Explaining the Regional Connector

LA Metro is just finishing up a project that is very dear to my heart because I think it’s pretty important. Transit advocates sometimes fall into a trap sometimes–some transit lovers are uncritical and they will advocate for projects that really maybe never need to be built. Bad projects do exist, and the suck resources away from the agency. As a result transit skeptics find it easy to write off advocates.

Another problem advocates face, particularly in Los Angeles where transit riders are such a minority, is helping people understand why some projects really are damn good projects. I’ve found that to be the case with the Regional Connector: often, when somebody asks me why it’s such a nice new part of the network, I find myself describing how different trips will be possible with no or fewer transfers. Unfortunately, stated that way, the regional connector sounds like it’s solving a “me” problem–that is a problem that irritates me and the few people who are like me, but isn’t really objectively an improvement.

One nice way of characterizing the improvement is simply that kids in East LA will be able to take a one-seat ride to the ocean. That should matter to people–it does to me.

Nonetheless I’ve dipped in out of graph theory attempts to characterize why the regional connector is so nice from a *network possiblity* perspective. In transit, we have tons and tons of ways of measuring outputs (passengers, etc) and some inputs (usually monetary, but operator-hours, etc). But advocates have few ways of discussing the physicality of the network in short, summary measures. And I’m not suggesting that we should always just look at one metric to understanding a network–we should use a bunch, but I do think there are some key calculations that help me show just how nice the regional connector is for the network.

I first encountered some measures in Vulcan Vuchic’s 2005 textbook. He’s got a *boatland* of cool network characterization and performance measures in there. I set my class on working with some of them–I used the Madrid network for a class project because I had some students in there who would insist on just counting nodes and lines in the toy networks I gave them instead of using the equations, and Madrid has a very complex network that would cross your eyeballs if you tried brute force the count.

I got to thinking that one way to help us understand how the Regional Connector serves as a nice additional is to simply look at the new trips it makes possible. This would just be a matter of looking at the transit lines, the stations, and their connections–but if you know the proper number of stations, you know the possible origins and destinations. To get the proper number of stations, you count them all up and remove the duplicates:

Then, to sort the O-D possibilities, you just use that N and N-1:

Here’s what you get when you do this for three LA rail network states: Current potential trips (O-D pairs), when the Regional Connector comes online, and after Metro finishes all the new bits of the Purple Line and Crenshaw (All). (Note the base network includes the Orange Line, and that I set up the Regional Connector lines based on the promised new stations, Chinatown station being open, and Metro’s planned goals for interlining the Gold Line (I’m sorry, I never remember their letter names) and the Expo line for that East LA to Santa Monica Ride and Blue line to Gold line headed north).

This strikes me as a nice way to show just how much the Regional Connector adds to trip possibilities in the region. I mean, these are all nice projects, but…I think you have my point. This isn’t just a “me” problem.

Now these network measures are obviously partial. It might be cool, for example to weight all these O-D possibilities by existing and projected ridership by station (I don’t have those data because Metro thinks I’m a gangster or because I don’t know where to find them, one or the other.)

And, just by way of illustrating that, there’s another idea that Vuchic suggests–the notion of directness. you can figure out how many O-D pairs are possible without a transfer with:

Vuchic suggests a ratio of those direct trips to total trips:

In each network state, delta goes down–let’s interpret that. In theory, it would be nice for delta to be a relatively large number (between 0 and 1). The larger the number, the more one-seat trips you are offering. In our case, the amount of OD pairs just jumps so much that the delta goes down: in the order given above, from 0.18 now to 0.15 with the regional connector to 0.10 with all the new line openings in the next few years. Delta becomes much less an issue with greater frequencies. Again…this is just one measure it’s not meant to say the network on the whole is worse off–it’s that this one measure, directness, declines with the new lines. It makes sense.

Sorry my equations are wonky but I am no mood to futz with making everything perfect-looking.

So good-O to whoever thought up the Regional Connector. It’s a goodie. I raise my glass to y’all.

I can’t guarantee this is all 100 percent perfect because I’ve had kind of a bad week, but it is interesting enough to share. Hope you enjoyed.

All good things,

Did Covid kill transit

There’s been some conjecture that Covid lockdowns were the death blows that finally killed off American transit, which is, as David Levinson pointed out, always in a state of permanent financial crisis.

I had my students do some digging around to look at the ridership figures from various agencies, and one of my brilliants students, Christopher Winkels, dug up a spreadsheet from APTA.

I struggled a bit with this simply because everything these days is struggles but also because I don’t want to overstate or understate what is going on. By way of explanation, all of these data are December ridership figures. Things started opening up in 2021, and so the best comparison of the come-back I had in the data I felt would be December 2020—middle of the pandemic—to December 2021.

The pre-pandemic by way of comparison is an average of the past three Decembers (2016 to 2019).

What agencies are selected? The ones Lisa was interested, which means all of the big ones, some decent-sized southern systems, and Utah. Why Utah? Dunno. Thought it might be interesting.

Sorry about the over-plotting, but honestly, this was as good as it got.

What is this showing? Well this was my first at the data, what we see here are two points–Dec 2020, and December 2021. They are not compared to each other. Instead ridership in both years is displayed as a percent of the pre-Covid (2019) ridership. I think of this as how well each agency’s ridership has recovered. As we’d expect, 2020 values are smaller, and most agencies seem to be bouncing back decently, so that it’s possible that by next year they could be pretty close to their pre-COVID levels. (They might be there now for all I know; I diddled around so damn long with these data, we might have new data by now.)

What is going on with BART? Did I screw up those data points?

I think the above graphic is really the way to be thinking about where ridership is at and where it is going, but I also data going back 2002 and I felt like I had to use it. Be patient about this one loading: I slowed it down so that I could read it.

These kinds of post usually bring out the mansplainers in droves about how I should have all these differently, what the right way to do them is, and for any dude who feels the need to bug me with those comments…absolutely nothing is keeping you from making your own graphics the right way, the “you” way, Chief. I did these to see if I could learn from them and just decided to share them for sheets and giggles. I think I have a better handle on what’s up, YMMV. Go get ’em.

On becoming unreliable

I read something recently about being unreliable:

The reason why you are unreliable is that you don’t comprehend the sanctity of a promise and keeping your word. Your lack of prioritization is another factor that affects your ability to be reliable and dependable.

That sentence was a slap in the face and then I checked on the author and found they are in their mid-20s. That explains a lot.

I am retiring from the university and moving back where I grew up for many reasons, the top two being 1) my mother has nobody else to help her out and 2) I have become unreliable.

I like neither of these reasons, but the second is exceptionally hard for me. I don’t like it. To be honest, I was never particularly reliable in the first place: I was slapped into reliably by parents who didn’t understand that my unreliability was related to my cognition. Society demands women do everything for everybody, and nobody wants their doormat/maid to be unreliable. Capitalism requires a girl with no family support to fit a mold in order to make a living and support herself. I was just reading in an English novel the phrase “she has her living to earn.” Indeed.

I did all right, I guess, keeping it together over the years. I mostly relied on substances and other bad coping mechanisms to shove my functioning into an acceptable shape. And then I hit 50, and absolutely none of it worked anymore. All of my cognitive differences came thundering back, refusing to be covered up and put away. Things I had spent years and years standing up to and making work were no longer manageable. My dyslexia came back with a dreadful vengeance so that now, writing an email takes me a very long time, and has to be proofread by husband or a sympathetic student, or I sound like a lunatic.

I’m not sure what went haywire, but something did, and I just can’t do very much any more that involves making ideas into words.

Many days I am unable to read at all. Reading has been the greatest solace of my life, and to have it out of reach pains me more than I can communicate.

I very much do not enjoy being at a disadvantage with words.

My autism, too, has decided that it doesn’t like being denied, either. Brightness and noise that I was once able to withstand now paralyze me. Los Angeles is a beloved place. It is also bright and noisy. I can not manage being outside when the sun is up most of the time now, even with sunglasses. Walking from my house to the car is agony. Waiting for the bus feels like torture. Being jostled on public transit feels like a hard punch. Having young people whiz by me on a bike on campus—a delightful thing, by any account—causes my vision to blur and my head to ache.

I have my mother in my head telling me to stop being so dramatic, stop being so self-important, stop whining. That used to work for me; I could take the sensory beatings of the world and keep going. Now I can’t. I ran out of coping. Maybe my autism got worse? Hard to tell.

All of these things, along with aging and an illness, have made me very tired. I didn’t know such fatigue existed—I always thought that people who told me they needed to rest were a) more sensible than me and just taking care of themselves and/or b) not part of the hustle. I didn’t judge them particularly as lazy, but I didn’t understand that fatigue just lays you out and takes all you have so that standing up and taking a shower feels like running 10 miles.

Together, all these things have made me unreliable. I am trying to hold on long enough so that my PhD students I have can finish their studies and launch their careers. But it is hard to hold on, and I feel a great deal of shame about not being always to keep the appointments that I make, or taking longer than I said I would doing something. I used never to return reviews in late. Now I always late with everything. Saying yes to anything feels like self-abuse and lying to whoever made the request.

A few years ago, I began refusing speaking invitations because I knew that there was a big chance I would need to cancel and leave people hanging with an empty panel chair. I thought that would be enough to cover my decline. It wasn’t.

I do not like being unreliable. I judge it harshly. So does the world. People do not understand why I need to stop and slow down even more than I am because right now I seem to them to be barely moving. I wish I could help people understand that I did the best I could, and I am still doing the best I can. I realize, more than they do, that the best I can is not particularly good according to the standards I used to have.

Letting go of my profession has been agony, but it is what it is, as they say. My colleagues are mostly wonderful, and I shall miss them. Surprisingly, the person I thought was my closest friend and mentor withdrew from me entirely and now barely speaks to me—only when a student needs something. I am, no doubt, a terrible disappointment to him. He did a lot to help me understand the university and get my research done. I miss him and grieve for the relationship, but watching me decline must be hard, too, just as experiencing it is. He has younger colleagues he’s generally always preferred to me anyway, and, despite my sadness, I understand and wish them all the best. Doors close.

The very good news, I think, is that as I step away from professional life, I am seeing so many wonderful new young people step in. The 21st century does not need an old white lady teaching justice classes in it—there are too many bright people from all over and with all different backgrounds who want the role and will move the needle more than I ever could or will. It is wonderful to watch them become who they are as scholars and planners even as I let go. The future amazes me still.

And my dear husband, tirelessly cheerful, compliments the bad art I make because I have to express myself somehow, and I can’t trust words anymore. He talks about the things we shall do when I’m done with work: going out on a boat; puttering in the garden; making more bad art. I have been listening to a series of lectures and interviews by artists. Most of them became artists young. Now and then, one will come along who took their first art class at 50. They give me a great deal of hope that my ideas won’t all wilt on the tangled vines of a mind I no longer seem able to control. We’ll see how it goes.