Going to NKY

This is just a quick follow-up on a previous post. I want to clarify where you should wait when you’re trying to get across the river from Downtown to Northern Kentucky. There are just a few places you can stand to get all or most lines crossing the river in a certain direction.

First, when you’re trying to go to Newport from Downtown, you can come here to catch the Shuttle, #11, #12, #16, or #25:

Wait here for Newport

Vine St between 3rd and 4th, Downtown Cincinnati.

Make sure you get the shuttle going the correct direction! Both directions will pass by here, but they say on the sides where they’re going.

Southbank Shuttle to Newport

Southbank Shuttle to Newport

Going to Covington from Downtown, you want to wait here for any of the #1, #3, #5, #7, #11, #12, #16, #25, or #33 buses:

wait here for covington

4th St between Walnut and Main, Downtown Cincinnati

You won’t be waiting long here. All buses heading from Downtown to Covington will go through the transit center(pictured below) but many of them will go a bit beyond, so stay on if it’s going the right direction for you. Otherwise, you can hop off and walk.

Going from Covington to Downtown, you’re surest bet for a short wait is the Covington Transit Center, where you can catch anything, even an express line, so long as it’s going Downtown. Both directions go through here though, so ask the driver if you’re unsure which way they’re headed.

wait here for downtown from covington

The Covington Transit Center, corner of Madison and Rivercenter

If you’re just going across the river and not too far beyond any of these should work for you. If you’re going further you’ll likely need to make sure you know exactly which line you’re waiting for and check a schedule.

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The Fun Bus

I’ve been talking to Cincinnatians about transit for a while now. In bars, on the internet, in dark alleys at 3 in the morning…

One thing keeps popping up more than anything else. People tend to see very specific deficiencies in the transit system and they naturally think about very specific ways to fix them.

The problems they think about usually run something like this:

Here’s How they think about solving these problems:

The way people tend to frame the issue or problem that they see almost invariably focuses on the needs of a relatively small demographic-their demographic. It also focuses on a relatively small area-the one they spend a lot of time in. In fact, it tends to focus on whatever this particular person or group is concerned with at the moment.

The solution tends to address only this specific problem, and it tends to do it with a completely new transit service dropped on top of the existing system.

If you’re a university, you tend to care about how your students get to campus. If you’re a YP with new money burning a hole in your wallet, you just want to get to a bar quickly and come back late. If you’re invested in OTR properties, you want something that will bring shoppers and people with money past your place.

People think about their problem, and they come up with a solution to it. They think and think, and the more they think, the more they’re convinced that their solution solves every aspect of their conception of the problem. The error of course, as my loaded words have probably pointed out by now, is that their conception of the problem is just that-only theirs. YP’s are not going to adequately address the transportation needs of a large and diverse population. Neither are OTR property owners or the NAACP or any other demographic.

What we need are planners to facilitate and lead the conversation. The planning profession (at its best) seeks to look at complex urban issues as holistically as possible and work with diverse people to lead them to solutions that are the best for everyone, everywhere. It might seem like planners just aren’t in the budget at our local transit agencies. More likely, they’re overworked or not allowed the authority or autonomy they need to properly direct the process. Instead, we get things like the One for Fun, the #1 SORTA bus created by a ‘partnership’ between SORTA and dozens of arts-and-culture-type organizations like the Museum Center, the Conservatory and the Zoo.

The #1 is a planner’s nightmare. It nominally serves only one group’s interests(arts organizations), and it doesn’t even do that well. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to say it’s a transit rider’s nightmare too. Here’s the original route map from when the service was rebranded in 2010

original #1 map

Looks more like a list of sponsors than destinations

It’s hard to believe anything could be harder to read than that.(But wait! This was originally only available on the website as an 18MB PDF file.) It’s not just the bad design with the clunky legend, noxious colours and decontextualized streets. It’s the fact that the route doesn’t make any damn sense. Almost any place you want to go, from almost any point on the route, you can get to faster and more directly by walking or taking a different transit line. Further, the routing is so convoluted it’s impossible to remember or even make sense of, making a joke of the suggestion that it would be used primarily by choice riders, particularly by the kind of people who would patronise the symphony.

But back to my point! The reason the #1 is a poor route(indeed, it had the lowest ridership of any route last I heard) is because it was organized and arranged by a coalition of arts organizations. They(collectively) have no idea how an entire transit system, a network of dozens of interconnected lines, works holistically to benefit a very large and diverse group of people such as makes up Greater Cincinnati. It’s just not their line of business. They only know that it would be nice if one bus went past all of their galleries and museums.

And this makes perfect sense from their perspective! They can hardly be faulted for simple ignorance of an extremely complex system. They see, daily, a huge number of people-their customers and constituents-circulating between the Museum Center, the Zoo, the CAC, and the various galleries. They naturally think that a transit line that connected everything door-to-door for this group of people they work with would be a blessing. It would be one stop shopping! People hop back and forth between institutions all the time! Why not put all that commotion in one place? It will makes things so simple!

Except it doesn’t. It makes things more complicated, isolated, disconnected, confusing, and most of all, inefficient.

When interest groups,(arts organizations, YPs, UC, or OTR landlords in our examples), most very well intentioned, start to make specific suggestions about transit, it’s past time for planners to step in and lead the discussion toward solutions that address their needs and the needs of others in a common solution(or package of coordinated solutions).

So if you’ve wondered by now just what exactly I would tell these arts organizations, it would be something like this:

Your organizations are of great benefit to the city. You’re good neighbours, and I want to make sure that as many of your potential customers as possible have convenient access to your facilities. I’m excited to see that so many of you are located within a couple miles of Downtown. The density and frequency of transit in this area is already quite good compared to other parts of town, so you’re all off to a very good start! It seems we need to make clear to your customers how the transit system works, how people can catch buses, and where they go so that your customers can make full use of what is already in place. To the extent that this is inadequate, and I fully realize the system is far from perfect, let’s talk about how we can improve access for not only your business, but the neighbourhood and community as a whole. Let’s look at where people are going, what your next door neighbour is looking for from the transit system, where his customers are traveling from.”

I expect if we took that more holistic approach, we’d come up with a more holistic problem statement and very different solutions. We might find that there isn’t so much a problem of people not being able to get to and from the art museum as a complete lack of transit in Mt. Adams as a whole. We might find that the ambiguously shifting route of the #31 makes the connection to the #33 near Union Terminal confusing for commuters as well as museum visitors, and indeed that opening up shuttered stairways from the Terminal to Dalton street would go a long way toward connecting the building with the rest of town. We might find that Downtown would work better for everyone if routes were consolidated and took predictable, overlapping paths toward and away from Government Square creating very high frequency transit streets for circulation across the CBD. We might find a lot of such things if we look a bit deeper than our own issues when we think about transit.

So, homework: The next time you think you have a good suggestion for the transit agencies, something that would solve a specific problem you see in the system, please think for a moment about how it would help someone in a wheelchair in Mt. Healthy get to their weekend job in Madeira. Or how it would help people in West Price Hill cross the Mill Creek and get up the hill to Corryville. If you can’t imagine any way at all that it does either, you might want to go back to the drawing board or ask for some help from a transit planner.

And just for FUN:

The one for FUN

Just ONE more, then 1’m dONE.

The ONE for FUN

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Posted in: Silly Bullshit | 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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