The Importance of Making the Connection

Yesterday, I made the trip from Brooklyn, NY, to Jersey City, NJ, to visit the Liberty Science Center. It really wasn’t hard to do, although it required three separate transfers — from the F train to the A train, from the A to the PATH train, and then from the PATH to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line.

All in all, it was a fine trip. The light rail ride was especially enjoyable, and the museum is an easy, well-marked walk from the stop. I’m certainly happy the place was accessible by transit at all.

But it took me a good bit of time at home on the computer to plot the journey (which is probably less than five miles as the crow flies). And aside from the across-the-platform transfer from the F to the A, the connections all involved walking out of a station and through the street with very little help from signs. Not everyone would go to the trouble of figuring it out, especially when the perception is that it’s so "easy" to drive there (a perception reinforced by acres and acres of parking at the museum, and the primacy given to driving directions on the Science Center’s website). This is especially true for those traveling with young kids, which most people are in this case.

So I admit to feeling a little envy when I saw this post today from Human Transit about well-designed transfers between urban and suburban transit lines in Vienna:

6a00d83454714d69e20120a57d7c81970c_320wi.jpgIn Vienna, your connecting train will be waiting for you across the platform. It really will.

If you’re going from a part of the city on
one line to an outer suburb that’s on the other, you just walk across the platform. What’s more, the trains actually pause here for about half a minute, so there’s plenty of time to make the move. 

The trains make this timed connection even though they are both running every five minutes. In most North American and Australasian systems, we wouldn’t worry about trying to time a connection when things are that frequent; we’d judge that a wait of less than five minutes for a connection wouldn’t matter much. But it still matters some, especially when lots of people are doing it, so the Austrians have taken the trouble to get it right. Even at high frequencies, connections can be points of stress for customers, who don’t know whether the connecting train’s about to leave. The customers on this connection can relax, because they know the trains will hold…

Connections can’t always be this easy, but good agencies are always trying to make them as easy as possible. Remember, if your transit agency makes it hard to make connections, they don’t really have a network. They just have a bunch of lines.

Of course, in the case of my trip yesterday, different agencies run the different lines I used. But that shouldn’t be an excuse in an area where the geographic and economic links are so close. It’s a great thing that you can use a NYC Metrocard on the PATH train. But even better coordination between agencies is needed. In places where new systems are being built, this kind of connectivity should be a priority.

Human Transit’s observations apply as well to other issues people have been talking about on the Streetsblog Network recently, including the need to fund both intercity and intracity rail and the importance of putting high-speed rail stations in the right locations.

More from the network: The New American Village writes about the American bicycling wilderness (and no, he’s not talking about mountain biking). Kaid Bensfield on NRDC Switchboard has a post about a really cool driveway conversion in Toronto. And CommuteOrlando Blog has an update on anti-texting-while-driving legislation.

  • One of the chief pleasures of traveling is seeing firsthand how well transit systems (and livable streets) can work. I often have trouble adjusting when I return — I feel betrayed by my own city.

  • The U-bahn connection to the Schnel-Bahn is very nice. The other great attribute that Vienna has is its dense network of street cars instead of buses even on the narrowest of streets. And then there are lots of public plazas, gardens and car-free streets inside the Ring-Strasse. And it’s all on the honor system so transfers are very quick and there’s no worrying about fare-tranfers inside zones you have a monthly pass for.

  • Actually, having lived far along on the Eastchester/Dyre Ave 5 train, the MTA was surprisingly good at timing the shuttle with the 180th St 2 train when the 5 shut down late at night. More often than not the shuttle was waiting right there when I came in.

    Having said that however, I’ve always thought the MTA needs to give more thought to periphery-periphery connections. In a way I see it as the failing of monocentric urbanism… If you have businesses concentrated in the center, rents are unaffordable there and many people live on the periphery. This means that people are more isolated in their personal lives and are limited to those who live around them (or spend an hour and a half on the subway from Upper Manhattan to Queens to the Bronx to Affordable Brooklyn…)

    I’ve always wondered what a city would look like with a true dispersion of businesses, workplaces, affordable and unaffordable neighborhoods. Kind of like keeping the suburban model of decentralization but making it dense with a grid-like transit system.

  • Dave Wiley

    I find it interesting that I can get more information, more accurate information, more easily from Google than I can from my local transportation company. For some reason the mass transit companies are slow to incorporate better information technology. In a way this is good. It means there are still relatively easy and cheap ways for mass transit to improve, but I just wish they’d hurry up.

  • It’s worth noting that the MTA often tries to avoid holding for connecting trains across the platform during peak hours because it substantially increases dwell-time and hence delays.

  • Tom Middleton

    Connections are great, but how bout getting MTA to adopt a universal metro card. Hong Kong has a Octopus card that gets you on the subway, buses, commuter trains and ferries. You have one card and you load it up and spend it however you need.
    Here: Metro card to Penn Station, Long Island RR ticket to Jamaica. AirTrain ticket to JFK. Genius!

  • Anthony

    In CT, CDOT makes a valiant effort to ensure commuters can transfer between the Shoreline East service (New London or Old Saybrook to New Haven) and the Metro-North Railroad. Upon arriving at New Haven on SE, the “connecting” Metro-North train is waiting across the arrival platform, and, in the event the SE train is delayed, the Metro-North train will wait a reasonable amount of time before departing for New York. This very efficicent arrangement makees it easy for NY-bound commuters living east of New Haven to avoid having to drive to New Haven’s Union Station in order to reach Metro-North.

  • Chung-chieh Shan

    Compared to Vienna as described here, Japanese connections between suburban train service and subway service takes the cake: many suburban trains simply become subway trains (and vice versa) with only a crew change.

  • Girolamo

    Part of the connectivity problem in the NY metro area is that our puerile and provincial politicians (such as Brodsky, Avella, and other assorted idiots) see everything as an inter-state pissing contest with New Jersey, or as a Manhattan vs. Outer Boroughs grudge match. In turn, the heads of the various agencies (NJ Transit, Port Authority, NYC Transit) see things in terms of an inter-agency pissing contest. This stands in the way of true regional integration of the transit system (this is why no suburban trains run through Manhattan to connect NJ and CT or LI and Westchester; why neighborhoods with high population densities outside of NYC’s city limits have no rapid transit whatsoever; why the PATH is not a subway line with an integrated fare.

    If only the RPA had real authority…

  • manny

    We really need ferries serving other areas besides Manhattan. These idiots that run these systems think that we all want to go to Manhattan. What is really annoying is I reside in Bayonne and Brooklyn is directly across the water. If I had a boat, I would get there in minutes. I think even swimming across would be quicker than taking all these train connections. Have a ferry serving Jersey to Brooklyn and then with an additional stop in lower Manhattan. Is this that difficult to do?

  • Anthony

    Agreed, Manny. I traveled to Istanbul this summer and ferries are to Istanbul what the subway is to NYC. Multiple ferries traversing the Bosphorus run constantly throughout the day. Want to go from Europe to Asia? Buy a ferry token that is the same price as a light rail (tram) token–a little over a dollar–and hop on board. You get an easy commute, and a gorgeous ride.

  • Alex Engel

    Doesn’t the F train directly connect to the PATH? It’s actually an in-station transfer as well, and is even announced on the new R160 models as you go into the station.

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