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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
It's almost five years since Christchurch, New Zealand was devastated by the February 2011 earthquake. A new downtown is under construction in the blocks just south of the ruined cathedral, and one of the first buildings to be opened was the new hub for the transit system. It's a fine building: spacious, well-lit, with a little cafe as well as great information, both human and automated. What will strike a North American visitor, though, is that it does something that we consider impossible. Buses pull into terminal bays, and then must back out. This is common in stations for long-distance... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2015 at Human Transit
We're starting to see professional reports echoing long-standing concerns about how driverless cars will affect our cities. This new one from KPMG, in particular, is getting a lot of press. It's actually a focus group study about the transport desires of different generations, but it confirms the thought experiments that many of us have already been laying out for a while. Much depends on whether these cars are owned or spontaneously hired like taxis, Uber, and Lyft. A taxi model is definitely better in its congestion impacts, but that doesn't mean it will happen. The ownership model is closer to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2015 at Human Transit
In North America, the word downtown invites us to imagine the densest and most walkable part of any city, the place where transit and other non-car modes naturally thrive more than anywhere else. And where this is actually true, it's logical for all kinds of intercity and local transit services to focus there. But when we project this model of downtown onto every city, we encounter fatal confusions. Downtown implies a single place; there's just one per city or metro area. But some cities aren't like that. Los Angeles and Houston, two take two famous examples, have a place called... Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2015 at Human Transit
The Boston Globe has a story about the region's transit agency, the MBTA, launching a pilot program with local taxis to provide paratransit service. This is worth watching because of the potential to unlock resources for fixed route transit services. Paratransit, in the strictest sense, is door-to-door service for people with disabilities who cannot use fixed route transit. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities mandates that transit agencies provide paratransit wherever and whenever they run fixed route service, and charge no more than double the fixed route fare. In the agency budget, this mandated service competes with the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 16, 2015 at Human Transit
This guest post is by Ron Kilcoyne, general manager of Lane Transit District in Eugene, Oregon and formerly the head of transit in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Santa Clarita, California. The flurry of speculation about the future of autonomous vehicles is mostly ignoring a signficant downside: the impact on vehicle miles travelled (VMT). Safety and congestion resonate with people while VMT doesn’t. Yet reducing per capita VMT is also essential for combating climate change. The potential increase in VMT when self-driving cars become prevalent could negate any congestion reduction benefit. Indeed it could be far worse than today. Reducing VMT or... Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2015 at Human Transit
While I was in Reykjavík in March, I was interviewed on Iceland's national public broadcaster RUV, on a show called Kastljós ('Spotlight'). Host Thora Arnorsdóttir asked excellent questions, but with typical Nordic modesty she has edited herself out, leaving just 6 minutes of me talking with Icelandic subtitles. If you don't speak Icelandic, you'll want to start at 1:17. It's here. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2015 at Human Transit
Last Thursday, I joined a panel discussion put on by the Seattle Times about "gridlock". Mike Lindblom of the times summed it up here, and I previewed it here, but I'm thinking about the guy who came up to me afterward. At great length, he told me that Seattle's streets had been planned and designed for cars. He began listing specific streets, why they were built as they were, with the number of car lanes that their designers had intended. He objected to what was happening to his city's streets: replacing 4 tight lanes with 2-3 lanes to add room... Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2015 at Human Transit
It's now been about two months since Houston METRO implemented their New Network, developed through a process called the System Reimagining. The first ridership numbers are in, and some could be misread as cause for panic. In fact, they're exactly what we'd expect. So let's take a deep breath and have a look: First, let's remember what thew New Network did. The changes did three major things, without increasing the operating budget by much: They shifted the percentage of the network devoted to ridership goals from 55% to around 75%. They vastly expanded the reach of frequent service so that... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2015 at Human Transit
Setting up for our panel discussion this Thursday night, the Seattle Times asked each of their panelists to answer some canned questions about the future of transportation. The result is here. I hope the contrasts will motivate you to come! Bravo to Bryan Mistele of INRIX (the traffic consultants to the notorious TTI Urban Mobility Report) for being willing to come into the densest part of Seattle and announce that (a) cars are our future and (b) light rail is a bad investment because of its ridership in the early years. (Both claims presume the linearity of past trends and... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2015 at Human Transit
Island Press is doing another 50% off sale on all their books, hardcover and paperback. That brings the paperback of my book down to just $17.50! No need to wait for the battered one from the library. Now you can brandish your own copy at your next impassioned meeting! By my book here! Browse their impressive inventory starting here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2015 at Human Transit
Part 1 of this post gave an urbanist tour of Reykjavík, with photos. Iceland has no rail infrastructure. Public transit is buses, but they’re nice buses, as is usual in Europe. They blanket most of the city at a 30-minute frequency (blue below) but only two lines – linking the historic town centers, rise to 15-minute all-day frequency (red). These are the only places where the next bus is “always coming soon.” Here's the frequency map we drew for them (full PDF here: Download Frequency Map): Given the density, that's not much frequency. There are probably more opportunities to build... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2015 at Human Transit
I recently returned from a week in Reykjavík, Iceland, working with staff of the regional association of municipalities on the frame of a future public transport plan. It was an opportunity to meet with key elected leaders – including Reykjavík Mayor Dagur Eggertsson and public transit authority chair Bryndís Haraldsdóttir – for a conversation about what they want public transit to be, and what choices might follow from those goals. I also ran a two-day workshop for municipal and national transport staffs, to help them explore their options for their transit future. (There was also some time off to ruminate... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2015 at Human Transit
From our good friends at Trillium Solutions, a cool company that does a range of IT solutions for transit agencies: Transportation Camp is coming to Rohnert Park on October 20. The format of Transportation Camp is an "unconference" focused around transit and technology. The event will serve the dual purpose of kicking off the Fall conference for CalACT, California's state transit association. Transit operators, activists, and technologists can come together to solve problems. What: TranspoCamp California. When: October 20, 2015. Coffee and muffins at 8:30. Event at 9:30. Sessions at 11. Happy hour afterwards. Where: DoubleTree hotel in Rohnert Park,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2015 at Human Transit
By Evan Landman Evan Landman is an associate at my firm, Jarrett Walker & Associates, and serves as a research assistant and ghostwriter on this blog. He tweets on transit and other Portland topics at @evanlandman. For years on this blog and in our projects, we've stressed the importance of highlighting and emphasizing transit agencies' Frequent Networks on customer information of all kinds. Portland's agency TriMet has traditionally been a best practice example here, given their extensive Frequent Network branding down to the individual stop level, but curiously, their system map has not embraced this idea so wholeheartedly. Today, TriMet's... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2015 at Human Transit
I don't often get to do events in my home town, so I'm looking forward to a little gathering on October 6 in City Club of Portland's Leader Spotlight series. It's free, but the venue is small so be sure to RSVP! Details and link here. Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at Human Transit
Grim header, no? Well, all that unhappiness is apparently turning people out for a Seattle Times event on the evening of October 29. Two hundred people registered in the first two hours for a panel featuring: Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly INRIX CEO Bryan Mistele University of Washington transportation researcher Mark Hallenbeck and yours truly! It sounds like that notorious Texas Transportation Institute report may come up at some point, since INRIX did their modeling, so it should be a lively discussion. There's still time to register, here! Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2015 at Human Transit
The Association of Municipalities for greater Reykjavík has invited me to spend a week there working with them on public transport issues. On 22 September, I'll be doing a public talk on the topic, from 1500 to 1630, in English. If you'll be in Iceland then, please come! Please also pass this on to your Icelandic friends. It's at the auditorium (Salurinn), just north of the main Hamraborg public transport stop, in Kópavogur. It is very transit-accessible: From the city centre take bus line 1, 2, or 4 -- a short trip at high frequency. To confirm, go to this... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2015 at Human Transit
If you care at all about visual communication -- and if you aren't blind from birth, then you do -- you should be following the remarkable debate about the New Zealand flag. National flags are so enduring that it is hard to imagine a graphic design task with higher stakes. Revising one triggers a profound argument about national identity, which ultimately comes down to a couple of questions: One or many ideas? Can the nation come together around one image or idea, or must there me a mash-up of several to satisfy different groups or points of view? Fashionable or... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2015 at Human Transit
Every year, the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Scorecard describes the nation’s most transit-intensive and walkable metro areas as having terrible “urban mobility”. And every year, academic experts and smart journalists attack its indefensible methods and assumptions. And yet, every year, careless journalists describe the report as though it were news about the state of "mobility" or “commuting” in America. But you don’t need to study the analysis to understand what’s wrong with TTI's claims. All you need to do is look at their press release or summary, and notice that they want you to think of car congestion as... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2015 at Human Transit
For over a decade, I've been encouraging transit agencies to be clear about how they balance the contradictory goals of ridership (as many customers as possible for the fixed operating budget) or coverage (some transit service everywhere, responding to needs rather than to demand). I lay out the tradeoff in the opening part of this explainer. Michael Anderson, the editor of the excellent blog Bike Portland, has a very thoughtful article exploring how, and whether, this paradigm applies to cycling infrastructure. Disclosure: It would be fascinating even if they hadn't interviewed Michelle Poyourow, a bike-and-transit planner who's also a Senior... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2015 at Human Transit
I've been asked to do a one-hour course as part of the City Building Exchange, a two-day star-studded training program for city professionals in New Orleans, October 15-16. Their prestigious lineup of faculty includes Andres Duany, Ellen Dunham-Jones, and . It also sounds like a great chance to visit a city in the process of radical transformation for better or worse. Today is the last day for the discounted price ($475) as opposed to the regular price ($495). Details here. Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2015 at Human Transit
Tonight -- in the wee hours of August 16, 2015, it all happens. The complete redesign of Houston's bus network, the result of a design process that I led and of extraordinary Board and staff effort, goes into effect overnight tonight. Over a year of planning, months of difficult public debate and revision, and finally months of intense work at implementation, all bears fruit on Sunday, August 16, when practically every bus line in Houston changes. For the better. My favorite tweet exchange of this excited Saturday: sort of surreal that one day it just… changes. Reminds me of Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2015 at Human Transit
This urgent post will remain at the top of the blog until we fill our position. New material appears beneath it. Are you 2-15 years into a transit career but wishing you could be doing something more exciting or effective to change the state of the industry? We are trying to raise the standards for what counts as good transit planning, and we are looking for smart, motivated people who want to be part of that. If things go as they're now going, we'll be hiring at several levels over the next year. But our most urgent need is for... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2015 at Human Transit
An important belated update from the world of ridesharing - Uber is now testing a feature they are calling "Suggested Pickup Points", which directs customers to walk to nearby locations that are easier for their drivers to reach, saving time for both the driver and (in the case of UberPool) for other passengers on board. Lyft takes this even further, offering discounted rides on its Lyft Line service for people who come to meet it. You may be familiar with an identical concept in the public transit industry, called a "stop" or "station" -- a location near to destinations, but... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2015 at Human Transit
[This post is periodically updated as helpful comments roll in.] Have you ever picked up an academic paper and read, right there in the abstract, that you don't exist? We're used to reading rhetoric that defines us as the enemy, which is different. Rhetoric about the "war on cars" or "war on coal" posits an in-group of good people, including the author and presumed reader, and an out-group that is threatening to them. This is exclusionary language in its obvious form, and it's hard to justify in academia. But academics can slide unconsciously into a more subtle kind of exclusionary... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2015 at Human Transit