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It isn't just large metropolitan areas that suffer here. Ironton, Ohio, Ashland, Kentucky, and Huntington, West Virginia - all along the river that allowed the towns to prosper and also that divides the states - are just one example of small towns whose local bus networks, operated in the interests of each respective town, come within a few miles of each other but don't touch, apart from an inefficient four-times-a-day bus which connects them, after a good deal of wrangling and "disputes" even to provide that.
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@anon256 "If we want to put people off driving, we should do it with congestion pricing. That way the disincentive can be collected and put to some productive use, rather than just being lost as inconvenience." I disagree. As Ken Livingstone famously said, "don't do it for the money". The majority of congestion charging receipts go into detection, collection, and enforcement. This, by the same logic, is also lost. "inconvenience" is not necessarily lost. As well as good facilities for buses, inconvenience can be translated to pavements wide enough to be good public spaces, safer crossings for pedestrians, safer facilities for cyclists, means of breaking up monotonous grid patterns with intrusions into the road, and all sorts of other things that add up considerable benefits for the city's environment. Among those that benefit from congestion charges without changing the physical road infrastructure are those who can afford to pay the charge to drive into the city. The roads being less congested, they can move more freely and quickly around pedestrians, cyclists, buses and anyone else in their way.
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@John: I would be wary of a universal "one-size-fits-all" approach; the layout of cities, route lengths and prevalent travel habits vary widely, and will require different approaches. Also, it's very difficult to sack large numbers of bus drivers, who are normally unionised. So running buses efficiently is a good way of running buses more frequently, not running fewer buses. It's a approach to consider, but not to apply everywhere without considering local conditions. One factor in support is that those that can't walk a little way to a bus stop anyway (after all, most patrons won't live quite on the bus route) tend be targeted with flexible van services, which US agencies tend to be good at providing.
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The technology, by the way, as said member of ITS staff explained it to me, works like this: - Lights built into the road surface on the edge of the bus lane indicate when it is in force. - Periodic variable information signs alongside or above the roadway instruct motorists to merge into the next lane when a bus is coming behind them. (Alternatively, the lights do that job exclusively, and motorists must merge into the next lane when the bus lane lights come on). It therefore relies on traffic being able to safely merge into (in Spain and most of the world) the left as soon as they need to. It is difficult to know how the police enforcing them, if the police enforce them at all, will distinguish between motorists who refuse to move out of the way and motorists who didn't get a gap to merge safely/needed to turn right at the next block/etc.
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(Or is that to turn right? Damn Americans driving on the other side and confusing matters).
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Ah, yes. I remember one of the staff at the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds (can't remember who now) bringing this up. Intermittent bus lanes. And my comment at the time was this: "What about the general benefit of reducing road capacity?". This will make the eyes of highway planners light up, as it laboriously ensures the efficient circulation of cars over the entirety of the road space. Being an urbanist as much as a transport planner, I agree with Jane Jacobs on this. The circulation of cars shouldn't be as efficient as possible; it should be as slow, inconvenient and annoying as possible, in order to put off all but the traffic that is actually necessary to the functioning of the city from bothering. Like the Q-turns to go left in Portland. All that said, I'm not sure I'm opposed to intermittent bus lanes for frequent rapid services, if that's all you can do politically. Highway standards in the UK continue extending the width planners should allow for merging two lanes into one, because merging like that isn't that easy. With an inevitable bus at every signal, I can see cars keeping well out of the lane down which the buses go. And at that point, it won't be such a big step to paint a solid line, and periodically write "bus lane".
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The above comment should have read "in such a way as to attract businesses like the Hilton...". And indeed, those are the qualities that make good transit malls like in Portland a good thing. Building a good interchange point without any of the other characteristics is less of a good idea.
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At worst, Friedersdorf's idea could be interpreted as the creation of one single space which intends to concentrate all the activity of transit users, with bus lanes helping to take buses quickly away from downtown. That risks creating a ghetto of captive transit riders that doesn't contribute to the surrounding streets, and reduces the extent to which buses are visible to other potential riders. This is different from a good transit mall, the surroundings of which, as you describe, vary with the character of the particular area of downtown through which it's passing, and helps create vibrant and attractive streets in such a way that businesses like the Hilton who might not identify their clientele as transit riders themselves. While enclosed spaces with skybridges might provide useful facilities for transit users, they are even more cut off from the street, and risk coming to be thought of as spaces to be used only by those who really can't afford cars. On the other hand, concentrating buses in one place is very useful for transfers. I think, then, that in some networks (radial ones more than grid ones, where as you've covered before, transfers work differently), a central facility can be useful. However, it is probably best that transit services run through on a logical axes (this is common practice in British cities), share common routes with other buses through other parts of downtown and make stops along those routes. If done well, this approach should enable most of the downtown area to be accessible by either a short walk from the closest stop, or a transfer in the central hub. What cities don't need is an island that leaves transit cut off from the rest of the city.
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Jun 8, 2010