Tag Archives: NYT

When buses were more than buses

The New York Times recently published an interesting piece about Worcy Crawford, a black man who owned his own bus company in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. (via: Orin)

Photo credit: New York Times)

Mr. Crawford’s work was simple. He kept a segregated population moving. Any Birmingham child who needed a ride to school, a football game or a Girl Scout outing during the Jim Crow era and beyond most likely rode one.

So did people heading to dozens of civil rights rallies — including the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — during a time when chartering a bus from a white-owned company was impossible and driving past the city limits was dangerous for a busload full of African-Americans.

Worcy Crawfrord died last year, at the age of 90. Fortunately his son, Donald, has written a book about his long-unacknowledged contributions to Alabama’s civil rights and transportation history. The book is not widely available (if you don’t live in Alabama, Amazon is pretty much the only option), but (SPL-checkout or no) I’m definitely going to read it. The Wheels of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement will make its way to the top of my bus reading queue before the end of 2011.

Thanks, Orin.

Car-free living: not just for city folk

VAUBAN, Germany — Residents of this upscale community are suburban pioneers, going where few soccer moms or commuting executives have ever gone before: they have given up their cars.

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community. Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car-owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.

As a result, 70 percent of Vauban’s families do not own cars, and 57 percent sold a car to move here.

(Source: NYT, via Bus Nerd)

Apparently, plans are in the works for something similar in the Bay Area called Quarry Village.

Yes, please.

The transit paradox: more riders, less service

An excellent (if depressing) article in the NYT:

Transit systems across the country are raising fares and cutting service even when demand is up with record numbers of riders last year, many of whom fled $4-a-gallon gas prices and stop-and-go traffic for seats on buses and trains.


Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems — and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running. “We’ve termed it the ‘transit paradox,’ ” said Clarence W. Marsella, general manager of Denver’s system, which is raising fares and cutting service to make up for the steep drop in local sales tax.

The billions of dollars that Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the stimulus bill will also do little to help these systems with their current problems. That is because the new federal money — $12 billion was included in the version passed last week by the House, while the Senate originally proposed less — is devoted to big capital projects, like buying train cars and buses and building or repairing tracks and stations. Money that some lawmakers had proposed to help transit systems pay operating costs, and avoid layoffs and service cuts, was not included in the latest version.

I’m not mad about building train stations and buying buses (in fact, I take issue with the imbalance between road and transit projects in the stimulus bill), but I’m very, very concerned about the ability of the nation’s transit agencies (specifically, KC Metro) to continue to meet the rising demand for transit. After all,

“They’re going to make the economy worse if they cut the bus,” Ms. Nacoste said. “There’s going to be unemployment, people running out of money. What are we going to do?”

The entire article is only a couple of pages (short by NYT standards) and worth the read.

The eternal question (or, Bus Chick vs. game theory)

From the NYT’s Year in Ideas (via Dave):

You arrive at the bus stop to catch the ride to work, but the bus isn’t there. Your destination isn’t very far, so you think, Hmm, maybe I should just walk. But then you might find yourself halfway between stops when the bus whips past, which would be deeply annoying. What to do? Should you walk or should you wait?

Apparently, a few bus nerds from Harvard and Cal Tech were determined to find an answer to this question.

[They] drew up the problem as a classic game-theory dilemma, began crunching the numbers [or they could have just texted MyBus] and, three pages later, had their answer:

You should probably wait — and whatever you do, don’t second-guess yourself.

Buses [other than the 48], after all, are usually punctual and move much faster than you.

Read the rest …

That figures. When presented with this dilemma, I almost always choose to walk.

NYC congestion charges: an update

Robert I. (aka Neat Engine), New York native and former Seattle grad student, sent me this update (from the Times City Blog) on the city/state discussion about congestion pricing in Manhattan:

Journalists, advocacy groups and residents on both sides of the issues have been struggling to make sense of the congestion pricing agreement reached in Albany on Thursday.

On one hand, the deal at the very least seems to keep Mr. Bloomberg’s idea of charging drivers in Manhattan alive. It may even allow the city to begin taking steps to begin putting such charges in place.

On the other the plan hardly means congestion pricing is a done deal. A 17-member commission of city and state representatives will study different ways to mitigate traffic — not limited to congestion pricing — and act by March.

Streetsblog‘s take:

Congestion Pricing: What’s the Deal?

Nobody knows whether the convoluted and difficult congestion pricing “deal” reached by political leaders yesterday will actually result in anything. The deal is complex even by Albany standards. A few things, however, are clear:

1. Mayor Bloomberg does not have a “green light” to move forward with congestion pricing, nor has he been granted any new powers. The deal denies him the authority to impose a pricing charge until approved by the City Council and state legislature.

2. The feds may still yet give New York City congestion pricing start-up funds despite the missed Monday deadline.

3. The deal mandates a very specific timeline by which the process will move forward and a 17-member commission that may become an important forum for the congestion pricing and and broader transportation debate, good things could emerge.

4. Transportation policy and livable streets issues have moved to the top of New York City’s civic agenda and will remain in the political spotlight for some time to come.

5. There are a ton of things that could still derail congestion pricing.

Meanwhile, London, a congestion-pricing pioneer, is raising some of its charges. According to Carbusters magazine, SUVs (called “4x4s” and, occasionally, “Chelsea tractors,” in England) might soon have to pay as much as 25 pounds per day to drive into the city.

Speaking of busing to work…

Google, it seems, is providing free transportation to its employees. Yesterday, Bus Nerd’s friend Alex sent me this article from the New York Times:

In Silicon Valley, a region known for some of the worst traffic in the nation, Google, the Internet search engine giant and online advertising behemoth, has turned itself into Google, the mass transit operator. …

The company now ferries about 1,200 employees to and from Google daily — nearly one-fourth of its local work force — aboard 32 shuttle buses equipped with comfortable leather seats and wireless Internet access. Bicycles are allowed on exterior racks, and dogs on forward seats, or on their owners’ laps if the buses run full.

I love that Google is taking responsibility for how its employees get to and from work (and I’m loving that their efforts are apparently reducing the number of people who drive to Mountain View), but I have a hard time believing that a system with 1,200 passengers spread over roughly 200 miles is especially efficient.

They pick up workers as far away as Concord, 54 miles northeast of the Googleplex, as the company’s sprawling Mountain View headquarters are known, and Santa Cruz, 38 miles to the south. The system’s routes cover in excess of 230 miles of freeways, more than twice the extent of the region’s BART commuter train system, which has 104 miles of tracks.

Employees who live in far off towns where very few other employees live probably have very limited travel times. If they don’t, the shuttles are probably taking a lot of two- and three-person trips.

Google could probably make a much greater dent in Bay Area traffic (if not as great an impression on potential employees) by:

1) Partnering with local transit agencies to increase/improve service in areas where it has high concentrations of employees.
2) Giving employees free transit passes (it’s highly possible they already do this).
3) Allowing employees who are willing to share office space to work from home at least one day per week.

Ideal system or not, one thing’s for sure: Employees who spend their commutes kicked back in leather seats with free wi-fi get a lot more work done than those who are stuck staring at other folks’ tail lights.