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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
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 3 days ago 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 4 days ago 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
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 here! Attendees will receive 14 AICP Certification... 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
For over four years now, this blog has been encouraging transit agencies to map their high-frequency networks, and encouraging citizens to map them themselves if the transit agency doesn't. We've featured many over the years, including a rapidly rising number of maps by actual transit agencies. Just enter "frequent network maps" in our handy new searchbar. ---> Here's a new citizen entry, from Perth, Western Australia, by a Mr. OC Benz on the Bus Australia discussion board. And zooming in a bit: Although the definition does not include weekends, when Perth service levels drop sharply, the map is remarkable nonetheless.... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2014 at Human Transit
Not from her extraordinary National Book Award acceptance speech (text, video), in which she challenged both the commodification of literature and the marginalization of science fiction, but for this [item 90]: We do have our nice Subaru, but we can’t drive it. I never could. I learned to drive in 1947 but didn’t get a license, for which I and all who know me are grateful. I’m one of those pedestrians who start to cross the street, scuttle back to the curb for no reason, then suddenly leap out in front of your car just as you get into the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2014 at Human Transit
We don't make endorsements, but beware politicians' promises about individual bus routes. Melbourne transit guru Daniel Bowen confirms that nobody is threatening to cancel the 822. The other team's plan involves removing some twists and turns on neighborhood streets, so that the route runs faster and is useful to more people. As usual, that plan asks some people to walk further to a more useful service, as virtually any access-improving network design will do. Those changes are fair game for debate, but remember: If you want to "save" every existing bus route exactly as it is, forever, then you're against... Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2014 at Human Transit
El Camino Real BRT Alignment Silicon Valley is easily viewed as a car-oriented place, where tech giants rule from business parks that are so transit-unfriendly that they have had to run their own bus systems to bring employees from afar. But one interesting transit project is moving forward: the El Camino BRT, a proposed rapid transit line connecting Palo Alto and central San Jose. El Camino Real ("the Royal Road") is a path defined by Spanish missionaries as they spread north through California. It lies close to the old railroad line now used by Caltrain, and the two facilities combined... Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2014 at Human Transit
From Streetsblog's Aaron Blalick in San Francisco: The latest of [San Francisco Municipal Transporation Authority]'’s efforts to speed up [major bus] lines to run into some neighborhood opposition involves its proposed replacement of stop signs with transit-priority traffic signals. Some Western Addition neighbors have protested a proposal to signalize five intersections on McAllister Street to speed up the 5-Fulton, one of the designated “Rapid” routes receiving upgrades under the Muni Forward program (also known as the Transit Effectiveness Project). Initially, the complaints were driven by fears that signals would bring dangerous speeding to McAllister. Muni planners responded by holding more... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2014 at Human Transit