Friday, April 04, 2008

mass transit , if i ruled the world.

my life most [weekday] mornings:

wake up. shower. iron clothes.

walk 2 blocks to the busstop (above). WAIT. update facebook status. WAIT. say hello to the neighborhood regulars. WAIT. check work email. WAIT. watch cars drive by. WAIT.

get on bus. acknowledge crazy lady. read gmail. WAIT. get to work. boot up computer. WAIT. eat yogurt. work.

soup to nuts, door (house, not shower) to door, we're talking a ~15-30 minute transaction. i won't even bring up the evening trip home. all of this of course changes in the spring/summer, when the weather is warm enough for me to throw on a backpack, hop on my bike and ride the 2 miles downhill into the office.

for many people reading of my routine, this certainly rings familiar, if not similar, to the mass transit routine of many urban denizens. for many others though (of the local/suburban variety), much of this is substituted with a quick/long commute in your car. which brings me to the reason i'm writing today.

i stand at the busstop before and after work on many days, and watch the cars go by. and i see many, many cars going by with just ONE PERSON in them. this annoys me to no degree. granted, some of it is my longing to be in their car + hitch a ride the 2 miles back to my house (which takes only 2 mins by car), but it has more to do w/ my dissatisfaction w/ society in general.

i get it, i really do, that i live ridiculously close to work, so thus riding the bus is not as much a chore as it can be for many others (but i made the conscious choice to live ridiculously close to work so i could commute in easily). i also get it, that it is more convenient for everyone to bring their own car into the office, so they can come + go as they please. some might even say that the current mass transit system in [insert big town/small city name here] is less than desirable (the frequency, the socio-economic strata of a majority of participants, etc).

but that's not good enough.

at work, and in my personal life, i tend to frame up my thinking in a "if i ruled the world" method of problem solving. it does not solve much, but it makes me feel better, and sometimes, just sometimes, i become proactive enough to make change come about in some small fashion.

so here's what i'd do (if i ruled a small city, say Cincinnati), in the order of "lowest to highest hanging fruit":

1. create a commuter lane on the major interstates.
outside of major metro areas, this does not exist. my guess is that it is locally mandated policy, which is odd, given the interstate system is federally funded (and thus commuter lanes COULD be a federal initiative since federal dollars fund them). anyhow if you've got a 3 lane highway, 1, or maybe even 2 of the lanes become commuter only during peak hours (or maybe 1 of them stays a commuter lane during ALL hours). this would effectively [A] force "single drivers" into inconvenience, thus forcing them into the consideration of a ride-sharing option (see #3), and [B] cause commercial traffic (truck drivers, etc) to avoid the city centers, rather choosing to drive AROUND the major cities ...on the interstate beltlines that most cities have (the latter is more a pet peeve i have with trucks that are NOT Optimus Prime, which is another post altogether).

2. create better mass transit - period.
find a way to drop the money into building a "lite rail" system that runs alongside the major interstates, with stops at every major exit, and frequent shuttle buses that go to popular work + social destinations along the exit. the sad thing, is, this proposal comes up every few years on the ballots in Cincinnati (as a referendum), and fails. it fails for a couple of reasons: people are averse to paying more taxes for a program they don't feel they HAVE to use; and also because people don't want "less desirable" neighborhoods being connected to their upper-middle class suburbs. frankly, this is one place where "Lefty Raman" comes to life - take this choice out of the people's hands and MAKE IT HAPPEN. deal with the consequences.

3. empower the citizenry to figure out a ride-sharing system
i have to believe there are multiple people in certain neighborhoods who all work in a similar area. in Cincinnati alone, there are HUNDREDS of my company's employees, many of whom i KNOW live in the same neighborhoods. this is where the secret sauce is for me. i'm going to find a way to setup this capability in the bubble that is my company
(if you work for P&G + are interested, let's talk). i've actually seen some small social networks pop up around this concept. here's one:

here's some more info on PickUpPal if you're interested. but i really don't think people should have to pay for this service. they should be doing it because it's the RIGHT THING. but let's take this to the next level (beyond local). setup a freaking X-prize already (if only i were rich, i'd fund it myself. where's when you need it?).

that's all i have to say for now.

this has been way more highbrow than the usual posting of a goofy idea/video i come across. this is serious stuff. now let's see how the masses react.

masses? please react.


  1. Anonymous2:57 PM

    move to a cooler city. all things that you mentioned are available in most big cities.

  2. big cities get this. the bigger problem with America is that this thinking does not permeate down into the rest of the country (like it does outside of our borders).

  3. PickupPal is a nice idea...if you're a hot chick. If you don't look like the girl in the video (say, you look like you were just released from jail; or you're a guy) then chances are someone *isn't* going your way. I like the idea, though. Also, hot chicks...better take your can of pepper spray and a Kung Fu manual.

    Mass transit seems to be more of an accepted way of getting around in Europe. And bicycles too. It really drives me crazy that in a sunny country like Australia where you *could* ride a bike every day there is no safe way to do so (the network of bikeways is not at all useful; drivers see cyclists as points in the drive-by system). If you've been to Amsterdam or Brugges or a hundred other European cities then you've seen how bikes can be an accepted part of the solution (where climate allows).

    London has the best public transport system I've seen (although I haven't been to any of the Scandinavian countries). Super easy and super flexible, and even though it's super expensive it's still cheaper than owning and driving a car. They've achieved it by making it *so* expensive to drive that people can't afford to do it, and then it becomes a mentality for the population to catch public transport. It becomes normal.

    So maybe it will take an oil crisis to force America (and Australia and NZ and other greedy self-focused cultures) to adopt public transport. Maybe the government should tariff the hell out of new cars? People will only catch public transport if they're forced to or if there is a really big incentive (it's cheap AND easy AND flexible AND quick).

    In "ben's world" (probably close to "raman's world") there are two solutions:

    a) An easy way to build tunnels. Lasers or Transformers, probably. Once you've got tunnels then you can easily lay down rails for an out-of-the-way transit system. Build it and they will come.

    b) Catapults. I think this is the way of the future. You install a catapult at every bus stop, train stop, taxi line, etc around the city. You hop in, select your destination... zoom... you're shot across the city then caught at the other end (hopefully). I realise there might be some early gliches to work out (like how you keep the bugs out of your mouth), but it's something we should keep in mind.

    Good luck changing the world, Raman.

  4. "think globally, act locally"

    per ben's comment about taxation on vehicle ownership - that's EXACTLY what is done in Singapore. and the public transit system (MRT, LRT, buses) is quite excellent. and if that's still too slow (and you're a well-off expat), you can take a cab, which is pretty cheap.

    the problem w/ an oil crisis (and believe me, at one point i was all about gas being $5 a gallon to force people to act differently) is that it hurts people in the lower economic strata. it's not good when people have to compromise on buying healthy food for their kids so they can afford to drive to work.

    as for tunnels - cincinnati actually DOES have an existing set of tunnels built in the 1920s for a subway system that was never build bc of the onset of the depression:

    per my blog entry, this is core part of the metro/lite rail system that is proposed every few years, and apparently the tunnels are well maintained. it is sad that the citizenry + politicos do not have the willpower to make this happen.

    until then, i'm all for the catapults.

  5. Anonymous7:19 PM

    I've said this before. The problem isn't the transit system, its that people need to transit at all. Before cars were cheap, people lived in the city, and they built cities up. Greater Cincinnati is so spread out now, it is cost prohibitive to try to cover everyone.

    The other thing is, for new transportation, someone gets screwed. At least locally, I75 destroyed the best black neighborhood in the city at the time. True a tunnel could get built under roads, so you could in theory rip up Vine St/Springfield Pk all the way up to my place, but that would be real expensive. Most likely some people would be fighting eminent domain of an "El," which is the same reason the highway hasn't added extra lanes.

    "Lefty Raman" should mandate house and yard size limits, and fill all the empty units in the City of Cincinnati. Then get the people who work in the county to actually live in the county instead of Butler and Warren. Also, he should unify local governemt, similar to Nashville or Miami, so the different municipalities would not be in competition.

    Sorry for trying to hyjack your blog.

  6. Maybe we should make it a prerequisite for any candidate running for a political office that they must have played at least 100 hours of Simcity before being put on the ticket? Everyone knows your city isn't going to work if you don't put public transport in place in the beginning...

    Raman, you're right about the price of oil not being the best solution. Jack up the cost of parking in the city, or implement a London-style congestion charge (equivalent to 16USD per day to drive in the inner city...more for larger vehicles like 4WDs, trucks, etc). As long as there is a transit system in place then people are essentially forced to use it, and those who still need to drive to work (outside of the city centre) aren't punished.

    A massive fleet of electric or gas buses in conjunction with decent transit/bus lanes could be the answer. It only works if you don't have to wait more than 5 minutes at a stop, the journey time is no 1.5 times the equivalent drive in your car, and buses go within a 10 minute walk of your destination.

    Derrick's correct, someone always gets screwed. Bus lanes require wider roads or new freeways, and taxes go up to cover the cost. But at the end of the day there is no silver bullet and the longer we [insert your favourite city here] postpone fixes the more it will cost and the more people will get screwed. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet (damn, another bullet metaphor). Hell, that's why you guys are still stuck with the imperial system because "it will cost too much money to switch". Yeah, and in 10 years time it will cost twice as much and disrupt *more* people than it will now.

    Between you and me, Derrick, we're doing a good job of hijacking this here blog...

  7. Anonymous9:12 AM

    Instead of creating burdens on other's current methods so they will choose yours why not design a better solution.

    Obviously one problem with so many cars is pollution, why not push for one of the many clean alternative fuel sources?

    To a second point of traffic congestion why not have new generations of cars be able to take orders from a central city infrastructure. The problem with todays traffic is that an individual cannot make a decision on route selection accurately because he does not have data from the entire system. If you have a central system that provides route selection choke points can be avoided.

    These are just ideas, im not saying they are full proof. We need to design new solutions to our new problems and not just rely on methods from 100 years ago.


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