Walkable West Palm Beach

Citylab: Street trees improve the wait experience of transit users

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Street trees are one of those low hanging fruit investments that can make all the difference over time, but too often are neglected. Trees don’t have the political appeal of a mega project ribbon cutting, but in terms of building great cities, I’d argue their return on investment is greater without the potential downside of megaprojects.

As if we needed more reasons to prioritize street trees, Eric Jaffe of Citylab posted this article about how trees make waiting for the bus feel shorter and help mitigate for unpleasant conditions such as traffic and air pollution. From the article:

Planting trees around stops offers local authorities an opportunity to significantly improve users’ wait time perception, but falls outside the purview of transit providers themselves. The ability of the presence of trees to compensate for the negative effects of pollution and traffic suggests that planting trees or moving a problematic stop to take advantage of existing tree cover can significantly improve the user experience at reasonable costs.

Because many bus stops in Palm Beach County tend to be located in places with wider rights of way and generous swales (at least compared to downtown WPB), bus stops seem like an ideal place to engage in street tree plantings in order to bolster the appeal of transit. Something for cities and the county to work together on as the Palm Tran Service Board moves forward on building a better bus system.


h/t Joe Roskowski

How Houston designed a better bus system

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Streetfilms produced this excellent short documentary on the changes that led to a better bus system in Houston. It’s very relevant to the current efforts by the Palm Tran Service Board to enact similar changes in Palm Beach County. From the film description:

Every city should do a “system reimagining” of their bus network like Houston METRO did.

Back in 2012, a small group of motivated citizens asked their local transit agency, elected leaders and advocates about how they could improve Houston’s bus network. Ridership was down. Buses did not run as frequently as people liked. The routes didn’t go where the populace needed them as the system did not change with the city since the 1970s. Weekend ridership was weak. If you wanted to transfer to another route, you almost always had to take a bus downtown first.

As you can surmise, all of this contributes to more cars on the roads and people not wanting to use transit.

The solution was an extremely ambitious, complete examination of every single bus route in the city, wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch. Through community meetings and years of tough decisions – a new METRO bus network emerged. One that has faster service, more efficient, better routes and one that is already boasting big gains in weekend service. And the changes have been essentially revenue neutral, meaning that all the Houston bus system is running at about the same budget it did prior.

This inspirational Streetfilm was produced in partnership with TransitCenter, which is funding us for a total of four films looking at transit throughout the country in 2016.





Bus system is integral to avoiding the fate of Broward County

Jarrett Walker: Transit is a continuum between ridership and coverage that involves tradeoffs

On Thursday, Jarrett Walker, renowned transit consultant and author of the book “Human Transit“, presented to the Palm Tran Service Board and the public on the broad theme of how transit works and why it is important.

One of the first slides was a graphic of the amount of space taken up by different modes: Car, bus, and bicycle. At its most elemental, transit is a better way to use space to transport people. Said another way, single occupancy vehicles are a terribly inefficient way to move people and cities inevitably choke from growth if single occupancy vehicles are the only way to get around.

Those lines with the most frequent service tend to have the highest ridership. In fact, the additional cost from the operations is more than offset from the additional riders/fares collected.


Ridership goals and coverage goals involve tradeoffs on a spectrum. Mr. Walker demonstrated how a shift toward a ridership goal has led to success in other cities. By shifting the ridership goal from, say, 50% priority to 80% priority, cities have seen their systems become more useful and ridership increase. By focusing more on ridership goals, I believe Palm Tran can see impressive gains in ridership and have a system that is much more effective for its users.

Palm Tran buses are nice, clean, and comfortable, in my experience. However, the perception of Palm Tran is harmed by the ambulance chaser advertisements that wrap Palm Tran buses. It sends a message that the only people who ride buses are those in a lower socioeconomic strata and that buses aren’t for everyone. Mr. Walker rightfully criticizes this choice and says it should be reconsidered. At the very least, the bus windows need to be more transparent so that people can see into the buses before getting on board; as it stands, the windows are opaque from the outside due to the personal injury attorney wraps. No one likes to enter an unfamiliar space without having any idea what is behind the entryway, and it’s the same for buses.

I’d like to commend the Palm Tran Service Board, the Palm Tran management team including Executive Director Clinton Forbes and Assistant Director Charles Frazier, and the public officials who attended, including Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, County Commissioner Stephen Abrams, and County Commissioner Paulette Burdick. This was a courageous first step taken to move Palm Tran in a more productive direction.

I believe Palm Tran can become an integral part of our transportation mix in the county. Indeed, with the inevitable growth coming, it must, if we are to continue to grow while avoiding the fate of Broward County. Land use policy must also be looked at together with our transportation planning, but that’s a topic for another time.


Palm Tran: Bus system has not been reimagined for 20 years

Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes: We’re overdue for a comprehensive look at our bus system

Inside West Palm Beach, the radio show hosted by Barry O’Brien, recently interviewed Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes. Barry is a huge transit supporter and has been advocating for better transit service through has involvement in the community and on the Downtown Action Committee (DAC).

Much of the conversation focused around the known deficiencies with Palm Tran. As an example, Mr. Forbes cited a survey that shows that only 10% of current Palm Tran ridership consist of “choice riders”, or those who have other options such as owning a car. Many routes are slow, with far too many stops, and few direct routes. Buses aren’t frequent enough. The inability for urban dwellers to get on a bus and ride straight north or south on U.S. 1 is a particularly noticeable failing as these are the population and employment centers in the county. I recently attempted to take a bus to my wife’s workplace in Jupiter, and what would have been a half hour car ride would have taken me over two hours. No one is going to make the choice to ride a bus given other options. And for those without a choice, it just makes life that much harder. Dependent riders’ time matters as well.

I’ve been critical of our bus system, maybe overly so. The good news: Listening to Mr. Forbes, Palm Tran Director, was a breath of fresh air. He gets it. Here’s what he had to say about the routes of Palm Tran:

“Since 1996, we have not taken a comprehensive look at our system. Development has changed, land use patterns have changed, population density has changed…but what have we done? The system is the same. And so we could not be maximizing our efficiency with the system. And so one of my number one priorities…is to do a comprehensive look at our system.”

Music to my ears. He mentioned the efforts in Jacksonville and Houston to reimagine their bus system. I’m a huge fan of the Houston reimagining project, which used the same operating dollars to create a much more convenient and robust bus system that is more useful to people. Below GIF shows the frequent bus network (<15 minute headways) before and after.



Imagine credit: James Llamas and Strong Towns.org. Click image for article.



Mr. Forbes has also mentioned the idea of signal prioritization at traffic signals, which would basically give buses a ‘green wave’ of lights and improve trip times. [Sun-Sentinel story. ] The reimagining of the system and signal prioritization could drastically improve headways. Headways of 5-10 minutes are ideal, with 15-20 minutes being generally accepted as the inflection point at which ridership drops dramatically. Mr. Forbes also mentioned the rollout of attractive new buses that will have Wi-Fi, coming soon. The South Dixie Corridor study also presents an opportunity to implement signal prioritization and new fast boarding bus stops with the corridor reimagining.

With useful bus service, I’m absolutely confident Palm Tran will get used much more than it is currently and become an important part of our transportation mix in Palm Beach County. Mr. Forbes is taking  Palm Tran in the right direction; let’s hope we can all get on-board to make a better bus system a reality.

Interview is below. Go to minute 19, when the interview starts getting good.

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