Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Economist Ed Glaeser follows my lead on suggesting double deck buses as a way to reposition transit use

Buses Line up on Oxford Street
Buses Line up on Oxford Street in London.  Flickr photo by DJ Fleer.

For many years, culminating in great detail in the 2012 entry "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," I have discussed how to reposition bus service in cities, starting with a conversion to double deck buses, which have been popularized as being cool and fun by their use in London and as seen in movies set in London (I seem to recall the original Mary Poppins movie involving some bus time?).

In the Boston Globe op-ed "Boston needs cooler buses," Ed Glaeser suggests the same thing.  From the article:
For better or worse, the obvious economic benefits of buses won’t win hearts and minds. We need tough medicine on the city streets that reduces stops and competing traffic. But we also need a heavy dose of design — some beauty in our buses. It isn’t free, but costs far less than building miles of rail.
Note that there is some use of double deck buses in US transit systems, but not in any of the major transit cities.

Also see the past blog entries:

-- Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods
-- Arlington County's bus shelters and a public realm framework of quality
-- Illustration of government and design thinking: Boston's City Hall to Go Truck
-- All the talk of e-government, digital government, and open source government is really about employing the design method

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At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

aside from clearance issues, double deck buses introduce issues of boarding and disembarking time, which IIUC is why they are uncommon.

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Honestly, what buses need is:

1) better timing/more frequency. However, the various nextbus GPS apps can help a lot with that. More inteligent analysis of traffic patterns would also help.

2) In terms of design, I would gladly trade more windows, less noise (more sound isolation), and better AC for "coolness".

3) Less homeless people, more girls in their 20s.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

re (3) I have a photo from a SEPTA bus of an attractive college student on the bus, she and her friend were talking about getting into the music scene by selling "merch."

but while I don't disagree with you about 1 and 2, I still think double deck buses are important.

with the issue of dwell time, granted an issue, why does it seem to be ok in London and Hong Kong--both places are much larger than DC with a great many more transit riders--and not a good idea here?

wrt clearance issues, on major arterials there would be no clearance problems, because DC doesn't put utility lines or traffic signals along the street in ways that would impinge.

This isn't the case for secondary bus routes. Another issue (and I covered these in the originally cited post) is being able to travel on different routings in the face of street closures.

But even if the buses were just placed on the major arterial routes that would be a huge thing.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why does it work in London and HK?

I honestly do not know, but I would try to find the answer by looking at the details of the operation in those cities, not by assuming that success (on some lines?) in two cities, indicates universal applicability.

It could be that there are fewer stops on those lines, it could be that the need to get more capacity on particular lines is so overwhelming (in those very dense and very transit focused cities) that the benefits outweigh the time costs. Note too, whatever the set of parameters are that make them the optimal choice for a given line, you would need those for enough lines to justify introducing those into the fleet (a similar consideration, I think, for articulated buses, which DC does have) and creating equipment mix issues.

Glad to hear clearance issues are not a problem in DC.

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got this from Wiki

"Double-decker buses are in common use throughout the United Kingdom, and have been favoured over articulated buses by many operators because of the shorter length of double-deckers, and less need to have standing capacity. "

So, assume very high ridership routes. We in DC (and in Arlington) have discussed the inability of conventional buses to carry enough capacity when ridership gets very high. The choice then (assuming rail is not an option for whatever reason) is articulated vs double decker. Articulated gives you faster embark/disembark - BUT those are long vehicles, which may not be able to make needed turns in some tight urban areas with narrow streets. So in places that have a significant number of such tight spots (more than just london and HK, pardon) double deckers are superior. In other places, articulated probably works better.

So the question is, which routes in DC (that are not going to convert to rail) have high ridership, AND turning constraints preventing use of articulated buses? Are there enough to justify bringing in doubledeckers?

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think it would be worth testing on one or two lines.

Another problem with double deck buses are the maintenance yards/garages. e.g., I don't think that the 14th st. facility could accommodate double deck vehicles.

Similar, the bus station at Friendship Heights couldn't. But buses could just stop on the street there.

2. wrt the point about the UK, the issue there is like what I wrote about wrt bike strategy vis a vis Canada's higher percentage of bike commuters....

more urban, cars are a lot more expensive, gas is a lot more expensive, parking tends to be more expensive, and more people with less disposable income vis-a-vis car vs. transit choice.

OTOH, in DC and certain other cities (not everywhere across the US), certain areas, at least for the US, have comparable characteristics which favor transit use.


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