Designing Streets for Transit - TransitCenter

Photo Credit: National Association of City Transportation Officials

May 11, 2015
Designing Streets for Transit
Photo Credit: National Association of City Transportation Officials

Photo Credit: National Association of City Transportation Officials

Last Thursday, TransitCenter helped convene the inaugural workshop for a new National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Guide, “Designing Streets for Transit”. The Guide – supported by TransitCenter, the Summit Foundation, and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) – will provide a set of core principles and design strategies to enable better street design, to increase safety, and to optimize travel times for all street users. The inaugural workshop brought together over 30 municipal and regional transit planners, city engineers, and transit agency representatives from major metropolitan regions around the United States to discuss issues regarding comprehensive street design for multi-modal transportation.

As many cities around the U.S. are rapidly building out their transit networks (see Seattle, Tucson, Los Angeles, among many others) the need to establish best practices in effective planning for safe and efficient multi-modal streets is increasingly apparent. While guidance exists for planning bike lanes and for transit routes with their own dedicated right-of-way, there are fewer options out there about multi-modal streets and how to best coordinate the needs of all modes – bikes, pedestrians, surface transit (bus, streetcar or other transit), and vehicles – so that each provides the best possible service.

Lack of best practice guidance has meant that surface transit has, in places, suffered in its ability to provide adequate and reliable mobility options for riders. For example, regular surface bus routes have historically been given little priority on the street and are therefore have been consistently viewed as unreliable and inefficient.

However, surface bus routes do have the potential to deliver high quality, efficient mobility if given necessary priority on the street and if planned in conjunction with other modes. Similarly, streetcar and some light rail systems which are not given a dedicated right-of-way can get caught in auto traffic, resulting in bunching, delays and even safety risks. Given the growing demand for transit across the U.S. and the dwindling funds to support projects, this guide could make substantial strides in helping municipalities to better use the assets they already have, rather than investing in entirely new infrastructure.

While detailing street design specifications is a critical part of making our cities more accessible and multi-modal, the way in which we communicate the benefit of such changes to the public and political stakeholders is also an important piece of the puzzle. So, in addition to detailing recommended design parameters and guidelines, workshop participants indicated the need for the guide to also address strategies that would help planners and transit agencies usher the designs through the political and public process. While some of us understand the conflicts that occur at intersections (cars making right turns across bus lanes, continuous bike lanes) and on various street types (shared streets and transit-only corridors), these issues, and their solutions, need to be better communicated to both political allies and to the general public.

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The NATCO guide has the potential to help balance out the priority between modes on our streets, elevating the importance of transit, bikes, and pedestrians over motor vehicles. It also has the potential to provide a new framework for productive partnership between city traffic engineers/planners and transit agencies, and work to align common missions and deliver affordable mobility for a wider cross-section of the urban population.

Last week’s meeting was the start of a research and writing process that will culminate in a new publication in the fall of 2015. We’re excited that our funding is helping cities make this new work possible.

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