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urban interstices

Another in a series of posts that need finally to either die or exit my draft folder by publication. This one was composed sometime in the summer of 2014. -Nate

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I gather myself in the presence of others though not in their company. They pass me by, a harmless goomba on their screen. Rush hour is the quietest. A thousand throbbing glimpses of privacy flash by, a thousand people I need never meet. Rarely one car breaks its windows, and like that horror movie trope, the tv speaks to me: a friend slows down to become human for a moment so quickly again gone, rushed away in the pounding surf.

A lonely mountain, perhaps, is where some simple people seek solitude but I’m too lazy for that or perhaps too near a substitute. I find my quiet in the inhumanity of the car’s deafening rage. It’s not quiet so much I seek perhaps but loneliness in labor far from home, a break in scale, flying to the super- and inevitably sub-human. The best walks aren’t what the urbanists would tell you. They’re too long, at rush hour or in the middle of the night, along highways and train tracks, hopping fences and stepping in shit. They’re death-defying, smelly, lonely, silent and loud.

I crouch beneath an underpass and no one sees me and I am alone.

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Posted in: Poetry
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Moderating two definitions of access

This post was written in the winter of 2014, but for some reason I got distracted and never posted it. Now I’m cleaning house, and here it is! In case you were wondering why it’s about winter weather…

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About twice a week, I find myself waiting for the #17 at 13th and Main, heading up to UC for the day. The #17 works well for me since the geography department is on the west side of campus anyway, though in the winter more often than not I find myself wishing for a bus, any bus, for the love of god, when is the bus coming? My hands are freezing! I find myself here almost every day, but about twice a week, like I say, I find myself in a particular situation: passed up by a bus that’s going the same place I’m going, its clean, brightly lit, warm interior mocking me through it’s big windows. I don’t care it’s it’s going to the other side of campus. I just want on.

The M+ has just passed by. My inclination is to run for it’s next stop, but my position on 13th street denies me the option.

Too far.

Once I see the M+ coming up Main, it’s too late to run south to the courthouse stop, too far and still too late to run up to it’s next stop at Findlay market. This is why the M+ is marginally faster than the other buses. It doesn’t stop for people like me, people of course, not at it’s limited and clearly signed set of stops.

The 13th Street stop is the one closest to my house and it’s always my starting place when catching transit up to campus. I always look south when I get there, and if I don’t see anything coming, sometimes I’ll sneak toward the courthouse, stop by stop, never getting too far away in case a bus pops out of nowhere. (Sometimes I creep north, constantly looking back…do I have time to grab a baguette?!? I pay for it, already half-way out the door.) The courthouse stop, see, has better frequency toward campus since it works for both the #17 and the M+, two high-frequency lines going where I want to go. Since they don’t usually arrive at exactly the same time, their headways compound and we get some constructive interference.

But it’s more complicated than this. Because the schedules for the #17 and M+ don’t work together, aren’t coordinated, reliably interrelated, I never know which to catch, which will actually get me to Braunstein Hall first. Both are frequent enough that I wouldn’t bother looking at a schedule if I wanted either, and both are so often just a little late or early that it wouldn’t do me much good if I did. In the absence of real-time-location information…you know what? Let’s let this derailment happen. Why not?

Where the h*ll is that real-time data, SORTA? What’s the deal here? This is getting really frustrating, now that the real-time info is posted at half a dozen stops. You’ve missed at least three of your own deadlines for releasing it. Stop making excuses and get your shit together!!!! RAAAGHAHG!!!1

*Phew* OK. Back on track. Without that real-time data, I’m essentially looking to ascertain the quantum state of the buses. Buses here are both a wave and a particle. Clearly working in a regular pattern, they still come in discrete chunks which can be discovered only by measurement and then never exactly predicted.

What’s a boy to do?

Stop fussing and wait an extra minute perhaps. That would be too simple though.

A big part of my problem here is that the schedules aren’t coordinated, meaning that they overlap and interact with each other in unpredictable ways. If they were coordinated, I could decide now which stop is usually the better one and stick to that decision.

In this particular situation, there’s not a good case to be made that these ones should be coordinated since they split off from each other once they get to the hill, but my dilemma illustrates a broader problem with the way SORTA has conceived of BRT: as a fast express line mostly redundant to a slow local service. Schedule coordination is impossible where lines are running at different speeds.

And this same problem becomes more dramatic when I consider other destinations. Lets say I want to get to Norwood, or once there, even further out to Kenwood. In the first case, I would have to take a bigger risk in walking toward the courthouse stop.  The #4 turns east around the corner from the courthouse stop, meaning that I can’t even see it coming.

The best choice would necessarily be based on expected waiting times and expected travel times. A better-than-probabilistic decision can’t realistically be made during higher-frequency hours since the normal(in the non-statistical sense at least) delays, disrupt shorter and more-frequent trips more, relatively speaking. In the later case, I would most likely be presented with the same optimizing tactic that finds me sneaking south on Main Street. That is: walk to the nearest stop on Montgomery Road and once there, inch toward the closest higher-frequency stop, taking in any case whichever bus comes first. Once I know the position of one bus, the one having just arrived, I won’t typically wait around for the next since it’s position is unknown and possibly very distant. Assuming both came at once, and were both stopping, the choice would be easy: the faster one.

The problem here is one of lost potential. It’s not a bad situation by any stretch(I have two reasonably frequent-transit options! Yay!) but it could be better. Rather than having two transit lines in the same corridor running at ten-minute headways, one dramatically faster than other, we could have one line, significantly faster than what we have now, running more consistently, more frequently, and importantly: more simply.

Express lines, as SORTA have conceived them, split the baby.

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  1. real-time data DOES exist now!
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Posted in: Access | Analysis | Simplicity
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Aus dem Geiste der Musik

Another in a series of posts that I wrote over the winter of 2014 and am just getting around to posting or deleting. -Nate

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Why transit? A question I must answer before I find the will to finish my thesis. Why Transit! An exclamation at the oblivion of the very question.

But deeper: why transport?

I’ll rule out some trivial replies.

Have I yet ruled out all modern motives? I’ll add two elders.

Let me posit a more confident alternative, this more Freudian, or better, Dionysian: that what arrests me is the corporeal power and speed, transcendent of our form but bequeathed of our minds, the heavy, lunging, muscular dynamism that urges our economy superfluity, that beats a swift rhythm on our liminal moments between here and there.

There is something terrible and ecstatic in our collective machinations, something not really expressed since it’s common evocation in art deco. Many of these works evoke power, grace, and hope; in them, man transcends nature and reaches toward the gods, stretches across the planet, taking what is his with the authority so unlawfully delegated by Prometheus.

Art Deco TransportDominance. The feeling of man transcendent. And there is a rhythm to transit, to certain kinds of transportation.

A rhythm to what has come to be diminished as a ‘lifestyle-of-urbanity'; a taste. Rather: a need.

And may I proffer a strong position? I should suggest that perhaps ‘our’ (post)modern inclination toward ubiquitous synthetic rocking beat is a substitute for, a prosthetic for, this sensitivity to organic, rhythmic affair, to the slower beat of vital communalism.

I rarely listen to contemporary music. I mostly find it contrived, expressive of emotions that I like to think myself to have transcended. I know this much: cars do not have rhythm, and it has been seen necessary to fit them with a stereo for that reason. Neither do planes have rhythm, with their relatively conventional and anonymous quietude. Trains and buses have rhythm, trains more than buses. Trains may even approximate a rock or dance beat with their clacking double beat as two paired wheelsets traverse seam between railties. And if the train itself has rhythm, it’s precession has voice!1

What could be more natural than that?

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  1. As anyone living near the CSX yard should well know! God, how I miss falling asleep to those tones.
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Posted in: Psychological
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Recursive grids for density measures

I’ve been wanting to do this for ages… and I finally did!

The idea is this:

  1. Create a square.
  2. If the square has more than n things inside it, divide it into four parts.
  3. Do the same for each of those squares and so on recursively.

My recent pet project1, cul-de-sacs (threshold = 10 or less per):

quadgrid

Dayton got a bit cut off, unfortunately. Trust me though: it has plenty of sprawl! This image sort of gives you an idea how the process works.

Population density, based on 2010 census blocks (threshold = 100 people or less per):

population density cincinnati quadgrid

14 levels deep! This one took a couple hours. Click through for a larger image.

Many more to come, I’m sure, now that I’ve written the script…

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  1. I love the idea of a density measure of sprawl!
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Posted in: Data | Maps | Silly Bullshit
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Businesses: request a real-time display

Design and development of the real-time arrival displays has finally begun!1

MetroNow App Wireframe

Wireframe showing basic layout of the display (draft)

And while that is ongoing, we are seeking early adopters to sign up to get a display for their business. The deal, in a nutshell, is this: we’re subsidizing the purchase of tablet computers set up to run a localised real-time transit display. Businesses will be responsible for somewhere between $20 and $40 of the cost of the tablet and will be responsible for maintaining it in a prominent location, with a source of electric power and a good wifi signal. We will help to supply mounting hardware, if needed, appropriate to the location. Businesses must be located on a fairly major transit line, preferably in a business district or an area with a lot of foot traffic. We’re imagining that tablets will either be placed in side-walk facing windows or placed prominently inside the business such as behind a bar.

If you’re interested in getting a display for your business, please email Daniel Schleith. He’ll get your information, answer any questions, and let you know when we’ve selected the lucky winners/trendsetters who will receive tablets.

(Please note that once the app is ready, you’ll also be able to run it in any computer with an internet browser, not just on these tablets.)

More info here.

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  1. Well, it actually began a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t had a chance to post until now.
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Posted in: Psychological | Talking about Transit
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sticking around

bus-detective-stickers

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Posted in: Silly Bullshit
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