What I’m reading lately, public transit edition:
Jarrett Walker has a thoughtful, inconclusive post on the issue of transit agency integration (reflecting on the excellent SPUR report on Bay are transit). Like Walker, when I first encountered and tried to use transit in regions with confusing and poor integration (Bay Area, late 90’s) I assumed integration into a mega-agency was the right answer. Like Walker, I’m much less sanguine about that view now. One potentially attractive solution in balancing one of the potential shortcomings of integration–municipalities in a larger agency who want to have greater than average levels of service (and are willing to pay for it)–emerged out of necessity in Seattle/King County last year. The County-wide agency avoided cuts during the recession by postponing capital investments, cutting recovery times down to the bone, spending down its rainy day fund, and an emergency 2 year $20 car tab. Facing inevitable cuts last year in light of those choices, they went to the voters in an April special election with a $60 car tab and .1% sales tax increase, and lost. Seattle politicians, noting that the measure passed handily in the city, and on the urgent need to preserve and expand transit there, put together a Seattle-only version of it for the November ballot, where it handily won. (In the ensuing months economic forecasts improved such that many of the previously proposed cuts wouldn’t have been necessary anyway, meaning that the additional revenue could expand service within Seattle–a fact that if anything probably helped the measure pass.) This doesn’t bring back Seattle Transit as an independent agency, it just means the KC Metro has a baseline level of funding and service (and, since 2010, clear service revision guidelines governing the geographic distribution of service), and municipalities within the county can purchase additional service from the agency. The model is now there for other cities who might wish for more service (Mercer Island has in a very limited way taken advantage of this model for a new shuttle, and may purchase more additional service). This model doesn’t address all the problems mega-agencies present, but it seems like a potentially useful model for at least one of them. It recognizes the need for a route around regionalism without abandoning regionalism altogether.
The first so-called “Dutch Intersection” in the US, went live in Davis earlier this month. In the near future we’ll see them in Austin, Sacramento, Boston, and Salt Lake City.
Houston’s ambitious and significant revision of its bus network just launched. It’s cost-neutral, but embraces the principles and practices transit wonks are constantly imploring agencies to adopt–fewer lines, straighter, more frequent, simple and legible. I’m generally persuaded by this vision, but acknowledge it’s mostly theoretical at this point. What happens with Houston ridership in the near future is well worth watching, and very important data point for reformers (if this goes well) or their legacy-route protectionists (if it doesn’t).
…..a few more:
Jeremy W. in comments has a good link on the right wing war on the MBTA in Boston.
I’ve written before about the leveling off of vehicle miles traveled overall (which means a per capita decline) and the refusal of DOTs to recognize it. The most recent numbers show that trend may, lamentably, be starting to shift back to growth, leading to some unseemly gloating from the FHWA. Doug Short takes a closer look at the numbers, which are rather more ambiguous than the FHWA would suggest. (It occurs to me, in looking at data like this, to wonder how many VMTs restrictive, exclusionary zoning, which prevents people who might want to do so from living closer to their jobs, adds to this total.)
Speaking of the clusterfuck that is the deep bore tunnel project, the estimated completion date is now 2018, and WSDOT is no longer even pretending to believe Seattle Tunnel Partners estimates. And when it does go online, it’ll probably screw up bus service and create congestion for people actually trying to get downtown, that place where the jobs are and the tunnel doesn’t go.