Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Workshop on Human Factors - Ped Bike "Accomodation" at #TRBAM

I am on the agenda for one of the many Workshop on the Sunday of the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. The Human Factors Workshops focus on topics that are sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. As a presenter, I am the token municipal speaker because cities are probably the least represented governmental structure at the Conference. This is mostly because state DOTs are who the research money comes from because that is how gas tax is collected (at the state and federal level), but that's another blog post in and of itself.

The title of the Workshop I am presenting on Sunday?
Innovative Pedestrian and Bicycle Accommodations at Roundabouts: New Ideas and Surpassing Barriers to Innovation

Clearly, we're going to talk about innovation given that the first and last part of the title insures that. At a midpoint (first third?) in my career, I am going to argue that this sounds like innovation for the sake of being innovative. As a consultant, I used to think the Innovate of Die mantra was worth repeating, but in this era of reduced budgets, I would take a more careful approach to this. Engineers are good at solving problems and we should continue to do that, but let's not define the problem as how can we be innovative.

From a policy standpoint in Portland or in any urban setting, my goal isn't to build a roundabout (I know far too many engineers and developers that think that's the goal). I would change the title of this Workshop to:
Effective Pedestrian and Bicycle Encouragement at Intersections: Are roundabouts a treatment that could improve safety and contribute to the economic development of the community?

We've been asked to address the following questions:
 What are the challenges for pedestrians and bicyclists at modern roundabouts?
-          What treatments are available to improve access of pedestrians and bicyclists at roundabouts?
-          What are barriers to implementation of these treatments, and how can they be overcome?

I am presenting shortly after a state DOT engineer (from Wisconsin) and the Federal Highway Administration perspective.

To me,  roundabouts are sort of like a "monorail" type of treatment. Okay, it's not that bad, but there are clearly advocates for their use. I find most of these advocates to be fairly autocentric. The examples shown most in the Powerpoint all seem fine, but I would turn the focus to the urban conditions where people walking and biking are most likely to be encountered as opposed to interchanges. The other problem I have with the approach is that given a certain set of policies (perhaps a modal hierarchy), when are roundabouts the right treatment (compared to something else)?

My questions for the other presenters:
I haven't seen many examples in the U.S. how roundabouts prioritize bikes and peds very well (you're always still reliant on autos to yield which can be an adventure), is that possible without a beacon or another traffic signal? Is there good experience from the communities where roundabouts exist in urban areas. If you installed a signal, how would you coordinate the signals on legs of the roundabouts to make that work?

This is a great example of how roundabouts work in the Netherlands.  The roundabouts work well because most Dutch drivers have been on a bike in the past 24 hours.

In the Netherlands, they have "turbo" roundabouts which are specifically for cars and what they have basically committed to is that bikes and peds won't be present on these facilities (for the most part), that they will build wonderful bike ped facilities very close nearby offering direct service, but realizing that auto/freight traffic and bike/ped don't/shouldn't always mix.

The focus of my presentation will be on our policies in Portland. Those policies suggest what my priorities are as an engineer designing the public space in the form of transportation. It is context sensitive in nature. Downtown is different than freeway interchanges, so different principles apply, yet you don't abandon people that choose to walk or ride their bicycles altogether and there's the urban development side of the equation that we have to keep proper perspective.

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