Tag: Seattle

Summary of benefits from transit tracker reports

What benefit does this bus tracker display in a grocery store have on transit passengers? And on the transit agency?

This is a complementary article to the one I posted on Grid Chicago today, The state of transit trackers in Chicago.

The text is excerpted from two reports (unquoted sections are my own paraphrases or thoughts):

  1. “OneBusAway: Results from Providing Real-Time Arrival Information for Public Transit” by Brian Ferris, Kari Watkins, and Alan Borning. University of Washington. Download the report. Referenced with “OneBusAway”.
  2. “Real-time Bus Arrival Information Systems Return-on-Investment Study” by Laura Cham, Georges Darido, David Jackson, Richard Laver, Donald Schneck. Booz Allen Hamilton. Download the report. Referenced with “Booz”.


“Towards this goal, there are two principal reasons for providing better transit traveler information: to increase satisfaction among current riders; and to increase ridership, es- pecially among new or infrequent transit users and for non- peak hour trips. These are two key priorities for many transit agencies. It has been shown that transit traveler information can result in a mode-shift to public transportation [14]. This stems from the riders’ ability to feel more in control of their trip, including their time spent waiting and their perception of safety. Real-time arrival information can help in both of these areas. Existing studies of permanent real-time arrival signage at transit stations have shown that the ability to de- termine when the next vehicle is coming brings travelers’ perception of wait time in line with the true time spent wait- ing [6]. Transit users value knowing how long their wait is, or whether they have just missed the last bus. In addition, it has been found that providing real-time information signifi- cantly increases passenger feelings of safety [20].” (OneBusAway 1)


“The results suggest a number of important positive outcomes for OneBusAway users: increased overall satisfaction with public transit, decreased wait times, increased transit trips per week, increased feelings of safety, and even increased dis- tance walked when using transit.” (OneBusAway 2)


“The most common response, mentioned by 38% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway alleviated the uncertainty and frustration of not knowing when a bus is really going to arrive. Ttypical comments:

  • ‘The biggest frustration with taking busses is the inconsistency with being able to adhere to schedules because of road traffic. Onebusaway solves all of that frustration.’
  • ‘I no longer sit with pitted stomach wondering where is the bus. It’s less stressful simply knowing it’s nine minutes away, or whatever the case.’ “

Flexibility in planning

“The next most common response, mentioned by 35% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway increased the ease and flexibility of planning travel using public transit, whether it be a question of which bus to take or when to catch it. A typical comment: ‘I can make decisions about which bus stop to go to and which bus to catch as I have options for the trip home after work.’ and ‘It helps plan my schedule a little better to know if I can take a little extra time or if I have to hurry faster so I don’t miss my bus.’ ” (OneBusAway 5)

Wait time

“Among respondents, 91% reported spending less time waiting, 8% reported no change, and less than 1% reported an increase in wait times.” (OneBusAway 6)

While 95% of Transit Tracker users agreed the system reduces their wait time, there are at present, no solid measures of what the average reduction in wait time actually is. (Booz 49)

Survey responses from users of Transit Tracker information displays at equipped bus stops suggests that actual reductions in total wait time may be negligible. However, this seems unlikely to be the case for those users accessing Transit Tracker via either phone or the internet. Given the availability of accurate, real-time arrival information, riders accessing Transit Tracker via phone or internet have the opportunity of optimizing (i.e., delaying) their bus stop arrival time and thus reduce time spent waiting a transit stop. (Booz 49)

As noted above, the value of time for transit riders waiting at stops is twice that for riders once they have boarded the vehicle. This wait-time premium reflects a variety of wait-time costs that are not experienced “in-vehicle” including reduced personal comfort (e.g., exposure to the elements), potential safety concerns and uncertainty regarding the arrival time of the next transit vehicle. (Booz 50)


“We asked users how their perception of personal safety had changed as result of using OneBusAway. While 79% of re- spondents reported no change, 18% reported feeling some- what safer and 3% reported feeling much safer. This in- crease in the perception of safety when using OneBusAway is significant overall (X2 = 98.05, p < 10?15). We also found that safety was correlated with gender (X2 = 19.458, p = 0.001), with greater increases for women.

We additionally asked respondents whose feeling of safety had changed to describe how in a free-form comment. Of such respondents, 60% reported spending less time waiting at the bus stop as their reason, while 25% mentioned that OneBusAway removed some of their uncertainty. Respondents specifically mentioned waiting at night (25%) or at unsavory stops (11%) as potential reasons they might feel unsafe in the first place. Respondents also described using OneBusAway to plan alternate routes (14%) or to help de- cide on walking to a different stop (7%) in order to increase feelings of safety.” (OneBusAway 6)

Two representative comments:

  • Having the ability to know when my bus will arrive helps me decide whether or not to stay at a bus stop that I may feel a little sketchy about or move on to a different one. Or even, stay inside of a building until the bus does arrive.
  • Onebusaway makes riding the bus seem more accessible and safe. I can plan when to leave the house better and spend less time waiting at dark or remote stops.

These results are consistent with a 2006 King County Metro rider survey which found that 19% of riders were dissatisfied with personal safety while waiting for the bus after dark [7].” (OneBusAway 6)

Transit tracker information gives one the power/tools/ability? to decide if walking to a stop on another route is a good idea (OneBusAway 7).

Also means people can walk to next or previous stop (for exercise or better seat) and know the buss won’t pass them while walking, or arrive before they get there.

Also means you can walk if wait is long and walking is faster than waiting. Might work best with transfers.

Also means that you can take the bus instead of walking if the trip is short, walking is your primary mode, and the bus is arriving within minutes. “…users might be taking advantage of the real-time arrival information from OneBusAway to hop on a bus arriving shortly to save a trip of a few blocks that they would have otherwise walked. Some 26% of respondents in the follow up survey indicated that they do in fact take the bus for short trips for which they previously would have walked based on information from OneBusAway, but overall the balance is more walking.” (OneBusAway 7)

Case against transit tracker at ALL stops (both bus and train)

“However, it is likely prohibitively expensive to provide and maintain such displays at every bus stop in a region. With the increased availability of powerful mobile devices and the public availability of transit schedule data in machine read- able formats, a significant number of tools haven been de- veloped to make this information available on a variety of interfaces, including mobile devices. These systems are often cheaper to deploy than fixed real-time arrival displays at a large number of stops. Further, these systems, especially mobile devices, can support additional, personalized func- tionality, such as customized alerts.” (OneBusAway2)

Implications on service planning

“In the transit service planning industry, 10 minutes has long been considered the barrier between schedule-based and headway-based service. A recent study found that at 11 min- utes, passengers begin to coordinate their arrivals rather than arriving randomly [15]. This is consistent with earlier stud- ies documenting random versus coordinated arrivals. There- fore, at a time between buses greater than 10 minutes, pas- sengers want a schedule to coordinate their arrival times. However, with the introduction of real time information such as OneBusAway, we have shown that users more frequently refer to real time information than to schedules to determine when to wait at the bus stop. This is important for transit ser- vice operations because a significant amount of time is lost in attempting to maintain reliability for scheduled service — planners must build a certain amount of slack time into the schedule. One study found the slack ratio to be 25% in Los Angeles [8]. With headway-based service, supervisors use real time transit data to maintain a certain amount of time between buses, rather than attempting to maintain a sched- ule, thereby allowing free running time and saving slack time [21]. This savings in running time can reduce agency costs to provide the same level of service on a transit route.” (OneBusAway 9)


“In addition, the investment in website and phone-based real time transit information can also save an agency substan- tially in deployment costs. As an example, Portland de- ployed their Transit Tracker program in 2001 with informa- tion displays at transit stops, a webpage and more recently a phone system. The transit tracker signs at light rail stations and 13 bus stops in Portland cost $950,000 including mes- sage signs and conduit. The cost for computer servers and web page development was much cheaper at $125,000 [4]. Given the widespread availability of cell phones and web access, providing real time transit information via a service such as OneBusAway could yield a substantial savings for an agency over constructing real-time arrival display signs. At the same time, we don’t want to unfairly disadvantage people who do not have access to such technology.”

Other notes

Also, better opportunity to provide focused tools for people with different cognitive and physical abilities. (OneBusAway)

What it’s like to Amtrak it with a bike

Update: This post has been widely shared. I suspect other people have blogged about their experiences of taking bikes on Amtrak. Leave a comment with the link, or tweet or email me, and I will include a link to your blog on this page. 

My friend, Will Vanlue, from Portland describes his experience taking a bicycle on Amtrak to Seattle. He bought a bicycle ticket even though he was pretty sure folding bikes could be brought on as carry-on luggage. It was true and the Amtrak staff refunded him.

Like some light rail trains, Amtrak Cascades cars have vertical storage for full-size bicycles. Travis was able to get his Bullitt “Long John” cargo bike on the train with assistance from the staff. 

The Amtrak Cascades train spoils their passengers compared to those on the Hiawatha or Wolverine, offering a power outlet for every seat, and free wifi. I took the train in April 2010 on my trip with Brandon to Portland and Seattle.

This is a good time to bring up, again, that Michigan trains will soon offer “roll on” bicycle service to passengers in 2012.

Whatever happened to the CTA express bus boarding lane?

While the Chicago Transit Authority investigates the use of alternative payment methods (like with a bank card or your cellphone), there are some things they can do now to improve the customer experience for the long term. The CTA is also investigating getting rid of traditional fare media entirely. My suggestions are congruent with that goal, although I do not support eliminating transit cards and cash payments, and I believe they can be implemented quickly using existing technology. Without a deeper knowledge of the limitations of the devices, software, and vendors CTA currently uses for fare handling, I present you three suggestions for speeding up the CTA:

1. Expand fare types on its RFID cards

Allow multi-day passes to be loaded onto Chicago Card (CC) and Chicago Card Plus (CCP). Go online and apply a 7-day pass to your card for the same price as it would cost at Walgreens. And since your CCP is already registered in your name, if you lose the card, you don’t lose the value of the multi-day pass. CC customers should register their card to protect its stored value.

I write this now because a friend just told me she lost her 7-day pass. That’s $23 down the drain. But if she lost her more durable CC/CCP she could pay $5 and receive the benefit of having her remaining days restored to the card (remaining days would be calculated based on the time she reported it lost).

Having the touchpad located here on the buses was supposed to reduce congestion in the doorway. But it appears to not have worked as the CTA moved the touchpads on all buses to the normal fare collection device, near the driver (in 2010). Photo taken in 2005 by Christopher.

2. Change U-PASS fare media

Switch U-PASS to be an RFID card like the CC and CCP. This will make it cheaper to replace lost or stolen U-PASSes (students must pay $35 to have it replaced while CC and CCP customers only pay $5), while also speeding up boarding time and decreasing overall travel time. I’ve written about switching the U-PASS media before.

I believe suggestions 1 and 2 can be done within a year and that it will provide immediate benefits, possibly more than those provided by the existing old CC/CCP program. Those cards have been available for almost 7 years now and a minority of repeat CTA customers use them.

3. Integrate

This almost goes without saying…fare media should be integrated with Pace*, Metra, and even taxis. CTA has already taken the wonderful step of integrating the CCP with I-GO car sharing.

Essentially, the existing RFID card program (that’s CC and CCP) should be more like the ORCA card in Seattle (ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All). The ORCA card allows multi-day passes (including a monthly or 30-day pass), youth discounts, senior discounts, disabled discounts, and low-income traveler discounts. It can be used on ferries, trains, and buses. And like the CC/CCP “pay as you go” method, the ORCA can hold “cash” to be used for transfers between agencies or paying for a companion (they call it e-purse).

Click through to read why Oran Viriyincy has four ORCA cards.

The public is nothing short of great ideas for the Chicago Transit Authority. Now if only there was a way where we could present our ideas or have them vetted by listening managers.

*The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be used on Pace buses.

November snow

November snow photo by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WsDOT).

I rode this train, the Amtrak Cascades, from Portland to Seattle, but in April 2010. I would love to go back and ride it again, through the snow this time. It looks so beautiful.

I commend the Washington State Department of Transportation for its good presence on social media and social networking websites. I’m tracking where other DOTs are online.

Readers Ask: Recommending bioswales

The second post in “Readers Ask,” from a planning student in Chicago.

I want to recommend bioswales for my Complete Streets project area which consists of a part of Grand in Chicago, Illinois  There are a lot of surface parking lots over there, and a big shopping mall which is built on a weird arrangement of slopes (Brickyard).  Since I know nothing about bioswales, I’m wondering what you could tell me about how I could go about recommending this. I have no idea what the rainwater runoff issue is over there, but I could only imagine that there would be one, with all the surface parking and weird slopage.

Bioswales are just one of many solutions to water runoff and stormwater collection. Another option is using permeable pavers in the parking lot. The real experts on this are Janet Attarian and David Leopold at CDOT. As a project manager at the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program, he’s dealt with and implemented bioswales, permeable parking lots, and pollution fighting bike lanes – the works. There’s a parking lot, designed by CDOT, built with a bioswale AND permeable pavement on Desplaines between Polk and Taylor in Chicago (photo below)/

Parking lot has permeable pavement and a bioswale. The site is monitored by CDOT to see how it performs in the winter. Photo by Bryce.

EVERY parking lot has runoff – every parking lot should do a better job managing it. By not better managing our stormwater, we all pay the costs, be it through flood insurance, recovering from floods, or having to build bigger pumps and sewers.

Permeable pavement at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago, Illinois.

Perhaps you shouldn’t recommend a bioswale, but a parking lot that “captures 80% of its runoff” or something through a “variety of methods.”

Bioswale in Portland, Oregon, as part of a green street transformation.

The EPA lists additional Best Management Practices. The Cities of  Seattle and Portland are experts in this. Portland was even able to get parts of its bikeway built by rolling them into the Department of Environment’s Green Streets program, their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and thus reduce the costs they pass on to their customers that pay for sewer service (like, everyone). I recommend this blog article about Portland’s sustainable design, written by a fellow planning student.

Bikes and streetcar tracks

UPDATE 12-11-10: Someone recently searched for rubber in tracks and I wanted to provide some additional resources on the topic of protecting people who ride bikes from the dangers of open streetcar tracks. It is possible, in some situations, to fill the track flangeway (where the wheel goes) with rubber that the train depresses as it rolls over but people riding bikes ride over a level surface. Resource one input from people around the world, and two, a column in The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.

UPDATE 12-14-10: BikePortland has a story about an activism and advocacy group (AROW) that will demand better accommodations for bicycling around new streetcar tracks in Portland, Oregon.

UPDATE 08-13-13: Zurich, Switzerland, will be testing a flangeway filler on their tram tracks. I believe this will be the first transit system to test the rubber fill. 

Bicycle riders in Seattle are suing the City of Seattle for not providing enough warnings about streetcar tracks in the South Lake Union neighborhood. They allege the City installed warning signs only after several bike-track crashes.

Photo: A sign on Stewart Street in Seattle, Washington, advises bicycle riders to use EXTREME CAUTION when crossing the streetcar tracks. These signs are coming under question in a lawsuit this week.

Mixing bicycles and transit is one of the most sensible matches of transportation modes. The Federal Transit Administration has been promoting a positive union since at least 1999 (see the booklet they produced). The publication includes case studies and good examples of integration, including a story about how King County Metro (the primary bus operator in Seattle) installed bike racks on its buses in 1993, following the footsteps of Phoenix.

Photo: A resident rides their bike on the street while a Portland Streetcar rolls by.

So how is it now, 17 years later, we’re still deliberating how streetcars, light rails, and bicycles can safely share the road? Why this is a problem:

  • People are getting hurt. Concerns about personal safety demotivate people to ride their bikes.
  • The Federal government is funding many new streetcar projects across the country, including in Tucson, Arizona, two hours south of Phoenix, which has its own light rail system.
  • Bicycle riders have been navigating tram and streetcar tracks in Europe for 100 years. What knowledge can European riders and planners share with us?

Photo: A rubber-filled flangeway in the gap between rail and deck on the Cherry Avenue Bridge in Chicago, Illinois. This bridge serves a 1-car train a few times a week.

Could a rubber-filled flangeway be used on a medium-frequency streetcar line?

Seattle trip and new camera

My recent 6 night, 7 day trip to the Pacific Northwest gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my new camera that arrived only days before my departure.

I purchased a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V (Sony should follow a simpler product naming scheme) from RitzCamera.com (which seems to be a different operation than Ritz Camera stores).

I bought the camera for its HD video (1080i60), decent image quality, wide-angle lens, and loads of neat features. I used the camera on every day of my trip and the results please me. The most significant neat feature is a mode called “Handheld Twilight.” The camera takes up to six shots (in one second) at different exposure and ISO settings, and then blends the photos together – and without flash. Because of this feature and the other low-light enhancing features, I don’t think I used the flash more than once or twice on my trip.

This photo of the Space Needle at Seattle Center demonstrates the image quality as a result of Handheld Twilight mode.

This photo shows the lens width. I held the camera at less than arm’s length.

Another mode that helps in low-light situations is Anti-motion Blur. I’m not really sure of the difference between this mode and the Handheld Twilight mode (both take multiple shots in quick succession), but whenever I saw the flashing hand that indicates a probably shaky picture, I switched the camera to Anti-motion Blur. Great photos emerged!

Boeing plane spotting in Marana, Arizona

A lot of people got really excited when the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft took off from their testing airfield outside Seattle, Washington, on December 15, 2009.

I found the videos mildly interesting (it shows the “Delay Liner” lifting off and landing). It seemed like the top topic on Twitter that day.

But traveling to Tucson, Arizona, 11 days later (December 26), I spotted the Dreamlifter, or Boeing’s modified 747-400 large cargo lifter. It looks like a 747 (the largest passenger plane until the Airbus A380 came along) with a hunchback (or broad shoulders). I didn’t see it flying, but I saw it a couple miles away from a highway while it sat and waited for something at the Pinal Airpark. Pinal Airpark hosts a boneyard for unneeded airplanes; Northwest Airlines keeps many planes there (see photo at end).

The plane is unmistakable, even from a distance. Measuring perpendicularly from I-10 (going southeast), the runway is 2.6 miles from the road. I believe this plane sat about .2 miles closer, on the maintenance tarmac.

However, it’s more likely the Dreamlifter is waiting for a fixup at the on-site Evergreen Aircraft Maintenance Center. Evergreen International Airlines (unrelated to the Evergreen Group of shipping companies in China) operates the Large Cargo Lifters for Boeing. The Dreamlifter is named such because it typically carries parts from suppliers around the world to the Boeing assembly plant in Everett, Washington.

And not to be outdone, Airbus has a funnier looking plane called the Beluga.

A satellite photo from July 2, 2005, shows the many Northwest Airlines planes parked at the Pinal Airpark boneyard. Their red livery gives them away.

The airport link

On Friday I wrote about improving bicycle connections to the nation’s airports (daily destinations for thousands of passengers and workers). I’ll continue working towards this goal, but in the meantime I want to point out what I see as more important: Extending trains to the airport.

A revenue train built by Kinki-Sharyo pulls into the airport station. See more opening day photos from Atomic Taco.

The Sound Transit Link light rail opened to the public on yesterday, Saturday, December 19, 2009, taking travelers and passengers from downtown Seattle south to Seattle-Tacoma airport (SEA) in SeaTac, Washington*. The Seattle region now joins the fortunate ranks of North American cities with direct train access to the major airport. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, opened the Canada Line this year, connecting to YVR.

*SeaTac, Washington, is a real city! Visit the Wikipedia article to learn more. The town has only been incorporated since 1990.

Comparing the Portland and Seattle bike plans

The assignment:  Find two plans written on a common theme from cities with similar attributes and compare them. The purpose is to start reading plan documents produced by firms, agencies, and organizations around the country. Furthermore, the comparison should include a critique of each plan. For this assignment, I compared the bike “master” plans for Seattle and Portland. The cities have a similar population, and are geographically close.

The class: Making Plans, Making Plans Studio. This class has a lecture and a lab. The assignments are due in the lecture session, which have little to do with the single assignment for the lab. In the lab, students write an actual plan. I took this class in Spring 2009 and each of the four labs independently write an economic development plan for Blue Island, Illinois.

Portland and Seattle are very closely located cities and have a population difference of only 20,000. Portland is recognized as the bicycling capital of the country, but Seattle desperately wants to compete. I reviewed each of their bicycle master plans, but Portland’s is in need of an update. Seattle released their bicycle plan in 2007.

Organization and Design

Portland is definitely known around the country and world as the United States’ premier bicycling city. The leading hobby magazine, Bicycling, identified Portland as such back in 1995 (according to their Bicycle Master Plan). As such, I was expecting their plan to be near perfect. I found that its organization was haphazard and difficult to follow.

Portland installed its first bike boxes in 2008 in response to deaths caused by right-turning trucks.

For example, the plan is 159 pages long but does not use paragraph or section identifiers (i.e. Objective 1.2) or page headers or footers that can tell the reader where they are in relation to the other sections of the plan. The only understandable section identifiers are in the table of contents and the objectives labels. The objectives labels are taken straight from Portland’s comprehensive plan and all come from the same section of that plan (section 6). Eventually you may find that the Portland bicycle plan does have a chapter for each subsection of section 6 in the city’s comprehensive plan. Unfortunately the label is written once at the beginning of the section and is blurred into a black and white photo.

The Seattle plan smartly follows the Chicago example of heavy sectioning and sub-sectioning. This method makes it easy to reference, locate and describe an exact strategy in the plan. In this way, each strategy, or action item as Portland calls them, has a distinct identifier. By following the Chicago example, plans can also more easily internally cross-reference. The one cross-reference in the Portland plan tells me to find Section IV B3. Section IV is only labeled at the beginning of that section, so a reader first has to find that page. Then within Section IV, “B3” is nowhere to be found. There’s no way to infer what B3 could mean. It could mean “benchmark” but Section IV has no benchmarks for the strategies described. Cross-referencing in the Seattle plan is helpful: the links usually take the form of, “For more information, see Chapter 4.” Sometimes the Seattle tells visitors to go online.

Both the Seattle and Portland bicycle plans have great initiatives to improve bicycling, but Seattle’s document surely makes their future work much easier to find!

Bicyclists are the first customers off the ferries in Seattle. On an average day, over 50,000 trips are taken by ferry.


Both the Seattle and Portland bicycle plans provides a lot of extraneous but relevant information, including tips on safe cycling, traffic laws, maps, facility design guides, and crash data. This makes for a long plan but provides governmental and transit agencies the information they need to make decisions available in a central place. The plan document can also act as a self-promotional tool: information contained within the plan is identical to the information that the plan makers want to educate people. For example, within the Portland plan, safe cycling guidelines are included. The necessity of its inclusion in the plan document is debatable, but it doesn’t distract from the plan’s reason for existence.

Portland also includes in its plan a streets and bikeways design guide. This is a separate document that explains to traffic engineers and roadway constructors and planners how to design and build streets, including signage, that make it safer for bicyclists to ride upon.

Both plans have very similar strategies, but because of Seattle’s more recently developed plan, it includes recently accepted innovative traffic calming techniques as well as new bikeway designs (like bicycle-only left turn lanes).

The Portland plan’s age might become a disadvantage to the city and its bicyclists if uninformed agencies are strictly following its guidelines. The Portland Bureau of Transportation, in which sits the Bicycle Program, has fortunately not stuck to strategies listed. PBOT has installed several bikeways and bike parking facilities that are not mentioned in the plan, namely colored bike boxes between pedestrian crosswalks and motorist stop bars, as well as on street bike parking.

UPDATE: Portland closed on November 8, 2009, the public comment period for the 2009 Bike Master Plan Update. Read the draft plan.