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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
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 yesterday 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 3 days ago 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 4 days ago 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
NOTE: New material appears beneath this post! Our fun and popular short course on transit network design comes to Seattle for a two-day session, April 16-17. APA's national conference is in Seattle the week after, so if you are coming to town for that, consider adding a few days to your itinerary. It's not for transit planners, but for anyone who needs to understand transit in order to work in an adjacent field, including land use planning, real estate development, general transportation policy, and traffic engineering. Activists love it too! Haven't heard about the course yet? Read all about it... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 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
A recent study from ITDP surveys the growth of BRT around the world over the past decade. Note that IDTP thinks of BRT as something that matches the performance of rail using buses. ITDP's BRT standard excludes many of the projects that the US Federal Transit Administration calls BRT, which amount to premium buses in mixed traffic with minimal speed and reliability features.* China has created the largest quantity of true BRT systems, but of course in per capita terms it's Latin America that is building true BRT most intensively. Fast-developing middle-wealth countries like China, India, Mexico, and Brazil are... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2014 at Human Transit
Part 2 of my letter from Luca Guala, of the Italian consulting firm Mobility Thinklab. (Part 1, on personal rapid transit, is here.) Last summer, we tested driverless minibuses along a route of 1.3 km on a pedestrianized boulevard in Oristano, a small town in Italy. The idea was to test driverless vehicles mixed with traffic. Why minibuses and not taxis? Firstly, because it is much simpler to teach a robot to follow a fixed route, rather than teach it to go anywhere the passengers want to go. Such a system is already operational in Rotterdam ( and it works... Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2014 at Human Transit
Remember Masdar, the car-free neighbourhood in Abu Dhabi that was going to show the power of "personal rapid transit" (PRT)? I just received this interesting letter from Luca Guala, a transport engineer in Italy: Let me introduce myself. I am a transport planner and I am partner of a consultancy Company named MLab (, based in an obscure corner of Italy. Nothing to brag about except that I have had the chance to participate in two very interesting experiments that concerned automated, driverless vehicles: the Masdar City "Personal Rapid Transit" “automated taxi” transit system and the CityMobil2 experiment with automated... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2014 at Human Transit