Tuesday, March 31

Mass Transit = Health

According to a new study, published in the Journal of Public Health Policy indicates that merely taking mass transit instead of driving is enough to improve your health. The reason? Exercise. Walking to and from the bus stop multiple times a day increases the likelihood (3 times) of an individual getting the (minimum) exercise they need.

I have definitely noticed this in my own life; when I was living in the suburbs I was starting to put on weight. When I moved out and started taking the bus every day, I went back down to a more manageable level.

Their conclusion:

The research could have major implications for urban planning and public transit development, Lachapelle says.
"You don't necessarily have to rebuild communities or make major investments in infrastructure to promote public health," he says. "There are things we can do in the interim, such as encourage people to drive less, and adapt their lifestyles which will get people more physically active and generate fewer greenhouse gasses."

How To Calm Your Screaming Infant (On the Bus)

Consider this a basic tutorial to riding the bus with an infant. Please note that the following does not apply to Toddlers, Kids, or Teens, as the rules for them are very different.

  1. Try the basics first, of course. Has he been fed? Is she too hot or too cold?
  2. Some things should not be done on the bus. If he needs a diaper change, get off.
  3. Some things should only be done on the bus if you are comfortable with it. If you are breast-feeding your child, you shouldn't do it on the bus unless you are willing to put up with rude remarks, glares, and funny looks. If you are easily embarrassed, you should get off first.
  4. Consider time remaining. If you are going to get off in two minutes, a screaming baby isn't that big an issue, and it can wait. Also, starting feeding at that point is practically useless, as you will just have to stop it in about thirty seconds anyway. On the other hand, if you are going to be on the bus for another hour, a screaming infant is an eternity of hell for the other people on the bus, and quieting the little angel is important.
  5. Consider how much time you have on your hands. Can you afford to waste 15 minutes (or more) getting off and getting back on? If you are short on time, the screaming baby is more stressful, and harder to handle. If you have plenty of time, consider it a valid option, as it will allow you to get some fresh air, get to a changing table, a place to sit for a minute, somewhere warmer/colder, whatever the baby needs.
  6. Maybe this is part of the first one, but talk to your child. Sometimes all she needs is reassurance that this is ok. This can be especially true if it is the baby's first time.
  7. Consider relocating. Often, certain parts of the bus are warmer/colder/smellier/worse than other parts. If you think a certain thing is a problem, consider moving to a different spot. Others may think this rude at first (it kind of breaks basic bus protocol), but when the little guy stops wailing, they'll forget about it and just think you are an amazing parent.
  8. If your kid is social, sit by a nice old lady and get her to make funny faces and coo at her. They will make nice comments about how cute it is, and your little demon will calm down and smile back, generating even more nice comments. It makes everyone's day.
  9. If all else fails, just get off. Wait an hour. Walk an extra mile or two. Call your parents/siblings/friends and get them to swing by and pick you up (if you have the carseat with you) or whatever. Few things are worse than being stuck in a tin can with a screaming demon of the abyss. Few things are cuter than seeing the next generation of bus riders sleeping peacefully in a little sling.
Happy riding, Good luck!

Monday, March 30

Possible Criteria

I'm working on developing a system to compare the mass transit systems across the country (probably giving them a total school, although I don't know what the final system will look like just yet). I understand that some of this is going to take information from several sources, but I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions on what criteria they think I should be looking at when determining how good a system really is.

Some possibilites include:
  • Number of Routes
  • Number of Routes per capita
  • Number of Riders
  • Number of Riders per capita
  • Average Frequency of Routes
  • Highest Frequency
  • Lowest Frequency
  • On Time Percentage
  • Geographic area within 1 mile of a single line.
  • Geographic area within 1 mile of two or three lines.
  • Geographic area within 1 mile of four or more lines.
  • Price of Fare
  • Price of Monthly Pass
  • Night Service
  • Weekend Service
Any other ideas or suggestions? I'd like to make this a nice simple bias-free system, primarily so that I can use data available and not have to find it for myself.

Friday, March 27

Bus, Parenting, etc.

I fell asleep on the bus this morning. Not something I do often, but it has been a particularly long week. So I was sleeping, and I dreamed that I was a Hip Hop star. Seriously bizarre, since I rarely ever listen to that stuff. But I was, and I was big. My stage name was something really lame, and all I did was make fun of other rappers for talking about stupid things instead of what's important.

It was weird.

Anyway, I've realized that this blog (so far) is kind of heading more toward Carless and less toward Parenting, so I'm going to keep trying to post things every now and again that have to do with dealing with Mass Transit and kids. Since that is supposed to be the point.

But not today. Today, I'm gonna go take a nap.

Thursday, March 26

Follow Up on Transportation Equity

Friday I sat in on a conference call regarding the development of equitable transportation. Part of my notes mentioned (about four times) that a follow up "information packet" would be sent out to all those involved.

What they didn't mention was that this "packet" was more like a "phone book" than a "brochure." Ok, so not quite that bad, but it is still pretty long, and not something I can sum up instantly. I do want to discuss it in further depth, but it is something I need more time for. So, just so you know: Packet Received. More information to come.

Oh, and ah... write your Senator! Tell him to vote for the Obama budget. All we need is a simple majority, but it is pretty important.

Why I Love/Hate Salt Lake (Detail 2) - Nerds

For whatever reason, being a nerd is socially acceptable in Utah. Maybe it is everywhere else, but it definitely is here. I mean, Utah Valley (the Whore of Babylon?) has what? Three game stores? Four? Despite Dungeons and Dragons being “Satan’s Game,” there is massive popular demand and backing for the game. We were over at Hastur (I HATE that store, for the record. They have everything, but they are rude and nasty!) last weekend, and the place was packed with people playing D&D!

Plus, it has been fairly easy to recruit new people to come play D&D with us, which makes life much easier. Several of my current friends I met by way of D&D, and doubt I would know them without it. In my opinion, we card-carrying members (yes, really) of the gaming world can hold our heads high in Utah, and not be judged overly harshly.

Just another reason to love my city.

(I Do HATE, though, that all the stores are out in the ‘burbs, and that there isn’t one closer to home).

Wednesday, March 25

Penumbra v Suburbs - Where do you draw the line?

Christopher Leinberger "Saw it Coming." So did I, really, I just didn't know how to tell anyone, and no one really listened to me. I'm sure, however, that if you interviewed various people from way back, I'd been predicting things like total economic meltdown and a housing/credit crisis, I just didn't have a date attached to it.

Anyway, he defines the Penumbra as "Those places [that] are still suburban but are within walking distance of the walkable places." (I'm pretty that where I live falls under this category, for the record. It is nice to have a label for it).

But what is it exactly? Webster's defines it as "A surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists to a lesser degree."

So what is the difference, precisely, between the penumbra and the suburbs? Is it simply a question of distance? Or more a manifestation of lifestyle and attitude? Is the line one that can be easily drawn, or are there murky shades of grey?

Siemens S70

I know its a bit late for a tech post, but I'm doing one anyway. I have another idea for a post as well, so I'll try to finish it today, but if not it will be up tomorrow.

UTA and Siemens just announced the (largest ever) purchase of new Light Rail vehicles for the new lines currently being built, and they are shiny:
They ordered 77 of them, a massive investment in infrastructure (if you hadn't noticed the incredible amount of building going on right now...). The new S70 looks much more modern than the clunky old S160, which is what UTA has been using the most. Compare: The one on top is the S160, the one on the bottom is an example of the S70.
Isn't the new one just so much prettier? Also, it has a max speed of 65, which it might be able to hit on the longer lines. The entrances (and 70% of the seating) are at station level, which will make dealing with boarding much easier, particularly for those with young children! They are 10-15 feet longer than the old kind though... will they fit in our stations? Or will they only be able to run 3 cars at a time, rather than 4?
They have 4 places for wheelchairs (rather than 2) and 4 special racks for bicycles (this is fantastic!). They can hold an estimated 228 passengers (quite a few of whom would be forced to stand). They are also safer, with better brake times and superior suspension, making them an all around superior product.

Below is a mock up of what they will look like with UTA colors splashed across them (rather than Houston or Portland or Spain, as pictured above).

Tuesday, March 24

Infrastructurist

I found this amazing website, and after realizing that I wanted to quote off of at least three different articles (Big Box Reuse, Dealing with the Suburbs, and the significant decrease in driven miles and corresponding increase in mass transit use, month after month) I realized that this site was a treasure trove.

So instead of quoting the individual pages and taking up a huge long post to go into it, I thought I'd just provide the link this time around.

I do have things to say about some of these (like the Penumbra, a word I'm totally going to start using), but I'll save it for now.

I give you: The Infrastructurist

Monday, March 23

West Side Improvement!

Examining mass transit on a local level, and comparing my regular bus to another route elsewhere, can be incredibly frustrating, and a bit misleading. Ultimately, the poor service out on the west side of the valley does affect me, and not just if I want to get out to visit family. It creates a situation where people look at UTA with a less than favorable opinion, or complain because the transit situation isn't working in their favor, yet they are paying taxes for 70 miles of rail to be laid in the next few years.

Ultimately the map tells the tale, though: Dozens of lines interlaced on the Eastern side, a few measly lines connecting to rail on the Western side. UTA isn't entirely at fault for this of course; richer people spend more on mass transit (approximately three times as much) so building more on their side makes sense. In addition, the west half of the valley is far less dense than the east half, which also significantly reduces the effectiveness of mass transit (the map demonstrates this as a possible driving force, as the southern portion of the valley also suffers a significant lack of service. They have TRAX though). Consider it one of the evils of Suburbanism, if you will.

The point is, though, that UTA is beginning a route on 5600 West.

But they are doing a terrible job.

I used to live out there... and this route would help a little bit, for a few things, but it doesn't go far enough in either direction.

  • On the southern end, it does decently well. Further south from here is exclusively residential neighborhoods, which don't bring in much in the way of ridership. Considering, though, that the route is primarily built to access the shopping centers, it would have been more rational to extend to around 6400 S (shortly after this 5600 W fundamentally ends), which would encourage more people to ride into the business corridor there, including Smiths, Wal-mart, Kohls, and a variety of little shops, restaurants, and the never ending row of Fast Food joints. Or maybe connect it down to Jordan Landing (a lot further east...), making a transit hub down there?
  • On the Northern end, however, it fails miserably. North of SR 201 is one of the most under served areas in the valley, and there are tens of thousands of people who work there, around the clock. Many of these people work along the 56th W corridor, and would probably take mass transit to work if it were a viable option (my Father in law, for example, could easily take the bus to work if it went there). Failing to cross, however, significantly limits the destinations this bus takes people to, which will ultimately reduce ridership significantly.
  • The timing for this route (every forty minutes) is terrible, primarily because it makes mental calculations regarding the bus route much more difficult. If they added to both ends, placed two buses simultaneously, and had it run every half hour, it would be much better (or placed four buses, and ran every 15). This makes a bigger difference than UTA seems to think: the mere presence of the bus won't create ridership, they have to make it usable for everyday tasks (or at least for trips to work and home).
My analysis is: this route is better than nothing, but won't pay out the way UTA wants it to. If they really want this route to succeed, they should extend it in both directions, and signficantly increase the timing on the route. It would be fairly easy, and massively increase the profitability of the line.

They would never consider running a line like this on the east side, running from (for example) Sugarhouse to Brickyard and back, with nothing further north or south. It just wouldn't make sense. They shouldn't do the same out west, it just doesn't make sense.

Friday, March 20

"Transportation, Equity, and the Recovery"

I attended a conference call this morning, hosted by Policy Link, in regards to Equitable Transportation and applying equitable principles during the recovery period, and these are my notes:

Dwayne Marsh

“Ensure that communities we care about are receiving funds from the enormous stimulus package sent down by the Federal Government during these troubling economic times”

“Bridge the Traditional Divide between Local and National levels.”

Radhika Fox.

Over 200 people on the call.

Local/State people, community development, workforce development, etc.

Applauds Obama for Recovery/Reinvestment Act. – How do we economize and get the most out of it?

First Component: Method of Distribution. $50 B – Roads, Rails, Ports, Bridges, etc. Distribution Locally.

  • Maximization must use existing provisions/constraints.
  • Title XII of Recovery Act. Support does exist outside it, but this is predominant.
  • Other Places – State Fiscal, Energy Investment, etc

Transportation serves several points: Energy Efficiency, Poverty Reduction, Job Building, Construction (short funding), etc.

  • Trouble: “Shovel Ready” projects much more rare.
  • How do we include disadvantaged, people of color, women, etc?

Transparency Provisions

  • Stronger mandates requested.
  • Unprecedented levels of vision, provisions attempt to prevent waste, rather than report on progress.
  • This therefore falls to a state level. Recovery.gov does not require recipients who works, quality of work, etc.

Laura Berrett

Paper will be released: 12 pages or so.

What can be done? How can we get money where we want it to be?

  • Full transparency.
  • Transit Oriented.
  • Community Involvement – Representative Spending.
  • Ensure Accountability. Does our state look good? If we don’t, can we get funding later?
  • Shape Rules at Federal Level.

28 local groups have already committed to meet with Governors over these.

  • When are hearings scheduled?
  • We have a leg to stand on! Should be spent in Economically Distressed areas – In the community.
  • Advocate work already in place, applies.

$20 M to OTJ Training, $20 M to Minority Business Enterprises.

PLA – Community should be involved in these projects (Obama published decree). These are primarily $25M+

From Metropolitan Congregations United.

Getting officials to meet face to face.

Working to get transportation across the board, particularly in low income communities.

Connect at Municipal, State, and Federal levels. How do we get them involved across all levels?

Very little money typically comes down to Transportation, so we have to get our voices heard.

· News Conferences

· Public Meetings

· Face to Face meetings with officials.

From Questions:

Money for “Surface Transportation Programs” – Doesn’t have to be used for Highways. Can be used for Bikes, Bridges, Transit programs, etc.

Look at Public Advocates website.

How do we reform the way money is spent, invest in current progress, etc?

Let people know what your vision is, what you are looking for, how we can improve our community.

Mass Transit is the “Ultimate Green Job”

Route restrictions and Mass Transit Layoffs are a major issue. Media is “Hungry for Information.”

It doesn’t often happen that you can make policy history, and change the way the entire structure works… from the President to Congress and all the way down.

Light Rail Transportation or Trolleys needs to expand, serve low income as much (or more) as high income communities. As in investment, it almost always pays off in terms of taxes, increased land values, etc.

Healthy Communities direly needed. Transportation directly affects health – walking, biking infrastructure necessary.

What can we do? Get the word out, blog, talk to leaders, talk to media whenever we can, write letters to the editor (One of the most underused tools in the public policy world).

Closing Remarks:

Additional resources:

Advocates Guide will be released next week. I’ll give more details on it when I get a copy.

Here's to You!

I just want to make some things clear.

I don’t drive a car. This is a conscious choice of mine, with significant rationale behind it. However, many (most) of my friends and family do use cars. If you see things on here that are about how cars cause problems, or how the suburbs are a major issue, please recognize that this is not a personal attack against you, simply a statement of my beliefs. I’m not militant, and I generally try not to preach about it when people who drive are around (and when they aren’t, it is preaching to the choir, so why bother?).

I use cars. Or, more accurately, my brother/father/mother/in-law/friend comes and picks me up and takes me where we are going, be it out west to their place, or to the grocery store (although this is rare). To all of you who contribute rides to us, Thank you! Especially when you contribute said rides during a crisis of some kind, like when we are stranded in Brickyard (Thanks Joseph!) or need to get to the store but are feeling ill and don’t really wish to walk that day (Thanks AJ!).

If I offend, please let me know. It is possible that I worded something in such a way that it could have been misinterpreted, or that I misstated my position slightly. On the other hand, I could actually believe something which you consider offensive (which could be a reflection on you, or on me. Or both). I have no intention of losing friends over this, which is one of the reasons it is staying fairly focused on Transit/Parenting/Local stuff. Much easier to avoid offense that way; I’m far less likely to say something stupid on these topics.

I may be changing my weekly posting schedule a bit. If I do, I’ll let you know. This is primarily due to the fact that the place we want to go in order to test drive half a dozen strollers is in Sandy, and has bizarre hours that my work doesn’t really conform to. When we actually get closer to choosing a stroller, we’ll go down and I’ll test drive a bunch and take lots and lots of notes, after which I’ll have shopping posts again. Until then, I’d rather not waste your time and mine with rubbish, so please bear with me, they will be coming shortly.

So, once again, here’s to you, Car Drivers. You give me people to complain about, and people to thank endlessly for all your kindness and help. Thanks!

Thursday, March 19

Why I Love/Hate Salt Lake (Detail 1) - Leadership

A couple of the items off my list have been questioned a bit, so what we are going to do is this: I’m going to link from the list in the previous post to wherever the actual text for that item happens to me. This accomplishes multiple things, as it allows me to keep individual entries shorter and maintain the alphabetical order of the list, even if I choose to add to it. As a result, I think I’ll be doing anywhere from one to five reasons why I love or hate Salt Lake City each time I work on it, depending on how long or complicated I think the rationale will have to be for any given item. I’ll cross link each post back to the list, and the list back to each post. Ok? Good.

Today, then, I’ll be discussing Progressive Leaders in Salt Lake City.

First Up, our Governor, John Huntsman.

From the official website, his priorities:

  • Economic Development
  • Health System Reform
  • Education
  • Energy Security

Just over a week ago, he signed a series of bills for significant heath care reform: These bills mark significant reform in Utah’s Health care system in an effort to increase accessibility for all Utahns to affordable and portable health care.

He was integral to multiple attempts to lower the food taxes here.

And, although some question his motives, he spoke out in favor of Civil Unions, and establishing rational discourse.

Next, our old Mayor, “Rocky” Anderson.

Started SLC Green, and “signed” the Kyoto Protocol.

Anderson received the League of United Latin American Citizens’s first-ever “Profile in Courage” award, as well as the National Association of Hispanic Publications’ Presidential Award, in 2006.

Called for Impeachment of George W. Bush, and protested his visit whenever he came to town.

Finally, our current Mayor, Ralph Becker.

Salt Lakewill be a national leader and icon for our programs on the environment, public safety, culture, transportation, and education.”

From his 180 days plan: “Education, Environment, Equality, Engagement, Excitement” as the cornerstones to a successful city.

Even the Salt Lake City website shows his focus: Constituent Services, Education, Sustainability, Diversity & Human Rights, Solutions, etc.


So, one of the things I LOVE about living in Salt Lake City is our Progressive leadership, who care about our city and are trying to make it a better place to live for everyone.

Wednesday, March 18

Car Costs v Mass Transit

Over at the NYT, Jim Motavalli cites some interesting details about how much it costs to own a car. Average amount spent on a car: about $8,000.
Average amount spent on "mass transit": $537.81

However, the defintion for mass transit here includes taxis and even... Airplanes!

If you figure that's an average of a round trip flight a year (which is pretty accurate, all told), with an average price of about $300 (direct flights are $100, international at least $600, so... $300. Good? Good), and average taxi trips at 2 a year also, at 10 bucks each, that puts the (rough) average spend on actual mass transit at...

$217.81.

Why Live in Salt Lake City, Utah?

There are, ultimately, dozens of reasons why Salt Lake is a great place to live, and reasons why it can be a horrible place. I’m not going to say “ten reasons,” nor am I going to try to pass Utah off as the greatest place in the world. I do love my city, though, and have found quite a few pros and cons in my time as a resident.
I have not lived outside of Utah, although I have resided in several different parts of the state, and visited a few other places from time to time. It is my experience that every city is different, has a different feel to it, and that you have to wander and explore a bit to really get a feel for the city’s soul. Also, no city is perfect, and every city has things about it which are awesome, and things about it which are terrible. With that in mind, I present to you:
Why I love (and hate) Salt Lake City, and why I’m still here.
Wow. That got long in a hurry. My Bad. Want an explanation? More information? Leave a comment!
Otherwise, I’ll just slowly dole out information on these when I feel like it.
Also, I may randomly edit this list, so if you come back next week and it is twice as long, don’t be surprised.

Tuesday, March 17

Privacy Policy

We don't have a privacy policy, because we're just a blog, but I thought it might be good to give you a heads up about proposed changes on Google's end:

We use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit our website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, click here.

Basically... Google is using information based on your IP address to target ads more directly to YOU. Kinda like Facebook, only EVERYWHERE. Fun, huh?

So, if you see an ad on my site that has nothing to do with me, well...

It's not me, It's you.


Also,


Search & Win


The Trolley Option?

In roughly recent news, Trolleys are being considered for several projects throughout Utah, from Bountiful to Sugarhouse to Provo (although they seem to have decided on BRT), which is making me curious. So I did some research on the nearest project, which is the most likely to affect me, and found the results quite interesting, so I thought I'd share.

According to UTA, their transit study for Sugarhouse (performed in late 2007), either a Historic Trolley or a more modern Streetcar is most likely the approach they will be taking for the area. This comes with a swath of advantages, including accessibility, walkability, multiple stops, a slow and quiet system, interconnectivity with TRAX, ease of multiple stops, and so forth. The Streetcar won out though, and was even approved by the South Salt Lake Council and the SLC council.

In addition, they are planning a "linear park" (by which they mean a walking trail) which will increase green space and increase the number of people who simply stroll through, a major advantage and one which will reduce the resident's concerns regarding transients.

The trolley/trail goes east/west along the old rail spur, to which UTA owns the Right of Way rights, and will connect in with Fairmont Park, which is also in the planning stages of a major overhaul (which should include a dog park, an amphitheater, expansion, connection to the (revamped) tennis courts, new playground, etc). It should cost the same as any other part of the mass transit system, and allow passes and the tap-on/tap-off system they just put in place.

In addition, the trolley system significantly increases property values, making them valuable, particularly in an area that is currently suffering under the weight of a giant hole in the ground.

Overall?

I think they are on the right track. Go UTA (this time)

Monday, March 16

Always Room for Improvement.

As if to remind me of how frustrating mass transit can be at times and that even with a system as decent as UTA is, we had an incident of monumental proportions on Friday evening.

Friday… I was feeling icky again, so I skipped work. This is also why there were no posts on Thursday and Friday (sorry!). We decided to head down to Brickyard (by way of Highland, so we could go through the park and play with the cute little munchkin) and get some shopping and what not done, including going to the bank and generally just hanging out. We headed out and didn’t have any problems, until we were almost to the stop and Holly realized that we had forgotten bus fare. After much consideration and an attempt to get cash back on a card that doesn’t allow it, we decided it would be easier to just walk; only about ten blocks, and going home and back would be about the same distance. So we walked, went to the bank, and made sure Holly had fare (I have a pass). And spent the afternoon wandering around the various thrift and discount stores in the area (including but not limited to: Ross, TJ Maxx, some Mexican restaurant, Thrift on 33rd, Dollar Tree, Big Lots, Family Dollar, Robert’s, a fabric store, etc.) It was a lot of fun. Nice, decent weather (not as good as Sunday, but still pleasant), and plenty of places to go.

Around 6:30 we decided to head home, and wandered out and over to the bus stop. We got there at 6:50 or so. And waited, and waited, and waited. We waited for over an hour, long past the breaking point for my son, who was freezing. Our cell phones both died. We tried calling my brother, but he was busy. We waited a little more. We gave up on the bus, and went over to the Harmon’s to warm up a bit.

From this we learned a few things:

1) it would have been faster/better to walk over to 9th and catch the 209.

2) The 213 stops running at 6:30.

3) Charge our phones before heading out for an extended trip.

4) Check route end times for where we are going, and check for nearest/easiest alternate routes, also. The 31 and 220 could have been viable routes, I’m just not familiar with them.

5) Don’t assume anything.

Also, my brother recently attended a “Focus Group” for UTA, a requirement for which was that the individuals participating have a car. We don’t, and were thus ineligible. Trouble is, this tilts the opinions away from those who depend on mass transit toward those who use it out of convenience. The needs for each are very different; those dependant on it want more/better hours, while those who drive care less about a route running until 7, as they just drive if the bus isn’t convenient. Fortunately my brother mentioned that he thought they were talking to the wrong people.

Dear UTA: Please talk to those of us who care about UTA, who ride regularly, who depend on good service and simple, easy to use methods. Please talk to the people without cars, regardless of their reasoning, as we are your most important ridership, and you can’t afford to ostracize us.


Wednesday, March 11

Poll Results

From my last poll, only four people voted, and one of them chose "Other" and then didn't leave a comment as to what they thought the other should be.

As a result, the opposite of Bus Envy will be referred to as Transit Pride from here on out. This is the idea that when you compare your bus/route/system/train/whatever to one that exists in a different area/region/city/state/country/wherever that you realize just how much better your system is than theirs.

For Example: I used to live in Cedar City. A great town in many ways, but Mass Transit is definitely not on that list. Comparing what I have now to what I had in Cedar City fills me with Transit Pride. Here's why:

They have very limited bus service. They use those large vans rather than real buses because there isn't demand for a larger vehicle (although I never once got on to an empty van, which says something). As you can see from the map, they have one route. Which comes around every hour and fifteen minutes. And travels in a giant loop around town. I grant you, it takes you pretty much anywhere you need to go, and it only a dollar but... it still sucks.

If anyone knows of a worse system than this, I'd love to hear!

Also, I'm putting up a new poll. Please vote!

Tuesday, March 10

Sen. Chris Dodd's Planned Remarks to APTA


DODD URGES WORLD-CLASS TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
AT TRANSIT CONFERENCE
Says "2009 the Year to Put Transit in the Driver's Seat"

Senator Chris Dodd is addressing the American Public Transit Association (APTA) Conference. Also, Senator Dodd will hold a hearing on Thursday entitled "Sustainable Transportation Solutions: Investing in Transit to Meet 21st Century Challenges."

Among Senator Dodd's prepared remarks I found the following statements. My remarks will be set apart, and in italics.

I hardly need to outline the challenges our nation faces. Global warming threatens our health, our competitiveness, our leadership in the world, and the very future of our planet. Our energy policy leaves us dangerously dependent on some of the most unstable countries around the globe. And meanwhile, our economy is withering.

Withering is a bit of an understatement here. Considering the current catastrophic meltdown of our workforce, and the ensuing credit crunch that is sure to follow, it is a wonder he wasn't more dire in his predictions than this.

Our population is expected to grow by another 50 percent in the first half of this century. In all, we can expect 150 million more people...

This is based on our immigration rate more than anything else; our birth rates have been declining rather quickly, so we are now at a mere 2.04-2.05. In the next fifty years we expect it to drop to somewhere between 1.35 and 1.99. Replacement value is at 2.10

Critical to addressing nearly every one of these challenges is the same thing: A world-class transportation system.

This is a brilliantly obvious statement, and one I intend to quote in the future. (Files away in useful quotes box).

I should note here that there have been a lot of comparisons made recently of the current economic crisis to the Great Depression. A little further back in history was the Great Panic of 1873, which led to a depression that lasted six years. One of the underlying causes behind that depression was a massive failure in our transportation system... which ground the street railway industry to a halt.

It is important to remember that the Great Depression is hardly the first time we ever went through such a terrible economic event, and that many of the Depressions in our past were caused by a combination of bank failure, credit problems, and a shortage of viable energy options. Sound familiar?

Instead of measuring performance, we measure how much gasoline is sold in each state to determine where scarce resources will flow. Instead of debating national priorities, we endlessly debate funding formulas. As a result, instead of national leadership, we literally pass the buck on to the states with little accountability or transparency. America will never meet the challenges of this century with 50 states carrying out 50 different plans with no national vision.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with this statement, actually. I tend to be an avid advocate of state/local rights. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that many states would never bother with this kind of thing, and that a nationally developed system (on a scale with the Highway Project of the '50's) would be significantly more useful than allowing states the "right" to destroy the world one state at a time.

"Are we advancing our national interest?"Are we reducing congestion? Are we tackling climate change? Are we reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil? Are we managing land use smartly?And above all, are we keeping America's communities and businesses competitive in a global economy?

No, no, no, no, no, and above all, no. And that's really, really, really bad.

Our current approach to transportation is simply not getting the job done. And one reason why is our failure to appreciate the role of transit.As I mentioned, the number of transit riders is growing and reaching levels we have not seen in decades. 2008 was another record year for transit – Americans took over 10 billion trips on public transit, the highest number since the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956. In my state, nearly 38 million customers rode the New Haven Metro-North line in 2008.

We are getting better, but is it better enough fast enough?

Public transit saves over 4 billion gallons of gasoline annually and reduces carbon emissions by some 37 million metric tons a year – that's equivalent to the electricity used by almost 5 million households.

Now imagine if 90% of the country used mass transit instead of 10%. That would be at least 36 billion gallons of gas and the electricity for 45 million households.

Congress is scheduled to write a new the surface transportation law later this year. As chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee responsible for the transit provisions in that bill, I believe we have a unique opportunity to redefine public transportation in America. For me, the goal is clear: laying the ground work for an integrated transportation system – one that coordinates land use and economic development plans to meet the challenges posed by global economic competition, climate change, our energy needs, and population growth in the coming decades.

It is important to notice the words he uses: Groundwork, redefine, coming decades. He understands that this isn't an overnight change, but rather a dramatic shift in ideals and goals, which will lead, in the long term, to significant change.

By coordinating housing and transportation policy to encourage smart land-use, we can generate economic growth and create vibrant communities where people can live and work with a smaller carbon footprint. I was recently in North Carolina, where cities like Charlotte are demonstrating the difference "transit-oriented development" can make. Ridership on its new light rail line has exceeded the wildest expectations and private development investment along the rail line is already closing in on $2 billion dollars.

Coordination between dozens of sectors, both public and private, is very important. Transit Oriented Development (and Development Oriented Transit, like Trolleys) can make the difference between a usable system and a bunch of rails laid that no one rides.

None of these projects happen by accident. They happen because community leaders recognized the need to integrate land use and transportation decisions and involve every aspect of its city government—from planning to public works—in this effort.

It is nice that he recognizes that these projects require planning at ever level, from Federal down to the local city councils.

It comes down to our commitment, yours and mine. The Department of Transportation's mission is to "Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future." It is a worthy, ambitious mission that deserves better than the collection of modal-focused agencies we have there today.

Serve, Fast, Safe, Efficient, Accessible, Convenient, Worthy, Ambitious, Deserves Better. Good words for a difficult challenge.

I'm committed to making transit a priority – not only for the Senate Banking Committee, but for the country. But to make that possible, I need your help – your boots on the ground, going from office-to-office on Capitol Hill, making the case to your representatives in Washington that the world of 2009 is a very different place and this is a very different moment. It's a unique moment – and the choice is clear:

America can continue down the road of unchecked sprawl, increased congestion, more oil consumption and less open space.

Or, if we want to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we can develop our communities and our country in a sustainable way—making our economy leaner and more efficient and reducing carbon emissions—by making a historic commitment to public transportation.

What a difficult challenge! What a choice! How could I ever decide? Oh wait... unchecked sprawl sucks. Increased congestion is disgusting. Oil consumption leads to terrorists flying planes into buildings and blowing themselves up on playgrounds. So... let's face the challenge.

That is our goal today and in the coming months.

And it isn't going to be easy. Too many people are addicted to cars, addicted to the convenience and the speed and the mindless joy of going 90 miles an hour in the middle of Nevada. It isn't that I don't understand these things; I have been there. I just grew up, and it is time for America to grow up, too.

Interesting Stuff

Today is Tuesday, so the focus is supposed to be on technology whatzits, but I’m not sure just how much I have to say about that today. I do have this to say: Daylight Savings Time = Doom.

Also, one person somehow managed to get to my blog based on the search term “Christian Bale,” which is hilarious because I mentioned him in passing on Friday (he has one of the strollers we are looking at buying).

Instead of science, you get politics. I hope that’s ok.

Yesterday it was announced that during the mile-high gas surge last year, mass-transit used increased significantly (could there be a correlation?). What makes this impressive is that it was the highest ridership numbers we have had since our highway system was built in 1956. David Goldberg, from Transportation for America, says “This is the leading edge of a continuing surge in demand for public transportation and more walkable neighborhoods as the population ages, convenience and access become more critical and gas prices remain volatile.” America’s use of public transportation increased 38 percent since 1995 — nearly triple the growth rate of the population of the United States. Unfortunately, despite this rise in transit use, there has been very little increase in funding. In fact, over recent decades the federal transit program has been authorized at 20% or less of the funding of the federal highway program.

Transportation for America is currently espousing the following goals:

  • Establish Accountability for Responsible Investment
  • Invest to Compete in the 21st Century
  • Invest for Multiple Payoffs in Solving our Energy, Air Quality, and Climate Challenges
  • Reward and Support Smart Local Land Use Planning
  • Invest for Public Health and Safety
  • Find New ways to Pay for What We Need

These are excellent ideas, at the very least, and could lead to significant progress if we can manage to keep these in mind during the recession/depression ahead.

Monday, March 9

Night Service: Needs Improvement.

If I were to grade UTA (and I plan to, soon. I’m working on a method for comparing UTA to other mass-transit systems around the world as part of my Bus Envy series), they would get high marks on many things. Night service is not remotely close to being one of them, particularly on weekends. TRAX isn’t too bad, even running extra trains late at night, but all the buses which connect off that are terrible. Mine, for example, runs until almost midnight (except on Sundays) but only every hour, which is terrible. I firmly believe that if they ran the buses more often at night then ridership would promptly go up.

So, I was out Saturday night, and my movie got out about two minutes too late for me to catch my bus, so I hopped on the train and rode it south (it gets me about two miles from home, which is walkable when I don’t have the monster with me). I got off at my stop, and hopped on the bus sitting there waiting to go east. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Got bored, called Holly, talked for a few minutes, and waited some more. After a while, I got up, and went to ask the driver when we were departing. His reply? “Twelve minutes or so. Maybe a little more.”

Now, I could have practically been home by this point, so even though twelve minutes is cutting it a little for going 10 blocks, I decided I could beat that, hopped off, and walked. I beat him by about 50 yards, which isn’t really worth it, but exercise is good for you, right?

I just wish the jerk had said something when I first got on, before I sat there for twenty minutes waiting.

Friday, March 6

Response from UTA

So I checked my email, and to my (extreme) surprise, I had a response from UTA sitting there. Turn around time was about 2 hours. I'm impressed! This is their response:

Dear UTA Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with you question or concern
through our website at www.rideuta.com.

We have received your request to update our website with Google Maps.
I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.

Actually, we have begun to convert part of our route maps and trip
planner to incorporate the Google Maps features. It should be up and
running within a few weeks as an additional option for the UTA website
user.

Dear UTA, please GOOGLE!

UTA is somewhat behind the times, in that it takes them a few years after an idea is tried before they seriously start even considering it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing (saves money, right?). In some instances, however, they need to jump on the bandwagon. This is one of those cases. And yes, I really did send this to UTA. You should too: Write UTA!

Dear UTA,

Please get your lazy website in gear and get over to Google. They have an astonishing new function that allows users to get information on your routes through Google. This includes (but is not necessarily limited to) a mobile application, the ability to locate the nearest transit stop (which rideuta.com just doesn't have) and view schedules, detours, and other important trip information. Better still, the system is (hopefully) going to be integrated in the future; this will allow a search for directions to include transit directions, which would be a major boon for mass transit.

Cities as diverse as San Francisco, Reno, Culpeper, and Memphis are all involved. Your Transit system is far more advanced than many of these smaller systems, but you aren't involved. As a concerned citizen, I strongly urge you to do whatever you need to in order to get listed as part of this system.

Many Thanks,
Dominic Ford

Stroller Choices

Today’s post is brought to you by: Holly! I didn’t really know where to go with our shopping this week, as I haven’t gotten a chance to go down to the Stroller place and check out a ton of them yet, but Holly was online wandering yesterday, and what follows is a combination of several emails she sent me, edited for relevant content, of course.

I am convinced that if we want a stroller that is everything we want we are going to have to put the extra bucks into it. The ones at the bottom end of the price spectrum pretty much either don't fit through doors, or have the crappy plastic wheels. It looks like for a good, heavy duty, gonna last, stroller we are looking at $400-$700 (though my personal favorite is even more...).
I know, YIKES!
Here are the real main contenders as far as the features go:

Baby Jogger City Elite:

  • Lots of storage: six separate storage compartments, plus handle bar console
  • Big sun canopies
  • Tons of available accessories, including a parent umbrella holder (which is just cool!)
  • Adjustable height Handle
  • Lifetime warranty


Valco Tri-Mode Twin :

  • With accessories can hold up to four children! (This is definately the option to go with if it ends up being twins)
  • Again, height adjustable!
  • Storage up to wazoo, big ZIPPERED under basket, two side zipper bags on basket, as well as two zippered on diaper bags behind the seats.
  • Comes with a rain cover and tire pump
  • I love the pistachio color!
  • Used by Christian Bale (and Jessica Alba, but we don’t care about her).


Another option I found is the bumbleride indie twin.

  • Adjustable handle (this is pretty much a must, if we are going to pay he money we should both be comfortable pushing it)
  • Comes with foot muffs, air pump, car seat adapter
  • Can have a ride along attachment for older child
  • Has zipper pockets on back of seats

These seem to be the ones that best fit our needs, though they are a bit spendy. They are good looking, well made, and have plenty of features. I like them, but am torn as to which one I like best. The storage and lower weight on the Valco are really nice, as is the option of toddler seat and the sit and stand thing...., however the price tag, lifetime warranty, and larger canopies on the baby jogger are really nice.

I was definitely looking for swiveling wheels, and all of them have that. The Indie twin has less storage than the other two, but it comes with the foot muff things, which would be about $50 each purchased by themselves... I also liked the double sun shades because they tend to be attached on the back, so no space for rain or snow to slide in (a problem I saw with a lot of the lower priced ones, including the Schwinn one I sent the other day). All of them have aluminum frames, rather than plastic (not durable) or steel (too heavy). they are still heavy (ranging from 32-36 pounds), but not as bad as some. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but they are all really nice and would fit our needs well.

And there is always the phil and ted... but my preference on that is the most expensive model...


Thursday, March 5

Stimulating Mass Transit

Not really a lot to say today; I'm very busy at work and have D&D tonight, so I'll keep this brief.

The stimulus package that was recently passed is finally being allocated here in Utah, and there is very good news: $55 M is being dedicated specifically to the replacement of buses, fleet improvement, and other UTA specific goals.

In addition, UDOT is looking at the long term plans needed across the valley and making recommendations for them. In the north west part of the Salt Lake Valley (read: Magna/West Valley), mass-transit oriented solutions place prominently in their plans, with either Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit planned for at least three more corridors out west, including two North/South lines to coincide with the planned highways. Better still, they are strongly suggesting that UTA increase routes out there, particularly going north/south. While I no longer live out west, these are things that affect me and mine, so I'm glad to see some very positive changes in that direction.

Have a happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 4

The Suburban Lifestyle is the Fundamental Cause of America's Current Dilemmas.

I want to discuss the Philosophy of Suburbs, but in order to properly do so a common definition for Suburbs must be reached. This prevents confusion, and makes it so that during the discussion the reader and writer are both thinking about the same concept. Thus, we do two things: first, present the primary argument from which definitions must be taken; second, reach an acceptable definition that applies to the words used in the primary argument. If any additional arguments or definitions are needed in order to support the primary argument, please leave a comment and ask for clarification.

The Primary Argument:

  • The Suburban Lifestyle is the Ultimate Cause of America’s Current Dilemmas.

The Definitions:

  • Suburban – This is probably the most difficult term in the argument to define. According to dictionary.com, suburbs are “A usually residential area or community outlying a city.” I do not find this definition satisfactory, however, and it doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not any given area can be defined as a suburb. One explanation on Wikipedia is “large bedroom communities of single-family homes and shopping centers [sprouted] on the outskirts of … cities.” This comes a little bit closer, although it dismisses the common intentional nature of most modern suburbs in America. Our Final Definition of suburbs will thus try to capture the fundamental elements of them: A planned area with clearly separate commercial, retail, and residential zones, with an emphasis on low-storyparking oriented retail areas, and single family or condominium housing. commercial buildings,
  • Lifestyle – A way of life or style of living that reflects the attitudes and values of a person or group. In this situation, that means the style of living which reflects the attitudes and values of those living in the suburbs.
  • Ultimate Cause – This refers to the original source of a situation, after reviewing the intermediary causes.
  • America – For the sake of this argument we are focusing strictly on the Continental 48 states of the US, although many of the arguments can and do apply to Alaska, Hawaii, the territories, and many other nations around the world.
  • Current – In this argument, we are discussing the difficulties we face at the time of writing. However, for the sake of information gathering and potentiality, the time frame for current can be extended back 10 years, and forward as far as predictability can be maintained (which will vary from subject to subject).
  • Dilemmas – a dilemma is a situation which requires a decision be made between two (or more) undesirable choices. Please note that this is a plural, and thus refers to multiple such situations we currently face.

Caveats:

  • Although this argument is intentionally exclusive, I would not like to claim that every single dilemma America faces currently is due to the Suburban Lifestyle (I’m sure you could find an example that is completely unrelated). Instead, I would merely like to claim that the vast majority and the most important of said dilemmas have found their ultimate cause in the lifestyle of those living in the suburbs.

I’ll go into details as to why this is the case in the future, with more Primary Arguments (detailing individual dilemmas), Definitions, and causal links to come. In the mean time, if you have any questions or comments regarding my definitions, please let me know.

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