Thursday, July 14, 2011

PSU Delft Experience highlights

Taking the students on this adventure was a great experience. The program achieved its objective of presenting an introduction into transportation engineering applications in the European context. It built on earlier courses with a special emphasis on differences between U.S. and Dutch standards. The course curriculum featured material that shows the contrast between engineering principles and policies focusing on the standards presented in both the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Highway Capacity Manual. More on the PSU website:

The last full day in Delft is marked with heavy rains and wind that will soak cyclists to the core on even the shortest trips. The woman helping me check out of the place I was staying chalked it up to climate change. Climate change is a serious issue for the Dutch considering that a good percentage of them live below sea level. It's going to rain 55 mm today, just over 2 inches.

I am pleased with the rain because it is giving me a chance to catch up on the students' projects and blog posts.

So here's my Top 5 things that happened on the trip (not in rank order, sorry Brian).

1. Jane Jacobs and her Influence - How European Cities Have Social Networks (no not Facebook)
My favorite post to date was a psuedo assignment related to the book I assigned for the class: Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Brian Davis provided this insightful blast related to how communities can be organized to provide social support. It's not something I ever learned in a transportation engineering course, but creating a transportation system that allows a place to play seems as important as any effort I would produce in my profession. Recognizing the importance of a local community is key to the success of city planning. The density of the City allows this easily in Delft, but I wonder if the combination of the Farmers Market, local businesses, and interactions surrounding Llewllyn Elementary will contribute to the sort of community that will make Sellwood like this.

2. Education of the Future Users of the Transportation System
I really enjoyed the lectures that were part of the program. I learned a lot that I am looking forward to taking back to the City of Portland to apply in our community. One of the most important elements in the Netherlands is their education of future users of the transportation system. It is mandatory that each student take a test on navigating the City by bicycle in the 7th grade. This is all part of the sustainable safety program. They get police involved during the test and the students go through a course that is on city streets. This is after a detailed program on an off-street course.

3. It's All About the Bike (in Urban Planning)

It's often debated of whether there is a bike culture here. I would argue there is, yet it is not a subculture. Everyone has a bicycle. Most use it on occasion which results in them appreciating the vulnerability you feel when one is cycling. This results in a fairly courteous driving population overall and everyone concerned with the safety of each other. They also appreciate the importance of mobility, so the streets carefully discriminate between those that are for cars and freight and ones that are community oriented. They have support for the bike oriented streets because most people cycle. The City of Houten was an extreme example for making it irresistible to cycle to most destinations as highlighted in Sam's post on the community. Kirk and Pam from the class have also done an amazing report that shows some of the bike vs. car routing. Kirk summarized his visit with some more pictures. We also saw the ring road that seemed to work really well for freight and other traffic movements that were longer than just a few miles.

4. What's Wrong with the U.S. - Getting the Little Things Right

I borrowed the last part of the title from Marc Schlossberg Most of the concepts common in the Netherlands are considered radical in the U.S. It seems that working with some of the principles will take time but that incorporating small items like bicycle signal heads that are 10 cm are worth moving the industry towards design at a human scale. It is also clear from this trip that many of the things I have been introducing at the City are consistent with practice here. It is very interesting to consider how the public and the press will take to these ideas. The Portland Mercury followed some of the work here, but they are also the newspaper that post the Pedalpalooza schedule (not exactly on the coffee table of every home in Portland).

Traffic Signal Timing for Cyclists from Peter Koonce on Vimeo.

Here's another one that we did for Broadway/Williams. This is important for the Broadway bicycle traffic that we're trying to make safer. There's a slight tradeoff currently for motorist traffic that we will improve when we make the modification at Victoria associated with the streetcar.

5. Creating the Transportation Leaders of the Future

Lastly, I had a great time getting to know the students of PSU, Peter Furth, and Tom Bertulis. Their energy and excitement about the future of transportation was an inspiration during the trip.

So, in all a great experience. Now, it will be great if it will just stop raining.

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