Tagbus

The blizzard’s calming effect

Last Wednesday night, after the blizzard had stopped and the city had plowed arterial roads, I took two buses to Pilsen in 36 minutes. Transit buses have an average speed lower than bicycling and I don’t think I could have biked there in 36 minutes. (I didn’t want to bike because I didn’t know the condition of roads from my new place in Avondale to dinner in Pilsen.)

I credit the speedy journey to the complete lack of cars on the road and the few people wanting to go out on Wednesday, as well as ride the bus.

The blizzard gave Chicagoans a break. Hundreds of thousands of workers stayed home on Wednesday. Thousands more got the day off on Thursday. Car traffic remained light through Friday and the Chicago Transit Authority trains and buses were packed on Thursday (partially because of mechanical problems on the Blue Line but also because of new riders who couldn’t drive or carpool).

Chicagoans enjoy strolling through Humboldt Park. Photo by Joshua Koonce.

Many people took walking tours around their parks and neighborhoods, or went to see the calamity of Lake Shore Drive. Flickr is loaded with the explorers’ photos. Check out 2,000+ labeled “snomg chicago.”

The blizzard’s effect on traffic and roads

The snow plows inadvertently created a curb extension at the main intersection in Wicker Park, often used as part of a traffic calming project. This was gone on Saturday, but in addition to its removal, the entire corner sidewalk was cleared.

A lot of bike lanes are buried right now and people riding bikes are riding in the middle shared lanes, further calming traffic. I’m not sure how long the civility I noticed between drivers and bicyclists last week will last, even as bike lanes remain “closed” or have been illegally co-opted into backup parking lanes. See next photo.

These drivers have illegally parked their cars in the bike lane. The municipal code does not offer any relevant (i.e. snow-related) exemptions for parking or standing in bike lanes.

Riding and driving through town has been interesting. There’s no room for people riding bikes to share the lane with drivers side by side, so they must share it front to back.

Another case for integrating biking and transit

Integrating biking and transit can reduce a user’s transportation costs.

A friend just instant messaged me to describe his “bike instead of transit” commute,

“I spent $440 on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) this year and $300 on bike stuff. When I was just taking the CTA it was $1032 per year. I used to have the monthly pass deducted from my paycheck, $86 per month. Now I pay as a I go, and I go much less.”

In some places, and for other people’s situations, commuters could bike TO the train or bus and reduce their costs by eliminating a transfer. Transit also lengthens a bike rider’s possible trip distance when they combine the modes. In this sense, providing services or facilities for people riding bikes attracts new customers or maintains relationships with existing customers.

The Department of Transportation is now funding projects that improve bicycling (and walking) connections to bus and train stations. We should continue focusing on expanding and improving our bikeway networks by connecting them with our transit networks. By doing so, we make each system more robust and give people more options to choose the route that’s best for them.

Boarding northbound Caltrain at Palo Alto University Avenue station.

Some buses can hold three bikes (see Seattle and Silicon Valley). Highway 17 Express bus Santa Cruz bound at San Jose State University stop. Photos by Richard Masoner.

Park wins while parking fails neighborhood

This post on the removal of car parking at a park inspired me to write this post about the addition of car parking at a park.

Palmisano (Stearns Quarry) Park was created out of a dolomite limestone quarry and landfill in Bridgeport. The park is well designed and has a variety of landscape features. It’s quite popular, especially with elderly Asian residents.

Now, after a year of it being open, many diagonal parking spaces were installed on 27th Street. Space was removed from the parkway to create additional parking spaces where only parallel spaces existed.

Access to the park is not an issue. There are hundreds of households and thousands of residents within half a mile. There’re bike lanes and bus stops. There is a signalized intersection that makes it safer for people to cross the street to the park. Lastly, there are many unused parallel parking spaces lining two sides of the park.

So why was parking added? Did the neighbors ask for it? Did the Chicago Park District feel new parking was needed?

In a nutshell, my complaints against this are:

  1. It removed parkway – this should be sacred space. Perhaps we can institute a “tit-for-tat” policy (modeled after a parking meter agreement*) where if parkway is removed in one place, parkway has to be expanded or improved in another place.
  2. Potentially increases traffic in area by encouraging more driving by offering free parking. All parking surrounding the park is free.
  3. Parking space for drivers with handicap badges does not have a ramp. This is the most perplexing part – you may have to open the photo to its full size to notice this.
  4. Bumpout is not a bioswale. I highly doubt anyone will maintain the grass and soil. This landscaping will die.
  5. Bumpout’s large radius will not calm traffic (I watch it every day).

I would like to see the bumpout “island” transformed into a proper curb extension at a stop sign where drivers typically pause in the crosswalk and quickly turn right into southbound Halsted without stopping. I would like to see a bioswale collect the water from the street at this curb and divert it to the park’s wetlands.

*As I understand it, if parking meter spaces are removed and converted to another use (like a curb extension or on-street bicycle parking), a non-metered space must be converted to the equivalent metered spaces removed.

Bikes and transit – share your knowledge

UPDATE: Why bikes and transit go together (PDF) – read this brochure from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

While you’re reading up on the 80+ comments on the story about some Seattle bike riders suing the city, I want to take this opportunity to again promote the Bikes and Transit group on Flickr. The group’s purpose is to document interactions between bicycle riders, bikes, and transit vehicles, both buses and trains. The definition of “interaction” is quite loose.

Photo from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition taken one 3rd Street during the May 24, 2010, Sunday Parkways.

Many times, bicycle riders are also transit users. If not, they’re riding in streets shared by streetcars, light rail, and buses. The pool of photos from around the world can help us learn about practices in other countries. Or we can find out that fat bike tires won’t fit in many bus-bike racks (see photo below).

Richard Masoner points out that 2.6 inch wide tires don’t fit into the bike rack on Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses, using the Sportworks Veloporter racks (common to bus operators across the United States).

Add your own photos! Or link me and I’ll invite your photos one by one.

Street safety is also a user issue

Street safety is based in part on the right infrastructure design, but also user behavior.

Keep off the tracks. Sometimes a train seems to appear out of nowhere (this seems to be especially true for motorists). I hope Operation Lifesaver is still being taught in schools. I remember someone coming to my school to talk about train safety.

I think trains to many Americans are still a new concept. To best understand what I mean, read the newspaper articles in the two months following any new light rail opening in the United States. There’s a collision every week. Unlike Europe, we ripped out all of our streetcars, light rail, and trams, and we’re still in the beginning stages of returning to rail.

Bicycling and buses: Their large size and unwieldy maneuvering can make it harder to predict movements. Don’t play leapfrog and wait for the bus operator to make the first move (video) – the second move is now yours and safer.

Recognize stop bars, crosswalks, signals. The stop bar isn’t at the bicyclist’s position for a very good reason.

The magic of the RFID card: Applications in transit

The Chicago Transit Authority should convert the U-Pass program from using magnetic stripe fare media to an RFID, or proximity, card.

Several times on weekdays on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, a crowd of up to thirty students waits for the 8/Halsted bus after a class period ends. A very high percentage of the students will use a U-Pass to pay for the bus fare. All U-Pass users have to dip their cards. According to the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Service Manual, each passenger with a dip card will take 4.2 seconds to pay their fare whilst users paying with contactless cards will take 3.0 seconds each to pay their fares.

Converting the U-Pass student fare program to use the same contactless fare collection as the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus will improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s quality of service on all bus routes, especially those routes used heavily by program participants.

Contactless fare collection technology (also known as Radio Frequency Identification, RFID, or proximity cards) gives customers additional options to pay and manage their transit fares. It keeps prepaid fares secure against theft and loss. The customer can easily switch payment methods – between a credit/debit card online and debit card/cash at vending locations – and fare types – pay-per-use or 30-day unlimited use. What is most important is how contactless fare collection speeds boarding onto buses and passing through turnstiles at rail stations. This aspect of the technology most discernibly improves the CTA’s quality of service. Taking into consideration all these benefits, contactless cards provide the greatest passenger convenience for fare payment.

Quality of service is the customer’s perception or assessment of performance. The first percept would be the increased boarding speed at key bus stops. The improvements, visible to the boarding passengers and which positively affect the route, cascade from there: increased boarding speed reduces dwell time, which can help keep buses operating on their posted schedule and shrink the rate of bus bunching. The performance gains are measurable – there would be a half-minute decrease in dwell time at UIC bus stops, amongst other gains.

Contactless fare cards are more durable than the U-Pass, which is surprisingly less durable than the CTA’s paper Transit Cards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the U-Pass card material is more prone to cracking and tearing than the Transit Card material. Currently, UIC students who require a replacement card must pay a $35 fee – an exorbitant amount that does little to deter the anger or frustration of those students who use their cards daily.

A secondary benefit in convenience for the student, the participating colleges, and the CTA, is that producing the U-Pass as a contactless farecard could be permanent: students would keep the same fare media through their entire tenure at the school. Each and every semester, the schools and CTA would spend less labor hours for temporary U-Pass farecard printing and distribution. Alternatively, the U-Pass program could be applied to the existing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus system, similar to how London Oyster cardholders can add 7-day, monthly and annual passes, giving transit passengers more options than 30-day unlimited use or pay-per-use. During the semester and the U-Pass activity period, no fare would be deducted from the student’s contactless farecard. When the semester is over or the U-Pass activity period is complete, the contactless farecard would automatically switch to the user-defined fare choice and payment plan.

Converting existing fare programs to work like the CTA’s Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus would be a prudent and appropriate step for the CTA to take to improve the quality of service for U-Pass eligible students and the bus system alike.

Impacts of Intelligent Transportation System elements on bus operators

The assignment: “Describe the impact of the following ITS components on the bus operator.”

The class: Transportation Management

Background: Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) is the application of computers and electronics to vehicles, highway and transit systems to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and safety of the systems. Many elements of ITS are “behind the scenes” (like centralized dispatching or traffic monitoring), and others are “front line,” in view of the users or customers (like Bus Tracker/NextBus or paying a fare with a proximity card). Some of these elements will have an impact on the bus operator themselves. In this assignment I describe what those impacts are, organizing the short paper by each element and their intrinsic advantages and disadvantages.

The following Intelligent Transportation System components each have multiple advantages (A) and disadvantages (D) for the bus operator (driver).

  • In-Vehicle Automated Announcements
  • Transit Signal Priority
  • Security Cameras
  • Emergency Alarm
  • Centralized Dispatch
  • Internet “Bus Tracker”

In-Vehicle Automated Announcements

A: This component allows the operator to concentrate on driving the bus as well as the safety and comfort of the passengers. It may reduce the stress of the operator because they are no longer responsible for keeping track of the street names, activating the public address system, and announcing stops.

D: Some bus operators, particularly those who have been with the company for a long time and own embrace certain traditions, may feel this technology is a way to make their job obsolete. Some bus operators may feel it erodes the personal relationship bus operators have with their customers. Others may feel that announcing stops required a certain skill on which they could compare or compete with others; new bus operators won’t develop this skill or find alternate ways to develop customer relationships.

Transit Signal Priority (TSP)

A: This component can reduce the tedium of a bus operator’s job of accelerating and decelerating because the bus can sustain higher speeds and stop less often (at signals, but passenger stops) when it is given priority at traffic signals.

D: This component may eliminate the bus operator’s job. If the transit agency can operate fewer buses on a route with TSP at the same headways and level of passenger convenience, bus operators could be reassigned to other routes, or laid off completely. Operating a bus at a higher speed could increase the potential for traffic collisions without having time to adapt or appropriate training.

Security Cameras

A: Security cameras can help protect the bus operator in case of an on-board incident that harms them by either exonerating them, rewarding them for their exemplary behavior in handling the incident, or by assisting law enforcement and prosecutors in pursuing justice against the perpetrator.

D: Recordings may catch bus operators not performing as required and could be used against them in disciplinary proceedings.

Emergency Alarm

A: The emergency alarm has the capability of calling for help from the agency’s control center and from local law enforcement to come to the aid of the bus and operator. Depending on the simplicity of activating the alarm, this ITS component has the potential to speed aid to the bus operator and allow the operator to concentrate on the incident at hand instead of spending time communicating to the dispatcher; the incident could be crucial requiring the bus operator’s full attention.

D: Agency management may feel that the presence of an emergency alarm reduces the need for law enforcement or security patrols on buses while the bus operators would prefer to have a high level of security patrol to deter vandalism or potential criminal incidents that either harm the operator or their customers. To ensure this ITS component doesn’t influence an increase in crimes, the agency must base any decision about change in the level of law enforcement and security patrols on factual data and studies and collaborate with all parties (bus operators included) about recommendations or proposals.

Centralized Dispatch

A: This component provides a single point of communication, to and from which all messages will be sent. The bus operator will most likely communicate with a single person (or staff position) at the control center, who will be responsible for answering the operator’s questions en route, handling emergencies by calling the appropriate personnel, and ordering live route or operation changes.

D: The bus operator may have a poor relationship or lack camaraderie with their assigned dispatcher that might place a strain on the effective operation of the bus and the route. For example, the bus operator might not fully follow the dispatcher’s directions if there exists a mutual or one-sided distrust or dislike. However, this would most likely have a negative impact on the bus operator’s performance rating.

Internet “Bus Tracker”

A: The “Bus Tracker” system is based on automated vehicle location (AVL) technology, which includes a geographic positioning system (via satellite) to pinpoint the bus’s exact location. AVL can create a timeline of the bus’s travel and identify the times at which the bus stopped and started. The data from this timeline could be used as evidence to exonerate the bus operator in an incident in a situation where a customer or other person accuses the bus or its operator of doing something wrong.

D: The Bus Tracker could also be used against the bus operator by showing evidence that they did do something wrong. The timeline data (which would show schedule adherence and could identifying running ahead or behind) can be used as a measure of the operator’s work performance and serve as evidence in disciplinary proceedings. AVL could also determine if the bus operator took an unscheduled break or went off the route.

Additionally, I see a case where customers who follow and come to depend on the Bus Tracker website are influenced by their dependence to change their relationship with the bus operator or the transit agency. For example, if the Bus Tracker displays inaccurate time information (one time, or consistently), the customer may become upset with the bus operator (who would most like not be at fault for any delays or inaccurate time information) or the transit agency. Bus operators aren’t always equipped or trained mentally or physically to handle upset customers.

Do you have any other ideas about the impacts of these ITS elements on bus operators (drivers)?

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