Monday, March 28, 2011

San Antonio Bike Sharing Kickoff

On our visit to San Antonio, we just happened to be there during the kick of the City's Bike Share program. I first read about the system in the San Antonio news paper, but then noticed on Twitter that it was picked up by TransportationNation and a few other websites. The bikes were from Trek's BCycle and the stations look very similar to the ones I saw in DC. The San Antonio program started with 14 stations in the heaviest tourist areas throughout the City with plans to develop more as the system grows. I like how this might raise awareness of the City beyond the Riverwalk, San Antonio has some beautiful architecture throughout the City. Assessment of the Bikes I didn't ride these bikes, but they look more like bikes you might buy (I am sure this is Trek's influence). I liked the baskets a little better in this system then what I saw in DC. There was a cable lock in the basket, which might actually be a bad thing (giving unsuspecting users a false sense of security). The pricing structure is a little different (see link above in the title for details) and I was a little put off by the $10 day long membership as compared to the $5 that you experience in DC. $10 might work in DC considering that the Metro back and forth is expensive, but in San Antonio perhaps the thinking is that you're not competing with the subway, so this is the justification for the more expensive entry price. The policy issues associated with competition with the private sector bike rentals and transit are interesting to me and I am sure there's a report somewhere on the subject. I was amused by the San Antonio newspaper citing one of the respondent's note that they were excited that the City was doing this before Austin, the Texas City that is leading the way with other bicycle applications.
Lastly, I thought the advertising was fairly subtle on these bikes. I know there is concern related to this issue and am unsure how I feel about having my bike plastered with an advertisement. If I had read No Logo perspective I would be more informed as to the opposition.

Bicycles in San Antonio

In Downtown San Antonio, they make a point of putting up signs that clearly communicate the bicycles are sharing the lanes. No sharrows that I could see in the downtown, but the signs suggest that people on bicycles are to be treated as vehicles. A research question I have been mulling around in my head is whether it's better to clearly communicate to cyclists that you're a vehicle (thus we may need to modify our existing vehicle signal timing) or is it better to treat them as unique vehicles that would need specialized infrastructure. In Portland, we've been trying both and in some cases indicating to cyclists that they need to use the pedestrian signals. My theory on this is that it sends a message that people on bicycles can selectively choose what mode they are and they take advantage of this in some cases and it will make our designs more challenging. One thing that is clear to me is that we do need to test some of these devices (nearside signals that are smaller) to understand how our population will respond to their use. We have done some very early evaluations of the bicycle signals at the Interstate and Oregon location, but I am not sure how well publicized that information is. Bicycle signal compliance is important thing that needs to be more effectively communicated. 

One of the inspirations for this post was the Bicycle Research Statement that I was editing for the Transportation Research Board. The references in that document includes the article by David Gibson entitled: Making Signal Systems Work for Cyclists.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

PBOT Brown Bag Lunch Speaker Peter Koonce Heckled by Fellow City Staff

I am giving the Bicycle Brown Bag Series Talk on Thursday at lunch at the City . The talk is similar to what I recently gave up in Seattle to the SVR Design Company last month.  The flyer went up and I don't think I have ever seen heckling on a flyer for activities around the City, but here it is. I don't recall ever having a comment like this for something I am speaking about. Perhaps I am becoming more controversial in the work that I am doing. One can only speculate, but what's clear is there is sentiment that we're not winning the hearts and minds of our fellow City staff as we seek to "Remake Traffic Signals to Encourage Cycling". I guess I should explain that title a little and preface it with the fact that there are little things that the City can do to make traffic signals friendly to people choosing to ride their bicycles. These are also elements and attributes that would be supported by someone that lives on the street or a restaurant owner that has a sidewalk cafe, both of who would prefer slower traffic, as opposed to 35 mph. Pedestrian safety is also a likely outcome of these sorts of measures because the slower speeds will allow motorists to see pedestrians in the darker portions of the day, and perhaps even the ones that aren't dressed in an electric light show. 
What's particularly impressive is the person took the flyer out of the plastic sheet and added their 2 cents and then pushed the sheet back in. The comment is hard to make out, but looks like "why bother they won't obey them?" Another commenter added their "good point" to add another log onto the fire. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Driven Apart by Joe Cortright and CEOs for Cities to visit Portland in April

I was watching the PSU Friday Transportation Seminar webcast of Joe Cortright's presentation on DRIVEN APART and surfed over to the CEOs for Cities website. Joe presented on Driven Apart Report. The premise of Driven Apart was to analyze the validity of the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility report written by my old friend Tim Lomax and David Schrank among others. I always found it odd that the UMR was produced in a very non urban place (College Station), where the researchers really have no daily perspective on multimodal transportation in an urban setting. College Station, Texas is not indicative of the urban areaas that are reported on in this report. Complaints about congestion are not based on daily experiences. The multimodal options that are commonplace in these communities are not possible in a college town of around 100k population. I did however find Texas to be a fine place to bike because there was always an extra travel lane somewhere in the system because it was largely overbuilt to accommodate a Level of Service B. It's consistent with my walk the walk, talk the talk philosophy, but I appreciate that it is something that shouldn't be imposed on everyone.

Joe Cortright digs into the data for the old model, which I found flawed based on my experience, and the new data from Inrix (which is also flawed data). He makes the point that in every single City that congestion is getting worse. He calls that misleading because he believes that there have been changes. The key finding is: "Secret to reducing time Americans spend in peak hour traffic has more to do with how we build our cities than how we build our roads." He's also quick to point out that "Longer trip distances and sprawl shape travel times". He goes on to say that the UMR is not technically sound (yikes!), that the data isn't sound, the methodology is flawed, the errors haven't been fixed, the core findings should be able to be corroborated with independent sources of data, and finally he doesn't believe a debate will sway the authors (he notes that they didn't even acknowledge his work). He goes so far to say that they didn't try to meet the tests of scholarship, which is harsh.

On an unrelated story, I found that the CEO for cities group is coming to Portland and it seems like a great agenda to broaden the exposure to the policies that we're moving forward with in our fair city. I am not sure how much transportation research shapes that group's agenda, but it is clear that there is a significant amount of money spent by DOTs that listen to the Urban Mobility Report and continue to try to build our way out of congestion. I am hopeful this research moves us forward as a nation, making cities greater than they are today.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Transformative Leadership in Transportation

The National Bike Summit seems to be the nexus of bike advocacy, industry, and political leadership. For as much as I am not sure the bicycle community has a voice equal to transit, highways, and others in transportation (because of the low mode split), I am always impressed with how it is covered by and others in the blogosphere. 

The link (and excerpts) was appreciated because it includes a couple of transformative leaders in transportation. The session included Earl Blumenauer who is arguably the most important person at the federal level (for both bikes and streetcars) and the most exciting leader at the municipal level in Janette Sadik Khan, who is moving NYC forward with a pace that is impressive. 

I used to think that the facilities were the most important element of transforming transportation, but the more I am involved and thinking about it, the more I think it is one part facilities and an equal effort on the softer side of the issue, exposing people to being on their bikes. I started from watching my father commuting by bus, figuring out he could get there faster on his bike, followed by him wanting to accomplish distances on his bike as a part of his life's goals, and then ending with an awareness of how cycling can transform his family and the children, making them healthier, wealthier, and wiser? Okay, the wisdom stuff is tough to come by, but I agree with Blumenauer when he suggests:

“It’s something that speaks to every single item on the front page of our newspapers: Oil instability in the Middle East, health problems, congestion,” he said. “Everybody on a bike is somebody who is not in front of you in a car, competing for a parking space.”

Making the shift from an expensive transportation system built around the automobile to a more efficient network that accommodates all users may be good logic, but it’s also a leap of thought. “The pivot point is not easy,” Blumenauer acknowledged. “We have habits and politics and mindsets that are entrenched.”

I had a good time today spreading the news with a class at Portland State today. I spoke about the importance of bicycle, pedestrians, transit, and freight movement at traffic signals to a class of senior civil engineering students. I am not sure I have much of an impact with a two hour presentation on a single day with undergraduates, but perhaps there is something that rings true with them as people and the next time they make a transportation choice, it becomes a subconscious thought that the City wants them to access downtown with a mode that is more efficient to serve by the transportation system.