Weekend Links

» This week’s big news. Open thread in the comments.

You’ll have to forgive me for a week of pure policy. I promise we’ll get back to the fun stuff next week. Follow my Twitter account (@ttpolitic) to get news in real time.

On The Transport Politic:

Bike Sharing:

  • Minneapolis debuts the nation’s biggest bike share system, Nice Ride Minnesota. The project features Montréal’s Bixi bikes, branded with an insurance company’s logo.
  • Boston, also planning on using the Bixi bikes for its plan, postpones its project for a year. It has yet to determine how exactly financing the system will work. On the other hand, London, yet another future Bixi city, will open its bikes to users on July 30th. It will be sponsored by Barclays Bank.
  • Washington, replacing its 10-station Clear Channel-run system with a 100-station Bixi plan, decides to change names. City’s bikes, formerly “SmartBike DC” will become “Capital Bikeshare.”

Fast Trains:

  • Florida high-speed rail, clearly the Obama Administration’s top rail priority, will begin construction in early 2011. The $3.5 billion project, however, pales in scope compared to China’s $100 billion investment in high-speed rail planned for this year alone.
  • South Africa, with its World Cup already underway (check out the US-UK game today), opened its 100 mph Gautrain intercity rail line between Johannesburg and the airport. It has further plans to link Johannesburg and Durban in the works.
  • Alstom, hoping to win the Italian contract for dozens of new high-speed trains, announces new single-deck trainsets capable of 250 mph operations; yet to be named, these trains depart from Alstom’s TGV/AGV of placing bogies between railcars. Meanwhile, AnsaldoBreda and Bombardier, hoping to win the same contract, reveal V300 Zefiro train.


  • Students in New York City, threatened with the loss of free transit to and from school because of fiscal difficulties, make a deal of it and go protest at City Hall.
  • Vancouver Translink turns an expected budget deficit into a surplus. So does San Francisco’s BART, which is likely to approve 3% reduced fares on the system for a four-month period to reward customers for their patience. Why not save it up in a rainy day fund?
  • D.C.’s Metro system is considering enforcing a 5-cent levy at six subway stations that would pay for capital repairs at those stops.


Image above: Plans for Florida High-Speed Rail at Orlando International Airport, from Florida High-Speed Rail

22 replies on “Weekend Links”

Question for the open forum: Why is it so uncommon to find truly close connections between lines in subway systems around the world?

I realize that my home subway (NYC) was built as three separate and competing systems, so I realize that most of the transfers are after-thoughts. But no matter where in the world I go, it seems I always have to walk half a mile to get from one line to another at multi-line stations.

London certainly suffers from this problem, as does Paris. Now I can add the systems in both Madrid and Barcelona to the list — and they were certainly built, if not all of a piece, then at least by a unified agency. Transfers should be quick and easy, but they never are.

Also, I’m curious if anyone has ever studied how much convenient connections can speed multi-seat trips. It seems like it could shave at least five minutes off a typical two seat ride if connecting lines were built such that a transfer involved nothing more than a single escalator ride, rather than a long walk.

So what’s the story here? Poor planning? Do close intersections put too much weight/vibration in the same spot and require much stronger (and more expensive) engineering? Do they purposely spread the lines so that people from a wider area above the surface are very near to a line entrance?

There’s a reason, but there’s no one reason.

There is the New York City explanation, where the legacy of competing systems made interopability impossible.

The other reason may have to be the challenge of integrating an existing system with a new system that isn’t an outward extension.

The problem here is that building an easy-access interchange might require engineering that would shut down the older line for a long period of time.

We’re seeing this in L.A. Adding a junction for the Expo Line has resulted in closures of the Blue Line on weekends for several months now. This is for something that’s a simple at-grade split.

L.A. was also told about this when the Pink Line (a Hollywood to West Hollywood subway extension) gained serious consideration. This involves a subway, so it would be much more complex. Metro says the only way a Pink Line extension would pan out is if the West Hollywood line ends at Hollywood/Highland, where it would be more logical to split trains between North and West Hollywood. But no. The problem is that adding the split would mean cutting off Hollywood from the San Fernando Valley for years to build this junction.

Excellent question, and some good answers below, and I offer another.

First see above, another illustration of the same sort of problem, no? The proposed “North Terminal Intermodal Station” will require (as near as I can squint out) a very long walk for the hapless passengers between Florida’s HSR line and the actual airport terminal.

This set-up contrasts with the Zurich Airport. Exit Customs, walk 20 steps, take the escalator down, and face the ticketing machines and windows on the mezzanine. Another 20 steps reaches the escalator down to the train platform. (Dunno why they couldn’t fit it all in a bank of elevators, but nobody’s perfect.)

Besides Orlando, another example of the disconnected connections syndrome is the Howard Beach Station interface between the A train subway line and the Port Authority’s AirTrain at JFK Airport. The AirTrain tracks meet, or don’t meet is the damn point, the subway tracks at a right angle, requiring riders to leave the AirTrain cars and walk a block or so to the AirTrain Station, which sits above or adjacent to wetlands, a.k.a. almost empty swamp, presumably offering plenty of elbow room to have brought the AirTrain tracks in parallel to the subway tracks, but no.

Why is that? I have a hunch. ‘Shut up and walk, damn you. The powers that be here all have chauffeured cars, and don’t you forget it.’ Or something like that.

No, I’m not in a good mood. Every time I think about the AirTrain I get into a ‘not good’ mood.

London was built as *far more* than three competing systems.

(Metropolitan, Metropolitan District, Waterloo & City, East London, Bakerloo, Central, the two branches of the Northern line — all completely separate when built.)

Madrid, and Barcelona? No freaking idea.

In Paris, there were only two builders of the Metro, and one was incredibly minor compared to the other, so it’s not competing systems. But Paris is odd: there are whole nests of stations very close to each other (due to the unusually close station spacing) and there appeared to be no thought to building transfer stations at all. The system is also possibly the most stair-laden system in the world; I think they just figured that walking transfers were perfectly reasonable (and wanted to get the extra fares, perhaps?)

FYI, the connections in the Moscow system are mostly very close. There are a few exceptions which appear to be due to construction problems, essentially (the sort of tunneling stuff described by Max Wyss below).

Tranfer stations of soviet-style metros are kind-of similar to transfers at DC metros – the two lines intersect at 60-120 degree angle so the connecting escalators/walkways can be as short as possible. The biggest difference is that in DC, they prefer side platforms, while Moscow metro and its “descendants” use island platform (making navigation easier but requiring two flights of escalators instead of just one)

I wouldn’t say the DC Metro ‘prefers’ side platforms, but with the three main transfer stations, they do indeed use them. The lower level is an island platform and the upper level has side platforms, meaning that you only need one escalator link between the two.

The one exception is Fort Totten station, which has two island platforms. The Red Line is on top, traveling elevated along the railroad ROW – the mezzanine and faregates are in the middle, and the Green line tracks are below.

Well, not entirely fair about Paris. For one, the lines that were built together have some examples of cross-platform transfers, such as between the 7 and 10 at Jussieu, the 7 and 5 at Gare de l’Est, and the 4 and 6 at Raspail. Even better, the original RER has cross-platform transfers at all three major stations — the A and B at Chatelet, the A and D at Gare de Lyon, and the B and D at Gare du Nord — designed specifically to allow diagonal commutes across the region.

There are quite a few reasons (or explanations):

• Subways were/are planned and designed as bunch of lines, and not as a network.

• Subways were/are planned line-wise, meaning that often, technical specifications are adjusted to the specifics of that particular line.

• As subways (may) have very dense schedules, it may not be possible to funnel two lines through the same stations, which means that for serving a certain place with several lines, you will need different stations.

• Digging tunnels in dense cities can be extremely difficult, as you will have to take into account many different (and contradicting) circumstances.

• Constructing in a dense city is very expensive, and the bigger the diameter of the cavern, and the deeper underground, the more expensive it gets. It is therefore most economical to create pedestrian tunnels, as compared to widen stations.

• In many cases, intersections are at a right angle. According to the above reasoning, it is most expensive to have two stations on top of each other at an intersectin angle; you will find the stations touching each other at one far corner, which means longer walks.

Where the subways have been planned as a network, things are a little bit better than described; München (where you have line mixing at many places) comes to my mind, but even ther, you will walk quite a bit.

… and the deeper underground, the more expensive it gets.

Max, your comment is great but this part is really oversimplified, because it applies only shallow lines, because cut and cover (or cover and cut) construction is more difficult with bigger depth. But for bored tunnels, things are a bit different:

* greater depth avoid archaeology-related delays and cost escalations, because impacts are limited only to vestibules

* too low overburden of bored tunnels prevent forming of natural arch, so the tunnel needs stronger lining and sometimes special methods like compensation grouting, driving costs up exponentially

* even if natural arch forms, greater depth makes overal settlement smaller and spreads it over larger area, minimizing impact to surface buildings (and costs needed to fix them)

This is offset by need for longer access tunnels/shafts and time taken to travel them, so the surface transit must be preserved for local service. On the other hand, long inclined access tunnels can effectively double catchment area of one station, allowing wider station spacing and therefore faster average speeds with the same walking distances. The prime example is Prague’s Karlovo náměstí station, that sits in depth of 40 m and its vestibule-to-vestibule length is nearly 500 m.

Thanks for all the feedback — and keep more coming if additional factors occur to anyone. I’d love to find someone who has thought about this area seriously because the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a massive (and largely unexplored) strike against public transportation.

For one thing, the most a typical person will endure for a commute seems to be just over half an hour. If the average time it takes to switch from one metro line to another is ten minutes (and you assume a five minute walk to and from the metro), you can only travel half as far with a two-line commute in that half hour as you could on a system with perfectly aligned transfers. A three line commute is impossible, so you’re way more limited in where you can live and — worse — it makes it impossible for many couples to find a public transit commute that puts both of them within half an hour of work.

Second, most people over the age of 30 have really, really limited walking tolerance. (This may not be a good thing, but it’s a fact of life.) Many can be convinced to walk some through attractive urban settings, but no one wants to walk through disgusting subterranean tunnels, particularly when those walks tend to involve seemingly senseless trips up and down stairs.

“For one thing, the most a typical person will endure for a commute seems to be just over half an hour.”

You’ve never lived in London, mate. Half an hour would be fantastic; closer to an hour more likely (it all depends on where home and work are, of course), though I’ve got friends who have longer than that. I seem to remember reading that people commuting by car in the biggest US cities travel an hour or more each way – or is that fairly exceptional? Or is a long commute fine in a car but not in public transit?

Not sure where you get the over-30 thing from – it sounds like you’re describing someone using a zimmer frame there. I think the older generation is more likely to walk without complaint, and indeed consider it a form of exercise. People in their 20s being much lazier (well, to be fair, let’s say some of them at least).

Andrew, you’re getting the travel times wrong.

First, the amount of time people are willing to budget for travel is 60-90 minutes per day. In most of the US, car commutes average 25 minutes one-way, transit commutes 45 – though this is largely because transit is strongest in those regions where commutes are longer on either mode. (At the end, those shorter car commutes add up to the same travel time as transit, when you add driving to every errand.)

Second, it doesn’t take ten minutes to change lines. The worst transfers involve about 4 minutes of walking from one platform to another; most are closer to 1-2. Then there’s waiting for the connecting train, but at rush hour the train should come every 5 minutes at most.

And third, 3-line commutes happen a lot – for example, almost every New Yorker has one or had one in the past. Mine would be 3-line, except that I cut it to 1 line by walking 3 kilometers to the subway or taking a slow crosstown bus.

1. I meant just over half an hour each way. I’m an outsider to the travel planning world, so I don’t naturally think in round trip time — so we’re not that far apart on total time for drivers.

2. The fact that transit commutes average 45 minutes is why so many people will do whatever it takes to avoid a commute on transit. You’re more making my point than arguing against it.

3. I can cite no stats on transfer times in any of the world’s major subways, but I can think of half a dozen that I just made in Madrid and Barcelona that would take 10 minutes for anyone who was strolling at a normal human walking speed rather than a commuter’s power walk.

In New York it takes a not-particularly-fit adult moving in no particular hurry about 12 minutes to make the longest transfer at the Fulton St. Station. Transfers between the 6th and 7th Ave. lines take more than 10 minutes, as do transfers between the 7th and 8th Ave. lines (all timed by me on people who were not me). That said, I can make it from the 2/3 at Park Place to the A/C at Chambers St. in slightly under 30 seconds if I hear a train hitting the other tracks.

4. As for 3 Seat Rides: Some people may do it in New York, but such things are why people who don’t live in New York think it’s the ultimate pit of hell, a place unlivable to any but idiots who want to discard enormous sums of money for living in tiny squalor. (This also fits the outsider’s view of living in London, John W.) Most people in most parts of this country spend time thinking about how not to let their local areas become anything like New York, so again, I think this more makes my point than argues against it. The point of blogs like this, theoretically, is to come up with cool ideas for improving public transit, so it will make life more pleasant for New Yorkers like me (well, Jersey City) and convince people elsewhere that public transit is better than cars rather than irrational self punishment.

Um, Fulton, 6/7, and 7/8 are just about the worst transfers in New York (and while I’m not especially fit, I do 6/7 and 7/8 in 4 minutes, not 10). I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the most common transfers are cross-platform.

Some people think New York is a hellhole. Some don’t. The metro area ranks first in the US both in number of people who most want to live in it and in number of people who most want not to live in it.

You can go on Factfinder and look for average commute times for various US geographies by mode of transportation. There’s no obvious pattern from there for how many people prefer cars and how many transit based on the ratio of travel times. But there’s separate research about it.

Courtesy of the hard-working and brilliant gentleman who puts out the ‘Human Transit’ website, I first become aware of the Los Angeles approach to expediting their human transit agenda; i.e. the “30/10” initiative.

If this approach, of pledging a revenue source towards future debt service, does indeed generate much interest and ‘traction’ in Congress and in the DOT, I think this is very worthy of a discussion. If this specific topic has previously been been addressed, please forgive me.

Interested to hear people’s thoughts on this approach.

Thank you, Reuben

Thank you very much! Sorry not to have done adequate research before wishing for the topic to be discussed. I will certainly read carefully what you have written on topic. And please note that I only discovered your blogsite a month or two ago but it is an amazing resource and accomplishment. Thank you for your labours and the brilliant product. Best, Reuben.

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