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 

Friday, August 7, 2015

History of Traffic Signals in Portland

The Oregonian had a nice write up on the 100th birthday of traffic signals in Portland. The column concluded with an email I sent awhile back thinking to the future of transportation.

"Curious about what Portland's traffic and its growing signal system might look like 100 years from now, I recently asked Peter Koonce, the city's chief traffic signal engineer, to take us into the future. Here's how he responded in an email:"
I am not a futurist (yes, that's a title), but I played one when writing a Strategic Highway Research Program Project proposal back in my consulting days. There are so many scenarios, it is really hard to imagine and state what's actually possible. So, in order to talk around the question, it is best to describe various possible scenarios.
There's what I would call the pessimistic view that suggests that we'll have the same constraints in the future because the public sector will be financially constrained and afraid to innovate and adopt new technologies.
There's an optimistic perspective that offers that technology will change everything and what we have today will be obsolete. Driverless cars and "Connected Vehicle" concepts will be the new normal.  Technology could eliminate the need for much of the travel that we have to make today including the typical work commute.Amazon.com is a good example of the impact of technology on shopping trips, video conferencing for business should continue to evolve and become more useful, and the population will change albeit slowly as we age more gracefully (if that trend continues).  
At the end of the day, the cost of energy (think Peak Oil and climate change) will likely play a large role in this and that's hard to pin down since you're asking a transportation professional, so that will be an influence.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Vision Zero Community: Houten

I asked our host Andre Botermans in Houten about their safety record. He answered promptly "Safety is no issue in Houten".
Andre Botermans addressing the PSU-Northeastern University class

He went on to discuss the notion of traffic crashes and he said the following:
"If we're talking about fatalities, we had one (1) fatal of someone on a bicycle in 20 years. A car was involved of course.  There are car fatalities that have occurred on the ring road."

He went on to say that the safety on the bike paths has been increased by removing obstacles. They eliminated 150 bollards where cars were not wanted and it was possible for them to turn, but along the way they have found that the car drivers know not to be on the red asphalt, so these bollards and barriers were unnecessary and proved to be a problem for the youngest and oldest people on bikes.

There are low pedestrian crash rates and no fatalities in the last 20 years because the entire town is a maximum 30 km/hr speed limit (once you leave the ring road which is 70 km/hr). The City has no connector-distributor roads (collectors in the U.S.) other than the ring road because the street network offers a clear definition between that auto specific facility and the community residential streets.

People walking and cycling do not have to mix with freight trucks. The City planners put the working areas outside the ring road. All of the places where trucks may conflict there are separated bicycling facilities. Grade separation may be necessary at times to create the safer conditions (shown below).

The class discussion mentioned as much. One of the groups met with a woman at a park and she said that when her kids left Houten, she had to train them how to ride in a more complicated cycling environment. That sounds a bit extreme, but perhaps supported by Mark Wagenbuur's point that people take some of this as obvious in Holland, but it's very deliberate design that makes this happen.

Bicycle Oreinted Development: Case Study in Houten

Houten may be the best example of bicycle oriented development in the world. The land use was carefully prepared to insure that the system worked as intended. The other factors that make this such a successful Bicycle Oriented Development community includes the following:

  • Robust, safe bicycle network
  • Convenient Parking for bicycles
  • Support from the community

The layout of the city is focused first around the Houten train station, similar to what is considered with transit oriented development in the U.S. In my opinion, what makes Houten a bicycle oriented development is that the layout to the train station was designed to be accessed via bicycle first and foremost as opposed to providing efficient automobile access. The transportation system was laid out with bicycle highway perpendicular from the train station and rail alignment. Car access through the community was provided on the ring road and is less convenient than the bicycle network. It's not just about the bicycle network, it also has to include bicycle parking and of course a supportive community.

Details about the Bicycle Network

The bicycle highway is 2 km from the train station (east-west) before you reach the ring road. All of the homes in the community have a low stress route to the bicycle highway and it is only 8 minutes to the train station from the furthest house to access the bicycle parking garage. The schools were planned carefully so that they are all oriented towards the bicycle highway. There is a movement of design for 8 years old to 80 years old, Houten may be 6 years to 100 years old.
The south part of Houten decided not to connect the bicycle highway to the ring road to the east side of the community. In that case, the planners decided to

The red asphalt is a standard. The width is 3.5 meters wide. They have transformed many of their old routes to meet this new standard.

When cars are added to the bicycle network, they use the Fietstraat signs, auto te gast (cars are guests), that is used in many cases throughout the country.

Safety is a separate post next to this one. This is no issue in Houten.

Parking Layout and Bicycle Theft

Parking layout for bicycles is key for growing the use of people on bikes. Mark Wagenbuur mentioned the importance of bicycle parking in his presentation and this is clearly an emphasis of Houten's urban planning. As opposed to placing a large vehicle parking lot at the train station, they chose to construct a bicycle parking garage directly under the station.

The bicycle theft is very low in Houten. The parking garage reduced theft by nearly 40% overall, but it was still very low compared to larger cities.

Comments from the Community in Houten

The planners in Houten say that people are not that aware of what problems exist. When he talks to his friends they think that Houten is just normal. It's usual for them to see the City putting bicycles first in the plans. In Houten, there is a critical mass of people that cycle. When guests come to Houten to live, those people "have to adapt and when people explore cycling, they find it safe and more social". Essentially, the point being made was that the City's intent is to make people happy and they know from research that the more people cycle and walk, the happier they will be. He described an example in Austin, TX where there was a 8-lane street with a bike lane and they were trying to change it to include a cycletrack. The problem with a lot of cities in the world is that the streets are dominated by people that drive, so the modification of a street is resulting in a change to the most people.

Returning to Bicycle Heaven - Houten and South Houten

I visited Houten previously and wrote up a summary of the presentation from 2012.

There was a very nice write up by ITDP on Houten. A CityLab writeup provided a national audience for Houten in the last few months.

On this trip, I wanted to dig deeper into the south part of Houten. The south part of Houten was under construction when I was here in 2012. The construction is still active in some cases, but a lot has been completed since that time.

I also wanted to learn more about their safety performance, the past presentation reported their crash rate was 31% of a comparable Dutch town, which is already much better than a U.S. city.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cycling in the Netherlands by Mark Wagenbuur @BicycleDutch

We had a presentation from Mark Wagenbuur, who is the blogger of Bicycle Dutch. he provided an interesting perspective on Dutch cycling starting from the 1950s, it was the same as it was today. Cars were there in the 1950s, there was money and people able to afford the cars after WWII. As the country prospered, congestion increased and the parking was also congested. In the 1970s, it was similar to the U.S. with traffic engineers planning the cities. An overview of his presentation is available here.
The presentation focused on how the Dutch got great cycling infrastructure starting back in the 1950s, where after WWII, there was a need to get back to moving freely after the Nazi occupation. Yet, there was also a growing automobile culture, that was partially halted by the oil embargo of 1973. This and the rise in fatalities of people and especially children were other motivating factors. This made way for protests in the streets of Amsterdam in 1975. Several examples were given of protests.

We want a SAFE Street - Wij Willen een Veilige straat.
Stop murdering children, safe footways and cycleways - Stop Kindermoord
Autorijden? Ga Nou Gauw Fietsen - Protest rides all over the country.
Cyclists Union was founded in 1975. The lonely cyclist struggles ahead, but no longer alone.

The community demanded genuine cycling policies and the resources to go with the change. The Cyclists Union wanted the government to give cycling a true role in the policies. There were two specific demands:
Separate slow and fast traffic (bike and motor)
Give cycling free routes through towns.

There was already a law on the Dutch government that says if you have more than 500 cyclists per day, you have to have separate cycling (rural conditions). So, in the 1970s this was a good place to start and he described the three strategies as:
Elimination of through traffic
Removal of parking
Prioritization of bus lanes

He then described the three simple requirements for mass cycling?
A bicycle
Parking on both sides of the trip
Good cycling infrastructure

In describing the standards for a bicycle, it has to be sturdy, upright, (could be heavy), chain case, fenders, wheel dynamo (no batteries), lock, etc. The parking has to be located well, the government mandates that the parking is indoor (ideal and now a requirement), with easy access to the street and where you don't have to carry it (remember it is a heavy bike).

Finally, Dutch design for good cycling infrastructure includes careful planning of the space in the City. Designing for people is key and auto traffic flow is secondary. There are planning policies that are used.

This is a particular example of those policies and how to move people in cities.

Bus stop and cycletrack design are great examples in The Netherlands. What they know is that bike lanes are not good enough. He wants protected intersections to be the main stream like it is in The Netherlands. The other important element of Dutch design is that the speed of the street is 50 km/hr speed limit for all streets with people cycling. Higher speed does not work without supporting infrastructure. In Houten, when there was a street design that was 100 km/hr and the police was asked to enforce a 50 km/hr speed limit, the police stepped in and decided to ask engineers to solve the problems. Engineers were set up a traffic calming function on the request of the City police. Police can't accomplish their job, if the design isn't supported.

The policies that have been used in the history of cycling include the following:
Dutch Bicycle Master Plan 1990-96 only time federal government has focused on the issue.
Sustainable Safety policy 1990-now
Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (CROW) generally followed by municipalities.

The Dutch are very strict on their use of a road categorization that requires designation and there are three main classifications.
Through regional routes 130 to 80 km/hr - no cycling
Local distributing - collector roads - 50 km/hr - depending on traffic you would have physical or visible spearation (bike lane) - collector roads can not have parking or destinations.
Residential streets/places - Speed 30 km/hr (18 mph), no separation is needed.

Some municipalities have fought for a hybrid extra (destinations are the typical element that is added).
He used Houten as an example designed in the late 1960s as a cycling friendly city. Red lines can not be crossed by motor traffic. ring road all around the city, that provides circulation into the different parts of the City. Cyclists can not go anywhere. Cycling is almost always faster than the car.

He used Houten as an example of how to retrofit existing residential areas
1. Block off streets, narrow other streets with traffic calming.
2. 18 exit/entrance biking, 3 for cars (provide more options for bikes to avoid traffic)

He also cited that the Dutch closed down traffic on a Sunday as an experiment for placemaking in city centers

Where did the cars go? In the City Center of Utrecht, changes were made so it was impossible to go through the City. Now, the traffic stays out on the fringes. No through traffic in the main area. Simple fences were used and buses allowed through. Cameras are providing the enforcement.

Downgrading former arterials are key to the implementation
Traffic dispersion happens, but don't worry about chasing all of that traffic.

What can other countries learn? They should do the following as others are working on this issue too:
Placemaking is happening.
Complete streets, including cycling infrastructure
Protected intersections
Designing a network.

Placemaking - Prague, Paris, and NYC
Complete streets - Sydney, Chicago
Protected Intersetions - SLC, Davis, Austin, and Boston.