Wednesday, December 20, 2023

New MUTCD and the Safe Systems Approach



The 11th Edition of the MUTCD is out now!


The role of the MUTCD has been something that I have thought a lot about in my 25 plus years as a professional. Several years ago when there was discussion about the potential to separate the Manual into two volumes, I agreed with the consensus that thought it was not a good idea. Yet upon more experience with its application as an engineer in the public sector, I appreciate the interest and the significant differences between a City Center or Business District where distinctly different levels of multimodal activity are expected. There are going to be cases where we have completely different goals (safety, equity, asset management) than our traditional aim related to mobility. 

As a practitioner in a City that has multimodal policies, the MUTCD has at times been a barrier to getting to solutions that meet the goals of our community. The MUTCD has not kept pace with proven countermeasures and treatments that we use regularly to implement policies. I can assure you that I appreciate the need for research and believe we're not investing enough to change the document through peer reviewed studies. To this end, the City of Portland has done more work with our nearby universities (Oregon State University, Portland State University) and partners in the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) University Transportation Center (University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, and University of Utah to name a few) than ever before.

But back to the MUTCD... In too many cases the language written that finds its way into the document continues to favor automobile traffic over other modes. In many cases, this isn't based on research. In the case of this NPA, there are many instances where the document is too strict or is not just not practical. The most recent example about how bicycle signals in the ITE Community is one such example. That language has stopped us from using federal funds to build bicycle signals in ways that we had been having success with for many years prior to the FHWA ruling.

The other problem that I will share is that cities that are required to follow the guidance of the MUTCD, those engineers are turned into the professionals that are essentially telling our politicians "No" much of the time, often without a clear reason why. So, as a practitioner that is asked to implement the goals of an urban area, the practitioners are faced with difficult questions about how to use treatments that are focused on safety vs. meeting the standards. Simply meeting the standards of the MUTCD or the guidance will not result in a safe system, which is the primary argument against moving forward with the current NPA. In my opinion, our role as engineers is not to dictate to political leaders what should be done, but to articulate the realm of possible. When asked to implement Vision Zero, I have to admit I was and remain skeptical, but it's not a smart career move to throw up my hands and say we just can't do it because the standards won't get us there. Having a mission like Vision Zero is similar to the Apollo 13 mission. To rescue the crew (our public), we need all of the partners working to this goal, we need all of the ingenuity to save lives, we didn't hear the  Apollo 13 crew giving up and saying that they can't change the mission because it doesn't meet the federal standards and the crew can't be rescued.  

Uniformity is critical for issues such as stop signs and freeway striping and signage where the risks of uncertainty are high. Yet, there are many cases where the strive for uniformity works counter to our local goals. The National Transportation Safety Board report entitled: "Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles" is a great example of this. A few quotes from the report focus on the guidance on speed limits in the 2009 MUTCD "may lead to higher operating speeds" and "the relationship between speed an injury severity is consistent and direct". This is why they have recommended changes to the Federal Highway Administration next edition of the MUTCD. It is also why the NTSB said "the current level of emphasis on speeding as a national traffic safety is lower than warranted". It's also why there is a tremendous effort through ITE to describe the importance of speed management. 

The need for uniformity in urban areas where 20 mph speeds and the mixing of people walking and cycling adjacent to heavy vehicles and buses is easily debatable. If we are to improve on our safety record, we need to examine why we have the amount of traffic violence on our streets that we do and do more to address the thousands of people walking and cycling that are lost every year. The chapter on bicycles is a great example that while much improved is insufficient for meeting the needs of many of the practitioners in ITE community. Finally, as a cyclist and a practitioner who also teaches at Portland State University, I do not appreciate your characterization on bicyclists and their whims. I can assure you that I can easily find people to debate with about cycle length and clearance intervals just as easily as I can find someone that has an interest in bicycling facilities that are different than what we designed even 10 years ago. That's the evolution of an engineering practice based on evolving research. 

We have a long ways to go in this profession to realizing our mission is safety of all users. I have to say that while this edition has some significant improvements, it seems we still have a distance to travel to realize that not all communities have the same goals and that we must continue to serve the needs of our communities and help shape the future of the profession and transportation in the societal context (ITE Mission Statement). 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Response to America Has No Transportation Engineers

An engineer wrote an article titled: "America Has No Transportation Engineers", critiquing the civil engineering education that many of my colleagues recieved. The point was that our lack of interdisciplinary studies leads to an over reliance on standards. As someone that's worked on encouraging the industry for some time, I agree with the author and those that argue that a civil engineering education did not make me a "transportation engineer". The criticisms are consistent with the trend that engineers are often blamed for the challenges of today's transportation system, which isn't entirely fair. The challenge faced is transportation is a physical system based on many decisions (historical and current) that have interdependencies that are difficult to unpack. From induced demand, behavioral economics of transportation choices, traffic signal software to concrete mix design, the transportation industry is complicated. Colleagues are working on reform, hopefully we can do more as a profession to support this important work. 
Today's engineering designs are working to improve conditions for cycling, walking, and community. 

We all have bias and the data that one gathers to develop the guideline or standard may not result in the intended outcome. Where it seems that the transportation engineeirng profession runs into trouble is that we have been slow to implement changes in approaches to planning, design, operations, and maintenance necessary to deliver on the safety goals (especially if that's what your community is asking for). To deliver Vision Zero, we need significant and comprehensive changes (vehicle restrictions, design criteria, etc) to improve safety. 

My community has sought changes to the approach to speed limit setting, Level of Service, traffic signal timing, bicycle facility design (some of which has already been reformed in guidance from ITE and other groups) and other context specific approaches to transportation solutions. In the start of my career, it was mostly about moving cars and reduced vehicle delay based on the Highway Capacity Manual. Today, we are undoing some of those past "improvements" because we're solving a new problem. The ability of the transportation industry to provide the solutions to today's challenge (traffic fatalities as one objective) is not done in a vacuum. Our industry's emphasis on improving safety (hopefully) has made it clear that one cannot simply apply the HCM without consider safety, i.e., adding lanes to an arterial and expecting the safety outcomes for pedestrians to improve on the arterial. Yet, it's not entirely clear that we have an understanding of the safety consequences of efficiency improvements that remain part of our local ordinances and policies. The solution: continue to invest in research, education, and technology transfer to keep pace with the expectations of the community, and our elected leadership.

By consolidating bicycle facilities to one side of the street, we can reduce turning conflicts that lead to crashes

Thursday, April 11, 2019

incorporating walking and biking into Traffic Impact Studies

  • For developments coming in, we (like everyone else) require traffic studies to be performed for impacts related to streets, traffic and circulation. One of the ideas we are toying with is requiring those studies to have an element of bike/ped data baked in. So we have a more well-rounded answer on why we want this data, I'm curious if your municipality also asks for bike/ped data when traffic studies are required? If you need do ask for this data, what are your primary reasons?
  • This is one of the key areas of improvement for many of our communities. There are so many reasons to reform Transportation Impact Analyses. It shouldn't just be done for development projects either, it should be more inclusive of all capital projects (ideally). The first reason is to improve the analyses is to address the safety performance of our streets using proven countermeasures for reducing risk for people walking and improving access to transit. The second reason is to implement long range mode split goals into our forecasting of transportation demand. In Portland, ideally a new development would be producing 25% bicycle mode split for commute trips. Once you state that as a goal, it makes the agency consider whether the adjacent street should provide a protected bicycle lane adjacent to the development. If the mode split is 8% for people walking to work and 15% for transit, the preparation of the traffic study should complete trip assignment that identifies the paths of the people walking to the development. That necessitates the analysis of intersections to determine whether crossing improvements (beacons, medians, etc) are necessary to insure safe facilities.

    Most of us know how the provision of additional travel lanes for automobiles makes intersections wider and potentially more dangerous for people crossing. So, another recommendation is to inquire whether the City is willing to consider a lower Level of Service (LOS) during the peak hour. In addition, the analysis completed as a part of the Highway Capacity Manual, actually considers the peak 15-minute of traffic flow, so one simple recommendation is to consider eliminating the use of the peak hour factor to reduce the extent that traffic analyses are focused on the worst 15 minutes of the entire day. Truly designing for the 1%!

    As for the data for walking and cycling, many good traffic counting firms already provide the data in their turning movement counts. If they don't, you should specifically request this in your traffic impact study requirements documentation. Once you have this data, an agency could easily do some modification to the Highway Capacity Manual to estimate delay for people walking and cycling. If an agency requires the traffic impact study to conduct an analysis of intersections adjacent to the development to determine whether an enhanced pedestrian crossing is recommended it could be useful.

    The other thing that you could require is aggregating person delay from the Highway Capacity Manual methodologies. By incorporating the delay calculations for the various  HCM methodologies (pedestrian, vehicle, bikes (with modification), and transit), is a concept worth considering. Person delay is a weighted average that utilizes the traditional LOS analysis and other modified HCM procedures to assess walking, cycling, and transit delays. The number of people on the bus would increase the importance of that particular approach to the resulting measure. It can be useful when using existing data, reflecting the people that are using the street currently and for future considerations. The various results from the different modes are aggregated to discern the overall person delay for each signalized intersection.  The future considerations would require assumptions of mode split by the local agency, but this would be consistent with the recommendations contained in the City Planning documentation.

    A few other agencies have policies that have caught my eye:

    San Jose Protected Intersections 
    A Protected Intersection in San Jose is defined as a local intersection for which no further physical improvement is planned. The City declares that these specific intersections, because of the presence of substantial/potential transit improvements, adjacent private development, or a combination of both circumstances will not be modified to accommodate additional traffic and operate at a Level of Service (LOS) D or better. If a proposed development project would cause a significant LOS impact at one or more of the listed Protected Intersections, the proposed development will include construction of specific improvements to other segments of the citywide transportation system, in order to improve system capacity and/or enhance non-auto travel modes.

    San Francisco Incorporation of Vehicle Miles Travel
    The City of San Francisco used intersection LOS as the primary metric to evaluate the performance of roadways until 2016. At that time, the city sought to use a process that better aligned with its existing policies aimed at encouraging more transit use and improving the bicycle and pedestrian systems. After a detailed analysis, the City settled on VMT per capita as a metric to assess the impacts of new development. This new metric encourages development in transit-rich areas and supports higher densities that encourages multimodal tripmaking.

    Fort Collins Multimodal LOS Performance 
    The City of Fort Collins, CO has redefined Level of Service standards for multimodal transportation for use in their community. It is effective because it provides quantitative measures for walking, cycling, and public transit. The City developed these standards because "applying LOS standards to specific sidewalks, for example, would ignore the issue of whether the sidewalk in question is connected to the rest of the pedestrian network". The Fort Collins Multimodal Level of Service Manual establishes standards for each mode, recognizing that "When LOS for automobile mobility falls below identified levels, mitigation will be required to ensure a high degree of accessibility is provided through alternative modes".
    Pedestrian LOS is based on the following three criteria:
    ·       Directness – distance (out of direction) to destinations including transit stops;
    ·       Continuity – measure completeness of the sidewalk system; and
    ·       Street Crossing Safety – uses NCHRP 562 criteria;

Monday, July 10, 2017

Understanding Dutch Design by Visiting Rijswijk, a suburb of The Hague

We gathered at the New Church at 9 AM and broke into two groups.
Paul and Peter lead the tours. We exited Delft on Delftseweg on a newly opened rebuilt fietsstraat. There was a lot of #FreshElmo as we headed north with several different configurations. One treatment that isn't very common is head in parking, which suggests that most configurations work in the Dutch concepts.

The Portland State University Study Abroad program visited Rijswijk, a suburb of The Hague and Delft. Rijswijk has 350 companies and 15,000 jobs with the two prominent local employers being the European Patent Office (2,700 jobs) and Shell (2,700 jobs).

The local planner provided a summary of the community's transportation plan and a few select projects. One example project was the new bridge in Broekpolder that opened up three years ago to connect Delftseweg to the west side of the river and the employment areas. Just as we arrived, the bridge opened and we got a nice view of the cross section, which also happened in 2015.

Cross section of the bridge (opened for barge traffic)

We stopped on the Delftseweg where we spent some time looking at the tram line (Route #1) and the Haagweg where the most narrow green space was installed to make the separation between the light rail tracks, the motor way, and the service road.

From left to right: Rail lines, auto space (with chicanes), cycletrack 

Our next stop was on Caan van Necklaan, which was a diagonal street that used to serve as a cut through for car traffic. The intersection of Da Costalaan was designed with a circle that provides bicycle through movement and limited access for automobile traffic.

General Spoorlaan was a facility that surprised me on this visit. It is a street that has a significant distance where four auto traffic lanes are carried through the signal, allowing for passing in front of the old City Hall. Our guide Paul indicated that this sort of design isn’t used today, and is a remnant of 1960 design principles.

Our host at Rijswijk mentioned that they will be reducing this cross section for traffic safety and to reduce maintenance costs. Peter Furth said: that’s brilliant and our host says: “It’s common sense”.

PSU Study Abroad Visit to Gemeente Delft

The Portland State University Study Abroad program visited the City of Delft today. Our host was Jan Nederveen, who visited Portland and Boston a few months prior to our visit. The presentation he gave focused on the planning of Delft and how they have approached the challenge of getting people to cycle more.
Traffic signals and intersections are designed specifically for cyclists.
The City had a good start in 2005 when they worked on the City transportation plan because nearly 15% of the population is students at TU Delft (a technical university) and the town is 100,000 inhabitants, so the scale of the city is very easy to cycle in because it is 5 km x 5 km, so you can get anywhere in the City with a 20 minute ride. In the transportation plan, the City used five key categories to guide transportation decisions:

  • Air Quality, 
  • Noise, 
  • Safety, 
  • Emergency Response, and 
  • Ecology 
The transportation analysis showed with these categories determined that cycling was a good way to increase the air quality. They have done a lot with cycling, but it's not the entire story. Transit is a big part of their work becuase many people are commuting to TU Delft from significant distances, the City has also invested quite a bit on transit planning. The presentation describes their investment in rail which has been centered on the main train station which is at significant cost. There has been limited work on the connections to the bus network. The bus provides some connections for people that can not cycle.

One of the massive initiatives in Delft to help them realize their goals was undergrounding the railroad that divided the main center from a significant neighborhood to the west. The largest impact of the rail corridor (200 trains per day) was the noise of the trains crossing near the homes in the area and its impact to the community.

The City recently completed the railroad tunnel that provided 4 tracks and is 2.3 km long. It provides an amazing boost to the nearby neighborhood adjacent to the station. Two tracks are operational now, but an additional two tracks are being dug out so that there won't be a need to come back later to address capacity needs between The Hague and Rotterdam.

1 Billion Euros was the overall cost of the project. 80 Million Euros were contributed by the local agency (Gemeennte Delft). The financing for the project was established because they are in the process of building 10,000 houses as a part of the project on the land that is reclaimed as a part of the railroad tunnel. Unfortunately for Delft, the housing crisis hit at the wrong time for the community and as the market returned the project has suffered from delays in the finance plan coming to fruition. Ultimately, the investment is worth the costs, because of the alternative of not building would result greater societal costs.

The project also included a high capacity bike facility separate from the other modes and bike parking facilities. In 2007, the bike parking was overloaded, even though there were 6,000 spaces. In  2016, the completed project added 2,700 parking spaces with a bike garage of 5,000 spaces!

The Delft station and an adjacent parcel that will be redeveloped in the coming years as a "Student Hotel" for students that are staying for four weeks (or something like that) and there's another plan for the Delft City office buildings were opened a few weeks after our opening.
Hey kids, let's go to the 5,000 space bike parking garage on vacation!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It was another successful year in collaborating with professionals involved in research or applications that are worthy of presenting at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting. 

Here's the list of papers that will be presented in 2016:
Paulsen, Kirk, William Farley, Todd Mobley, Michael Ard and Peter Koonce, “Analysis of Active Warning Sign to Address Potential Bicycle "Right-Hook" Conflict at Signalized Intersections”. 

Moore, Adam, Peter Koonce, Paul Zebell, and Jon Meusch, “Timing Issues for Traffic Signals Interconnected with Highway-Railroad Grade Crossings”.

Sobie, Christopher, Edward Smaglik, Anuj Sharma, Andy Kading, Sirisha Kothuri, Peter Koonce, “Managing User Delay with a Focus on Pedestrian Operations”.

Boudart, Jesse, Nick Foster, and Peter Koonce, “Improving Bicycle Detection Pavement Marking Symbols to Increase Comprehension at Traffic Signals”.

The TRB Annual Meeting is one of the most wonky times of the year.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NACTO 2015 Conference in Austin, TX

NACTO held its annual conference in Austin, TX. Austin is a good city with the potential to be great. The National Association of City Transportation Officials meeting was a great chance to learn about updates from many of the NACTO member cities and industry leaders.
Austin has spent a lot of effort making connections for multimodal travel in the past 10 years. 

The meeting set a record for attendance (650!) and included many of the leading voices in multimodal transportation. I spent a lot of time with notes on Twitter, so if you want to review more you can look back in my timeline. I find Twitter useful for sharing and learning more about what others are thinking. In fact, I learned about "The New Social Learning" this past week.

NACTO offers a chance for cities to share ideas. These include big picture policy ideas and design details such as what an engineer needs to know to get a facility built. The Commissioner panel and keynote speeches were fantastic for providing the big picture guidance.
Global Street Design Guide: A New Approach to Street Design
Janette Sadik-Khan kicked off the conference with a keynote on advancing transportation policies and a preview of the Global Street Design Guide, NACTO's latest project. This latest initiative will incorporate guidance from the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, Urban Street Design Guide, and other documents into a document that represents international best practices. The most interesting concept from the preview included an emphasis on desired outcomes such as health and safety with a focus on users and context.

Great quote from LADOT GM.

The presentation was followed by a pecha kucha session that included former APBP Board Member Seleta Reynolds who is General Manager of LADOT, Robin Hutchinson, who the Director of Salt Lake City Transportation, and Ryan Russo, Deputy Commissioner of NYCDOT. The pecha kucha session challenges presenters to offer quick thoughts in a fast paced way that keeps attention of the audience. It's something that I hope to see more of in the future because of the excitement created by the quick pace.

One of the best parts of most conferences are the technical tours in cities that afford an opportunity to learn about the implementation of innovative projects from the practitioners responsible for the project. In Austin, we had a chance to visit their downtown protected bike lanes, the City's Traffic Signal Shop and Operations Center, and many other facilities. The City of Austin have completed some fantastic projects that are advancing walking and cycling in a traditionally car oriented community. The protected bike lanes on the ground in Austin have evolved since my last visit to Austin, two and a half years ago. During that visit, I learned about the detector confirmation light which was using an "off the shelf device" for greater purposes. The City of Austin still hasn't installed a bicycle signal stencil like we have in Portland (map at the link), but they have several projects that have made cycling better in the City.

My main takeaways from this visit were not signal related. Although, City employees have done some very interesting work in deploying an ap developed by Kimley Horn that can use data from mobile phones within the traffic signal system. The data transmitted from the phone is a Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) prototype that may be used for detection of people on bicycles (although it could be used by people in cars as well).

The most important reason to attend the conference is to put faces with the names and exchange ideas. 
Nathan Wilkes shares knowledge with attendees.
Ideas that are "traded" City to City save the public money. Take for instance the Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The City of Portland doesn't need to reinvent the wheel and develop a "Portland specific Guide", we can use NACTO's version. If we need more information, we can also call our colleagues as opposed to using consultants for every detail. (No offense to my consultant friends). The example of curb types for protected bike lanes is one such example. I was impressed with the City of Austin's abilities to implement curbs on some on-street sections where it would have been easier to leave separation and transition to either shared space or a more traditional bicycle lane. As Nathan Wilkes, our tour guide said, "the City did a lot of outreach in order to insure that the protected lane was preserved for the entire length of the street".
There are some design details that have to be seen to appreciate