CT Fastrak opens. More busways, please.

It's been probably over a hundred times I've passed through Hartford, but always passing through, making a bus connection for New York, Boston or Worcester, at Union Station. The station itself is nice enough, a major intercity bus hub and Amtrak station, adjacent to downtown with the large Bushnell Park almost directly across the street. Hartford is the state capital of Connecticut with a resident population of about 125,000 and, like most old cities, is experiencing significant residential and commercial growth.

Yet somehow despite dozens of missed bus connections -- less frequent these days as Peter Pan Bus operations have significantly improved over the past decade, and also because I tend to avoid traveling on holiday weekends -- I never have managed to take time to explore Hartford.

This weekend I was also passing through, en route to northeastern Pennsylvania to visit family. But this time I got to ride a piece of the new New Britain - Hartford Busway, just opened alongside the Amtrak inland route and branded as CT Fastrak.

It comes with well-spaced stations, passing lanes to accommodate the variety of local and express routes, and is mostly grade separated; travel time for the entire 12 miles including all stops is just 24 minutes. It is taking some time for people to adjust to the route changes but so far CT Fastrak seems to be working well and is a model for other cities. The mayor of East Hartford took a ride and is already advocating for the busway to be extended through that city and into Manchester.

Much effort has been spent on launching "bus rapid transit" lines but typically what we see is not real BRT -- dedicated space for buses with widely spaced stations, level boarding, off-board fare payment and frequent service -- but usually something marginally better than existing local bus service as we know it. See Boston's Silver Line, New York's Select Bus Service, Washington's MetroRapid and many others. Compared to branding and focusing on a single route, building a running way facility that multiple services can use provides a major benefit.

Pittsburgh is well known in the transit world for building its first busway 30 years ago and two more since then, though the stations and could use a major upgrade and the buses need priority downtown. Just about every city has unused rail corridors or low-volume highways that are waiting for a more productive use, yet very few have built serious priority facilities for buses, which are of course the most efficient way of moving large numbers of people.

Some have criticized CT Fastrak, mainly for exceeding its budget. But what recent transportation project has not experienced cost overruns? With long project timelines, rising construction costs, problematic federal cost-effectiveness metrics and the widely used practice of automatically choosing the lowest contract bidder, transit projects are all but guaranteed to exceed their budget. Cost alone is not a good reason to oppose a particular project, arbitrarily deciding that X is  "too much money"? What is X? $40? $40 million? $2 billion? Why? Who decides this? And isn't the point of a government to pool resources so we can provide services that would otherwise be impossible?

More busways, please.

By the way, the cheapest way to create a busway is to mark it off with cones, especially if you're just testing it out.

Welcome to the new Critical Transit

If you found this page, you're in the right place.

I am in the final stages of moving the site to a new web host so it's faster, more reliable and easier to use. This is exciting because I can share more content and we can interact more. Stay tuned! For now check out my local transit advocacy work via Transit Matters and dig into the podcast archive (only old episodes at that link).

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I'm back ... in Boston ... and Critical Transit continues!

Critical Transit is back after an unplanned break, and we're moving in a new (local) direction as part of a push for better transit in Boston. Learn all about the future of Critical Transit in this mini episode. Subscribe to the blog and podcast (iTunes), follow my thoughts on @criticaltransit on Twitter, like the Facebook page, and stay in tough with your reactions, discoveries and suggestions for topics or guests. Email feedback-at-criticaltransit.com or use the contact form.

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.

Snow Plowing by Bike

Yes, for those of you who pointed out that properly clearing snow from sidewalks would require burning more fossil fuels ... I present the bike snow plow:

You could add a salt spreader to the back if you really want to excel.

My second response is that even if you did use motorized plows, there would be a measurable decrease in the number of people who drive because streets and transit stops are not accessible to pedestrians.

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.

Episode 45: TRB recap: light rail, design, walking, technology ...

This is the first of several episodes featuring content from TRB Annual Meeting sessions in Washington, DC, starting with the common themes of transport data, automation and the idea that technology will solve more than a few of our problems.  From the sessions, we learn how to successfully insert a light rail transit (LRT) line into a city streetscape dominated by car culture, informed by experience in small French and Spanish cities; why industrial design matters at every stage of a project; and the importance of informal social paths (or, why attempting to corral pedestrians into designated crossing locations makes walking less safe). Do you have thoughts on these topics? Of course you do, so share them with the world! Suggest other viewpoints, new perspectives and ideas for further research, show topics and/or guests, by emailing feedback@criticaltransit.com or using the contact form or those social media tools.

Find me at Planning Camp on February 1 in Philadelphia, at the Human Transit talk in New York on February 6, and otherwise riding trains and buses around the northeast.

Finally, if you enjoy this time dump very useful transit project, please help support my work by sharing it with your friends and colleagues, leaving a review on iTunes and other places, and consider sponsoring an episode if you are able to.