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Jarrett at
Portland, Oregon
Transit planning expert with humanities background. Author of
Interests: Cities, natural history, botany, gardening, literature, languages. What am I not interested in?
Recent Activity
I'm writing this while our Interactive Course in Transit Network Design in Seattle goes on around me. About 25 people are huddled around maps having intensely animated conversations about what the best possible transit network would look like. Now and then someone comes up and asks a (good) question. This kind of workshop is not just "inexcusably fun," as one student called it, but it's also the best way to get a practical grasp of the transit tool. If you've actually tried designing a transit network, you have some knowledge of the material in your hands, not just in your... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Human Transit
A few years ago we assisted San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in rethinking how they talk about the various services they operate. Our key idea was to classify services by tiers of frequency, while also distinguishing, at the highest frequency only, between faster and slower services. In extensive workshops with staff, we helped the agency think through these categories and the names to be used for them. It's great to see the result coming out on the street. The old-fashioned term "limited," for example, been replaced by "Rapid," a new brand that emphasizes speed and reliability improvements as well as... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Human Transit
When the physicist Richard Feynman found himself listening to a scientific talk in a field he didn't know well, he had a favorite question to ask the speaker: Can you give me a really simple example of what you're talking about? If the speaker couldn't oblige, Feynman got suspicious, and rightly so. Did this person really have something to say, or was this just fancy technical talk parading as scientific wisdom? ... Simplification is not just for beginners." Daniel C . Dennett Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Intuition Pumps is best book on philosophy that I've read in... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Human Transit
From John DeFazio. He's responding to this post, or maybe to this one. I have not edited for grammar or clarity. Jarrett, you write like a scholar, using you master's degrees to cleverly make readers feel sorry for Translink and vote yes, even if they are confused... you know the adage, "bullshit baffle brains", thats what you and your kind are doing... and how much are they paying you Jarrett? Nothing. there are many other ways that Translink can raise funding for transit and you bloody well know it... alternatively Translink should go public, make it competitive for private companies... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2015 at Human Transit
We frequently fail to recognise that our own personal preferences are in most cases just that. And too often in urbanist discussions, that means white hipster preferences. As a result, we can end up doing a poor job of developing and selling pro-urban policies, even within the city. Aaron Renn, "In Praise of Boring Cities," Guardian Cities, 1 October 2014. Yes, Yes! Read the whole thing. Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2015 at Human Transit
A transit referendum underway in Metro Vancouver is asking voters to raise sales taxes to fund a huge range of transit improvements that are inevitably needed in such a dense and densifying region. Polls are suggesting that one of the most transit-dependent regions in North America is going to vote no. There is plenty of room for argument about whether sales taxes are too regressive, or whether transit measures should go to the voters while highway measures are considered essential Provincial spending. All those debates are happening. I also suggested, here, some principles for deciding how to vote on transit... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2015 at Human Transit
My recent visit to London, the first in 19 years, gave me a new appreciation for the dangers of creating express trains to the airport that are useful only to high-paying travelers. We stayed at Paddington, on the north-west edge of the inner city, because I presumed that the Heathrow Express -- nonstop trains between Paddington and Heathrow Airport every 15-30 minutes -- would help us handle the awkward moves with luggage. It worked fine for that, but the fare was obscene (well over GBP 20 each way) and the trains were therefore nearly empty. I should have suspected this... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2015 at Human Transit
Here's an opportunity perfect for someone who is interested in transit data and monitoring. Via Baltimore MTA, the region's transit agency: If you or someone you know likes data collection and analysis on a large scale and wants to put those skills to use in public transit, then there’s a new opportunity in the MTA’s Office of Service Development – The Ridership Data Technician (or RDT). Full details and to apply: MTA’s use of Automated Passenger Counters (APCs) continues to grow. We are just really getting started and are looking for an innovative and tech- and data-savvy person to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2015 at Human Transit
If you make buses wonderful, people will love buses, even to the point of writing and buying books about them ... (London Transport Museum, 14 March 2015) Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Human Transit
A recent post discussed Jeff Howard's hotels near transit maps suggested looking at Google Hotel Finder, a utility tucked away within Google Maps that purports to help you find a hotel based on travel time from some location. A user plops a pin on the map, and the tool draws isochrones based on drive, transit, and walk times, which supposedly show you the area of the city where hotels are within that travel time of your destination. So far, so good - I put a pin in downtown Portland, and Hotel Finder shows me a big blob in the center... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2015 at Human Transit
Just as literature graduate students never admit that there are books they haven't read, we urbanist pundits aren't supposed to admit that there are cities we've never been to. In fact, we're so up to date in our lived experience that there are no great cities we've never been to recently. Tip: We're all faking it, mostly with Google Earth. So, to keep up my outsiderish reputation, I'd like to announce that I haven't been to London for 19 years, and I've never been to Dublin at all. Fortunately, that's changing this month. I'll be in London March 14-16 and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2015 at Human Transit
Here's news you can use, or at least news I can use as an absurdly frequent flyer. All of the standard travel shopping sites make it very hard to assess the transit options from a hotel's location. At most they have distances and sometimes car travel times. So I often spend too long doing research, and pay too much for a hotel close to my destination when I might easily have stayed further away more cheaply if I knew good transit was there. This, therefore, is a really good tool. In the case of Washington DC, it helps you see... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2015 at Human Transit
Last week I was a guest on Here & Now, a nationally syndicated radio program produced by WBUR in Boston, talking with the show's Jeremy Hobson about the recently approved Houston METRO Transit System Reimagining, and how its lessons apply to other American cities. The segment aired today, and is a nice summary of the project, quickly covering much of the material discussed here, here and here. Take a listen via the embed above, or head over to the Here & Now site to check it out. Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2015 at Human Transit
It's great to see the national press about the Houston METRO System Reimagining, a transformative bus network redesign that will newly connect a million people to a million jobs with service running every 15 minutes all day, with almost no increase in operating cost. Last week, when the Houston METRO Board finally adopted the plan for implementation this August, I was in New Zealand advising Auckland Transport executives on how to roll out a similar plan there, one that MRCagney and I sketched for them back in 2012. Advising on these kinds of transformations, and often facilitating the design process,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2015 at Human Transit
Over the past two years, our firm has worked as a member of a diversely skilled team to help Houston METRO comprehensively redesign the city's transit system (look back to this post for the backstory). Houston is a dynamic, fast-growing city, where despite a reputation as a place where one must own a car to live, many areas have developed land-use characteristics indicating a large, untapped market for quality transit. This project has sought to design a transit network which can deliver the type of mobility outcomes current growth patterns demand, through a extensive Frequent Network grid. Today, we are... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2015 at Human Transit
Note: This popular post is being continuously updated with useful links and comments. Come back and it may be improved! In the United States, but occasionally in Canada too, voters are sometimes asked to decide whether to raise taxes to fund transit improvements. I'm often asked whether I support these things. I don't like telling people how to vote, but I can point out some predictable patterns in the arguments, and some universal facts about transit that you need to keep in mind. 1. In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues. This problem is mathematically inevitable.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2015 at Human Transit
This is the second most common question I receive, second only to "What do you think of ___ transit technology?" but a little ahead of "How do I become a transit planner?" While it's usually the client's decision, my preferred answer is a compassionate no. In my presentations, most of the content and tone arises from what I say, not what's on the slides, so releasing the slide deck without my voice attached carries a high risk of misunderstanding. Slides by their nature do not convey nuance, tone, or feel. If I prepared slides that were easy to understand without... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2015 at Human Transit
By Evan Landman. Last summer, we covered an exciting new transit planning tool called Transitmix. Transitmix grew out of a Code for America project that sought to create a web-based tool to automate much of the complex yet mundane work that goes on in the background during transit planning. Cost estimation, line measurement, population and employment coverage analysis, are all examples of tasks that require time and effort such that they cannot all be carried out in real time during a planning meeting or workshop. The team at Transitmix reached out to transit planners all over the county (including our... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2015 at Human Transit
We don't always kick off planning studies with a public event, but that's what we did for the Wake County Transit Investment Strategy in Raleigh, North Carolina. At a kickoff meeting attended by hundreds of people, I gave a presentation on how we'd approach the project, which is mostly how my firm approaches any planning project. While there are some local references, it's easy to follow no matter where you live, because it's mostly about the big-picture. Some time-stamps: 0:30 Remarks and kind introductions from County Manager Jim Hartmann and Capital Area MPO Executive Director Chris Lukasina. 5:18 Beginning of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2015 at Human Transit
I've long wished there were an computer game that would require players to figure out the basic facts of transit network design. I don't mean complex simulation games like Cities in Motion, Transport Tycoon or (shudder) SimCity, which simulate so many things that it's hard to focus on the network element. I mean a game that is simple but engaging the way chess is, and where the strategy you need to learn happens to also be What City-Makers Need to Understand About Transit (but Often Don't). Games are a good way of thinking about real problems (see Jane McGonegal's great... Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2014 at Human Transit
Understanding and decisionmaking in transit planning requires many inputs. These include agency staff expertise, all sorts of public input, performance and operational data on costs and ridership, and an array of supporting demographic information. However, when it comes down to questions of rights-and-lefts, at the lowest level of planning altitude, one source of information is critical: aerial photography. Transit design processes frequently involve very detailed questions that not everyone at the table has personal experience with. These sorts of questions: Is the traffic median of this boulevard wide enough for the bus to use to make an uncontrolled turn without... Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2014 at Human Transit
Any large transportation infrastructure project involves the temporary inconvenience of construction. While a new rail line or viaduct might be a lasting asset for a city, and one that continues to be useful for decades to come, short term impacts can prove disastrous for people involved in commercial activity around the construction zone, and disruptive to neighborhood residents. In some cases, business owners have even been driven to legal action by this issue. Part of the problem is that for the duration of construction, inconvience, noise, and rubble can come to define perception of the corridor where work is being... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2014 at Human Transit
This image by Claes Tingvall needs to go viral. I had many years living as a pedestrian in cities designed or managed for cars, including most big American cities in the least century, and I've never seen an image that better captured how that felt. The bottomless void, in this metaphor, represents the essential unpredictability of the reckless or distracted motorist (there only needs to be one) combined with the destructive potential of their machine. The sidewalk is a narrow ledge on the edge of extreme danger. Crossing the street, even with a crosswalk, works when it works, but the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2014 at Human Transit
I talk a lot about altitude in planning and network design. But sometimes my airplane metaphor gets mangled a bit in translation, as in this otherwise fine article about our work in the Raleigh, NC area. So wherever you encounter it, here is what I mean: If you are higher up from the surface of the earth, you can see a larger area, but in less detail. At lower altitude, you see a smaller area, but in greater detail. Likewise, there are high-altitude planning projects, which look at a large area (a city, a county, an urban region) and identify... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2014 at Human Transit
We are happy to be part of a new transit planning initiative for Raleigh, North Carolina, and vicinity, supporting local consultants Kimley Horn & Associates. The Wake County Transit Investment Strategy is an opportunity to think through the county's transit priorities in anticipation of a possible ballot measure to expand transit funding in the county. We're kicking off Monday, December 8, at the Raleigh Convention Center. Please join us at 6 PM that night for a series of presentations that explain what we're up to, what the big questions are, and how to get involved! Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2014 at Human Transit