Flickr user Daniel Ramirez (cc).
Honolulu's new rail transit system, under construction.
In the Loop is your round-up of what’s going on in the transportation world, posted in conjunction with Talking Transit.
The Metropolitan Planning Council is hosting a series of exciting events in the coming months, including an “Urban Think and Drink” with New York’s Sam Schwartz where he’ll talk about his new book and the changing patterns of car use by American urbanites. We’re also hosting a lunchtime roundtable on how to make our communities more accessible, featuring an interesting conversation about what change has occurred 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Join us if you can!
MPC staff have been writing actively about a number of issues directly related to transportation in the last few weeks. We’ve investigated how the sale of a few municipally owned parking lots in River North will benefit the City of Chicago both in the short and long term. And we’ve highlighted why Chicago and Illinois have such a substantial infrastructure deficit.
Meanwhile, the issue I raised last month in Talking Transit—how crime was affecting peoples’ use of the transit system—has been made more relevant thanks to a new study released in Urban Studies by Wenjia Zhang of the University of Texas at Austin. Zhang’s study shows that new, higher-density developments near transit may induce crime; in some cases, increasing crime can result in reduced transit ridership. Transportation planners have a responsibility to make crime a component of their work on modeling transportation use, and on designing new facilities.
transit in the Chicago region
The Chicago Transit Authority, not typically known as a big ad maker, won an award from the American Public Transportation Association for its hilarious ads shaming disrespectful and disorderly transit riders. Whether the ads actually changed anyone’s behavior, though, remains to be seen…
Transit customers should be happy about the improved service they’ll be getting in the next few months. Loop Link, a major new bus rapid transit route through downtown, is launching late this year. New stations are already quite visible throughout downtown. And customers will soon benefit from a new mobile Ventra app, which provides them up-to-date information about their fare card accounts and allows them to buy tickets for Metra without having to deal with finicky machines. I’ve been testing the app over the past few months, and it has worked quite well in managing my account and buying Metra tickets.
Not related to transit but certainly related to rail, the BNSF railway has invested significantly in its main line between Los Angeles and Chicago. At the end of this year, BNSF will be 99 percent finished with a second parallel track on this route. The company’s goal is to displace trucking along this route and replace it with more energy-efficient rail shipping.
Drivers throughout the United States have been benefiting from declining gas prices over the past few months, and JPMorgan Chase recently completed a study on how people have responded. The research shows that people in the South and Midwest increased their driving, whereas people living on the coasts did not.
The decline in gas prices, though, is not necessarily affecting transit ridership negatively. In San Diego, ridership reached an all-time high over the past year, spurred in past by that city’s Rapid network of buses, which offer high-frequency, limited stop services. Similarly, in Minneapolis, the light rail system had a record day of ridership, carrying more than 100,000 people on a single day.
Honolulu is also expecting high ridership on its now-under-construction elevated rail line, a 20-mile route that will serve the airport, downtown and other areas. It will also massively increase the energy consumption by the City and County, the system’s owner, making the local government the top electricity consumer in the state. Local politicians are considering how to deal with the issue, including potentially creating a publicly owned electricity utility.
L.A., finally, is moving at top speed toward a ballot measure next year that would provide $120 billion for roads, freeways and transit in that region in the coming years. Two-thirds of voters would be needed to support that measure, but early polls suggest that level of support is possible. Residents of that area would benefit significantly, gaining new rail lines heading in virtually every direction throughout L.A.