Subway

26
Mar

2012

Sounds of the Subway

The video “Bending Sounds” by Tim Sessler wonderfully captures the sites and sounds of the NYC subway. As the camera slowly meanders through the stations, people rush by, jumping on and off train cars, in and out of turn styles, and along subterranean corridors. The sounds of chatter and footsteps, and the rumble of the subway fade in and out as the camera approaches a number of subway musicians, each with their own sound, style, and charisma.

While the camera moves smoothly through the crowds, slowly, it inevitably passes by each musician, just as everyone around them does, so that each sound fades out just as quickly as it began.

 

BENDING SOUNDS – NYC SUBWAY from Tim Sessler on Vimeo.



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09
Dec

2010

The Trouble With Ford’s Plan

As any Torontonian knows, Toronto’s transit plans are seriously in flux. After what seems like an eternity of planning a network of Light Rail lines, new mayor Rob Ford has decided to unilaterally nix that idea and build a new subway under the auspice that the “war on the car is over.”

Yet amidst all the hand-wringing, protesting and name-calling, no one seems to have actually scrutinized Ford’s plan. Which is good for Ford because his plan doesn’t look good.

Arguably, the single most important purpose of transit is to get people from where they live to where they work in the most efficient way possible. Connect lots of people to lots of jobs, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re doing your job right.

By that measure, Ford’s plan makes little sense:

The Toronto Subway network - simplified.

The above is a very simplified portrait of Toronto’s subway network. A few features for those not from Toronto:

  • The eastern half (right side) of the yellow line is the Yonge line. It’s either at capacity or over it – depending upon whom you asked.
  • The station that allows transfers between the Yonge line and the green Bloor-Danforth line is overcapacity.
  • The purple (Sheppard) subway line has only 5 stations and is underutilized since it opened in the early part of 2000’s. The system is so poorly used, there has been talk of shuttering it to save cost.

Rob Ford’s plan is this:

Rob Ford's plan to extend the purple Sheppard subway line.

So Ford’s plan amounts to extending a subway line that no one uses into an area where there aren’t many jobs and not that many people (relative to the rest of the city):

Population Density of Toronto - Source: Statistics Canada.

Worker Density in Toronto - Source: Statistics Canada

Overlay the two maps together and you get an even clearer picture of the problem:

Overlay: Population Density and Worker Density in Toronto

Essentially the Ford plan moves suburbanites from one mall (Scarborough Town Centre) to another mall (Fairview / Don Mills). Given that it’s Christmas season, I can see the appeal of that, but after the gifts have been unwrapped and the credit card bills have (hopefully) been paid, whose going to use this line? Doesn’t every mall offer basically the same thing anyways?

Oh, and it will only cost three-and-a-half billion to do it.



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19
Aug

2010

In The Dark, Underground (Emotional Transit Planning)

I’m fond of subways, but I don’t like riding them. They’re fast and efficient and they make a statement. They’re also ridiculously expensive. But that’s not the point. The point is this:

What is the psychological impact of traveling to and from work every day underground, in the dark?

In my own life, if I have the chance to stay above ground instead of using the subway, I do so. I’d rather look at the world passing me by even if it means a few minutes longer commute. It’s more pleasant and that’s important. It makes me feel good to see the sun, people and buildings rather than simply the armpit of some guy in front of me.

In Toronto, when the subway bursts out from underground for a precious few minutes on the Bloor Street Viaduct you can feel a certain relief within the subway which only collapses back on itself the moment it plunges back underground.

So again, what is the psychological impact of commuting underground? I know of no study that asks that question and I doubt our current transit planning regimes would even consider it remotely important. But shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t it be important?

Economists are quickly learning a similar thing. A new branch of the discipline called Behavioral Economics is teaching policy-makers that humans make most economic decisions based on emotion and psychology not the cold, hard reality of logic and rationalism that standard economics takes for granted.

Shouldn’t the way transit makes you feel factor into your equations and models? Wouldn’t more people ride your transit lines if they actually enjoyed it? How about it?

Emotional Transit Planning anyone?



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02
Jul

2010

How Is This Even Possible?

A couple of days ago, Yonah Freemark published some statistics that should trouble anyone in the North American transit world:

Los Angeles plans a 13.8 km long subway line at a total cost of $6 billion. That works out to $435 million per kilometer.

Not to be outdone, New York is planning a 2.7 km long subway line at a cost of $4.5 billion. That works out to $1.6 billion per kilometer.

These are comically large numbers, especially in the case of New York. How are they even possible? And more importantly, how are those cities’ governments and citizens expected to pay for those systems?

Does a cost-benefit analysis really justify such huge expenditure for such a limited increase in coverage? And if so . . . who wrote the cost-benefit analysis?

More disturbing is to think about what the actual cost of these systems will be. Typically, capital cost forecasts for projects like these are severely underestimated. How the above numbers could be underestimated is beyond me, but history suggests that will be the case.

Inflate those numbers by 20-50% and you’re looking at something that’s no longer comical and is instead tragic.

Pro-transit or not, those are hard numbers to justify.



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28
Mar

2010

Definitions

How you define a problem determines how you solve it.

Most transit agencies, planners and governments tend to define an urban public transit problem as a decision between Roads and Rails:

Should we use buses, light rail/streetcars or subways?

It’s no surprise then when buses, light rail/streetcars or subways are the end result. That’s what happens when you define a problem from its middle, rather than from its beginning. You get mediocrity, the status quo and exactly what you expect. Better instead to start the discussion where the discussion starts:

How do we move the number of people we need to move through a given environment as quickly, cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible?

Define a problem from its beginning and you’re bound to get more than just Roads and Rails.



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Bus / Light Rail & Streetcars / Subway / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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13
Dec

2009

Cable Propelled Transit Is Not Plug and Play

Sentosa Island Urban Gondola

Sentosa Island Urban Gondola

To use CPT properly you have to be creative, original, daring and ultimately a little bit mad. That madness is good and important, especially nowadays when cities viciously compete for talent and tourists. Homogenous, cookie-cutter cities no longer make the grade. People want remarkable.

Light Rail (LRT), Subway and Bus technologies are useful (sometimes) but they are not remarkable. They are common; Plug and Play. No planner, policy-maker or politician really has to think about how the technologies work or how to use them. Just throw down some tracks and you’re done. As a result, they tend to be one-size-sorta-kinda-fits-all. They’re technologies that aim for the average. They do most things alright, but rarely exceptionally and never cheaply.

Cable, on the other hand, is not one-size-sorta-kinda-fits-all. Cable is a custom technology, capable of delivering on the exact wants of a city. And it delivers that custom solution with a higher level of service than traditional transit technologies and for a fraction of the price. It can be used in such a variety of different ways, in such a variety of different environments, to accomplish such a variety of different goals that it requires deep creativity and deep thinking to implement. But the rewards for that creativity and deepness are vast.

Consider the above picture of urban gondolas terminating in a skyscraper at Sentosa Island, Singapore. Whatever madman stood up in city council chamber and said “let’s put the station in a skyscraper” deserves our accolades if for no other reason than he had the guts to say it. We should be celebrating innovation, creativity and diversity not strangling it.

So here then is your challenge, creative cities of the world: Stop just calling yourselves creative and actually be creative. Ask yourselves: What could we do with cable in our city? Don’t just do what everyone else does. Be yourself. Be different. Be remarkable. Be a little bit mad.

Creative Commons image by ericlbc



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Analysis / Bus / Gondola / Light Rail & Streetcars / Sentosa Island / Subway / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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