Saturday, December 22, 2012

The road to hell

In a previous post I asked if you could guess the author of these quotes:
"In every city throughout the country and in the sprawling suburbs surrounding the larger cities, traffic is piling up in swollen gasoline gullies, throttling industry, commerce and business; blocking street cleaning, fire and police apparatus; endangering the lives of men and women going to work, of mothers pushing baby carriages, and of children going to and from schools and playgrounds." 
"Fully half of all traffic deaths are due to speed. Cars have become more dangerous than wars." 
"The traffic accident cost to this nation is almost beyond belief." 
"[Regarding railroad crossings at grade] It is the highway, not the railroad--the car, not the train--which creates the hazard and must be primarily responsible for its [the grade crossing] removal."
It was a little unfair, as far as I can tell these quotes do not appear anywhere online except for the last one which appears verbatim in an FHWA manual for some reason.

Surprisingly, the quotes actually come from a little self-serving memoir/screed written in 1956 by none other than Robert Moses. Yes, that one.  His book was lined up next to Caro's magnum opus in the library, and I couldn't resist picking it up in addition for a little light holiday reading.
Trans-Manhattan Expressway (source)

Almost needless to say, Moses' methods at solving these problems drastically varies from current thinking. Here's a sample:
"Parkways were designed, built and protected for pleasant, careful driving. Cross traffic has been eliminated by attractive stone-faced bridges. Wide rights-of-way have been landscaped with native trees, flowing shrubs and evergreens. They have been developed as shoe-string parks with pavements for passenger cars only. All this is a useless expenditure for the speeders, who, at the rate they travel, cannot distinguish a rosebush from a bale of hay."
Can such a hardened political operator be so naïve as to think people would cruise slowly through isolated highways "just because" there was a bunch of pretty grass at the side? To be fair, it's not just Moses who thought this way, such parkways were popular all over, particularly in Boston. Of course, designers such as Olmsted at least had the fair excuse of being dead by the time speedy motorcars were prevalent. Sadly, a whole lot of urban parkland was turned into a stinking, congested, polluted car sewer by the time people thought better.
Cross Bronx Expressway (source)

Here's another few examples of Moses-style "solutions:"
"1. More drastic regulation of speed without regard to unrealistic, theoretically designed limits and political pressure for higher limits. 
2. Stopping the senseless advertising of high-speed motors as a basis of sales. 
3. An unrelenting campaign to acquaint the public with the cause and effect of accidents and especially the terrible danger of excessive speed."
So the roads would be designed and overbuilt for speed, but arbitrarily low limits should be enforced and politically backed. We know how well that "worked" out. And he seems to have favored government intrusion into cultural matters such as advertising, as if that would somehow deter Americans from wanting overpowered engines, if it could even pass constitutional muster (which I doubt).
"We need many additional regulations and restrictions governing the use of motor cars, not only to make them safer but to facilitate their movement and increase their usefulness to the community. Tighter zoning requirements would be enormously helpful. These cannot constitutionally be made retroactive, but they can be extended and enforced on new structure and the rebuilding of old ones, so as to require offstreet loading and unloading facilities and parking spaces for a reasonable number of cars on the premises."
Well, we did get safer cars since 1956. But we also got the "tighter zoning requirements" and that has been an unmitigated disaster for cities, turning so many of them into poor simulacra of bland suburbia that people fled in masses for actual suburbia.
G.W. Carver Houses in Spanish Harlem (source)

But the real kicker is this one, where he rants against "extremists" who,
"...demand that in city centers, including residential as well as business districts, all private cars be kept out, that we cut in half the present number of taxis, that no parking, even with meter regulations, be permitted, and that we abandon all tall buildings for low horizontal structures on large garden plots. Dull, worn-out officials and irresponsible planners join in such proposals. But the process of change must be evolutionary and in charge of those whose aim is to modernize not revolutionize, to preserve values, not destroy them."
I think we can safely agree that banning private cars, and tall buildings -- in favor of large garden plots with low buildings -- is a bad idea. But, oh, the chutzpah. This from the man who brought upon New York City the horrors of the superblock, tower-in-the-park style housing project. A city which, I might add, was in no danger of losing its tall buildings or cars. And finally, that he thought of himself as evolutionary, that he was preserving rather than destroying? To address that I'll add one final quote from Robert Caro, my favorite one so far, although there is plenty more to review (italics original):
Webster Ave in Tremont,
as seen from the Cross Bronx (source)
When he [Moses] replied to protests about the hardships caused by his road-building programs, he generally replied that succeeding generations would be grateful. It was the end that counted, not the means. "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." Once, in a speech, he said:
"You can draw any kind of picture you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra or Brasília, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax."
The metaphor, like most Moses metaphors, was vivid. But it was incomplete. It expressed his philosophy, but it was not philosophy but feelings that dictated Moses' actions. He didn't just feel that he had to swing a meat ax. He loved to swing it.
Some preservationist he was.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guess the author!

Don't have much time, but, came across a curious set of quotes in a book I was reading.
"In every city throughout the country and in the sprawling suburbs surrounding the larger cities, traffic is piling up in swollen gasoline gullies, throttling industry, commerce and business; blocking street cleaning, fire and police apparatus; endangering the lives of men and women going to work, of mothers pushing baby carriages, and of children going to and from schools and playgrounds." 
"Fully half of all traffic deaths are due to speed. Cars have become more dangerous than wars." 
"The traffic accident cost to this nation is almost beyond belief." 
"[Regarding railroad crossings at grade] It is the highway, not the railroad--the car, not the train--which creates the hazard and must be primarily responsible for its [the grade crossing] removal."
Anyone want to take a guess who wrote these words?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Replaying real-time bus data, expanded

About a month ago I posted a demo playback of the real-time data from Oct 11, 2011 for the 57 bus, taken from the MBTA Data Contest sample. Now I've expanded it to include all key bus routes, the Silver Line and the CT routes.

Real-time bus data playback
I've added a bunch of options as well, because displaying all of this information on one map can get very CPU intensive. Disabling the Stop Request/Door Open markers will ease up most of the burden. You can also select which routes to display using the checkboxes on the right, as well as toggling whether to show the lines of the bus routes.

The data take awhile to load so it's been split up into pieces which are loaded in the background while the simulation begins. A progress bar will be displayed on top until it finishes loading, but the map will start showing the bus data that have been already downloaded.

It's easy to forget the scale of the system when you ride the same way every day. Just take a look, as it starts early in the morning with a lone 28 bus, and then explodes with activity as it reaches the morning peak, until the entire map is crawling with buses. And these are only the key routes.

(Tested in Chrome and Firefox; IE users may be out of luck).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Government Center closure: shuttle routes

Since it seems we're looking at a closure of a major transfer station next September, let's look at some of the alternatives for replacing service. I'd prefer if they get the work done as soon as possible, say, 6 months instead of 24 months, but we'll still need some kind of shuttle service in the meantime.

They did not show the currently planned shuttle route between Bowdoin, Haymarket and State, but this is what I presume it will look like, operating clockwise:

View shuttle in a larger map

The roundtrip can probably be completed in about 10 minutes so this will likely use 2-3 buses, depending on how frequently they want to operate.

This planned route connects stations on the Blue, Orange, Green "C" and Green "E" lines but does not assist Blue/Red, Blue/"B", or Blue/"D" (except off-peak) connections. A shuttle between State and Park would assist every possible connection, however. But the T seems to have dismissed that possibility due to the one way roads and congestion around Park. I'm not sure what options they considered, but perhaps this was one of them:

View Park/State shuttle in a larger map

This loop would take about the same time as the previous option, maybe slightly less, but has the benefit of making all connections that don't involve the Silver Line. The drawbacks include the need to create a shuttle stop adjacent to the Park Street Church -- although there should be enough room -- and the possibility that a city bus cannot navigate the School Street/Water Street routing -- which I don't know answer offhand. Still, some creativity could be applied, such as using smaller buses or temporary street changes to make it work out.

View Park/Bowdoin/Haymarket/State shuttle in a larger map

If you want to avoid small streets, then here's another idea: take the original shuttle plan and add Park to it. This can be achieved by turning down Tremont Street, then back along Park Street and Bowdoin Street. Normally, such a loop would be obnoxious for people connecting from Park to State, but here we can take advantage of Bowdoin to shorten that transfer time. Riders going from Blue to Green/Red would take the shuttle from State to Park, but riders going the other way would make use of Bowdoin to shorten their trip. This obviously depends upon Bowdoin being held open full-time, as is planned. The bus stop and crosswalk in front of the Park Street Church would also still be necessary.

A few folks at the meeting called for the MBTA to investigate some kind of shuttle bus route from East Boston to the Red Line. I'm not sure if they'll consider it seriously, but let's take a look at a couple of ideas and see if they are feasible or not. Option 1:

View East Boston to Charles/MGH in a larger map

This option uses the Callahan and Sumner tunnels from Maverick to reach the West End and ultimately connect to Charles/MGH along Cambridge Street. As far as I can tell, there is enough clearance in the tunnels for buses, although they don't normally use them. Looking at Charles/MGH, the renovated station and circle are not at all friendly to buses (or people, for that matter). The road which runs underneath the station is named "Pleasure Road" (go figure) but it would require some heavy construction to place a bus stop there, as it is walled off from the station. That is unfortunate, since that road would be the ideal place for a bus stop. It seems that the most likely location for a shuttle bus stop would be along Cambridge Street west-bound as it enters the circle. There is a crosswalk to the station, and 3 lanes of traffic with plenty of room for a stop, along with a usable curb. Then the shuttle could enter the circle and turn around back east. Or, option 2:

View East Boston to South Station in a larger map

Instead of Charles/MGH, go to South Station using the Mass Pike. This essentially follows the path of the SL1. Presumably the diesel shuttle buses could not actually use the Silver Line bus tunnel, so they would be forced onto an Atlantic Avenue bus stop. Otherwise, this is like an additional Silver Line branch which serves East Boston residents from Maverick to Day Square. The main advantage of this route is that it could cut out a transfer for many residents of East Boston: instead of Blue-shuttle/Orange-Red, they could go shuttle-Red (and not have to add to the overloaded Orange Line). Another advantage is that it connects East Boston to both sides of the Silver Line. A disadvantage might be that it takes too long to travel from Maverick to South Station via this route, and therefore it is not worthwhile. On the other hand, it might be worthwhile just because it takes some stress off the central core (as an Urban Ring route might).

Anyway, happy to hear any more ideas, or if I missed something that makes these routes infeasible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Government Center station closure: public meeting

Here are my notes from the meeting which took place today (hopefully slides will be on the website soon, some images posted here meantime):

  • The speaker for the presentation was Don Schwartz of HDR.
  • The new glass head-house will have entries on 3 sides with 6 doors.
  • The old, closed-down Blue Line mezzanine will be turned into an emergency exit only.
  • There will be a smaller head-house to accommodate that emergency exit.
  • This will require shifting Cambridge Street slightly north:
  • They will cut the median strip from 20 feet down to 6 feet in order to preserve existing parking and travel lanes
  • They will also take the opportunity to paint bike lanes and widen the sidewalks
  • The Scollay Square intersection will be redone to be more pedestrian friendly
  • Curb extensions, exclusive pedestrian phase, fix it from being "just a road that happens to have pedestrians" to one that is friendly to walking
  • The stairs outside the station head-house will be eliminated and the plaza will be flattened out for easier accessibility
  • Inside they plan to have about 9-10 fare gates
  • Two elevators going from street to Green Line, two separate elevators going from Green Line to Blue Line (site too constrained to combine them)
  • There will be some sort of precast concrete floor that is "less slippery" and the stairs will "allow daylight" through to the station beneath
  • There will be two sets of stairs and two escalators, so you can go left or right as you enter the station
  • It looks like the stairs are aligned and adjacent with the Haymarket-bound track
  • They intend to widen the Haymarket-bound platform from the current (less than) 3 feet to 10 feet.
  • The power substation will be replaced in order to power the elevators

The "keep it open" alternative was considered and rejected:

  • An extra year would have been devoted to constructing entirely temporary platforms and access
  • 32+ weekend diversions of the "entire" Green and Blue Lines would be needed
  • All Green Line trains would need to be double-stopped to let off passengers, due to construction blocking the platform
The "total closure" alternative they claim saves 18 months and $20 million. They project an additional 9-10 minutes of travel time for all passengers who were using the station and are now diverted.

  • The Blue Line Bowdoin station will be open full-time on a trial basis: they will monitor usage and decide if it is worthwhile
  • The Green Line "B" and "D" service will terminate and loop at Park Street station, except during the off-peak when service on the "D" branch will be sent further to turn back at North Station.
  • As a result of the shorter trip-time, a single train in service on the "B" branch will be shifted to bolster the "C" branch instead.
  • There will be a shuttle bus that loops between Haymarket, Bowdoin and State.
A lot of people came along to comments, and many were not happy at all about the closure:

  • One of the biggest concerns from multiple East Boston residents was the crowding on the Orange Line, making it nearly impossible to perform the one station hop between State and Park during rush hour. The platforms at State are too small and overcrowded. It's already really bad on the Orange Line, this will make it worse. One of the responses from the MBTA Project Manager Tom Nee was that they had simulated the platform issues, using AFC data, and that it was feasible.
  • Will there be out-of-system transfers? The answer: nothing more than is currently supported. They are "unable to reprogram" the AFC system to be more flexible.
  • Along those lines several called for answers on the Red/Blue connector which should have been at least designed as part of the Big Dig mitigation. "Many of our concerns would fade away if that existed." Of course this was brushed off as out of scope.
  • Someone asked why the Blue Line mezzanine wasn't being used as a proper entrance. The given reason was that it would require the relocation of many more utilities and have more impacts on the street. The cost was too high. The current plan only requires the relocation of one utility.
  • It was estimated by one commenter that this would add at least 7 hours to every East Boston/Government Center commuter's trip time per week.
  • Would the Blue Line platform gain additional ventilation? It seems that the answer was "no."
  • Some suggestions: install a Hubway at Bowdoin, allow bikes on the Blue Line at all times, and set up a trial shuttle bus from East Boston to Charles/MGH and see if that helps alleviate some of the problem.
  • The pavers they are choosing for the station came under criticism as being tough on disabled folks using wheelchairs. She also asked for more of the wider faregates because during rush they become monopolized by able-bodied folks in a hurry. Quote: "this is a station being built for the past."
  • A few residents asked the project management to please go stand at State and the other downtown platforms during rush hour and see what it was like before they return to other public meetings.
  • Nina Garfinkel from Livable Streets asked if they would consider "priority bus lanes" for the shuttles, more Hubway stations, and whether they had considered a good plan to guide people around the closure?
  • A couple of people were wondering why the head-house was 2 stories tall and if they were considering sight-lines to the harbor and various landmarks (someone even claimed to like seeing City Hall!)? The answer was that the station fit into the BRA master plan and was intended to be a landmark itself, and that it was the smallest structure in the vicinity.
  • A Blue/Red commuter said "it is bad NOW" and then asked if they could consider that shuttle between East Boston and Charles/MGH or South Station, or alternatively, work on making the Silver Line useful to East Boston residents.
  • Is it possible to shorten the closure, 2 years is unreasonable? Fill station with workers, get it done, don't waste money on a glass cathedral.
  • Would they confirm that there will be work done 24/7 for 2 years to get this done ASAP? Some nodding, but no firm answer.
  • Granite stairs are difficult for those with poor vision to see when walking down on darker days, consider something more visible.
  • Have new GM meet with the community before anything.
  • The State Street platform is too narrow, did they account for baby strollers, carts, carriages, bikes and other obstacles in their simulation? It's a public safety hazard as is.
  • Will there be a further walk from City Hall to the station? It seems as if it would only be very slightly, if at all, and the new path will be fully accessible and rebuilt all the way from point to point.
  • Will the intersection be improved in the earlier phases in order to promote walking from Park Street to Government Center? No, they said that the street-level improvements will be one of the last things to happen.
  • Can there be a shuttle from State to Park? The answer seemed to be "no" because there was no easy way to run a shuttle on that route due to one-way streets and congestion.
  • Will there be a down escalator? Yes, one of the escalators will be going down.

San Juan

Been away for a little while, I was travelling and stayed for a few days in Old San Juan, which looks like this.

A very beautiful old city which dates back three or four centuries, perhaps even to the early 16th century. It is located on a small island connected by only two bridges to the larger island of Puerto Rico. It is a historically protected site, which is a good thing because the rest of San Juan looks more like this:

Estación Hato Rey
San Juan has extremely high density of cars, and it shows
The adjacent highway was even more of a parking lot than this

Tourism is obviously the biggest industry in Old San Juan, as it is a major cruise ship destination. Between that, the Governor's mansion, and the historical protections, there is a slightly artificial feel to it which can hardly be avoided. But despite that, there are still many local residents and businesses here. And it's a fun place. I think it is well worth a stop if you are in the area.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Your Vision, Our Future: A Transportation Conversation

A couple months ago, MassDOT began promoting a series of statewide public meetings called: Your Vision, Our Future: A Transportation Conversation. I attended the Boston meeting on Thursday. Secretary Davey stated at the beginning that they are listening to people from around the state in anticipation of January's finance plan. He said that we are "destined for a renaissance or a rollback." Then he turned the floor over to public comments.

I didn't have time to stay for the whole session, but here's the notes for what I said in my 3 minutes:
  • Agencies must work together: BTD, BRA, MBTA, etc
  • Transportation policy and land use are inseparable, is anyone from the BRA or city planning here? [no, it turns out]
  • The T must work together with the city to eliminate minimum parking requirements particularly near MBTA stations
  • Minimum parking requirements are a direct subsidy to automobile usage
  • They create traffic congestion, hurt walkability through sprawl
  • Every dollar of parking subsidy causes T ridership and revenue to drop
  • If people don't pay true cost of driving, then the rest of us pay for it
  • Turning to BTD, buses and trains carry more people than cars, but BTD treats buses as worth less than cars in road design.
  • The T must work with BTD to change this attitude, get bus lanes and signal priority.
  • For example, the Silver Line should have dedicated lanes all the way through Chinatown. It's not BRT if you don't do the important parts where it's "hard" to get done.
  • Finally, improvements in service can save operational costs.
  • Faster trip times mean fewer vehicles needed to operate the same service.
  • The "front door only" policy on the Green Line must be ended
  • It costs more money by slowing down trips than it saves in stopping fare evasion
  • Sometimes trains easily sit for 5 minutes at a single station because of the bottleneck, people pushing in and out of the small front door
  • It's not helping the T, it's just a form of collective punishment of the riders
  • The T should treat customers as people, and have some pride in their work