Tag Archives: “human transit”

What “It doesn’t go anywhere” really means

10 Jan

In an outtake from his recently published book, Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker discusses a list of seven criteria that he says transit has to address to effectively compete with driving:

1.    “It takes me where I want to go.”

2.    “It takes me when I want to go.”

3.    “It’s a good use of my time.”

4.    “It’s a good use of my money.”

5.    “It respects me.”

6.    “I can trust it.”

7.    “It gives me freedom to change my plans.”

While no mode of transportation meets all seven demands perfectly, Walker says, “[t]he dominant mode in a community is the one that best addresses the seven demands, compared to the available alternatives, in the perception of the majority of people.”

That observation goes a long way toward explaining why so many people who live well within MARTA’s service area still drive most of the time if they have that choice. Walker’s list unpacks what they mean when they say MARTA “doesn’t go anywhere.” It’s not that people are looking for reasons not to use transit, but rather that they so often have more reasons to drive. In relatively low density areas, he says, “the automobile meets all seven demands handsomely.”

He also pulls apart the multiple meanings tangled up in the word “convenient” here.


Idea of the Day: Mobility versus access

11 Feb

Red line train at Civic Center Station

Among the un-read content languishing on my RSS feed was this examination of the two overlapping services that users expect from transit, why they aren’t interchangeable, and how more of one reduces the need for the other.

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit proposes that by providing or increasing mobility – in this context, the ability to travel a certain distance quickly and easily- transit makes more of a city accessible to more people. But, Walker says, by stimulating increased commercial and residential density, well-executed transit encourages increased access – in this context, the ease with which a person can arrive at a desired destination.

That’s where things get interesting.

From the post:

Mobility is how far you can go in a given time.  Access is how many useful or valuable things you can do.  If a new grocery store opens near your house, that doesn’t improve your mobility but it does improve your access.  You can now get your groceries closer to home, so you don’t need as much mobility as you did before.  You can also improve your access by working at home instead of commuting, downloading music instead of going to a CD store, and moving in with your romantic partner.  In other words, a lot of the work of access is simply about eliminating the need to move your body around the city in order to complete the economic and personal transactions that make up a happy life.

Juxtaposing mobility and access brings to mind Atlanta’s several far-flung patches of “drive-to urbanism.” These developments sometimes skip right over the step in which transit generates increased density, instead introducing ready-made density in areas with sparse transit coverage. In another city or another economic climate, transit coverage might be expected to eventually catch up and complete the picture. Right now, though, the result is often lively, pleasant, somewhat isolated places that are only easily accessible to people who live nearby or who can drive there.

But as more of these islands of increased density appear throughout the city, access to them will increase for more people. That will, as Walker said, reduce the need to move bodies around the city to get to what those developments offer.

Atlanta has seen significant mixed-use and transit-oriented development in the last ten years. It has also seen not only the absence of development of transit itself, but a significant reduction in service. Will car-banism continue to reign or is it just step on the way to something better?

Transit construction costs, MARTA Guide, and transit with poor self-esteem

22 Dec
  • No matter how well-thought out or how badly needed transit projects are, cost is always an issue. For some people it’s a cause for concern that needs to be carefully monitored, for others it’s an all-purpose reason not to undertake a project – any project – at all. (Would anyone else be really happy to never hear the word “boondoggle” again?) Construction and operation costs for the newly-funded downtown streetcar project are a prime, local, recent example.

There’s a really cool discussion of why transit costs are so much higher in the U.S. than the rest of the world going on at Human Transit. It’s really cool in that ideas are flying and the list of possibilities keeps growing, but no one claims to know The Reason.

  • Am I the only person who didn’t know about MARTA Guide? In case you were in the dark with me, MARTA Guide gives quick, clear bus and rail directions to shopping, arts venues and festivals, universities, tourist attractions and a lot of other places. You can search by destination type or by transit station. It’s so through that I might rarely need to tangle with MARTA’s trip planner (which functions as if someone got halfway through building it and said “Pffft. That’s good enough.”) again.
  • Also via Human Transit, take a look at Green Idea Factory’s set of “self-harming” ads found in, on or near transit stations, vehicles or bus stops.

    Flickr photo by Green Idea Factory

    Those “Quick, easy financing!” car lot ads on MARTA’s trains always seemed awfully incongruous, but it turns out that even transit-savvy cities like Prague have the same strange practice going on. Does any other entity accept money to allow a direct competitor to advertise to its clientele?

Found: Human Transit

13 Nov

Human Transit is a transit planning and policy blog written by Jarrett Walker, a transit planning consultant in Sydney.

Rather than try to explain what’s so cool about HT, I’ll let the author do it:

“Much of my work has been about analyzing public transit problems to separate the technical question from the question about values.”

For all my fascination with transit, I’m not conversant with many of the technical aspects of it because I came by my interest solely through being a user. Reading HT, it’s easy to become more fluent in the language of the gears and levers that make a transit system work (well or badly).

But along with that, HT acknowledges that transit planning decisions aren’t value-neutral. When planners develop routes or schedules, or reduce or eliminate service, it’s an expression of values – values that inevitably won’t align with those of some users. That conflict – between users’ preferences and what planners see as most efficient and cost-effective – is present in every transit system, from the most modest to the most robust.

The writing at HT can feel a touch jargon-y if you’re not used to it, and it’s often not a quick read, but you’ll always come away knowing something that you didn’t before or thinking about something that you did know in a different way.

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