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The Importance of Making the Connection

10:20 AM EDT on August 28, 2009

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.

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