Why you should be excited about COTA

Have you ever missed a bus that only comes hourly? Have you ever ridden on a bus that takes forever to wind its squiggly way through neighborhood streets? These frustrations may soon be a thing of the past.

As you read this COTA is working with the renowned firm Jarrett Walker & Associates to completely redo their service map. Although the final plan hasn’t been released, judging from the draft plan there are some big and exciting changes on the way.

First, and most exciting, more routes will run at least every 15 minutes! As of now, we only have 3 routes that run with such a high frequency, but under the proposed plan that will jump to 12. No only that, but they would also run at least every 15 minutes seven days a week. That’s right, weekends too. Draft_Proposed_FTN-page-001

If that’s not enough to get you excited

  • 10,752 more existing riders will be within 1/4 mile of 15 minute service
  • 17,176 more jobs are within a 1/4 mile of any service (+4.2%)
  • More than twice as many residents (116,000 more residents) get frequent service – that’s part of why ridership will grow (+103%)

Best of all: COTA can make these improvements without spending more money. All of the changes proposed will paid for out of the savings from eliminated meandering and unpopular routes and increasing system efficiency.

By making our bus system simpler, faster and easier to use we will be taking an important step towards making Columbus a transit-friendly city.

Check out www.cota.com for more information.

(picture: proposed high-frequency routes)


What would you ask one of the most successful transit advocates in the country?

Think on it, becaindexuse next week you’ll have the chance to actually ask him. Ben Ross was president  of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit for 15 years, and under his tenure it grew to be one of the largest transit advocacy groups in the U.S. Now he has written a book, Dead End, looking into suburban sprawl and the coming urbanization of America.

He will be speaking and taking questions Thursday, June 5, 5:30-7:00 at MoJoe Lounge Downtown across from the Columbus Commons.

Check out what people are saying about the book:

“I’ve studied a lot of books on New Urbanism. Every once and a long while one of them opens my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking. Such is Dead End.” –Robert Steuteville, Better! Cities & Towns

“Ben Ross’ Dead End is a highly personal account of a larger journey that we are embarked on as a nation — from sprawl to walkable communities, from anoxic, sterile neighborhoods to vibrant, transit-served urban areas that are the wellspring of innovation, economic development and cultural richness.” –John Porcari, Former Deputy Secretary, United States Department of Transportation

“Ben Ross paints the big picture of the battle between sprawl and community from the historic perspective, to the current conflicts to a vision of better land use process. Always focused on the human perspective with subjects as diverse as Jane Jacobs and Pete Seeger to Snob Zoning and Agenda 21, Dead End is an exciting, easy read.” –Parris N. Glendening, President, Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, and former Governor of Maryland (1995-2003)

“This impressively researched and documented history explains the huge pressures for maintaining a status quo that supports sprawl and is unfriendly to walkable cities. Ross argues convincingly that rail transit is ‘the political and mental key that opens the door to urban change.'” –Ross Capon, President & CEO, National Association of Railroad Passengers

GOOD IDEAS: The challenges

We asked six community leaders in Columbus to come up with a challenge for our young professional design teams to solve and they delivered! Walking, biking, rail, bus and accessibility are all covered. We can’t wait to see the ideas our design teams come up with.

Commissioner Marilyn Brown: How can we help make the urban core areas more friendly and accessible to pedestrians (including those with disabilities), increase pedestrian safety when jaywalking is necessary (because of handicap ramps or because of where a bus stops), and increase compliance of pedestrians with traffic laws?

Mayor Michael Coleman: Provide a long range vision for alternative transit in Columbus.  Provide target milestones for 5, 10 and 20 year marks.

Betsy Pandora: With such an abundance of non-auto resources, what can be done to get the Short North Arts district’s three core users [residents, employees/business owners, and visitors] out of their cars and accessing the transit options already available to them? And, if the existing resources truly aren’t enough to encourage any or all of the district’s core users to hang up the car keys, what resources are needed to convince them to do so?

Brent Simonds: How can Columbus prioritize mobility issues for pedestrians, individuals with disabilities and transit riders during times when moderate to heavy snows restrict/prohibit access to many areas of the city (and thus jobs, services, shopping and school) that otherwise would be accessible with clear streets/sidewalks and ramps?

Dawn Tyler Lee: How do we encourage economic development/site selection for new (and existing) businesses in those areas of our community that:
1) Need job opportunities and have large populations of people needing work and
2.) Already have access to transportation (and especially public transit)?
How can we make redevelopment where we already have infrastructure more attractive than development in farther our sprawl where infrastructure needs to be built?
What are some innovative ways to sell a lifestyle choice that requires less driving, less travel time commuting and promotes the use of alternative transportation?
How can we “package” the use of public transit to appeal to entire segment of the population that never considered it? And, do we need to repackage the community to do so?
Might we consider tax policies that are based on the actual cost of providing services?

Mark Wagenbrenner: How can fixed guideway transit be introduced to the High Street Corridor so that it is:
1. Successful and impactful
2. A demonstrative example for Columbus/Central Ohio
3. Potentially connected to a larger system

Transportation needs a boost in Columbus

In the past six to eight months, transportation demand and behavior has made a remarkable shift: New bike- and car-sharing options have sprung up through CoGo and Car2Go respectively; more than 5,400 people of have signed a petition in support of the return of passenger rail to Columbus; and, more than 100 voluntarily have become involved in activities related to “designing” the transportation system of the future for central Ohio.

And now Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman has raised the critical issue of the need to treat Port Columbus as a center for ground as well as air transportation, potentially even serviced via passenger rail.

In part, these shifts respond to an obvious deficiency of public transit and mobility options for this metropolitan area of nearly 2 million people, an area that continues to lag the rest of the nation in terms of options.

A report and map of all of the new major transit projects starting in the U.S., reported by the online publication the Transport Politic, showed nearly every major metropolitan area in the nation has a major public-transit project in progress, but Columbus, the 15th largest city and 31st largest metropolitan region, remains off the map.

Even auto-oriented cities such as Detroit and Cincinnati are moving forward with the construction of streetcars, and the completion of an upgrade of existing passenger rail service between Detroit and Chicago to a speed of 110 mph for most of the route is about two years out.

Granted, the Central Ohio Transit Authority is growing, and the level of service and ridership both are steadily increasing and have been for nearly eight years. In addition to the new car- and bike-sharing options that have sprung up, the local organization Transit Columbus gained more than 5,400 signatures on a Change.org petition that inquired about interest in a passenger rail line from Columbus to Chicago.

Yet we have a long way to go, and the stakes are high. For a metropolitan region of this size, the public-transit and other mobility options remain significantly deficient compared to Columbus’ peer cities. Central Ohio also remains the largest metropolitan region on the U.S. map that lacks any type of transportation by passenger rail.

Nearly all metropolitan regions of our size, and even smaller, offer multiple modes including light rail, streetcars, intercity passenger trains and/or commuter trains that connect suburban communities to the central cities and major employment centers. A number of cities also have developed higher-volume and more-efficient bus rapid-transit systems. The Columbus area has none of these options, although COTA is working on a bus rapid-transit plan for Columbus’ Cleveland Avenue corridor that could be operable within a few years.

Also at stake are our region’s millennials: the population now in their late teens through mid-30s who are delaying or skipping the option of getting drivers licenses and buying cars and instead are demanding other alternatives, such as world-class public transit, walkable communities and infrastructure that accommodates bicycling for transportation as well as recreation.

Three years ago, local young professionals responded in a survey that Columbus is a great place to live for their age group, but that the lack of transportation options is the largest deficiency among those attributes and one of the most important to these future leaders of our community. Unfortunately, many already have departed or may yet leave to become leaders and contributors to other places such Portland, Denver, Chicago and Charlotte because these cities offer these amenities not found in Columbus.

Locally and statewide, a growing older-adult population will face mobility issues as driving becomes increasingly challenging and perhaps less desirable. Columbus also bid for a major national political-party convention in 2016, and yet Experience Columbus and other organizations have indicated that convention visitors here have said that Columbus does not have the multi-modal, interconnected transportation options they would expect or are accustomed to in a city this large.

Thus for these and so many other reasons, the time has come —– and in fact is long overdue — for political, corporate and civic leaders to come to terms with the value and importance of better public transportation to central Ohio’s future. Our leaders need to support the advancement of the transportation system we need now, and for the future, if our community is to remain a vibrant and relevant urban region of the future.

Eric Davies is the board chairman of Transit Columbus.




Join us for GOOD IDEAS Columbus, an innovative program that brings together creative and motivated young people with community leaders to solve pressing issues in Central Ohio. We are bringing Columbus’ brightest young minds; designers, architects, engineers, students and artists, and pairing them with some of the most important community leaders to work on real problems affecting transportation in our city. Six design teams of people under the age of 40 will each be paired with a community leader. The leader will ask their team to solve a problem relating to transportation in Columbus. On April 22 the creative teams will present their ideas in a fun-filled night with food, drink and entertainment.

Community Leaders

Commissioner Marilyn Brown, Franklin County Commissioner & MORPC Board Chair
Mayor Michael B. Coleman,  Mayor of Columbus
Betsy Pandora, Executive Director at the Short North Alliance
Dawn Tyler Lee, Sr. VP of Community Impact at United Way Central Ohio & COTA Board Chair
Brent Simonds, Development Director at Cycling for All
Mark Wagenbrenner, President at Wagenbrenner Development


Columbus against the world

Well, maybe not the world, but the University of Cincinnati released a study comparing public transportation in 12 peer cities, including Columbus. So, how are we doing?

When compared with peer cities that have a range of transit options including rail and/or bus rapid transit we sadly don’t compare too well in any category. We rank #11 in rides per capita, beating only Indianapolis, and #9 in operational efficiency (how much of every dollar spent we get back at the fare box).

When it comes to the five cities that have bus-only systems things start getting a bit better. We rank #2 in both operational efficiency and service capacity, losing out only to Cincinnati. The other good news is that Columbus is improving every year in both of these categories. COTA it seems is stepping up to the challenge and constantly improving our system.

The take away from this study seems to be that having rail and bus rapid transit greatly increases both ridership and operational efficiency for transit systems. It’s ironic that often times people balk at the cost of rail, but in the long run it ends up making the system as a whole both more popular and cost effective. Of the top five cities for operational efficiency, four of them have rail systems. Of the worse five cities for operational efficiency, four of them have bus-only systems.

What’s missing from this picture?


The Urban Land Institute’s Columbus chapter published this map of cities with rail and/or bus rapid transit systems in existence or under constructions in their Columbus 2050 report. Sadly, the center of Ohio looks a bit empty….


Moving soon? A majority of Americans say transit matters when selecting a home

Every year the Urban Land Institute issues a survey on Americans’ housing preferences,014-001 and this year’s was quite interesting. So, what do the people want? It seems they want mixed-use communities, walkability and public transit. Considering the nearly daily news articles heralding the “return of Downtown” or proclaiming that “we’ve passed peak driving” this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Just look around Columbus and you can see dense, mixed-use developments mushrooming up all over the city. It’s a sight to behold.

The wonderful thing though was how many diverse demographics supported transit. Baby boomers, Generation Y, city-dwellers, those with post-graduate 012-001degrees and those making under $50,000 a year are just some of the demographics that ranked transit has a high priority. This helps explain why transit has been performing well in elections recently (in 2012 79% of transit initiatives won at the ballot box). We knew the support had to be coming from some where. It seems though, the support is coming from almost everywhere.

The question is, could something win at the ballot box in Central Ohio? We’ve got Baby boomers, Millenials, city-dwellers and a great university minting new masters degrees by the minute, so something tells me transit might have a chance. Perhaps it’s time to dust off Mayor Coleman’s 2006 streetcar plan, or COTA’s 2009 light rail plan, or, come up with something new and give it a go.

GPS tracking for COTA? It’s coming….

A screen shot from NYC's bus-tracking system

A screen shot from NYC’s bus-tracking system

Today is a day to rejoice. COTA has announced that starting early in 2014 people will be able to see their bus’ actual location in real-time using a GPS tracking system. So now when you’re hanging out in a cafe waiting for the twice hourly #18 to go back home you can keep an eye on your phone and time your dash to the bus stop perfectly. I wonder, will there be an app, or integration with Google maps? The easier transit gets to use the more people will use it, so we applaud another smart improvement from COTA.

For more info check out this week’s Transportation Insider column. There’s also a good bit about Millenials and transportation choice.