Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend tonight’s meeting, so please accept this email as my input to the public record. If there is an answer to my question about utilization below, please include that in the public record.
After reviewing the Transit Conditions Report and Potential Improvements Report, I found a number of good gems including,” Along the entire 5.7 mile long study corridor, the average northbound AM and PM peak period travel speeds are 10.9 MPH and 10.0 MPH respectively, while the average southbound AM and PM peak period travel speeds are 10.4 MPH and 9.1 MPH respectively.”
What I couldn’t find anywhere is the utilization of those buses. For example, how many people are typically on the buses at various times?
Also, the report suggests that bus stops are, on average, 2,500 feet apart.
Given that there are rapid changes in mobility due to sharing, electrification and autonomy, VTA should be considering those elements as part of the long-term solution for Bascom Avenue.
For instance, with the addition of smaller autonomous shuttles, such as is being demonstrated currently in Las Vegas and will be in San Jose later this year, the need for stops every 2,500 feet would no longer be necessary, as shuttles could handle the last-mile. This could allow the distance between stops to be extended to a mile or two, greatly reducing the number of stops while increasing the average speed.
As evidence as to why I believe that autonomous shuttles and other forms of alternative transit (e.g. dockless bikes, scooters, etc.) need to be part of the plan for Bascom, here is an interview/article I just published with a representative of transit operator Keolis
[Note: The VTA responded on 5/11/18 with the following response. The attached draft report they sent is encouraging in terms of how they are looking at technology]
Here are the responses from the project lead of the Bascom Complete Streets Study.
After reviewing the Transit Conditions Report and Potential Improvements Report, I found a number of good gems including,” Along the entire 5.7 mile long study corridor, the average northbound AM and PM peak period travel speeds are 10.9 MPH and 10.0 MPH respectively, while the average southbound AM and PM peak period travel speeds are 10.4 MPH and 9.1 MPH respectively. What I couldn’t find anywhere is the utilization of those buses. For example, how many people are typically on the buses at various times?
Average weekday ridership for route 61 is 1,562 and average weekday ridership for route 62 is 1,495.
Ken’s Response – Hmmm, how many riders per bus on average?
Also, the report suggests that bus stops are, on average, 2,500 feet apart. Given that there are rapid changes in mobility due to sharing, electrification and autonomy, VTA should be considering those elements as part of the long-term solution for Bascom Avenue. For instance, with the addition of smaller autonomous shuttles, such as is being demonstrated currently in Las Vegas and will be in San Jose later this year, the need for stops every 2,500 feet would no longer be necessary, as shuttles could handle the last-mile. This could allow the distance between stops to be extended to a mile or two, greatly reducing the number of stops while increasing the average speed. As evidence as to why I believe that autonomous shuttles and other forms of alternative transit (e.g. dockless bikes, scooters, etc.) need to be part of the plan for Bascom, here is an interview/article I just published with a representative of transit operator Keolis
I recommend you read the VTA’s staff recommended policy for automated driving systems. This policy recommendation is going to VTA committees this month (May 2018). Internally, VTA transportation planning staff have been talking about these new technologies for a while.
I like the idea of innovative ways for first-last mile connection to transit as an implementation strategy for this plan.
Note that, in general, improving transit service and transit amenities is not just for congestion relief, it also addresses equity issues regarding access to transportation for seniors, people who can’t drive, people who don’t use technology, etc.
VTA Community Outreach
[Overview: What follows is a long-term proposal – think a build out of a 100 years – to use existing rights-of-way to improve mobility and the quality of life in Santa Clara County. Just like the way we live today isn’t the same as it was 50 or 100 years ago, how we live in the ensuing decades will change. This county needs a mobility infrastructure that can adapt to economic and environmental changes, while improving use of existing and new land. Implementing what is proposed will take political leadership with a long-term outlook. So, let’s use our existing rights-of-ways to create mobility threads that will stitch together Santa Clara County into a united federation of livable and walkable communities.]
This post will look at the idea of how Silicon Valley could take San Diego’s idea improve it through the creation of a Bus Rapid Transit network and associated mixed-use transit centers in Santa Clara County’s freeway and expressway corridors.
The MTS, the agency which runs the public transit system in San Diego County, explains on their website that they evaluated building a rail system along the I-15 corridor in the early 1990s, but, in the end, a bus rapid transit was their choice as it provided the same benefits, while allowing other types of vehicles:
“Rapid has many of the same features as a Trolley line: high frequency service, limited stations, high-capacity vehicles, upgraded stations, and Park & Ride lots at several stations.”
A key element of their transit plan are the transit stations that are strategically located at intersections where there are connections to last-mile transit. These stations include a generous amount of parking, allowing people who are beyond the last-mile to ditch their car and get the benefit of shared express transit. They also improved the bus experience through design features, such as “comfortable seating and larger windows improve ride quality, while features such as multiple doors, low-floor designs for easier boarding,”
Another key element to moving more people is the inclusion of a 2.2. mile long, 12-foot wide, two-way bike lane on a portion of I-15. This $14 million, well lighted route is physically separate from the freeway traffic and provides riders with a safer biking alternative than traversing street traffic. This $14 million project has an expected completion date towards the end of 2017.
Silicon Valley Could Do It Better
Santa Clara County should look at a similar network of Bus Feeder routes using existing freeway and expressway rights-of-way. Elements of this approach were touched upon in an earlier article, A Transition Step(s) to an Autonomous Transport Future. With the advantage of starting later, as compared to San Diego, Silicon Valley has the opportunity to bring several innovations that will create an even more efficient way of transporting people.
The fundamental difference with San Diego’s effort is the creation of mixed-use transit centers that would include, as possible, high-density affordable and market-rate housing, commercial and retail spaces. Like San Diego, park and ride would be included, as well as easy transfer to last-mile solutions, like shuttles, bike-share and ride-share. Of course, by building housing at freeway interchanges, it could actually reduce vehicle miles traveled as more people would be at locations that are within 1/2 mile of their jobs.
A key part of the financing for this sort of effort would have to come from public-private partnerships, similar to what Hong Kong’s transit authority has done to develop high density near transit stations. Providing incentives to developers to build on these platforms (e.g., express permitting for pre-approved construction techniques, reduced/no parking requirements, etc.) would be necessary to expedite build-outs. These wouldn’t be subsidies as much as creating a cookie-cutter process.
Added 9/22/16 – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey provides another example of a public agency using its air-rights and rights-of-way to encourage development. Relevant to this article, they just released the results of a design competition for a new bus terminal that is estimated to cost between $3.7 to $15.3 billion. All the proposals envision mixed-use and some combination of open space (one featuring a 9.8 acre park) to help offset costs.
By building relatively high-density clusters, the need to build high-density into suburban neighborhoods wouldn’t be as necessary; creating a buffer between traditional single family homes and multi-story housing. At the same time, the suburban neighborhoods would have additional transit options, thanks to the relative close proximity of high-speed express lanes and transit centers on existing exchanges.
As an exercise, one stretch of I-280, from Highway 85 to I-680 was examined to look at the possibility of creating platforms over the existing freeway. This isn’t necessarily the most job-rich area of Santa Clara County, but given that the VTA is studying this corridor, it seemed appropriate.
Ten major intersections were identified as possible urban center/transit areas, which translates to about a station on average every 1.2 miles over this 12 mile route. Some other important statistics. The route stops at I-85, although it is expected that express buses might continue through the largely residential, rural and wealthy hills to the job-rich area in the Page Mill/Cal Trans area of Palo Alto.
Collectively, about 123 acres of land is recovered via platforms. At $1-$5 M/acre, this is an asset worth north of $120 to $600M.
Assuming car-free, modular micro-housing, as described in this video, with a density of 640 units per acre (160 units in 12 story buildings on 9,000 square feet), with approximately 1/4 open space, then this corridor could house approximately 19,000 units (realistically, this number would be much less, as commercial/retail/park & ride would be included in these developments).
It is assumed that higher portions of the respective platforms would be towards commercial properties, while buildings would be lower towards existing residential areas.
It is assumed that bike lanes would be part of the project, allowing protected, active routes between the urban/transit centers. These bike routes potentially could have ingress/egress to residential neighborhoods as well.
Some other ways Silicon Valley could make this distinctive include:
Incentives should be provided for electrification and/or carbon-free emissions (e.g. the aforementioned private operator might pay less, if they use electric buses). With the recent passage of SB32, these sort of things will be necessary to secure state funding.
Require the use of Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure technology to use the express lanes. This offers the potential for platooning, such as being proposed by Pelaton, which could provide a further 5 to 10% reduction in fuel requirements. It also allows for greater throughput at a given speed compared to regular driving.
Develop and encourage low-cost, low-polluting, last-mile solutions – whether this ,means better pedestrian access, shared bikes and low-speed autonomous shuttles (e.g. such as ones that are tested in places like Singapore and Perth).
Given a scope that is similar to what San Diego built with its 20-mile stretch, it isn’t unreasonable to think that a 12-mile stretch could be built for approximately $1.4 B. It is assumed that the extra costs associated with building developments above the larger platforms envisioned in this approach, would be borne by private developers building commercial, retail and residential spaces.
The question of how air-rights would be distributed and valued is one for further exploration. For instance, perhaps it would be a model similar to the Homestead Act, whereby an entity would be given a certain time to develop after being given air rights. That development might include the requirement to build a platform that could be used for the transit center. Or, the air rights might be auctioned off in some manner.
With autonomy, the prospect of driverless pods could become reality. This Silicon Valley start-up, Next Future Transportation, is developing a software defined transportation network consisting of self-driving, electric, wheeled pods that form virtual trains to increase throughput. Unlike trains on wheels, these pods are independent of each other and dynamically connect to and disconnect from each other while in motion. This type of solution fits in perfectly with the approach described herein.]
At 1/3 the projected cost of a 4.2 mile extension of BART and with much less disruption to existing businesses and residences, VTA should examine an approach that enables high-speed vehicle transit on the existing freeway and expressways corridors. This holistic path would represent a significant investment and would take decades to implement, but it would build on the existing rights-of-way and traffic-use/land-use patterns as well as provide a path to incorporate evolving technology, such as autonomy.. Ultimately, this should prove to be lower risk and lower-cost than as compared to alternatives that require new, expensive rights-of-way.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) just released their policy statement on automated vehicles last month, which echoes what many of us suggested at the 7/11/16 WAG meeting. To paraphrase what Kirk Vartan so eloquently said, “The renderings we saw [last night] would have been great if this were 15 years ago.”
The reality is that things are going to be much different 15 or 24 years from now because of automation, connectedness, electrification and sharing and this needs to be factored in the planning.
NATCO is advocating some pretty disruptive ideas, like Level 4 automation (no steering wheels), maximum 25 MPH in the city core and that the planning process needs to account for the significantly lower travel costs afforded by connected, shared and automated mobility.
“Plan for the future of cities. Future visioning for automated vehicles should begin from the inside out, from the centers of our economy, looking at land use as well as transportation. Theories of automation that focus simply on fitting more vehicles into an expressway lane every hour are beginning from the product of the economy rather than the motor of the economy. Great cities generate traffic; traffic does not generate great cities. Technology has the power to help communities achieve their visions both for transportation and for land use, taking public space back from congestion, traffic and parking. Parking requirements and general curb space usage are particular areas where a decrease in vehicle storage needs could bring about a new era for city streets. Planning should begin with a vision for the future city and put resources into solving for the best methods for providing mobility in low, medium, and high density corridors and environments, from a public investment and a total investment perspective.”
Noted transportation and legal expert, Bryant Walker Smith’s recently published 46 page article, How Governments Can Promote Automated Driving, is a must-read guide for anyone interested in the transition from human to machine-directed transportation systems. The title is a bit deceiving, as it is provides a big picture view of how to create a legal and societal foundation for maximizing the benefit of impending technological changes to transportation and the built-environment.
Walker summarizes why his advice is important when he suggests:
“In short, governments should plan on the basis of tomorrow’s potential utility, not today’s purported perception.”
This foundation of a new transportation system is best built through coordination between local and state governments and agencies, private enterprise and community groups. Walker points out the importance of having a single point of contact in government to coordinate the transition.
He is clear that government needs to think differently about the future and need to question their assumptions:
“…governments should ensure that their planning processes begin to account for automated driving. Long-term assumptions should be revisited for land-use plans, infrastructure projects, building codes, bonds, and budgets.”
Along these lines, he suggests that the policy makers “internalize the cost of driving” to ensure a level playing field between different modes of transport. For instance, Stanford’s Stefan Heck recently suggested that automobiles are subsidized such that the associated taxes and fees account for only 45% their total costs to society.
To close the gap, Walker recommends raising fuel taxes, reducing parking subsidies, and increasing insurance minimums. The resulting new revenue would be used to improve infrastructure, which would benefit traditional automobile, automated transport and other modes of mobility (e.g. low-speed, delivery robots).
What these ideas have in common is that they associate revenues with costs, unlike other proposals where a general sales tax is used to fund infrastructure improvements.
Some aspects of his proposal, such as increasing insurance minimums, would require state-level action and others could be implemented by local governments. He suggests that any regressive impacts could be compensated for with things such as transportation vouchers.
Success in adapting to this new environment starts at the community level and includes a mix of stakeholders:
“community that wants to attract or implement a truly driverless system should demonstrate that it is a strong candidate for such a system…..A community that brings together local stakeholders to preemptively develop such a proposal could also discover compelling business cases that may not require external support. “”
Perhaps the most useful part of his paper is the Strategy Checklist that provides a one-page “to-do” list split into four groups; administrative strategies, legal strategies, community strategies and general strategies. Even though this checklist appears at the end of the document, this is a good place to start for any community wanting to ensure they also evolve with the coming changes in mobility.