Good and Bad Transit Planning

I’ve been around the world a bit lately, seen different places, ridden different trains, and even just within my own city, İstanbul, lately, I’ve seen some interesting tidbits. There’s a lot that goes into making a big city work. Goods, people, utilities, services all have to be moved about the city quickly and efficiently. I tend to focus most of my time considering how people move about a city.

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İstanbul

Recently I travelled to the Northern part of İstanbul because I wanted to try out the new line F3 (Funicular line 3, 3rd after the Tünel, and the Kabataş Funicular train lines). For starters, I though it was a monorail, because the Turkish word for monorail is ambiguous. In Turkish, usually monorails are referred to as HavaRay – or Air-train – which as it turns out, simply means elevated train. Anyways, I had gone to breakfast in Karaköy, walked back to Mecidiyeköy, and then took M2 up towards Sanayi Mah. and Vadi İstanbul, where F3 was located. To get to Vadi İstanbul from Mecidiyeköy you must take three trains. M2, M2-Seyrantepe, and F3. M2-Seyrantepe is a two-stop one-track line between Sanayi Mahallesi and Seyrantepe/TT Stadium. It comes every 9 minutes and has a journey time of about 2 minutes. From there one must walk out of the station across a plaza, and onto the platform for F3, another one-track, two-stop line that comes about every 9 minutes.

F3 goes from the top of a hill to the bottom of a valley, and thus is an elevated cable car, however, the experience of getting from anywhere of consequence to Vadi İstanbul by transit is not good. You have a minimum of two transfers, and a minimum journey time of 30 minutes (that’s to travel 5km). Contrast that to where I live, I can get from my apartment to the north end of town in 20 minutes, or to Fatih in 15. (~8-10 km in each direction) With no transfers. On top of all of this, F3 is, as cable cars tend to be, slow. So it’s 750m journey takes about 2,5 minutes. This in my mind is bad transit planning. I believe they should have planned this system far better, and extended M2Seyrantepe (M2S) out, on a viaduct over the valley, along side the freeway it runs beneath, and built an elevated station with high speed elevators to the valley floor. This may have been more expensive, but it would save ~13 minutes per journey for passengers. No transfer, no long wait for a second train, just M2S from Vadi İstanbul to Sanayi Mah. (or to the stadium if that’s where the person was actually trying to go). They could then also perhaps extend M2S to become its own independent line, serving points such as Alibeyköy’s satellite bus garage (intercity) on one side, with connections to M7, and T5, and on to Istinye Park Mall, Istinye, Tarabya, and Sariyer in the other direction, providing metro access to places with high traffic, but only busses stuck in traffic service today.

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It could have been so much more useful…

Another issue with this set-up is the transfer at Seyrantepe. You must descend multiple stair sets, walk through a long tunnel, out of the station, out across a plaza, and then into another station and down some more stairs to transfer between F3 and M2S. Even this could be better, as the train lines could have at least met in the same building/station structure, rather than requiring a 5 minute walk between the two (and a confusing one at that as the signage is lacking and your orientation is hard to gather there). There are other good examples in İstanbul, such as the T1-F1 transfer, M2-F1 transfer, or the M1-M2-Marmaray transfer in Yenikapi. These were all sensibly built transfer stations that do not require excess walking to get between trains. It’s < 3 minutes between trains in these places. Personally, I frequently take 3 trains to get to Eminonu or Karakoy because the transfers are quick and easy, and I never really wait more than 3 minutes for any one vehicle on the line. M2 runs every 2-6 minutes, F2 is every 5, and T1 is every 30-240 seconds. Alternatively I could take one train, and walk like 10 minutes, but its just as easy and fast to take three trains due to good station/transfer design and train frequency.

There are some other terrible examples in this city of bad transfers – Uzuncayir-Unalan and Zincirlikuyu-Gayretepe, – where the stations are far enough apart to have separate names, yet they are probably in the top 5 transfer points in the entire city. (I’d assume that it goes something like: (Disclaimer, I do not know for sure, this is just my educated guess)

  1. Yenikapı (I don’t think I’ve ever seen less than a thousand people in any single one of my short walks through that station)
  2. Mecidiyeköy-Şişli/Mecidiyeköy
  3. Zincirlikuyu-Gayretepe

    metrobüs-0021
    Zincirlikuyu
  4. Zeytinburnu
  5. Uzuncayir-Ünalan
  6. Ayrilikcesmesi
  7. Topkapı
  8. Üsküdar(ferry-M5-marmaray)
  9. Eminönü (Ferry-T1)
  10. Kadiköy (ferry-M4)
  11. Şirinevler-Ataköy
  12. Sirkeci
  13. Taksim-Kabataş

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    Mecidiyeköy Metrobüs
  14. Edirnekapı-Şehitler
  15. Kirazlı
  16. Vatan-Topkapı/Ulubatlı
  17. Merter
  18. Levent
  19. Otogar
  20. Sanayi Mah.

Mecidiyeköy suffers from similar bad planning though the stations at least have the same name. It’s a 5 minute walk between stations. And to make that transfer better, while there used to be a tunnel from metrobüs to metro, now it is under construction so you must surface and deal with the maddening Merkez Cd. and Büyükdere Cd. Crossings, and woefully inadequate 15 meter wide sidewalks.

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Traffic on the sidewalk between Metro, Surface Busses, and Metrobüs in Mecidiyeköy

When I have to make some of these transfers, are some of the few times I miss Chicago. Train transfers there were so easy. The worst transfer in Chicago was either the Jackson Tunnel (because of the smell, not the distance) or the Clark Transfer because it was double the normal amount of stairs (from elevated to subway). Most transfers in the CTA system require you to simply exit your train, and wait for the next one on the same platform, and while, I understand why we need multiple platforms here in İstanbul, due to high train frequencies on every line, the platforms can be closer to each other, or adjacent even. There are a few places like this – Ataköy Şirinevler, you simply walk up, over half the freeway, and back down into the other station. Yenikapı is another good example, all the platforms are very near to each other, it’s a quick jaunt between the three train lines there.

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An easy transfer between 5 trains on the same platform in Chicago

Transfers are only one element though – though the one I most frequently experience stress with here in İstanbul. Thankfully most of the train lines run more often than every 5 minutes, so train waits aren’t long, but walks are. There is also train frequency, which is ridiculously high here in İstanbul, and every time I leave İstanbul, I am astonished at how long I have to wait for a train, even in other huge cities, like Chicago, Seattle, Rome, Frankfurt, etc. In İstanbul we’re absolutely spoiled by how frequently our trains show up, however, it’s because we need it – we actually need either longer trains or more frequent service to handle our passenger loads.

Line No. 2 4 Metro-büs 3 1 T1 T4
Length (km) 23,5 26,5 52 15,9 26,1 18,5 15,3
Stations 16 19 44 11 23 31 22
Train-cars 124 144 460 80 105 92 78
Train-sets (4 car metro, 3 or 2-car tram) 31 36 20 26 46 26
Journey Time (mins) 33 38,5 83 20 35 65 42
Hours 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 24 hour 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00
Peak Frequency 02:45 03:53 00:14 06:40 02:30 00:45 05:00
Average Frequency 04:30 05:00 1 9 3/6 3 08:00
Daily Ridership 480.000 283.000 850.000 55.000 400.000 350.000 115.000
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Trains Frequently Arrive in İstanbul (Train in 2 and 5 minutes approaching)

Stop spacing is another issue, and this is another one I think İstanbul excels at. Stops are >1km, but < 2km apart normally. This means that coverage (the amount of people able to access the train line) is maximized, while also maximizing speed (every stop slows the line down by a minute). This has been really well done with one notable exception – Haliç Station, sitting on a bridge in the middle of a body of water.It requires a minimum 5 minute walk to anything (just to get off the bridge and across the large streets on either side). It’s a gorgeous view, but I sincerely believe that station should have been split into two – one on either side of the golden horn. This is something that Chicago spaced too tightly, Seattle too loosely, and İstanbul generally hits the sweet spot (It notably does this with its bus system too, which is a huge departure from American bus systems, that stop every block or two).

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Metro Schematic
Ekran Resmi 2018-01-31 21.33.43
Metro Stops/Lines Geographic

 

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Mecidiyeköy/İstanbul

Mecidiyeköy

So I’ve lived in three cities in my life. First city – Kent, Washington, a quiet but large suburb of Seattle, I’ve lived in neighborhoods with density ranging from 2000/sqmi to 10,000/sqmi. Second City – The Second City (Chicago, IL) where I lived in neighborhoods with density ranging from 11,000-50,000 people/sqmi. Third, and current city – Mecidiyeköy, Şişli, İstanbul, Turkey – a neighborhood with 113,000 people per square mile. İstanbul is a city with 15 million documented people (but if you ask people who live here they say many people aren’t counted and it’s closer to 17-18 million), with neighborhoods that have more than 200,000 people per square mile in places.

One might be led to believe that with so many people in so little space crime would run rampant, it would be noisy and dirty and a disaster. One would be dead wrong. İstanbul has a crime rate that puts the cities of the US to absolute shame. Murder rate in İstanbul? 1-2/100,000. Death by traffic? 1.5/100,000 Death by terrorism? .7/100,000. Add those up and you get the death by traffic rate alone of America’s safest big cities (for traffic). Alex, if there’s that many people, there must be tons of noise! Nope. I live downtown İstanbul, and Downtown Chicago was far noisier, with the freeway about 500 feet away, I could hear it perfectly, loud asshole motorcyclists at 2AM, sirens, loud people talking on the street at 2 am, all of it. In Mecidiyeköy I again find myself ~450 feet from an elevated 4×4 expressway. but I rarely hear sirens, I don’t even know the freeway exists until I’m under it, the motorcycles are only around in the daytime mostly, people rarely are loud on the street after 0:00, the only noise (which I’m hearing now as I write this at 1:23AM) at night is the garbage/cleaning trucks. Which brings me to cleanliness! The city is not dirty. There’s spots of untidiness here and there, but the city as a whole stays really clean (especially the public transport!). Cleaning crews go through the city constantly, shop owners sweep their sidewalks, the plants along the freeway are kept looking nice(actually, those plants are a work of art), etc.

Life is easy going here. The neighborhood is full of things to do and see. There’s three grocers on the next street, there’s small 7-11 like stores everywhere (that sell beer!), there’s a few super-grocers in walking distance (4 Migros locations, 2 Carrefour locations, 1 Namli). There are three malls within 1/2 mile of my apartment. There’s restaurants everywhere, hardware stores, etc. Plus, I chose this neighborhood because it’s on top of the subway and the Metrobüs. This is where almost every one of the main transportation arteries in the city cross(which actually makes it very difficult to access by car…). Barbaros Bulvarı comes up from the bosporus, Halaskargazi Caddesi comes in from Taksim, the D-100 carries people from Beylikdüzü (Western suburbs) to Gebze(Eastern Suburbs), as well as the Metrobüs from Kadıkoy to Beylikdüzü. Büyükdere Caddesi runs through the other neighborhoods that make up downtown İstanbul, and on up to the northern suburbs. And they’re building a new metro line from the bosporus to the northwestern suburbs and industrial areas. Anyways, due to the proximity of everything I walk to almost everything I do. I actually only take the subway when I’m in a gigantic hurry, or if I’m feeling exceptionally lazy. There’s more to see in a minute of walking here than in an hour back home in the U.S.

A little about İstanbul’s organizational structure: İstanbul is a metropolitan municipality, which means nothing to someone in the U.S. Basically, İstanbul is a merged city-state. The mayor of İstanbul is the highest elected official in the city-state. There is a governor who is appointed by the national government. This strange legal arrangement is why when you look up some statistics about İstanbul, there’s oddities – like the claim that Istanbul’s density is 6900/sqmi. (less than the city of Seattle). That is the provincial density, and does not represent in any way the density at which people actually live. The density of the ~350 populated square miles of İstanbul is 44,700/sqmi

Further down, the city is split up into districts – there are 39 of them that break up the city-state. My district (İlçe) is Şişli. These are administrative units that have local school boards, utilities departments, garbage men, etc. They act like the services part of a city government in the U.S., but they don’t seem to deal with infrastructure and other large things.

The smallest unit is the neighborhood, my district has 25 neighborhoods (Mahalle) and I live in Mecidiyeköy. These neighborhoods have a legal definition, boundaries, etc. They are not like neighborhoods in the U.S., where you can argue with your friends on wether Streeterville ends at Chicago Ave. or if it goes all the way to E. Lake Shore Drive, the borders of these neighborhoods are set because they provide minimal administrative services.

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The neighborhoods of Şişli

So when I give my address it includes this: Mecidiyeköy Mah. Şişli, İstanbul, 34. If I were to try to do something similar for where I lived in Chicago it would look like: Streeterville Neighborhood, Near North Side, Chicago, IL

The neighborhoods in my district are all ranging from 10,000/sq mile (large empty cemetery included in this) to 170,000 people/sqmi. Basically residential streets are 100K-150K/sq mile dense, and if the neighborhood includes a nonresidential function, it brings the neighborhood’s density down, but this is how we live. Very close together.

Given how close we live together, you’d imagine that it would be impossible to find a quiet place to relax in the city, right? Well, I’m here to say, there’s lots of quiet places in the city to relax. I know of quite a few tea houses that are never super busy, a couple parks with amazing views that are also quiet and pleasant. There’s a lot going on in this city, but if you’re willing to look, you can find whatever element you need. There’s also some gorgeous forests north of the city that you can walk into from the metro stations, and some gorgeous beaches along the black sea that I have visited! It’s really easy to get around the city, be it on busses (they go all over), or the subway.

gardens
Gardens on my street
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One of the entrances to a medium market
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The slums that coexist with normal housing in Mecidiyeköy
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Skyscrapers beyond the traffic circle
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Summer on Eski Osmanli Sokak
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Eski Osmali Sokak
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Kervan Gecmez Sokak
meydangece
Mecidiyeköy square at night
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Side Street
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Mecidiyeköy Plaza
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The shopping road to Gulbag, Mecidiyeköy
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Eski Osmanli Sk.
my-street
A side street by my apartment
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Panorama of Mecidiyeköy from the freeway
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brightly lit skyscrapers in Mecidiyeköy
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Rush hour at Mecidiyeköy Metrobüs
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Produce Market in Mecidiyeköy
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Alleyway in Mecidiyeköy
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Back Street
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Snow on the street with the markets
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Snow on Eski Osmanli Sk.
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Mecidiyeköy and the rest of downtown
halaskargazi
Halaskargazi Cd, (Taksim-Mecidiyeköy road)
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Cevahir, world’s 9th largest mall, Mecidiyeköy
mkoy-muhtar-hut
The Muhtar Hut for Mecidiyeköy – The muhtar verifies addresses, and does other minor administrative work, he is the legal neighborhood chief.
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Eski Osmanli Sokak
tekel
Eski Osmanli Sokak

Christmas in Honolulu

Christmas in Honolulu

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Map of Honolulu – Google Maps

 Honolulu is an ideal city for human powered movement. The majority of the city is shoved into a two-mile wide strip of flat land between the ocean and the mountains.

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Illustration of how narrow Honolulu’s Core is – from Google Earth

The Island maxes out at about 50 miles wide, with most of the further parts of the island being relatively uninhabitable. This means that the majority of the livable land on Oahu is within a 20 mile bike ride of Downtown Honolulu. The most populated sections are all within about 10 miles. Honolulu also has nearly perfect weather. It’s sunny and above 70 most of the time, but also below about 85. All this being said, its astonishing they have not made a serious effort at making cycling work there.

Honolulu

 Illustration of where people live/work on Oahu/in Honolulu – from Google maps

There are very sporadic bike lanes in the city, despite it being largely flat and pleasant. What they do have in abundance however, is 6-lane wide boulevards. They exist about every 1/4 mile. (at least near Waikiki and Ala moana – Downtown as well). With roads that wide that often, you’d think they’d never have traffic, and you’d be wrong. My dad and I biked from the airport on one of our leisure days faster than it took the bus driver to get us from the airport to waikiki when we first arrived. it was pretty astonishing how slow traffic moves on the island. Part of the problem is that honolulu’s core is really is only 2 miles wide. This constricts all northwest/southeast traffic through the city to a handful of routes (H1, Beretainia/King, Kapiolani, and Alamoana/Nimitz) (so there are about 15 continuous lanes each direction on that axis, which is the main axis of travel for the island.) 

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Nimitz Highway – a 6 lane ‘expressway’ along Honolulu’s Waterfront

This city is also the absolutely ideal case for a rail transit line. Even for those who argue that rail is bad because it is fixed and can’t follow development, Honolulu makes the case for rail, because it is only 2 miles wide, you put a line down the middle of it, and development Cannot ever get more than a mile away even if it tries! Honolulu is building such a train line right now, but its incredible that it took them this long to get around to it. It is the only city I have been to that is less radial than Seattle or San Francisco or even Istanbul.

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Honolulu’s rail transit project – from: http://www.honolulutransit.org/rail-system-guide/interactive-route-map.aspx

One of the problems with the city’s highways are that they all come to a bottleneck between the airport and downtown, where the only connection point is a 12 lane (each way) double decker highway/freeway that is absolutely ridiculous. 

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The tangle at the edge of Downtown Honolulu – the city’s singular chokepoint – from Google Earth

This being said, it seems like the city would do extremely well for itself to both build the train line it is building, and to create a segregated bike-highway that goes the length of town down the middle, with connecting bike lanes perpendicular to it every 1/4 to 1/2 mile. 

Honolulu also suffers from a really messed up grid. it “has a grid” but the grid wobbles and wavers as if the person who drew it was completely drunk. There are many discontinuous streets, and confusing streets. There are also many canals through the city that they chose not to bridge frequently enough, making their already bad chokepoints worse. For example: Waikiki is separated from the city by the Ala Wai canal. There are three bridges across the canal, and they are all at the north west edge of Waikiki, to cross North/Northeast into the city you are forced to travel to either end of waikiki, you cannot simply cross in the middle. This both forces people to drive what should be a short walkable distance, and discourages walking because distances are magnified by a lack of access. Honolulu needs more bridges over its canals – Like the Chicago Loop – Bridges on every street.

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Do you even grid? – warped grids in Honolulu, from Google Earth

Jackie Chan taken from: http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/73275/Jackie

The buildings (at least around Waikiki) Are well designed though, and I commend the city for that. They are designed just like in Istanbul – tiny stores in the bottom, towers above, if there’s parking you don’t see it. Excellent design.

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Small shops on the bottom floor – a minimal parking garage visible, beautiful sidewalk landscaping, and a tower above

And in the tourist parts of town, the sidewalks are wide and well adorned. However, wander into the locals’ parts of town, and this is not at all the case. There are also many All-way walk cycles along Waikiki, which are great, but!, they don’t let you cross when traffic in the direction you want to go in gets a green light, which was very confusing. You have to wait the 40-50 seconds for the all-way walk cycle, so in the end, you don’t end up saving any time with it – and its more superficial than useful. 

In general, the car culture in Honolulu is very ingrained, and it shows in the infrastructure. The main mall has 6 lane streets that begin/end inside its parking garages (Ala Moana Mall).

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Interstate Parking Garage – a 6 lane street ending in a parking garage at the Ala Moana Mall

The city’s downtown streets are incredibly wide, and hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. Sidewalks outside of Waikiki are not maintained well, and are narrow. 

The city’s architecture is quite gorgeous on the whole. There are lots of beautiful reflective glass towers, and lots of really plain residential skyscrapers that are beautiful in their efficiency.

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Glass skyscraper in HonoluluIMG_1146

Plain skyscraper in Honolulu

It also has more square buildings than I’ve ever seen in one place in my life – They must have some strange land use regulations that make squares more economically efficient in Honolulu, because they are usually pretty inefficient as a high-rise residential form. 

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A square residential Tower near Waikiki

I was also really surprised at how few people were out walking on the streets outside of Waikiki. Despite being in a dense city, the sidewalks were almost empty in the early evening. It was Christmas Holiday, but – in my experience, in Seattle and Chicago – that’s never stopped anyone from being out and about in the city – and both of those cities are much much less pleasant outside at that time of year.

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Busy Waikiki around Christmastime  

Are Urban Passenger Rail Lines as Destructive as Freeways?

I very frequently consider the idea that perhaps building urban rail lines separates neighborhoods as much as the freeway does. It stems from me deciding I have to be honest with myself, and consider that maybe the rail line does the same thing the freeway does in this respect. My friend Ryan sent me an article, written by someone in Minneapolis who clearly hates their light rail, and is trying to find arguments against it. http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2014/10/superhighways-and-light-rail-antagonists-or-evil-twins

Each time I consider this idea, I think about the Northside Mainline in Chicago, 4 tracks, side by side, carving up the greatest neighborhoods in Chicago,

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and all they do is provide shade to sit under, or protection from the rain under which you can wait for a bus.

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Honestly, the Northside Mainline is the lifeblood of the city. It moves ~200,000 people per day in a 50 foot wide space.

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In comparison to say, The Dan Ryan Expressway,

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 which moves about 300,000 people on a good day, and takes up 410 feet of space (500 if you count the frontage roads, and 470 if you subtract the red line out of the middle of it). On the low end, Lake Shore DriveNorth Ave Beach 3

moves about 200,000 people per day (counting all the passengers on busses ~60,000), and it does this in about 110 feet of space, torn out of the middle of a park… Lake Shore drive also does not have the safety features of most modern freeways, there are no shoulders, the lanes are very narrow, and the median barely exists. The typical modern freeway takes up about 250 feet of space, ballooning to around 400 at interchanges(off-ramps to city streets).CTA V Dan Ryan-01

Lake Shore drive is about the maximum width of space I’m willing to cross as wasteland. And frankly, I think I’m only willing to cross it because I am forced to every day because I happen to live East of the Drive. I really don’t like crossing it at all because even Lower Lake Shore is full of freeway-speed cars, and people who just don’t care to realize they’re on a city street.Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 23.32.41

On the other hand, I’ve wandered in and out crossing the rail lines willy nilly with nary a thought of passing them. The only thought I have is; “oh cool! a train passing overhead!” None of the urban rail lines in Chicago have ever caused me to consider wether or not I would cross them to get somewhere. Especially not the subway lines, which have absolutely no impact on the ground plane. This feeling is not the same with the expressways. I’m very reluctant to cross the Dan Ryan Expressway, from IIT to Bridgeport. Walking across 500 feet of highway is just not appealing. That’s a full minute of walking where it seems like I am going absolutely nowhere, and it might be acceptable if there were things immediately on the other side, but no one in their right mind locates their establishment immediately adjacent to a 14+6 lane monster-freeway, so if we’re realistically talking about going somewhere on the other side, its two blocks of wasteland IIT campus within no attractions(except class…) a wasteland of wide freeway, and then another block or two of residential only until I get to something I might actually stop at (stores, restaurants, etc.).

Note how the green line through IIT's campus barely even registers on this image.
Note how the green line through IIT’s campus barely even registers on this image.

This means that in my 6 years of attending IIT I’ve crossed the Dan Ryan on foot about as many times as I have fingers. And lets be honest, I’m way more ambitious about walking places than your average citizen. Rail lines don’t create wastelands on either side of them. In fact, the busiest, best shopping corridors intersect rail lines. there are restaurants, bars, and shops built almost on top of the rail lines, things are built so close in fact, that on the occasion that one of them goes up in flames, the entire rail line gets shut down as a safety precaution. I actually took a ride from my friend Ryan, mostly because I didn’t feel like crossing the Dan Ryan on foot at Roosevelt. (The other part of that decision was that I didn’t want to get there far later than my peers, but both factored in).

Red was the path I would have walked, Blue/Green was the walking/driving path I took.
Red was the path I would have walked, Blue/Green was the walking/driving path I took.

All of this is to say, that, for CTA rail, I don’t think it impacts the city in at all the same way a freeway does. Freeways completely disrupt the urban fabric, and divide neighborhoods horribly, and Urban Elevated and Subway lines do not. Now, Metra in the City of Chicago is a different story. Our regional rail system here in Chicago is built on embankments all over the city. These embankments form the lines between neighborhoods in many cases, and due to their construction as solid fill embankments, rather than the clear and open steel viaducts of the CTA, they do indeed form walls, however, they also tend to get no wider than 45-60 feet

Just ignore the Spactial....
Just ignore the Spactial….

(except near downtown where freight lines and multiple metra lines come together, but this mostly happens in industrial areas – and less so in legitimate residential/commercial neighborhoods). Metra lines due to their construction style do create a visual barrier in a neighborhood, and as metra doesn’t stop in the city mostly, they’re useless to city residents, and neither provide connectivity, or vibrancy. The metra lines operate far more like freeways in this sense, shuttling suburbanites past the city, and into the gleaming loop for work, turning their backs on the city as they travel through it. Despite their worse design, they still do not create the same level of obstruction as a freeway. I can think of many places where I cross metra lines without really thinking about it. It’s more like walking through a city-gate than crossing a street (if Metra is the City-Gate, and CTA is like crossing a street). They do not form obstacles to my biking through the city, or my walking through it.

Double Whammy Metra and CTA within 200 feet at my favorite Chicago Turkish Restaurant, Cafe Orchid
Double Whammy Metra and CTA within 200 feet at my favorite Chicago Turkish Restaurant, Cafe Orchid
One freeway through the entire city(Elgin to Crete), takes up as much space as all 11 Metra lines and their branches!
One freeway through the entire city(Elgin to Crete), takes up as much space as all 11 Metra lines and their branches!

The last form of urban rail – Light rail is also worth discussing, as this was the original subject of the article that prompted me to write down my thoughts. When I consider Seattle’s Light Rail, it was built in elevated sections

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(which like the L, have no effect at all on the pedestrian experience/connectivity, in my opinion – in fact, they create a landmark that makes it easier to gauge progress along a street by). Some sections are a subway

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(Beacon Hill, Downtown, U-district), and this part has no effect on the pedestrian environment, except to provide a relief from being a pedestrian now and then, and offer a lightning fast ride from where you are to where you want to be, for almost no money. The third form it takes is the at-grade alignment, where it doubles with a street, or slips down an alleyway next to a transit way. These two conditions (Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and the SODO/E3 Busway) are interesting to discuss. The MLK segment took a wide road, and stretched its width, making it longer to cross on foot – though, at the same time, it added pedestrian islands in the middle of the street which made it easier to cross, even if it takes longer now.

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The other thing the light rail did in this corridor, was to spur development. But, it didn’t just spur any kind of willy-nilly development. It spurred the kind of development that fronts the sidewalk, and doesn’t hide behind acres of parking. It spurred the kind of development that encourages you to walk to it, and window shop, and generally enjoy your time walking and shopping. I think this benefit, far outweighs any widening of the street to accommodate the rail line! Creating a pedestrian environment, by making a destination for pedestrians (a station) vastly improves the neighborhood for everyone, and ties it together far more than it tears it apart. This is where freeways and rail lines defer so much. The freeway creates a mass of noise, and hell and pollution that no one wants to go near with a 1000 foot pole, let alone walk around in. The rail line accommodates a quiet train that comes once in a while, and creates basically zero pollution. It ferries people to stations in great numbers, providing an audience for a lively retail and restaurant area. Freeway exits just encourage gas stations and strip malls, which further divide a neighborhood, enforcing that everyone must drive to be comfortable. It doesn’t matter in that neighborhood if they build sidewalks, because even on the sidewalk a pedestrian does not feel safe with traffic whizzing by at 45 mph. And fighting drivers who pull in and out of curb cuts without a second thought for the pedestrian simply makes the pedestrian arm himself with the same 2 ton metal cage everyone else has for protection! The case of the SODO busway is an interesting one as well, as this is a heavily industrial area, where few people would ever walk anyways, due to wide roads, and no points of interest.

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However, the rail authority included a bike/walking trail next to the rail line, and since the line is not in a street, it worsened no crossing distances. (it created a new crossing adjacent to the busway, but that was never a hard road to cross in the first place, it is hardly more than an alley).

Perhaps another example of how street-level light rail does not harm a neighborhood is the example of the N-Judah Muni-Metro Streetcar/LightRail/Subway line.

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This line goes from San Francisco Station (Commuter Rail) through the financial district via the double decked Market St. Subway, and then takes off down Judah St. along Golden Gate Park and off to Ocean Beach. This line ferries passengers through dense housing areas on narrow streets to a myriad of restaurants and entertainment. The neighborhood is completely continuous across the line as it is on a street hardly wider than an alley. The streetcar/light rail/subway simply adds people to a vibrant and beautiful area of town.

So in conclusion, After considering a myriad of rail line types, and a myriad of freeway widths, my opinion is that rail lines have nowhere near the same divisive effect on an urban neighborhood as the freeways do. Rail lines add vibrancy, and sew together neighborhoods. Freeways destroy, pollute, and divide them horribly. I mean, when was the last time you crossed a freeway on foot and enjoyed it?!

Yeah, I totally want to walk/bike under that...
Yeah, I totally want to walk/bike under that…

Denver, Colorado

Denver is a neat city. I was able to visit my friend Kevin who lives in Golden on my drive back to Seattle. I arrived in Denver in the morning on a Friday while Kevin was still at work, so I drove to BelMar (an urbanist redevelopment of a dead shopping mall), and poked around for a few minutes. Belmar was pretty neat, but it honestly had too much parking. They only have one street corner where there is no parking visible, so really, outside that one corner, its way nicer than your average suburban strip mall,

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but it still needs work. I understand the need to have parking, but do what some buildings in Chicago does! Ring the block with retail on the ground, and build the parking in the middle of that, and build it up over it if you need to. Then the street is still pleasant. They did have a target built over a parking lot, so it sort of hid the parking, and that was nice. They also added a ton of multiunit housing complexes to the mix,

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which should help keep it much more vibrant, and contribute to a more consistent stream of people wandering around it. The development has a bus shuttle every hour to the nearest Light Rail station, which is slightly farther than I’d want to walk. After I was done putzing around BelMar, I drove out to Golden, parked at the Jefferson County (Jeffco) government center

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and took the W into town. I proceeded to ride all but about 2 miles of the light rail system Denver has.

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(I rode the E, D, and W lines which cover almost the entire system. (Denver has 6 light rail services on 3 lines and 2 branches).lightrailmap-2014

I only missed two stations, Dayton, and Nine Mile. I chose to walk back to downtown from the 30th And Downing Station, which was a nice walk. A Thunderstorm was approaching the city, and the reflections off the skyscrapers were absolutely amazing.

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The thunderstorm got into town a little before me though, so I hopped on the D line just outside the central loop, and took it to the 16th st. Free Mall Ride(free busses every couple minutes running between the rail lines and the capitol building). Later in the weekend, Kevin and I rode the W into town to hang out, have dinner, and go to a rockies game, except it got cancelled while we were in the stadium waiting for it to occur because the water main broke outside the stadium right around then. Denver as we both found out on our way back to the W, has a crazy cool underground bus terminal, that feels more like an airport. We discovered this Bus terminal because when we had come into town, I noticed people heading down this staircase on one side of union station (home of amtrak and 4 future commuter rail lines), and then I saw a staircase on the other side of the tracks, so when we came back, Kevin and I decided to test it out, and it indeed got us quickly under the train tracks, but also it took us through this bus terminal.

Denver in general seems like it is rolling in money. That’s really the impression that I got. Driving through town, you see overpasses that are decked out, and super wide, the highways are well maintained, and very numerous. Downtown has about 38 lanes in and out of it on freeways, and there are a pile of freeways that don’t touch downtown, going in every direction. And they’re all plenty wide, and seem to be expanding. Denver is building 1 more light rail line, extending 3, building 4 commuter train lines, and a BRT line by 2016/17. 

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To put this in perspective relative to my world, Chicago has 7 urban rail lines, 13 commuter rail lines, and about 54 lanes going in and out of downtown on freeways. Seattle has 42 lanes in and out, 1 urban rail line, 2 commuter train lines, 2 new urban lines under construction, 1 being extended, and 2 streetcars, with a 3rd and an extension of the second in the works. Denver has 650,000 people in the city limits, and 2,600,000 in the region – Seattle has 651,000 people in the city limits, and 3,500,000 in the region, and Chicago has 2,700,000 in the city limits, and 9,000,000ish in the region. Denver has 115,000 downtown employees, Seattle has about 220,000 and Chicago has about 600,000. Denver is only 16 lanes and 10 commuter lines short of Chicago’s Level of Infrastructure, with 2/7 the population. (it has 2/3 the roads, and will have = urban rail, and 1/3 of the commuter rail in 2017) Really, I feel like I need to study this city and see how they’ve done things. I did notice that they opted for some interesting usability disadvantages with their light rail lines where if they had spent a little more money they could have done a little better, but in other ways they were way ahead of other places I’ve been (most stations have platforms on both sides of the train for at least one direction – which is crazy cool). I know they’ve done a lot of their light rail expansion in concert with freeway expansions, which I’m sure helps keep costs down (Chicago did similar things with the Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Dan Ryan Expressways, and hopefully will do the same with the Rebuild of N. LSD). The other thing Denver does that it could definitely improve on is how often it runs its trains. The trains only run about every 10-15 minutes at rush hour, 15-25 outside of rush hour, so that probably puts a serious damper on ridership, though despite that, the system still sees about 90,000 rides a day, which is quite a pile for such a relatively tiny city really.

Downtown Denver has this beautiful thing called the 16th street mall.

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It is a street where the only vehicles allowed are the free busses that shuttle people up and down the road from Union Station

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(CWE) to the Central loop of light rail lines (DFH) and then on to the capitol area. The entire street is lined with businesses, fast food, restaurants, shops, a couple urban malls, its like Michigan Avenue, if Michigan Avenue was not one of the busiest non-highway city streets I’ve ever seen. There’s tons of pedestrians, and you can pretty much cross the street without looking because its largely empty with busses running only about every 5 minutes. The pavement of the sidewalk melds into the street, with only the slightest curbs. There’s a median in the middle where (canopy)tents are set up and temporary shops exist. (It was neat watching how fast people packed those up though when a thunderstorm rolls in) Really its an enormously pleasant experience to wander up and down this street because there aren’t any cars, no fumes, just a pleasant walk through the skyscrapers, but skyscrapers that have a street-face, not like the skyscrapers of Streeterville for instance, that largely turn their backs to the streets. Sidewalks throughout downtown Denver were wide and easy to walk on, and I never saw a lot of cars, even when I was there at rush hour on a Friday evening (the freeways on the other hand, total disaster most of the day). At any rate, I was generally very impressed with how well put together the city seems. It’s building transit at a breakneck speed, and it’s got the bones to be a much much bigger city, which is good, because its right behind Seattle in its growth rate, adding thousands of people each year!     

 

If you noticed that three of the images used in this post had snow in them and thought, huh? I thought Alex was talking about being there in August, you’d be right to be curious. I’ve been to the Denver Area three times in the past year, twice to Golden to visit Sir Kevin, and once to Longmont to Visit Sir Logan who was there for the summer for an internship. My first visit was over spring break in March though – so there was snow! (just what I wanted coming from Chicago….)  

Traveling the cities of Turkey

The end of June and beginning of July I was in Turkey. My family and I went to Istanbul, Kalkan, Antalya, Ankara, Eskisehir, and Izmir. (Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir being Turkey’s three largest cities, in that order) In Istanbul we didn’t have a car, and didn’t need one. Cabs aren’t outrageously expensive, so if you need to go without a bus, they are a feasible option, but mostly I got around on the busses and trains. on the first day I was there, I walked with my parents on the Sahil Yolu (The road that follows the Bosporus on the European side) for about 25 minutes, then I got in a cab to go the short distance up the hill to Haciosman Istasyonu. I rode the metro 735892_10151232539642798_133156164_o

to Mecidiyekoy, where I met my friend Ayse, and we got back on the metro and went to Halic (which is a station that is in the middle of a bridge over the golden horn)tn_tr-istanbul-m2-goldenhorn-bridge.

It made very little sense to me to have a train station in the middle of the waterway, I would have built two stations, one on either side a little set back from the water for the purpose of being actually useful to walk to somewhere from them, but I didn’t design it, so that’s ok. From there we walked to Eminonu and had some soft drinks before getting on the T1 (tram)_mg_3443

up the hill to near Aksaray. From there we walked along a very large and busy street to a little Cafe, where my friend Ayse had once worked, and where she met her boyfriend. We played Backgammon and checkers for a while before resuming our walk through the city. We wandered down the main street until we got to a small very busy street in an area that was pedestrianized. It was a really neat little area, there was a park a ways down the little street with every bench full of people. A nice water fountain in the middle. we bought a little cake thing and ate it, then walked back to the tram line on the major street we had been on, and took the tram to the metro bus line, which even on the sunday we were there ran a single-bendy bus every 20 seconds in both directionsmetrobus

(On weekdays they run double-bendies every 14 seconds). This bus took us straight back to the metro station that I had met her at, and we parted ways at the subway station737462_10151232539892798_842639984_o.

From there I took the metro to Darussafaka Station, and proceeded to walk about 2 miles down the hill to Istinye, which is a little waterfront village/district of Istanbul.

All of the trains we were on were very busy, despite it being Sunday. Istanbul is a large extremely dense city (the districts I was in are considerably denser than Manhattan in most cases). They were late to the game on building transit systems to move around the city. They’ve had busses and minibuses and cabs for a long time, but what they have not had before 2000 was a subway, (and their trams were built in the late 80’s). This very young subway now carries thousands upon thousands of people. The train cars are about 11 feet wide and have all aisle-facing seats, meaning when you’re on a crowded 8-car Istanbul Subway Train, you’re on a train with about 2400 other people. The trains have video-advertising in them, a line map that has lights indicating directionality and location, system maps near the doors, ample places to grab hold, and the train is articulated, meaning that there are no doors between cars for each 4-car train set. (meaning you can walk about 350 feet unimpeded from one end of the train to the other). Each car has 4 doors, and the doors are almost as wide as most airport subway automated train doors(abnormally wide due to constant crush-loads needing to disembark, and embark quickly). The tram is more like a cross between a Seattle Light Rail car and a CTA L Car. It has the capacity of the L, with the built-car-style of the Link Light Rail (and all the squeaking and bumping that comes with the L). It (400,000/day) however carries 1.5 times as many people as the busiest L line(250,000/day – red) and over less distance. On Sunday, the trains were total crush load, one after another (running about every 1-2 minutes). Mind, they can only run 2-car train sets on this line(equivalent to a 2-Car Seattle Trainset, or a 4-car Chicago Trainset), meaning they have to have them coming one after another to handle demand. The line has a few break points (places where service ends mid-line in order to heavily serve high demand corridors). When we rode the first train the passengers turned over about 2.5 times over about 1.5 miles. (turning over meaning that the train did the equivalent of filling up and emptying 2.5 times). The tram line reminded me of Muni Metro in San Francisco, just with a million more rail cars and people. The bus line is in the middle of the D100 expressway and runs busses at insane frequencies to handle its normal 750,000/day. This is perhaps one of the best candidate locations for a legitimate subway I’ve ever seen in my life. The corridor usage on this line is absolutely insane. Mind, the line is about 50 miles long, and broken into multiple pieces, but, that’s 15,000 people per mile still, which is absolutely insane. For perspective, Seattle’s busiest transit line carries around 4000/mile. Chicago’s Busiest carries about 10,000/mile.  Not to mention, fares are only like $.75-1.50 (though, there doesn’t seem to be free transfer credit in Istanbul…

The downsides: The design of all the systems are not ideal. Istanbul gets so many riders because it is just such an insanely dense place. Had they designed it better, they would probably have 1.5 times as many people riding it I think. I’ll start with the Metro (subway). The Metro’s stations are absolute labyrinths. The stations are 50-100 feet underground740282_10151231752222798_850951043_o,

and they make you run a maze of escalators and stairs to get down to the platform. The five minute walk shed from the train is literally the top of the stairs out of the station in many cases. The signage is good to get you around them, but they are just too big, and too deep. Then there’s the placement of the Halic station on the Golden Horn Metro Bridge. The station is placed in the middle of the bridge, such that the 8 minute walk shed is simply land from that stop. there is very little in the 10 minute walk from the train and the 15 is where it finally starts to see some utility.  The Tram: The tram’s platforms are too short. they need to be double long so that longer trains can be run. It would lower operating costs and significantly boost capacity, which the line honestly seems a bit constrained by. This line could use subway service, not tram service. The pinpoint stations (where trains turn back mid line) need more platforms because currently they dump people out onto the opposing track at times due to A) Being over capacity, and B) Needing to quickly empty to get out of the way of the next train. These stations are also in the center of what at times is a 4 lane in each direction boulevard that is a nightmare to cross on foot. taking a lane of cars away just for the sake of getting rid of it wouldn’t go amiss here. Widen the sidewalk, or the platforms, or both, add a bike lane? (never going to happen in Istanbul though…) Do something else with the space, there’s too many cars to try to dodge to get to and from the stations. And lastly the busses, and I really can only say, this needs to be converted to 12-car subway trains. (cap 3600 ppl/train). The sheer volume of people riding along this line is astounding and it needs a capacity upgrade, and lower operating costs. they could redeploy those busses all over Istanbul and greatly improve mobility city wide. The median stations where the freeway is elevated are actually fantastic, because it is easy to get out of the station and into the city, the distance isn’t so bad.

The second place we went was Kalkan, a seaside tourist village on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey just about directly south of Istanbul. It is a place that one can walk across inside an hour, and it has all the life of the city, with the “form” of the suburbs. Kalkan pulls it off though because it is primarily a tourist place, so the people coming are wealthy enough to support a wide variety of restaurants and bars that in fact spill out of the town center and down some of the main roads to the edges of town. The old village center is pedestrian only, and it is really a tangled web of alleys, staircases, courtyards, and the like. You really can hardly tell if you’re on public or private property for most of it. Down the hill is the harbor, where there’s a dense line-up of restaurants on two decks at the water’s edge. My parents went into town each day by car, and I chose to walk. I could get small groceries and what not at the convenience stores on the route to downtown. They had grocery stores, produce specific stores, convenience stores, and generally a lot of tiny shops that were specialized in one area of grocery. It was very pleasant walking down the street on my way home each night, picking up things I needed here and there on my way. it did not feel like it took any longer or was any less convenient than going to a super-grocer. I gave serious thought to quitting life and going to live in the village doing something boring but easy. Life there seems stress free, most people get around on little scooters, sit by the beach when they’re off work, have easy service jobs, it really seems like an easy and pleasant life.IMG_9392

We then went to Antalya for lunch with some friends from one of the Turkish Robotics Teams. Antalya is a city of 1 million people in the winter, and 2.5 million in the summer. (it is a beach town where tons of Turks have summer homes). The city has a large pedestrianized area in the old center, with a tram running up to the edge of it IMG_9428,

and generally seems like a huge nice place. I liked it there, but we really only stopped for lunch, so we didn’t see a ton.

We then drove to Ankara, via Konya. Ankara is a city of 4.5 million people – putting it on par with the Detroit metro area. Konya has a population of 1 million. Konya is a flat highly religious city on the Anatolian plateau. Konya is interesting because it has bike lanes all over it, and its bike lanes are mostly on the sidewalks, and not on the street. Bike lanes in Turkey are blue, and not green, which is also interesting, and different. Ankara is a humungous dense city, like Istanbul, but not as big. It is the capital city of Turkey, and honest to god I see no reason whatsoever anyone would ever build a city there, but clearly I’m not the decider of such things. Ankara has an old downtown, Kizilay that is full of 9 story buildings and people and life and wide sidewalks. It has a new rising downtown along the brand new M3 line that is full of sparkling skyscrapers and devoid of street life. I however do not blame the high-rises for the lack of street-life. The design of Turkish high-rise districts is just appallingly bad. It is truly unbelievably bad. There are no sidewalks, there are hardly even roads in these districts. they are incredibly hard to find your way around if you are not on the singular 8-lane highway that typically runs through them.IMG_9502

 

Ankara is a large and easy to get around place. Cabs aren’t too expensive, like Istanbul, and the city isn’t so big you ever really have to go very far in a cab, and outside of that there’s 4 subway lines – 2 of them new since I had last been there 1.5 years ago, and a bus system that I don’t know much about except that the street my hotel was on had a bus about every 5 minutes. Ankara’s Metro is far more practical in its station design than Istanbul’s, with the exception of the central station. Kizilay (central station) is a bit of a messy web of underground shops, concourses, fare payment areas, and platforms. Also, this is where all of the train lines meet. (M1/2, M3, and A lines). M1/2 and M3 meet on parallel platforms on the same level, and A1 meets them perpendicularly underneath them. In order to get from M3 to A1 you have to walk around through some bare concourses and down some stairs. My dad and I did not realize that you could go to the A1 line from both the M1/2 and M3 platforms, so instead of going straight to M3 from A1 we proceeded to walk from A1, through a standing M1/2 train to the M3 train. (The M trains have platforms on both sides of them at Kizilay – there are two tracks, 1 track is the M1/2, and 1 track is the M3 and there are three platforms, an island platform between the trains, and a side platform outside each train. There are stairs over the tracks, but really its easiest to just walk through standing trains, we weren’t the only ones doing it. All of the other stations we encountered were very straightforward two-level stations, one level for fare payment, and one for trains, unlike Istanbul’s deep stations with stairs and concourses that go on for a couple hundred meters in places. The trains are fast and very spacious on the M lines. they’re very wide, with all aisle facing seats to maximize useful space. They’re also long articulated trains that you can walk from end-to-end on.  On our way back from the end of the M3 line, when the train stopped at MTA station (near their new downtown), my dad and I witnessed the invasion of the suits. There were about 150 people in suits that all got on the train at one station. there was maybe one non-suit at the station, it was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. At any rate, clearly wealthy people are not afraid of the subway like they are in many places in America. Also, it was here that my dad and I figured out how to purchase a smart card for their system without being able to speak Turkish to the station agent. That was a fun game of charades, but it worked out, and we learned that we could easily pass our fare card back so both of us could board with one card.

Ankara has some neat design elements here and there. There are many intersections where one road goes under the intersection and does not have to stop, which seems to make getting around a little easier for carsIMG_9486

– these roads however are very wide, and I don’t think I’d ever try to cross them without a pedestrian bridge – which leads me to my next design feature. In Kizilay, there are many pedestrian bridges over the main road, and sidewalks are about 30 feet wide, so walking here is easy, and safe. The street is bustling with people and business, and there are many busses running on the main road. Ankara also has a neat aesthetic element in its street lamps. They are all a single arc beam that arcs out over the roads, and they are set even with each other across the street in such a way as to frame the space of the street. And in places of high pedestrian traffic they have little abutments over the sidewalk that light the sidewalk as well. They could be improved in my opinion however by being turned around – and having them create the space of the sidewalk and face their backs/abutments at the street in a way of saying: Pedestrians are who we are creating space for, rather than cars. But despite that, they do make beautiful space/enclosure on the roads. There are also many colored lights in public spaces at night in Ankara, making it feel more cared for and lively.

Ankara is the center of Turkey’s small, but useful High Speed Rail system (Yuksek Hizli TrenIMG_9477).

While I was in Turkey the trains went from Ankara to Konya and Eskisehir, and from Konya to Eskisehir. A couple days after my return to the U.S. the line was completed to the outer districts of Istanbul from Eskisehir. This train leaves from Ankara’s Main Train station a few blocks off the main street through Kizilay – the old and very busy downtown. The trains move at 155 mph (250 kph) and make the trip to Eskisehir with a couple stops in 1:18-1:30(depending on # of stops). The trains are very smooth, very comfortable, more spacious than airplanes, and they have TVs in them that tell you how fast you’re going and have some ads on loop in Turkish (no sound). We used the train to get to Eskisehir for a meeting and dinner, we left Ankara at 3:30 PM, and returned by 10:15. It was a fantastic, easy experience. Trains run every ~1:30 from about 6 am to 9 pm. Our trains were reasonably full. In Eskisehir, we found a city that had 4 tram lines in a city that only takes up as much space as 2 Ohare Airports( http://mapfrappe.com/?show=20567 ), with the population of the city of Seattle (~650,000). Their downtown is pedestrian/tram onlyIMG_9463IMG_9466,

and just full of people on a nice evening. There’s a river running through town that they cleaned up and made into an asset of their city, rather than a wasteland. The city has a really progressive mayor who we got to sit and talk to for a couple hours (about robotics, not city planning), and he is this 70-some year old guy, who is full of life and ideas and is striving to do everything he can to make his city better, and he’s done such a good job that they nearly had him run for president. (his age and health I think are why they ended up going with someone else). Ankara was a really neat city that I very much enjoyed.

Our next stop was Izmir, this is a large city of 3.5 million people (Turkey’s third largest, and almost exactly equivalent to Seattle and its surrounding sprawl population wise). It’s often called Turkey’s most european city because someone put at least a little bit of forethought into where to put the roads in town, making it a little more organized than the typical Turkish City. The extent of their planning however only seems to cover about 1 square mile, to be honest. Our arrival involved me directing my dad to drive up through the gecekondus (slums) and then back into town because my GPS put the hotel in a very incorrect location. But we got to see the incredibly messy weblike streets of the slums, which are barely wider than the car, and full of people. I felt like we were interrupting their day, but it was a neat ride through something I don’t see every day. We then proceeded to our hotel, which was in the small highly planned district. Izmir generally has the typical urban Turkish form, 6-12 story buildings for miles, though it doesn’t really have any major highways in the city, and it also doesn’t have a high-rise section in the city either, it simply has a few tall buildings spread about the city here and there. Izmir also has an enormous pedestrian only section of town that is one giant market. It is much like pike place in Seattle except it sprawls rather than goes up 6 floors. Izmir has a beautiful boardwalk along the Agean Sea/ Izmir’s Bay and this was the first Turkish city I had been to that had a bike-share system! The bike share was entirely limited to the sea-boardwalk however. The boardwalk had blue bike lanes that were at a different level than the walkways for people, and next to them was a one-way road to serve the hundreds of sidewalk restaurants that spread out into the large open space between the buildings and the water.IMG_9545     

 One evening we were sitting near the edge of a restaurant, eating, and people selling things would come by now and then and offer them as they went by, food, trinkets, rabbit fortunes… (one guy had a rabbit who he would let you pet, and the rabbit would pick a fortune for you for a fee). Izmir seemed to have a right-sized subway system for its needs, though, since I was there on a Sunday, I don’t know. The sunday frequency on the subway was a train every 3 minutesIMG_9574,

so they must just run longer trains during the weekdays. At any rate, my dad and I walked into a station, played charades to get a transit card, and proceeded to ride around the bay to look back at the city from another equally dense and far more convoluted part of the city that we had been looking at from where we already were. We took a subway, and then a commuter train, which honestly wasn’t appreciably different than the subway, except I guess it ran less often? The interchange station was a big, open place where you walked up and over and re-tapped in to change trains, but it didn’t charge us more IIRCIMG_9588.

So we got to the other side, and wound up in another pedestrian only district teeming with people and performers, and life.IMG_9626

We walked down the street from the train station to the waterfront to look back at the city, and enjoyed our view. The train station we got off at happened to be named for the ferry terminal we now found ourselves next to, and the boardwalk had seemed to have continued all the way around the bay because we were now on it again.IMG_9606

Izmir was a very well-planned city it seemed, as far as Turkish cities go. It was full of life, and built gorgeously, and it had palm treesIMG_9568,

which I’ve always enjoyed. I very much enjoyed my time in Izmir wandering around with my parents.

My trip to Turkey was a lot of fun, and full of new things to see, and new urbanisms to explore. I saw quite a few new subway lines that are not what I’m used to in the U.S. and I enjoyed walking around huge dense, lively cities. I visited with old friends who I don’t see too often, and did some good relaxing. I was really impressed by how many places in Turkey have pedestrian only areas, and those areas aren’t even small. They’re large sections of the cities, and they add so much to the life and culture of the city. I hope that one day the U.S. will start to see the value in these things more and more, and to that point, my next post will be on Denver, which actually does have that kind of area, and its magnificent!            

My road trip from Chicago to Seattle

Over the past two weeks I got to travel the country. I drove from Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington – via Kansas City, MO, Wichita, KS, Denver/Longmont, CO, Salt Lake City, UT, Reno, NV, San Francisco, CA, and Portland, OR. I got to see a wide variety of transit systems and road networks, and learn a bit from different cities. Wichita was the first place I spent time – and I stayed with my friend Jimmy there for about 4 days. Wichita doesn’t have suffixes for their roads. They simply name their roads things like Oliver, or Hydraulic. There is no St., Ave., Rd., Blvd. suffixes, they simply are a name (except where there are numbered streets, 21st st, or 13th st., where I got off the expressway). To a resident, this is second nature, they all have it figured out and it works just fine for them, but to an outsider, driving down their expressways, when I see a sign that says Hydraulic, this exit, I expect that to mean a town named hydraulic, not a street that runs roughly parallel to the freeway. (Jimmy lived off Oliver – which also runs through his University). I thought this was an interesting approach to naming roads.

My next stop was Longmont, Colorado. Longmont is a town about 30-35 minutes in clear traffic North of Denver, and about 10 minutes from Boulder. Longmont is very suburban, and as I learned it is the site of heavy investment by the tech industry. They have city streets that run at 40-50 mph, and bikes are allowed on the freeways there (though in the shoulder). Bikes actually utilized their allowance on the freeway, much to my surprise. There were also bike lanes on pretty much all the city-streets, even the ones running at 50 – and plenty of people used them, and people were walking as well. There was also a new urbanist development there, as well as an abandoned shopping mall. The new Urbanist development could apparently sell homes miles and miles from the city at $500-600,000 and sold as fast as it was built. there’s shops in it, sidewalks, and it seemed like a really nice place. It did have odd street names though – like, Neon Forest Circle, and Tenacity Drive.

Next on the hit-list was Salt Lake City, Utah. I had flown over Salt Lake City two weeks prior on my way home from Vegas, and seen a street with four sets of dotted yellow lines down the middle of it from my airplane. So I naturally had to drive down and see what was going on with that street. Salt Lake City is another city with a strange way of labeling streets. They name their streets with addresses. Their names include 5400 S. (where the yellow lines were), 600 S. (where I got off downtown), 4300 S. (where I got off thinking it was the yellow line street), etc. running East-West. North-South streets seemed to have normal names in most places. So, on my way to 5400 S. I drove on a 6 lane city street, then another 6-lane city street, and when I got to 5400 S., it was 7 lanes wide. Mind, this is 5 miles south of Downtown, running East-West (so not to or particularly near Downtown). The plethora of yellow lines I found out, were there because 3 lanes in each direction, apparently doesn’t cut it at rush hour in one direction, so the street can be reconfigured on the fly to have 4 lanes in one direction, a turn lane, and 2 in the other, as well as the standard 3-1-3. It is reconfigured using light bridges over the road indicating the use of each lane (green arrows indicate open lane moving straight, turn arrows indicate where the two-way turn lane is, and X means do not travel this direction in this lane).Image

After seeing this, I drove downtown to find somewhere to eat. I got off of I-15/80 and was dumped onto a 7-lane One-way street. I have never seen a 7-lane one-way city street in my life.Image

The most I’ve ever seen if 5, the most I’ve driven on is 4. I’ve driven on freeways with 8 or 9 lanes in each direction (I-5 through Tukwila, WA/405/518/599 interchange). I was somewhat confused, and decided I needed to go left, after having been dumped into the right lane of the “street”. So I just went off at an angle across the street, and turned left, and headed for a Denny’s, which naturally was on a 7-lane one-way going the other direction, and on the opposite side, so I just turned across all lanes and got off to go eat. I was pretty amazed with how wide the roads are in Salt Lake, and how dead the place was at like Sunset. I’m used to Chicago and Seattle, which really don’t die until well after sundown.

I then drove to San Francisco (or to be more specific – Palo Alto). Palo Alto is nice, though there seem to be freeways/highways criss-crossing the entire Bay area all over the place. I-80 uses 7 of 9 X80 designations in California, all of which are in the Bay Area (280, 380, 580, 680, 780, 880, 980). There’s two large freeways up each side of the bay from San Jose to San Francisco on the West Bayshore(280, and US 101), and from San Jose to Oakland on the East Bayshore (880, 580 / 680). There are also 4 bridges from the San Francisco Peninsula to other places (Dumbarton Bridge, San Mateo Bridge, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate). I got to drive over every one of the bridges. My initial entrance took me over the Bay Bridge, which Perhaps wasn’t the best choice on Memorial Day – I waited in line to pay the toll for 1.5 hours and it took me another .5 hours to cross the bay. 2 hours of sitting in the hot East Bay sun in traffic burnt my left arm to a crisp. All of the bridges cost $5 to enter San Francisco, and are free to leave San Francisco. The toll did not seem to hem in demand enough to prevent congestion, clearly it could use raising on holidays.

Once I had settled at my friend Tosh’s uh.. room, I began to commute into the city each day for a week to explore and enjoy the city. Commuting to San Francisco is very easy from Palo Alto, from Tosh’s room we walked about 15 minutes to a caltrain station, which came every 15 ish minutes at rush hour, to every hour in the evening until midnight. At rush hour some trains were titled “baby bullet” meaning they stopped at only about 5 or 6 of the ~35-40 stations on the line. Fortunately for me, Palo Alto, and Millbrae were both stops on the Baby Bullet, meaning I was lucky enough a couple times to have my ride time into/out of the city cut in half by the express train. On CalTrain I had two options for exiting to get to Downtown S.F. I could get off at Millbrae, and transfer to BART which ran me straight into the Market St. Double Decker Subway, or I could take Caltrain all the way to San Francisco Station, and take either the T-Third St. Muni Metro Line or the N-Judah Muni Metro Line into the Market St. Subway. (Or of course I could walk from S.F. Station). San Francisco has an amazing transit system in terms of span of service, frequency of service, and quality of service, but their way finding needs some help. This is the single thing that CTA does well, and frankly, CTA does it perfectly. All CTA trains and busses have automatic announcements of every single stop on each line, All train lines are very clearly marked by large stations and colored lines. All bus stops have a large legible, Consistent, clear sign indicating where the bus will stop, what bus will stop there, and usually the span of service and a basic route map. San Francisco on the other hand, puts spray paint on whatever pole happens to be nearby for most of their bus stops. bus_stop_pole_small

They also have about 5 transit agencies providing service into downtown (Golden Gate Transit, San Mateo Transit, AC Transit, West CAT, BART, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. We quickly found out that google is actually useless for transit directions in San Francisco because it fails to indicate which transit agency it wants you to take, and for example, Google told us to take the 10 bus from 2nd/Mission to the Presidio. We naturally assumed that this meant we were to take Muni(SFMTA) Route 10, later we learned that google meant Golden Gate Route 10, and their stop was not marked at 2nd and mission at all. We eventually (through asking many different bus drivers) found out that the 45 would get us to the presidio and went to get on the 45 – this is where we discovered that some bus stops are simply spray-paint on a pole. we were wandering around on 4th st., and came across a large pole with lots of bus numbers on it – a bus stop…. But, once we were aware that this is how S.F.M.T.A. does their bus stops, we no longer had a problem finding bus stops. We took the 45, a trolleybus that goes through chinatown, in a tunnel on stockton, under the height of the hill that crosses stockton, and then up what felt like a cliff on union st., twice(two hills). Eventually, after a very exciting, and somewhat terrifying (due to the hills) bus ride, we made it to the presidio. Later at a gift shop I bought a transit map and didn’t use google to route myself again while I was in San Francisco.

 When we left the presidio, we took a bus that went down Park Presidio Drive – which becomes a boulevard through Richmond. San Francisco does this really cool thing with their boulevards – they hide their wider streets from the city. They have a side street along the buildings, with a large (80ish foot) heavily planted median, then the highway (3 lanes ea. direction), then another heavily planted median, another side street, and the city. So when on the boulevard, you’d never know you were in a large city if there weren’t intersections. And in the city, you’d never know there was a highway there. It is a really nice livability feature going on there.

San Francisco seems to have bike lanes all over the city – not everywhere, but in a lot of places, and they use colored paint on their roadways more than say, Chicago or Seattle do. There’s green paint all over for bike lanes, and there’s red paint for bus/transit lanes in some parts of the city, which is pretty cool looking, and I think it helps identify more clearly to drivers where they can and cannot drive. And then there is Market Street, which is not at all clear where one can drive. I made the mistake of trying to drive it at night too – haha. the signage cannot begin to describe what is going on on that street. The F-Market & Wharves line runs down the street, there’s a ton of bus lines, there’s F-train stations in between the two lanes in each direction (meaning it looks like this: SB Lane, F Market Station, SB Lane, NB Lane, F Market Station, NB Lane. It’s a mess, and not a street really for driving on at all. IT is an INCREDIBLE transit corridor however.

On Deck one – ground level the F Market/Wharves line – with about 10 bus lines runs, and some bikes, private cars and cabs.Image

On Deck 2 (underground level 1) Runs the Muni-Metro Subway (Lines T, J, K, L, M, N).Image

 On Deck 3 (Underground level 2) runs the BART Subway (Destinations: Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Pittsburg/BayPoint, Richmond(not the city district, a suburb…), Daly City, SFO, and Millbrae). While I didn’t really ride the BART system in the East Bay, the only part of the entire rail system on the San Francisco side I did not ride was the M-OceanView Line of the Muni Metro, and the California, and the Powell-Mason Cable Car lines. I rode the T-Third/Sunnydale, J-Church, K-Ingleside, L-Taraval, N-Judah, F-Market/Wharves, Powell-Hyde Cable Car, and BART from Millbrae through The Embarcadero (and on to Rockridge one morning in East Bay). I got to see tons of the city, and riding the rails and busses was a super easy way to see it. San Francisco has a single fare card for all of its transit agencies, which makes it really easy to get around. You just buy a clipper card, put money on it, and Go. Muni is $2 per 90 minutes, CalTrain and BART are distance based (so you have to tap the card when you leave as well as when you enter). Muni busses and trains allow you to enter through all doors (which is not the case for CTA busses, and also not the case for Boston’s green line(which is exactly like the Muni-Metro (light Rail) system). Muni also has really cool displays in their downtown Stations (market St. Subway) that display all trains on the line, where they are, and the times for the next train on each line to the station you are standing in. Image

Muni has really odd light rail stops outside of the subway though, many of the stops the train just dumps you into the street. All stops outside the subway are Flag-stops (pull cord to stop – or be standing on the street visible to the train driver – train does not stop at every station/stop if it doesn’t have to).

All-in-all, getting around San Francisco spontaneously was very very easy. I carried a Bus/LightRail map with me, and a caltrain timetable and easily got around the city without a second thought really. The two coolest lines I took in the city were the F-Market & Wharves Line, and the Powell-Hyde Cable Car.  The F-Line runs from Castro/Market to Fisherman’s Wharf via Market, and the Embarcadero. Its fleet consists of old restored streetcars from around the world (though mostly from the U.S.). The cars are mostly from around the ‘30s and ‘40s. They’re the PCC cars mostly, with some that are other and older designs as well. The PCCs are painted in the livery of the original owner of the car (for instance there was a car painted in the old CTA livery), making the F-line basically a living, working museum of streetcars. ImageImage

Combined with the legitimate railway museum in the middle of the line right at a stop, and you get one hell of a kick-ass streetcar experience. The trains come every 1-15 minutes, so they make getting around on The Embarcadero and Market Streets really easy. The Powell & Hyde Streets Cable Car was also pretty awesome, its a restored cable car from god only knows how long ago, and it has a grip man, and a fare collector on it, and it just rumbles right up the side of the San Fran Cliffs (well, hills, but they are almost cliffs). It was also surprisingly fast. Faster than the 45 bus even (it did have its own lanes on the really steep hills).

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Muni and BART need to address some of their signage, and stop announcements and what not, but other than that, they are together with Caltrain the easiest transit systems to use and get where you’re going that I’ve ever tried to understand, and use. They’re well maintained, giving me the impression that San Francisco has unlimited money for transit. The fact that they are currently building a 1.5 billion dollar subway reinforces that perception. It was enlightening to see a city so easy to get around on trains and busses in. Apparently I timed my trip well though because Monday Muni drivers decided to have a sick-out, where they all took sick days at once to protest their new pay contract proposal… Apparently transit in the city was chaos – with busses coming every 50 minutes that should have been coming every 10. Sigh.

I will get back to my series on why busses are good soon – hopefully this week. I took a couple weeks off for my travels!