City Wants High-Tech Traffic Control

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The City of Columbus wants to invest $36.8 million to purchase a high-tech system that would give traffic controllers direct access to coordinate traffic lights across the city. When traffic backs up because of an accident, congestion, or re-routing, traffic controllers could change lights with a flick of a switch to get cars moving more quickly through intersections.

COTA Offices Move Downtown

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The Central Ohio Transit Authority moved its headquarters downtown recently into the newly remodeled building at 33 North High Street. The $13.6 million renovation of the 10-story downtown building includes a new customer-service counter where passengers can purchase tickets and extensive green features such as energy-saving lighting. COTA is in the process of applying for LEED Certification for the renovation. COTA will utilize seven of the 10 stories and will rent the other three out. Notably, the building does not include parking as COTA employees are expected to utilize the bus.

YPCOTA Kicks Off

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Young Professionals Columbus and COTA have teamed up to encourage 'social transit' through a month-long initiative combining transit with social networking.

New Parking Meter Rates Coming

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Crews are changing the parking meter prices and times on meters in the downtown and Short North area, as well as adding 400 new parking meters to previously free spaces. The changes come after a long debate about how best to up rates to help pay for the construction of a new convention center hotel. The original rate change, pulled from the funding plan for the shelved Columbus Streetcar initiative, upset business owners in the up-and-coming Gay Street area and downtown. A commission revised the plan which was approved and is now being implemented.

Mayor Unveils Sharrow: Sharrows vs. Bike Lanes

Posted by Columbus Transit On 5:22 PM 1 comments
Yesterday, Mayor Coleman unveiled the first of 189 icons that will be painted along High Street from Nationwide Boulevard to Morse Road to remind motorists to 'share the road' with bicyclists. The 'sharrows' are one part of a much broader strategy outlined in the 2008 Bicentennial Bikeways Plan to create the bicycling city of tomorrow right here in Columbus. The plan calls for an extensive mix of sharrows, bike lanes, and bike trails running throughout downtown and the greater region.

Before coming to Columbus, I had biked previously in only one city which also happened to be a worldwide center for biking: Copenhagen. Having lived there for four months, I traversed its many trails and bike lanes finding them safe, easy to navigate, and fun to use. For that reason it truly shocked me to return to the United States and encounter a fierce resistance among some urban cyclists to the construction of designated bike lanes on city streets on the basis that they made cyclists less safe.

Looking historically at the issue, Columbus' streets were not always the urban highways we see today. These pictures from High Street in 1914 show an astonishing number of pedestrians walking directly across the street with multiple modes of transit coexisting: horse and buggy, automobile, streetcar. That type of fluid mix slowly faded with the sorting of transit uses. The 1968 plan for Columbus called for transit modes to be grade-separated with the street reserved for the automobile while the pedestrian would be segregated to skywalks hung over the streets and even an elevated transit line. These recommendations heavily influenced the zooming, barren urban streets urbanists often detest.

In viewing the historic mix of uses on our city's streets, I can see an argument that sharrows on our city's streets may be better than bike lanes in an attempt to create that historic urban vitality. However, with the advancements of vehicles in the past century, the speed of cars makes me believe such sharrows would be dangerous themselves with cars flying by. At the very least, I know that fewer people will feel comfortable jumping onto their bikes to ride with the SUV next to them than in dedicated bike lanes. I know I did.

The safety concerns of cyclists about bike lanes create questions however. There are a number of ways in which such safety concerns arise. First, cyclists worry about the possibility of lanes which run between parallel-parked cars and the street. In hugging the wall of cars, cyclists risk a door opening in their way and running into it. Secondly, the more generalized idea that lanes will make cyclists less visible to cars, especially turning cars. These fears are highly justified and the safety of bikers should be a number one priority.

Such concerns are, though, a question of design rather than a referendum on bike lanes as a whole. After all, if the fear of running into an open door or being clipped by a right turning car meant all uses should be mixed on the street, then pedestrians should not walk on sidewalks but with traffic? That seems entirely silly. Imagine cars wading through crowds of people. Rather, appropriate signage and well marked cross-walks create a safer environment for pedestrians.

The design of bike lanes should follow similar conventions. To be clear, painting lines on the street should not be considered safe bike lanes. They must be more than that. Only with appropriate design can biking be safe. Consider for instance, lights specifically for bicyclists that would give them a few second head-start over cars in crossing an intersection. In Copenhagen, bike lanes were slightly raised above the level of the street but below the level of sidewalks. That gave a very physical separation from both vehicles and pedestrians that was also very visible. Also, by placing bike lanes far enough away from cars, they avoid the problem of open doors. What it comes down to is this: by creating better-designed bikeways, the problems of safety can be overcome. In overcoming those problems through greater investment in infrastructure you will encourage more riders. More riders creates more visibility. More visibility creates a safer environment. They build upon each other. This Berkley study supports this argument.

Then which is better, sharrow or bike lane? After that discussion it is pretty clear that I favor bike lanes; however, the sharrow plays an important role and the two need not be mutually exclusive. Not every street has the room to safely accomodate a bike lane (at least so long as we continue to favor the vehicle above all other forms of transit). When it is not safe to do so, a sharrow is the next best option. It is for that exact reason that the bicentennial bikeways plan for Columbus envisioned a mix of the two. Thus I applaud the implementation yesterday of the bike sharrow on High Street, and I hope the process of creating lanes and sharrows continues.

Cincinnati Votes to Fund Streetcar

Posted by Columbus Transit On 1:38 PM 1 comments

Yesterday, Cincinnati City Council approved funding $67 million for the construction of a downtown streetcar line. That money would cover two-thirds of the cost for construction of the line. The city hopes the federal or state government will step in to fund the remaining costs of the line through different grant programs. With assurances that construction could begin if federal dollars are added, the city is more likely to receive grants for the streetcar. For more information, a great blog devoted to the transit line can be found here.

While this website focuses on transit in Columbus, the Cincinnati Streetcar, if built, could have positive effects for the Capital. This would be the first modern streetcar built in the state and one of few in the country, yet would be just a short train ride away (pending construction of the 3C Corridor). That distance would allow people to experience the streetcar more easily. If built and designed well, of course, the streetcar system in Cincinnati could help make the case for further investments in transit throughout the state.

While funding seems to be a minor issue for the streetcar at the moment and a public vote has already been held on transit issues in the city, opponents of the streetcar are promising to push for a second public vote on the rail line.

Bike to Work Challenge!

Posted by Columbus Transit On 1:18 PM 0 comments

One thousand bikers have hit the streets over the course of the week as part of the annual Bike to Work Challenge. The program, brought by Yay Bikes!, encourages commuters to utilize biking to get to and from work. Companies create teams to see who can rack up the most cyclists during the event which runs from May 10 to May 20. The Bike to Work Challenge kicks off the summer season when people are more likely to ride to work and creates the 'critical mass' so often needed to get people out of their cars and onto alternative modes of transportation. For more information about the event, check out their website here. Have fun to all you bikers and keep up the bicyclist commute!

COTA Expands, Keeps Costs Down

Posted by Columbus Transit On 12:15 PM 0 comments

According to an article in today's Columbus Dispatch, ridership on the Central Ohio Transit Authority's buses continues to climb with increases in service while COTA holds its costs steady. From 2008-2009 COTA ridership grew by 9.4 percent at a time when many of Columbus' peer cities have reduced service and thus lowered ridership in the face of the recession. Because of that increase, COTA has brought its operating costs closer in line to other cities. Historically, COTA has paid up to 32 percent more for the same bus service compared to places like Indianapolis. Because COTA kept its operating budget low while expanding services, that percentage is now 18 percent.

The original Columbus Dispatch article can be found here.

Transit Advocacy Group Meetup

Posted by Columbus Transit On 4:49 PM 1 comments
A group of local Columbus transit advocates are planning a second 'meet up' to discuss initiatives and strategies for creating an citizens transit advocacy group. Other cities have had success with similar groups such as St. Louis' Citizens for Modern Transit. Columbus' group, ironically, has switched its name from CBus Rail to CBus Transit but despite the similarities in name, at this point, it is in no way connected to this blog. Regardless, the advocacy group invites anyone to attend.

Information about date and time can be found here.
The organization's website can be found here.

Columbus History: Streetcars

Posted by Columbus Transit On 1:53 PM 1 comments

While the recent Streetcar plan for Columbus may have seemed like a radical new step in the city's transportation infrastructure, it was actually taken largely from the past. For those of you who do not know, Columbus - like most cities in the United States - can trace its growth in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to the expansion of its streetcar network.

Streetcars in Columbus first arrived in a non-motorized form. They were horse-drawn wagons riding rails embedded in the street. With the dawn of the electric trolley, Columbus quickly upgraded its fleet of vehicles, in four years moving completely to an electric system. Streetcars rumbled up and down the center of most Columbus streets including High, 4th, Summit, East Broad, Goodale, Parsons, and Cleveland. Run by private companies, these streetcar lines were often laid into open fields which those same companies would then develop with housing and retail. These lines encouraged retail corridor streets to follow them while encouraging housing further from the retail core. In many ways, streetcars encouraged the earliest generation of urban sprawl because they allowed the growth of urban neighborhoods beyond the city center.

While the workers on the streetcar system held a number of strikes, the most violent in Columbus' history happened in 1910. Hoping for higher wages and union recognition, the streetcar workers walked out on April 29. The Columbus Railway and Light Company brought in 450 strike breakers from Cleveland and violence ensued. 24 streetcars were destroyed over the course of the strike which calmed down only in July with the arrival of the National Guard and fully ended in October of that year. A historic marker is located on Long Street commemorating the event.

By 1914 the Columbus streetcar system had returned to full operation, and its lines were so popular that the company experimented with a double-decker streetcar. While the car had a greater capacity, its single door entrance actually made the process of entering and exiting equally as difficult and the car was scrapped.

With the coming of the bus, the streetcar system began a 'modernization' effort. The last Columbus streetcar ran in 1948.

Public Hearings on COTA Bus Stop Improvements

Posted by Columbus Transit On 6:28 PM 14 comments

COTA has scheduled two public hearings for input on its Bus Stop Improvement Project. The times and dates are listed below:

Friday, May 14
Rhodes State Office Tower
Lobby Hearing Room 30 E. Broad St., 43215
12-1 p.m.

Monday, May 24
Northwood-High Building Room 100 2231 N. High
6-7 p.m.

Issue 2 and Transit

Posted by Columbus Transit On 9:37 AM 3 comments

According to unofficial election results, Issue 2 passed overwhelmingly in the state of Ohio, amending the constitution to move the Columbus casino from the Arena District to the West side. With its passage, a revenue-generating tourist attraction moves out of downtown Columbus to a suburban location across from the struggling Westland Mall. This profoundly changes the way transit is affected by the casino.

For background on my own bias, I did not want the casino in the Arena District in the first place not for a moral reason or a fear of lack of parking. Rather, the casino's location would replace a planned condo development in the area. I believe in the necessity of residents in downtown for its vibrancy, and while the casino would have brought people downtown, its off-the-beaten path location would not have done much to help downtown proper. With the original passage of the issue, Penn National Gambling bought the land from the condo developers, ending their construction in the area.

With the introduction of Issue 2, I weighed the options. Without a new downtown location, the casino and its power to draw people in is removed from downtown Columbus. This massive attraction will now not help the core of the city and the condo development it replaced is now either canceled or delayed by the whole process. In that way, this casino issue has been a lose-lose situation for downtown Columbus.

For transit, this provides even more interesting thoughts. We have seen the positive affects Huntington Park has had on the Arena District because of the greater number of games played there. For over a hundred days a year, the Arena District draws people from the suburbs downtown through games at Huntington. The Casino would have drawn people year-round downtown. For a transit system, this would have been extremely helpful. If the proposed North Corridor Light Rail System were ever built, its success could have been aided by the presence of the casino. Instead, the casino's construction on the West side, near 270 provides a draw to further suburban development on a relatively underdeveloped wing of the city. If the casino is successful, this may encourage planners to widen 270 in the area.

While unfortunate, the casino also will be built next door to a rail line itself. This could be a blessing in disguise. If ever Columbus attempts to construct a comprehensive rail system, an East-West line could run directly from Port Columbus to the Casino. With such massive attractions on either end, the line could be well-used even in more suburban locations. In the meantime, we can watch how COTA reacts to the casino's construction by shuffling bus lines to the area.
CBus Transit

3C: Who Will Vote?

Posted by Columbus Transit On 5:21 PM 1 comments

As of just recently, Ohio's Controlling Board voted 4-3 to spend $25 million for a detailed study of the rail corridor which would connect Ohio's biggest cities by rail for the first time in more the 3 decades. This would be one of the last studies before the remainder of the $400 million grant given by the Federal government for construction of the line could be spent. For that money to be spent, however, a 5-2 majority vote is needed by the Controlling Board. That bodes poorly for the completion of the line. Or does it?

Of the three Senators voting 'no,' two are facing term limitations this year. Both David Goodman and John Carey will be retiring from the Senate in December. Depending on the length of time it will take to complete this study, the composition of the Controlling Board will be changed. Those changes could mean the fate of rail's return to the state.

CBus Transit Relaunches

Posted by Columbus Transit On 4:04 PM 0 comments

After an extended hiatus in posting, CBus Transit officially relaunches today! With a new look, new features, and new ways to connect, it is our hope that CBus Transit will grow into an even better center for all things transit in Columbus. If you have any suggestions or comments, I cannot wait to hear them. Thanks for your support!
CBus Transit
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