Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Don't Hem in TRAX at Daybreak

Planning continues on the West Jordan branch of TRAX which will travel from the Fashion Place West station to the new community of Daybreak.

If you look at the UTA maps on the Environmental Impact Statement is shows nothing but empty land in the area. However by the time TRAX makes it to Daybreak there will be a town village taking shape. Looking the the models that are present in the Daybreak Welcome Center, it shows the line ending in the center of the commercial area but having no way to be extended.

However it makes no sense at all to hem in TRAX so that it cannot be extended in any direction. Kennecott Lands has lands for many miles to the west and eventually plans to develop it. An extension of the TRAX line as this development seems natural but will not be able to happen under the present plans.

Daybreak is an outstanding concept, a beautiful community (that I hope to be living at in a couple of years) and showing that even in conservative Utah a forward thinking community can be built. Lets make sure that the TRAX line is built with the same future in mind.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Chance for Redevelopment

It was only a few years ago that you could not rent a spot at the Family Center at Fort Union for any price. It was the premier spot in that part of the county. All the stores where full and there wasn't a spot to be had. Have things changed in the last couple of years. The former Joannne's spot has been empty for more than a year (now being filled for the second time by a Halloween Store) as has several other spots in the center. To top it all off the Mervyn's store which is one of the largest in the mall is closing which will leave a large open hole.

Some of the blame for this can be directed at the owner of the shopping center who seems to be doing little to change the slide. There also has not been any upgrades to the center which is starting to look very dated.

To top it all off, the center is not pedestrian friendly. Even if you park your car with a short walk to the store you intend on using you take your life into your own hands as there are very few sidewalks and cars travel substantially above a safe operating speed.

Instead of letting the shopping center to continue its slow decline, how about making it a shining example of a mixed used pedestrian friendly environment. Here are some ideas:

1. Move some stores so they face Fort Union Blvd making the center friendly to pedestrians.

2. With a major apartment complex across the street, how about building a pedestrian bridge from the complex to the shopping center.

3. Some goes for the Union Plaza shopping complex. It is more trouble than it is worth to cross the street into the shopping center but with pedestrian bridges it would be easy but also would require more restaurants in the center (3 have closed-could it be the fact that the place is too hard to get into?).

4. Move Chili's and Bank One so that you rebuild the main entrance to the center to make it safer not only for pedestrians but also for cars but currently it is very dangerous.

5. In the rebuilding build a back alley for trucks so that they do not have to use the crowded drives as they have to do now.

6. The current location of Mervyn's would make a great area for a mixed use development that would curve around and head toward 1300 East. It could include offices or apartments and designed to create more foot traffic.

These changes would also make it easier for people riding transit to access the center. Currently people who arrive or depart on the westbound 85 have to cross very busy Fort Union Blvd, but the pedestrian footbridges for the apartments could be used by bus riders as well.

With new developments going in to the south, the owner of the Family Center needs to wake up and realize that if changes are not made the Family Center will be left in the dust. Instead, turn into a state of the art center, friendly to both people in cars and pedestrians: in other words turn it into a winner.
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Saturday, September 24, 2005

UTA should look to Portland and their buses

TriMet bus parked near MAX tracks (helping out...Image via WikipediaOne of the weaknesses of the UTA system is the buses. They cost more to operate than light rail and do not attract the number of choice riders that TRAX light rail does. So what can UTA do to improve its bus system and make it attract more choice riders?

UTA needs to look at what Portland is doing on its busiest routes. Since we are stuck with the Low Floor buses that are inferior to the high floors, UTA like Tri-Met in Portland needs to take advantage of them.

What Portland did was go route by route and assign the low floor buses to their busiest routes that will take advantage of the faster loading and unloading. In addition they reduced the number of bus stops (but still keeping them close together), and adjusted the sidewalks and curves to make getting in and out of the low floors as seamless as can be.

This gives the best invest for the dollar short of building streetcar or light rail systems. It speeds up the buses and is more attractive to choice riders.

Among the routes that would be perfect opportunities for this kind of investment is the 8, 9, 22, 30, 31, 39, 40, 70, 603, 612, and the 830 (probably this route will be served more by this than the BRT scheme).

Expansion of TRAX is very important, but still is maintaining and increasing ridership on the bus routes.
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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Opportunity Lost: The 1300 South Wal-Mart

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store.Image via WikipediaWal-Mart gets criticized at every turn from closing small businesses to being the cause of sprawl to how much it pays its employees. When Wal-Mart built its new store at 1300 South and 300 West in an area with a high degree of transit dependence it had the opportunity to show a new face and truly show it cares about the community.

Instead Wal-Mart snubbed its nose at the transit dependent in the area and showed its true hatred toward transit. Instead of building a store with access from the street since the store is only a half block from a TRAX station and on two bus lines, it builds a normal store with a two story parking lot as its only access. In addition it made access from the street so dangerous that many will not take there lives into their own hands to use it. To walk into the building from 300 west you have to walk along the parking lot with cars speeding through to their parking spots.

This store just is a slap in the face to many of the residents of the area who are transit dependent. However this is no real surprise when it comes to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a large donor to such anti-transit groups as the Heartland Institute that has Highway Lobbyist Wendell Cox and is also supported by an array of highway institutions.

Of course blame also has to be leveled at the city of Salt Lake that let the poorly designed store be built in the first place. Like most cities all they saw was dollar signs in their eyes and couldn't give a rip about how well it was designed. There needs to be changes across the board to improve transit and to improve buildings to allow easy access for transit riders.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bus Assignments Need Work

Many years ago I had a close family friend who drove for the Southern California Rapid Transit District. It was not uncommon for the RTD to put a 30-foot bus on a route that should have nothing but a 40-foot bus and would have 40-foot buses on a route that should have only 30 foot buses.

The problem at the time was that the RTD had such a diverse fleet, many different types of buses, from many different sources so it was difficult for them to insure the right bus was on the right line. Of course this was in the days before they high tech computers of today.

Today UTA has a much more standardized fleet than the RTD back in the late 70's early 80's, but seems to have the same trouble with assigning buses even with the advent of computers.

A perfect example of this is route 22. This route is one of the busier routes the UTA has, yet many times it is assigned 35-foot low floor buses. It is bad enough that the low floor buses reduces seating capacity, then you add the fact that you are using a smaller bus often leads to standing room only on the route north of 3300 South. I can see running low floors on this route but they should only have 40-foot buses on this route.

There is no reason why this cannot be done. In fact if you ride the same route every day you will find that often you will ride the same bus number every day. When I road the route 24, I road the same Orion V buses on the regular basis. The other bus I rode was usually assigned bus 9222. So why can't they make sure the routes that need the 40-footers have them?

The situation is gets more ridiculous when there is special events going on. When the American Public Transit Association had there national meeting in Salt Lake, a rodeo was held for bus drivers across the country. Many of the newest Gillig Advantages was pulled from revenue service carrying their customers and used them instead for the rodeo. During this time I rode another very bus route line 37 which runs to Magna. This is another route that runs with standing loads on many runs. Because they wasted buses on the rodeo, they had to assign 35-foot ski buses to this tripper. Not only is the bus smaller but several sets of seats are removed for ski's.

Why? They wanted to show off for APTA and showed how they could care less about their customers that ride with them every day. Why couldn't the rodeo use the ski buses which are sitting anyway? It would make much more sense to use the ski buses on the rodeo and keep the other buses on their regular assignments for their PAYING customers.

The sad thing is that UTA is one of the better transit agencies when treating the customer. However, it is clear that there still needs to be changes at UTA to make it more customer friendly. If it is going to attract the option riders, UTA needs to reinvent is service.
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Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Need for a Pedestrian Friendly Environment

The pedestrian Bauman Street in Kazan.Image via WikipediaFor anyone who is attempted to catch a bus in Utah, it is common knowledge that of the most part Utah is not friendly to pedestrians.

Among the issues facing pedestrians in Utah:

-No Sidewalks even in established neighborhoods

-Narrow Sidewalks where sidewalks exist

-No seperation between high speed auto traffic and pedestrians

-Poor Lighting

A running joke we have is that is about how backwards can you be when you have to use flashlights to flag down buses in the 21st Century????

Lack of sidewalks is a big problem. Even in Holladay where I live, when I walk to the bus there is several sections of street with no sidewalks. At least it is a residential street, however it is a through street and despite there being two schools along the road many people travel 40mph along there despite the 25mph speed limit.

It would be even worst if I had to ride the night ride (I don't ride because of this). I would have to walk north along 1300 East for about a 3/4 of a mile to reach the residential street mentioned above plus cross Van Winkle Superspeedway (oh I mean Expressway). With no sidewalks for part of the distance and people often traveling 50+ in that 40mph zone there is no way I will walk from that bus.

Where there is sidewalks along 1300 East and other roads, the sidewalks have been narrowed so far that the cars are passing you way to close and if a car was to loose control only slightly, there is nothing you could do especially at the speeds they are traveling. Add the fact that there is very few places where there is adequate separation between the sidewalks and the road, makes walking in most places even more dangerous.

Another major issue when walking after dark is the lack of lighting. There is very few places where there is adequate light and there are places where the lighting doesn't even work. How long have the lights on State Street north of 8680 South in Sandy not been working? If you add all the problems mentioned above and add the lack of street lighting, it is clear that being a pedestrian in Utah is not safe.

The UTA, the cities, and all those concerned need to work to address these issues. If it isn't safe to walk to the bus people are not going to ride the bus. We need to have safe ways to ride the bus, and pedestrian friendly environments benefit not only bus riders but everyone especially children who have to walk. It is time for change.
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Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Anti-Rail Rant in the Deseret News

UTA TRAX Sandy train at the Gallivan Plaza sto...Image via WikipediaEver since Ivory has become head of the Deseret News' advisors it seems that the paper has taken a very large turn to the anti-transit side. This is an ironic turn of events but not all that unexpected since Ivory is an anti-transit developer.

The latest rant is from a Economics Professor at BYU. He basically says the same old garbage on how rail transit only attracts bus riders, it is a useless and commuter rail will not work. (sheeze all you have to do is change a few words and he says the same repeated message of the Road Warriors).

He starts of with saying that Commuter Rail will not attract riders only divert riders from buses. In addition he says that rail will not create a big enough share to affect congestion. Of course this is just looking from one point of view. Congestion is relieved: for anyone who rides the trains they do not have to deal with congestion. Also, once again people are more likely to ride trains than they are to ride buses.

He also says that the trains will be slow despite they traveling up to 79mph. Yes, the trains do have to stop but then they pick up more passengers. But speed is not the issue. I much rather be relaxing on the train than dealing with the idiots behind the wheel. You arrive at your destination relaxed and more ready to face the day. You are not upset at all the cars that cut you off, ran over the top of you, went 35 in a 65 and so on. Of course that is taken into account by the them.

Then he begins his attack on TRAX. Once again he gets on the same old bandwagon on how TRAX is only attracting former bus riders and that ridership hasn't gone up. Of course it flies in the face of reality where TRAX parking lots are full, its trains carry many more people than the buses it replaced, and they are many people on TRAX who would never ride the bus. In fact when you look at previous bus ridership compared to the numbers that TRAX is pulling in, it is clear even by conservative measures that TRAX is attracting about 49 to 50% of its riders from cars. You add the fact that there is currently not even a real network of lines open yet and you can clearly see that TRAX is a success.

At a time when we need more and better transit service, it is sad to see that some people still have their heads in the sand and will not see the realities that we are facing today. Of course it doesn't help when one of the major newspapers who has been a supporter of transit seems to be turning to wrong way. Today transit is becoming more important than ever, and we need to improve the system not attack it.
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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Great Job UTA

City of Salt Lake CityImage via WikipediaThe last couple of days I had the opportunity to attend Rail-Volution here in Salt Lake City. Rail-Volution deals with land use and transit systems.

Salt Lake is one of the first smaller major cities to hold a Rail-Volution event that started 10 years ago. UTA provided good information to people attending the conference, passes for the length of the conference, and many of its employees attend the conference.

The only downside to the conference was the head of the UTA John Inglish. On Friday morning he did the morning introductions and introduced the other speakers of the morning session. However, when announcing some of the events, he wasn't sure if the Utah State Fair was running. What is wrong with that picture?

Overall I have to give UTA a big thumbs up in its leadership with Rail-Volution.
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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Goodbye to the Classics

MTA Bus Company MCI Classic #5887 (ex-Green Bu...Image via WikipediaUTA is in the process of pulling from service the 1990 MCI Classics that have served many miles for the UTA and being replaced by the new 30-foot Optima Opus buses.

The Design of the Classic is based of the GM New Look buses that first started production in 1959. Production in the United States was stopped in 1977 and replaced by the RTS series which UTA never used except during the Olympics. However the New Look continued to be produced in Canada and was updated in 1984 and became the classic. UTA purchased these buses in 1984 and 1990. In 1987 GM sold its bus division to MCI which at the time was part of Greyhound but the buses remained the same.

The problem with the newer buses is that they are not built to the same standards as the previous buses. The new Optima's and the Gillig's that UTA purchased over the last few years are not the same quality as the Classics or the New Looks that proceeded them. While the motors are essentially the same it is in the passenger cabin that you can really notice the differences in the buses.

If you where to ride on of the few remaining Classics that are left in service, while you will notice a couple of rattles here in there, it would not be major. Meanwhile even when the Gillig Advantage's where just a couple of years old they had major rattles and are not a passenger friendly bus to ride on.

Sadly there are several reasons why this happens.

1. Lowest bidder-may not always be the best bidder.

2. Fed's 12 Year Policy-Buses only have to last that long even though many of them are falling apart before that.

3. Policy Makers don't ride the buses-This is probably the biggest reason why the quality of today's buses is poor compared to older vehicles. For the most part the big wigs and especially the board members of UTA DON'T RIDE THE BUS. Unless it is for some public relations reason they are not on the buses. They do not ride the bus and see the condition of the buses so it doesn't even enter their minds that the customer compartment of the bus is poor. All they look at is the mechanical performance-that's all.

Do you think those big wigs would allow their personal cars to rattle like the buses that their customers have to ride in? Of course the answer is no, they would be screaming bloody murder to the dealer and the manufacturer. They should also not permit it on the buses their customers have to ride in either.

The board of directors and the top corporate people of transit agencies in general, not just the UTA need to demand better products from the manufacturers. It is their responsibility to their customers to do so.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Will UTA ever learn how to coordinate schedules?

When UTA came out with its most recent schedule changes, I got really excited because they announced that they would have route 3 serve LDS Hospital and provide coordinated schedules with routes 1 and 2 which also service the hospital. Since I first started riding UTA I felt this should be done and finally it has.

However after looking at the schedules I am trying to figure out what UTA means by coordinated schedules.

I will take a look at the off peak schedules since they run at a set pattern. All three routes run every 30-minutes. Well logic assumes that if they run every 30-minutes then there should be a bus by every 10-minutes. Instead lets take a look at one late morning block of buses and I will use the LDS hospital outbound timepoint as an example since this is the primary point of coordination. Lets look at the 11:00AM to noon and look at the times: Route 2 11:10, Route 1 11:15, Route 3 11:25, Route 2 11:40, Route 1 11:45, Route 3 11:55.

This is coordination UTA style. The previous 3 ran at 10:55 then you have 15-minutes until the 2 comes along, then you have a route one in 5 minutes, a route 3 in 10 minutes and once again a 15 minute wait. I even gave UTA the benefit of the doubt and checked inbound schedules leaving the University Hospital and once again the schedules are not coordinated.

This isn't the only example of UTA's ability not to coordinate schedules. Routes 7 and 11 both travel 1300 east from the University of Utah to Stratford road which is just north of 2700 South. Both routes run every 30 minutes but instead of providing coordinated every 15-minutes service along this stretch of road that takes almost 15-minutes to travel down. Instead on the outbound runs route 11 runs just 4 minutes behind route 7 and five minutes behind running inbound.

Another example is routes 21 and 32. While this only covers one run in the morning it not shows the lack of ability of the UTA planners to properly schedule buses but also gives the anti-transit people something to howl about. Route 21 and 32 run from 6200 South and Highland Drive all the way to downtown along Van Winkle, 700 East, and 200 South. Every morning at about 7:30am there is a 21 and 32 running neck and neck along the same route. Both are limited service from 4500 South to Downtown so this is an incredible waste resources.

This type of poorly coordinated service makes transit harder to use. UTA needs to make the bus system easy to use like TRAX currently is. UTA still has a long way to go.