Transit

Riding the Red Line: Why Indianapolis May Now Be America's New Gold Standard for Bus Rapid Transit

Taking a Critical Dive into Indianapolis's New Bus Rapid Transit Line
A red line bus arrives at Broad Ripple station A red line bus arrives at Broad Ripple station

Bus Rapid Transit tends to get a bad rap in the United States. In theory, BRT—that is, a bus system that operates like a train, with clear stations, off-board fare payment, (preferably) dedicated lanes, signal priority, and the like—seems like an ideal technology. It should not only allow cities to build high-quality transit, but allow them to do so quickly and inexpensively, leveraging their existing road space, expertise in road construction, and familiarity with bus operations. In actual practice, however, BRT in the United States has largely been disappointing. All too often, American BRT projects have suffered something of a death by a thousand cuts. Slowly but surely, conflict-adverse politicians and locals hostile to change chisel away at once-grand plans, removing a bus lane here, reducing the size of stations there, reducing service everywhere, and so on. As a result, the final systems are frequently a double compromise: transit that is not only a step down in capacity and comfort from rail, but which has been so thoroughly diluted as to seem like little more than an extravagantly branded local bus line. In American transportation circles, this phenomenon is so sadly common that it even has a name: BRT creep.

Nothing about this process, however, needs to be endemic to bus rapid transit. While it may be surprisingly easy to implement BRT poorly, when it is implemented well—that is, when it offers a quality service that travels to and from the places that people want and need to go—it is a powerful transportation tool, one especially suited to less dense cities and/or less busy routes. To illustrate that point, perhaps no American city to date has implemented BRT better than Indianapolis, IN. While this mid-sized, Midwestern city may not be the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of quality of public transportation, its new Red Line—the first of its three planned BRT routes—is actually a sterling example of how to do transit investment right. Indianapolis has demonstrated that, even in the face of a hostile political environment and physical landscape, it is possible to build effective, high-quality transit—transit that is legible, fast, frequent, easy to use, and which supports a diversity of ridership. As the Red Line shows, while the path to BRT success is not necessarily easy, the route itself is not particularly complex: all it takes is the institutional attention to detail—and the local political will—to put riders at the fore. Of course, no system is perfect, and the Red Line does still have some kinks to work out. On the whole, however, it stands as an object lesson in how to implement truly high-quality transit in a low-density city on a tight budget. It may well be this country's new gold standard for bus rapid transit.

InstaBlog: San Francisco's Twin Peaks Tunnel Shutdown, Transit History, & an Urban Adventure

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!



On Sunday, June 24, 2018, I found myself on my way to San Francisco, for a week of urban exploration, research, and—yes—vacation. A few weeks before my trip however, I had gotten some frustrating news: the day after I arrived, the Twin Peaks tunnel—a major part of the city's light rail/subway infrastructure—was closing for a two month long reconstruction and refurbishment. This was a minor inconvenience, to be sure—even though I wasn't staying somewhere I needed to use the tunnel, no one wants to experience a city's major transit disruption. But more than that, I am a self-avowed transit nerd, and for all of my love of San Francisco, I had never found the opportunity to ride this part of its transit system in all my adult trips to the city.

InstaBlog: San Francisco's Bus System

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

So, after spending a week in San Francisco, I have to say that—and I'm sure locals will disagree—I found its bus system to be both exemplary and a joy to use.

InstaBlog: Bay Ridge Branch

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Whenever I'm out walking in Brooklyn, I love to look for the Bay Ridge Branch, a little-used, freight-only piece of rail infrastructure that stretches across the borough.

I'm consistently impressed by how hard the right-of-way can be to spot, even when you know where it is located; it seems, somehow, to just blend into the background. Looking through fences is like looking into a different world—and in a way it is, to the almost abandoned-in-place remnants of industrial Brooklyn.

While it seems highly unlikely right now, if the Regional Planning Association's TriboroRX plan ever comes to fruition, this line will be rebuilt as (more likely than not) light rail, forming a large loop all the way across outer Brooklyn, up north through Queens, and then across the Hell Gate Bridge into the Bronx. This intersection, on Coney Island Avenue, would be between the Ave H/E 16th Station (interchange with the Q train) and the McDonald Avenue Station (interchange with the F).

Another option would be to connect the line to a proposed cross-harbor freight tunnel, allowing freight trains (and their goods) to reach Long Island without masses of trucks and traffic.

Either way, it would be a significant transformation for what, right now, is a lonely, oft-ignored piece of the city.

Based on an Instagram post.
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InstaBlog: Cortleyou Road Station

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

The Cortleyou Road stop on the BMT Brighton Line—today's Q train. A strange name for a road, to be sure but a lovely station all the same.

InstaBlog: The Miller Elevated Highway

Author's note: Trying something new! Welcome to my InstaBlog, a chance for me to feature some of my more in-depth Instagram posts on the site. Be warned: this is a blog-style post based on a social media post, so beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

At the north edge of Riverside Park South, you find the last remaining section of the old West Side Highway, aka the Miller Elevated Highway.

Instagram: Myrtle Avenue El

The End of the Line: the remains of the Myrtle Avenue el. Up through 1969, wooden trains rumbled along above Myrtle Avenue and into Downtown Brooklyn, along one of the borough's oldest elevated transit lines. In earlier eras, it carried people into the heart of Brooklyn, to the various industries and firms along the waterfront, to shopping districts, schools, and friends' houses, and even—through 1944—over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan. Regular riders included both my father and grandfather, who, in their youth, rode it every day to Brooklyn Tech. The line originally connected with the (Brooklyn) Broadway line, today's J train, and carried out past Broadway (nee Manhattan) Junction to Brooklyn's (then) city line. In 1915, the line was extended northward—the route of today's M train. However, while this northern section was built strong enough to handle heavy, all-steel subway cars, the original southern portion could only carry wooden cars, generally banned from subways for safety reasons. Unlike some other elevated lines, the southern part of the Myrtle Avenue el was never rebuilt for heavier cars, so until the end, only saw wooden cars shuttling back and forth between Metropolitan Avenue and Bridge Street in Downtown Brooklyn. At the height of the American suburban era—and near the nadir of American urbanism—the line was closed and demolished due to a lack of ridership. Today, this is all that remains of this original line: a two block section flying over the J train's Myrtle Avenue station, running one block north and one block south of the station, without tracks, signals, or trains. It is a strange experience to walk underneath an abandoned el, and for the life of me, I'm not sure why these stub ends were not demolished—especially the one heading south. However, I'm glad they weren't: they are a connection to the past, a symbol of both Brooklyn's height, driven by elevated railroads, and its nadir of abandonment, grime, and darkness. Of course, that's easy for me to say: I don't have to live next to it More below...

A post shared by Blair Lorenzo (@foxandcity) on

The Newly Renovated George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal—Brief Thoughts (Draft)

Author's note: This is a draft/outline of a more thoughtful piece coming soon! Keep your eyes peeled!

Some background: originally opened in 1963 as part of the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, the newly renovated George Washington Bridge Bus Station is a significant fixture in New York City's regional transportation. The original bare-bones terminal was closed in its entirety in 2013, with plans for a 2015 reopening. It didn’t reopen until 2017.

Now, there are many ways to judge the physical shape of a transit facility. Is it comfortable? Safe? Attractive? Easy to use? Does it promote urbanism and/or provide public space? Does it support the community? Help the local streetscape? Etc, etc...

Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that, on the inside, the new terminal is relatively comfortable, attractive, and easy at, at least on the upper, bus-boarding level. It has a pleasant enough waiting room, clear signage, restrooms, seats, and ticket machines (is two enough, however?). It has gorgeous views, and feels very open, taking tremendous advantage of its location next to the bridge and Pier Luigi Nervi's architecture. Even the boarding area is nice, with clear signs helping people get where they want to go.

For all that, however, it is bare-bones. The waiting room offers seats... and nothing else. A wonderful opportunity to mix some retail and community space for (and, in turn, taking advantage of) travelers has been missed. I'm also not quite sure the space and facilities are significant enough for the amount of travelers (although on that I admit I could be wrong).

The rest of the structure, however? The lower levels will be a cramped, sterile shopping mall. If the one current tenant—Marshalls—is any indication, there will be no local businesses inside. Worse, the interior mall space doesn't interface with the street at all. It is a structure which will do next to nothing for the community or its urban fabric.

The worst is the exterior. The terminal is over an expressway, is surrounded by far-too-busy roads, and is composed of dehumanizing, bare concrete which soars over the street. It’s street interface is terrible. And nothing has been done blank, dehumanizing sides of the structure, something which should have been job one.

I don't want to be entirely negative: as a transportation space, it is pleasant enough, and hopefully it will encourage more to use its buses to travel between New Jersey and New York. However, as has been the case with almost every structure the Port Authority has ever built, no effort has been made to craft an important, urban space, the type of space such nodes should be.

And that's just sad.

Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook.

NYC Ferry: South Brooklyn, Day One

Ride along with The Fox and the City on the first day of service on NYC Ferry's new South Brooklyn line — June 1st, 2017.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mayor De Blasio's signature ferry service. While it was great it was going to cost the same as a subway ride, wouldn't it be much slower, and hence much less useful than other methods of public transit?

Well, I'm glad to admit that I was wrong! It is a tremendous ride: quick, comfortable, and beautiful. If you live near one of its stops, it is a method of transportation that just draws you in—one you just want to ride. We'll see how it fairs when the weather gets poorer, or in a storm, but for now, it is a *tremendous* addition to New York City's transportation arsenal.

Come along and ride the HB102 (catchy name, huh? Temporary only!) on the first day of service on the South Brooklyn line! Starting with a tour of Wall St. / Pier 11 and the boat, we then travel to DUMBO, Atlantic Avenue, Redhook, Sunset Park, and finally Bay Ridge. It is a gorgeous trip, and it couldn't have been a more beautiful day to experience it!

Hope you enjoy!

A Quick Tour of the Second Avenue Subway

Something a little different: a quick tour of the first phase of the newly opened Second Avenue Subway. It's just some quick footage I slapped together from a recent visit to the line. Not a proper, fancy tour by any means, just a look at the general layout of the stations, their designs and features, and how deep they are relative to the street. I hope it gives a sense of the spaces. Enjoy!

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