Saturday, December 29, 2012

TRB Committee involvement advice

I often get asked by young professionals about what I have done to be involved with TRB. I began my involvement in the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting as an employee at Kittelson & Associates, Inc. (KAI) with activity surrounding the firm's work on research mostly related to the Highway Capacity Manual. The Committee on Highway Capacity and Quality of Service is a great model to watch because of the success they have had with attracting research to the topic, expanding the scope of their efforts over time, and how they use a wide range of Subcommittee meetings to get work done. The exposure to that group was a solid base to start branching out to get involved in activities that were more diverse than what KAI was involved. The firm valued people that followed their interests and worked to develop expertise that would compliment the existing skills, so it was a cognizant choice to follow my interests in Traffic Signal Systems and what I saw of as a need for the firm. By getting engaged in this work, it would allow diversity of the "Kittelson brand" (that term wasn't ever used) and professional growth of the staff involved (me and others that I could include later). There was another person with the firm involved in this sort of work at the time, so it wasn't entirely a jump to a new topic; it allowed me to fill a need that would result in growth for the firm.

Looking back, the combination of a new business line or one that could be enhanced by even more dedication to the effort, I found that the chances to lead for a young professional were ample and while from a financial standpoint did not make the most sense; the company was exceptional in its interest and dedication where they would follow people that had a passion for a particular topic. Blending the expertise in KAI's core Traffic Operations (Highway Capacity Manual) business and complimentary topics was a recipe for success provided that both parties are willing to make the investment.

Back to the TRB story...(how to get involved)

The Traffic Signal Systems Committee added me as a younger member after showing up and volunteering to serve in a variety of capacities. My first activity was to summarize our Sunday Workshop in a newsletter format that was emailed out to the Committee and some of our partner agencies. Being named as a Younger Member was a great entry into the inner circle, sitting at the "Big Kids table" at the formal meetings. The experience was daunting at the start, but slowly by volunteering time and organizing efforts (more involvement in getting speakers for the workshops on Sunday, paper reviews, editing of the Triennial Strategic Plan, etc) it lead to greater exposure and an understanding of teaming arrangements both in the research community and for local projects. It lead to a payback over the long term, not often something that a corporate quarterly financial report would highlight.

Once you have initially started with a Committee, coordination with other people across TRB is of interest to diversify the range of topics that you can get involved with. In the private sector, this can help build that next group of professionals that would continue to grow the market. Examples of the how that early work and investment on the Transit Signal Priority Workshop resulted in follow up work can be seen on the KAI website and at work completed for the Federal Transit Administration.

Tips for getting more involved in a Committee

1. Analyze the activities they are doing and think about how well they are doing them and if you can help (website, social media - who is in charge of this? - perhaps no one, newsletter - is there one?)
2. Email the Committee chair and or Secretary and start a dialogue before the meeting
3. Sign up to develop a Research Problem Statement, joint with another Committee. The other Committee may not know your experience level and your technical understanding in your topic may be higher than theirs. If you are new to the profession this is difficult, but you certainly add value in places.

Updated Tips (12/28/12): 

Now that I am a Committee Chair, a few more tips:
1. Go meet the Chair, but don't ask to be a Member upon the first handshake. This happens occasionally and while membership is not exclusive, it is something that is done to acknowledge the service of friends of the Committee. The list of friends to the Committee is often long, so dedicated volunteers are appreciated and first to be named as Members.
2. Get involved with a Subcommittee. You don't have to be a Member to have a significant contribution. Subcommittees are where the real work gets done in the larger Committees. Traffic Signal Systems just added two Subcommittees (Multimodal focus and Asset Management) and often the Subcommittee Chair anticipates capturing meeting minutes as a part of their duties. Volunteering at the start of meeting to capture notes on your laptop during the meeting can be a nice way to start.
3. Volunteer to present at a Subcommittee meeting. This is another thing to do in advance of the meeting as opposed to 15 minutes before it starts. It is important that you have something relevant to the group, but it is another potential way to get engaged.

Top Posts from my Blog

It's that time of year when you start getting the Best of 2012 lists, so here's my contribution to the end of the year tradition. three out of the top 5 are associated with my trips to the Netherlands with Portland State.

Post about IKEA renting cargo bikes in Delft
Summary of presentation by town planner in Delft
Rebuttal to Vehicular cyclist concepts
Dutch traffic controller cabinet
Portland's work to count bicycles in an automated fashion
Summary of 4 to 3 lane conversion (cites Bike Portland articles)
How Traffic Signals fit in an urban context
Simple post about Vancouver BC's bicycle signals

Traffic Data Collection Tools - Bluetooth, GPS, & Cameras

The Green Lane Project asked its resident blogger to ask me about my efforts on our recent cycletrack project on NE Multnomah. The focus of the blog post from Michael Andersen was on the work we're doing on NE Multnomah to monitor traffic conditions, optimize movement on the corridor, and be responsive to the public comments. The tools we're using include Bluetooth data collection for estimating arterial travel times, a GPS to get data from individuals, and video cameras so we can observe the experience on the corridor, especially if we're called from the field. This article scratched the surface of some of the work to harness data to make decisions.

We have been working closely with the PORTAL group at Portland State University for establishing permanent locations for Bluetooth devices that we can use to measure arterial performance and use the information for monitoring. On Multnomah Blvd, we used temporary devices and it was helpful to understand whether there was any specific issues we should address.

I recognized this is an area I haven't written a lot about, so here's a little more background on Bluetooth travel time analysis we have completed. The first example was some research conducted on comparing vehicle travel times with bus Automatic Vehicle Location data. The initial work I did on this topic was with Kittelson & Associates on Bluetooth data with vehicle travel times, which was also published at the 2010 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Most of this work has to be attributed to the brilliant minds at Purdue University, specifically Darcy Bullock who shared the concept with the Transportation Research Board meeting in 2009?

Back to Portland, we have rolled out these devices where we have had something new going on and resources to spare. The Federal Highway Administration acknowledged the robust nature of the data we have created by awarding us a grant to document the extensive data as a Model for others to follow. The report on this can be found here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Are You Strong Enough to Handle Critics?

This is a quote that I have had at my desk throughout my career. Nothing has happened to make me want to type this, it just came up as I was organizing and it is a statement that I have enjoyed observing over the years: (one could also exchange the man for person)

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
 -- Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bicycle Signal commentary and TRB 2013

On the APBP listserv, someone inquired about why Bicycle Signals are not covered in the MUTCD. I am not going to defend the folks on the National Committee other than to acknowledge that they tend toward state DOT issues (higher speed facilities, less multimodal, etc).  The MUTCD will always be important to us, but the NACTO Bike Guide does a reasonable job on the topic, so one could pose the question of whether we need a state DOT focused manual to cover the topic.  

Our bike signals in Portland (we have 16) are varied and diverse, so there's a bit of science to it and our colleagues at PSU are doing some research with us that will be presented at TRB.

There are some details that need to be sorted out and there is a lot we can learn from Europe. Here's one blog post that I raise a few questions about variations of the displays you see in the Netherlands.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NYC High Line: Transformation of an Elevated Rail Line to a Park

The tracks were preserved throughout the corridor.
        The High Line is a fantastic story of NYC's neighborhood  and how an elevated rail line could be converted into a public park. I wasn't initially impressed upon arriving there because there was a lot of hype associated with this facility, but the more I saw of the corridor, the more it became clear that this is a feature that distinguishes this area and preserved the history of the district and making a destination that allows visitors to the see the City in a different way than is possible at the street level.
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Portland Traffic Signal Challenges

The google machine is pretty impressive. I entered "Portland Traffic Signal" and quickly found this video. Please note that this isn't our standard clearance interval duration for the City. Lucky for the City, we have effective maintenance staff that are very good at responding to infrastructure failures such as this.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Designing Cities: National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Conference

I have been fortunate to be asked to speak at this conference in New York City. The NYC Department of Transportation has done some impressive things to remake the streets; reclaiming them from people driving through the communities where people live, work, and play. Part of the reclamation is considering the needs of people on bicycles and pedestrians more holistically and there some great sessions on this topic today. 

The session where I presented was on Traffic Signals: Integrating Time & Space. We had four great speakers (Ryan Russo, NYCDOT, Jamie Parks, City of Oakland, Jeffrey Rosenblum, Cambridge, MA & myself). Ryan started out with some high level applications and mentioned that is is "just as important to think about signal timing as it is the geometry (pretty heady stuff from a planner). He cited the issues of a turn lane being on the "wrong side" (left side bike on left side of left turn lane) of a bike lane is illegal in MUTCD. He also described one of the elements they strive for us a 60-second cycle length combined with a double cycle length. They also use gating (he called it feathering to reduce the traffic hitting the bottleneck, arriving early). Good strategies that engineers have forgotten over time because we think a lot about actuated control and how it should work. 

Finally, he gave examples of leading pedestrian intervals, split LPIs where they hold just the turning movement red (exclusive turn signal movements only) and split phasing for the intersection. 

An example of a left side bike lane with a bike box for
right turns to cross in front of vehicle traffic.

NYC has creatively reclaimed public space from the auto by using
bollards (plastic wands, cones, etc) and potted trees/plants).
They have added paint with texture as well to provide a visual clue.

NYC Bus only often comes with red tint or paint to clearly delineate
the expectations for motorists. It worked well.  

Green bike lanes to provide clear direction for pedestrians and parking areas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bicycle Right Turn Lane with Advisory Bicycle Lanes

   Completing the series of posts of Dutch practice with right turn lanes is a very different application in a setting that is more rural or perhaps suburban (a vacation area) in nature. The street features advisory bike lanes which is a nice treatment where there is quite a bit of traffic. A treatment that made this particular location unique was that there were auxiliary bike lanes developed to allow people on bicycles to leave the main travelway to make their turn at a lower speed. This offered a certain level of comfort, because the turn was onto a separate path for cycling and walking that was fairly narrow at the intersection. The right turn lane may also increase the safety of the facility with the unintended consequence of potentially increasing the speeds on the main street. No data to substantiate that so I wouldn't develop Guidelines on this sort of treatment, but it is a nice option to consider when building new infrastructure.
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Right Turn Fietsers Sign

 I came across this photo from my travels in the Netherlands and am not sure that I understand its meaning. I believe it indicates that cyclists are green and that motorists may be crossing the right turning cyclist path to travel on the right side of people on bikes.

The lane striping provides some clue, and it could be that cyclists are encouraged to transition to the 2-way cycletrack on the farside of the intersection which would indeed conflict with a right turning vehicle. The sign and the contrasting colors is a little hard to read and I don't know that I understood this the first time I rode through the intersection, although it was unique enough to take a picture of, but I am an outlier on these sorts of observations.
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Right Turn Warning Sign - Traffic Safety for Pedestrians

The City has had some recent crash experience with a few of the bicycle boxes that were installed on approaches to intersections that feature a downhill grade. The local news station picked up the story tonight.  One approach to mitigating crashes is to apply an active warning sign like the one at NE Couch at Grand Avenue described here.  In the Netherlands, I never saw anything quite that obvious. There were the "Let Op" signs that are used somewhat frequently and then I recalled this auxiliary signal head which I believe communicates that there is a pedestrian crossing that the right turning movement either can't see and there is interest in warning of activity in the crosswalk, I am not sure, my recall of this intersection is that there was a bit of an offset, so if the pedestrian was crossing in the marked area furthest from the main road there could have been some sight distance limitations where this additional queue would have been helpful.   

The reason to share this is to consider how minimal the design is, whether it is effective or not, and given the anecdotal evidence that many Dutch drive their cars with the experience as a cyclist, perhaps these sorts of devices do not have to be as obvious.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NE Lloyd Bike Signal Markups

On the internet, there is a lot of information. Yet, I often find that engineering details on the net are very limited, so I am posting this bicycle signal markup to share with fellow practitioners that might be interested in more details. This markup shows how little that was done in this T - intersection to make the bicycle signal happen. The cost of the project was approximately $2,000 because the modifications were part of the existing design (the wiring was already in place as was an existing signal head) and it was relatively simple to make the change in the field.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Oregon ITE Meeting on Adaptive Signal Control - October 18th

Thursday, Oct 18, 11:30-1:00
Lucky Lab NW (1945 NW Quimby, Portland)
The lunch comprises a presentation and panel discussion on adaptive signal control where speakers will discuss the pros & cons, impacts, and outcomes we have observed from implementation in the local area. Presenters will include representatives from the City of Portland, ODOT, City of Gresham, and Washington County. Shaun Quayle of Kittelson & Associates, Inc. will kick off the discussion with a general presentation on technologies, and will then proceed to moderate the panelists. Additional information on each of the panelists is provided below.
Moderator - Shaun Quayle, P.E.
Shaun is a senior engineer with Kittelson and Associates, Inc. He has over 10 years of transportation engineering experience, largely focused on signal systems, traffic operations and smarter ITS solutions. Shaun is serving as project engineer on the ODOT ITS Innovative Grant Evaluation Project, analyzing performance measures and results for the 5 adaptive/advanced corridors which are the topic of his short presentation. Shaun will moderate the panel discussion with the four Oregon agency adaptive experts.
Gresham - Tony Sepich
City of Gresham supervising electrician in the traffic signal industry for 27 years. Oversees maintenance and operations of east co. signals including design and timing. Maintains two SCATS corridors: 181st  and Burnside. 
ODOT - Tiffany Slauter
Signal Manager, ODOT Region 1 since January 2008. Graduated from the OSU Civil Engineering program in June 2007. Region 1 has just over 300 traffic signals that we operate, about 1/3 are 2070s running Voyage, 4 are 2070s with SCATS, and the rest are 170s with Wapiti. Nearly all of the 2070s are connected to TransSuite via Ethernet. Approximately 90 intersections will be converted from 170/Wapiti to 2070/Voyage in the next year. Most of the intersections are running fairly basic timing, though ODOT has 21 traffic signals in Tigard that has multiple features enabled.
PBOT - Peter Koonce
Division Manager for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation's Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS Division. Prior to this appointment with the City, he worked with Kittelson & Associates, Inc. for 15 years. He has served as an adjunct professor at Portland State University for the past eight years teaching graduate level courses in transportation engineering. He has served on National ITE Committees and is the Panel Chair for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program project 3-103, which is a rewrite of the Signal Timing Manual. He is secretary of the Transportation Research Board Committee on Traffic Signal Systems and serves as chair of its Signal Timing subcommittee.
Washington County - Stacy Shetler
Traffic Engineering Manager with Washington County who has over 13 years experience in the transportation field. Stacy managed the installation and implementation of SCATS and InSync on corridors in Washington County. Both systems were activated in May of 2011 and he continues to oversee the operations and maintenance.
Please join us for the presentation and panel discussion!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Portland Traffic Signal Detector Confirmation Light for Bicycles - NE Martin Luther King Jr & Morris

One of the opportunities that I appreciate while working for the City of Portland is the chances we get to innovate in order to improve the transportation system. This Traffic Signal Detection Confirmation Light for Bicycles is one such innovation that was deemed "Intelligent" by BikePortland. Since we implemented this, we have made a few subtle modifications to improve on the original addition of a blue light that was wired into the detection at the traffic signal.  We added a red dot to the top of the bike stencil to clue people in that there is an association between this and the red traffic signal indication. There is a subtle blue dot next to the red paint, which is intended to remind users to look for the confirmation that they have been detected. 
The blue dot adjacent to the red indication is subtle.
The relationship between the stencil with red and the signal that is controlling the side street movement
A close up of the blue LED mounted to the signal head.

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Delft Streetcar Construction - Laying Tracks on TU Delft campus

A post that shows some of the "tram" construction in Delft, Netherlands near the TU Delft campus. Just a few observations from the visit.
The base for the tracks was very minimal, similar to Portland streetcar construction.
The concrete blocks under the rails is supported with sand, hard to tell how deep here.
Depth of construction was likely limited because of the lack of heavy truck traffic. 
One more photo. During the two weeks I was there the slab was poured around the rails.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bike Signal at NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd & Lloyd

I often get asked what a change like this costs. This one was particularly limited in its expense because the wiring was already there (we replaced an existing vehicular signal that was redundant) and the pole was placed in the exact spot needed for the display.

The length of the green time advance for the bicycle signal is dependent on the eastbound traffic. The bicycle signal westbound is active when the eastbound movement starts and continues when the eastbound vehicles start. Another way to think of this movement is that it mimics the WALK interval for pedestrians on the north crossing of the intersection. 


Nice coverage of the bike signal addition by BikePortland here at this link.
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Post Cycle Oregon vacation ideas

Cycle Oregon has made me want to explore more of the state by bike. A few ideas after some quick googling: 

Oregon State Parks - Bikeways Page

Covered Bridge Tour - Cottage Grove area
This might not be great all year because of the weather. Eastern Oregon is cold, but gets less rain. I am not sure which is better for the kids. 

Metolius River & Lower Bridge Campground

Grande Tour - Eastern Oregon (Baker City)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dutch Cycling Culture - Pictures from a Monday Night

I have been home just over a week from the Summer program at TU Delft. A few recollections from the visit to the includes some great photos of various people on their bicycles. Several college kids due to the proximity to TU Delft, some younger kids getting home from the train station. An ordinary Monday night in the Netherlands.

Creative transport of a case of Grolsch to a pre-
graduation party?
Riding "Dutch" style as a passenger.
Another Dutch style passenger, just a regular rear rack.
Carrying bags home from the grocery store. 
Canal bridge that is commonplace, maybe a little nicer than average.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Path Forward

Any direction we take in the future looks great and you should have multiple options to get there. 
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bike Parking, Rentals, & Security in Heaven

          Houten is called bike heaven for many reasons. One of my favorite sites in the City is the train station where the 3,000 bicycle parking spaces are provided to keep your trusty vehicle safe, secure, and  ready for your next trip. In case, you aren't at a station that you normally visit, the OV Fiets (bike rental service run by the National Train Service or NS) is ready to assist you throughout most hours of the day. It is a fantastic system that works across City boundaries, so as a resident of Houten, I can get a bike in most of the communities across the country without having to buy a separate membership. The cost of a day rental is less than 3 Euros and it is good for all day. What a deal!

Two ways to improve the system:
1. Have a wider range of bikes (probably increases the costs, but perhaps one could pay a premium for a different bike.
2. Allow bikes to be dropped off at a different station than you rented it from. This would be great for day touring. It seems that it would be easy enough to run a train to take the bikes back at the end of the day if needed.
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Visiting Houten - Bicycle Heaven, "Fietsstad 2008" - presentation by Andre Botermans

Andre Botermans from Houten
Andre is a planner with the city and had a tough act to follow from last year when Herbert Tiemens, an Engineer gave us the presentation in 2011. He started with a history of the town and nearby Utrecht. In 1867, it was 1600 people. It had a rail station that was central that ultimately became central to its development. Nearly 100 years later, in 1950, it was the same size.

In 1966, the regional government decided to build houses in cities and it was declared that  the rural areas would stay free from urbanization. Houten was tabbed in the second round of growth to 100,000. Citizens fought back and the number was reduced to 30,000. Paper on Spatial Planning - Structuurschets 1e groeitaak

Example of a park along the Houten Bicycle Highway. 
The Dutch used "Rational" Urban Planning based on the small scale, conscious of nature and the environment. Andre indicated that it was developed in a time before sustainable development was a fully formed concept. The idea started with the idea of a Bicycle City, leading bicycle routes to the train station. Car infrastructure was set up as a ring road without connections internally between sections of the neighborhood were going to emphasize bike safety by reducing interactions with cars. Also, cars are asked to give way to bikes in all cases and separated at the ring road.

The primary schools are located near the Central Greenway so access for children is guaranteed.  Parks are located throughout the city and many are connected to the Greenway.

Bottle return by bicycle (he biked with two on
the rear rack and had two more 12 packs in his
In Houten, "most of the things we do by bike". Everything is at such a short distance: shopping, school, parks, etc.
On the ring road, there are higher buildings to design as a gate to frame the entrances where you can go into the living area. The intent was to base the design like an old Roman town. These larger buildings on the Ring Road are often offices or else often used by elderly as they get a nice view of the countryside as apart of their location.

There are very few long roads, in fact the maximum tangent section used in planning is 250 feet. All of the bike routes are in red asphalt to communicate the intent of each facility.

They are planning a new roadway connection to A12 that will relieve some of the congestion to the main link to the freeway system.

Houten's bike safety record and crash rate is 31% of Dutch cities of comparable size because of the limited interactions necessary. When thinking about this, I think this is a result of a high percentage of families (it is a suburb) and the higher income and education level than comparable cities. Nationally, 49% of the houses are owner occupied. Houten is 70% owner occupied and the second phase will be 80%. There is a lot of discussion about this that could be called go question. Houten is a more expensive suburb than many surrounding communities. So to say that Houten's unique design makes a community 70% safer would be an overstatement, but Andre didn't make the case for that, he just stated what the results are.

Bicycle parking in the Houten train station. 3,000 spaces!
Bike parking is fantastic at the Central station, with over 3,000 spaces. It is massive and free. No subscription or annual cost for parking bikes. They have 200 bikes often left over night, but they don't worry too much about that as they can sign them as needed and pull them away.

There is security cameras for the facility and a bike shop so that you can get help if you need it. The OV Fiets rental is also there if you don't have a bike and need one for the day. A little more on the facility here.

Andre indicated that there are a lot of cars in Houten. A lot of the families have dual income with kids so they have the means to buy cars. Many of the jobs in the community are white collar. The city estimates that 1/3 of employment is in Houten, 1/3 is in Utrecht, 1/3 is elsewhere. Future growth will seek to have equal jobs and the number of people. Utrecht is a 12 minute train ride to downtown Utrecht. Jobs outside if the Utrecht Central are accessible by bike or by transit transfer.

A few other interesting facts worth sharing about the community:

Housing in Houten has some unique
features, including these that are right
on the water.

  • The City wants to be careful to implement jobs with their expansions with the intent to use this to reduce GHG. 
  • 23 houses per hectare us the approximate density of housing. New area is 24 per. About 10 per acre. Pijnacker (near Delft) is 34 or 15 per acre.
  • The City officials are going about retrofitting the old village circa 1950 to make it consistent with the current standards, but it is occurring slowly due to financial constraints.

The "second growing task from the National Government is issued in 1991 and again Houten was not willing to grow, but the compromise was to end up at 60,000. Andre described several concepts that were laid out. Ultimately, the planners focused a new town along the railway south of the existing part. The urban planner was Rob Derks, who is retired now, but still lives in Houten. The new area has no central greenway, but a five sided greenway that has a smaller center and the existing center is strengthened.

The new town center of Castellum included medium density
around the city's second train station.
The south section was chosen by the municipality, but the land was owned by speculators. Thus, the municipality had to partner with the developer and it took a long time to get to a solution that wasn't too dense for Houten's vision. The new site is called Castellum and that has also been planned around a new station. Houten's existing center is intended to grow and the new south center will be a minor station.

It seems like a pretty fantastic minor station that if we completed community planning as they do would be a vast improvement in the Portland metropolitan area, but of course the existing communities are not nearly as farm focused and the development of streets and all of the other infrastructure is much different than the U.S. experience.

UPDATE: Here's a Youtube video summarizing Houten.