Some things from the before-times

I just yesterday met this wonderful guy, Dave Walters, from the Cincinnati Transit Historical Association. He’s been scanning old documents related to transit in Cincinnati, and he just shared several gigs of his work so far with me. Schedules dating back to the 20’s and 30’s, maps, planning documents…so much incredibly interesting stuff…

I asked if he’d mind if I hosted the documents online for y’all to peruse and he said he’d have to check with the CTHA first…but in the meantime, I can post a few teasers: some random pretty maps from the 1948 Cincinnati master plan.

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 19

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 61

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 9

And here’s what route #1 looked like in 1964:

Cincinnati Route 1 in 1964

Dave, you have my thanks, and for the rest of you, hopefully you can look forward to seeing a lot more of this stuff soon! It’s amazing to see how much and how little some things have changed in the last 80+ years. Hopefully I’ll also be able to pull some useful data out of the maps and schedules (beside just drooling over the thoughtful pre-GIS cartography).

Also, I’m planning to attend the next meeting of the CTHA, if anyone wants to join me and (make me) not feel like the only new person there. It’s Saturday May 17th, 7:30pm at the Queensgate Garage. Come on out!

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Posted in: Events | History
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On Coverage vs. Expedience, or why the #24 is slow

By looking at the routing of a transit line, one can with a little study discern the motives of it’s establishment. I’ll take SORTA’s #24 as an example. The #24 is a relatively infrequent line, but one with trips evenly spanning most of the day.

The #24

The #24 goes from Anderson Township to Downtown through Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, Walnut Hills, and Corryville.

It travels a fairly corrugated route, going, as the crow flies, only about 9 miles but taking a full 19 miles actually on the street to do it. It takes an average total time end-to-end of about 70-80 minutes, meaning an absolute end-to-end average speed of 7.2 MPH(as the crow flies) and as it actually travels on the street, closer to 15.2 MPH.

I take the #24 as an example particularly because of it’s illustrative zigzag in Mt. Washington.

#24 in Mt. Washington

The illustrative zigzag

This deviation from Beechmont Avenue takes an additional 2.8 miles over a hypothetical course that simply follows Beechmont through Mt. Washington.

possible #24 allignment

This doesn’t actually exist.

That means it accounts for about 15% percent of the surface distance of the trip. If we assume that the vehicle’s speed is roughly constant(its not getting on the highway or flying through the air at any point), we may fairly assume that the deviation also accounts for about 15% of the trip’s total travel time, 11.3 minutes, and a decrease in potential average speed(as the crow flies) of 1.65 MPH(8.9 MPH potential vs. 7.2 MPH actual).

This feature of the routing isn’t dictated by topography, nor by the necessity of of driving a large vehicle or any other purely mechanical matter. Indeed, Beechmont just carries right on and the bus seemingly can’t make up it’s mind as to whether it prefers main roads or side streets. The reason this zigzag exists it to provide access to transit. In another post I defined ‘access’ as the end goal of mobility. I also said that mobility tends, all things being equal, to enhance access. Thus the route deviates to pass directly in front of supposedly somewhat immobile people to provide them access to mobility itself and thereby access to many other things. But all things are rarely equal.

This zigzag itself introduces significant delay into the trip of anyone not stopping on one of the streets off of Beechmont to which the line deviates. That decreases their potential for mobility by substantially reducing the real distance they can travel in a given time. It also means, in a world of limited resources, that money spent here (gas, driver wages, maintenance) isn’t spent in some other part of the transit system.

Map of the #24 showing 10 minute travel distance

Here’s how much farther you can go with an extra somewhat-less-than 10 minutes.

schedule of the #24

Numerical proof of the above

For people living off of Beechmont who do have the ability to reasonably get to Beechmont, it may significantly add to travel time as well.

The zigzag, and it’s possible absence raise the question of who the line is designed to serve. In it’s current form, the line indicates a choice for closer access to transit itself for the people south of Beechmont in Mt. Washington over the expedience of those coming from or going to Anderson Township. This indicates that SORTA sees the line as serving people to whom the challenge of getting to a stop on Beechmont is greater than the cost of their time. This could include several general categories of people. People for whom the cost of traveling to a stop is high include the disabled, the elderly or people carrying small children or heavy bags. Then there are the unemployed and unattached, for whom time is of relatively little cost.

It assumes that there are people who can’t or won’t come to a stop on Beechmont and that coming to them instead is justified. This is transit as a social service. Providing easy mobility to these groups is a legitimate public goal(as is providing food to the hungry), and one among many goals that transit should strive to serve. The #24, at least by this segment then, does not as much intend to serve people to whom time is more of a cost than somewhat of a walk.

The #24 makes another important assumption. It assumes that people live where they do and will continue to do so, even if where they live comes to have minimal direct access to transit and that such access is critically important to them. It’s perfectly plausible that if the line were moved to our hypothetical Beechmont-only route that over time people who needed very close access to transit and who nonetheless want to live in Mt. Washington would move closer to Beechmont. This would give us the best of both worlds by allowing the line to directly serve people who need access to mobility and chopping about 11 minutes off the total trip time for everyone passing through. It would do so at the cost of people who need access and live somewhat far from Beechmont; they would either have to move or suffer from more limited access. However it’s important to note that the cost of delay from deviation is an ongoing one, and the cost of inducing people to relocate would be felt only once, though surely over the course of several years.

People not as well served by the #24 include able-bodied people with jobs, families and other significant time constraints, people who would rather walk a few extra blocks than wait 11.3 more minutes. SORTA seems to have recognized and compensated for this to some extent. Running an almost parallel overall course is the 30X, a rush hour only line going(mostly) toward Downtown in the morning, away in the evening.

SORTA 30X route map

Lines like this, of which there are more than a dozen in the current system almost exclusively serve people making trips to Downtown offices in the morning and home to the suburbs in the evening. The times the 30X operates, departing between 6 and 7 AM then again between 4 and 5:50PM, make it useless for almost any other type of trip.

The 30X also operates at a significantly higher speed, bypassing much of the course of the #24(including the off-Beechmont zigzag)and completing the same end-to-end distance in 30-36 minutes, less than half of the time the #24 takes to complete the same (insert lots of qualifiers…) trip. The combination of these two lines gives us a transit corridor with quite specialized, and actually bipolar goals. On the one hand, we have a service with a fairly high speed trip between Downtown and Mt. Washington(via Beechmont) and Anderson Township that almost exclusively serves downtown workers. On the other we have a slow, meandering line between the same points that seems to want to serve many people with low time costs and high travel costs, door to door with minimal walking.

Is there some middle ground? Is there some middle transit customer? Or could both goals, access to transportation and access generally for a broader group of people be met by some other configuration of transit service? More to come! And more to come even even on the subject of the #24. We didn’t even get to the unique connection with Uptown!

Sources: SORTA’s schedules and Google Map’s little ruler tool. Please check my math!

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Posted in: Access | Mobility | Simplicity
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Northern Kentucky Downtown Transit Map

Well, that last post got me to drawing, and here we are a few days later with a new map of TANK’s lines as they pass through Downtown Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport:

Northern Kentucky transit map of Downtown Covington and Newport

There are a couple minor lines missing yet, but I think I can pretty confidently say that 95% of everything important is on here. A couple things stand out:

The Shuttle, a line ostensibly for the purpose of easily getting just across the river, is not redundant with the other lines also going back and forth across the river through Downtown. Even if it were kept crossing the Roebling rather than the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, it could still take mostly the same path as the other lines. This would significantly simplify the map, and make the transit system generally more accessible to new people by lowering the barrier to understanding how it works. It would also increase the frequency of trips going into Covington by adding the Shuttle’s trips to the combined trips of all of the other lines. When these lines don’t converge, it’s impossible to wait for all of them in the same place, dividing the effective frequency and increasing the average wait time.

One other thing worth noting: The TANK transit center’s location seems to require quite a bit of circling and doubling back for every line but the Shuttle. I’m sure it was placed where it was for a good reason(likely money and/or a friendly property owner), but it would seem to make a lot more sense to locate it somewhere south of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, perhaps right below it’s outlet on the two-way Mainstrasse where there are currently a couple of nearly empty parking lots and buildings that couldn’t possibly cost very much.

where the Covington Transit Center should be

Thanks, Google satellites.

Something to think about when there’s a chance to relocate.

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Posted in: Design | Maps | Simplicity
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When TANK crosses the river

There’s a lovely logic to the way TANK arranges their stops in Downtown Cincinnati.

Government Square transit diagram

Lines running all day through Downtown–doesn’t include peak-only/express routes

This means that it’s easy for anyone to remember where to catch their bus, and particularly that anyone who’s just taking a quick run from Downtown to either Newport or Covington can just go to the right spot and jump on any bus that comes by.

Going to Newport on the Levy? Go to Vine between 4th and 3rd and catch the 11, 12, 16, or 25, one of which will shortly whisk you across the Taylor Southgate bridge.

Going to Downtown Covington? Walk on over to 4th St between Main and Walnut and you’ll catch whichever of the 1, 3, 5, 7, 12, 25, or 33 that comes by first. They’ll take you over the Clay Wade Bailey bridge into Covington.

In either case it doesn’t matter which you catch and the buses are collectively coming often enough that you don’t need to check a schedule.

Except… did anyone remember the Southbank Shuttle?

The Southbank Shuttle goes back and forth between Covington and Newport through Downtown. It’s main stop, in front of Fountain square on 5th, boards in the same place for both directions of travel. It is a block away from the other two main TANK stops in Downtown: on 5th St between Walnut and Main, and south one block on 4th St.

The Southbank Shuttle sells itself as a quick way to get across the river. Indeed, ‘quick’ is in one important respect a very good word for the line. It’s TANK’s most frequent service, running every 20 minutes in both directions. And it does indeed cross the river as quick as anything.

TANK crosses the ohio river

Line thickness indicates the frequency of the service. The thicker the line, the more frequently transit runs. Where lines travel the same path, you can get a rough guess of total frequency by adding the widths–after all, for the portion of the trip where the lines run parallel, it doesn’t matter which one you catch since they all go to the same place!

But let’s take as an example a trip between Downtown Cincinnati and the Covington transit center to see how the shuttle fares as an option. A quick glance at the frequency map above shows two possible paths from Downtown: the Clay Wade Bailey bridge or the Roebling bridge. Now really, this shouldn’t matter, as long as you make it to Covington but the fact that the stops are different for each path is critically important. There’s no place where they all meet, and you can’t wait at multiple stops. You have to choose one, so which one do you pick? Rationally, you should pick the one where it’s most likely a bus will be coming very soon to take you across the river.

Look again at the map above.

You should wait at the stop on 4th to catch the 1, 3, 5, 7, 12, 25, or 33. Their total frequency combines to something much greater(if surely slightly less regular) than that of the shuttle.

That doesn’t sound so bad–two options, you might say–are better than one, right? Nope. Multiple options for the same trip make each option worse. Where transit lines overlap they complement each other. Their collective frequencies increase, meaning that for trips within the span of redundancy, people spend less time waiting for the next vehicle to arrive and relatively more time actually in motion.

SORTA recognizes this fact with their numbering. The 4, 17, 43, and 11 all branch out once they get a few miles from Downtown into sub-routes identified by a name after the number(’17-Mt Airy’ for example). The number common to what are truly different lines belies the importance of understanding overlapping transit lines as a unified service. You can also see this very clearly in the color scheme of New York City’s subways which come together in Manhattan before branching apart in the other boroughs into lines with both a color and a letter or number identifying them.

New York City Subway Map

One of at least a dozen versions of an iconic map.

The shuttle is effectively duplicating something that already exists: a reasonably quick and easy way to get right across the river. That duplication isn’t at all a bad thing as long as it builds on and amplifies the effect of other services. If the shuttle took the same bridges across the river and stopped at the same stops Downtown, it would likely have little if any immediate impact on the ridership of the shuttle but could increase the effective frequency of short trips across the river to Covington, saving time for all people making that trip.

Why does the shuttle feel the need to be a rebel? It’s clear that TANK is marketing it to a different audience. First of all, it has a different (and somewhat kitschy)vehicle.

southbank shuttle


It has a different schedule format. It has a different schedule structure(every 20 minutes throughout the day rather than less regular times and tapering off in the evening). It has it’s own page on the website. It’s even $0.50 cheaper than any other line. And of course it has a different routing across the river and different Downtown stops.

Let’s assume that there are some legitimate psychological/marketing reasons for such differentiation. I’ll assume TANK knows their customers better than I do. Still, that differentiation could exist on top of other transit lines already going to the same places, allowing some people who don’t care about wooden seats and cheaper fare the option of catching a ride across the river on a different line with substantially less time spent waiting.

Overall, TANK’s stops in Downtown make a lot of sense, but the shuttle’s separate stops for the Downtown-Covington segment keep TANK from really making the trip across the river both quicker for short trips, and easier to understand for everyone.

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Posted in: Simplicity | Tips & Tricks
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