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Posts from the "Transit Information" Category

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Getting Around on the New SFMTA Website

The long-overdue overhaul of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s website launched this week, and it’s certainly sleeker.

Whereas navigating the old cluttered site often felt like a walking through a maze, visitors are now greeted by drop-down menus leading to tidy, image-heavy pages with useful info on the various modes of transportation. The front page features an integrated Muni trip planner which offers a choice of using information from 511 or Google.

One colleague of mine did take issue with the hierarchical order of transport modes on the “Getting Around” page — Muni, then parking, then bicycling, then taxi, then walking, then accessibility for the disabled, etc. — which doesn’t quite match up with the “Muni, walking, and bicycling” priority dictated in the city’s transit-first policy. Granted, I’d imagine getting information on parking is one of the top reasons for visiting the SFMTA website, so it could be geared toward providing the most-requested info first.

So readers, does the new website feel more useful? Should walking and biking be placed before parking as a symbolic show of priorities? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Muni Begins to Catch Up With NextBus Delay Alerts for Riders

Muni’s chronic delays and breakdowns may be slightly easier to swallow as the transit system notifies riders using NextBus digital displays and text message alerts.

Alerts were seen for perhaps the first time on NextBus displays at Muni stops on December 3, when Muni’s entire underground metro system was shut down by a blown transformer that disrupted its train signals.

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency is “currently working with the NextBus technology to better provide real-time updates through as many modes as possible,” said agency spokesperson Paul Rose. “We will be working with this technology to determine if this is something we can use system wide.”

“This is a great win for riders,” said Rob Boden, spokesperson for the SF Transit Riders Union. “Over the years, Muni has struggled to provide customers with information about delays. Riders were often stranded at bus stops without even knowing something was wrong. This is an improvement to customer service that has been a long time coming.”

Rose pointed out that riders can also sign up for text message and email alerts about delays on specific Muni lines by creating an account on NextMuni.com and selecting “Automatic Alerts.” There, users can add “Route Watch Alerts” for any number of Muni lines.

Muni has long been behind on adopting technology to alert riders about delays. As the SF Chronicle reported last month, “Every other major transit agency in the Bay Area either has or is close to having a way to send riders e-mails or text messages when there is a major delay.”

The SFMTA is also beta testing a smartphone app called Muni+, currently available for download, which could be used for alerts. In this user’s experience, however, the app’s drawbacks, like a cluttered display, heavy battery usage and complicated navigation, made it not worth keeping. Instead, it’s been much more convenient to check arrival times using a webpage bookmark for NextMuni.com. Delays are also reported on the SFMTA’s Twitter feed, and number of third-party apps are also available for arrival times.

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Forget Parking: N-Judah Detours Show How Much Merchants Rely on Muni

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Carl and Cole Streets. Photo: SF Examiner

When the SF Municipal Transportation Agency proposed widening sidewalks at two stops on Carl Street in Cole Valley to improve conditions for nearly 6,000 daily passenger boardings on Muni’s N-Judah line, some vociferous merchants and residents complained about the loss of nine car parking spaces it would require. But with ongoing project construction detouring the N-Judah for several weekends this year, some merchants may be discovering the hard way what really brings business to the neighborhood: Muni.

Some business owners estimate their business has dropped 30 percent as a result of street closures on Carl for work on the rail replacement project, according to Juliet Pries, the owner of Ice Cream Bar on Cole Street. (Pries, who opened her shop after the project was planned, was not an opponent.) During the closures, the two N-Judah stops on Carl at Cole and Stanyan Streets are moved to Frederick Street, which runs one block to the north, just off the neighborhood’s commercial strip. Trains are also replaced with shuttle buses, which are slower and carry fewer people, and many riders who are aware of the construction may avoid using the line. On an average day, the stop at Carl and Cole serves over 4,300 boardings alone, according to Transit Effectiveness Project data collected in 2007.

“A lot of people get off that train and walk right past my business,” said Pries. “It’s definitely one of the reasons for choosing this location.”

Of course, the noise and visual impacts of the construction itself may contribute to the drop, and roughly a few dozen street parking spaces are also temporarily removed during the closures. But studies in other dense, transit-oriented neighborhoods have found that merchants frequently overestimate how many of their customers drive, fueling opposition to improvements for walking, biking, and transit that have been shown to benefit businesses time and time again.

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Tech Solutions for Transit Emerge at TransportationCamp West

Flickr photo: TransportationCamp

The potential for technological solutions to today’s urban transport challenges was the theme last weekend as bright minds melded ideas at TransportationCamp West, an “unconference” of participant-led discussions held in San Francisco.

“We’re trying to bring together people from the tech world and people from the transportation world to think outside of their traditional comfort zones, to share new approaches, to talk about tools, to talk about social and equity issues around transportation,” said Frank Hebbert, community planning tools product manager at OpenPlans, which organized the event and is the parent non-profit of Streetsblog.

Transportation planners, advocates, and “data geeks” came from around the country to discuss “where tech and information can support some of those goals,” he said.

Discussion topics ranged from how to improve paratransit efficiency, to promoting a positive image of public transportation, to making transit information more widely accessible. Local transit agency officials from the SFMTA, BART, AC Transit, SFCTA and the SF Planning Department formed connections with innovators around “using information to make better software, and ultimately, a better society,” said Hebbert.

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