J St bus stops & bikeway

I recently attended a meeting of SacTRU (Sacramento Transit Riders Union) and heard complaints about the bus stops along J Street between 19th Street and 29th Street, in the section where a separated bikeway (cycletrack, protected bike lane) was installed. I have heard these concerns before, so let me talk about them. Two SacRT routes run along this section of J Street, Bus 30 and Bus 38.

The concerns are two:

  1. The bus stops are too widely spaced.
  2. The bus stops are very difficult for disabled people (and bus operators) to use because the bus no longer stops at the curb, but rather in the street.

Actually, there are TOO MANY bus stops in this section of 10-1/2 blocks, from 19th Street to nearly 29th Street where the separated bikeway ends. Five bus stops, two of them only one block apart. In a central city setting like midtown, bus stops should be no closer than three blocks apart (about 1/4 mile), and preferably more, like four to six blocks. Why? Because every stop slows the bus significantly, not only the deceleration to the stop and acceleration from the stop, but dwell time. Buses in some areas like this actually spend more time stopped than moving, and as a result, the speed of the route is often below 10 mph. The following five photos show the five bus stops. It is significant that there are too many stops, because solutions to issue 2 are not inexpensive.

J St near 19th St
J St near 22nd St
J St near 25th St
J St near 27th St
J St near 28th St

The second issue is real. Bus operators can have a hard time deploying ramps to the street, particularly when the street is strongly crowned as parts or J Street are. A disabled passenger needing the bus ramp, which might be a wheelchair user or someone with a disability making stepping up to and down from the bus difficult, have to wait in the bikeway to board, not appreciated by the rider or by bicyclists. After debarking, the person must travel along the bikeway to the nearest driveway or corner curb ramp, again, not appreciated by the rider or bicyclists.

So, what is the solution? Bus boarding islands, which have been implemented in many cities. The first photo below is from Seattle. Riders have an large area to wait for the bus, the bus ramp is easy to deploy, and there is a safe crossing to the sidewalk at the end of the island. A slight disadvantage for the rider is that they must ramp down off the island and then back up to the sidewalk.

Seattle bus boarding island (from NACTO)

The diagram shows an alternative configuration, where the bikeway humps up over the crosswalk, but the route from platform to sidewalk for bus riders is level. This is probably safer for both riders and bicyclists.

diagram of bus boarding island with level crosswalk (from Vision Zero Network)

There are two significant challenges for these bus boarding islands. First is that installing them may require addressing drainage, which can greatly increase the cost of the installation. If three of the five bus stop photos, you can see drainage inlets, so this would be an issue on J Street.

The second is that by placing the bus boarding island where the bus stop now is, buses then stop in the travel lane rather than pulling out into the bus stop. The positive of this is that they don’t then have to negotiate their way back into traffic, which can be challenging and lead to significant delays to the bus schedule. The negative is that private vehicle drivers will complain about the slight delay to their drive from having to wait behind the bus. The convenience and safety for the many people on the bus outweighs the slight inconvenience for private vehicle drivers, but there will be complaints. Timed points on the route, where the bus would stop to wait if it is ahead of schedule, should not be in the travel lane, but that is not true for any of these stops.

To solve the boarding issue on J Street would take a cooperative project with SacRT and the city, and funding from both sides. The number of bus stops should be reduced, probably to three, so that fewer bus boarding islands are needed. This should be carefully planned so that they don’t need to be changed. It is possible to install temporary bus islands, as Oakland and other cities have done in a few places, so if the stop doesn’t turn out to be the best location, it can be moved without great expense.

SacRT’s finest – not

This evening, while walking across Q St at 12th, with the light, a driver in a SacRT police vehicle drove directly at me, stopping just short of the crosswalk, and just short of hitting me. His comment was: “I didn’t hit you, did I?” in a smart-alecky tone. He was clearly being belligerent and trying to intimidate me with his vehicle.

Way to gain public support and trust, SacRT. Please do a better job of screening your officers. SacRT knows where its police vehicles are at all times, and who is driving them. I would hope that this person is severely disciplined. He attempted to intimidate me with his vehicle, which is assault.


Serve on SacRT board

From our friends SacTRU and also noticed by Ridership for the Masses.

Mayor Steinberg is appointing a member of the private sector to the SacRT Board. This seat will replace one of the Sacramento City Council seats currently filled by Councilman Rick Jennings and will serve until the end of 2018. The member of the private sector would have full voting rights as a board member representing the city of sacramento.

Position: Seat A – A member of the private sector with an understanding of the importance of regional transit and public transportation.

Deadline to Apply: March 30, 2018 at 5:00pm

The requirements and selection process are vague, but all are encouraged to apply. We hope many qualified members of the community will apply and represent the needs of riders, and that this seat is not simply filled by an interested member of the business community.

Apply at: http://www.cityofsacramento.org/Clerk/Legislative-Bodies/Boards-and-Commissions. Scroll down to Sacramento Regional Transit Board; no direct link is available.

It has been suggested that the best candidate is a woman of color. There is only one woman serving on the board currently, Linda Budge. There are two people of color, Rick Jennings and Phil Serna, but it is Rick Jennings seat that is being offered (see board list). STAR believes it is important to have someone who is a regular user of the transit system, since the current members range from low transit use to no transit use. Finding that ideal candidate that increases the diversity of the board and better represents riders will be a challenge. If you know that person or those people, please let them know and ask them to serve.

At the same time, STAR encourages everyone to apply. This can be a transformative moment for SacRT, and a strong interest in the position may encourage the other entities, county and cities, to appoint citizens. The board suffers from having politicians as members who are already very busy with their other boards and commissions, and other interests, and don’t pay enough attention to transit. We need someone whose passion is transit that works for everyone.

SacRT and employment

I earlier produced maps showing how SacRT routes related to population density and income (SacRT with income and population). I also wanted to present a map on employment or jobs – where people are going to on the transit system. It took much longer to track down that data, and I needed help from SACOG’s GIS staff. The employment data is from the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employment-Household Dynamics (LEHD). The data is normalized over area. The map is below, with the SacRT_employment pdf also available.

Continue reading “SacRT and employment”

SacRT frequency and stops

Two more maps for your viewing pleasure.

The route frequency map classifies routes by their frequency of service, as 12, 15, 20, 30, or 60 minute frequency. Mostly, this means service from 6:00AM to 7:00PM, though it is shorter in a few cases and longer in several cases. Peak only routes are not shown at all. Map below and pdf SacRT_frequency.

SacRT_frequency

The other map is a different view of the routes, shown as stops with quarter mile buffers (one of the often-used walking distance to transit stop criteria, though of course some will walk further, some less, and bicycling distances are much greater. Though at this scale, the map is not significantly more interesting than the simple route map, when zoomed in, there are some very interesting patterns. I see places with stops placed closer than need be, and some places with stops placed too far apart. I’m playing with an alternate version that also shows the population density data, but not ready with that one. Map below, and pdf SacRT_stops. This is one of the first ones that I will try to put up on ArcGIS Online since it really benefits from zooming.

SacRT_stops

SacRT bus route productivity

Yet another map that may help with understanding the service changes (cuts) proposed by SacRT.

I attended the SacRT board meeting last evening, where there was a presentation by staff on the service changes (agenda item 13), some public comment, and some questions from the board. The gist of the comments and questions seems to be “don’t cut my route,” which is understandable, but doesn’t really advance the discussion much. Mike Barnbaum had the most interesting comments, as he had some innovative ideas for redesigning routes. I briefly presented my design ideas explicated in a previous post (SacRT service changes), and commented that, for the public, the selection of service changes is too much of a black box, input necessary savings, turn the crank, and get out service changes. General Manager Mike Wiley suggested a lot of complex analysis goes into the proposals, addressing in particular questions that were asked by the board about destinations and attractors, however, it isn’t apparent to the public what the criteria are and how they are weighted. Anyway, on with the map.

The map (pdf SacRT_productivity-R2)shows all bus routes for which ridership data is available from the SacRT Monthly Performance Reports page. I selected the last available report, fourth quarter 2015, for weekdays. The variable mapped is “passengers per service hour” which is one of the metrics used to measure productivity, and therefore make decisions about routes, but it is certainly not the only metric. The SacRT minimum goal is 27 passengers, so that is one of the break points, with red and orange routes below that level. Only bus routes are mapped, not light rail, because I am not sure if light rail numbers are directly comparable to bus routes. They are certainly much higher, at least for Blue and Gold, as the trains have a much higher capacity than buses.

SacRT_productivity-R2

I realize that all these maps I’m creating would be more useful if presented all together, in an interface that allows the user to turn them on and off, looking at different combinations. That is a part of ArcGIS that I don’t know yet, so there is perhaps my next learning opportunity.

 

SacRT with density and income

Investigating the proposed SacRT service changes (cuts), I identified that routes serving low density areas are a problem. I developed the map below (pdf SacRT_pop-density) showing routes and population density, with low density areas shown in red. Two routes stand out as servicing primarily low density areas, which are unlikely to ever be productive in a ridership sense. In fact, one of the reasons SacRT struggles to provide efficient transit service is the low-density nature of the county. Though of course agricultural areas north and south of the urbanized area will be low density, there are also large areas of low-density suburb and exurb (sprawl) which will never be successful. Every greenfield development allowed by the county and cities just exacerbates this problem

The population data is from the American Community Survey (ACS) 2014 5-year estimate (S1903), selected by census tract and matched to census tract outlines provided by SACOG, showing residents per square mile. The routes are from the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) provided by SacRT. All routes are shown, including commute hours, low frequency, moderate frequency, and high frequency routes, as well as routes operated by SacRT under contract with others. It would be more useful to identify and/or separate out different kinds of routes, but it takes a while to compile that data, and I’m not quite there yet.

Continue reading “SacRT with density and income”

SacRT service changes

Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT) has proposed service changes, primarily elimination of routes, most of which would go into effect January 2017, with a few before that and more after than. The proposal is available (summary chart after the jump), and a more detailed analysis is in the Board of Directors agenda (Item 13) for the May 23 meeting. At the May 23 board meeting, the service changes will be an informational item, not a decision. Five open houses on the service changes were scheduled, two of which have occurred, with three yet to go. I attended the open house at SacRT headquarters on May 17.

I was asked for my thoughts on the service changes. Below is a bullet summary, followed by the nerdy details.

  • SacRT should make the boardings dot map available to the public. It is the best information I’ve seen to indicate which routes are productive, and which not, more understandable to the public than the tables of numbers in the proposal. Additionally, all maps showing routes, including of course the system map, should have an indication of the service frequency, either by color or weight. The “all routes looking the same” maps that SacRT currently uses do not communicate this critical piece of information.
  • A portion of savings from elimination or combination of routes should be reinvested in other routes which could be moved from acceptable productivity to higher productivity with frequency, service hours, or routing improvements.
  • Reductions in frequency are counter-productive, usually making a route with challenges into a failing route, which will then be identified in a future round of service changes for elimination.
  • Routes serving low density residential and semi-rural areas should be cut before routes serving moderate to high density residential areas.
  • Combining routes for more efficient coverage, particularly where routes overlap or are very closely parallel, is a good idea.
  • Saturday service should be retained on all routes. Transit-dependent riders who work the usual weekday work week must have service on at last one weekend day so that they can grocery shop, visit friends and family with less mobility, and seek medical care.
  • Routes should not be eliminated for at least two years after creation or significant revision. Time is needed to see ridership trends once people in a community adjust to the service. Specifically, this means: do not eliminate Route 65 Franklin South.
  • The concept that routes should focus on light rail connections rather than radial routes to downtown, or point-to-point routes, should be considered in all route decisions.
  • SacRT should do a complete system re-visioning within the next four years. A series of cuts, and even transit renewal, has left a system that is inefficient and probably unjust. It should be redesigned from scratch.

Continue reading “SacRT service changes”

Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR)

A new organization is forming here in the Sacramento region specifically to address issues of public transit. This group was seeded and led by 350 Sacramento, and while 350 Sacramento is still one of the coalition members, there is now a core group of active citizens leading the organization. The organization is a combination of individual members (about 50) and a coalition of other organizations (about 25). Though I am pleased to be a member and one of the core leadership, this post does not speak for the organization, but is just a report on it.

The Sacramento region has great organizations for walking advocacy, WALKSacramento, and for bicycle advocacy, SABA (Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates), but it has never had a strong regional group focused on transit. STAR intends to fill that gap. Given the origin in 350Sac, a focus of the group is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by getting people out of their cars and on to transit.

The organization has formed three committees to look in detail at issues in public transit in the region. The committees are policy, structure, and outreach. The committees have met about once a month, and there has been a general meeting of the members about once a month. A calendar of public events and STAR meetings is available.

Though the organization will have a regional breadth of the six counties that are part of SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments), the focus to date has been on SacRT (Sacramento Regional Transit) and Sacramento county.

The first major public issue for STAR was the SacRT fare increase proposal, which was presented by SacRT staff in January, modified slightly based on feedback from the board of SacRT, presented again in March, modified further by board action, and adopted at the March 14 board meeting. STAR developed a position paper on the fare increase. Though the STAR proposal was not adopted, this voice for more reasonable fare increases, and the voices from many other people and organizations, particularly the disability community, against any fare increase, did influence the fare increase motion made by Steve Hanson and generated board opposition that resulted in the fare increase passing by only 67%. Most board votes are 100%. Most significantly, the board indicated that it would not consider additional increases until after the November election, and had no stomach for the steep second year increase proposed by staff. The board and staff said that it would be necessary to eliminate or significantly modify up to four bus routes in order to balance the budget in fiscal year 2016-2017, even with the fare increase.

The next major issue up for the organization is a response to the likely half-cent sales tax measure to be offered by SacTA (Sacramento Transportation Authority – better recognized as Sacramento GO) on the November ballot. This measure would increase funding from a half cent under the existing Measure A to a full cent. However, marketing by SacTA indicates that a significant part of the funding will go to the SouthEast Connector and widening of the Capitol City Freeway. These type of sprawl-inducing motor vehicle projects not only take funding from transit, but actually harm transit by subsidizing privately owned vehicles at the expense of public transportation.

STAR does not yet have a web presence on Facebook, the Internet, or Twitter, but it will soon. In the meanwhile, if you’d like to get on the email list, please email Delphine Cathcart.

Green Line to the airport?

SacRT, and many local politicians, want the Green Line to the Airport to be the next big transit project in the region. I have doubts, and have written about them before (Green Line to the AirportOpen houses on Green Line to the Airportlinking the colleges?SacRT light rail extensions). Jarrett Walker, my favorite writer on transit, has posted Keys to Great Airport Transit, a great analysis of rail and bus transit to airports.

  1. Total travel time matters, not just in-vehicle time: Not sure how the Green Line measures up, but it is indicative that the Green Line to Township 9 (the current destination) runs on an infrequent schedule (60 minutes) during a small part of the day, because it is beyond the area where most people travel. The airport would also be beyond where most people travel, so is likely to have infrequent and short hours service.
  2. Combine air travelers and airport employees on the same train/bus: The Green Line might do OK on this, though light rail already suffers from the perception of higher income people (which is mostly who flies rather than takes the bus or train) that light rail is only for poor people.
  3. Connect the airport to lots of places, not just downtown, by providing a total network: Since the SacRT network fails pretty badly on connectivity already, it is likely that the Green Line will suffer from the same issue.
  4. Don’t interfere with the growth of other services: The Green Line is definitely a negative on this issue. The Green Line to the Airport would gobble up all the construction funds for years, as well as a large slice of operating funds. Fare recovery on the network is 23%, somewhat below average, but the extension would likely reduce this significantly. If distance-based fares (which SacRT has talked about but done no real planning towards) are implemented on the light rail system, the operating subsidy might be less, but it will still compare poorly with the rest of the system.
  5. If you can afford it, go via the airport instead of terminating there: Not applicable to the Green Line because there is nothing beyond the airport except agricultural fields, and a bit further out, sprawling suburbs that would never generate ridership.

I think the right solution for airport access is frequent bus service (15 minute frequency) from downtown to the airport, from 5:00AM to 12:00 midnight, for travelers and airport employees, and less frequent service from midnight to 5:00AM, for employees. The current Yolobus 42A/42B provides infrequent (60 minute) service from 5:30AM (6:30AM on weekends) to 10:00PM. In addition, there would need to be service from eastern Sacramento/Roseville, but I’ve thought less about how that would work.

Save our infrastructure funds for more productive routes!