Tuesday, June 28, 2011

FHWA Report Review: The Role of Management & Operations in Supporting Livability and Sustainability: A Primer

I visited Arlington, VA last year as a part of an FHWA workshop on Transportation System Management & Operations (TSMO) for Livability and Sustainability. An interesting concept, one that very much is consistent with the work my Division is supposed to do and the last blog post I added to the site. On a 30-page document, I had over 65 comments. There were a lot of great ideas and a lot of traditional concepts that you have to green wash to make decision makers feel like they are doing something good for the environment.

The HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities got it right. The Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities developed six livability principles to act as a foundation for interagency coordination. The inter­agency promotion of livability aims to help America’s neighborhoods become "safer, healthier, and more vibrant". The Partnership will encourage the incorporation of livability principles into Federal programs, while better protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change. Available at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/partnership/index.html

I agree with the following statement from the draft report: "M&O strategies cost-effectively improve transportation system performance. M&O strategies are able to improve the performance of the transportation system at low- to moderate- cost and without requiring significant expansion of the system’s physical capacity."

Livability is a tough term because my definition is much different than someone from Copenhagen's.
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What's a Public Official To Do with Signal Optimization - Green Wave for Bikes or High Bandwidth

Great coincidence that I am in Copenhagen when this post comes across BikePortland reposting a NY Times article on what European cities do with cars. Obviously, this is not a new concept and the students that are joining me in the Netherlands this week will see this first hand while meeting with numerous people that have been involved in Dutch transport policy.

It's not just about the bicycle. As I reviewed my pictures from this trip, I came across this one from the Christianshavn neighborhood that I took on Friday morning during the a.m. rush hour. It's pretty easy for an engineer in Copenhagen to say, of course we never would think of optimizing traffic signals for cars. Any engineer (or planner for that matter) could see that the people on bicycles out number the people in their cars five, maybe eight to one. The person carrying capacity of this street is clearly a function of the cycletrack (keeping it clear from loading vehicles, construction, etc) as opposed to the green time for the motorists on the street. Besides, if you're in your car and its raining, who should we prioritize? The person that can sit in a climate controlled environment with a high priced stereo system (perhaps a DVD system for the kids in the back) or the pedestrian waiting on the corner that could have chosen to drive?

But back to the lowly engineer. They can make the signals work well for the people who are here and that gives them job satisfaction. They might even get recognition from those that have noticed a change (like I have with the N Williams/N Vancouver green wave changes) some good, some bad depending on how fast you're travelling and how hard you want to work. It's going to be hard for most of the engineers I know to make that shift to serving cyclists or pedestrians without several things. First, a concerted effort from advocates to ask for the treatment people that are out of their cars deserve. These advocates need to know more about signal timing and ask for a permissive to be increased in the coordinated settings to reduce the delay for someone that wants to cross the street. This could also include getting the word out there and educating the public, training them to give engineers feedback. Second, we need the advocates to deliver the goods. Get people in the cycletracks and on the sidewalk using the facilities. I am not sure which comes first. Third, the political support for these sorts of changes. I haven't fielded a lot of complaints during my tenure at the City, but I know most communities face the ire of the motoring public when you make a change. All of this requires land use and that's not something the engineer has much involvement in other than we help define the performance measures used by development to determine if the transportation system is adequate for the type of development being considered for a particular area. The challenge therein is that we set the table for transportation facilities that have to be widened.

It's a vicious cycle, no pun intended.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Window into Danish Culture

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the instructions posted on the door of the Children's Museum of the Danish Nationalmuseet. First, I enjoyed the incorporation of green means ok, yellow is a caution, and red means prohibited. In particular, I enjoyed that the green tells you to "travel through time, and Have fun with history".

I am not entirely sure if this suggests that the Danes need to be told when and where to have fun or to liven up their lives a bit, but I will leave that to the sociologists. This reminds me of some of the messages I have seen on TriMet buses in Portland, where they try to use positive messages as opposed to restrictive or strict prohibitions. No loud music is transformed to use headphones when listening to music. I especially appreciate TriMet's "Repsect the Ride" message.

This makes me think about whether we should try to incorporate this more into the City of Portland and in on-street parking. Taking a customer's viewpoint, what do I want to be asked to do (instead of told to do), might offer a way to lay out the welcome mat.
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Children Cycling on City Streets

In a matter of a day or two, you can see each and every type of bike, age of rider, and cargo carried imaginable. The one site that still catches my eye is the children. This example in particular jumped out at me, but not for the reason you might think.
So, why did he scream, get your camera out?

In this case, it was because he was cycling alone. He's on a relatively busy street, it is one of the main bridges connecting Christianshavns to the south and he's without a helmet. The good news is, he has his soccer ball, it was Sunday morning (9:30 AM) so lighter traffic, and he's on a cycletrack that is very comprehensive. Probably a good combination for a little guy like this, but I am not sure I am ready to let Abby out on the streets without supervision.
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Left Turn Bicycle Signal in Copenhagen

There is clearly a social contract between engineers and the public that chooses to ride a bicycle through traffic signals that we design. As a designer, you try to make the indications as clear and unambiguous as possible and there is a certain amount of consideration for what the expectation is for a reasonable person to understand. I think this bicycle signal displays meets that criteria. The display is inline with the cyclist maneuver at the intersection. It is a delineated movement with striping on the pavement.

One might argue that it might be a little unclear at night, but I would take that arguement and in this instance it isn't reasonable to assume one should be able to make a left turn from the right lane. This sort of situation wouldn't preclude you from taking the lane and making the left turn, although it could be argued that the signal timing should be set up to insure that the arrivals of the motor vehicles occurred (faster speeds) followed by the bicycle traffic (from the upstream intersection).

I am blogging about bicycle traffic signals and I stop and wonder am I the only one that is thinking about this. Well, luckily I caught the following this evening from the Copenhagenize.com blog on traffic signals in Barcelona.
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Traffic Signal Design

Who needs mast arm poles when you can put poles in the middle of the intersection?
This is a nice set of striping leading up to the pole. This design treatment also reinforces the rule of no lane changing in the intersection.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Bicycle Counting Station

Adjacent to City Hall on H.C. Andersens Boulevard is the bicycle counting station that identifies the number of cyclists that have used the cycletrack today and the number that have used it this year. The numbers speak for themselves. I know what it would take to create one of these things and it is very similar to what we've done with the parking garages downtown.

The problem is that I haven't found an adequate place to put one. Many of our facilities could be subject to vandalism (Springwater corridor) and there is always the problem of getting power to the device.

In the time that we were there, the cyclist count went from 6,399 to 6,403 and that was only 39 seconds. More coverage about this can be found at this posting on the Copenhagenize blog.

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Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic Control

A few more observations of traffic control for multimodal applications. The first is the construction signage.
With as much traffic as they have, there is a particular need to keep things moving and thus there is significant costs associated with the efforts for maintaining a throughway. Even with the explicit signage, I saw a person on a bicycle coming the wrong direction, which with as many folks on the road as there are seems a challenging proposition.
The bicycle signage here shows routes for cyclists to take to get to a destination. I have seen such numbered signage work well in the area north of Amsterdam in the countryside and in the City of Austin, Texas. This is the first time I have seen the signs in Copenhagen, which makes me wonder if it is new and or comprehensive. The bicycle signal is a nearside location and you can compare that to the pedestrian indications which are farside. You be the judge on how well the ped indications work with longer and wider crossings. At this crossing between Tivoli and the City Hall Square there were multiple locations and additional indications in the median for pedestrian storage. Doing a little research about the route marking, I came across a great cycling routing website that is much more functional than Bycycle.org or Google Maps routing.

Past all of the activity between that last intersection, the ped bike space is a little less chaotic and the construction provides a wonderful environment for users through this congested portion of the city. Its use was a little light at 3 PM and the City was very busy with traffic.
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Bicycle Signal in Copenhagen looking southeast

Looking the opposite way at the intersection, there is also a protected left across the bicycle traffic on the cycletrack and the other vehicle movements. The right turn lane (pictured) is actually a bus exclusive lane that allows right turning traffic to use it.
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Bicycle Signal Sequence in Copenhagen

Side street movement active, all stopped on Torvegade: 8:48:08 AM
This is a series of photos that were taken at the intersection of Torvegade and Prinsessegade. This intersection is one of the more complicated because of the phasing. The design of the street network is very smart reserving the left turns at the intersection prior to the major transit station where additional green time is needed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The system is basically constrained by these additional turn phases, but the relationship between the intersections is preserved because of this (the travel time is effects this relationship). I may need to rewrite this for clarity.

I also should put the times associated with each interval, but it is hard to do that in the Blogger interface.
Advance indication for bicycle traffic. 8:48:19 AM

Green for bikes, alert for vehicles 8:48:22 AM - 3 seconds later

8:48:28 AM - not sure I caught the exact time it went green (I have video of this too)

8:48:46 AM yellow for bikes, next interval is the right turn conflict across cycle track

8:48:50 AM - Right turn across cycletrack, stopped bicycles

8:49:02 AM yellow for right turn movement

8:49:07 AM Red for all Torvegade
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transportation in Copenhagen

The blue marking denotes a conflict area for oncoming
traffic that is accepting a gap in vehicle and bicycle traffic.
There's clearly a commitment to human scale transportation in Copenhagen. There are several tradeoffs between vehicle travel and bike ped facilties shown in these pictures.
The striping of the blue bicycle lane and the crosswalk ladder striping show a commitment to maintenance that we don't make in the U.S. We have used green selectively to identify conflicts at intersections and while an oncoming permitted left turn across this blue is present at this intersection, we wouldn't use green striping here if we had a similar intersection in Portland. There's also not the expense of mast arm signal poles at these locations. They use predominantly post mounted signals at the intersections that require motorists to search for the indication in their field of vision. It is done at the risk of safety (our mindset in the U.S.) which in our practice places the traffic signal heads over each lane of traffic prominently displayed so as not to put any doubt as to who has the right of way. Does doubt and uncertainly result in lower speeds and ultimately a safer multimodal environment?

The signals at this particular location were manufactured by Swarco,
an Austrian firm that we are trying to procure bicycle signals from.

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Bicycle Traffic Signals in Copenhagen

A paradigm shift is necessary in the United States for traffic signals to effectively serve bicycles. Copenhagen serves as a model for us, yet it will require substantial changes in cyclist behavior in addition to the robust redesign of signalized intersections to accomplish a more sustainable model for moving the industry forward.
This particular example of a cyclist is at a location where the left turn demand is fairly light, but the cyclist in the picture exits the cycletrack on the right and knows to wait for the pedestrian crossing on the perpendicular movement in order to make the left turn. There is no special left turn indication for this movement at this location (largely because it seems like a low volume movement). It would be very nice to have traffic volumes and safety data for these intersections.

The GPS enabled camera that I am using geolocates my pictures in the ballpark.

The smaller four inch heads seems sufficient for the needs of slower moving vehicles (bicycles). The blue bicycle with white stencil seem to be clear and matches the blue pavement markings that the Danes are so used to seeing delineating where bikes are present. That is probably not a coincidence.

I tried to connect with an engineer from Copenhagen that was identified as part of the AASHTO European scanning tour, but did not hear anything back when I sent emails to the staff in Malmo or the staff in Copenhagen. It could be that my email was spammed or that our system blocked their message in return. Isn't it unfortunate that our email systems would keep us from communicating with one another.

The vendor of the signals that I have seen prominently on some of the signals is Swarco. They are based out of Austria and we have been trying to purchase a signal head from them for the past three months. Unfortunately, we're only asking for a half dozen or so, thus it has been hard to actually procure the equipment that we desire to initiate that paradigm shift. If we dud use the blue light special on top of the red, yellow, green display, should we use green on top instead of blue since FHWA required us to use green on the pavement (probably not a good idea because of the potential for confusion.
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Highway Project of the Past

One of the speakers at the conference referenced this picture from the opening of Interstate 94. Miss Blacktop and Miss Concrete helped issue in an era of highway construction that we don't see too much anymore. Well, unless you consider the upcoming Columbia River Crossing project.  Divided Highways is a fabulous book that documents the era and links back to the work at the Texas Transportation Institute and many other state highway departments across the country.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Institute of Sustainable Communities

Labeled an unconference, this workshops was designed to get teams from 15 different communities across the country working together to brainstorm ideas for moving people more efficiently. One of the most clear message taken from the meeting was that the language we use with our projects is very important. In most communities, you can't lead with Climate. It has to be about improving our communities, being more inclusive of all modes (as opposed to exclusionary), and building consensus.

We had an opportunity to hear from members of a wide variety of organizations including ReConnecting America, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America, and PolicyLink. Christopher Leinberger was another provocative speaker who had several points worth considering.

One of my favorite quotes from the conference was Victor Obeso from King County Metro, who after all of the talk about the success of Portland said: "we're Seattle, the city just north of Portland" poking a bit of fun at our stature as a model for others.

When I was asked to report back about our key challenge AND our successes in 1 minute.... I reflected on our UGB (land use laws), Bicycle Bill (up to 8% mode split), and the 12 rail lines that have been built or are underway. Gresham, Hillsboro, PDX (Red), Interstate (yellow), Streetcar (is that 2 lines with the expansion to South Waterfront?), Westside Express Service (WES), Eastside Streetcar, and the ones in planning (Portland to Milwaukie, Lake O, CRC, SW & Corridor).

I also enjoyed the presentation from the DC Director of Planning, Harriett Tregoning who described her biking outfit as her dress and heels and looked like someone stepping out from Copenhagen's cycletracks. She cited the planning work that has been part of the DC regional process and how it has informed the importance of land use, similar to what Portland had done twenty years ago with LUTRAQ.
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DC Bicycle Signal with Leading Bicycle Interval

During the visit to DC, we had an opportunity to get out and see the new bicycle facilities at 16th Street NW. This board wasn't very easy to read with 12 point font when it is fairly dark at the intersection.

The bicycle signal served a contraflow movement on Florida Avenue NW, providing an early green start to the movement to queue jump into a bike box that would then continue north through the intersection with the 16th Street movement. This was an innovative use of an early green to provide accessibility for the contraflow lane where there wasn't the movement within the cycle length before. The movement happens in both directions as shown in the foam core board.

I didn't get a picture of the bicycle lane approach, but they had a detector in the pavement that would bring up the bicycle green.
The detection stencil had a "BIKES WAIT HERE" or something to that effect to provide some information about the operation of the signal. Very difficult to see in the night time, but similar to our signal at N Interstate & Oregon and Lloyd and Wheeler & Winning Way.
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Arlington Temple Reuse for a Gas Station

I came across this architectural marvel in Arlington and several questions came to mind.
Does this suggest that our car culture is as (or more) important as religion? I am all for mixed use, but there have to be challenges associated with this.
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