An introduction to transit network design

Human Transit: transit design course near vancouver!

When Jarrett Walker announced this course on his blog, I knew I had to take it. I make maps in my head, and geeking out about transit with similar-minded people, headed by someone whose blog I read religiously, is an opportunity that cannot be passed up, even if the almost $400 cost was well beyond my current means. And with the two days now completed, I feel it’s money well spent.

The course had four specific activities, which Jarrett called “games”. Using a generic city that he called “Newport”, replete with many of the amenities of a mid-sized North American city (although its construction does have a greater-Vancouver feel to it), 5 groups of 5-6, each facilitated by a planner from TransLink, set about designing a transit network for Newport, with certain parameters. In order, we worked with a lean-times allocation of 30 buses; a good-times allocation of 90 buses; a financial windfall that allowed implementation of rapid transit; and building on that rapid-transit base to develop a robust network (also within a 90-bus allocation equivalent).

The group I was in had a grand time playing the games and determining which corridors deserved frequent service (those same corridors were later given bus rapid transit [BRT] in game 3). One of the pointers that Jarrett gave after game 1 related to the tradeoffs in the real world between developing a ridership through frequent service and serving as many people as possible, at the expense of poor frequencies. Such was the case with “The Plateau”, a part of northern Newport that is certainly more automobile oriented and whose population and employment densities are significantly lower than the older parts of town.

Game 3 (developing rapid transit) was interesting. The town was magically given $1 billion to spend on rapid transit, and the groups’ job was to choose appropriate technology and suitable corridors. In the game, 1 km of surface LRT was the equivalent of 2 km of surface, motorized BRT; other technologies (such as a BRT trolley and a gondola) and orientations were available at various costs, but for the most part, all the groups went with surface BRT or LRT, and on corridors that had been identified in the previous two games (one of them linked Newport’s two universities).

As near a perfect network for Newport!

Game 4 (result pictured above) involved developing an ideal transit network, building upon the rapid-transit network from game 3. This essentially was the culmination of the previous 3 games, and allowed the groups to provide a network that is frequent, provides decent connections between different parts of the town, and gives The Plateau a decent level of service.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed the course. Working with a fictional city gave all the participants (especially those who came from out of town) an equal footing, and removed any biases that would have arisen had a real city been used. While it was an introduction, I certainly hope Jarrett (or SFU’s City program) offers other courses in the future!

Postscript: In between the games, I managed to speak with a couple of people about planning schools. I touched on it last year, but after taking this course, I’m starting to feel very keen about it. One of the conversations was with one of the TransLink planners who facilitated another table; it was a continuation of the same conversation we had by phone last year. She put me at ease with the admission process at one school, and told me that she hasn’t met a planner who was unhappy with their job! It might be competitive, but I might be ready for the next step on the road to planning school…


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