On “A Streetcar Named Development”, Streetcars, Buses, and Signs

In this week’s Downtown Journal Online, an article “A Streetcar Named Development” discusses the potential for streetcars for Minneapolis.
Streetcars would be the third distinct rail technology that the Twin Cities would have introduced in the course of a decade, following LRT and commuter rail, and of course bus remains. This technology proliferation is one of several issues that has been inadequately addressed. The greater the number of distinct technologies used, the lower the economies of scale that can be achieved with any one of them. While they serve somewhat different markets, they also serve overlapping markets, yet no consideration was given to using technology A in market B.
The more important concern is revealed by the closing quote from Teresa Wernecke, director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization. ‘“With rail, you know where you’re going,? Wernecke said.’ The implication is that with bus you don’t. Why should that be?
The answer is the under-investment in buses over the past 50 years, in particular the lack of signage. Staff I have spoken with at the Metropolitan Council seem to think it would be too expensive to have simple signs which actually told you what bus stopped where and when (since the schedules apparently change). But it is not too expensive to deploy 3 new rail systems to make up for the institutional inadequecies of Metro Transit’s bus operations.
To illustrate, compare this typical bus stop sign from Minneapolis
Minneapolis Bus Stop
With this one from London
London Bus Stop
While this sign certainly does not solely explain London’s higher transit ridership, it helps considerably. The F helps orient you from which stop (among many), which are all shown on a map. The sign tells you where you are and where the buses go, and which buses go there. The schedule shows you the frequency (or schedule) of buses. Further there are maps at every stop, along with schedules.
It might surprise people to know, but bus mode share in London (18%) is as high as Underground and Surface Rail combined (17%) according to Transport for London.
Other factors include traveler information, designated bus lanes, frequent shelters, etc. But underlying this is the attitude that buses should be given full support as a transit mode.
It is too bad Minneapolis is choosing to throw money at streetcars at $30 million per mile and provide no additional service rather than using those scarce resources to create a world-class bus system.
– dml

The World is Your Oyster

A prospective visitor asks: “What do you use for public transit–oyster card? bus/train passes? Are you zone 2 or 3? we are thinking 7 day pass”
The Oyster card is a marvel of technology.
We use the Oyster card with cash (not Travelcard) and automatically top-it-up with cash when it falls below £5.00 (it is automagically debited from our bank account).
We are Zone 2 (Putney Bridge is the nearest tube stop, Putney railway station is the nearest train stop). The buses are flat fare throughout the city. The national rail system is inconsistently on Oyster, but all of the buses and tubes are, and it works well, and is guaranteed to be as cheap as the one-day Travelcard alternative (it has automatic price capping so if your total one day travel exceeds what a day travelcard would be, you only pay that) assuming you don’t use national rail. Also there is bus price-capping, so if you spend more than £3 on bus travel, the rest of your bus travel is free that day. The buses work very well now in the central city with the congestion charge taking out most of the private vehicles. They are still slowed by excess traffic in Kensington and Chelsea (and other areas), but the congestion charge is expanding to Kensington next year. The bus frequency is high and the signage excellent (especially compared to the Twin Cities).
Apparently the three day Travelcard might be slightly cheaper depending on your usage if you stay in zones 1-2. If you are planning on going beyond that, the three day travel card price = 3 * the one day travel card price. (Heathrow is in Zone 6, Gatwick is not Oyster-compliant, you still need special tickets for the Gatwick Express). The Travelcard is also useful if you are using National rail within the city (we seldom do), as National rail is not fully Oysterized.
The seven-day travel card for Zones 1-6 is £41, for Zones 1-2 it is £22.20. In principle this is a discount over the maximum daily (as it should be). However, on my daily travels throughout the city, I wind up spending a little over £20 per week (but not every day involves travel by tube, and some of the travel is off-peak). As tourists you may spend more (say up to £6.00 per day for 2 tube and 2 bus segments per day, in which case a Travelcard is much cheaper) I stay mostly within zones 1-2 (except for Heathrow). (Note travel originating and destined for Zone 2 may be cheaper than Zone 1 to Zone 2, even if you pass through zone 1 to get there, depending on the presence of alternative routes). You can always get the seven-day travel card on Oyster and add cash for travel outside Zones 1-6, it is supposed to be smart enough to charge the right amount (I have not tested this particular claim).
It does cost £3 to get the card itself, but it pays for itself in 4 bus segments or 2 underground segments compared to cash tickets typically. You can put the electronic Travelcard on the Oyster card, or just top the Oyster card up with cash.
Oyster cards are sold at most (all?) tube stations and many convenience stores.
Oyster also has some associated coupons (which we have yet to exploit), and you can get refunded the cash balance when you leave if you want.
My suggestion is get an Oyster card and put a seven-day zone 1-2 travel card on it along with some cash if you plan to take the Piccadilly Line from/to Heathrow. If you wind up spending more, you can top up while you are here. It will still be good when you leave (my guess is the technology is stable for about a decade … this is London so there will probably be Oyster readers a century from now, however your particular card may deteriorate somehow), so you can bring it when you return to London
While the technology is clear, the fare structure is still quite complicated, as befits a system this large and convoluted.
The details are here
– dml

Transport without Control

In an article from Spiegel Online:Controlled Chaos: European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs Hans Monderman was able to get some press again for his idea of eliminating traffic signs.
The idea is this, eliminating signs forces drivers to be more careful, and therefore safer (they are less likely to hit someone). It also makes them slower, and therefore safer (they do less damage once they hit someone).
This is an interesting notion perhaps appropriate in some contexts (the street in front of my house e.g.). I do not believe it is a universally-applicable notion however (and I am not claiming Monderman does either).
The hierarchy of roads serves two purposes. One is access to land. I need a street in front of my property to get to and from my property (otherwise I am landlocked and require aircraft, tunnels, or boats). This street in residential areas is designed to be relatively slow moving, allowing travelers to reach their final destination (or leave their origin).
The second purpose is movement, I want to be able to go long distances between places at a low cost (time, money, etc.), and roads (e.g. highways) are important for this as well. Roads designed exclusively for this purpose include interstate highways, which are grade-separated and limited access.
The problem lies especially in roads that serve dual purposes, where non-locals want to move quickly, while locals want people to move slowly (or better yet, not at all except for the locals). Managing these roads requires especially creative solutions that are in many cases.
However, one needs to think about what problems traffic controls solved in the first place, why were they invented and deployed. A congested intersection without control, or with stop sign control, moves many fewer people per hour than one with traffic lights. If your objective is moving people, this is an important consideration.
Interestingly his ideas are supported both by liberatarians

  • as well as greens