A job for urban planners? Part 1: the problem

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

urban planners looking for work in a tough job market

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:

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?

Show 7 footnotes

  1. Source: my ass, which hasn’t failed me yet
  2. This is absolutely a self-selection bias, though the work reinforces the early inclination.
  3. In state tuition + moderate living expenses ( + time??).
  4. At least if you want to stay in Cincinnati, or really, any major urban area where competition is fierce.
  5. 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.
  6. I did indeed go through several studios in this program. This isn’t just hearsay ;-)
  7. Unpaid interning has it’s own…let’s say ‘issues’ that I need not elaborate on here!
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My personal opinion on the streetcar

Since I started my little series trying to critically analyse the streetcar project, I’ve heard a few people casually mention that I’m ‘against’ the streetcar. Like: “Now Nate, I know you’re against the streetcar, but…”.

I want to be clear on what my position actually is because it’s a lot more nuanced than the ‘for’ or ‘against’ that this little political war has devolved into.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have realized that I think the streetcar is a very weak plan. That’s an opinion I’ve been doing my best to justify with a thorough analysis of it’s deficiencies and qualities. That being said, I don’t personally want to see it stopped because almost everyone who’s trying to stop it has fantastically childish justifications for doing so and because it’s not going to hurt that much to just build it anyway.

First of all, using the phrase “choo-choo-train” to describe the plan is not making a case against a bad plan or for a better one, it’s an insult against transit anywhere, poorly planned or not. It’s an insult to the way many of my friends and I live or want to live as users of transit in a civic world.

Cincinnati folly-trolly

This appeared on the COAST website a couple posts below a little tirade against any school levy ever.

This level of political discussion should embarrass intelligent people. The same quality of discourse has come from the other side too, and I hope I’ve already discounted some of it in other posts as silly or illogical. For the most part, it seems to me like no one who would say they are on either ‘side’ has any idea what they’re talking about.

Our words have become so heated because people who are against the streetcar aren’t (generally) against this particular bad plan, they’re against transit, or government spending or even just living in dense cities generally. This has become a cultural fight. It’s a fight over very basic values with the Streetcar sort of holding the center of attention as a metaphor for bigger things. I wrote somewhat mockingly about the importance of this symbology but personally, I come down strongly on “pro-streetcar” side of that idealogical debate. I have faith in government1, I generally want higher taxes to balance budgets, and I want more and better transit funded by government to serve the dense urban areas where I’ll spend the rest of my life living happily without a car.2

I’d hate to see the City and it’s politicians endorse a message that was anti-transit, anti-government, or anti-density by letting the opposing (unreasoned) argument win the day by sheer force.

I also think it’s not a big enough issue to warrant stopping, and it would make a lot of streetcar advocates happy, so why not just finish it? I don’t see disastrous things coming if/when this project happens. It’s just not going to make that big an impact. Indeed, one of my biggest criticisms of the sreetcar is that it’ll be insignificant in comparison with the intense convergence of transit lines already operating on similar courses through Downtown and Over-The-Rhine. The streetcar could at best complement those lines and add to their service frequency(thus, that it largely fails to is a big disappointment). It’s simply not a big transformative project at all. It’s success or failure will make very little positive or negative impact on transportation generally.

It’s also a pretty cheap project. Let me just duck for a second here so that some stones can pass over my head….phew. OK, I’m back. In the big scheme of transportation infrastructure funding, $100 or $120 million or whatever it’s supposed to cost now just isn’t much at all when you compare it to other infrastructure projects. It’s big for a transit project, but that’s just because transit projects are generally tiny compared to highway and road projects. I don’t personally think they should be, but they are.

It seems like everyone who’s using the streetcar project to strand up to “big government” has completely failed to notice that a 1.3 mile stretch of highway not far away is costing ‘taxpayers’ $90.8 million. That’s more than $13,000.00 per foot. Or that there are dozens of other equally or more expensive things going on that more warrant their angry attention.

So CityBeat filled me with dread this morning when I saw the cover story.

CityBeat streetcar coverstory

I hope not!

As I said in my first post on the topic, I think the truly essential problem with the whole process of imagining and planning for the streetcar is that it started in a political world as a specific mandate from politicians that administration should work out the little details of. Politicians had already made all of the important decisions before the idea was handed over to anyone who has the professional expertise to critically think about either transit or economic development in a serious and thorough way. These decisions were:

In my opinion, it’s the role of politicians to make decisions like:

It’s their job to build coalitions around such broad goals and then to hand those goals over to a competent administration which is hopefully expert in crafting plans to make them happen. It’s also their job to ensure that the administration is indeed competent. I actually have quite a bit of faith that when City and other administrators can operate in a healthy de-politicised environment they tend to come up with some pretty solid plans. SORTA’s proposed short term plan for example really makes a whole lot of sense. It’s important to note that the planning process around those decisions was very apolitical. Indeed, the plans have been barely mentioned in the media, perhaps because they make pretty modest changes and do so in a way that’s not open to easy public scrutiny. I’m a professional planner and I had to spend hours poring over the documents they released before I had a complete picture of what they were proposing. To be clear, I’m not saying the planning process should be obfuscated but that in this case some degree of unintentional obfuscation allowed for an apolitical environment which allowed for a healthy planning process.

Good, defensible planning doesn’t happen when ideas like “maybe it shouldn’t be a streetcar” or “maybe it shouldn’t be in OTR” are already off the table before the process begins.

So I guess my most essential opinion of the streetcar is that:

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Indeed, I’ve only ever really worked for government,(twice for townships, and once for federal) or in the case of UC where I was a bike mechanic, for a state funded university.
  2. I also have what I think are good reasons for those positions and I’m happy to debate them :-)
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On the role of planners

I had a conversation with a friend a couple months ago that shed some light on what I think is probably a fairly common misunderstanding about the role of urban planners.

A city is a tremendously contentious, political being, one with millions of people and millions of ideas about what the city should be. Almost as many people are frustrated with some aspect of what the city actually is and hundreds or, more optimistically, thousands of people take it on themselves every day to be advocates for particular issues, like bicycling, businesses, street lighting, civil rights, transit etc. These people often become masters of their issues, knowing all there is to know about bicycling, for example, knowing all that goes on in the bicycling community, what people are saying and feeling about bicycling, what exactly they say they want from the city. These people quite naturally develop specific ideas about what the City should do about these issues, and they tell the City as much. These suggestions are heard by politicians and by planners. Politicians don’t generally have a specific area of expertise, but planners do. They’re really systems administrators of a sort. But the system isn’t a computer network, it’s a polis, a city in the lowercase sense; the whole interconnected web of real relations between people and places and all of the ‘applications’ or various uses of a city. To be clear, they’re not the city manager(he manages the municipal entity of the City, the City that has a bank account in it’s name). Rather, planners might be closer to what could be called city administrators.

Planners at their best1 don’t give a community merely what it asks for just a sysadmin doesn’t install just any program a user requests. Indeed, any unchecked program could be malicious(possibly causing stress or compromise of the whole network), or simply erroneous and dysfunctional, no matter how useful it could be for that one user right now.

Instead, planners give a community what it needs, and indeed what it wants at a deep level, whether they have asked for it or not. They establish systems through which things can happen which they haven’t necessarily foreseen, systems that are adaptive to change, and resilient to challenge.

And that’s not patronizing. It’s like parenting. You don’t let your kids have everything they ask for and you don’t favour one child over another. Planners don’t do that for citizens either.

I think a lot of people approach planners with very specific suggestions, thinking they’ll be duly considered, and possibly completely implemented, that their suggestion might be something the planner had never thought of. Typically the suggestions only address the concerns of the community that the suggester represents. “Why don’t you build a streetcar between my neighborhood and my office” is a typical if highly exaggerated example. Or perhaps “High meter rates are bad for my business and they shouldn’t be raised!”.2

Right. Got it. We’ll just not raise the meter rates then. Glad you chimed in with that insight. I wouldn’t want to unthinkingly impinge on your business as I blunder about.3

Planners hear these pleas for specific things and try to pick broader themes from them.

You can see this selection of broader themes and desires at work really clearly in Cincinnati’s new master plan. The plan actually makes surprisingly few concrete suggestions, but rather lays a nuanced framework of common desire on which specific plans can be firmly based. Really, the master planning process was just an elaborate exercise walking the general public through the process of saying and understanding what they really want. And the document reflects that. It makes no mandates, but serves as a justification for proposals that are in line with it, a point of contention for proposals discordant with it. It states some extraordinarily broad goals like “preserve or create a pedestrian-scaled city”, “strengthen community organizations” and “build on our assets”. These represent the consensus of the city.

Everyone has some specific ideas about what each of these mean, and almost every one of them will be in at least indirect conflict with almost every other idea, often even within the same person’s head. The broad goals having been established, it’s the job of planners to devise a means of achieving the goals with efficiency and fairness and balance. This is where the technical knowledge of the sysadmin is important. We have to know how to achieve the goal in reality. We all want a secure computer, but we don’t all know the best encryption protocol. We also don’t all know the best way to amend a complex transportation system, or help entrepreneurs have a flourishing environment at the same time that we’re collectively working to systemically reduce poverty and crime on shrinking budgets through incremental changes to the built environment.

And I think this is where the misconception starts. People live in cities. We all use transportation and encounter poverty every single day. We’ve each lived in our own city, our own neighborhood, our own community for what feels like ages. And we each know it damn well. We(the advocate citizens) know the details of our issues better than anyone, just as I know the arrangement of files on my hard drive like the back of my hand. But what we don’t generally know is that context that each of our experiences sits in, and the acute essential conflicts we have with some others in the city, and even with ourselves. Unless, you’re computer scientist, you probably don’t have the faintest idea how a computer4,the context of most of today’s communication, actually does anything.

One of the general goals from the master plan is to encourage the use of non-automotive transportation. Another goal is to promote and encourage local businesses. Most people you ask will agree with these goals generally, but if you present them with any possible discouragement to using a car, they’ll attack the idea on the grounds that it will hurt business. They’ll attack a plan to help business with a claim of necessary fiscal responsibility, and they’ll attack an attempt at fiscal responsibility with an insistence that not a single police officer can be laid off. People don’t collectively know how to manage city, and don’t individually know how to balance their own desires with the ambition of others. Enter the planner.

The sysadmin doesn’t want to reorganise your home folder, but she does want to make sure you’re accessing some sites with SHTTP from now on and that you have limited access to the network drive. Similarly, the good planner will want to cause a minimum of disturbance to any one person or group of people, while at the same time advancing everyone toward their stated or implicit goals. Where those goals are in conflict with one another, as they almost always are, the planner must mediate the conceptual conflict and decide which path advances the greater good.

So this is why I’m sometimes accused of succinctly dismissing people’s well thought out urban planning suggestions(they should put a shuttle at X and a parking garage at Y because Z). It’s not because that doesn’t make perfect sense inside the relatively narrow context of that person’s experiences, rather that it doesn’t make sense in light of the conflicting implicit desires of others, and reasonable ways of achieving those consensual common ends. You should trust an expert to know you how a computer network functions and you should trust a planner(again, at their best) to know you how a city functions. Not what you should do with it, but how it actually works and thus how you and the other 2,000,000 users can get the most of what ya’ll really want out of it.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. I’m going to speak from here on out of planners-at-their-best or ideal planners. We’ll leave that messy planners-as-they-actually-are stuff for another and more depressing post.
  2. Or to keep with our analogy, “Why don’t you just let me plug my home computer into the office network so I can get my work done in a more comfortable setting?”  — because you could introduce malicious stuff into the system, perhaps intentionally, compromising security and a stable computing environment for dozens, or thousands of other people!
  3. This is sarcasm.
  4. Start with this link and see how deep into wikipedia you can dive before your brain hurts.
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Posted in: Back to Basics | Definitions | Misconceptions | Plans
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The new transit plan: Sensible, Feasible, Good

SORTA has released their preliminary transit plan, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised by how sensible the recommendations are. I was a little bit worried after looking at what is available online about the plan…

...blurry maps, vague descriptions...

…blurry maps, vague descriptions…

…but I attended the public meeting on Nov 15th and it filled in a lot of what was missing. It’s a good plan; one that makes reasonable changes based on sound planning and data analysis, and does so within existing resources and reasonable timelines.

SORTA presentation

Everyone loves a slideshow!

Here are the highlights, at least the ones I think are important:

There are two parts of the plan:

The first is a package of short term recommendations that can be implemented by late 2013 at the earliest and will be possibe with the existing budget simply by shifting some resources around. I’ll start with this part here.

The second part is much more comprehensive and long-term but unfunded. The date attached to this part of the plan is 2023, but as we all know, a decade is a long time and things can happen more or less quickly depending on circumstances. They’ve estimated that this part of the plan would need an additional $47 million in operating funds, or a roughly 53% increase over the current budget of $89 million. That’s a big increase as a percentage, but not huge relative to other important things in the region. I’ll get to this part of the plan in another post.

First of all, take a look at the last post for a side by side comparison of the whole all-day system. Here’s the whole map with the proposed changes again:

Map of SORTA's proposed changes

PROPOSED changes. Click for full size.

At a glance, it’s not enormously different. On further inspection, it still isn’t, but the changes are important to consider. Here we go! Generalities first, then the specifics.

Frequency changes: One line, gets a small frequency cut, but a number of others, 6 or so I think, all get slight increases in frequency for at least some part of the day or an extended schedule with the same frequency. “Within the existing operating budget??”, you say. Yes, within the existing operating budget. At least three lines are losing a significant part of their length and the resources used to run those will be used to operate a higher level of service on those and other lines. We’re(in a really fairly small way) diminishing the spatial span of transit and increasing it’s intensity.

Creating a grid: Well, maybe it’s not totally a grid we’re talking about creating. Ours is a city of hills and irregular streets, precluding the possibility of more than a tiny grid. It’s also one that has a very unusually radial transit system that isn’t itself at all necessitated by that same presence of hills and valleys. All lines in Cincinnati tend to lead toward Downtown, even in Kentucky(which has no direct lines between Newport and Covington despite the presence of several bridges), and even for lines where one would think a trip downtown might be superfluous such as for the #27 or the #24. Indeed, a trip inward requires a sharp change of course for them.

What’s meant is the shaping of the transit system into something only more closely approximating a grid. Really, we’re talking about adding or emphasizing lines that could be considered parts of a layered beltway system, if I may dare to apply such a tarnished word to something I care for.

highways of greater cincinnati

A beltway circles a city providing, hypothetically, a way around rather than through it.

“Cross-town” has been a popular word here in Cincy to describe this kind of line, but it would be more accurate to call them “around-town” lines. The proposed #41(more below) takes this around-town path, not just going east-west, but turning north-south and going more fully around the city than any line we’ve recently seen.

What’s the benefit of all this? Well, to the extent that it allows people to make more direct trips, it’s enabling trips that otherwise might not have happened or quickening those that would have happened anyway but with a less direct series of connected trips. If we’re serious about creating a multi-layered transit beltway, it may be good concurrent policy to streamline the process, and minimize the cost, of getting a “transfer” such as through the use of stored-value cards and a digital system that tracks time between boardings. If we want people to have readier access among different lines, a fare policy that makes such use more expensive is at cross-purposes.

Simplifying complex routes: Some lines have weird little deviations from their typical course that only happen at certain times of day, typically at rush hour. Sometimes, these only apply to one direction of travel. There may be reasons given for these deviations, such as to avoid an extremely crowded way, or to better serve a place commuters are going, but it’s my general opinion that the benefits of an extra minute possibly saved, or the cost of a few extra people walking a bit farther are almost always outweighed by the cost of the complexity added to the line and the system as a whole.

It takes a lot of work for riders to understand and conceptualize a transit line and the way it connects with the city and with other lines. When you add some time and day/time specific changes, you can actually as much as double or triple the amount of information that it’s necessary for people to remember. An example is in order:

#31 schedule map

“Only-sometimes” services are indicated here with lighter color. Which route will you be on? Does it matter? Maybe. Check the schedule to find out. You have one on you, right?

Here, the #31 already takes a reasonably difficult path; it’s not direct, it has a long two-way section and it’s not nearly a straight line. The addition of two different only-sometimes segments doubles the number of streets it travels on, and in the east substantially alters it’s course. How could you possibly remember this course, including all of the specific times it goes a different than usual way? Generally, you can’t and so the #31 is ruled out as a line that can be used(in many segments) intuitively and without checking a schedule. In the proposal, these only-sometimes segments are eliminated for a number of lines, and that’s a very good thing for people who are just beginning to understand how the system works and how the lines function together. It’s also good for cartographers who are trying to make simple, easy to read maps. It may be slightly disconcerting for people who are used to things as they are. Change is always disconcerting for some.

Shifting eastward: Between Downtown and uptown, services are generally shifting a bit to the east. The #19, formerly on W. Clifton Ave will move over to Vine St, the #51 and #39, formerly on W Clifton will be removed from it entirely, the #46, formerly on Vine St will move over to Liberty Hill and Auburn Ave, and the #4 on reading will be getting a bit more service from the new “m+”. Jefferson Ave could see a lot more service than it has now.

Now for the specifics:

Routing changes(in ascending order):

The #1 will be getting a much needed haircut. It will operate only between Mt. Adams and Union Terminal, still with an oddly circuitous Downtown routing, but without the undulating trip into uptown. It will also run slightly later.

New and improved route 1

#16: No huge changes here. The proposed alignment takes Liberty west. I don’t know anything about the utility of such a change, but I love simplicity as a general rule. Cutting out streets makes giving directions and understanding things easier for everyone.

route 16 currently


new #16 routing on liberty st


However, because it eliminates the redundancy on Lynn st, it may eliminate the option to wait on Lynn for either bus if all you want to do is go north, or more specifically, to Northside where the lines coincide again. #16 isn’t very frequent at all though, so it’s not likely many people are doing that.

#17: The only changes are to the Mt. Airy extension. Instead of turning west on Northbend, it goes all the way to Galbraith, swapping places with the #41. It ultimately terminates at exactly the same place.

Current #17 routing


proposed route for the #17


#19: The major change to the #19 is that it will now go through Corryville(up Vine) rather than Clifton Heights(up W. Clifton). The #19 is the blue line below.

current route #19

it-plan/ ‎Current

the proposed alignment for the #19


Other than that, the Cheviot-Groesbeck extension gets dropped completely, which doesn’t matter much since it’s a little only-sometimes deviation anyway. The line is thus significantly simplified in it’s outer reaches. The area served by the Cheviot-Groesbeck extension is mostly covered in this plan by the new #41 which will run all day and provide different, but much more consistent service.

current allignment for #19


new allignment for the #19


#20: Very minor changes out in the suburbs.

#21: The #21 will take it’s southern turn a few blocks earlier, but otherwise remain unchanged. This is apparently due to low ridership on the far western portion of the line.

current line #21


Proposed #21


#24: The #24, which I recently wrote about as an exemplar of complex routing, would get a bit of a trim in Mt. Washington…

#24 in Mt. Washington


the new alignment for the #24 through Mt. Washington


…and would stop in Uptown rather than turning south through Mt. Auburn and Liberty Hill toward Downtown.

24 current route


24 new route


This would speed up the trip, and necessitate a transfer for anyone going between the Downtown area and the far east side. That’s not a huge deal though, as the #24 crosses some very high frequency lines going straight Downtown before it even gets to UC. In many cases, it would likely be faster to transfer than to have stayed on anyway. With the current pricing structure, that hypothetical trip will be $0.50 more expensive, but the planner presenting the plan said that that portion of the trip wasn’t actually all that well used anyway. Generally, the #24 will be a faster trip and some of it’s current service will be reallocated for more effective uses.

#31 & #32 Cleaning up only-sometimes routing.

#39:  In one of the most dramatic changes, the #39 would merge with the #51 making a huge east-west line.

current route of the #51


the proposed route for the #51


This is very exciting. I used to live in Clifton Heights, so I’m a little sad to see that my (former) direct access to Xavier would be cut, but there really never were too many people on that leg of the #51. This new #39/51 route, which would surely be called the #51 to keep with the #X1 naming convention for ‘crosstown’ or beltway lines, would be the first line to provide legitimate access from the northern uptown plateau rather directly to the west side. That’s not at all possible now. It may look from the map like the #64 could sorta accomplish that but through CUF it runs along McMillan which is in fact well down the hill from where most people live, and because of steep, wooded hillsides, largely inaccessible to most of the neighborhood.

#41: Another big change here. The #41 would be even bigger, and importantly, still, less frequent than most lines. Size isn’t always everything. Basically, the #41 will stick to North Bend Road through College Hill, follow it all the way west to Boudinot, and take a long drive straight south to the Glenway transit center. It’s the thin green line running across the top of the frame below:

current route of the #41


new #41 route


#43: The only change here is that the Reading Road extension would terminate a mile or two further out in Evendale.

#46: Presumably because the #39 and the #24 would cut their legs into Downtown, the liberty hill/Auburn Ave corridor they formerly traveled could be left uncovered. It’s proposed that the #46 be shifted off of Vine St to take the same route they formerly took between Downtown and Corryville.

current route 46


proposed route #46


#49: The #49 and #64 do a bit of a flip-flop. As it is now, the #49 serves the Fay Apartments complex. It’s proposed that the #64 will instead.

current route #49


new route 49

Proposed. I feel like the diagram is falling apart a little here, as the new alignment has things a bit out of proportion. Oh well. I’ll fix it if things change for sure.

They still overlap, so a transfer between them is possible, just as it was before, but now the Fay apartments would have more direct access to not only Downtown, but also the west side. The #64 also changes from going through North Fairmount along Carll to pretty much just veering north of it once it crosses the viaduct.

#51: See #39 above.

#64: See #49 above.

m+: There’s a new line in town! And for some reason it’s going to break with the numbered naming convention for every other line. The “Metro*Plus” which sounds like a multivitamin for cities, would be a step toward what SORTA is calling BRT. It’s to have “limited stops” and operate around 15% faster than a “normal” line. On the maps above, it’s depicted in grey and runs parallel to the #4 for much of it’s length.

metro plus bus line

metro plus brt proposal

It seems like SORTA is still very much considering how to schedule this service. They suggested that it could run either all day, or only during rush hours. The former would have a roughly 30 minute headway(the temporal distance between two vehicles), the later, 15 minute(which would then come twice as frequently, but only for part of the day). In either case, without a more significant difference in speed, it’s not clear that the service would do more than introduce increased frequency to some corridors, and perhaps also confusion. “What’s this ‘m+’ bus I see? I’m supposed to be waiting for the #4, right??”

The m+ is a step toward ‘BRT‘, though not a really substantial one. It’s unclear why it should get a different branding treatment and planning consideration until it’s able(as the long term plan will propose) to offer really substantial frequencies and speed differences. When you’re trying to launch a new ‘brand’ that is strikingly different from what you already have, as I interpret the effort toward ‘BRT’ to be doing, you really must initially put forward something that is substantially different. This isn’t. Yet.

Overall, there are a lot of reasonable suggestions in here, a lot of really blurry hard to read maps(something to work on in the future), and with the long range plan considered, though not yet here described, some solid steps toward a more coherent and effective transit system in the future. Well done, SORTA!

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Posted in: Investments | Maps | Plans | Simplicity
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