The transit agency serving Houston just revamped its entire route structure and schedule in search of improved efficiency.
Like in many cities, Houston’s previous route plan was 30 years old, and was based on residential and employment centers at that time. And as in most cities, what updates have occurred were modifications based on the old system, making only incremental attempts at accommodating the major shifts in urban living and working patterns over the decades.
Now there are tools that can help policymakers and the public understand what those shifts mean, offer ways to respond effectively, and potentially even keep pace with changes in future years.
Houston’s new plan, scrapping a downtown-centric hub-and-spoke layout in favor of a citywide grid system, is slated to take effect in August; anyone interested in urban transit systems should watch how the transition goes there, to learn what to do as well as, perhaps, some pitfalls to avoid.
Regardless of how Houston’s effort fares, cities across the country are going to need to transition their 20th century transportation systems to ones ready for the 21st century. Fortunately, there are new tools that can help policymakers and residents alike better understand the systems that exist now, and model the potential results of proposed changes.
For inventorying the service potential of existing systems, there are several examples:
- San Francisco has a new interactive map that allows people to see how much of the city they can reach in a given period of time. Most fascinating, it includes not only projections for days of normal operations, but also for days that are better or worse than normal.
- The Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota released a study late in 2014 ranking U.S. cities by how accessible jobs were via transit during rush hour.
- New York City residents can delve even more deeply, looking at transit-accessible jobs by sector, thanks to the independent research and advocacy group Regional Plan Association.
With these new data-powered tools, planning transportation for the city of the future can involve more people, more perspectives and more potential options.