Planning project manager Anna Rahtz recently received the Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter award. Anna managed the Omnitrans Transit Design Guidelines project, which has earned the Focused Issue Planning Award from the American Planning Association – Inland Empire Section. We recently caught up with her to ask her a few questions about the guidelines, upcoming projects and her personal use of public transit.
Can you talk a little bit about what was involved with the transit design guidelines?
“The Omnitrans Transit Design Guidelines was the brainchild of our planning director, Rohan Kuruppu, and I worked on it as the project manager. It is basically a combination of our Bus Stop Design Guidelines document as well as a ‘lessons learned’ guide based on our experience with the sbX corridor in San Bernardino and Loma Linda. We always get lots of questions when the cities are trying to plan their future corridors or put in bus stops. They want to know how much space is needed, how long is the bus stop, how wide is the sidewalk, what are the ADA requirements. We also get lots of questions about the bus rapid transit (BRT) stations–how much space does it take up and how do you fit it into the street cross section?
Our consultants, Parsons Gruen, and MIG, took everything they had learned from working on the sbX project and compiled it into a toolkit. Now when designers, consultants, developers, city staff or others have questions about how to make these things work, they can refer to this toolkit for answers. City staff has already made a lot of use of it because cities like Highland, Ontario, and Fontana are doing their own BRT studies now. They’ve been able to integrate it into what they’re planning instead of reinventing the wheel.
Right now the Omnitrans Transit Design Guidelines is a PDF document, but we’re working on setting it up as an online interactive tool as well.”
What do you like best about being a planning project manager?
“I actually think I enjoy the smaller projects the most because they are more tangible and can be completed in a faster time frame. Recently I worked with several cities and our planning interns Allison and Alvaro to complete a grant application for SANBAG funds to improve pedestrian access to bus stops, including replacing and constructing new sidewalks. Improving pedestrian infrastructure is extremely important.
Can you tell us a little about any major upcoming projects?
“One of the main projects we will be kicking off in the next couple of months is the route 61 corridor through Pomona, Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.
The current 61 is our highest ridership corridor with more than 6,000 boardings a day. We’re looking at ways to speed it up because it currently takes about an hour and a half to go from one end of the corridor to the other. There are 92 stops in the 20 miles.
Our consultants Parsons are doing an alternatives analysis so we can determine the best way to tackle the issue. One of the biggest criteria for federal funding is cost effectiveness. So we look at what the cost would be of various measures we could use, such as transit signal priority, dedicated bus lanes, or just reducing the number of stops. The corridor could also be developed in phases–maybe by incorporating a limited stop express bus and later transitioning to bus rapid transit. We look at the cost of all these things and how it would impact both ridership and the movement of traffic along the corridor.”
Why not just put another bus in service on the corridor?
“Frequency helps a lot, but we also have to focus on decreasing the amount of time it takes for the bus to get through the corridor because, as traffic congestion worsens, our buses slow down. Alternatives like dedicated bus lanes and traffic signal priority help the buses move much more quickly.”
I know you regularly use public transit yourself. Do you feel it’s important for you to do that? Is it a personal or professional choice?
“Both. I’ve always taken transit whenever I could ever since I was in grad school. As a student, I was dependent on the bus. I don’t really like driving a whole lot to begin with, and driving is getting more and more expensive. So I think it’s really important to have options. I prefer riding my bicycle, taking the bus, or both, whenever possible. I find that bus riders are like a community, and the people are generally pretty courteous to each other.
As a transit planner, I do think you have to be a rider in order to understand how a rider experiences the system. I find I am constantly taking my observations as a rider and applying them to my planning projects. That’s why all of us in the planning department ride all the routes in the system regularly.
Do you use NexTrip when you’re traveling?
“Yes. It’s actually been working out for me very well. I can use it to see when the next bus is arriving at the stop so I know how long I have to wait for a transfer. Then I can decide whether it’s faster to catch the bus there or if I should bike over to an alternative stop instead. It’s a huge help to be able to access live bus information from your phone. ”
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