The Dispatch had an article yesterday discussing COTA’s downtown bus service and how it may be affecting businesses.
High Street Downtown
All those buses and riders: Bad for business?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010 02:51 AM
By Doug Caruso
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
…Downtown developers have complained that COTA passengers waiting for transfers near Broad and High streets, and buses lining the curbs make the area less attractive for retail stores and their customers.
It’s an issue raised at least twice in a 10-year Downtown strategic plan endorsed by the Downtown Commission and the Columbus City Council this year. That plan calls for a Downtown transit center where people can wait for buses protected from the weather and away from High Street.
…There are two types of COTA customer, said Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the Capitol Crossroads Special Improvement District, which maintains the area near Broad and High using fees paid by nearby property owners.
There are those who choose to take the bus and usually find a direct route from their homes to their jobs Downtown. Faced with transfers, they’d rather drive, Ricksecker said.
The second type is those who depend on COTA because they don’t have another way to get around. Because of COTA’s hub-and-spoke configuration, many passengers have to transfer Downtown.
“Transit-dependent riders who are going through Downtown, for whatever reason, don’t shop,” Ricksecker said. “Large numbers of people waiting for a transfer can be intimidating for someone walking down the sidewalk.”
It’s an argument that touches on issues of class and race: Many transit-dependent riders are poor, and many are minorities.
First, I can see how buses lining the curb could be a problem if it increases noise, emissions, and blocks the visibility of storefronts. I can also see how the proposed on-street parking on High Street could be good for businesses if they encourage short trips to downtown stores.
However, I have a hard time believing that all those bus passengers waiting for transfers are a problem for businesses. Mr. Ricksecker says transit dependent riders don’t shop. Is there any data to support this? It sounds like a gross over-generalization to me. Second, he suggests that people can be intimidated by the idea of walking on the same sidewalk as bus passengers. It sounds crazy to me, but I suppose there might be someone out there that is scared of transit dependent bus passengers. If they have that phobia though, they’re probably not willing to come downtown at all, so changing the urban design of downtown to accommodate these people doesn’t sound like a very good strategy to me.
I think the on-street parking proposal begs some more analysis though. Let’s ignore the issue of who shops and who doesn’t for a minute, since I have no data on that issue. I will assume that more foot traffic on High Street, whether the people arrive by bus or by car, is a good thing for businesses.
Buses – In 2008, COTA served 56,890 trips on an average weekday. Because each direction of a trip is counted in this figure, that would be 28,445 passengers if everyone takes a round-trip. How many of those passengers went downtown to High Street?
Unfortunately, I don’t have that data. (If there are any COTA insiders that do, please let us know.) For now, I’ll assume half the passengers alight or board downtown on High Street. That would be a little over 14,000 pedestrians per day on High Street. Update: The Downtown Operations Analysis says there are 20,000 boarding and alightings at High Street stops between I-670 and I-70. So that’s more like 10,000 pedestrians per day than the 14,000 I guessed.
Parking – There are 12 blocks of High Street from Fulton to Nationwide (I’m counting Broad to State as two blocks since it’s extra long) where parking could be added instead of bus lanes. The average length of a block is about 380 feet and the average length of an on-street parking spot is typically at least 20 feet. There also needs to be some space allocated to corner clearances, let’s say 30′ on the approaching side of the intersection and 20′ downstream of an intersection. We’ll pretend that all bus stops would go away. If some buses still stopped on High Street, that would mean fewer new parking spaces.
So there would be 330 feet on each side of the street for on-street parking (660 feet total), which is 33 parking spaces on each block (660 feet/20 feet per space), or 396 parking spaces (12 blocks*33 spaces per block) on High from Nationwide to Fulton. How often can those spaces turn over? Again, actual data from the city would be nice here, but I’ll guess an average of once per hour for 12 hours per day (roughly 7 AM to 7 PM). That would give us 4,752 cars per day assuming full parking occupancy for 12 hours per day (a big assumption), or probably around 5,500 people per day assuming 1.1 to 1.2 people per vehicle. That’s
less than 4055% of the number of pedestrians I predicted using bus stops on High Street. If my calculations are even close to correct, the proposed parking spaces would have to be fully occupied for 12 hours a day and turn over about every 20 28 minutes to generate similar pedestrian volumes as the bus lineup.
Also consider that many of these drivers that would park on High Street are already driving to downtown and parking in other locations. So this wouldn’t be 5,500 NEW people, just 5,500 people.
Conclusions – It seems very unlikely that the parking could generate as much pedestrian traffic as the buses currently do. So if I were someone promoting downtown businesses, I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice the bus lanes on High Street unless a very good alternative solution could be found that would be both convenient for bus passengers and keep them walking down High Street and passing those potential retail locations.
As for the noise, emissions, and visibility of storefronts, I think there’s an easy solution. Have the buses idle somewhere else. They could still let passengers off at High & Broad for transfers, but they don’t have to wait around there. If they insist on having a recovery point downtown instead of only at the ends of a route, they could do it at the ends of downtown instead of in the middle. This would mean that passengers would have to be ready to board as the bus arrives instead of having a window of time when the bus will be sitting there. However, it would reduce delays for a passenger that wants to alight somewhere beyond High & Broad. There are certainly pros and cons, but I think it’s something to consider.