Early Background on Advanced Arterial "Corridor Sweep" Concept

6/20/04 version. Originally conceived May '04.




Smart Jitneys

Free vanpools

School bus

Pilot Idea


The Problem: Take a hypothetical community that has experienced explosive job growth in an office park. 65% of workers have very short, 0 to 8 mile commutes. Unfortunately, the community was never designed to carry so much commute traffic. The arterial streets are overburdened. Assuming there is a high level-of-service "last mile" solution emanating from a single transit hub, how can we move a large portion of commuters by commute alternatives? There are many possibilities, but we might assume a 1/2 mile 4-lane arterial street grid, with cul-de-sacs within each grid cell. Click here for an example of the 1/2 mile grid.

The solution: Currently, there is no solution. Thus, we need to brainstorm some new techniques. We know that tech-workers demand a high level-of-service solution for short commute alternatives to compete. Short commutes can be particularly difficult to serve, because transfer penalties have a higher impact on the competitiveness of short trips.

The Concept: Here's one very rough brainstorm. It (naively) assumes that transportation providers would encourage a combination of bus service and "casual carpooling" (defined below the diagram), working in a complementary manner at bus stops. Where bus and hitchhiking are available simultaneously, hitchhiking provides the chance for a faster ride and bus provides a guaranteed ride. The traditional bus service could be supplemented by "smart jitney" service that could ply the "first mile" from residences to bus stops, collecting riders and dropping them for the line haul trip. In the diagram below, the suggested jitney technology is a neighborhood electric vehicle, but vans or bus shuttles would also suffice.

More generally, the concept is to combine a number of different (and often interchangeable) services into a comprehensive multimodal service that competes with solo commuting. Any combination of services and technologies can be combined.

"Digital hitchhiking" / casual carpooling / neighborhood transit system

First, let's define "digital hitchhiking" / casual carpooling / neighborhood transit system:

Ken Schmier is the founder of NextBus. 30 years ago, he invented the low-tech, common-sense "Neighborhood Transit System" - a sort of Good Neighbor Transit System. Carpool drivers and riders are required to show a visually prominent neighborhood transit system license to each other. The yellow, laminated license is large enough so that drivers can easily see riders flagging them down by the roadside. The license is a police department granted license that shows that drivers and riders are in good standing as "safe" citizens, reducing the danger of assaults.

Recently, the town of San Geronimo implemented the neighborhood transit system scheme. San Geronimo is in Marin County, North of San Francisco. There is only one major arterial road, Sir Francis Drake Blvd with frequent wide shoulders. There are designated stops along the road for licensed hitchiking. This innovative service was implemented for a time, but has since been replaced by traditional shuttle service. For more details on implementation, please see: http://www.gogeronimo.org/Reg/Reg.html . While the idea was to always require licenses, the system evolved so that non-licensed people also participated in the system.

As far a human psychology is concerned, Schmier believes, "There should be some kind of reward for giving rides. But, people have a bit of Good Samaritan mentality whereby they feel good about giving people rides. The inclination is to give rides, but society scares people away from doing this."

The neighborhood transit system will only work on arterials that are conducive to pick up and drop off. If there is a bit of extra space by bus stops, or a wide shoulder, then pickup and drop off is facilitated. Where the arterial feeds an important transit hub, then the neighborhood transit system makes more sense. For an arterial with high peak demand, Schmier believes that peak period riders should never experience more than a five-minute wait.

Modern web applications and GPS cell phones (with the ability to transmit "mug shots") can enhance trip scheduling and connection making, increase safety, and seamlessly glue together a comprehensive transportation solution comprised of different services.

Employee-driven "smart jitney" vanpools

If you had 20 vans to give to "short-commute" employees, what could you do? A) Enlist the drivers to ply low-density neighborhoods (first miles) in some sort of a "sweeping" zig-zag pattern, possibly dropping employees off a bus stops along the corridor for faster service. Possibly, these van drivers could service an area, drop folks off at a bus stop, and then circle back to service that area or different area again. We're trying to find some way to have that van cover a significant amount of area, enlisting employees as transit drivers. Web/cellular ride requests will be relayed to drivers for dynamic pickup. B) Or just have the vans ply the corridor, poaching folks from bus stops. This type of service could also be provided by GEM neighborhood vehicles.

Four pickups on the way to dropping off at a bus stop on the arterial. Then, circle back to the start for a second run.

Free vanpools: From Chuck Collins, Former Metro Transit Director: RideFree Express for Vanpooling

Yikes! This may be far too political to consider seriously!

"Why not make vanpools free? It's cheaper and more energy efficient than buses. And pay the organizer/driver a $4,000 annual stipend, so you can hold him/her accountable to get their part of the job done. This is a great way to serve home-to-work trips spread all over the region, impossible to reach by fixed rail, and very difficult to serve by bus."



School bus service

First mile and line-haul services could be combined by providing "school bus" service, a school bus route. Identify specific residential locations that are interested in arriving at a specific time, and serve them via school bus style service. Use multiple vehicles to set up very short routes to offer commuters the preferred trip time and a trip to work that was reasonably direct. What would make it more attractive would be the ability to offer a follow-up trip, or possibly two, at a reasonable interval. For typical bus service, 3 trip times are not sufficient to make transit attractive to most folks. But with an identified audience - say those who have had at least the interest to put their name, street intersection pick-up point, and arrive at work time on a list - 2 or 3 trips might be convenient enough. It would certainly be interesting to see what the results would be.

In the "1/2 mile grid with cul-de-sacs" that we are considering, many of the streets are either: a) private, b) curvy for vans/buses, c) dead-ends requiring difficult turnarounds for large vehicles. Some of these streets have residents who are going to complain to their city council about having transit vehicles on their streets. Doing some time trials would be necessary before assuming how many shuttle trips could be made on each street within the time period of interest. It is not clear that suburban cities would allow this school bus style transit on all streets, especially the private streets. Without that initial check, a lot of time could be wasted on developing a pattern that would not be operable.


Should a willing employer and city come along, a pilot program to test out the corridor sweep could be created with the following characteristics. Ideally partners would also include a TMA, county transit agency, a university ITS department (supplying professors and student interns), a regional planning agency, a cellular operator, electric scooter firm, carsharing company, and, most importantly, Cities21. Such in-depth partnering with large in-kind contributions will increase chances of government and foundation funding.




(Actual service features will be determined by a partner team charrette.)



LAST MILE (To the buildings closest to the transit hub)


Thanks to:

Ken Schmier of NextBus. Intrago's Dan Sturges. A number of others have contributed, but cannot yet be named (JR, RL, EV, DS, DH, DM).