Visit to Jakarta: BRT was a bad idea

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road. 

I’ve just returned from an Indonesian vacation.  My trip started and ended in Jakarta, and I had a chance to try out their transit system.  I love big cities.  I’ve visited many of them, and I had yet to find one I didn’t have some love for.  I hated Jakarta.

Jakarta is a city of 10 million people, with another 18 million in the metro area.  It’s an old city, but one that has grown very quickly in the past six decades.  Its transit system consists of buses, “bemos” (small private buses), taxis, tuk-tuks, and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

First, a word about Jakarta in general.  In Jakarta, the car is king.  As a pedestrian you will find yourself walking on narrow (~3′, sometimes less), poorly maintained sidewalks.  These sidewalks have a dual function of being mostly-closed sewers, and the sidewalk forms the cover of these sewers.  Every curb cut the sidewalk abruptly drops half a foot, and rises again at the other end of the curb cut.  Many times per block you’ll come across a concrete manhole, which is often broken or missing.  As cars are king, crossing the street is a very dangerous activity – cars will not stop for you, even if you find one of the few crosswalks.  They may slow down slightly or swerve if you’re directly in front of them, but it’s best wait for an opening and run across the street.  Of course, there are far too many cars on the roads and a trip 1/3 of the way across town to dinner took over an hour.  The trip back also took over an hour.  If you need to go anywhere, bring a good book.

Now BRT.  Unlike Seattle’s new BRT system, Jakarta has real BRT – tall buses with multiple doors and few seats that dock at pre-paid fare stations, ride in exclusive lanes (often with concrete barriers, usually in the center of the road), have signal priority, and even have two operators – one to drive the bus and one to operate the doors.  BRT is often considered a cheap way of doing mass transit.  Whenever a light or heavy rail system appears on a ballot, expect to hear a call from the tax-averse to put in BRT instead.  They will tell you it’s just as good as rail, but cheaper.  They are wrong.

Notes about Jakarta’s BRT:

1. Being a car city, every road in Jakarta that can fit more than a lane or two of cars has become a highway.  BRT added exclusive lanes in the middle of some of these highways, complete with concrete barriers to keep the cars out.  This has also had the effect of taking pedestrian crossings from difficult to impossible.

2. Since the stations are in the center of the road, it is difficult as a pedestrian to enter and leave.  Some stations have pedestrian bridges, but these add two sets of stairs to your walk.  Others just have crosswalks.  This adds time and danger to your trip.

3. In order to keep buses moving fast, the stations are never really where they need to be.  They’re limited to where the big roads are, which aren’t always close to the interesting sights.

4. They are all over capacity.  This might not be true for a city of Seattle’s size.  But a city of 10M people needs real mass transit.  The stations were completely packed when I visited – in the late morning of a weekday.  The buses came every few seconds, but the ones going anywhere interesting were like sardine cans.  At one point our bus was so full that all of the handholds were taken and people relied on the squeezing force of their neighbors to remain upright.

5. Signal priority isn’t enough.  With buses being so frequent, at some point the signals need to cycle the cars through and make the buses wait.  This means in 90 degree weather with no air conditioning and far-beyond-capacity passengers, we waited at many intersections for several minutes, queued up behind other buses.  We certainly made it through the intersections faster than the cars, but grade separation would have made our trip much faster.

Our 5 mile, one transfer trip from our hotel to the long-distance bus station took well over an hour.  It was uncomfortable, slow, and difficult.  Although our hotel was in a tourist area we needed to take a taxi to get to the bus station.

Simalarly sized Delhi was just as much a 3rd world city in 1998 when they built their subway system. Now it’s easy to get around there and tickets start at $0.15. Jakarta backed the wrong technology.

The Cost of Parking Regulation

Parking Lot Rising
Parking Garage, photo by flickr user Jasonmp

Los Angeles Magazine has a great feature on Donald Shoup and the high cost of parking and parking regulations. It starts with a hilarious tale of how the Los Angeles Philharmonic exists to pay for parking garage the city mandated in the concert hall:

Yet before an auditorium could be raised on K, a six-floor subterranean garage capable of holding 2,188 cars needed to be sunk below it at a cost of $110 million—money raised from county bonds. Parking spaces can be amazingly expensive to fabricate. In aboveground structures they cost as much as $40,000 apiece. Belowground, all that excavating and shoring may run a developer $140,000 per space. The debt on Disney Hall’s garage would have to be paid off for decades to come, and as it turned out, a minimum schedule of 128 annual shows would be enough to cover the bill. The figure “128” was even written into the L.A. Philharmonic’s lease. In 2003, Esa-Pekka Salonen opened Frank Gehry’s masterpiece to a packed house with Mahler’sResurrection, and in the years since, concertgoers—who lay out $9 to enter the garage—have steadily funded performances that exist to cover the true price of their parking.

I recommend the entire thing. I also highly recommend Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

Congestion Pricing Works

Bridge at 10 am
Conditions at 10am. I tried to grab one at 8:45 am but the page was set to continually refresh.

Update: It seems people do not like the title of this post. Yes, it is true that this is still early days on the 520 bridge. However, I am sure congestion pricing does indeed work (see London, Stockholm, etc.). I’d welcome an argument that explains how the toll will not result in a reduction in congestion on the 520 bridge.

According to the Seattle Times, the 520 tolls have reduced traffic across the bridge by about 30% and have not (yet) had inverse effects on traffic on I-90 (according to the Times), with the 520 reduction exactly as predicted.

Substantially fewer drivers than normal crossed the 520 bridge this morning, while traffic on other major roads did not appear significantly worse than usual, according to transportation officials.

Ridership on buses across Lake Washington, however, appeared to be up.

Nearly 13,000 vehicles crossed the 520 bridge between 5 and 9 a.m., said Patty Michaud, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation. That’s about 30 percent lower than before tolling began. About 80 percent of them had state-issued Good to Go stickers that automatically pay tolling fees, she said.

Meanwhile, alternate routes like Interstate 90 and State Route 522 appeared in good shape during the early commute. Officials had expected rush hour on those roads to start earlier and end later.

So we’re getting a reduction in congestion and a (partially) free bridge to boot. It’s obviously too early to say this is a complete victory, but the theory is pretty obvious.

South End Transit Pathways

Transit Pathways Project Timeline
Transit Pathways Project Timeline

At most of the meetings Metro staff have hosted regarding the Fall 2012 service change, there was also a set of poster boards from Metro’s Transit Pathways project. Thus far, this project has flown under the radar, but the decisions that will arise from it will affect almost all riders to Southwest Seattle for many years. The purpose of this project is to decide how Metro’s West Seattle and Delridge routes will transition between 3rd Ave and the rebuilt SR-99 freeway south of downtown once the viaduct closes and the crowded, caddywompus detours and flyovers are gone. The overall timeline is shown above.

The project is still at an early stage: initial screening has identified four workable pathways that will be studied in detail to choose the best, based on a raft of criteria including likely ridership numbers; speed and reliability; neighborhood impacts and environmental justice; accessibility and intermodal connections; Seattle’s plans for transit and the waterfront; and cost of facilities and “transit classification” (more on that later). Not much is likely to happen on this project in the next couple of months, as the city’s plans for the post-viaduct waterfront are still going through a public process, and the pathways project can’t continue further until the result of that process is more definite.

Alignments and discussion after the jump.

Continue reading “South End Transit Pathways”

Richard Conlin on TOD: Two Resolutions for the New Year

Conlin on Land Use: Will he focus less on building height, and more on density?

There is plenty one can find wrong with Richard Conlin’s latest blog post about the zoning battle in Roosevelt. But there are some good things to be said for Conlin’s post: he’s recognizing that land use decisions shouldn’t rest only in the hands of neighborhood planners and he’s ready to dispense with height as the measure of good land use policy. That’s good news for the New Year. But first let’s cover some ground opened by Conlin’s post.

Conlin decries the overheated rhetoric of the debate, flashing his credentials as a Solomon in the Northwest style. Conversations ought to be polite and fact based, Conlin implies, and it’s up to politicians to discern the facts and the law and make good decisions. Rhetoric, overheated and bloated, from bloggers isn’t helpful. Conlin suggests that the Council’s job is to find the middle ground between two extremes, dividing the baby between NIMBYs and density advocates.

However, while compromise is beneficial in policy discussions there can be no compromise between fact and fantasy. The facts are in on density: it’s better than other patterns of development and growth, specifically sprawl. Furthermore the facts point to the importance and benefit of density to many things people care about, like jobs, water quality, air pollution, public safety, jobs, and economic development to name a few.

The fantasy subscribed to by opponents of the up zone is that “taking” more density than the Mayor’s proposal makes them pro-density, and thus immune from the charge that they are intent on scuttling Sisely’s project because they can’t stomach the idea of him making a profit. The supposed supporters of density were willing to amputate their noses to stop an up zone, even though the properties are doomed to stay blighted without one, a truth that Conlin’s colleague Nick Licata admitted when he proposed his amendment which would have limited the construction of more housing in Roosevelt.

Continue reading “Richard Conlin on TOD: Two Resolutions for the New Year”

Looking Ahead to 2012

Photo by majinadoru

Lots of stuff to watch this year!