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You may recall my nattering on the virtues of riding the bus instead of rail lately, mainly on issues of cost. One thing that buses famously offer over rail is route flexibility. Bus advocates are always offering the proverbial detour around obstacles that occur maybe once a year or decade. Rail transit, with its fixed rail, offers no such flexibility.

The flexibility of bus routing is also a curse, as many routes can get diverted into the hierarchical fingers of the road/traffic network to satisfy specific customer demands. Though traffic arterials do usually go straight from point A to point B with efficient dispatch, most people do not live or work directly on these arterials.. This fractal routing is great for riders that have just a short walk to get to their bus stop, but terrible for those riders already on the bus that would like to get to their destinations within the hour.

Another consequence of these route detours is an increased risk of collision at intersections. Left turns are the riskiest to make. so much so that UPS routes deliveries with right turns only**.

Comparing the three bus routes I have used to get 16 miles from Fairfax County to Alexandria, I gained a visceral appreciation of the meaning of the platitude “be on the way”. Why couldn’t all bus routes just be draconian realigned to serve one arterial very well. I have not have the time to calculate how much quicker bus routes could be if this were the case. Again, this is a decision that serves the riders on the bus better than passengers trying to access the bus. There are four periods of time for the transit rider: getting to the stop, waiting at the stop, taking the ride, and getting to the destination. My little scheme benefits steps 2 and 3 at the expense of step 1

The problem with this occurred to me recently is that “on the way” is a genuinely anti-walkable place for many. Set aside the many transit arterials that are high speed divided highways. Consider the many arterials that are successful commercial corridors. Almost all of these are an uninterrupted scrim of parking followed 20 stalls back by big box and satellite retail with the same mix of dry cleaners, mattress, toy, and convenience stores, and restaurants repeating forever. All establishments with good enough credit to earn the landlord’s trust. Wouldn’t do to have a vacant gap in the non-stop retail tapestry.

The only overtures to residential neighborhoods are streets hidden in obscurity behind curves or hills. The only offices are behind the same size parking lots as all the retail, with more space afford e the cars than the workers.

So it occurred to me that one way to make “be on the way work would be to coordinate land use with the bud stops themselves. Let the block around each bus stop be a finger of closer in retail, commercial or even residential. There, The parking lot/ arterial layout should be inverted. Instead of presenting parking as the one true asset to the passing cars, let the housing, jobs, and shopping offer themselves directly to the bus riders. The arterial traffic-serving fabric can resume a hundred yards or so from each bus stop.


* Rail transit is also much more expensive to build than bus transit (tens of millions versus tens of thousands per route mile. The only place rail transit gets a break is in per passenger operations. Since one six-car train can carry as many passengers as 10 buses or more. Many rail transit system charge a premium for the smoother ride, making it an even better deal for their marginal returns.

** Though that could be riskier for bikers and walkers. I will make a not to look further into that.