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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis April 19, 2013
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Transit for Everyone
BY JARED GREEN, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects

For the daily subway, rail, or bus rider, accessibility is a huge issue. If a public transit system is difficult to use, then people simply stop using it unless they have no other options. This is equally true for those walking or biking to mass transit.

At the recent American Planning Association (APA) conference in Chicago, transportation planners Daniel Goodman and Roswell Eldridge, Toole Design Group; Adrienne Smith-Reiman, city of Boston; and Matthew Zych, Washington D.C. Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), discussed ways to create better systems for people who access public transit on foot or bike.

In Boston, explained Smith-Reiman, Connect Historic Boston, a program in its early planning stages, aims to make all the historic National Park Service sites in downtown Boston and ­Charlestown more easily accessible to tourists and locals. Downtown Boston can be intimidating, with its mess of tiny streets and lack of signage. To encourage navigation and “discovery” of the area, the National Park Service, the city of ­Boston, and local organizations are trying to understand the current problems and deal with them.

Tourists can get around via the T, ­ferries, water taxis, trolleys, or the local bike-share system. However, a tourist can get out of the T line one block from Faneuil Hall and totally miss it. One project will ­“reactivate” the spaces around the station, making transit to historic sites easier.

The Connect Historic Boston team plans several improvements, including developing a set of guidelines that can guide preliminary design improvements, a comprehensive physical and digital plan to develop a kit that can be distributed to the city agencies involved, street art, a transportation quest (a kind of game), transportation-related curricula for kids, and websites to show people how to access the area.

In Durham, North Carolina, Eldridge described a pilot study for the Department of Transportation that yielded new guidelines and design for bus stops and identified the importance of ­coordinating all the different government agencies that deal with aspects of the system. One agency is in charge of plotting where stops are, while another deals with streets, and yet another is in charge of sidewalks. With all these different groups involved, system planners had to address conflicting standards and policies and, with a shared vision, different agencies were able to reconcile conflicting approaches.

The team then conducted a users ­survey, getting the best data out of “on-board intercepts.” Through the survey, they found that 74 percent were using the bus to go to work or home, 16 percent were going shopping, and 10 percent were going to school. Some 84 percent of riders didn’t own a car. Their issues were safety, access, and comfort. To improve safety, riders wanted more lighting at bus stops and shelters. To improve access, they wanted sidewalks they could use and stops free of utility poles and other impediments. To make waiting more comfortable, ­riders wanted shelters with seating.

The next step was surveying the system to identify fixes. Given tight budgets, only $5 million could be spent on access improvements. But still, now there’s a model in place that all vendors building bus stops must replicate for new stops.

To improve pedestrian and bicycle access for D.C.’s Metro system, the second largest subway system in the U.S., it’s important to understand ­capacity and convenience.

Metro provides about 750,000 trips a day, the city’s 1,500 buses provide 450,000 trips daily, and paratransit another 8,000 trips. During the morning peak where about 250,000 trips occur, 37 percent of riders walk to the Metro, 26 percent park and ride, 24 percent take the bus to a station, and only 1 percent bike to a station. Given that WMATA wants to increase the number of bicycle commuters to 2 percent by 2020, the system needs to improve its bicycle access while making it still easier for pedestrians.

Zych said there are system-wide goals but different stations have different issues. A bicycle census in the district found that bike riders live in certain neighborhoods, so some stations will need ample bicycle parking while others won’t need any at all.

Some $25 million in pedestrian and bicycle access improvements were identified, but only $7 million in financing was available, so again, tough decisions had to be made about priorities. Asking stakeholders about their priorities, Metro found that 60 percent of riders want improved safety and security, so the system created safer crossings for some stations to separate vehicles from pedestrians and installed new raised sidewalks. For bicycle security, one station created an enclosed, limited access space bicyclists can use to secure their bikes. In addition, system planners retrofitted some stairs with a bike channel running alongside the steps. This means no more lugging bicycles up stairs. Bicyclists can simply roll it up the incline while walking up the stairs.

Eldridge encouraged public transit planners and designers in other communities to make pedestrian and bicycle access improvements. Given that the ­federal govern­ment only requires that 1 percent of ­transportation project funds go to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, those interested in access clearly have to get creative in ­creating access and finding money to do it.

The Dirt is a blog published by the American Society of Landscape Architects. © 2013. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. This version has been edited for length.

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