Transit Tip 14: Beware of useless bike lanes

There's a tendency among bike advocates to champion the delineation of a "bike space" even without any actual space being created. You know, "if there's room for a bike lane" without changing anything else on the street. At best you get no benefit, and at worst you're given a "safe space" that isn't safe at all. This bike lane is almost entirely in the door zone, which is why these users are staying to the far left. But cars will pass too closely (up against the line) so they really should be riding outside the bike lane for safety, but then motorists become arrogant and hostile as they think you're being a jerk.


That's when cars are parked flush against the curb. Even in the summer they often intrude into the bike lane. But in the winter the lane is completely taken away for car parking. Bike lanes in Boston are only open 1/3 of the year. And it's always the bikers and pedestrians who lose out; car drivers get plowed streets and the same ability to park their personal property: who cares if anyone else has trouble getting around?

You can see the city's priorities. They claim to be a "world-class bicycling city" where "the car is no longer king" but what this street design really does is appease some bicycle advocates while maintaining a car dominant streetscape. Fail.

This major business district is also a major transportation corridor. The 39 bus seen here is one of the highest ridership MBTA lines, yet all winter it struggles to pass arrogantly parked cars, often waiting for opposing traffic before it can cross the centerline. Buses often can't pass each other.

In a fairer city, cars that park outside the designated space would be ticketed and towed immediately. Better yet, restrict parking in certain spaces that can be used to store the snow that the city should be removing from sidewalks.

Transit Tip 13: Make a Snow Plan

It's been a day of heavy snow here in Philadelphia. While viewing the city from its trains and buses was quite pleasant, a snow storm presents significant challenges for transit operators. Depending on the timing of the storm, either buses and streetcars will be stuck in heavy traffic or they will be empty and running on time as nobody goes anywhere. SEPTA bus 44 in Ardmore, PA

It makes sense to reduce scheduled service on most lines to match reduced ridership and make more buses (and drivers) available to respond to special needs that will arise - Some lines will require snow routes that add significant time and require an extra bus. Other needs include stalled buses, extra trips, rail replacement shuttles, evacuations and more.

Vehicles take a lot of abuse during a blizzard and that means many may be out of service the following day. Don't run the risk of having to run 70 percent of normal service on several subsequent regular days because you couldn't be bothered making a snow plan.

Plan ahead and communicate. Everything in a snow plan, from route detours to service reductions to plowing busways, can be planned ahead of time and strategically implemented early.  That means employee shifts can be different, supervisors will know what to do and what scenarios to watch for, and customers will know where to find a snow route -- but only if the information is made available in advance, such as in timetables and maps.

Meanwhile, we can look to Hampton Roads Transit for a completely inexcusable three-day bus shutdown as the agency is apparently afraid that someone will slip and fall while boarding a bus.

Transit Tip 12: Keep pedestrian and bike paths free of obstructions.

There's usually a buffer space between the sidewalk and the street where signs, utility poles, mail boxes and other things can go. Bus stop signs, for example, must be placed 1-2 feet back from the curb so the bus mirrors don't hit them.  But if you get rid of the buffer area to add parking or maximize the driving lane width, don't encroach on the already narrow path for parking meters, construction signs or anything else that doesn't belong there. IMAG4720

Also, to all the highway engineers out there, if you put any objects on the sidewalk, remember that the sidewalk has been narrowed. It's not a 5-foot (1.5m) sidewalk if 2 feet are taken up by poles and signs.

This is a 2-foot (0.6m) clear width, less than the minimum required, even while the driving width is at least 30 feet (9m).

Check out Perils for Pedestrians has a wealth great info on walking paths.

Transit Tip 11. Put real-time vehicle arrival & service alerts at bus stops

Relying on smartphones and third-party apps leaves many people out and the information can be spotty or a hassle to look up. Set an example by putting upcoming departures on a display board in a consistent format for everyone to see and understand. stopillum

Use shelter advertisements to generate revenue for the display boards as well as lights and heaters.

Transit Tip 10. Clearing snow from sidewalks: how to do it well.

A few days ago I challenged cities and counties to accepting responsibility for actually clearing snow from sidewalks by just doing it. No more excuses. Then I came across an institution (hospital) doing it well. [gallery ids="1103,1104,1105"]

Thanks to Allina Health for showing how to clear snow efficiently and effectively. No excuses, just a safe, clear sidewalk.

Transit Tip 9. Locate bus stops at the far side of an intersection.

Far side bus stops (just beyond an intersection) are in most cases the safest and most efficient choice. They require less curb space per bus, encourage passengers to cross behind the bus, speed bus travel by not having to wait at a red light twice (once in the traffic queue and then again after boarding passengers), prevent the right hook (drivers turning right in front of a stopped bus), and make merging out from the stop much easier. It can be politically difficult to relocate existing stops but many will be happy that far side stops usually require about 25 percent less curb space. The key is to push for stop relocation (and consolidation and upgraded amenities) in conjunction with street reconstruction projects.

Transit Tip 8. Sidewalk maintenance & snow clearing should be a public service.

Every year, despite lots of rhetoric, the same problem illustrates just how cities really feel about walking, biking and public transportation. There has been snow every year for centuries and it will continue to fall, yet somehow we still haven't accepted that the current system for getting around in the winter doesn't work. Cities clear the roadways for cars only, ignore everyone else, and then blame property owners for not all coming out with a tiny plastic shovel and scraping their piece of sidewalk clean.


It is time for cities and counties to take responsibility for maintaining safe, clear sidewalks everywhere. This spring we should survey every sidewalk and pedestrian path and make repairs where necessary, so that next winter we can simply drive a bunch of snow blower around the city and get the job done.  UPDATE: like this.

Transit Tip 5. Create priority bus-only routes during special events.

In addition to creating dedicated space for buses on any day, it is especially important to mitigate the impact of one-time or occasional traffic congestion that we can foresee (parades, concerts, sports events, etc.). The traffic created by these events makes bus service slow and unpredictable, removing a powerful incentive attendees would otherwise have to use transit, which in turn creates more unnecessary traffic. During a recent evening parade in Minneapolis, bus routes experienced major delays as many thousands of people drove cars downtown. But there was one exception: buses using the 4th Street contraflow bus lane ran right on schedule.

Transit Tip 4. Don't leave early.

Don't leave time points (major stops) ahead of schedule. In addition to making people miss the bus, running early is a major contributor to bunching on frequent routes. Example: Bus A is a few minutes late so it picks up some of the people who would have caught Bus B; then Bus B is early so it picks up fewer people and easily catches up to Bus A; then Bus C has even more passengers; and it continues. Between Bus B and Bus C there is a very long wait. The exception is when nobody is allowed to board the bus at that stop, such as drop-off-only stops (express routes) or if the bus has no more room.