Random Friday Thoughts, and my Streetsblog Post

October 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Happy Friday!

First of all, I wrote a guest post for Streetsblog Chicago about Ald. James Cappleman removing the 46th ward’s Pedestrian Street designation at Lawrence and Broadway. Check it out and join the discussion over there.

Now time for my random thought, which you may have already read spread out through every post on this site.

Metra commuter train. Doesn’t look that bad. Image: John Walker via Flickr.

Every time I pass under the Metra UP-N line tracks in Ravenswood, I think about how much more efficient the train is at moving people. At night, all you see looking up as a train goes by is people sitting side by side in the pleather seats, reading, listening to music, doing homework, and so on. In a space as wide as two freeway lanes, trains move in both directions, carrying tens of thousands of people every day. The entire Metra system carries as many people as some parts of the Kennedy Expressway carries cars in one day, and it does it far more efficiently (despite the delays).

I’m very keen on touting the benefits of “alternative” modes of transportation that are more efficient. I’m an efficiency geek, honestly. I think about this every time I see a street backed up in car traffic because one driver is trying to parallel park. It bothers me when a bus carrying 60 passengers is stuck in the same traffic. The first time I visited New York City with my father (we both grew up in small towns), he marveled that each subway train was likely carrying over a thousand people – half the population of our hometown. And as soon as a train left, another one pulled in. He marveled, and logically said that it was just “more efficient.”

So then I think about other modes of transportation that are more efficient, and one is the bus. Once you get around the fact that buses sit in other private traffic, each driver with their own need, you notice that the bus is efficiently carrying people along no special infrastructure. With certain upgrades, like signal priority, it can be even more efficient. One of the best comments I think I’ve ever read on the Internet is this one by Disqus user coolebra, describing why Ashland Ave BRT in Chicago is a great, necessary idea. The comment is in response to someone who does not think BRT will solve any congestion problems:

I challenge you to a contest.

We both get a pickle bucket full of gumballs. We also both get a three foot section of 1.25″ ID PVC pipe. You get a funnel that you can use if you wish and I don’t; however, I get to pre-load my gumballs into 1″ diameter tubes.

You get to pour all of your gumballs into a funnel, drop them in one-by-one, a handfull at a time, or however you think you can get your loose gumballs down the tube the fastest. I simply drop my pre-loaded gumball tubes into the pipe.

Which of us clears the pickle bucket full of gumballs the quickest?

Of course, I win by a wide margin because I use the space in a much more organized and efficient manner by loading many individuals into one vehicle while you struggle with traffic jams because too many individuals are all trying to be first getting through the bottleneck, or it takes so long taking turns.

I walk with the blue ribbon while you’re still struggling to get your gumballs through the pipe.

That’s why everything is congested … because we define the problem incorrectly and invest in the wrong solutions.

Sometimes, Internet comments are helpful at providing the perfect way to describe something.

Finally, bicycles and pedestrians are the most efficient use of space. They take up only their own space (a bike takes up a bit more, and has to be parked somewhere). Every time someone argues that bicycles and pedestrians (crosswalks) are causing traffic, I try to remind them that every person on a bicycle (and every pedestrian walking entirely from A to B) is one less car on the road. That’s congestion mitigation.

I will finish with this image you’ve probably seen, because it says it all:


Basically, I advocate for efficiency.