Mid-Week Links: Problem/Solution

As any company can tell you, the product is only as successful as the marketing, and Los Angeles took it to heart.  Not only was designing a good transit “product” important, but selling it to the public was immediately useful.  Other agencies would do well to do the same.

Marin

  • A sprawling development of 12 homes in Santa Venetia has been rejected by the Marin County Planning Commission.  The issue goes to the Board of Supervisors next. (IJ)
  • Druid Heights, an alternative community “whose members were dedicated to radical artistic, philosophical, spiritual, political and sexual experimentation,” is profiled by the IJ on news that it qualifies as an official historical site.  The irony is lost on the writer. (IJ)
  • Novato joins Corte Madera in considering a pot club ban. (IJ)
  • Downtown Novato’s Business Improvement District is doing good work to make the street a commercial destination. (Advance)
  • In what seems to be a weekly occurrence, all northbound lanes were closed on Highway 101 due to a crash.  Two people were injured. (Patch)
  • George Lucas wants to turn Lucas Valley’s Grady Ranch into anoffice complex for 340 employees in a manner similar to Skywalker Ranch. (IJ, Patch)
  • Marin’s $50 million renovation of its new Marin Commons space is slated to begin next year.  A government anchor tenant is a savior for the location. (BizJournal)
  • Marin local businesses felt the touch of this year’s surging shopping season, posting a fabulous Shop Local Saturday. (IJ)
  • The Marin City Transit Center got a $500,000 facelift and finally opened for business.  Bike parking and an information kiosk were apparently less important than trees, and will go in in the next couple of weeks. (IJ)
  • This year might be the last that Marinites will be able to sled in downtown San Rafael thanks to budget cuts (IJ)
  • Like the library?  Love infrastructure?  San Anselmo is seeking applicants for its Capital Program Committee and Library Board. (Town of San Anselmo)
  • A driver struck and injured a cyclist in San Anselmo. (IJ)
  • More inconclusive reports on the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. affects on wildlife. (IJ)
  • SMART may be controversial, but two of the most beloved bits of Marin infrastructure – the Ferries and Bridge – were controversial in their day, too. (IJ)
  • Polling suggests that SMART still enjoys strong support, but there are questions about its methodology. (IJ)
  • Tam Valley is home to a dangerous and well-traveled intersection, but one of the few that lacks sidewalks or good pedestrian and bicycling amenities.  Kathy McLeod wants to change that. (Patch)
  • Café Gratitude is closing or selling all its NorCal locations, including the one in San Rafael, but it still totally wants you to buy its stuff.  The closures are a result of multiple employee lawsuits. (SFist)
  • The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce is moving into its recently-purchased mixed-use building on Bridgeway.  I wonder if an employee will get the top-floor apartment… (Marinscope)
  • Are you prepared for the Big One? (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Vancouver is pursuing urban planning that makes people healthier and fights obesity.  How?  By getting people out of cars and onto sidewalks, bikes, buses and trains. (Globe and Mail)
  • Although California High-Speed Rail is undergoing some tough times, the short-sightedness of governors elsewhere means the project gets their funding. (SFist, New York Times)
  • Readers should know that zoning is important for the future and form of any city.  How important?  Edward McMahon celebrates 85 years of zoning regulations by looking at its philosophical basis, while Stephen Smith looks at the origins of zoning: New York progressivism.  (Urban Land Institute, Market Urbanism)
  • The exurb, of which the Bay Area has blessedly little, is not coming back. For Sonoma and other outer counties, the future rests in their own economic vibrancy. (New York Times)
  • Lastly, there is a pie cake, and it’s called a Cherumple.  This “dessert version of the turducken” weighs around 21 pounds.  Bring friends. (Boing Boing)

Larkspur Bike Bridge Isn’t Bad

Central Marin Connection concept

Tomorrow, TAM will solicit comments on the misleadingly-named Central Marin Ferry Connection Multi-Use Pathway Project, a bike and pedestrian bridge from the Larkspur Landing SMART station over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.  This project, the largest near-term project in the city, would connect with the existing path across Corte Madera Creek and under Highway 101.  A second phase would extend the bridge across the creek, although there are no concrete plans at the moment for this phase.

The area around the Greenbrae Interchange is a pedestrian wasteland, but at least the planners in charge of the project made some nods to access, putting in a paved path beneath the interchange and small (less than 5-foot wide) sidewalks along the on and off ramps to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Still, it needs some dramatic improvements.  Apart from needed reforms of Larkspur Landing as a whole, the future SMART station and Cal Park Hill Tunnel need strong connections to points south and west.  Perched on a steep hill, the station site and tunnel exit are accessible only by a 7 minute circuitous route along Drake, Larkspur Landing Circle, and through parking lots.

The first phase of this project is a worthy bicycle investment.  Creating a coherent bicycle path along the 101 corridor would provide a backbone for the non-motorized transportation network in Marin, just as 101 provides a backbone for the motorized network.  Stairs and a crosswalk across Drake would be far less expensive but would force riders to dismount, diminishing the attractiveness of the just-completed Cal Park Hill Tunnel.  A bridge across the street would make the north-south connection seamless.  It wouldn’t demolish the rail trestle or interfere with that right-of-way, keeping the door open to rail expansion into South Marin, and it wouldn’t further deaden Drake, as there’s nothing to activate.

Those stairs, however, should still be planned to provide easy access between the SMART station and the north sidewalk.  Although they should not be built until the station goes in, building the bridge to allow for stairs would reduce costs later.

The second phase of construction, a new bike and pedestrian bridge across Corte Madera Creek, is not quite as worthy.  Improving the mixed-use crossing of Corte Madera Creek is already a part of the broader Greenbrae Interchange project; why spend millions on a duplicate effort?  The only improvement over the sidewalk would be a single jump from the hill to the south side of the creek, but the bridge’s alignment is not favorable.  Unless the railway trestle comes down (taking southern SMART expansion off the table for the foreseeable future), such a bridge will extend to the Greenbrae Boardwalk and away from the on-street cycle route.  Still, there are, as yet, no formal plans, so the second phase may not even come to fruition.

I’m typically opposed to pedestrian overpasses, as they deaden streetlife on busy streets, typically where streetlife is needed most.  They’re expensive alternatives to fixing the traffic that’s actually wrong with the city.  However, for the Greenbrae Interchange, an exception can be made.  The Interchange is at capacity, partially because of high demand for ferry travel, and a huge number of buses pass by along 101.  Downgrading the intersection to make it safe for pedestrians would hurt transit riders as well as vehicular traffic, without much benefit.  There is very little in the immediate vicinity, and very little room for improvement.  A bridge offers riders a far better experience than stairs and maintains the current interchange capacity without much loss in streetlife.

Fatal Roads

Purple are vehicle deaths, and they cover the map. Click for an explorable map.

It’s not often we get to see in such a stark way how dangerous our roads are.  Luckily, ITO World, a UK transportation information firm, has done it for us, mapping every road fatality in the US from 2001-2009.

Zooming in to Marin, there are a few patterns.  I count 27 deaths along Highway 101 in the county, with the worst part being right at the border, and 2 deaths on 580.  On surface streets, I have:

  • 14 deaths in Novato, including a 9-year-old pedestrian girl on San Marin Drive in 2009
  • 10 deaths in San Rafael, including an 81-year-old pedestrian woman on 3rd Street in 2007
  • 3 deaths in San Anselmo
  • 1 death in Ross, a pedestrian
  • 1 death in Larkspur, a 53-year-old cyclist man near the ferry building in 2003
  • 1 death in Corte Madera
  • 2 deaths in Tiburon
  • 1 death in Sausalito
  • 2 deaths in Mill Valley, both motorcyclists
  • 25 deaths in West Marin

Over 9 years, 89 people have died on the roads of Marin.  Most were in vehicles or motorcycles, but there were two bicyclists and a number of pedestrians that were killed.  We’re doing better than a lot of places, but it serves as a fresh reminder that roads are far more dangerous than we often remember.  What do you see in this map?

Maximizing Golden Gate Transit: Open Data

Image by Jonathan Gray

So far in this series, we’ve discussed how Golden Gate Transit might better communicate its routing, its scheduling and its headways. This transparency would be incredibly useful to the end-user, but the data that generated those maps would still be hidden away on the GGT servers, accessible only to internal users. Opening that data up for outside developers, a concept creatively known as open data, would allow anyone to present that data in ways – both useful and whimsical – that GGT would never even think of, much less fund.

The most obvious use for open data is integration with other regional systems. At the moment, getting around using GGT requires a trip to 511.org, but it’s clunky, unattractive and inflexible. Besides, anyone who is not from the Bay Area wouldn’t know that 511 exists. Google Maps is a good fallback for these visitors but GGT isn’t on the system, leading to Marin being a black hole; only the ferries are really an option. (When asked, GGT said they were planning on integrating with Google Maps but had no timeline.)

In real estate, there are apartment and home finder tools based on travel distance by transit. Type in an address, specify how many minutes you want to travel, and the map highlights how far you can get using transit only. The people that invented Walkscore have also invented a Transitscore, showing how accessible a given location is to transit at any given time of day. With open data, real estate agents could easily market a given area as highly transit accessible. This would not just appeal to potential residents but also to those who need to hire the young and carless, such as tech companies. Many people take transit accessibility into consideration when considering job opportunities. If I can’t figure out on my tool of choice how far an employer is from me by transit I’ll probably pass them by.

Open data also provides a wealth of information for those that love mapping, statistics, or both. Rather than paying tens of thousands of dollars for analyses of headway frequency, stop density, or the like, opening up performance, location and routing data lets advocates analyze the data for themselves. They could combine it with census data to find out how many residents are covered by transit, or determine which routes have the most frequency. They could chart scheduled departures and, if GGT invests in NextBus, show on-time performance for any given route. They could find the busiest corridor, the most densely populated corridor, the worst-performing corridor, and on and on.

Opening up data, then, provides free advertising on all the transit accessibility or utilization tools that want to include Marin. It allows advocates and enthusiasts to process data for the system for free, giving power to the people and giving GGT stronger tools to work with.

Opening data is not always a straightforward matter. The databases need to be converted to usable formats, the information needs to be scrubbed, and service disruptions need to be communicated in similar ways. None of this is free. But the benefits of open data to an otherwise opaque and infrequent suburban system are too great to ignore.

End-Week Links: Traffic Zen

Traffic calming is a wonderful concept.  Given the recent deaths and injuries around Marin caused by drivers hitting pedestrian, it may be time for cities up and down 101 to take a look at calming traffic.

Marin

Crazy times at SMART this week.  While supporters rallied last Thursday in Santa Rosa, something odd was underfoot at the agency.  Finance director David Heath was dismissed by the Board “without cause“, but is on paid leave until December 23.  That this occurred just as the Board completed authorization of $191 million in bonds and about $8 million in construction contracts is incredibly suspicious.  Typically political scandals involve the offending official to resign rather than get fired, although blatant dismissal without cause is typically illegal.  Let’s hope more details will come to light as time goes on. (Rally at IJ, Press Democrat)

  • The Commuter Times has been sold.  The weekly tabloid will begin publishing again this week. (IJ)
  • The public comment period has been extended for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. special use permit. (IJ)
  • Conflict has erupted in one San Anselmo neighborhood over privacy, FAR, and home expansion. (San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch)
  • With the recent passage of desegregation/affordable housing measures by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, the combustable topic of race has entered the affordable housing debate.  Perhaps it should be left out entirely. (Novato Patch)
  • Despite repeal efforts, controversy and scandal, San Rafael is moving forward with a much-needed look at its Civic Center SMART station. (Mill Valley Herald)
  • Sharrows have been completed on South Eliseo Drive, a popular commuting route. (MCBC)

The Greater Marin

  • The City of Napa continues its efforts to centralize and improve its downtown experience.  The first thing it will do is traffic calming, changing its one-way streets to two-way as part of a 400-page draft Downtown Specific Plan. (Napa Valley Register)
  • Market Urbanism’s Emily Washington reviews The Gated City, a fascinating book about how rising housing costs prices out the poor from the most productive our society has: the city.  She concludes that the book makes some excellent points in describing the problem but that its solutions, but is left feeling pessimistic.  “none of [the presented solutions] seem politically viable” to her. (Market Urbanism)
  • Congress is about to kill the federal high speed rail program, which will pose yet another problem for California’s HSR plan. (NPR)
  • How many parking spaces are there in a city?  One intrepid doctoral candidate found out.

Mid-Week Links: DOT Smash

Freeway removal is getting rather more attention from the planning community, but implementing it in the highly linear and non-porous Marin environment is probably impractical.  Still, there are a number of freeway-like roadways through towns – Miracle Mile, Novato Boulevard, Second and Third Streets, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and others – which would benefit from retrofitting.

Marin County

  • Newly appointed County Supervisor Katie Rice outlines her priorities to the IJ. Among them: encouraging alternative forms of transportation.
  • After 13 years, Supervisor Steve Kinsey has stepped aside as chairman of the Transportation Authority of Marin.
  • The SMART board is making its first bond issue.  Opponents say its expensive, as the funds will be placed into escrow, but the money will still be there after the repeal effort is resolved, and, meanwhile, the Board can continue to pay down the loans.  Oddly, the CFO is now on paid leave.
  • Marin is re-enacting the split lot fee, which is levied in lieu of requiring affordable housing.  In other words, the County is charging homeowners from building more homes in the name of keeping housing affordable in defiance of basic economics.
  • It’s almost official: the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved purchase of the $82 million San Rafael Commons for the County’s new security center.  The purchase hasn’t been finalized, but it’s about as done as it can be on the County side of things.  I’m not holding out hope that the nearby bus pads will be upgraded to be attractive in the least, so the site will remain fairly transit-inaccessible.
  • The California Highway Patrol will soon implement Operation Clear, which will focus on removing accidents quickly from Highway 101 during the morning rush hour.

San Rafael & Novato

  • Terrapin Crossroads may have been axed from Fairfax, but there’s talk Phil Lesh is interested in opening a venue in San Rafael.
  • The San Rafael Planning Commission has chosen to delay a vote on the planned San Rafael Airport sports complex pending review of public comments.
  • Canal residents celebrated a new community mural on the side of the Canal Alliance offices.
  • Opponents to the Albert Park/Pacifics plan have sued Centerfield Partners for an environmental study.
  • Novato wants to build a bike park out at Stafford Lake Park for $850,000. It’s a roughly 20 minute ride from Novato along a bike path.
  • Following a rash of accidents, Novato police are cracking down on red light safety.  Such efforts are good, but will do nothing for pedestrian safety.
  • The Black Point rail swing bridge across the Petaluma River has been fully repaired and is back in operation.

South Marin

  • A Southern California appeals court has ruled that cities can ban pot dispensaries, but the fight remains.  Corte Madera is hedging its bets and extending its temporary moratorium.
  • Two drivers suffered major injuries after a surface-street crash in Corte Madera.
  • The Dipsea Stairs in Mill Valley have been renovated.  When not used in the oldest trail race in the country, the Dipsea Stairs are a vital walking path for those that live on the hillsides above downtown Mill Valley.
  • The affordable housing debate reaches Mill Valley.
  • The Sausalito City Council approved unifying its fire department with the Southern Marin Fire Protection District by 3-2 margin.  Unless at least 1,250 signatures are collected protesting the move, the City will join at a cost of $2.7 million per year.

The Greater Marin

  • Encouraging bicycling through better cycle facilities is good for business.
  • Looks like California’s High Speed Rail isn’t a terribly new idea.
  • Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
  • There’s a push in Napa to develop a light rail system between St. Helena and the City of Napa along the Wine Train’s right-of-way, but backers are having trouble raising the $2 million required for study.
  • Golden Gate Transit isn’t the only bus system that has trouble communicating with riders.  Virginia’s Fairfax County does a horrid job, confusing even seasoned riders.
  • The San Francisco Ferry Building sent a letter of complaint to the city regarding Occupy SF protestors nearby.  Anyone have any trouble?
  • A California appeals court ruled that drivers cannot use their cell phones while stopped at red lights because, apparently, you’re still driving even when you’re stopped.  Go figure.
  • UPDATE: Congress has a compromise bill on transportation, and the figures aren’t good.

SMART Train, Foolish Board

Rail Crossing WayIt seems so simple: sell the public on a transit system and keep them from turning against it.  It’s been done before in countless projects across the country, from Norfolk, VA’s Tide light rail to Los Angeles’ 30/10 plan.  Even in Marin, the SMART plan was approved by 70% of the population.  Yet whatever political savvy the SMART Board possessed seems to have evaporated with success, leading to a drumbeat of bad news and setbacks compounded by the Board’s bumbling responses.  Now, a repeal push threatens the entire project.

That effort, spearheaded by a grassroots organization under the name RepealSMART, is gathering signatures for a measure to repeal the ¼ cent sales tax that is funding the train.  Despite their name, the organizers say they don’t want to repeal the project but rather want to give voters a chance to vote on the current business plan.  This is ridiculous on its face, as the name of the organization calls for repeal and its website is explicitly hostile to the idea of rail transit.

Yet rather than publicly treating RepealSMART as a distraction and quietly buffing its own image, the SMART Board declared all-out war.  In defiance of the Secretary of State, the Board declared itself the governing electoral body of the repeal effort.  This arrogance elevated RepealSMART to the level of a large, organized resistance when, in actual fact, it was not.  It perfectly plays into opponents’ narratives, and the Board looks like the bad guy while opponents look like the scrappy underdogs.

This is only the most recent bit of political blindness on the Board’s part.  Since the collapse of funding in 2008, the Board has issued three Initial Operating Segment plans without any public input that damaged their reputation; forced out their General Manager; hired a new General Manager who, while perfectly capable, has no rail experience; and awarded this GM far more than the originally offered salary.

It is shocking that a board consisting of elected local politicians can have such poor political sense, and it is infuriating to me and other supporters that this trend shows no sign of stopping.  The repeal effort would not be nearly as strong as it is if the Board had behaved with public perception in mind when facing the project’s challenges.

The Board’s political incompetence threatens to bury the rail project despite its vital importance to the North Bay.  SMART needs to be saved from itself, but there is little sign the Board even realizes it.

Mid-Week Links: Crashworthy

One of the reasons for SMART’s higher-than-expected cost is Federal crashworthiness standards that forced the agency to look for custom-built heavy DMUs.  Yet, as explained by Market Urbanism, the regulations were made for a time before intelligent, lightweight materials were available and force the US to forego the engineering standards used everywhere else in the world.  As shown above, the new materials are perfectly capable of keeping vehicles safe.  It’s too late for SMART to change their order, but this regulatory regime can and should be changed for all the other transit agencies looking to hold down costs.

Marin County

In case you missed it, there were off-year elections this past Tuesday.  Urbanism won the day for the most part, fending off avowed anti-city challengers in Novato and San Anselmo.  Many disagreed with San Rafael’s new mayor, Gary Phillips, on Target but he has a firmly pro-business stance and will serve downtown San Rafael well.  Across the country, Greater Greater Washington looks at what makes a candidate electable, the Center for Transportation Excellence has posted the status of transit measures nationwide and Half-Mile Circles looks at a few of the big-ticket items.

  • The County is considering regulations on smoking within multi-unit dwellings, I guess because a home is only private space when it’s got a half-acre of land around it.
  • There will be no Terrapin Crossroads, says Phil Lesh.  Fairfaxians are heartbroken.
  • A driver struck a teen in Novato last week along pedestrian-unfriendly Novato Boulevard.  He’s doing okay, although he’s also lucky to be alive.
  • SMART plans to spend up to $200,000 to polish its image and push back against opponents.
  • Novato’s Hanna Ranch development would be built without affordable housing while creating low-income jobs.  This is suspiciously inconsistent.  Deciding on final approval, meanwhile, has been punted by the Council to November 29.
  • California may have  a massive infrastructure maintenance deficit, but at least Mill Valley is behaving responsibly.
  • Mill Valley’s Chamber of Commerce plots a comeback.
  • A proposal has surfaced to create dedicated, separated bus lanes on Van Ness Avenue, speeding buses along the corridor with significantly more efficiency than currently allowed.  Since Golden Gate Transit uses Van Ness for a number of its lines, this change would benefit Marinites as well as San Franciscans.
  • Want to save a state park otherwise slated for closure? Stop by the Parks Coalition brainstorming session on November 15.
  • If there’s one thing Marin does well, it’s loving local businesses.

The Greater Marin

Using open, real-time location data, Eric Fischer mapped the speeds for the transit system. Click to enlarge.

  • Cotati is considering revamping a short stretch of Old Redwood Highway near their hexagonal downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly and less of the car thoroughfare it currently is.  Local businesses want to entrench the 40 MPH status quo.
  • The City of Napa is considering something similar: a $38 million redesign of their downtown.
  • San Francisco apparently boasts three of the best bars in the world, and there’s no better way to enjoy a bar than to take transit.  Don’t stay out too late, of course: your last bus to Marin leaves at 12:30am.
  • Oakland residents are dedicated to historic preservation, going so far as to wield shotguns to defend their heritage.
  • Shockwaves from the $98 billion (nominal) price tag for California High-Speed Rail continue to ripple through the blogosphere.  On one side are engineers, who say it is far, far too overbuilt, and on the other are those who look at the big picture to argue it’s still a good deal.  I say, if you can save money by foregoing massive viaducts through San Jose, forego the viaducts.
  • Sacramento might not get its rail line for a while yet, but where to locate a station is still troublesome for officials.
  • We love our green initiatives.  Unfortunately one of the most popular, Cash for Clunkers, was a bust.
  • Congress did something bipartisan today and unanimously passed out of committee a two year extension of the federal transportation bill, MAP-21.
  • Bad traffic designs that create gridlock create exhaust which seems to hurt our neurological health.
  • Lastly, in a testament to how budget cuts can even cut efficient programs, the General Services Administration no longer will have the money to make their headquarters an example of solid office design and will instead remain in the big, bureaucratic office building that looks just like you expect.

Maximizing Golden Gate Transit: Headways Schmeadways

I remember reading about a Fairfax woman that decided to go car-free in Marin.  To do it, she sat down each night, mapped out her route and carefully wrote down the times, transfers, and locations for each of the buses.  When she borrowed a friend’s car because of a particularly hectic day, she felt “like a bird flying over her homeland” as she was finally free of the bus schedule.

Call me naïve, but I think this means Golden Gate Transit has a problem.

Mapping Frequency

A frequency and rail map of San Francisco from SF Cityscape. Click for larger image.

Buses lack the walk-up quality inherent in a car or subway system if headways are longer than about 15 minutes.  Headways longer than that force passengers to memorize the schedule and adapt their lives to the bus, rendering the bus a significantly less attractive mode.

Not all bus corridors are like this, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at a bus map.  While a street map indicates the priority of its roadways through different line colors and weights – highways as thick and red, arterials as less thick and yellow, and local streets as thin and gray – bus maps typically show all lines and all corridors as equal.  While there is a hierarchy in the bus system of which corridors are more or less important, that information is hidden from the rider.  There is nothing to distinguish the tangle of lines from one another.

Human Transit has strongly advocated for frequency maps for larger cities, which highlight routes or corridors with headways that meet or exceed a certain threshold, typically 12 minutes.  Examples are SF Cityscape’s frequency map of San Francisco, Washington, DC’s draft 15-minute bus map, and Los Angeles’ published 15-minute bus map.  GGT’s bus lines rarely see consistent headways better than 30 minutes, but even showing which corridors combine for 30 minute intervals would be a fabulous improvement.  Another possibility is to emulate Vancouver, which publishes a frequent bus map highlighting peak hour routes.  This is where the bulk of GGT’s transit ridership lies, and would be useful to capture more of that share.

Either map type would be an improvement over the current map, which shows transit operator.  Riders don’t need to know who operates the bus, only that it takes them where they need to go.

When’s the NextBus?

Unlike other regional agencies, GGT doesn’t share its real-time data with 511.org and doesn’t use NextBus despite the fact that it uses GPS to track where its buses are.  This is odd, to say the least, as opening up its location data and utilizing NextBus would be incredibly fruitful for the agency.  Its buses have such long headways that missing the bus could mean an hour’s delay.  If the bus is a little early and the rider is a little late, it’s a missed connection that could mean a blown appointment or a missed pickup at school.

Showing when the next bus will come and not just when it’s scheduled to come frees the business man or the parent from that worry.  Applications and devices utilizing similar data are common elsewhere.  The typical use is directly feeding the data to the rider through websites, smartphone apps and a call-in service, and some systems use them at high-traffic transit centers.  There are more innovative uses as well.  In Chicago, the open data is used for displays in shops and cafes near bus stops, allowing riders to shop, relax or keep out of the rain while keeping an eye on the arrivals.

This last use would be especially helpful for the long headways.  Little is more frustrating or annoying than feeling trapped at a bus stop waiting for your ride.  Shop displays capture the rider for business and allow the rider to do more than just sit around and wait.

Publicizing the bus arrival times opens up the bus system to casual users.  If I need to get to Fourth Street later that day and I see that a bus is going there in 7 minutes, I know I can hop a ride and be there without dealing with parking.  It embeds the fact that buses are a viable transportation option into the collective mind and bypasses scheduling entirely.

Frequency maps accomplish the same thing in a system-wide way, giving riders an idea of the priority given to bus corridors and routes far from where they normally travel or currently are.  It widens the mental map from two points (home bus stop to San Francisco bus stop) to the whole network, demystifying the system and rendering it useful for casual use.

Longer-term, shorter headways facilitated by and facilitating denser infill development around the various transit centers would provide a much more seamless experience with the bus.  As it stands, headways of an hour makes GGT a system of last resort.  There’s only so much marketing can do to help counter the inherent structural flaws of the system, but maximizing what we have requires it.  Lifting the black veil that covers GGT would be a boon to the system and, by extension, to Marin’s sustainability and livability.

Open Data Delay

I just got back from a trip to West Virginia that involved lots of fabulous people and no Internet access, so today’s post on communicating bus timing will be delayed for a day or two.  What I can give you, however, is something someone else made.  Streetfilms has a fabulous video on sharing transit data in an open and standardized way and the wonderful things that can come of it.  Golden Gate Transit doesn’t have open data, at least not that I could see, and that dramatically hinders the capability of the entrepreneurial and tech-savvy to create customer-centered applications the agency may not even think of.  This deserves more rumination, but the mini-documentary can speak for itself.

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