Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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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