Mobility Monday Breaking News Edition: We’re Number 5! And Kind of Number 3 also!
New data from the American Public Transportation Association show that Philadelphia’s regional rail system has overtaken Boston’s MBTA commuter rail system in terms of ridership, placing it fifth in line behind #4 Chicago (the METRA) and each of New York City’s three commuter rail systems, New Jersey Transit (#3), Metro North (#2) and the Long Island Rail Road (#1). So said another way, if we look at this per metro area, Philadelphia has the third highest commuter rail ridership, just after New York and Chicago. See page 5 of the link above.
- New York’s three systems move more than seven times as many folks as SEPTA’s regional rail. We don’t say that to make you feel inferior. We’re just pointing out that WOW there are a lot of jobs in Manhattan and a lot of people packed into the surrounding counties. But you knew that already.
- Our ranking in commuter rail matches our ranking as the third most populous downtown (also behind NYC and Chicago). Not implying any relationship per se, but it’s interesting.
What about other modes? In their comparison of light rail systems on Page 3 (that would include the green line trolleys and suburban trolley lines, we presume), we also come in 5th, this time behind trolley/streetcar/light rail systems in Boston, LA, SF, and Portland. What’s interesting here:
- Boston is the only other city on both lists. In terms of diversity of modes and the design of the networks, Boston is the closest thing we have to a transit twin with tunneled trolleys serving above-ground neighborhoods and inner suburbs, two commuter rail networks converging on the center, a limited number of subway lines, and tons of filler bus service.
- A lot of this has to do with age. Light rail has been more popular in recent years as costs have become increasingly prohibitive for heavy rail. This is one reason that you see more of it in younger cities or places that have invested in transit more recently.
- Heyo, LA. We weren’t expecting LA to crush its more traditionally urban neighbors to the north in light rail ridership. They really are making great strides out there.
Moving onto heavy rail (our subway/elevated lines), we come in sixth, as we have for many moons, behind NYC, DC, Chicago, Boston, and SF. What’s notable here:
- holy ridership levels, Batman! Now I know why the New York Subway always feels so crowded by comparison: it is! NYC has nearly ten times the ridership of second place Washington, and about 27 times the ridership of Philadelphia.
- Making the land use/transit connection: Many locals know that our Broad Street and Market Frankford Lines run along our widest, grandest, but also most faded arterials. As more development springs up along both lines, specifically above stations, it will be interesting to see how much of an uptick these lines may see. We wouldn’t know where to start this calculation, but we’re willing to bet that the capacity of our two lines, particularly of the BSL with its four-track setup from Walnut/Locust up to Fern Rock, far outpaces the current ridership. That’s actually a great situation to be in: it’s nice to know we have infrastructure in place to support growth, as long as we’re smart in directing that growth to locations that can take advantage of it!
Anything else strike you in the data? Let us know in the comments
Planning News Roundup, Haiku Style
It’s been awhile since we’ve done these, and we miss them, so why not.
What’s to be done about it
Many diff’rent views
The Future of B&W
Urban big box stores
Pitched for Broad and Washington
Let debate begin!
Speaking of Big Box
PREIT spends big on mall
Still mum on Gallery plans
When we gonna know?
A Brief Lull
No March CDR
Given the dev free-for-all
April might be huge?
SEPTA Information Follow Up: Is it time for new maps?
This past Monday, we offered some thoughts on the momentum behind restoring late-night subway/el service (spoiler alert: we were in favor). In addition to support, we offered some little-known facts about the relatively robust extent of current overnight services, and wondered outloud if some better signage or other collateral might drive more would-be riders to overnight buses, trolleys, and late night weekend regional rail. This got us thinking more generally about the way we disseminate and absorb transit information. Are there simple things we could do to clarify the experience?
We’re using a very liberal “we” here. SEPTA has a lot on its plate and, like us and other public agencies, is working with limited resources on a broad set of projects and policies. As usual, partnerships will be necessary to move the ball. But what about crowd-sourcing as the new partnership? SEPTA’s already at the head of the pack when it comes to ‘hackathons’: they’ve hosted developers several times to help produce useful apps with their data, with great results (this relationship-building and lesson-learning with the tech community allowed them to finally get to the point of launching their official SEPTA app for the agency last year). Could a similar crowd-sourcing approach with the print design community yield equally smashing results when it comes to giving SEPTA’s onsite maps and signs a fresh look? We think perhaps, which is why we’re throwing some ideas out there even though no one’s asked us to do so. If this year is really the year that SEPTA goes through one of its biggest system-wide upgrades in recent memory (now slated for maybe the fall, because of problems in Chicago...read more here), then it isn’t a bad time to think about the supporting materials. For all we know, SEPTA might be doing this already, in which case we imagine we’ll be speaking to them about it at some point. In the meantime, here’s what we’re thinking:
Maps: Philly’s system map is aesthetically pleasing, but also misleading, particularly for new users. Subway and regional rail lines appear together on seemingly equal footing. At first glance, it might appear that we have 16 or 17 subway lines? Or maybe that same number of commuter lines? We like that putting it all together emphasizes the regional scope of the system, but it also doesn’t speak to the realities of the majority of users, which is that while many people ride regional rail, and many people ride subway/bus/trolley, not a whole ton of people switch between the two. Not enough, in any event, to make the interface of the regional rail lines with the subway lines the most important thing to put out there. Boston’s map, above, shows the interface between subway/trolley (their green lines are similar to ours), and major bus routes, aka transfers that far greater numbers of people make. They keep the regional rail (commuter rail to them) on there, but thin the lines. This makes more sense to us visually. How about you?
Lest the regional rail feel slighted, they have a separate map emphasizing that system by itself, which they place in location where it’s most useful, aka within the regional rail system. It doesn’t remove the subway system, but it really emphasizes the purple (the commuter rail lines) because it’s targeting that audience.
So what’s the pitch? Splitting the current system map into two, depending on where you are in the system: One emphasizing city transit, including major bus lines, and one emphasizing regional rail. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of those 4 quadrants. Does anyone know to what they refer? NW of what, exactly? SE of whom? In relation to where? The nexus of the quadrants appears to sit in the rail yards north of 30th Street. Is there something important buried under there that we don’t know about? Do any other documents or maps or plans refer to these quadrants in any way? The answer to all of these questions is ????? If anyone can explain how they’re helpful in organizing the region, we’re all ears, but we’re pretty sure from anecdotal experience that they do nothing but confuse people, and their simple deletion from future iterations would be progress unto itself.
Some objections we know we’ll hear to our proposal:
1) “but SEPTA already makes comprehensive system maps that give you all the information!!!” Yes, here’s what that map looks like (note: the file is so big, we could not include it in this post): http://septa.org/maps/region/pdf/phila.pdf This map is an impressive feat, but totally unusable in an on-the-go format, unless you’ve got a magnifying glass and someone with a master’s in SEPTA to explain what’s going on. It’s a great keep-at-home reference, but not a practical thing to post in stations or bus shelters.
2) “But SEPTA has so many bus routes, you can’t integrate them into a system map”. This is true: you’d never be able to do something abstract and as schematically eye-pleasing as the current map with many buses. But you could pull a Boston and pick the top 25 highest ridership buses. Most riders understand that on generic system-wide maps, a lot of complexity is ignored or distilled. Take the current map as an example, the five trolley lines final destinations are suggested by arrows, rather than spelled out.
So, any takers? If you google SEPTA system map, you’ll see that we’re not the first people to have this brainstorm, and that an alarming number of alternate graphic representations of the system exist. None that we’ve found have ever tried to integrate major bus lines, which is the piece we think could really take City Transit station info to the next level.
Another mapping innovation that would be new to SEPTA (and would require partnership funding from somewhere):
Station Area maps. Center City District installed a first step of this recently at Center City stations, with exit signs indicating major landmarks you will encounter if you take this staircase or that one. Station Area maps take it up a notch. Our example is from Paris because we couldn’t find a google image of one from New York City, where they are also ubiquitous. The idea is simple: allow people to get their bearings at platform or mezzanine level, showing the specific corners where the exits take you to the street, and any nearby bus connections or landmarks.
We think that for the right person or organization, these would be a blast to create. Sadly, we are clean out of time. Hopefully, someday, SEPTA’s budget or grant monies will allow for our transit system to take its wayfinding signage to the next level. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments. Do you feel that this sort of information is what you’ve been missing? Is there some other aspect of the transit experience that you’d rather have hanging on a station wall? Are you totally happy with the way things are?
Mobility Monday: Getting There Later
If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, you’ve probably seen or chimed in on the stories announcing SEPTA’s not-quite-announcement to definitely consider late night service, at least in pilot program form, on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines. As most of the rest of Philadelphia, we’re supportive of the idea and pleased to see SEPTA considering operational changes that are a little bit proactive and forward-thinking. We won’t speculate on details, since this is not even a fully formed idea yet, but in concept, it’s the right move to make. Other cities experiencing similar patterns of more residents, more nightlife, and a more diversified 24-hour economy are considering expanded late-night rail service as well.
We really hope this happens, and we don’t want to downplay how valuable the late-night subway service would be, but it’s worth pointing out that Philadelphia has a fair amount of 24-hour, or Night Owl, service already. You’ll note in the Boston link above that the T is planning to run late night service on 15 popular bus routes in addition to the T. For perspective, they are starting from more of a scratch position here: their rail lines do not have any overnight bus replacement service – despite the bad reputation, our every-15-minutes MFO and BSO routes are surprisingly frequent, on-time, and heavily used. Moreover, there are few if any MBTA bus routes that offered round-the-clock service, whereas SEPTA lists 23 bus routes that already offer some level of Night Owl service. PATCO also runs trains 24/7/365, and several Regional Rail routes – mostly the ones with lots of students and young people along their lines – have been operating weekend late-night service for several years. Our point being that while MFL and BSL late-night service would be a gamechanger, we’re no slouches in the late night department already. It’s not just cabs and Ubers and your own two legs after midnight, at least between Center City and certain points outward.
Which brings us to today’s question: Would a relatively small effort to market the existing services and provide timely and location-appropriate information about them make current and planned Night Owl service an even greater success? SEPTA’s getting closer to “there” every day, wherever that might be, but we’d be the first to admit that it’s often the smallest things that people find lacking: the lack of timetables or scheduled arrival times posted at bus stops, for example, or maps showing any or all night-time service (note: these gripes are equally valid for daytime routes). SEPTA’s been great on the techie side, creating a remarkably versatile agency app that allows you to track the real-time location of buses and look up schedules. But for those without smart phones or the technological savvy (or maybe just the inability to think of such solutions at 3 am), what about some more printed info in select locations?
In Center City, such information could be added to existing bus shelter maps that exist on certain arterial streets, courtesy of Center City District. Elsewhere, pole-mounted schedules could do the trick. Overall, a foldable pocket map, or even just a wall-mounted Night Owl map next to the more familiar system maps could start to acquaint people with this impressive amount of overnight service.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time to work on this, and we imagine our colleagues at SEPTA are fairly – or maybe farely, haha, get it? – swamped Catching Up. But what about all you clever designers and artists and tech gurus, the very folks who would supposedly use this swanky late-night service? Does anyone want to take a crack at designing a system-wide Night Owl map? As a prompt, we would say you should go ahead and assume the BSL and MFL train service happens. If not, easy enough to change the graphics to show the existing every-15-minute Night Owl bus service. Add in citywide Night Owl buses and the select regional rails running later than midnight, and you’ve got a comprehensive look at your options. Anyone want to give it a try?
A major challenge is how to show that much service on one easy-to-read map. Geographically, it’s an impressive spread, so it will require some distortion and abstraction to generate something like what Paris has done at the top of this post. This brings us to a teaser of our next post: does anyone else find it a little confusing that there are no official SEPTA maps at all that offer a diagrammatic look at all City Transit modes? Don’t you think a map showing subway, trolley, and connecting or high frequency bus service could be really useful to a lot of riders, more so than existing maps that either show one line at a time, or all regional rail and subway service together? That’s our next design challenge, but in the meantime, chew on this Night owl thing.
Fitness Friday Competition Edition
Just because the snow never stops doesn’t mean we can completely forget about Philadelphia’s relentless push to make it easier to walk, bike, and be active. In 2014, we’ve got some very high profile projects coming online or getting into construction, whether or not we ever see a snow-free sidewalk again. Of these projects, the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk and the Manayunk Bridge Trail are in the running for the most anticipated trail projects. Today we pose a question: which one is more transformative from a transportation standpoint? Read on… MORE