When Cynicism Overwhelms Public Process

7 min read

bus stop.jpg

By Sarah Launius
PhD Candidate and Researcher in the School of Geography and Development at the UA

Dear Reader,

It is with apologies that I share that I gave bad information on the extent of the new Broadway bus pullout delays that bus riders will bear. City staff finally communicated at the 4/19 M&C meeting the expected time delays for Broadway with westbound delays of no more than 2 minutes 40 seconds and averaging 1 minute 35 seconds. Eastbound buses should experience no more than a 1 minute 20 second delay and average delay of 48 seconds. Given the increase of 13 new bus pullouts in the 2-mile stretch, I erroneously assumed that each pullout would produce this delay as the bus sought to get back into traffic. Instead, SunTran estimates that even with 10 new pullouts in one direction that the delay will be no more than 2:40 total. These amounts are still an 18% increase in time for bus riders, but I digress. I apologize for this error and thank Bus Rider Union member Suzanne Schafer for bringing it to my attention. It also, however, led me to reflect on why I jumped to this erroneous conclusion, and what is at stake in the ultimate design of Broadway, as a material reminder of public process do’s and don’ts.

You see, I was aware that members of the M&C Transit Taskforce and City Councilmembers had requested information on what the bus delays would be. I was also aware that it appeared that the project team was not inclined to either have potential delays reviewed or for such findings to be shared. So I was surprised and figured if the average delay is only 1 minute 35 seconds from ‘worthless bus rider time’ then why not discuss this on its own terms during the review process? If the project team or city staff believe they can’t defend the delay or that any additional delay is unacceptable (as does the Bus Riders Union) then why are they not implementing better design? If staff truly could find public right-of-way for 13 bus pullouts then how does this align with the goal of keeping the overall footprint of the road to a minimum so as to maintain it as a friendly multi-modal corridor? If we are to believe that the delays are minimal then we may also assume that cars don’t really need this additional lane and it can and should be a designated transit lane without bus pullouts. It all doesn’t seem to add-up (pardon the pun).

And this is the cynicism creeping in again… that icky distrust of the city project team and their unwillingness to be forthright with their design rationales. That recollection of the many, not-too-distant, hairy, slimy 11th-hour backroom deals that threw out public process in the name of growth machine politics. The confusion regarding how, when so much discussion and process went into the plan agreed to last summer, the one we see in March of 2016 seems so far beyond (or really behind) that plan.

All of this led me to assume that surely there must be some other agenda at play, or else we are truly just inept as a city.

We have an opportunity right here and now with the City of Tucson, Pima County and the RTA to implement a design that explicitly, and in the present, advances mass transit. Bus pullouts don’t do this. Raising bus fares don’t do this. Investing in speedy bus service now is doable but requires a designated lane and signal priority for buses. Broadway can provide the testing ground for future bus rapid transit and signal a meaningful commitment to mass transit by the city.

At the M&C meeting on April 19 many spoke to the fact that the process on the Broadway design had run too long; that it is time to stop talking and start acting. Yes, it has taken a long time, and it is time for action, including getting real about how we as a city benefit from investing in our bus service and in mass transit as a critical part of our present and future.


Actions Speak Louder Than Words

By Sarah Launius
PhD Candidate and Researcher in the School of Geography and Development at the UA

Recent action shows: The Broadway design is sacrificing good bus service for the convenience of private vehicles; RTA is calling the shots on upwards of 13 bus pullouts within a 2-mile span and; Mayor and Council promise even more talk to address bus pullout concerns with no action plan to remove them and improve bus service.

On April 19 Mayor and Council voted to begin property acquisition for demolition along Broadway. The current widening plan turns Broadway into 3 mixed-traffic lanes in each direction from Euclid/Park to Country Club. The plan adds some nice infrastructure for cyclists, some crummy infrastructure for bus riders and an extra lane to give private vehicles even more asphalt to cruise around on.

Here’s the deal: The RTA is pushing the city design team to incorporate bus pullouts whenever possible as opposed to investing in stops in-lane. This is happening even after the Design Concept Report readily acknowledged that pullouts slow down transit. This 2-mile stretch of Broadway has an additional 13 bus pullouts proposed alongside already existing pullouts on the corridor and a new one on Campbell just north of the Broadway intersection.

At the meeting last week city staff finally provided information that members of the Bus Riders Union had been requesting: What are the anticipated delays expected for the Route 8 bus due to these new pullouts?

Staff shared that SunTran estimates westbound buses will have a maximum delay of 2:40 and an average delay of 1:35 while eastbound buses are expected to have a maximum delay of 1:20 with 0:48 the average delay. Given the number of pullouts and that most are westbound these delays can impact this short 2 mile distance by 16-26 additional minutes. Yes, 16-26 additional minutes to go 2 miles. But don’t worry because SunTran says that they expect their travel time already to vary so much that each direction of the Route 8 bus already has this buffer time built in.

So what gives? What investments are being made that will improve bus service for bus riders under the Broadway plan? There was discussion last week about how the additional lane, pullouts and streetscape can accommodate high capacity transit later on and I, for one, would like a clear explanation from staff on how the current design benefits bus riders now.

Because of the many bus riders who called on Mayor and Council urging them to not include bus pullouts as part of the design, the resolution passed last week was amended to address these concerns. The text of the resolution directed staff to “refine the design and address the concerns about the bus pullouts, lane widths, cross widths, bike lanes, median and left turn lanes, through input from the property- and business-owner suggestions from public workshops, and begin the acquisition process for right-of-way.” What this means in practice is unclear but it is unlikely to take the form of meaningful results without ongoing input from bus riders. Ultimately what the resolution encourages is more talk so everyone feels they have been heard when what we need is action that ensures good bus service on its own.

This is particularly important right now as the Mayor and Council are beginning the process to raise bus fares. And so the question remains – What investments are being made that will improve bus service for bus riders under the Broadway plan? This is a question that staff and Mayor and Council should be able to convincingly explain and find a net-gain to bus riders in the next two-years as the Broadway design is implemented.


Cuando el Cinismo Agobia al Proceso Publico

Por Sarah Launius PhD Candidata e Investigadora en la Escuela de Geografía y Desarrollo en la Universidad de Arizona

Queridos lectores,

Pido disculpas por haberles dado la información equivocada acerca de la ampliación del bulevar Broadway y las paradas de los camiones (Bus Pull Outs).

El personal de la ciudad comunico en la junta del 19 de Abril que los retrasos en las paradas del camión hacia el Oeste no tardaran más de 2 minutos y 40 segundos y las paradas hacia el Este no tardaran más de 1 minuto y 20 segundos.

Aumentaron 13 paradas más (Bus Pull Outs) cada 2 millas. Yo asumí que cada parada tendría mucho retraso ya que el camión tenía que salirse del tráfico para parar y entrar de nuevo. Al contrario el Sun Tran calcula que aun con 10 paradas más el retraso no sería más de 2 minutos y 40 segundos.

Me disculpo por mi error y agradezco a Suzane Schafer  por llamarme la atención. También me ayudo a reflexionar como llegue a esa errónea conclusión.

Yo sabía que los miembros del M&C y los miembros del Consejo pidieron información acerca de las paradas de los camiones. También sabía que parecía que el equipo no se interesaba por revisar los retrasos que los camiones pudieran tener o por compartir esa información. Si los retrasos de las paradas de los camiones son mínimos entonces podemos asumir que no se necesita un carril adicional para los carros y que podría haber un carril únicamente para los camiones.

La desconfianza y la renuencia del equipo encargado del proyecto a hacer lo correcto con sus diseños me hace pensar que hay una segunda agenda.

En la junta de Abril 19 se dijo mucho que estamos tomando mucho tiempo en el diseño del bulevar Broadway que deberíamos empezar a actuar y sì ha tomado mucho tiempo porque necesitamos como ciudad beneficiarnos de lo que invertimos.

Los pasajeros del camión llamaron la atención del Alcalde y Los Miembros del Consejo y ahora se tiene que modificar estas inquietudes; paradas del camión, medida de los carriles, carril para bicicleta y para cruzar la calle, carril para dar vuelta a la izquierda o derecha… lo que quiere decir que no está claro.

Esto es importante el Alcalde y el Consejo de la Ciudad han empezado el proceso para aumentar las tarifas de los camiones y la pregunta es: ¿Qué inversión se ha hecho que mejore el servicio de los camiones en la ampliación del bulevar?


Las Acciones Dicen más que Mil Palabras

El tema de la ampliación del bulevar Broadway cerca del centro es muy controversial.

Los políticos han votado a favor de los carros en lugar de los pasajeros del camión.

La Unión de los Pasajeros del Camión trato de influenciar a los políticos para que hicieran un carril únicamente para el camión.

El plan actual es de 13 paradas del camión (Bus pull out) cada 2 millas. Las paradas (pull out) hacen que los camiones se salgan del carril y esperen hasta que todos los carros pasen para regresar al tráfico. Esto no es bueno para los pasajeros ya que el viaje será mucho más largo.

La Ciudad escucho a mucha gente a favor de los pasajeros y en contra de las paradas de los camiones.

Lo bueno es que los políticos nos escucharon y ellos prometieron responder a nuestras demandas.

Nosotros queremos ver acción, no solamente palabras bonitas o promesas!

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