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Posts tagged "light rail"

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Bus Lane in Bloom: Flower Street and the Urgency of Speeding Up LA Bus Service

Slow, unreliable bus service is a major problem for transit riders in Los Angeles. Since 1994, average LA Metro bus speeds have dropped more than 12 percent. Bus riders account for nearly three-quarters of all LA Metro fixed-route transit trips, but bus ridership is steadily falling.

While LA has a few bus lanes, they are sparse, and implementation has typically proceeded at a snail’s pace. For a city where so many residents ride buses bogged down in traffic -- and whose mayor, Eric Garcetti, now leads the global coalition of “climate mayors” -- bus lanes should be much more extensive.

Over the summer, LA transit riders caught a glimpse of what a more urgent approach to prioritizing bus service can do. With a large section of the Blue Line light rail shut down for rehabilitation, LA Metro and LA DOT, encouraged by LA Councilmember Mike Bonin, quickly implemented a 1.8-mile bus lane segment on Flower Street to speed trips for as many as 70 southbound buses per hour during the evening rush.

The bus lane transformed a frustrating slog into satisfying service, shaving time off bus trips and substantially improving reliability. Even with light rail repairs wrapped up and trains back in service, Flower Street remains a major bus corridor, and officials are evaluating whether to make the bus lane permanent. Beyond Flower Street, LA Metro and LA DOT are in the early stages of planning a more comprehensive bus lane network. As Tafarai Bayne, chief strategist with CicLAvia, explains in this Streetfilm, riders on major bus streets like Vermont and Western urgently need dedicated transit lanes too

One of the lessons of Flower Street is that faster implementation of bus priority projects is possible, providing a template for accelerating bus lane rollout throughout the transit network. In this Streetfilm, advocates, agency officials, and Councilmember Bonin discuss how the Flower Street approach could translate to faster bus service on other streets in and around Los Angeles.

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Seattle: America’s Next Top Transit City

Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in America, and it is making bold investments to ensure most residents live within walking distance of frequent transit.

"Seattle can’t handle any more cars than we currently have," says Seattle DOT Director Scott Kubly. "Our mode split needs to go from 30 percent single occupancy vehicle to 25 percent, and the lion's share of that is going to be carried on the bus."

The city’s efforts are paying off -- both bus and rail ridership have seen huge gains in recent years, and 70 percent of trips to downtown Seattle are not in private vehicles.

In the past two years, city voters approved the $900 million Move Seattle transportation levy, and then regional voters enacted the Sound Transit 3 package, a $50 billion transit expansion plan. These were votes of confidence in the transit system and the agencies that run it.

Seattle is demonstrating how trains and buses can work in tandem to build a fast, frequent, and reliable network that wins over riders. A key factor behind this success is the leading role played by city government, which actively works to improve transit instead of passively following county and regional agencies.

The Seattle story demonstrates that when governments create clear transportation priorities, provide thoughtful, goal-oriented planning, and deliver good service, ridership goes up and a firm foundation of public support can be established.

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Santa Monica’s Savvy Multimodalism

Santa Monica is trying just about everything in its transportation system: bike-share, a mix of bike lane treatments, a new rail line, neighborhood greenways, a pedestrian action plan, a new promenade/protected bike lane where the Expo line terminates, and of course they have the hard-to-miss Big Blue Bus!

In the last six months alone the city has launched Breeze bike-share and opened the Expo rail line to downtown Los Angeles, which cuts travel times from an hour and a half by bus to 50 minutes. (Personal note: At rush hour the discrepancy can be even bigger -- after spending the day shooting this story I endured a two-hour, 15-minute bus ride back to L.A.'s Union Station.) Breeze bike-share was my first experience with a smart bike system, and it was easy to use and comfortable.

Come see how Santa Monica is making it easier to get around without a car. Thanks much to the wonderful Cynthia Rose from Santa Monica Spoke, for giving me the grand tour and making my first visit there a joy.

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High Frequency: Why Houston Is Back on the Bus

Every so often, every city should do a "system reimagining" of its bus network like Houston METRO did.

Back in 2012, Houston's bus network was in trouble. Ridership was down, and weekend ridership was especially weak. Frequent service was rare. Routes didn't go directly where people needed to go. If you wanted to get from one place outside downtown to another place outside downtown, you still had to take a bus downtown and transfer.

It was a system that had basically stayed frozen since the 1970s. And as you can surmise, the service it provided was not effective, convenient, or appealing for many types of trips.

METRO's solution was to wipe the slate clean. What would Houston's bus network look like if you designed it from scratch? By re-examining every bus route in the city, talking to bus riders, and making tough decisions, METRO reinvented its bus network. The new system features better, more efficient routes, shorter wait times, and increased service on nights and weekends. The changes were essentially revenue-neutral -- Houston now runs a better bus system on the same budget, because it optimized the use of existing resources.

This Streetfilm was produced in partnership with TransitCenter, the first in a series of four films looking at transit innovation in American cities.

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Streetfilms Shorties: Early Highlights from Texas

Today I fly back to NYC after nearly a week in Dallas and Houston. For a guy from the Northeast I have been both pleasantly surprised by nice things I've seen and also intimidated by the numbers of cars - big cars - everywhere I go.  Here are just a few Streetfilms shorties to give you a small taste of what I have seen. The above video is from Dallas where Klyde Warren Park a newly opened public space has attracted a lot of visitors. The park was built over the top of a freeway. But it cost quite a bit of money to do so - $110 million dollars! It has a lot of great programming and the food trucks make it a constant draw.

Over in Houston, I fell in love with the Metro Rail's Main Street Square stop. As you can see in the video montage, the train passes thru an amazing car-free block filled with fountains and dazzling lights. I've never seen anything quite like it anywhere. I only posted nighttime footage as the transit nerd in me wanted you to feel as I did soaking it in just sitting there one night.

BetterBlockBack to Dallas, the main reason I went there was to do a profile on The Better Block's Jason Roberts, who has gained worldwide fame for what he's done in Oak Cliff with his Better Block initiatives. I was in town to document the 4 year celebration and as a teaser to that piece, check out the above photo of one of the innovative wrinkles they put in the mix this time around: re-purposed, sliced up billboard wraps as temporary crosswalks! Radical!  I tweeted the above photo from the event which was joyusly re-posted umpteenth times on Twitter. I'll be working on getting a big deal of this Streetfilm completed by this weekend.

Finally, there are quite a few challenges to riding a bike in Dallas. A few painted lanes and sharrows on the roads, that's about it. Not much to encourage more than the brave. But there are some very nice biking trails. I got to ride a few miles on three of them: the Katy Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and the White Rock Lake trail.

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West Coast Swing: Portland’s 100th Bike Corral, Seattle’s First Cycle Track and Railvolution 2013

Portland Now Has 100 Street Bike Corrals! from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Above is a Streetfilms Shortie showing that Portland, OR is now up to an astounding 100 bike corrals, far more than any other U.S. city has installed.  And they can't keep up with demand!! It's so nice that they aren't anything unusual anymore, in fact they are expected and welcome by businesses.

I got to spend a few days at the Railvolution 2013 conference in Seattle. This year they hit a record 1200+ attendees.  My solo Streetfilms University session on Monday was a huge hit as we had over 100 people pack a room to hear how you can make your own transporatkltion films in 90 minutes.  I'm hoping to do this again in 2014 for even more captive audiences at the Bike Summit in DC in March and ProWalkProBike (ProPlace) in Pittsburgh in Septemeber.  Mark your calendars now.  And if you want some instant tips, here is an older, abbreviated version of my presentation to watch right now.

I didn’t get to make any full Streetfilms there, but got to poke around Seattle a bit and saw two of the more innovative street designs currently in production.

Streetfilms Shortie - Seattle's Broadway Protected Cycle Track (Snippets) from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

A portion of the new Broadway cycle track opened while I was there.  Design wise it is interesting since just about every block looks different then the pervious one.  Check out the snippets of video and photos I took above (again, note that some of this is under construction).  There were bviously many challenges on this corridor with driveway access, bus stops, and – in parts – the University Link light rail, which is being tunneled as we speak.

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Cyclists Vs. Rails in Zurich

As I 've continued to scour through the 10+ hours of footage I shot last month in Groningen, Amsterdam and Zurich, I've been trying to find ways to get Streetfilms fans some video and posts about what I experienced.

One thing that super impressed me was during my three days in Zurich I saw no cyclists crash while navigating the omnipresent surface rails for the 15 tram lines that run all over Zurich. I was told by some there are certainly problems and crashes happen, but I saw some real pro rail riding behavior.  I ended up capturing just a little bit for your consumption in this shortie.

Alas, great news comes today from one of my Zurich interview subjects, Nelson Carrasco.  The city is experimenting with rail treatments that will make bicycling on streets with rails much safer.  Essentially, it seems they will be testing a material that is strong enough to support a bicycle but will yield to the weight when a tram runs over it.

The English-translation of the above post is essentially: "We are testing a new bike-friendly rail system, which is intended to prevent bicycle tires getting jammed in the tram rail." For all those who really want to read the entire article (and in English) I ran it through a translator and will post the text at the bottom after the jump.

Of course anytime I've travel to other rail-heavy cities, I'm mesmerized by how cyclists navigate rails, in particular because if the thought of crashing is terrifying for me as a very experienced cyclist, I can't imagine what it is like for a new-bee or someone transporting a child.  Many years ago in Seattle I shot this impromptu footage of sharrows used to direct cyclists how to approach rails.

San Francisco, Portland, Salt Lake City and plenty of other U.S. cities might want to take notice!

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Salt Lake City: A Red State Capital Builds Ambitious Transit

According to Congress for New Urbanism President John Norquist, the Salt Lake City area has the fastest growing rail system in America. And as Streetsblog's Angie Schmitt pointed out last month, "It's the only city in the country building light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars and commuter rail at the same time."

Since the late 1990s, SLC certainly has embarked on a very ambitious program of transit construction. In 2006, residents voted to invest more and expedite the implementation of the system. This May the city opened its newest light rail line, to the airport, and in December the Sugar House streetcar is scheduled to open.

SLC does have a lot of catching up to do. The region as a whole is still built around the car. In this brief clip, Norquist talks about the lack of transit-oriented development at stops outside the downtown. I also don't love the gigantic widths of neighborhood streets, which I mentioned in my write up of exploring the city while trying out bike-share. But as Norquist points out, these are all opportunities to transform things for the better.

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Salt Lake City: Some Observations on Bicycling, Transit & Open Space

I just returned from a very invigorating jaunt to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the CNU 21 conference. A day earlier, I was a special guest presenter of Streetfilms University at the Streetsblog Network Training which brought in 15 bloggers and advocates from around the U.S. to learn some of the expertise we have in covering the livable streets movement.  There was an eclectic lineup of speakers including Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek, traffic engineer Ian Lockwood, the master of Tactical Urbanism Mike Lydon and former Milwaukee mayor and CNU President John Norquist.

Streetfilms Shortie - Checking out GreenBike in Salt Lake City from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

The summit was an enormous success. And amongst the seriousness there was also adventure and camaraderie. For one, we all decided to take a group spin on SLC's GreenBike, a bike share system with just ten stations and 100 bikes which debuted in May. It may pale in comparison to the 6,000 bikes on the streets of New York, but there were copious folks using them (and many others inquiring.)  Since the bikes are from B-Cycle they offer a slightly different feel and look then NYC's Citibike.  See for yourself in the Streetfilms Shortie above, but the front racks support carrying up to 20 pounds which scores huge points with this filmmaker from New York.

Salt Lake City is fascinating on many levels. It's taking major strides in expanding transit (which you'll see more of in a Streetfilm very soon) and is erecting some great bones to a system with it's newest light rail lines (the green line to the airport just opened last month), it's Frontrunner commuter line service (opened in 2008 and just added 8 new stations at the end of last year) and a Streetcar line which is under construction and due to open by the end of 2013.

There also is a healthy bike culture.  Lots of fun things to see.

The above image is from SLC's first experimentation with protected bike lanes and I really loved this signage. It's to the point and I would love to see it standard for these types of facilities.  Especially initial deployments of the first protected lanes in cities where it's a fresh concept. Anything we can do to reduce the ire or confusion of motorists, I think is a swell idea.

Streetfilms Shortie - Salt Lake City's Wide, Wide Neighborhood Streets from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

But Salt Lake City still faces many challenges. It has very, very, very, l-o-n-g blocks. And as a pedestrian it can feel like an eternity until you get to cross streets that feel much like highways. And it's not only in the downtown. I ventured out to see many of the neighborhoods and was astonished:  I've never seen road widths in communities of this length (which dates back to the settlement of SLC). You could seriously probably land an airplane. Play the above video to see the expanse of asphalt!

In one section north of the city, I saw probably a dozen of these consecutively. In the above photo you will see I did come across one with a huge green median filled in and what a different experience it proved. I'd love to see some sort of depaving action on these very low travelled streets.  Imagine every homeowner getting to grow a garden or vegetables on their streets?  (With still plenty of room for cars.)

But a voice in the back of my head tells me the residents may see nothing wrong with this setup. Which is fine, too. You can't impose a solution on a community which desires none.  Still, just imagine how much cooler these homes would be during the hottest months of the year with 3/4s of that asphalt gone? I'm just sayin'.

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Voices from the Rail~Volution (2010)

Streetfilms was out in Portland at this year's Rail~Volution 2010 trying to get a pulse on the transportation world by talking to a healthy dose of this year's attendees which includes advocates, bloggers, transportation planners, industry spokespeople and members transportation agencies across the country.  Among those we heard from was Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who helped push Rail~Volution - now in its 20th year - to national prominence in 1995.  Well over a thousand folks attended the four-day event.

In addition, almost 500 of them came to Portland's famous Bagdad Theater to watch a program of short films on the big screen, eight of which were Streetfilms!  Our fan base and influence continues to grow as Streetfilms is looked to as an inspiration and educational tool among our peers.  It's a great feeling.

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Seattle’s Link Light Rail – The Start of Something Big

Right now, Seattle is making as serious a commitment to transit as any city in the nation. Recently, Streetfilms got to take a tour of the newest addition to the city's network -- the 13-station Link Light Rail, which opened in mid-2009.

The route is beautiful, swift, and has great multi-modal connections. Service is frequent, with headways as short as 7 minutes during rush hour, and never longer than 15 minutes. And like many of the newest American light rail systems, the stations feature copious art.

Seattle has a lot of car commuters, but in a sign that many are looking for more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of getting to work, the new light rail line will be followed by several more additions to the city's transit network. As Seattle's Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl told us:

[Voters] in November 2008, by 57 percent -- which was a thrill in a recession economy -- voted to expand our light rail system, our commuter rail system, and our buses... to add another 36 miles of light rail in the region. And to add 65 percent more capacity to our commuter rail system.

We'd like to thank everyone who talked to us for this shoot, especially Bruce Gray from Sound Transit, and Andrew Schmid for arranging it all. And of course a big shout out to the intrepid scribes over at Seattle Transit Blog, who cover the local transportation scene with zeal and gusto.

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Phoenix’s METRO Light Rail Takes Flight

Everyone knows that Phoenix has a huge sprawl problem. But now transit-oriented development is on the upswing in this Sun Belt metropolis. In December, the Phoenix region opened one of the most ambitious transit projects in recent U.S. history: a 20-mile light rail line with 28 stops serving three cities (Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa). Future plans include an extension within three years, with several new corridors being studied.

The Valley Metro vehicles are handsome and comfortable, and thus far ridership has far exceeded initial projections -- with as many as 40,000 riders per day, compared to the expected 25,000. Each station features amenities and art installations. In addition, with many folks using the light rail as an intermodal step in their commutes, bicycles are welcome aboard.