[UPDATE: Commenter Mike Orr has a nice synopsis of the talk in the comments.]

This is a friendly reminder that the author of Human Transit, Jarrett Walker, is in town and will be speaking at GGLO’s offices tonight about conflict and debate within transit planning.  Here are event details from Great City, which is hosting:

As transit becomes more popular, many cities are having intense and often bitter quarrels about what kind of transit to build or operate. Working from his 20 years of experience as a transit planning consultant, Jarrett Walker examines some of the most common confusions that affect debates about transit, and that often lead to disappointing outcomes. He then suggests strategies for clarifying transit debates, by recognizing the unavoidable “hard choices” that arise from transit’s intrinsic geometry and costs.

The event will be from 5pm to 7:30pm at GGLO’s Space on the Steps (at Harbor Steps).  Even if you don’t read Human Transit (which you should), this will be a good one to make.

For those that don’t get their fill of sustainable transportation from the brownbag, Streets for All is having their kickoff party at Nector Lounge in Fremont from 7:00pm – 2:00am. The Mayor and members of the City Council should be in attendance.

*RSS readers: This was published prematurely last night (7/28), so don’t be alarmed.  The presentation is today, July 29th.  Apologies for the inconvenience.

4 Replies to “Reminder: Human Transit @ GGLO, Informal STB Meetup”

  1. Jarrett spoke to around fifty people, which included a few planners and staff from the various transit agencies. His main point was to present a continnuum of levels — from individual to universal — along which people make assertions about transit (or anything). Here’s what I remember of it; apologies for any inaccuracies.

    ME: I hate buses!

    WE: Everybody I know prefers streetcars over buses.

    CULTURE: Americans in 2010 think streetcars are cool and buses suck. (Americans in 1940 thought streetcars were so last-year, and cars and buses were cool.)

    PSYCHOLOGY: People hate to stand waiting, so frequency is important.

    BIOLOGY: Carnivores are used to speed because that’s how they catch their food. So people prefer fast-traveling vehicles to slow-traveling ones.

    PHYSICS: ?

    GEOMETRY/MATH: A streetcar can be stopped by obstructions that a bus can go around.

    The lowest levels are universal truths, while the highest level is one person’s feelings. A good transit system has a balance of both high and low levels. A system based solely on low levels will be practical, but maybe boring and not meeting human needs. A system based on the high levels will be visionary, but perhaps not practical. Or in other words, a low-level system may be stuck in the past, while a high-level system may be too science fiction (no way to get from here to there gradually).

    His three main examples were the Seattle monorail, BART SFO extension, and Sydney bus system.

    The monorail project was visionary but was too fixated on one technology, rather than focusing on the primary goal of mobility. So that when it had financial problems, they chose to shrink the system even if that conflicted with mobility, rather than looking at another technology such as light rail. (He also cited Personal Rapid Transit and said it’s also visionary, but it requires a fully built-out network to be useful; there’s no way to implement it gradually.)

    BART, on the San Mateo penninsula, made a triangle at the end of the line to serve both SFO and Millbrae (Caltrain station). These are two high-ridership stations, in contrast to the suburban stations further north which are low-ridership. The problem is that splitting the line means each branch gets half the frequency; this is geometry. The visionaries refused to consider this despite warnings. Now BART keeps changing the route configuration to accommodate all sides of the triangle with adequate frequency. They have tried San Bruno-SFO-Millbrae (detour); San Bruno-Millbrae-SFO (backtracking); San Bruno-SFO and San Bruno-Millbrae plus Millbrae-SFO shuttle; same without shuttle; but still haven’t found a satisfactory solution.

    Sydney’s bus system is based on making buses go from everywhere to everywhere without transfers. Each street has four or five routes going to all five destinations. This means they have low frequency, and it’s impossible to keep track of so many routes in your head. In contrast, Portland has a grid system, so the transit directions are the same as the car directions (take the Hawthorne bus to 39th, then the 39th bus).

    He said this is a corollary, that if you build a system that minimizes transfers, it will necessarily be low frequency and complex. He also said that car drivers don’t understand the concept of frequency. They look at the triangle on the BART map and think it’s perfectly fine, and it looks the same as a highway interchange: everybody can get to everywhere. But transit riders have to think, “Is the bus coming now, or in five minutes or 30 minutes?” This explains the route 42 controversy, for instance. Drivers think keeping a one-seat ride from downtown to MLK to Rainier View is perfectly reasonable, even if you point out that reallocating those hours to greater frequency on adjacent routes would make more riders happier.

    He said every region should reevaluate its transit system every 10-20 years, because people’s needs change. To evaluate it, you need to know the ridership on each segment (i.e., street), not on each route. Because routes are arbitrary. One system may have one route with several branches (London Underground), which another system describes as several routes (NYC subway). Somebody said Metro messed up the 71-72-73 schedule based on a recent audit that looked only at individual routes rather than corridors. The 71-72-73 were designed as a single unit to provide even headways on the downtown-UW segment, but the new scheduling makes them bunch up. (I haven’t seen this myself though.)

  2. Thanks for posting notes on the presentation. I wanted to point out that there was quite a bit of interest from both Metro and SDOT. I counted a minimum of ten, myself included, plus interns, divided evenly between Metro and SDOT. At least 20% of attendees were public agency staff – encouraging!

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