hopefully) your boss/client/supervisor isn’t looking for easy answers. And if he is, those answers are probably incorrect.

We need more people who don’t really care about easy answers and predictable results. Change occurs when people look for the unpredictable and then wrestle to find the story lurking somewhere underneath.

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