National Academies Press: OpenBook

Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study (2019)

Chapter: Spotlight: Advocacy

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Page 115
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
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Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
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Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
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Page 118
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
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Page 118
Page 119
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
×
Page 119
Page 120
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
×
Page 120
Page 121
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
×
Page 121
Page 122
Suggested Citation:"Spotlight: Advocacy." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25571.
×
Page 122

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115 SPOTLIGHT: ADVOCACY BETTER BUS COALITION The Better Bus Coalition has been organized for a little over 2 years and in this (relatively) short amount of time has become a prominent transit advocacy group in Cincinnati that has gotten the attention of local political officials and transportation leaders. The Cincinnati transit system, formerly operated entirely with private funds, has been struggling to adequately serve all of the residents of Hamilton County. Because of the expansion of the greater Cincinnati area, the majority of jobs are no longer in downtown Cincinnati, a situation that, according to the coalition’s founder (interviewee), can be alleviated with more cross-town routes. The founder cited other challenges to the bus network, such as lackluster wayfinding, and thinks it could be much improved to attract new riders. Upon its foundation, the Better Bus Coalition set out to tackle some of these challenges to the best of its “tactical” ability. To address the lack of places to sit at over 150 bus stops in Hamilton County, the Better Bus Coalition raises funds for The Better Bus Coalition is an advocacy group in Cincinnati, Ohio, that is pushing for an improved and expanded bus network for Hamilton County. The group has taken its advocacy to both pavement and paper, first by installing modular benches at bus stops and then by publishing its Better Bus Plan in spring 2018. This plan put forward the transit network’s current inadequacies and identified opportunities for improvement. After the Better Bus Coalition advocated for months for a bus lane on downtown Cincinnati’s Main Street, the city installed a pilot bus lane in November 2018. Better Bus Coalition’s Initiatives Bus Stop Benches: • Throughout Cincinnati Main Street Bus Lane: • Main Street between Sixth Street and Central Parkway

116 tactical do-it-yourself projects—benches to install with volunteers. The coalition can procure the materials for the benches and construct them within a week. The benches are usually installed on weekends with help from volunteers. According to the coalition’s founder, the Cincinnati Metro neither advocates for nor opposes the benches—it just let them happen. A city ordinance states that citizens are allowed to “donate park benches.” The city manager is obligated to accept the donation, but then can do what he wants with them. So far, no benches have been removed, and the ordinance is the founder’s response to questions about the benches’ legality. The coalition has received a lot of positive responses from the public, and through the visibility the benches have given it, the group has started to get political officials more engaged with and riding transit. Over time, the founder has endorsed City Council members who support transit, and he believes the Better Bus Coalition has started a “groundswell of momentum” in favor of making transit improvements a priority for the city. The coalition will be working with the city to develop a more streamlined permitting process for the provision of street furniture, an initiative called Adopt-a-Stop. In spring 2018, after months of donated time, the coalition published its Better Bus Plan (https://betterbuscoalition.org/better-bus-plan), which paints a picture of the current outdated service and proposes solutions to both improve and expand it. The plan proposes an updated network that would reach more of Hamilton County, where more than 700,000 residents would be within a 5- to 10-minute walk of a local bus line, and predicts the operating costs of expanding the system. Building from its plan, the coalition began pushing for Cincinnati to test a dedicated bus lane, pointing to other national examples and the congestion in downtown Cincinnati that causes delays in bus transit. In September 2018, the City Council’s Education, Innovation, and Growth Committee approved the city’s first ever peak-hour pilot bus lane on Main Street between Government Square and Central Parkway, and the bus lane was implemented in November 2018. Like the next two examples, Quick-Build projects such as the coalition’s benches first raised awareness, and, over time, the group built up a reputation for getting things done through collaboration with the local government to help it arrive at interim solutions. CAM HARDY CITY OF CINCINNATI

117 MARTA ARMY The MARTA Army transit Quick-Build projects are the least materials- and labor-intensive of the projects included in this study, but the impact the group has had within the transit space is great. This project is a strong example of how ongoing and regular collaboration between an advocacy group and transit agency can result in tangible, expedited improvements to a transit network, and it is evidence that with dedicated resources and intentional communication, a partnership between a transit agency and advocacy organization can be mutually beneficial. ATLANTA, GA The Army’s Initiatives Adopt-a-Stop: 2014–Current • Network-wide Operation CleanStop: 2016–2017 • East Point, GA MARTA ARMY

118 The MARTA Army was formed in 2014 following the 2013 TransportationCamp South, an “un-conference” hosted by Georgia Tech University and attended by 200 transportation enthusiasts. According to the founder, a current MARTA Army board member (interviewee), one of the forum’s presentations, given by the chief spokesman for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) at the time, gave him the idea to take the task of “making MARTA cool again” into his own hands. To him, this was a goal that could be more quickly attained if it came from the riders MARTA served. The interviewee came out of that session with a few goals that would improve transit: crowdsourcing tangible civic improvements, creating a direct line of communication between the agency and its patrons, and creating a network of riders that could be activated on short notice for things such as political advocacy and natural disaster support. Less than a year later, he created the MARTA Army. Acknowledging that transit can present challenges at a network scale, the founder set out to develop an organization with scalable initiatives. Inspired by the book Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long- Term Change (https://islandpress.org/books/tactical-urbanism), the Army’s first initiative was Adopt-a-Stop, which was aimed at mobilizing and empowering participants to take ownership of their nearest transit stops (89% of Atlanta residents live within half a mile of a bus stop). At the time, neither the city nor MARTA had the capacity to deliver basic stop amenities, such as trash cans and route schedules. With Adopt- a-Stop, Army leadership prints and laminates bus route schedules for members to disseminate and post at their local stops. Army members sign up to participate on the website and assemble every 4 months (when route maps are updated by MARTA) to acquire the new schedules at approximately three to four events across the region coordinated by Army leadership. The events are often executed in partnership with neighborhood organizations. The Adopt-a-Stop initiative almost immediately started effecting change at a high level within MARTA. In the beginning, MARTA would not post schedule changes until almost 2 weeks after they had been initiated operationally. When the Army began its program, the organization made it clear that this was inadequate and that riders needed to be aware of the schedule changes before they became operational. According to the Army’s founder, this had a “ripple effect” throughout the transit agency, and this aspect of MARTA’s service has since significantly improved. Additionally, in June 2016, the Atlanta Regional Commission received MARTA ARMY MARTA ARMY

119 $3.8 million from the state for multisystem transit wayfinding at bus stops. The signs are not solely for MARTA, but the funding was still a major win for Greater Atlanta’s transit network and was the first time MARTA ever received state funding for transit. Today, there are 450 stops that have been adopted by the program. The Adopt-a-Stop program would not be nearly as effective as it has been if it were not for the Army and MARTA’s relationship. From the beginning, the Army leadership said they would publicly support MARTA, but they also wanted to remain an autonomous organization (there would be no MARTA employees on the Army board). The interviewee said that this autonomy remains an important part of the Army’s mission. By continuing to execute initiatives such as Adopt-a-Stop, the Army continues to both lightly pressure MARTA to find solutions to its service issues and demonstrates a vast constituency (volunteer counts are at approximately 200) of community members who desire and demand better transit. This demonstration is helpful for MARTA in justifying things such as increased funding and staff to address service issues. The relationship between MARTA and the Army is a positive one, with each entity publicly supporting the other and sharing the MARTA brand, but MARTA is still supportive of the Army maintaining its role as primarily an advocacy organization—one that can mobilize a community and crowdsource innovative solutions to transit shortcomings. The Army has the full support of higher management at MARTA but has also established critical relationships at the staff level with employees to help them get things done. The MARTA Army interviewee believes the Army has helped empower MARTA employees who are “just passionate about the mission of transit.” The MARTA interviewee said that working with the Army is really fun and elaborated on some of the specific ways the agency supports the organization. The two entities discuss the Army’s work plan and initiatives on a monthly call and support the Army filling the gaps where MARTA does not have the resources. MARTA fully supports the Army on its social media channels and provides in-kind support such as data, schedules, and expedited permitting if needed. The Army’s second initiative, Operation CleanStop, crowdfunds trash cans for every MARTA stop in East Point, Georgia, a suburb southwest of municipal Atlanta that is predominantly African-American and where 20% of the population regularly rides the MARTA bus. To date, the Army has raised $16,000 from 150 individual donations, which has resulted in the installation of trash cans at 100 bus stops. For this initiative, the Army raised the money and the city took on the procurement and installation of the trash cans. MARTA’s founder sees the role the city has taken on in this initiative as having created a platform for the city to work with its constituents on a broad range of transportation issues. This initiative is also an important reminder that MARTA crosses many jurisdictional lines and that the buy-in of other municipalities in the Army’s initiatives is crucial to helping it scale up solutions to address the broader network. It is also important to the Army that its initiatives be inclusive of all transit riders, and especially those farther away from Atlanta’s core, who perhaps rely even more on transit. The Army has recently started using QR codes to collect data at bus stops to better measure the impact of its Adopt-a-Stop program on things such as ridership and rider satisfaction. According to the founder, there are other measures of the Army’s success. First, he thinks that the Army is creating momentum for action to improve transit service, as measured by the increased involvement of transit officials in the Army’s initiatives. Agency members show up at Army events and interface directly with riders. Agency members witness firsthand the excitement that is building around transit and are less wary of an open line of communication between them and riders. He also thinks that the impact of the Army’s actions is represented by the diversity of its members. Although a small sample size, it is encouraging that actual transit riders from across the metropolitan region are participating in Army initiatives. This intimate reach is not something MARTA is capable of fostering, but with the Army as a conduit, the gap between what transit riders need and implementable transit solutions can be narrowed. According to the founder, the Quick-Build process has been pivotal in providing transit improvements quickly and representing a wide spectrum of transit riders. For MARTA, taking advantage of innovation that has come from outside its staff has resulted in increased trust in the agency to fight for expedited and more representative transit projects, no matter the scale. MARTA ARMY

120 TURBO What started as a neighborhood group with an interest in Tactical Urbanism has evolved into an arm of a prominent Nashville urban design nonprofit. Through incremental projects of various scales and research and data collection, Tactical URBanism Organizers (TURBO) has formed a relationship with its local public works and planning departments and has Nashville’s government internalizing the Quick-Build methodology. One of the group’s first projects responded to community cries for more beautiful bus stops, and now it is getting closer to making a permanent plaza adjacent to a new BRT stop. NASHVILLE, TN TURBO’s Initiatives Nolensville Pike Bus Stops: March 2015 • Nolensville Pike @ Joyner Avenue stop Modular Bus Shelter (x2): April 2015 • Nolensville Pike @ Glenrose Avenue stop • Nolensville Pike @ Fairgrounds Station TURBO Triangle Triage: March 2018 • Gallatin Avenue and N. 11th Street TURBO, originally called “Tactical URBanism Nashville,” was unofficially founded in 2014 by a few neighborhood activists, one of whom is currently design director at the Nashville Civic Design Center (NCDC), a local nonprofit whose mission is to “elevate the quality of Nashville’s built environment” with an emphasis on public participation. The “guerrilla urbanism” neighborhood group debuted the Quick- Build methodology in August 2014 as a part of a block party in Nashville’s Nations neighborhood demonstrating a four- to two-lane road diet, bike lanes, and parklets in the curbside travel lanes on 51st Avenue N. This road diet was officially adopted by the city council in July 2017. TURBO was at first a nonprofit partner of NCDC, but the group was then integrated into NCDC and has since become a part of its Reclaiming Public Space initiative

121 as an action arm. TURBO helps implement concepts based on research from NCDC’s projects and publications and pushes local government entities toward getting more comfortable with test projects and innovative transportation solutions. TURBO’s projects are driven in large part by its own research or initiated upon request from the public (most feedback is received through TURBO’s website). Because TURBO started out as a neighborhood group, its relationship with Nashville communities and other nonprofits is a trustful and collaborative one. The group has gained quite a following, and volunteer participation continues to grow with each project. TURBO has been using the Quick-Build methodology more and more to encourage the city to test its projects slated for permanent construction and also to keep it accountable for allocating resources to transportation improvements. This allows the city to vet projects in the real world before implementing them and enables more-robust public participation than might otherwise occur. With TURBO providing the opportunity for testing and engaging the public, projects are bumped up to higher priority, which increases the likelihood that they will be made permanent much faster. The Nolensville Pike Bus Stops project, officially the first TURBO project under NCDC, was implemented in March and April 2015 along one of the busiest and deadliest corridors in Nashville. This project took only a few months to design and implement and included bus stop beautification and the first of two modular bus shelter installations. For these installations, TURBO only needed permission from the owners of the private property, and the efforts to make the bus stops more comfortable were very welcomed by neighboring businesses and riders, having been requested by the community in the first place. At the Joyner Avenue stop along Nolensville Pike, TURBO installed planters and benches made with wood and tires; plants were donated from a local nursery. The bus shelters were also made primarily of wood, with the addition of corrugated steel panels as weather-proof roofing. These were constructed with a grant from a local church and were designed to wrap around and over existing benches and to be easily deconstructed and reused. Some remnants of the bus stop beautification remain today, as well as one of the modular bus stops. The design and fabrication for these installations was done entirely by TURBO, funded either through donations or small grants, and they were implemented with assistance from community volunteers. TURBO NASHVILLE TURBO NASHVILLE

122 The TURBO Triangle Triage project, the activation of an unused triangular median refuge adjacent to a new BRT stop at East Nashville Magnet High School, began in June 2015 with signage TURBO installed asking people what they wanted to see in the space. The signs encouraged people to submit input on TURBO’s “get involved” web page, which the organization uses to solicit project ideas and donations from the public to issue requests for volunteers. A month later, the organization planned an activation in the triangle for the Tomato Arts Festival; this event included turf, a temporary painted pedestrian path through the triangle, and a feedback board. In 2016, less than one year later, TURBO hosted an after-school workshop with the Public Library across the street from the high school to solicit ideas from the students about how the space where they wait for transit every day could be transformed. Some of this feedback contributed to TURBO’s next iteration: an installation in March 2018 in advance of the Complete Streets Conference, when TURBO, a local muralist, and Greater Nashville Realtors transformed the triangle with an asphalt mural, painted a new temporary crosswalk, and installed column wraps. TURBO is still compiling any transit data that might be available for the Triangle Triage project. Anecdotally, it observed people spending time in the March 2018 installation almost immediately, most often when waiting for the bus. Whether the project improved ridership has yet to be determined. The organization used radar speed guns for the first 3 months of the installation and noticed that cars were slowing upon approaching the intersection. The asphalt mural remains today, and TURBO is looking into grant opportunities to fund a next round of activation, including reworking the traffic flow on 11th Street. The project contributes to an ongoing conversation TURBO has with the city about how traffic calming, pedestrian safety, and public art can work together, and TURBO is using it to advocate for the permanent closure of a portion of 11th Street at this intersection. TURBO partners with other community nonprofits and businesses for its projects and has more recently been in regular communication/collaboration with Nashville’s Metro Planning Department to refine and implement its Tactical Urbanism Permit (for which the TURBO Triangle Triage project served as a trial run). In general, the organization has a good relationship with the mayor’s office, which has encouraged Metro to collaborate with it. In the beginning, TURBO implemented most of its projects through the city’s Special Event Permit process, but now it has a contact in the Planning Department with whom it is in regular communication about formalizing a process for these types of projects. Initially, TURBO would informally approach the city Planning and Public Works Departments with ideas (e.g., using areas of underutilized asphalt as canvases for projects). Now the Planning Department is looking to hire an engineer to focus solely on Tactical Urbanism projects and interface directly with TURBO to more regularly use the new permit. A transportation planner in the city’s Planning Department said during his interview that the ideal scenario would be for the city to internalize this methodology, and he is creating a review board to field requests for Tactical Urbanism Permits. The city has acknowledged TURBO’s value as an entity that can provide resources (e.g., funding, data collection, public engagement) and sees the process as a good strategy in which projects align with the city’s goals. Furthermore, the city is progressive and has support from leadership to collaborate with TURBO. Because the city and county are one entity, the transportation planner thinks they have the capacity to move projects along more quickly, once the process is complete and the new staff member (the engineer) is brought on board. TURBO is happy with how its projects have inspired change at the local level and the way the city has realized the value of the methodology. The permit will continue to evolve as both TURBO and the city see a need for refinements to the permit application and process, but what TURBO and the city have accomplished so far is certainly a success story for neighborhood groups and nonprofits trying to shake things up.

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As transit agencies, local governments, and citizens look for ways to improve existing, and start new, transit service, many of them are turning to the Quick-Build (Tactical Urbanism) methodology. This approach uses inexpensive, temporary materials and short-term tactics as a way of implementing projects in the short-term, while longer-term planning takes place.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Research Report 207: Fast-Tracked: A Tactical Transit Study documents the current state of the practice with regard to what are called Tactical Transit projects, specifically for surface transit (bus and streetcar). These are both physical and operational strategies that improve the delivery of surface transit projects using this methodology. Tactical Transit projects, operational and physical Quick-Build projects that uniquely focus on transit, have evolved as a way for municipal governments to improve the way they respond to rider needs and increased demand for service.

The report highlights Tactical Transit projects happening in cities across North America and how transit agencies and other entities are using innovative methods to improve transit speed, access, and ridership at a fraction of both the cost and time of conventional projects.

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