Month: January 2010


Paris will roll out two-way bike routes in 2010

Paris d?veloppe ses doubles sens cyclables en 2010. La R?publique du Centre, January 10, 2010.

Over the course of the year, Paris will gradually extend two-way cycling in 30 kph zones.

The Second and Eleventh arrondissements (districts) of Paris will see changes in mid-January as work begins. Marking will start in the Eighteenth and Twentieth arrondissements in mid-February, according to the Mayor’s office.

Two-way cycle routes consist of two lanes, one open to both cars and bicycles, the other available only to cyclists. Bicycles are thus allowed to ride in directions that are illegal for cars, giving them greater mobility.

After the Second, Eleventh, Eighteenth and Twentieth arrondissements, all the other neighborhoods of the French capital will benefit in turn from this improvement and special dispensation. All in all, more than 60 neighborhoods will introduce two-way cycle routes by the end of the year.

The mayor’s office is taking advantage of an interpretation of the traffic laws allowing cyclists to ride in either direction on streets where the speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour) or less, when authorized by law enforcement agencies. Many other municipalities in France have already adopted this arrangement, including Bordeaux, Nantes, Strasbourg and the Paris suburbs of Colombes, Montreuil and Issy-les-Moulineaux.

Two-way cycle traffic is also found in other countries, particularly in Canada (Montreal), Belgium, Switzerland, Japan, Germany and Denmark.

Paris’s campaign to encourage cycling is bearing fruit. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of cyclists on the streets of the capital jumped 93%. The arrival of Velib’ in July 2007 fit with this pattern: according to surveys conducted by the city, on June 19, 2007 there were 36,396 bicycles ridden on the streets of Paris, and 57,846 on October 16 of that year, of which 37% were Velib’ bicycles.

Since that date, on average 30% of the bicycles ridden in Paris have belonged to the bicycle rental system, and the number of bicycles has consistently grown month after month.


Selling Bus Routes By the Kilometer

I recently attended a neighborhood screening of A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil, sponsored by the West Queens Greens. I’ve had some interest in Curitiba, particularly in their bus rapid transit system, so I wanted to find out more.

I’d already heard about the dedicated right of way and the prepayment system. One of the ideas that struck me most was this simple-sounding one: the buses are operated by ten separate companies, which are paid by the kilometer. After seeing the mess in Santo Domingo that is at least partially the result of transit systems that pays operators by the passenger, I was intrigued by a potential solution. A report from the Institute for Transportation Development Policy (PDF, Google Cache) explains why:

By paying bus operating companies by the kilometer and tightly regulating where the buses stop, the chaotic behavior at the curb lane is removed, freeing up road space for mixed traffic. Since some buses have platform level boarding doors (with no steps down), it is impossible to discharge or board passengers except at the station. Thus, this can help alleviate the problem of frequent and sudden stops that result in more congestion and potential accidents, as well as picking up and leaving passengers in unsafe areas (such as the middle of the street). Private bus operators are generally contracted to operate the system, and their profits are fairly secure because they are paid by the kilometer.

And there, in one swell foop, is a move that would tremendously improve the transit experience in Santo Domingo, Weehawken and many other places where the anxiety of private bus operators puts passengers at risk. A bit of thought indicates that it’s easier said than done, however. A report from the WorldWatch Institute (PDF) gives one reason why (Box 4-2, page 80):

For more than two decades, BRT failed to thrive outside Curitiba. Brazilian cities such as S?o Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre built bus lanes superficially resembling Curitiba?s but without the key elements: prepaid platform-level boarding stations, structured bus routes, and bus priority through the city center. When experts considered why no city could replicate Curitiba?s success, they noted that its Mayor, Jaime Lerner, had been appointed during a dictatorship and had military backing to force private bus companies to reform. The municipal transit agency collected fares and paid bus companies by the kilometer. Bus operators in other Latin American cities blocked such changes.

That’s one difficulty. I’ve also not yet found out how the Curitiba bus agency managed to prevent the opposite problem: if bus companies are paid by the kilometer, what’s to stop them from slamming the doors in customers’ faces, or not even stopping to pick up passengers? What’s to prevent them from running hundreds of empty buses in the middle of the night? How did they verify that the companies actually drove those kilometers in the first place, in the days before GPS? These are not insurmountable problems, but if they’re not dealt with properly they can bring down the whole system.

Background, Better Buses, Commentary, News

Van Bramer, Nolan, Quinn, Gianaris call for Midtown Tunnel bus

The MTA is doing track work on the #7 line to improve speed and reliability. That’s good. As they have done for previous track work projects, they will be shutting down the line between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square for the next seven weekends. That’s bad.

The N, R and E trains will be running, and people coming from points east will be able to transfer. The MTA usually runs shuttle buses for people to get to and from the three stations in Long Island City with no service. That’s good. But the transfers can add five to ten minutes to a trip. Worse, the shuttle buses don’t go to Manhattan; they stop at Queensboro Plaza, where passengers have to change for the N. For the next several weekends, people who are normally fifteen minutes from Grand Central will spend fifteen minutes on the bus just to get to the N, which doesn’t even go to Grand Central. That’s bad.

What’s especially frustrating for LIC residents is that many of them live only five minutes by car from the Queens Midtown Tunnel. If they could walk through the tunnel, they could get to Manhattan faster than by taking the shuttle bus. Those who own cars can drive into Manhattan if they want to deal with the traffic and the hassle of finding parking. Those who don’t own cars are stuck with the shuttle bus.

Last year, in response to a previous service disruption, Councilmember Eric Gioia held a rally asking the MTA to run buses through the tunnel to Grand Central. Cap’n Transit took that a step further and suggested running the buses on the 34th Street bus lanes to Penn Station, so that travelers could switch to the subway at Penn Station, Herald Square or Park Avenue. He produced maps showing that, according to Google directions, when there is no traffic (as on weekends), buses can get to Penn Station in ten minutes from Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Sunnyside or Greenpoint. In fifteen minutes they can get to Penn Station from the Triboro Bridge, Jackson Heights, Maspeth, Bushwick or Williamsburg. Of course, if they made stops in between it would take a little longer; the point is that lots of people want to go to Manhattan, and a bus could get them there pretty darn quick.

Bus routes through the tunnel
Map: Cap’n Transit

As far as I know, the MTA never responded to Gioia or to Cap’n Transit. They ran the inconvenient shuttle buses, and that was it. Now they’re planning to do it again. This morning, Gioia’s successor, Jimmy Van Bramer, held another rally asking for a tunnel bus. He was joined by Astoria Assemblymember Mike Gianaris (who has announced that he is running to represent this area in the State Senate next year), Assemblymember Cathy Nolan and Council Chair Christine Quinn.

WNYC’s Brian Zumhagen was actually able to get a response from the MTA. An unnamed spokesman says that “shuttle buses directly to Grand Central would create big traffic tie-ups in Long Island City and on the East Side of Manhattan.” It’s not clear why they would cause any more tie-ups in LIC than the buses to Queens Plaza, or why they would cause any significant tie-ups in weekend traffic. That comment shows that the MTA is looking for reasons not to accommodate riders.

At this point it remains to be seen whether all that star power will have the desired effect. If you care about this issue, I suggest that you contact Jimmy or Cathy and ask how you can help.