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Transit Thursday: Your Voice

April 17, 2014

On the GoTriangle blog, one of our biggest goals is to make public transit relatable. The plethora of transit acronyms – EIS, NEPA, URS, STRNC – are informative, but quickly start to run together. Meghan Makoid did a fantastic job of breaking down the D-O LRT process (aka the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project – see what I mean about the acronyms?) into everyday language that helped us understand our role in the project’s formation. During her Q&A series, Meghan also highlighted how vital public involvement is in transit because that’s what public transit is: public. As part of the public, it’s something that affects you.

Recently, Triangle Transit announced several proposed service changes for the fall. Just like in the Project Development phase, this portion of the service changes process also calls for public involvement. So in the theme of keeping transit a) relatable and b) understandable, I’m explaining proposed service changes by comparing it to something many of us are familiar with: The Voice. Both service changes and The Voice happen twice a year and both rely on public opinion for a final verdict.

So let’s start at the beginning. How do proposed service changes even get proposed?

Excellent question! Just like in auditioning for The Voice, the process from transit data to actual service change takes many steps. Triangle Transit planners first examine hard data, which is measured by the fare box and the Automatic Passenger Counter, or APC. This black box is located at the front and back doors of the bus and detects how many passengers get on the bus, when and where they get on and off, etc. Using the APC and fare box numbers, planners can break down the ridership for different routes.

Planners also keep track of the bus’s real-time schedule. They track how long it actually takes the bus to travel from stop to stop. If the bus is scheduled to arrive at 4:30 pm, does it always arrive at 4:30 pm? Does it sometimes arrive a few minutes later, or is it frequently showing up late? Are passengers missing their transfers because the bus’s real-time schedule differs from its actual schedule? These are all factors that must be considered. So, once all things are considered, how do they decide what routes move on to the next round?

Both Triangle Transit planners and The Voice coaches examine performance standards. Transit planners use specific service standards to check for performance levels, including measurements of how many people are on the buses vs. how many buses are currently in transit. On average, there are 15 passengers/hour, a number that’s increased since 2009. With this average in mind, planners then compare “low-performing” routes to the “average-performing” routes. Are there 500 people riding one route each day when only 100 are riding another? Why is this occurring?  Coaches and planners must deliberate these issues (and sometimes, deliberation requires company).

At this point, the entire Triangle Transit system is taken into consideration. Transit planners and The Voice coaches have to envision the bigger picture, whether it’s getting passengers to their destination on time or choosing the singer who’ll win the show for their team. Sometimes, planning with the bigger picture in mind means good talent has to be let go or certain bus stops have to be discontinued.

Difficult, yes, but necessary in the larger sphere.

By this point in the show – er, planning process – public opinion has come into play. Since some questions can’t be answered by hard data, planners will often do a pre-survey of the route before the official proposals are submitted. They ride the routes and talk to bus operators and passengers to see how they would feel about the service changes. In planning and on The Voice, once the official proposals and team line-ups are out, the public is still asked for comments. Public comment can even shape early service proposals into something completely different by the time final recommendations are sent to the Board. And as many of us know, early coach-favorites on The Voice aren’t always the last ones standing.


Once recommendations are finalized, they’re presented to the Operations and Finance Committee (O&F) for approval. Like in The Voice’s live shows round, the proposals are now THIS CLOSE to being winners, aka formal service changes. Anyone is invited to attend the O&F Committee meeting to voice their opinion one more time and hear the planner’s final recommendations for the Board.  If the O&F Committee approves the final recommendations, they are then presented at the Board of Trustees meeting on May 21st. If the Board examines the proposed service changes and approves them too, then BAM! We have a winner!

The proposed service changes will now become official services changes and the one singer who auditioned blindly in the hope of just getting one chair turn will now have a shot at the big leagues. Once August rolls around, the service changes will be implemented just as students are returning for the fall semester. They may not come with $100,000 and a record deal, but like The Voice prize, service changes offer a fresh start and the opportunity for new growth.

You might never get a shot at The Voice, but there’s still a chance to have your voice heard: read the full proposed service changes details online and share your opinions with our Triangle Transit planners. Comments can be given via the online feedback form, email, phone, and in person. Get the full contact details here. When the planners return your call personally, it may just feel as good as getting a coach’s chair turn.

 

-Grace

Two Link Tuesday

April 15, 2014

 

tuesday_bikes2

 “We saw a rising tide of urban commuters, but we didn’t see what we wanted in the market. It was either that you get kind of a stripped-down fixie with maybe one brake, or there are the high-end boutique bikes that are manufactured in Europe, but they’re out of reach for the average customer.”

After returning from the Netherlands – often ranked as one of the happiest and most bike friendly countries in the world - Ilya Pikus began searching for a Dutch bike of his own. Frustrated by his lack of options, Pikus decided to design an urban commuter bike that was budget-friendly and road-ready. Get the full rundown on the new Peace Bicycle here

tuesday_bikes1

“First and foremost, you need to inflate the tires. I can guarantee the tires are flat.”

Spring weather have you ready to break out the bike? Not so fast – if your bike’s been hibernating all winter, it may need a tune-up before you hit the American Tobacco Trail. Check your tire pressure and break pads, but most importantly, invest in a good helmet. Although these safety tips are from Rhode Island specialists, the same rules of thumb still apply in the Triangle. Read their tune-up suggestions here.

Fortify Friday: Don’t do it. Just don’t.

April 11, 2014

Last week, I was on my way to work when another car almost side-swiped me out of my lane.  I had to have been in their blind spot, I thought, trying to steady my pulse. There’s no way they could have seen me. I chalked it up to a bad rear-view mirror and continued on my way, until the same car began to drift dangerously close to me again. I beeped my horn and merged into another lane to pass them. Are they trying to kill me? I wondered. I shot a glance at the driver’s seat. Who is this person?

I couldn’t tell because their face was pointed down. Staring at their phone.

We’ve heard it time and time again: “Don’t text and drive.” “It can wait.” “Keep your eyes on the road.” We’ve seen the construction signs and impatiently tapped our hands on the wheel as the speed limit dropped to 15 miles slower. We’ve all been busy. We’ve all been running late.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and this week is National Work Zone Awareness Week. With the Fortify Project stretching along one of the busiest sections of I-40/440, driver safety and awareness is even more crucial. Still, not everyone has chosen a hands-free commute, and it’s easy to get distracted on the road. You may be stuck in traffic and decide to text your boss to let them know. You may decide to glance at this weekend’s weather. Your sister may be beating you at Words with Friends. You may think it will only take a second, but more could happen in that second than you realize.

(Warning: video contains graphic content)

 

For those who might find the above video melodramatic or an exaggeration, listen up: over 25% of all crashes in 2012  can be attributed to distracted driving.  An estimated 3,328 people were killed and 421,000 injured in those crashes. In 2010, there were 514 fatal motor vehicle crashes in work zones alone, resulting in 576 fatalities.workzone_awareness That equates to one work zone fatality every 15 hours (1.6 a day)

The stats are more than a little sobering, especially when you consider that there are 11.5 miles of the Beltline to rebuild and in May 2013, around 110,000 drivers traveled through the designated Fortify work zone daily. That’s plenty of opportunity for distractions in a situation where every second your eyes are off the road counts against you.

So this month, stay alert and stay safe – not only for you, but for your fellow drivers and the construction workers trying to make our roads better.

Take the National Safety Council pledge to drive cell free. Tweet about it using #DDAM (Distracted Driving Awareness Month). And most importantly, the next time you’re driving and find yourself reaching for your phone…don’t do it.

Just don’t.

- Grace

Transit Thursday: How Do You Trip Plan?

April 10, 2014

tripplanner_google

(GoTriangle Tripplanner vs. Google Maps Transit Layers)

Apple recently announced that its next software update will finally include public transit directions. The announcement was met with excitement from iPhone users around the country – but why such celebration? Several years ago, a study of commuters in Boston and San Francisco found that “people are more willing to ride the bus or train when they have tools to manage their commutes effectively.” Now, with public transportation use at its highest since 1956, it stands to reason that the demand for public transportation information is at its highest too.

So how do you plan your trips?  By answering a few short questions below, you can help us improve our GoTriangle tripplanning services and give us a few ideas how to move forward:

Have an awesome Thursday,

Grace

Two Link Tuesday

April 8, 2014

rideshare_unc

(photo via The Daily Tarheel)

“It is the cost of a veggie burrito at Cosmic, so we think it is a worthwhile investment.”

Citi Bike made waves last week with its newly released NYC ridership data, but bikesharing isn’t just happening in cities like New York or Washington D.C. Bikesharing may be on its way to UNC thanks to the Tar Heel Bikes Steering Committee. While the program is still in its pilot phase, it would feature the ability for students to check out bikes using their phones for one-way trips across campus. Implementing the bikeshare system would require an increase  in student transit fees, but for a few bucks each semester, you could easily burn off all those Cosmic burritos.  Click here for the full interview with co-founder Akhil Jariwala

 

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(photo via The Atlantic Cities)

“Quite a few creatures have wound up on our trains over the years.”

Lions, tigers, and…trains? We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. From Russia’s subway-riding dogs to Portland’s commuting coyote, public transit has always had some interesting passengers, but nothing quite like this. See how two photographers have taken the Paris Metro for a walk on the wild side.

Top 10 Things You Want to Know About Project Development: 10

April 7, 2014

ourtansitfutureHello all,

I hope you’re staying warm and dry on this rainy Monday. Spring seems to be here to stay, and with the new season comes new blog series. We’ve been finishing up our March series over the last week, and today, Meghan answers the last question in our official Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project Development Q&A:

10) How do you move from Project Development to the next phase?

Meghan: April showers bring more answers.

What? That’s not how the phrase goes?

JUST KIDDING!

Anyhow, hi everyone! My sincere apologies for the delay in the final Top 10 response. I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath and all…

What? No!?!

You’ve been busy watching the Final Four?

You’ve been outside enjoying the beautiful weather before these April showers arrived?

You mean to tell me the finding out MORE about Project Development wasn’t at the VERY TOP of your to-do lists?!

OK, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear your response…

Well, as you may have heard, things have been getting quite busy here in Triangle Transit HQ! Lots to do!!!

So let’s get right to it!
The last question comes to us all the way from the interwebs!!!! Wait, Grace just informed me that all of our questions have come from the interwebs! Oh, modern technology!

10: How do you move from PD to the next phase?

Well, “interested interwebber,” in order to move from Project Development to the next phase, Engineering, Triangle Transit must complete a number of very big steps over the next 24 (now 22 -phew! Time flies!) months.

Step 1: We develop with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) a document called “THE DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT” ((in my head there was an echoing voice saying this; hence the all caps))

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement will disclose the project’s potential impact on both the human and natural environment.

SAY WHAT?!

This involves looking at the existing conditions today – What does the corridor look like? Where are the homes and businesses, parks and community resources? What do buildings look like? Where are historic structures? What is congestion like now? What is bus service like now? How noisy is it out there? Are there protected flowers, fish, and other wildlife? Who will be potentially affected by construction? What will the benefits be for the community?

Then we look at what the conditions will be like in the future: 1) if we do nothing at all, 2) if we build the light rail and also 3) what the benefits and drawbacks may be to building particular alignment options (there are a few).

All of this and more will be disclosed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement! MMMMmmmmm data!

So you, the public, then get to learn about how you may or may not be affected by the proposed project.

It’s a lot of information, but don’t worry! We’re going to make sure you understand this information.

Have a way you like information presented to you?

TELL US!

Like videos?

LET US KNOW!

Prefer a quick facts sheet?

NO PROBLEM!

Want us to meet with your group?

LET US KNOW!

In order to produce the best information possible, we want to come to you! We want you to tell us your priorities, your concerns, your questions. That way we are developing this Draft Environmental Impact Statement not only FOR YOU, but also WITH YOU!

Right now, we’re meeting with small groups, big groups, community associations, neighborhood associations, student groups, faculty groups, employee groups, committees, advocacy groups and many, many, more!

Want us to meet with your group? Call or email us NOW! 1-800-816-7817 info@ourtransitfuture.com You may even see me, your favorite (ok, self-proclaimed favorite) guest blogger, MEGHAN!

Oh! Then, later this fall, we’ll be holding public meetings to present the findings for the Draft EIS. This is definitely something you will not want to miss! So keep a watch out for more information!

Once we’ve held meetings we’ll circulate the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. This will be your opportunity to formally comment on the findings. You’ll be able to do this via email, fax, snail mail, or at a public hearing in the winter/early spring 2015.

After that, we’ll take all of the information received, evaluate all substantive comments (as much as we appreciate the comments that say “I love light rail” we love the ones even more that tell us exactly what your concerns are with specific findings in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Then we move to Step 2) The Final Environmental Impact Statement.

What?! That seems like forever from now based on all that you just wrote, Meghan!

Well, it’s not. In less than 24 months we will be presenting the Final Environmental Impact Statement. This will declare the final routing, station locations, rail operations maintenance facility location; otherwise known as the Locally Preferred Alternative.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement will address the substantive comments received and present the final recommendations for mitigation. This document will be circulated publicly by the Federal Transit Administration.

Then we move to Step 3) the Locally Preferred Alternative will then be presented to the Triangle Transit Board and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization for adoption (again, the final alignment routing, station locations, and location of the rail operations maintenance facility).

Once the Final Environmental Impact Statement is circulated and the Locally Preferred Alternative has been adopted by the MPO, the FTA will issue a Record of Decision or ROD!

Step 4: FTA Issues a ROD
The ROD is the final step before Triangle Transit can apply with the Federal Transit Administration to Request Entry into Engineering!

The ROD is written by the Federal Transit Administration and states what the project is; identifies the alternatives considered, including the environmentally preferred alternative; and discusses mitigation plans, including any enforcement and
monitoring commitments. The ROD will also discuss if all practical means to avoid or minimize environmental harm
have been adopted, and if not, why they were not. The ROD is a publicly available document that will be issued by the Federal Transit Administration.

Once this has been issued we can finally apply with the Federal Transit Administration to Request Entry into Engineering! The next phase of the project!!!

Once we are permitted to enter engineering we work non-stop on refining the design (What stations will look like? What features will be included? What will the specific design curves and structures be? What will the structures look like? How will art be integrated?, etc. Engineering takes approximately 3 years to complete, as we will move from conceptual engineering to final design!

After that, we can FINALLY apply for a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

Each of these stages is equally important in the process and we cannot move to the next phase without completing all of the interim steps.

Most importantly, we cannot do any of this planning or engineering without YOU!!!

So keep in touch interwebs! I’m looking forward to meeting you IRL soon!

..Off to meet with the Kiwanis Club of Durham right now! See y’all in a few!

 ………

While the “official” Project Development Q&A may be over, some questions may still remain, and as we move forward in the process, more may appear. In last Monday’s post, Meghan explained how you can become involved in the light rail project, but even more importantly, how you can stay involved in the project. Your input is a necessary part of the Project Development phase. So if you have more questions or think of something we haven’t covered, don’t worry – we’re still all ears. Call 1-800-816-7817 , email Our Transit Future at info@ourtransitfuture.com, and keep an eye on the Our Transit Future calendar for upcoming public outreach events.

 - Grace

Fortify Friday: We want to hear from you!

April 4, 2014

transit_logo

 

In our last few Fortify Friday posts, we sent out the call for Johnston County residents to share their commute experiences with us. Now, we’re sending out the call to all Triangle residents and Triangle Transit riders. We’ve read your comments, shared your tweets, and now proposed service changes are on the way for August. The goals of these proposed changes are improved travel times, increased service hours, better weekend service, and improved on-time performance – and we need to know what you think. Get a quick look at the proposed changes below, then read the full details here.

Service changes are proposed for the following routes:
• Route 100
• Route 311
• Route 400
• Chapel Hill-Raleigh Express (CRX)
• Durham-Raleigh Express (DRX)

Extended Saturday Evening and Sunday Services are proposed for:
• Route 100
• Route 400
• Route 700
• Route 800

Please provide feedback on these proposed changes:
• Online: triangletransit.org/aug2014
• Phone: 919-485-PLAN (7526)
• Email: serviceplanning@triangletransit.org
• Mail: Triangle Transit, Attn: Service Planning, P.O. Box 13787, RTP, NC 27709
• In Person: May 13, 2014 at 10:30am at 4600 Emperor Blvd, Suite 100,
• On the bus: Triangle Transit service planners will be riding the buses collecting feedback until April 18th.

Have a great weekend,

- Grace

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