Do you love transit?

I’m not sure I do.  To me, it’s like saying “I love electricity!”  Well, yeah, doesn’t everyone?

This guy, former chief planner for Vancouver, BC, and now a consultant, has some important points here, most of which should be familiar to folks who follow Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit.

Bicycle Bob and other early influences


…. I was a car guy.  At least part of the reason that was true was that it was the only reasonable way to get around in the area I grew up in (click the image below to go to the spot, but note the cul-de-sac hell).  The local mall is just out of the thumbnail to the lower right and when I was a kid it seemed like it was way far away.

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A few well-placed cut-throughs would have radically changed my sense of time and distance back then.  You can at least walk on a paved path through that large park near my ancestral home, though I don’t know if it’s plowed in the winter.  Even that has only been paved in the last 20-25 years (yes, I’m that old).

Oh.  And there are no sidewalks.  There are curbs and proper drainage (even if the subdivision was built without those things initially!).  The only sidewalk in my neighborhood was in front of the elementary school.  That’s since been extended, but for decades, the one in front of the school was it.

Bicycle Bob

Anyway, one day, when I was in a junior college chem class, the prof invited a local bike activist to speak to our class.  At a time when I was still rebuilding carburetors (cars used to have these – part of the fuel system – ask your Dad).  So I was skeptical of the fact that he rode his bike year-round and that he’d taken the train out to visit with us.  He was known locally as Bicycle Bob and he recently turned 80.  He wasn’t nearly that old then, of course.

Well, I didn’t really realize what he’d done … well, more like I had probably forgotten what he (and the groups he was involved in) had done.  Guerrilla bike lanes painted at night, outlandish press conferences, a “die in” on the streets protesting traffic deaths.  All this … um … a long time ago (in a galaxy …) long before it was in vogue in most places.  So that was an early influence, even though I haven’t been a cyclist since I became a licensed automobile driver.

I hate to admit it but I am actually old enough to have experienced privately-owned transit service.   It was on its last legs and was finally put out of its misery the about same year that Bicycle Bob visited visited with us.  In fact, I think it was the same semester.  After that point, the metropolitan transit service was extended to our area so you could reasonably get around without a car.  In another indication of how old I am, a monthly (student) transit was $7.  It was at least 4x that to fill the tank in the tank I drove at the time so I used the bus a lot.  Bicycle Bob would be proud, I think.

Sidewalk Ramps

In class the other day (week), we were talking about sidewalks.  Another area that my hometown (the center city, at least) was ahead of the game was wheelchair-accessible sidewalks.  The first attempt wasn’t so successful, however.

Instead of ramps at the corner — “within the arc” — they put them outside the arc for a variety of reasons that they try to explain in the article linked above.   Long story short, they ended up putting them where they belong several years later but I can’t find a relevant link in the google.   (Letter to the editor about their uselessness.)

I had another “early influence”, but I’ll save that one.

Poverty, Mapping

Why Is the American Dream Dead in the South?

Interesting findings, at least as presented here.  The map is interesting to me, too.  Often, maps seem to end up looking like population density maps because the underlying data don’t seem to have been adjusted for that.  So it will seem to look, for instance, that people seem to have more blue cars in NYC than they do in Kallispell, Montana, when really, it’s just because there are more cars in NYC because there are more people there.

The map here isn’t so bad.  The writer of the article (not the paper) almost comes off like he’s blaming “the blacks” (he isn’t) but he doesn’t go very far beyond that, like looking at overall poverty instead of just race.

What the map shows, or tries to show, is the probability that kids born into the lowest income quintile will make it to the highest quintile.

I suspect that that the “problem”  is that the people in certain areas are poor, not that they are black (or white or hispanic or native).  And I can’t tell if they tried to adjust for regional disparities in income — someone in the top quintile of income in New Mexico likely has less income than someone in the top quintile of income in New York.

But I’ve only read the abstract of the paper.  Maybe if I read it, I’d answer my own questions?  🙂  It’s a “working paper” from the National Bureau of Economic Research (Paul Krugman says all the research in econ is coming out as “working papers” since the traditional journals take a very long time to publish anything).

Rapid Transit in NYC

Those of you in the Infrastructure class saw most of this already …

Beach Pneumatic – Alfred Beach’s Pneumatic Subway and the beginnings of rapid transit in New York

Jim E and I were yakking after class about NYC and how much of an outlier it is compared to the rest of the country — e.g., the IRT Lexington Ave line carries more passengers in a day (1.9M) than Boston’s MBTA (~1.3M)  and more than the Washington, DC, Metro system (~750k) and  the SF Muni (~700k) combined [1]) —  and the conversation did, of course, roll around to rapid transit.

I used to be on a train-related mailing list with a fellow named Joe Brennan who does similar work as me but at Columbia College in NYC.  He put together a great web-based “book” about the history of rapid transit in New York and surroundings (remember, Brooklyn was a separate city before 1898 and Queens was a county full of rural towns).  If you’re into that kind of stuff (I am, obviously, and so is Jim and probably Patrick) it’s a good read if a little long.

I think I like the work because it’s much more historical than it is nostalgic and lord knows there is plenty of railroad nostalgia stuff out there.  :eyeroll:

There are a few other “outlier” examples cluttering my head but I’ll save that for another post.

Bottom line is that when you hear someone say “Yeah, well in New York City they …” you should be skeptical of whatever the person says next!