On Being a Transit-Assisted Pedestrian

I don’t think of myself as a transit rider, although I certainly ride transit frequently.

I don’t even think of myself primarily as a bicycle rider, although when I go to the office, it’s most often on my bike.

My primary identification is as a pedestrian. Most of my travel around the city is on my own two feet. Walking is my major form of exercise (I wear a pedometer and try to get 15,000 steps every day). And as a fellow neighborhood transportation activist reminded me recently, let’s not forget the benefit of all those unplanned social interactions that happen on the sidewalk (and on transit).

But my feet can’t get me everywhere. That’s where the idea of being ‘transit-assisted’ comes in. I think of transit (often the Streetcar) as being an ‘assist’ to my walking (or to my biking). Transit doesn’t substitute for those other modes but rather extends my range.

Many days I need to get from Northwest to downtown. How I get there depends on how much time I have. If I have 45 minutes or more, I can simply walk. If I have less time, I walk along the Streetcar alignment and hop on when it catches up to me (and I don’t worry about it passing me between stops, because I monitor how fast it’s catching up to me via the Nextbus displays).

Depending again on how much time I have, I decide how soon to get off the Streetcar, finishing up my trip again on foot. Part of the benefit of the real-time displays is that I’m never waiting around at a stop for more than a minute or two. If I have longer, I’m walking to the next stop!

It’s harder to do this with a bus, because there are no displays at the stops (or only at a very few). It turns out that you can monitor some of this information via cell phone (either by voice or if it’s web-enabled). But the interfaces are still challenging to navigate. Here at Portland Transport we have some ideas to improve these interfaces. Watch this space to see these ideas develop!

Of course, almost every transit rider uses their feet for part of their trip. How do you conceptualize the transition between being a pedestrian and being a transit user?


7 responses to “On Being a Transit-Assisted Pedestrian”

  1. Chris –

    I agree with you that transit is often just an extension of the pedestrian environment. I think that is especially true of the MAX and streetcar downtown in fareless square. That is partially because stops are so close together – which is actually a problem with MAX.

    Part of the opposition at Tri-met to Mayor Katz’ proposal for a city wide fareless square was that there would be a lot more use of transit in that fashion outside downtown. Having buses stop more frequently is an additional cost to the system and slows down longer trips.

  2. City-wide fareless square? Interesting, although I would be against it for the same reason I am for tolling all freeways: you would get too much use on the system for people taking somewhat trivial trips all the time, which could overburden the system. There’s an efficiency you want to achieve…

    I wish we had subsidized riding cards for poorer residents, especially those who work, and maybe a farecard that acted like a charge card that you can ‘refill’… I’ve heard some other cities have those.


    Back on topic: the MAX needs to connect to more pedestrian environments to make this work… like Orenco, Goose Hollow, The Round, etc (well, projects need to be carried out to completion, even if the funding doesn’t quite work out like the planners originally thought). Plazas at each major transit stop would really help, along with 24-hour businesses like… 24 hour fitness! Kudos to the Hollywood Max stop.

  3. First, it has been said that all transit riders are pedestrians at some point in their trip, assuming they don’t have service to their door. In fact, this is why TriMet helps get sidewalks built.

    Second, one of the things that I don’t like about Fareless Square is that it discoruages me (and probably others) from walking or going by bike to places within or near Fareless Square. I don’t know about Justin, but these are what I would call “trivial” trips.

    And it will be interesting to see your ideas on improving the Transit Tracker interface. I use it a lot and it seems to work pretty good. Just bookmark your frequently-used stops (if using web-enabled) or memorize your Stop IDs (if using voice and/or at one of the many stops with one posted).

  4. The biggest limitation I find in the online Transit Tracker interface when using it from a web-enabled phone is the navigation. If I want to play my ‘walk until the bus catches up with me’ game, getting the prediction for the next stop takes a lot of clicking and re-selecting.

    Another opportunity for improvement is choosing from multiple route opportunities. For example, if I’m in downtown Portland, I can get home to NW on the 15, 17 or Streetcar. Knowing which is coming when without checking 3 different screens would be a BIG help.

    And don’t even get me started about trying to figure out what to do when there are multiple transfer routings…

  5. It would be super if TriMet opened up an API for their real-time arrival data. Outside developers could create a variety of applications using this data. TriMet shouldn’t have to develop everything, let other people do it with no cost to the agency, possibly with applications TriMet wouldn’t have even have thought of creating.

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