Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Supply VS. Demand In Transportation Planning

There is often a lot of criticism over expensive transit projects that aren’t fully utilized when they are initially built. I’m not advocating transit projects to nowhere, but transportation projects shape growth. If we want to build more transit-oriented developments we need to start by building more transit.

Sometimes we buy too much of a good thing. For example you could buy too many fruits and vegetables and they could go bad before you have a chance to eat them. Fortunately infrastructure projects don’t go bad (although they do take money to operate and maintain). I cannot find many wasteful transportation projects that have been built – there are only a handful of airports that come to mind. Even projects that were initially heavily criticized for lower than expected initial ridership, such as BART, have turned the corner over time. Largely this is because of the transportation/land-use connection – if you build it they will come, sometimes it just takes awhile.

Critics will say that this fact ignores that there are trade offs between transit investment decisions. It is true that there are trade offs. However, we need to look at these trade offs over a longer period of time – not just a handful of years after a project opens. It takes time for developments to take shape, often times decades. Yet if these changes are to take shape we need to start think about shaping them now with proper, large scale investments in urban and regional rail.

Unfortunately, buses don’t have the same affect in shaping land-use decisions as rail does. (Trust me, I wish buses did, then transportation planning would be easy.) Rail isn’t just an efficient way to move people – it’s a monument: it says we are here to stay, you can rely on us. Developments inherently involve risk and the best way to attract developers is to minimize the downside risk. Often times this involves perception. Take for example a bank: banks are large stately buildings that convey stability, power, safety and above all that “we’re not going anywhere.” A developer wouldn’t take out a loan from someone dealing out of the side of his car because he could just take off. Likewise a developer won’t base his decision to develop on a bus line. A person might rent an apartment for a bus line, but developers want something more.

Still, critics will argue that the present state of affairs (in where transit is being cut but capital intensive projects are being fast tracked) is unjust. In Oakland, California for example transit ‘advocates’ are trying to stop an airport connector by claiming civil rights violations. I agree that the cuts that are being implemented in transit service are unjust. However, we need to focus our efforts on the lack of state and federal government funding in areas of need – not on areas where there is funding.


Metro trains crash: time for automated equipment

The November 3, 2004 accident at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan stationTwo Washington Metro trains collided today during afternoon rush hour. At least two deaths and multiple injuries have been reported.

The cause of the accident was reportedly due to a broken track that caused a derailment. Officials are not sure yet if the train collided head-on or if the derailed train was hit from behind.

Often train collision, such as the Los Angeles Metrolink train crash in September 2008, are due to human error. Even though in this case it appears that a broken track was to blame, the escalation of this event into a catastrophe may have been preventable.

This is not the first time Washington Metro trains have been involved in accidents. With the exception of one incident in 1996, which was attributed to the inability of train operators to override automated breaking systems, tragic accidents in 1982, 2004, 2005 and 2006 were in part attributed to human error.

Hopefully this event can be used as an awaking for transit systems to move to more advanced train control system, perhaps fully automated systems. Derailments may not be entirely preventable, but many collisions are. Perhaps we can use this tragic accident as a catalyst for upgrades to our transit systems in the United States. As many systems, such as BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, are due to fleet replacements this may be the opportune time to not only increase safety, but lower operating costs.

Link to BBC Video of the crash.

*NOTE: the image pictured above is from a 2004 incident.

Fewer Posts

Last Saturday my Apartment was broken into. One of the items stolen was my computer. Unfortunately I wasn’t insured and at this time cannot afford to replace the computer. There will still be new posts – Switching Modes is not going off line – but there will be fewer posts.

Best regards,
Brian Tyler

The French: masters of the train

Cable Car at Doha International Airport (planned)Switching Modes has launched a new website that explores how each era of the railway began in France, not as a new technology, but as a movement. This new website looks at the history of steam engines, the creation of the Paris Métro and the subsequent creation of the RER. Then the website looks into the introduction of the TGV and the next-generation of high-speed rail, the AGV. For each of these technologies the website discusses who made it, and why. Then it refers to the historical context of the trains in France. Finally, the website reveals how each era of the railway in France has become a model for other rail systems around the world.

The French history of rail is explicative of more than a chronological history – it shows that these projects take a national commitment. I encourage anyone who feels that the rail system in America is lacking to read on about French rail as a model for the world >>>.

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Oakland Airport Connector: Bringing cable cars back to the Bay Area! (maybe)

Cable Car at Doha International Airport (planned)Despite all the controversy, the BART Oakland Airport Connector project in the San Francisco Bay Area is an exciting project. This is because BART, the agency in charge of building the project, is using an open bidding process that allows for anything from maglev trains to cable cars to be used. So, does this mean that BART, ‘the most advanced system in the world’ (at the time it was built) might actually build a cable car? Yep! And this website thinks that’s a good thing. DDC – Doppelmayr Cable Cars, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group (a company that primarily makes chairlifts and gondolas) makes just the right kind of train for this project.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThere are several advantages to this technology. First of all it is simple, even simpler than the cable cars in San Francisco. That’s because the cables are fixed to the cars. So there is no wear and tear on the cable, or jerky motion, when the cable car needs to stop and go. Because the technology is so simple it’s quick and easy to construct. It is also very reliable and it is affordable too.

One of the biggest advantages of this technology is that the train cars are so light weight because the engine is located at the station rather than in the car itself. This means that the guideway doesn’t require as much concrete reinforcement and is much cheaper to build. The light weight also reduces wear and tear on the cars and the tracks which reduces maintenance costs.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThis technology would require just one or two trains. Because the length of the railway needs to be over three miles, two trains would probably be best for this project in order to decrease headway times (the time interval between trains). This doesn’t mean that two tracks need to be built though – just one track would suffice, except for a short distance to allow the trains to pass halfway between the airport and the Coliseum BART Station. (Although two tracks could be built to make the system even more reliable).

Cable Car at AirportThe trains used in these systems are completely automated, which further reduces operational costs. Additionally, because only one car would pull into either terminus station at one time, it is possible to build very simple, low cost stations. Furthermore, passengers can board and exit the train from both sides, which reduces dwell time (how long the station spends at a station) and lowers headway time.

MGM Cable Car in Las Vegas

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital Costs vs. Operational Costs: the general state of misdirected anger

Oakland Airport ConnectorRail projects are expensive. Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Area: Despite the fact that BART is having budget difficulties they moving ahead with a $500 million 3.2-mile Oakland Airport connector, a $3.4 billion rail car fleet replacement and a $6 billion extension to Silicon Valley. MUNI, which is also in the midst of a budget crisis, is moving ahead with $1.58 billion 1.7-mile surface/subway expansion program. It should be no surprise then that the amount general outrage directed at this apparent disparity between these ‘elitist’ projects and the service cuts faced by the same agencies seeking these glamorous expansions is growing.

What is lacking in this debate however is that these rail projects have lower operating costs than the services they are meant to replace. For example BART has one of the highest fair box recovery ratios of transit system in the country! Furthermore these projects increase transit capacity, speed and reliability and thus are able to entice more people to switch modes.

Making a statement with transit

These projects also make a statement – they’re massive monuments to transportation. They’re immovable and permanent. This is important because people who are willing to give up their car need some reassurance that transit is there for them. Switching modes is perhaps one of the hardest and most life altering changes that a person can make; the automobile is almost an extension of a person. To give up one’s car, for many people, is to give up a part of oneself – a part of one’s identity. That void needs to be filled, and a bumpy, impermanent bus route just won’t do it – not even if you label it BRT.

Rail. It WorksNow, I know that there are people out there outraged that I am concerned about people who have cars when there are people out there who barely have access to, or who may no longer be able to afford the bus. There is no excuse for the transit services to be cut, especially when ridership is at such high levels and global warming is peaking its’ ugly head. Everyone should be outraged by this! However, the solution is not to attack the projects that put transit on the right track for the future. These projects will allow buses to be replaced by trains that cost less to operate and simultaneously allow for increased reliability and capacity. These projects are the way forward. We should support them.

No Good.

IMAGE CREDIT: BART; BART; Flickr by ‘Will aims to rage’ and ‘pbo31’; Charles Cushman

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Berkeley Professor says HOT lanes will lose money and infuriate drivers, but he overlooks his own findings

Pravin VariyaPravin Varaiya of UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department claims that HOT lanes will loose money and infuriate drivers by making traffic worse. This is a blow to the San Francisco Bay Area MTC and this website which has vehemently supported the HOT lane proposal.

Yet, Varaiya’s assessment of HOT lanes is flawed. The East Bay Express says that,

He concludes that the new toll lanes will lose money for two main reasons. In less-congested areas, not enough people will use them. And on the Bay Area’s more-congested freeways, heavy demand from carpoolers won’t leave enough room for those single-occupancy vehicles that would pay the new toll.

The first flaw with this argument is that in less congested areas he is using current data, not future growth trends. Furthermore he completely neglects that these same areas generally do not have carpool lanes already in place. As such, they are part of the second phase of the HOT lane proposal that will build new lanes, but not for about a decade. The levels of congestion will almost certainly change by then.

The second flaw in Varaiya’s critique of HOT lanes is that he neglects to take into account that adjustments can be made. He says that in the areas were congestion is a problem carpool lanes require just two people in a car to use a carpool lane which makes them just about as congested as any other lane. He then points out that because of this there is limited space for toll paying single occupancy vehicles without causing congestion in the HOT lanes themselves. He neglects to mention that in this scenario the MTC will almost certainly change the requirement to three people per car to qualify as a carpool. This would reduce congestion in the HOT lane and simultaneously increase congestion on the other lanes, thus making the HOT lanes appealing to toll paying passengers.

It should be noted that Varaiya is basing his assessment of HOT lanes from previous studies that show carpool lanes are ineffective in reducing traffic and encouraging people to carpool. From these studies he also found that there is unused roadway capacity in many carpool lanes that could be used to reduce congestion on some freeways if these lanes were converted to ordinary freeway lanes (mixed flow lanes). In all probability Varaiya is right on this issue. Yet, this only supports the case for HOT lanes. Rather than simply granting the extra capacity over to all freeway users, why not sell it? This achieves a better result than simply turning the lane over to mixed flow use because when needed a HOT lane raises the toll to discourage drivers from using the HOT lane. Thus, a HOT lane is impervious to congestion. Because a lane that is full, but not congested, moves far more people then a congested roadway this means that since people using the HOT lane are taken from the mixed flow lanes, more people are taken out of the mixed flow lanes if a HOT lane is used than if that lane is simply converted over to a mixed flow lane.

So what alternative does Varaiya propose to ease congestion? He proposes signaling, specifically like that used on the Bay Bridge. However, the Bay Bridge signaling works because it can signal all drivers across the entire freeway, but this is not possible on most freeways. For a similar plan to be effective throughout the Bay Area every freeway would need signals on each freeway entrance and everywhere a freeway merges with another freeway. However, if signals where installed wherever freeways merge, this would create a backup on the freeway people are merging from – such a signaling system would not work. Yet, without this type of signaling system it is impossible to control the traffic flow on an interconnected freeway network. That is why signaling used only at on ramps does not eliminate freeway congestion, despite its’ extensive use in places such as LA.

Given the facts that Varaiya lays out, his assessment of the HOT lane proposal may be correct. However, he does not address the the fact that things can change. This makes his assessment of the HOT Lane proposal wrong. Furthermore, he completely neglects to mention how freeway lanes that do not become congested, such as HOT lanes, benefit transit and encourage people to switch modes.

© Brian A. Tyler and, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and/or concepts without express and written permission from this websites’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
July 2018
« Sep