It is the implied authority of geospatially precise ‘bike route recommendations’ that puts me off; my travelling ontology doesn’t recognize such routes.
Bike routes to me, where not literally demarcated by bollards or boundary paint, are a loose, conceptual topology of best-paths contingent on weather, health and my day’s ambition. There are rare edges that are fairly static and these can be mapped: Spring Grove can be for racers and relaxation, snowing or scorched. But why transpose it literally? “Spring Grove”, as I mean it, is a heuristic referencing the whole street, perhaps even to the whole Mill Creek valley east of the tracks, not a geocoded centerline. Ol’ Colerain sliced by the highway is a good ride too, and I take it sometimes if I feel like looking at something different.
How to communicate such useful, abstract edges?
A hand-rendered, schematic map is so clearly subjective it openly invites criticism from the viewer’s own ideosyncratic subjectivity. This is ideal. The point of bike-route maps cannot be to convey authority but to connote personal suggestion.
Here is my morning’s attempt at a bicycle edges map, from memory and a half-hour.
Now to digitize and make it look decent…
What’s all this about a West//East divide? I’d like to propose a distinct Car-Free-Cincinnatian spatial identity that apparently fails to recognize any but the central neighborhoods and places well-connected by transit. I couldn’t for the life of me recall how to bike to Xavier, NKU, or College Hill because I so often take transit to those places. My concept of the city seems to have a very tightly connected core with more distant neighborhoods dangling from abstract transit lines but no street names. This may more accurately be my winter version of the city. Come summer I’m much more likely to bike laterally.
In any case, what to me is certain is that we need to be explicit about just what type of body we’re operating on before we engage in such reasoning by analogy. Who among the streetcar fanboys has yet done that? And why is the medical community2 so far from such urban discussions with their heavy use of organic metaphor? Is there a doctor in the house?
I was trying to de-clutter a streetmap I’m making and I found some interesting patterns along the way :-)
Cool colors are areas with more dead-ending street segments and warm colors indicate more connected streets than otherwise. That big top blob is Dayton, the lower Cincinnati sitting on the Ohio River. Disconnected streets simply cancel out connecting streets, so you can sort of consider this corrected for density.
Here is the relative intensity of dead-ending streets by themselves:
Since most streets connect to others at both ends1, the inverse of the above map doesn’t show much that the first one didn’t. It’s interesting to note the distinctly different patterns here. Clusters of connecting streets, many of their more intense appearances in gridded arrangements, form relatively distinct places. You can easily make out Hamilton, Middleton, Richmond or Oxford in the first map if you know where to look. The disconnected streets though seem to really blur recognizable places, totally changing the shape of Cincinnati and smearing it into Dayton, a visible connection not so apparent in the first map.
What’s going on in Kentucky? The rural area south of Cincinnati is a lot hillier than that to the North and there are a lot of long streets that branch out along the tops of hills and then end where the hills themselves do. In flatter places, such streets would pretty naturally just continue straight on until they met the next road.
Since you’re probably wondering if you made it this far just what counts as a connecting street, it’s a segment that connects to another at both ends. In fact, here they are below. You’re gonna want to click the image for the full resolution. Red is connecting, blue unconnected.
Create a routable topology from OSM data using osm2po.
Identify dead-ends recursively:
Identify nodes(‘source’ & ‘target’ fields) that are connected to only one edge
Identify the edges that are connected to those nodes
Isolate those edges from the rest of the network and recurse until everything you have left is connected at both ends. This took me about 20 iterations for this dataset and identified ~81,000 segments out of ~300,000
Create a centroid geometry from the linear geometry of the edges
Calculate a weight for each edge as it’s distance in miles, signed negatively for the dead-ending segments identified in #2
Compute a kernel density surface using the centroids and weight values. I used an 8KM radius, and tri-weight kernels with the QGIS raster plugin which I think is simply a GUI for GDAL.
And then I made it kind of pretty :-)
Some very long dead-ending segments appeared around the edges as a result of clipping the original dataset out of it’s global context. Concentrating their weight in a centroid resulted in strongly negative spots which simply shouldn’t exist.
Lines that turned back on themselves, or sub-networks of streets which where ultimately connected to the main network by only one edge, and which may thus reasonably be considered entirely dead ends were not identified at all.
OSM data in the US is mainly derived from low-quality TIGER data that was imported several years ago. Many rural areas seem to have an enormous number of driveway type paths identified, many of them mislabelled as residential streets. There are also some places where actual suburban driveways have been identified as dead-ends, which may or may not be misleading to some degree. Most of these however are very short and so their weight shouldn’t be overwhelming. Though that huge negative area West of Dayton is Brookville, where someone seems to have added driveways for every house in town.
Greater Cincinnati has a lot more urban planners than it cares to employ as such.
If you’re thinking about going into the field, all you current or aspiring DAAP kids, you should know that you aren’t likely to find the job you might expect here. Of all the people I personally know in the area with degrees in urban planning, probably at least a couple dozen, I can think of four who are actually employed as planners. The rest of them are by and large doing interesting things, but not in a way that uses their degree to earn money, or if they are it’s not even remotely near Cincinnati. DAAP churns out about 40 planners a year, about one of which on average will find a planning job here after graduation.1
This is more than a little frustrating for many of us locally cultivated planners, and really, really good for the region. I’d like to begin here to explore ways the situation could be better for planners, and better still for Cincinnati.
First, why planners are good for the region: I think you can think of us as a civic-minded type of bohemian. Like artists, the younger among us are poor, grossly underemployed and tend to cluster together for mutual inspiration. Like classic bohemians we’re often very interested in producing change. Unlike classic bohemians, we tend to have very concrete ideas of what that change would entail.
Urban planners are, in my opinion, by nature some of the best citizens you’ll find in the republic2. We’re wonderfully knowledgeable about governmental and social structures but decidedly apolitical. Planners are reasonable, sometimes to a fault. Trained to handle potentially riotous public meetings on sometimes controversial topics, we know how to calm and deflect, to find agreement, and lead civil conversations toward tangible common goals. We understand, like architects how the subtleties of our physical environment affect people’s perceptions of the world and of each other and are often very conscious of how our own actions indirectly affect others.
Young, underemployed urban planners tend to start interesting and very civic projects. This website, Spring in Our Steps, UrbanCincy, or the People’s Department of Transportation (Columbus) provide a few interesting and fruitful examples from local planning grads that I know personally. Many other young planners are regular fixtures at public meetings of all sorts, providing in some sessions I’ve seen most of the thoughtful(as opposed to uselessly naive and self-interested) input on everything from SORTA’s route changes to the Cincinnati Master Plan.
These are generalizations to be sure, but to the extent that generalizations can be made about any group, I think they’re fairly accurate ones.
So what’s the problem? Normal planning jobs are absurdly secure for the few people who have them and the whole profession has been shrinking if not simply failing to grow. There is almost no chance of getting paid for any of this work. That means people will eventually leave the field or never get into it to begin with. As far as I can see, earning a planning degree is a big gamble; either you end up as one of the few people to get a secure municipal job for as long as you want it or you don’t get any work at all and you give up on planning to do something else. A planning degree is a 5 year, $100,0003 bet against the odds.4
We need to learn to hunt.
Planners seem to still be hanging around and doing interesting stuff though, right? We must be paying the rent somehow. Here are the problems with getting by with pay from another industry while doing planning projects on the side, unpaid:
Because we’re for the most part not stably or adequately employed(we’re primarily qualified for planning, not whatever we’re doing), we can’t commit in our free time to the kind of long-term projects toward which we’re often inclined; we might need to change jobs suddenly or even move to another city making it harder to invest deeply in one place.
Because we’re not employed as planners we’re often spending our days or nights learning bar-tending, latte-making or fashion design rather than developing our knowledge and social connections in a way that’s contributory to our primary interest.
The field of planning itself is not as *ahem* fresh as it could be because it’s been full of the same old city employees for decades, hardly receiving so much as a drop of new blood and the new ideas that come with it.
We lack the official authority that a paid planning position of any sort would confer, leaving us to make valuable suggestions that fall on inevitably deaf ears. People who pay for your time listen to you better. Those who don’t will see you as a nag or a nuisance when you try to comment on ‘their’ work.5
An illustration: UC’s Niehoff Studio6 seems like it might offer a good model for bridging the gap between planners and the real, paid world, but as I’ll describe the results, the program is typical of the all-too-common corporate exploitation of unpaid creative work.
In a nutshell, the studio attempts to pair up outside organizations (like a transit agency) with a group of student planners, engineers and architects who will work (unpaid and actually, paying when you count tuition and time) for a semester on a ‘big problem’ that the organization might face (like “How might bus rapid transit be implemented?”). The problems are usually local and a low-level representative from the outside agency comes by a few times through the course of the semester to provide guidance to the students as they develop their projects. Through most of their work, a DAAP professor sets the guidelines and requirements. At the end there’s a presentation before the projects are graded and filed away.
One might be temped to think that this arrangement could offer public agencies and non-profits an excellent chance to get valuable ideas from a pool of creative young talent from which they might later hire, and for the planners, a chance to meet and learn from people in their field while working on real-world problems; sort of an interning-lite.7 The ‘from which they might hire’ part I hope I’ve already adequately addressed the possibilities of, so let’s go straight for the ‘helpful new ideas’ and ‘real-world problems’. Planners are deeply interested in affecting the world positively, and the ability to contribute to building a better city is as big a goal as the paycheck for most people.
In the case of Niehoff students, the remove from the agency itself, the fact that planning students are not actually working within the agency, means that the solutions planners come up with are almost completely unmoored from reality and thus unusable. The professors encourage this, egging the students on to ‘think big’ and come up with ideal solutions. The proposals that result are pretty much entirely ignored by the agency because they’re either blatantly illegal(usually in the form of wanton property takings) or financially impossible(new multi-billion-dollar subways bored through bedrock). This problem could be remedied by having each student work in close collaboration with the people from the agency for which the work is being done. Students can’t reasonably be expected to know what the agencies expectations are andd how far they can push them if the two aren’t talking regularly…but that would get too close to being a job or an internship–something the agency would reasonably be expected to pay for. The work done in the Niehoff studio stays closer to the abstract than to reality, allowing everyone to think of the students as students rather than as consultants and devaluing their work to the point where they must pay for the privilege of doing it.
Wanting to stay in the field, how can us planners create our own jobs outside of the archetypical local government positions which there simply aren’t enough any of? We need money and we need authority to do good work here. How do we get these things?
This is absolutely a self-selection bias, though the work reinforces the early inclination. ↩
In state tuition + moderate living expenses ( + time??). ↩
At least if you want to stay in Cincinnati, or really, any major urban area where competition is fierce. ↩
Planners don’t expect useful feedback from the public; their plans are mostly developed by the time they’re open for public comment. Getting comments at this point from (citizen )planners who have criticisms that are hard or impossible to dismiss throws a wrench in the works. The right time for comments like these is earlier in the planning process. ↩
I did indeed go through several studios in this program. This isn’t just hearsay ;-) ↩
Unpaid interning has it’s own…let’s say ‘issues’ that I need not elaborate on here! ↩
I was taking another look at the old ridership dataset SORTA shared with me last January, when I realized: there are a good many stops that have an average daily ridership of exactly zero1.
There are really a lot of them, and they’re pretty evenly distributed. About 1,000 of them by my count2, compared to ~2,650 with at least some daily riders(above in black). I seem to have missed this before by immediately visualizing all the stops with circles sized according to their total ridership…naturally, these stops simply failed to render.
Click the image above (or here) for a PDF that will let you look up close at the locations of ghost stops throughout the whole system. Red dots are ghost stops, black circles are stops with riders on an average day; their area is proportional to the number of riders. The average day, including weekends, has ~46,100 passenger trips, not counting TANK.
It’s important to note that the presence of these low-to-no rider stops may not be hurting anything if we’re OK with the lines serving them being there in the first place. If no one is getting on or off, the bus probably isn’t slowing down by stopping there.
well, not quite exactly. Total passenger counts for a month were divided by the number of days and rounded to the nearest integer. But basically, if any of these stops had even one person using them more than half the days, they would have been rounded up to > 0 ↩
…which may vary from yours. I’ve aggregated stops that share the same name and or exact location. That means that stops that are paired on opposite sides of the streets were usually lumped together. ↩
I won’t vouch for the quality of this job, nor will I mislead anyone into thinking the application process is easy or fun. I’ve applied myself a couple time for past job openings at SORTA never to get more than an automated email in reply. This is not very satisfying after spending an hour retyping my resume for the clumsy and redundant online application form…
Still, for someone who isn’t me, this could be a good opportunity to see how a transit agency works from the inside. And it pays, which can’t be said of the City of Cincinnati’s planning internships.
Also, if anyone reading this ends up getting the job, I will literally bribe you for access to the (public record, surely) automated passenger count data you’ll be working with.
The job description:
DESCRIPTION The Service Planning Internship at SORTA/Metro is an excellent learning experience that involves exposure to actual projects and requirements found in the public transportation sector. This internship will focus on ridership data collection and complying with the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database program reporting requirements.
DUTIES Help Metro’s Service Analyst collect, enter, and analyze ridership data. The overall objective is to test the ridership and passenger mileage information being collected by Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) installed on Metro’s buses. Manually collect passenger boarding and alighting data by reviewing onboard video and recording the required data. Prepare reports that compare the manually and automatically collected data to determine if any APCs need to be recalibrated to achieve specific confidence levels. Responsible for mapping routing patterns for Metro’s XTRA Service routes. This process will involve working with Metro’s scheduling software to trace designated routes throughout the service area. The intern will gain an understanding of how Metro designs bus routes and schedules. Learning opportunity regarding data collection and analysis, sampling procedures and report writing within the transit industry, while gaining practical work experience. Conduct real project(s) that will provide a better appreciation of the responsibilities of a Transit Service Planner and a greater understanding of this important job as you consider your career options.
QUALIFICATIONS Pursuing a Planning, Urban Affairs, Geography degree or related field. Two or more years of undergraduate studies. Demonstrated success in academics. Excellent MS Excel Skills and understanding of database programs. Self-Starter; ability to take the lead on assignments and work with limited supervision. Resourceful, energetic, goal-oriented. All qualified candidates should complete the on-line application and include a cover letter and resume.