Travels – Silver Line BRT Boston

I just returned from a trip to the USA. Starting with my hometown of Buffalo, then Troy NY (for a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reunion), on to Boston, then San Jose and finally San Francisco. Lots of traveling.

Last Monday was a real adventure: my sister dropped me off at the commuter rail station in Worchester MA, took the train to Boston South Station. From there I took the new Silver Line bus rapid transit (BRT) line to the airport. The photo above is of downtown Boston from the airplane.

The Silver Line has a neat system where they send people heading to the airport with baggage to one end of the platform enabling them to board the bus first and put their baggage on the racks. Then the bus pulls up to the main platform and all the other riders board (there are four stops before the airport).

My only complaint was that the signs in South Station were not easy to read/understand. Specifically, they have a very small silver airplane symbol on a maroon background … this is supposed to tell you to go this way to the airport. I went up and down the escalators several times looking for the Silver Line to the airport – and, when I – a fairly seasoned public transport user and traveler – have this kind of problem I am sure I am not alone!

The flight to San Francisco was fine. From San Francisco airport I headed south to San Jose via Caltrain. More in my next post!

Bill Fulton: What We Can REALLY Learn From Portland

One of my favorite California planners, Bill Fulton, has a wonderful article about learning from Portland Oregon’s success in creating an exciting urban area. Like most planners I have always been a huge fan of Portland and its great transport system. Bill’s article identifies six lessons from Portland, but rather than encouraging other cities to simply copy these lessons – which many “lessons from Portland” articles seem to do, he suggests that cities try to understand what Portland has done and develop their own strategies for success. Here’s a link to Bill Fultons’s article What We Can REALLY Learn From Portland.

Bus Meister

Limmatquai Transit Priority Traffic Signal - 2001

Limmatquai Transit Priority Traffic Signal – 2001

I’ve been interested in public transport priority for many years. The key problem with public transport priority, it seems to me, is that the projects needed to help make public transport more efficient aren’t very sexy. It’s all about the little things not the huge new light rail systems or metro projects. So, how to you make public transport priority more exciting?

How about developing an on-line game that people can use to model their own public transport line and linking that to a social networking system that brings people together to lobby effectively for implementation of the best ideas? That’s the main idea behind the Bus Meister proposal I am working on.

There’s already transportation games like Gridlock Busters about traffic congestion and social networking sites like see fix click designed to help generate “pressure” for improving urban infrastructure, why not combine the ideas and do something to improve public transport?

I submitted the idea to the ITS Transport Congestion Challenge – a competition where people vote on-line for the best solutions for traffic congestion. I would appreciate your comments and vote! Here’s a link to Bus Meister on my website, it presents the whole proposal and gives instructions on how to vote.

Thanks, and please let me know what you think – I plan to continue working on the proposal!

Oh Lord, won’t ya buy me a cobra tram?


Finally a new music video. Just before heading out to dinner with friends in Zurich I heard Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz song. All I can say is that it was inspiring … and I am not the only one, there’s lots of versions on YouTube.

We went to dinner at a great little neighborhood restaurant with big windows on one of Zurich’s public transport priority streets. All night long trams passed by until finally it clicked …

Cobra trams are Zurich’s new low floor streetcar. They were a bit undependable when they first arrived although seem to be doing well now. They are quite elegant: big windows, lots of room around the doors to move in and out, nice seats, clean lines and quiet. Their wheels are independent (in other words there is not a common axle between wheels on either side of the streetcar) which make them very quiet.

Unfortunately as the public transport vehicle manufacturing industry has consolidated over the last few years the major manufacturers have discontinued the “cobra” design, so Zurich’s are unique. Here’s a press release by the manufacturer Bombardier describing the cobra trams (PDF).

Volvo Museum and Hybrid Bus


On Tuesday afternoon, following the VREF’s Future of Urban Transport conference we took a hybrid bus to the Volvo Museum and had a presentation on Volvo’s approach to bus rapid transit and hybrid bus technology. BRT and public transport priority in general are one of my main interests, so it was nice to learn more about Volvo’s work in this area. The main message for me was that transit priority is important for reducing greenhouse gases since there is only so much that vehicle technology can do by itself.

The Volvo Museum was fascinating. It describes the company history and there are cars, trucks and buses from every decade, including “concept” vehicles. Photo shows me ‘driving’ one of the historic buses (they would not let me drive the hybrid!). Very interesting is that Nash Motors from the USA almost bought Volvo in the 1930s, but at the last minute Volvo’s founders were able to get additional funding to keep the company. Given my name that was an interesting personal connection!

Photos from the Volvo Museum are on my flickr site.

Future Urban Transport Conference – Days 2 and 3

Yesterday I discussed the academic workshop held at the Future Urban Transport Conference, today I discuss the second two days which were devoted to a wider discussion of issues.

On Monday, we started with presentations from very high level business leaders at AB Volvo, Bombardier Transportation, Volvo Car Corporation and the Swedish Petroleum Institute. They described what their companies were doing in the areas of future urban transport. Next we heard from the Mayor of Goteborg, the Deputy Mayor of Changsha (China) and Kulveer Ranger (Director of Transport Policy for the Greater London Authority). They described how their cities were addressing the issue of sustainable transport and urban planning. The final session discussed ‘service’ business ideas: urban freight management, Veolia Transport (a major operator of public transport services) and a property developer from Stockholm who described how they redeveloped an old industrial area.

All the presentations were interesting, although I think that the discussion would have been better if the groups were mixed rather than in the “silo” based format. For example it would have been interesting to have the Bombardier’s president discuss where and when rail investment is warranted with a policy maker from a developing country in Asia or Africa. Or having the Volvo Cars president discuss with London’s transport policy director how to make electric cars a reality (London believes electric car technology is ready for deployment now, it would have been interesting to hear the auto industry’s view on that).

On the other hand, the conference was small enough so that we could discuss many of these issues on a one-to-one basis. In fact, I discussed Shai Agassi’s very interesting Better Place proposal for deploying electric cars NOW with London’s Mr Ranger the evening before over a beer.

We started Tuesday with two videos of James Bond in Bremen. Then four focused discussions of specific research projects sponsored by the VREF. Professor Lisa Schweitzer (University of Southern California) talked about the need to proactively work on development around rail stations in disadvantaged areas. Professor Yves Crozet (University of Lyon) described how to improve accessibility for disadvantaged areas by focusing on slower modes of transport based on a case study of Lyon’s BRT line (the case study used a very cool GIS analysis).

Next we heard from Professor Anthony May (University of Leeds) on the results of a quick analysis of transport financing in France, Germany, Great Britain and Japan. What was most surprising was the lack of detailed research in the area of comparing these systems and the high degree of variation. (This would be an excellent subject for my WIKI-based transport knowledge management system, more later.) Finally, Professor Elizabeth Deakin (UC Berkeley), another of my favorite UCB professors, talked about the US transport funding situation. Both presentations included several excellent recommendations for improving the funding process.

In the afternoon a small group of us visited the Volvo Museum and learned a bit more about the Volvo buses. More tomorrow.

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