Still from Leonardo Dalessandri film Under the Lucan Sun
WHAT: Design the Network – Session #2, It’s More Than Just Buses
WHERE: World Trade and Convention Centre, Argyle Street
WHEN: Tuesday, July 19, 6pm-8pm
HOW MUCH: Free!
HALIFAX REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY – A bus stop could be an amazing thing (gardens, playgrounds, outdoor gym) is one point which came up in the first public session – “Exploring the Options” – at It’s More Than Just Buses on Tuesday, June 28th, 2011. It’s More Than Just Buses is a public discussion initiative that explores the options of public transit, designs a better network and mobilizes for support, organized by the Planning and Design Centre and Fusion Halifax.
Guest speaker Steven Dale, also raised another smart key point with regards to transit administration, which is the development of a staff policy for all Metro Transit employees, particularly the network planners, whereby they must take the bus at least once a week, if not more. Why I found this to be such a brilliant idea, is because you can only understand how something works in practice and how it could work better, by using it and taking part. This fact was evident at the public session, where all those that attended and rode the bus frequently, had lots to offer the discussion. Of course, there was frustration concerning the current infrastructure and digression from discussion questions, but only because people wanted their experiences and ideas to be heard and they were! Find more of the group discussion points here.
The first session began with keynote guest speakers, Frank Palermo (civic engagement), Steven Dale (cable-propelled transit) and Jarrett Walker (network planning), who all talked about what they did, why they valued public transit and how it translated into improving cities. All speakers provided discussion fodder for those that attended to help them dream and think big and outside of the current transit system when they “explored the options” in the group discussion questions.
To set the session discussion on transit, Frank Palermo, professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Planning stated clearly that in order to be a creative city, we have to be doing it – “inventing it ourselves”. Palermo continued to argue that the argument “we can’t afford it” doesn’t count when according to Palermo “we can’t afford to not do something.”
Steven Dale, also, offered an entry point for the public discussion, in how we could re-imagine HRM transit infrastructure. Showing slides of cable-propelled transit and gondolas and making a clear point that multi-modality is the future of good public transit; Dale pointed towards an existing advantage for HRM public transit, in that unlike other cities of comparable size, HRM has two forms – Ferry and Bus. With passion, Dale told those that attended that ski-lifts could be used in a city that is geographically constrained, by a body of water (what fun that would be!). Can you imagine a ski-lift replacing bridge engineering for a third bridge to Dartmouth?
Jarrett Walker, international network planner and creator/author of the Human Transit blog talked about his work designing and redesigning of transit networks. The whole premise of his blog is to bring a human element and focus into the engineering and planning of transit infrastructure. According to Walker, the city of Halifax is fortunate in their geography. He noted that the city has geographic advantages; one of which is several “chokepoints” (an area or interchange where transit is constrained). He says that we have about 5 or 6 of them and they could be used better as transit connectors to mediate the flow of traffic and people.
“Continuous Density” is the other geographic advantage in HRM, according to Walker. Since Halifax is a city of dense development, Walker explained, developed on a continous historic grid around Universities, Hospitals and other major amenities, single transit lines would work really well in HRM.
Walker believes that individual bus lines for major roads connecting to other lines with frequent connections would be a more utilized and smart form of transit infrastructure in HRM. He pointed to 1 Spring Garden as proof that by increasing the frequency of the line, despite the 13% increase to service cost initially, there was a calculated 17% increase in ridership. What this proves in point is that while frequency can be at its outset more expensive, there are greater gains overall in the end for people and Metro Transit.
Since the first session, the panel presentation and following discussions really allowed me to reflect on my own experiences of transit in the city and my nerdy transit research, in a way which was transformative, innovative, proactive and heard by others with similar values on the relevance of transit in cities. The sessions also allowed me and presumably others, to think and talk freely about random ideas and thoughts concerning transit that we don’t usually talk about with each other. While I felt a little more empowered and inspired leaving the event, I walked out of the World Trade and Convention Centre on Argyle only to see a Metro Transit bus being hauled up Duke Street by a tow-truck. I smiled. For the past 2 hours, I had been listening and talking to others about what wasn’t working, and reality certainly proved our point – it isn’t.
All of the guest speakers referenced successful examples that demonstrated civic ingenuity and engagement in public transit, pointing particularly towards people around the world who successfully designed and developed more interesting and useful maps of their public transit network (check out Global Urbanist). Often these very individuals would get hired or consulted by their city’s transit commission.
Well then, what would a better transit network look like to you? If you were to design a map of the network, what would be its identifying features? The second public session of It’s More than just Buses – “Designing the Network” – takes place on Tuesday, July 19 from 6pm – 8pm-ish at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax, NS.