Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It was another successful year in collaborating with professionals involved in research or applications that are worthy of presenting at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting. 

Here's the list of papers that will be presented in 2016:
Paulsen, Kirk, William Farley, Todd Mobley, Michael Ard and Peter Koonce, “Analysis of Active Warning Sign to Address Potential Bicycle "Right-Hook" Conflict at Signalized Intersections”. 

Moore, Adam, Peter Koonce, Paul Zebell, and Jon Meusch, “Timing Issues for Traffic Signals Interconnected with Highway-Railroad Grade Crossings”.

Sobie, Christopher, Edward Smaglik, Anuj Sharma, Andy Kading, Sirisha Kothuri, Peter Koonce, “Managing User Delay with a Focus on Pedestrian Operations”.

Boudart, Jesse, Nick Foster, and Peter Koonce, “Improving Bicycle Detection Pavement Marking Symbols to Increase Comprehension at Traffic Signals”.

The TRB Annual Meeting is one of the most wonky times of the year.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NACTO 2015 Conference in Austin, TX

NACTO held its annual conference in Austin, TX. Austin is a good city with the potential to be great. The National Association of City Transportation Officials meeting was a great chance to learn about updates from many of the NACTO member cities and industry leaders.
Austin has spent a lot of effort making connections for multimodal travel in the past 10 years. 

The meeting set a record for attendance (650!) and included many of the leading voices in multimodal transportation. I spent a lot of time with notes on Twitter, so if you want to review more you can look back in my timeline. I find Twitter useful for sharing and learning more about what others are thinking. In fact, I learned about "The New Social Learning" this past week.

NACTO offers a chance for cities to share ideas. These include big picture policy ideas and design details such as what an engineer needs to know to get a facility built. The Commissioner panel and keynote speeches were fantastic for providing the big picture guidance.
Global Street Design Guide: A New Approach to Street Design
Janette Sadik-Khan kicked off the conference with a keynote on advancing transportation policies and a preview of the Global Street Design Guide, NACTO's latest project. This latest initiative will incorporate guidance from the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, Urban Street Design Guide, and other documents into a document that represents international best practices. The most interesting concept from the preview included an emphasis on desired outcomes such as health and safety with a focus on users and context.

Great quote from LADOT GM.

The presentation was followed by a pecha kucha session that included former APBP Board Member Seleta Reynolds who is General Manager of LADOT, Robin Hutchinson, who the Director of Salt Lake City Transportation, and Ryan Russo, Deputy Commissioner of NYCDOT. The pecha kucha session challenges presenters to offer quick thoughts in a fast paced way that keeps attention of the audience. It's something that I hope to see more of in the future because of the excitement created by the quick pace.

One of the best parts of most conferences are the technical tours in cities that afford an opportunity to learn about the implementation of innovative projects from the practitioners responsible for the project. In Austin, we had a chance to visit their downtown protected bike lanes, the City's Traffic Signal Shop and Operations Center, and many other facilities. The City of Austin have completed some fantastic projects that are advancing walking and cycling in a traditionally car oriented community. The protected bike lanes on the ground in Austin have evolved since my last visit to Austin, two and a half years ago. During that visit, I learned about the detector confirmation light which was using an "off the shelf device" for greater purposes. The City of Austin still hasn't installed a bicycle signal stencil like we have in Portland (map at the link), but they have several projects that have made cycling better in the City.

My main takeaways from this visit were not signal related. Although, City employees have done some very interesting work in deploying an ap developed by Kimley Horn that can use data from mobile phones within the traffic signal system. The data transmitted from the phone is a Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) prototype that may be used for detection of people on bicycles (although it could be used by people in cars as well).

The most important reason to attend the conference is to put faces with the names and exchange ideas. 
Nathan Wilkes shares knowledge with attendees.
Ideas that are "traded" City to City save the public money. Take for instance the Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The City of Portland doesn't need to reinvent the wheel and develop a "Portland specific Guide", we can use NACTO's version. If we need more information, we can also call our colleagues as opposed to using consultants for every detail. (No offense to my consultant friends). The example of curb types for protected bike lanes is one such example. I was impressed with the City of Austin's abilities to implement curbs on some on-street sections where it would have been easier to leave separation and transition to either shared space or a more traditional bicycle lane. As Nathan Wilkes, our tour guide said, "the City did a lot of outreach in order to insure that the protected lane was preserved for the entire length of the street".
There are some design details that have to be seen to appreciate 

Friday, August 7, 2015

History of Traffic Signals in Portland

The Oregonian had a nice write up on the 100th birthday of traffic signals in Portland. The column concluded with an email I sent awhile back thinking to the future of transportation.

"Curious about what Portland's traffic and its growing signal system might look like 100 years from now, I recently asked Peter Koonce, the city's chief traffic signal engineer, to take us into the future. Here's how he responded in an email:"
I am not a futurist (yes, that's a title), but I played one when writing a Strategic Highway Research Program Project proposal back in my consulting days. There are so many scenarios, it is really hard to imagine and state what's actually possible. So, in order to talk around the question, it is best to describe various possible scenarios.
There's what I would call the pessimistic view that suggests that we'll have the same constraints in the future because the public sector will be financially constrained and afraid to innovate and adopt new technologies.
There's an optimistic perspective that offers that technology will change everything and what we have today will be obsolete. Driverless cars and "Connected Vehicle" concepts will be the new normal.  Technology could eliminate the need for much of the travel that we have to make today including the typical work commute.Amazon.com is a good example of the impact of technology on shopping trips, video conferencing for business should continue to evolve and become more useful, and the population will change albeit slowly as we age more gracefully (if that trend continues).  
At the end of the day, the cost of energy (think Peak Oil and climate change) will likely play a large role in this and that's hard to pin down since you're asking a transportation professional, so that will be an influence.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Vision Zero Community: Houten

I asked our host Andre Botermans in Houten about their safety record. He answered promptly "Safety is no issue in Houten".
Andre Botermans addressing the PSU-Northeastern University class

He went on to discuss the notion of traffic crashes and he said the following:
"If we're talking about fatalities, we had one (1) fatal of someone on a bicycle in 20 years. A car was involved of course.  There are car fatalities that have occurred on the ring road."

He went on to say that the safety on the bike paths has been increased by removing obstacles. They eliminated 150 bollards where cars were not wanted and it was possible for them to turn, but along the way they have found that the car drivers know not to be on the red asphalt, so these bollards and barriers were unnecessary and proved to be a problem for the youngest and oldest people on bikes.

There are low pedestrian crash rates and no fatalities in the last 20 years because the entire town is a maximum 30 km/hr speed limit (once you leave the ring road which is 70 km/hr). The City has no connector-distributor roads (collectors in the U.S.) other than the ring road because the street network offers a clear definition between that auto specific facility and the community residential streets.

People walking and cycling do not have to mix with freight trucks. The City planners put the working areas outside the ring road. All of the places where trucks may conflict there are separated bicycling facilities. Grade separation may be necessary at times to create the safer conditions (shown below).

The class discussion mentioned as much. One of the groups met with a woman at a park and she said that when her kids left Houten, she had to train them how to ride in a more complicated cycling environment. That sounds a bit extreme, but perhaps supported by Mark Wagenbuur's point that people take some of this as obvious in Holland, but it's very deliberate design that makes this happen.

Bicycle Oreinted Development: Case Study in Houten

Houten may be the best example of bicycle oriented development in the world. The land use was carefully prepared to insure that the system worked as intended. The other factors that make this such a successful Bicycle Oriented Development community includes the following:

  • Robust, safe bicycle network
  • Convenient Parking for bicycles
  • Support from the community

The layout of the city is focused first around the Houten train station, similar to what is considered with transit oriented development in the U.S. In my opinion, what makes Houten a bicycle oriented development is that the layout to the train station was designed to be accessed via bicycle first and foremost as opposed to providing efficient automobile access. The transportation system was laid out with bicycle highway perpendicular from the train station and rail alignment. Car access through the community was provided on the ring road and is less convenient than the bicycle network. It's not just about the bicycle network, it also has to include bicycle parking and of course a supportive community.

Details about the Bicycle Network

The bicycle highway is 2 km from the train station (east-west) before you reach the ring road. All of the homes in the community have a low stress route to the bicycle highway and it is only 8 minutes to the train station from the furthest house to access the bicycle parking garage. The schools were planned carefully so that they are all oriented towards the bicycle highway. There is a movement of design for 8 years old to 80 years old, Houten may be 6 years to 100 years old.
The south part of Houten decided not to connect the bicycle highway to the ring road to the east side of the community. In that case, the planners decided to

The red asphalt is a standard. The width is 3.5 meters wide. They have transformed many of their old routes to meet this new standard.

When cars are added to the bicycle network, they use the Fietstraat signs, auto te gast (cars are guests), that is used in many cases throughout the country.

Safety is a separate post next to this one. This is no issue in Houten.

Parking Layout and Bicycle Theft

Parking layout for bicycles is key for growing the use of people on bikes. Mark Wagenbuur mentioned the importance of bicycle parking in his presentation and this is clearly an emphasis of Houten's urban planning. As opposed to placing a large vehicle parking lot at the train station, they chose to construct a bicycle parking garage directly under the station.

The bicycle theft is very low in Houten. The parking garage reduced theft by nearly 40% overall, but it was still very low compared to larger cities.

Comments from the Community in Houten

The planners in Houten say that people are not that aware of what problems exist. When he talks to his friends they think that Houten is just normal. It's usual for them to see the City putting bicycles first in the plans. In Houten, there is a critical mass of people that cycle. When guests come to Houten to live, those people "have to adapt and when people explore cycling, they find it safe and more social". Essentially, the point being made was that the City's intent is to make people happy and they know from research that the more people cycle and walk, the happier they will be. He described an example in Austin, TX where there was a 8-lane street with a bike lane and they were trying to change it to include a cycletrack. The problem with a lot of cities in the world is that the streets are dominated by people that drive, so the modification of a street is resulting in a change to the most people.

Returning to Bicycle Heaven - Houten and South Houten

I visited Houten previously and wrote up a summary of the presentation from 2012.

There was a very nice write up by ITDP on Houten. A CityLab writeup provided a national audience for Houten in the last few months.

On this trip, I wanted to dig deeper into the south part of Houten. The south part of Houten was under construction when I was here in 2012. The construction is still active in some cases, but a lot has been completed since that time.

I also wanted to learn more about their safety performance, the past presentation reported their crash rate was 31% of a comparable Dutch town, which is already much better than a U.S. city.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cycling in the Netherlands by Mark Wagenbuur @BicycleDutch

We had a presentation from Mark Wagenbuur, who is the blogger of Bicycle Dutch. he provided an interesting perspective on Dutch cycling starting from the 1950s, it was the same as it was today. Cars were there in the 1950s, there was money and people able to afford the cars after WWII. As the country prospered, congestion increased and the parking was also congested. In the 1970s, it was similar to the U.S. with traffic engineers planning the cities. An overview of his presentation is available here.
The presentation focused on how the Dutch got great cycling infrastructure starting back in the 1950s, where after WWII, there was a need to get back to moving freely after the Nazi occupation. Yet, there was also a growing automobile culture, that was partially halted by the oil embargo of 1973. This and the rise in fatalities of people and especially children were other motivating factors. This made way for protests in the streets of Amsterdam in 1975. Several examples were given of protests.

We want a SAFE Street - Wij Willen een Veilige straat.
Stop murdering children, safe footways and cycleways - Stop Kindermoord
Autorijden? Ga Nou Gauw Fietsen - Protest rides all over the country.
Cyclists Union was founded in 1975. The lonely cyclist struggles ahead, but no longer alone.

The community demanded genuine cycling policies and the resources to go with the change. The Cyclists Union wanted the government to give cycling a true role in the policies. There were two specific demands:
Separate slow and fast traffic (bike and motor)
Give cycling free routes through towns.

There was already a law on the Dutch government that says if you have more than 500 cyclists per day, you have to have separate cycling (rural conditions). So, in the 1970s this was a good place to start and he described the three strategies as:
Elimination of through traffic
Removal of parking
Prioritization of bus lanes

He then described the three simple requirements for mass cycling?
A bicycle
Parking on both sides of the trip
Good cycling infrastructure

In describing the standards for a bicycle, it has to be sturdy, upright, (could be heavy), chain case, fenders, wheel dynamo (no batteries), lock, etc. The parking has to be located well, the government mandates that the parking is indoor (ideal and now a requirement), with easy access to the street and where you don't have to carry it (remember it is a heavy bike).

Finally, Dutch design for good cycling infrastructure includes careful planning of the space in the City. Designing for people is key and auto traffic flow is secondary. There are planning policies that are used.

This is a particular example of those policies and how to move people in cities.

Bus stop and cycletrack design are great examples in The Netherlands. What they know is that bike lanes are not good enough. He wants protected intersections to be the main stream like it is in The Netherlands. The other important element of Dutch design is that the speed of the street is 50 km/hr speed limit for all streets with people cycling. Higher speed does not work without supporting infrastructure. In Houten, when there was a street design that was 100 km/hr and the police was asked to enforce a 50 km/hr speed limit, the police stepped in and decided to ask engineers to solve the problems. Engineers were set up a traffic calming function on the request of the City police. Police can't accomplish their job, if the design isn't supported.

The policies that have been used in the history of cycling include the following:
Dutch Bicycle Master Plan 1990-96 only time federal government has focused on the issue.
Sustainable Safety policy 1990-now
Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic (CROW) generally followed by municipalities.

The Dutch are very strict on their use of a road categorization that requires designation and there are three main classifications.
Through regional routes 130 to 80 km/hr - no cycling
Local distributing - collector roads - 50 km/hr - depending on traffic you would have physical or visible spearation (bike lane) - collector roads can not have parking or destinations.
Residential streets/places - Speed 30 km/hr (18 mph), no separation is needed.

Some municipalities have fought for a hybrid extra (destinations are the typical element that is added).
He used Houten as an example designed in the late 1960s as a cycling friendly city. Red lines can not be crossed by motor traffic. ring road all around the city, that provides circulation into the different parts of the City. Cyclists can not go anywhere. Cycling is almost always faster than the car.

He used Houten as an example of how to retrofit existing residential areas
1. Block off streets, narrow other streets with traffic calming.
2. 18 exit/entrance biking, 3 for cars (provide more options for bikes to avoid traffic)

He also cited that the Dutch closed down traffic on a Sunday as an experiment for placemaking in city centers

Where did the cars go? In the City Center of Utrecht, changes were made so it was impossible to go through the City. Now, the traffic stays out on the fringes. No through traffic in the main area. Simple fences were used and buses allowed through. Cameras are providing the enforcement.

Downgrading former arterials are key to the implementation
Traffic dispersion happens, but don't worry about chasing all of that traffic.

What can other countries learn? They should do the following as others are working on this issue too:
Placemaking is happening.
Complete streets, including cycling infrastructure
Protected intersections
Designing a network.

Placemaking - Prague, Paris, and NYC
Complete streets - Sydney, Chicago
Protected Intersetions - SLC, Davis, Austin, and Boston.

What do Advocates Do? Jeff Rosenblum, Livable Streets

As a trained engineer who became an advocate, then City bureaucrat, and now Ph.D. candidate, Jeff has a vast experience of what makes a city tick and how change happens. He has some great takeaways from his time creating Livable Streets, describing "What Advocates Actually Do?", he boils it down to three points:
  • Convince government to do it
  • Provide technical assistance
  • Build grass-roots support for projects
Also, I will add one more that he said: Thank bureaucrats when they do the right thing
Jeff has some great examples also of specifics.

What specifically do Advocates do?

They build relationships with magazine editors - Bicycling Magazine puts Boston on the worst cities for Cycling.
Build bike rides that start people thinking about riding bikes in the City - Boston Hub on Wheels Citywide ride & festival
Building constituency
Lawsuits when necessary - reconstruction projects must accomodate bikes and pedestrians to the best practicable. Only person doing the suing - Attorney general
When government is no longer the problem, organize a Bike Summit, pick a project to get started on. Make the engineers be the heroes by helping them get project designs correct. Make planning effective by prioritizing the connections that are most important.

5 Misconceptions in Transportation by Jeff Rosenblum - Livable Streets

I will start with the takeaways instead of the misconceptions, because not everyone will read the entire blogpost and the talk was really positive, but he used the misconceptions to drive the conversation for the students. He also described his role as an advocate which is a separate blogpost altogether.
  1. Streets are for people
  2. Cars need less space
  3. Traffic calming works
  4. Decisions are political
  5. Economic growth relies on livable streets not more highways.

1. Streets are for cars

  • Streets that are busy for 15 minutes a day
  • Place where no one wants to walk, no cafes
  • People used to use streets as part of their living environment - today 75% of place that children are free to roam has been compromised by automobile
  • Jeff used the example of a Dutch school drop off, paint being used in NYC, and Portland street paining at SE 34th & Yamhill.
  • European cities were not always the way they were. Amsterdam in the 1950s was moving toward car ownership, but they saw the way the U.S. was going and reoriented toward bicycle. Delft Center used to be a parking lot. NYC and Broadway is another example. Anytime you can take place in a city, you're making livable streets. Parking Day is a great example of this, founded in San Francisco.

2.  Cars need more space

  • Reducing congestion is not a goal for cities. Massachusetts Avenue road diet occurred in 1996. There is time and space. Don't let the number of lanes fool you! It isn't about just space, there's also the time component. Preventing left turns, retiming traffic signals, etc are all strategies that have to be part of the conversation.
  • Not enough parks, take space from parking or on-street traffic
  • Lafayette Square was rebuilt in 2008 as an example of remaking a crosswalk into a park. 
  • Western Avenue in Cambridge there was a cycletrack of 9 feet wide with a 7.5' parking, 10.5' travel lanes and another 7.5' parking. The speed limit is 30 MPH in Massachusetts, but 25 MPH is on Western Ave. Bus bulb outs are part of the cycletrack, eliminating parking.3

3. Traffic calming is the most important thing that engineers can do

  • Pasanen (1992) http://tinyurl.com/yuohsg - NHTSA study
  • Traffic engineers have the tools at our disposal and we need to use them

4. Decisions are technical

  •  USDOT Ray LaHood started the dialogue related to considering additional flexibility. The Green Book even provides the following: "the intent of this policy is to provide guidance to the designer by referencing a recommended range of values..., sufficient flexibility is permitted to encourage independent designs tailored to particular solutions."
  • NACTO 

5. Cars drive the economy

Jeff used the example of Interstate 95 coming into Charles River. One of the Livable Streets founding Board Member was going to have his home demolished and have a highway that comes through the Northeastern University campus. 
McGraff highway in Somerville is an example of an antiquated highway that is going away. It takes concentrated efforts to think differently about the

Kendall Square Example 
Parking TDM policy "pays off" - no more than 45% or people drive themselves. If they don't have less than 45%, the building gets shut down. Clean Air Act and parking freeze. Self reporting happens once a year and the City gets to check how it is going. The City provides an ala carte menu of things.
The success has resulted in  great model for the City to follow when large projects occur.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Left Turn Options at Traffic Signals

Two stage queue boxes are an area designated to hold a queue of people waiting to finish  two stage turn manuever. To use this design, a person would remain in the bike lane and veer right, turning their bike to orient towards making the turn.    

Two stage queue boxes are not used very often in the Netherlands due to the nature of how many cycletracks they have throughout the country. During our study of traditional bike lanes used in the City of Delft, we found this intersection where the left turns at the traffic signals is made from the left turn lane shared with cars. The detection of the people on bicycles is done with a conveniently placed push button adjacent to the curb. There is the maintenance concern with a pole placed that close to the curb, but that short pole with the button is before the curve, so with a low volume left it may not be a problem. I am not clear why they felt the need for a button as opposed to having an inductive loop detector, which is used throughout the City in other places. The other element of the traffic signal in this particular location was that they have a nearside signal head for both the vehicles and the cars. It is a supplemental head mounted adjacent to the pedestrian push button.

This traffic signal pole is used for the supplemental nearside left turn signal indication, the pedestrian push button and both vehicle signals (larger displays).
 The other option presented for the left turning person on a bicycle is the two stage queue box. The picture here shows a younger person with an adult who might not want to weave across the through lane to get to the left turn lane. This two stage queue box offers an opportunity to remain in the bike lane and make what we often call the "Copenhagen left" because this treatment is often used there.
The farside traffic signal provides an arrow underneath a bicycle symbol to clariy what the person on a bicycle should do upon getting the green.
The left turn queue box is staged in front of the side street through and left turn movement in effect blocking that movement so that the person on the bike can be at the front of the queueand not incur delay . It operates like a bike box without the lead in lane.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rainbow Crosswalk in Utrecht

A visit to Utrecht provided a pleasant surpise in the form of color on the street at a crosswalk.

Pedestrian crosswalk (rainbow edition) 

Pedestrian point of view
 In addition to the rainbow crosswalk, there is a diagonal crossing for a movement for people using bicycles. This diagonal crossing provides an opportunity to eliminate what would be a two stage crossing in Denmark or most other cases. It takes advantage of the fact that there is a long time necessary for pedestrian crossing perpendicular to this through bike movement.
 Diagonal crossing of the intersection
Bicycle traffic on the corridor is heavy and you could imagine that a left turn queue box farside would be difficult to have the 

Bicycle traffic  of the 

Bike Box in Delft on Wateringsevest at Noordeinde

The bicycle box was a treatment that came from European traffic engineering practice. The Delft community does not have that many bike boxes, but this is one in the north part of town that is constructed in different colored brick. The street these cars are on is Noordeinde and the  intersecting street is Wateringsevest.
The stop bar extends along the bike lane (mistake?) 

Left turn queue box for people on Wateringsevest turning to the north

Add caption

Delft Bicycle Parking Garage

Delft recently reconstructed its train station. The train station was a lovely old building, dating from 1847 and rebuilt this past year (2015). The parking for 8,700 bicycles includes 5,000 underground immediately south of the train station.
Start of the bike path to the underground parking

The project included a 2.3 km tunnel under the city center includes a wonderful bike connection. The bike connection is on the east side adjacent to a canal and provides grade separation from the east-west crossings and a direct link to the underground bike parking.
Entrance to the parking garage - below grade of the main entrance but
closer to the train level

The bicycle parking information is fantastic with information available on how many spaces are available in each row of parking. In a garage with 5,000 spaces, the Dutch use numbering to help you remember where you parked your bike.

The number 2 is shown below (not quite as clear as the Utrecht garage) and this is the parking for oversized bikes including bakfiets.

Real-time train information is available adjacent to the bike racks, so you don't have to look at your phone to know how much time you have before your train is coming.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bio for Peter Koonce - Updated to 2015

I get asked to speak at various events and I often have to search for introductory information on who is Peter Koonce? Here's what I am using currently, you can find past biographical sketches from earlier editions on this blog.

Peter Koonce, P.E., has been described as one of the most progressive transportation engineers in the United States, dedicating his life to innovative treatments that improve the safety of multimodal travel. He manages the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation's Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS Division and is responsible for the oversight of an annual budget in excess of $13 Million and 43 professionals. He has served as an adjunct professor at Portland State University teaching graduate level courses in transportation engineering. He is a member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and was appointed Chair of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Traffic Signal Systems. Peter is active with multiple professional societies including Institute of Transportation Engineers, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. He has served on several University Advisory Boards related to transportation engineering and is in his first year as a Board Member of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Media Quoting What I said in a Webinar

I have been asked to speak for professional society webinars on occasion in the past several years. One of the recent webinars was for the Association for Pedestrian Bicycle Professionals on the topic of Level of Service and how engineers are (the industry) using performance measures (past, present, and future). It was a topic I have covered in several lectures. What was unique from this particular experience was that a reporter from Minn Post took the language I used during the webinar and made it seem as if I was talking to him in the piece he did for the web.  As a reader of the piece, when the author uses quotes, I immediately think that the writer talked to the source directly. Yet, we didn't have any conversation I can recall.  He did set up that we didn't really talk when he said the following: "As Peter Koonce, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, explained during the session,"

The article even had a bit of a misleading headline:
"The way engineers rate city streets is rapidly evolving. That's a good thing."

I wouldn't necessarily agree that the performance measures are "rapidly evolving" sadly enough.

The article was flattering but it makes me wonder if it is a cautionary tale to be more mindful of what opinions are shared in "public" settings like webinars.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Clearance Intervals: How Long should a Yellow and Red be?

I have been studying this issue for what seems like half my career, both as the Principal Investigator for the Federal Highway Administration's Signal Timing Manual and as a practitioner who has worked all across the country from Seattle, WA to Lee County, FL and now is responsible for a City traffic signal system. Safety is the first goal with signal timing. As a consultant, I didn't always appreciate that but now as someone responsibly in charge of traffic signal timing, that is clear to me.
The operative question is this: Do higher speeds and longer clearance intervals improve safety of the transportation system?

In a complex urban environment with multimodal travel, the answer appears to be No. Safety is drastically influenced by driver behavior and the built environment and controlling speeds is difficult. This most recent article that came to my attention highlights some of the challenges that I experienced in Florida working in the many high speed streets of southwest Florida  and while this article focuses on the safety of bicycling, it is a reminder of the challenges given an 85th percentile speed limit setting and what that can do when serving multimodal transportation.On the flip side, downtown Portland (I am sure many of you have similar experiences) is an example where all modes converge and generally speaking on average the safety record is better than average. Our statutory speed limit  is 25 MPH, but the built environment manages speeds even lower than that for the most part. In fact, most dense urban areas are safer because of this fact.

But back to the topic at hand (clearance intervals). The research I point to most about this topic (and cited in the Signal Timing Manual) was completed for the Minnesota DOT. The document entitled: "Effectiveness of All-Red Clearance Interval on Intersection Crashes" focuses on All Red Intervals and the long term effects of changing them. I encourage folks to read it as they consider the NCHRP 731 research. The research exposes the harmful effect of increasing all red times over the long term. Much of the research focuses on short term effects (increasing the yellow and studying it a day or two later shows positive safety benefits), which doesn't account for changing driver behavior. I believe Florida DOT experienced similar changes in driver behavior given the long clearance intervals being used on their high speed, wide arterials cited in the aforementioned News Press article about safety in Florida communities.

We should also consider what the changing technology landscape presents in terms of opportunities for increasing safety. A Connected Vehicle/Traffic Signal world presents some amazing opportunities where an increased clearance interval will unnecessarily reduce the efficiency of an intersection. These are exciting times.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sub/Urban & Transportation Related Songs

I love the song Shop Vac is song by Jonathan Coulton because it starts with "We took the freeway out of town" and laments about the need for a left turn signal to get to a Starbucks. Any song that can incorporate a traffic signal reference is okay with me.

An old school tune that's more urban is Stevie Wonder's Living for the City. Stevie Wonder is one of the most amazing artists.

Obviously, if you're talking suburban songs, you have to hand it to Rockin the Suburbs by Ben Folds. You know it's a parity when Weird Al Yankovic makes an appearance in the video. Ben Folds touches on racial tension and equity with a mention of "white boy pain" and about his grandparents and slavery, which is followed by a line of "y'all don't know what it's like, being male, middle class, and white". Of course, the guitar rifs are pretty fantastic. The fact that they mention pulling up to the stop light is pretty awesome.

Another couple of funny songs that came out that parody new urban places are Whole Foods Parking Lot and the Arlington: The Rap. These aren't great songs, but make me laugh because they seem inspired by places that people can relate to.

The Talking Heads is a band that must have been urban planners in another life. Road to Nowhere is a great song with the lyrics: "There's a City in my mind, C'mon and take that ride  and it's alright, baby it's alright. And it's very far away, but it's growing day by day".

While we are on the Talking Heads, it would be a share if I didn't mention Once in a Lifetime, with the lyrics "You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile..."  might have been the first time I thought about traffic and transportation with a cool soundtrack. My other favorite lyric is "You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to, you may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong, you may say to yourself, My God, what have I done?"

The band Arcade Fire sang The Suburbs and the video is not a happy story, but you have to like a song when the lyrics start with:
"In the suburbs I, I learned to drive, And you told me we'd never survive, Grab your mother's keys we're leaving"

It wouldn't be a song list from me, if I didn't include one of my favorite artists, Randy Newman. The song Baltimore laments the challenges of a City and is less about transportation, but certainly put next to Stevie Wonder's Living in the City, you can recall a bit about what cities were like in the 1970s.

Of course, you have to make the connection between Land Use and Transportation, so you have to highlight some walking, biking and car songs.

I Can't Drive 55 is a classic, but as a multimodal guy, I prefer Walk of Life and the sports bloopers and celebrations that are one of the reasons I enjoy sports.

Way before they were viable, They Might Be Giants were singing about the joys of an Electric Car.

Let's not forget about our friends that are Truckin'

Bicycle Race is the best biking song in the history of music. I had no idea the video was nude women actually racing bicycles. This is >PG-13.

Handlebars by the Flobots has a great chorus of: "I can ride my bike with no Handlebars, no Handlebars" and finally, the Red Hot Chili Peppers Bicycle Song  where they say: "how could I forget to mention, the bicycle is a good invention".

And one more bike song I have heard on the KBOO Bike Show is from Mark Ronson called The Bike Song. "gonna ride my bike until I get home".

Lastly, is one more parody about transit titled the Metro Song.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Power & Importance of Research #TRBAM

I blame graduate school and the internet (yes, that was new way back then) for the excitement I have for the research of transportation. I spent a lot of time during my time at Texas A&M and Texas Transportation Institute learning as much as I could on various topics that would help me be an effective engineer and leader in the future.  All of the time in Texas, I was fortunate to have access to not only the internet, but also many of the researchers who had contributed to our knowledge in the industry.

As I think about research, it truly is an essential part of transportation in many ways. The innovation that comes not only from research but by collaboration that happens at the annual TRB meeting results in leads to development and application of new processes and materials for an effectively functioning system. It is through research that the issues as defined by our political leaders and transportation practitioners can be addressed with limited resources.

The USDOT Research Plan says the following: Funding research is an investment that pays off through the application of concepts that are proven, via research, to be effective, resulting in a more efficient, durable, and convenient national transportation system.  

I appreciate that statement and support it's content, but also think that there was a key. Essays of safety missed in the content. Fortunately, safety is a big part of the document an at the front of much of the work that we do.

Comments from Professionals Against Changing the MUTCD

This post was inspired by how complicated it can be to modify a standard sign. The specific sign is shown below and is the Right Turn Yield to Pedestrians Sign.

There was significant debate on a seemingly simple topic of adding a bicycle symbol to a sign that previously had a walking person as the only option.  
There were 40 comments from across the country that included some fairly concerning perspectives that border on unprofessional. One comment that I am willing to talk about includes that by adding a bicycle symbol to the sign, "there is an impact to pedestrian travel". In other words, the simple placement of a bicycle on the sign would somehow degrade the pedestrian environment.

The specific comment was: "The R10-15 sign should only be used at intersections where there are no marked crosswalks, because the sign gives the pedestrians short shrift." Clearly the comment was made in a manner that highlights bias from the commenter. I think this reflects the challenge of people working to improve the bicycling and pedestrian environment.

Another thing that the commenters seem to forget is that the sign is optional. Clearly, if their engineering judgment suggests that the sign is not the right one for their conditions, they don't have to use it. In Portland, we have found them helpful and will continue to use them selectively to address locations where travelers may benefit from a reminder of the expectation.

There was also a comment related to "how will people on bicycle know how to use these signs". Luckily on the Committee, the point was made that the sign is not for the people on bicycles, but rather for oncoming vehicles that could use the information explicitly.

TRB Annual Meeting 2015 papers

I am always proud of the range of work that I can be involved in to advance the profession. The following is the abstract of each paper I had a small part in. I am very lucky to work with such smart people working to improve the transportation industry.

Assessment of Bicyclist Behavior at Traffic Signals with Detector Confirmation Feedback Device - 15-3409
Boudart, Jesse Alexander; Koonce, Peter J .V.
Monday, 07:30 PM - 09:30 PM
Bicycling is increasing in North America and therefore intersections have been modified to better accommodate these new cyclists. However, the increasing demand of cycling is outpacing the supply of high quality cycling markings, signing, signals, and general infrastructure at intersections. For example, recent research indicates more than 50% of bicyclists do not understand that the 9C-7 bicycle stencil symbol indicates the optimal waiting position for a cyclist to call a green light. Subsequently, people on bikes may run red lights because they don’t understand the feedback of a 9C-7 pavement marking. This cycling infrastructure shortcoming illustrates the need to study how new roadway information may impact user behavior and traffic signal compliance. This research documents the impacts of an active feedback device on cyclist behavior in an effort to improve the cycling experience for the increasing number of cyclists. A blue light feedback device was installed at a signalized intersection approach and its impact on bicyclist behavior, indicating that a statistically significant increase of people on bikes used the 9C-7 marking instead of the existing bicycle push button after installation of the blue light feedback device and especially after a sandwich board sign was installed describing the purpose of the blue light. These results indicate a blue light feedback device (accompanied with bicycle detection and the standard marking) could be used effectively in lieu of bicycle push buttons. Also, the impact of the blue light feedback device on bicyclist compliance with traffic signals (red light runners) was negligible.

Exploring Thresholds for Timing Strategies on a Pedestrian Active Corridor - 15-3025
Kothuri, Sirisha Murthy; Koonce, Peter J .V.; Monsere, Christopher M.; Reynolds, Titus 
Traditional signal timing policies have typically prioritized vehicles over pedestrians at intersections, leading to undesirable consequences such as large delays and risky crossing behaviors. The objective of this paper is to explore signal timing control strategies to reduce pedestrian delay at signalized intersections. The impacts of change in signal controller mode of operation (coordinated vs. free) at intersections were studied using the micro-simulation software VISSIM. A base model was developed and calibrated for an existing pedestrian active corridor. The base model of three intersections was used to explore the effects of mode of operation and measures of delay for pedestrians and all users. From a pedestrian perspective, free operation was found to be more beneficial due to lower delays. However, from a system wide (all user) perspective, coordinated operation showed the greatest benefits with lowest system delay under heavy traffic conditions (v/c > 0.7). In the off-peak conditions when traffic volumes are lower, free operation resulted in lowest system delay (v/c < 0.7). During coordination, lower cycle lengths were beneficial for pedestrians, due to smaller delays. The results revealed that volume to capacity (v/c) ratios for the major street volumes coupled with pedestrian actuation frequency for the side street phases, could be used to determine the signal controller mode of operation that produces the lowest system delay. The results were used to create a guidance matrix for controller mode based on pedestrian and vehicle volumes. To demonstrate application, the matrix is applied to another corridor in a case study approach.

 Estimating Performance of Traffic Signals based on Link Travel Times - 15-3371
So, Jaehyun ; Stevanovic, Aleksandar ; Koonce, Peter J .V.
Tuesday, 07:30 PM - 09:30
Recent advances in communication and computing technologies made travel time measurements available more than ever before. On urban signalized arterials, travel times are strongly influenced by traffic signals. Yet, these travel times are rarely used to deduce information about performance of the signals. This study presents a novel method, based on well-known principles, to estimate performance of traffic signals (or more precisely their major through movements) based on travel time measurements. The travel times are collected between signals in the field, by using one of the point-to-point travel time measurement technologies. Closed-circuit television cameras and signal databases are used to collect traffic demand and signal timings, respectively. Then, Volume/Capacity ratio of major movement of the downstream signal is computed based on the demand and signal timings. This Volume/Capacity ratio is then correlated with the travel times on the relevant intersection approach. The best volume-delay function is found, among many, to fit the field data. This volume-delay function is then used to estimate Volume/Capacity ratios and, indirectly, few other signal performance metrics. The method, called Travel Time based Signal Performance Measurements, is automated and displayed on a Google Map. The findings show that the proposed method is accurate and robust enough to provide necessary information about signal performance. A newly developed volume-delay function is found to work just slightly better than the Bureau of Public Roads curve. Several issues, which may reduce the accuracy of the proposed method, are identified and their fixes are proposed in future research.

G06 - Does the Bicycle Detector Symbol Change Cyclist Queuing Position at Signalized Intersections? - 15-2501
Bussey, Stefan W; Monsere, Christopher M.; Koonce, Peter J .V.
Tuesday, 10:45 AM - 12:30 PM
The Manual of Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) includes a bicycle detector pavement marking (Section 9C-05) and accompanying explanatory sign (R10-22) which may encourage cyclists to position themselves over detection at traffic signals. This paper presents the results of an observational and survey-based study evaluating the bicycle detector marking. Three minor actuated approaches at signalized intersections with significant bicycle volumes and without bicycle detector markings were selected for treatment. Three configurations were compared: 1) bicycle detector marking only 2) bicycle detector marking with the R10-22 explanatory sign, and 3) an alternative bicycle detector installed over a contrasting green rectangle. Analysis of 688 observations, gleaned from over 300 hours of before and after video data, indicate that while all three marking options influence cyclist stopping position, the effect of the marking is not large. For the marking only, 23.5% of cyclists waited over the space where the marking was installed. This improves to 34.8% with the addition of the explanatory sign and 48.4% when the marking is applied over the green rectangle. Analysis of survey responses of 227 cyclists indicates that only 45.4% of cyclists understand the roadway marking is meant to show where they should wait to be detected. An additional 11.5% understand that the marking indicates the recommended waiting location, but do not know that it is for the purpose of detection. Finally, survey respondents expressed concern about waiting in the travel lane and preference to wait closer to the curb (a position which usually prevents them detected).

Friday, January 9, 2015

NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee Reviews Two Stage Queue Box

The first day of meetings of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Committee started off in the afternoon with a discussion about the comments that were received on new sections proposed for a future Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (scheduled now for 2017). This effort is part of the review to vet the materials that are new to the MUTCD. 

It's worth describing some of the practices of the Committee and to critique how it might be better. A criticism to make the time more productive is to invite presentations of research to address the comments and to inform the Technical Committee. Presentation of research prior to the conversation to the members would increase the expertise around the table. 

Most of what goes into the Manual in the Bicycle Section is based on the best information available from the people around the table at the meeting. What NACTO was able to do was to gather information from engaged stakeholders without requiring specific travel to finish the document. A face to face review of the materials would have made it better, but if you have people engaged in the process and it is participatory, it can be very powerful (Wikipedia comes to mind as a pretty darn successful model).  At the NCUTCD there is a certain amount of discussion around the table of whether the participants know of new treatments and whether they have "worked" or not.  Portland is often cited as an example where these new treatments has been applied and there are times when the professionals in the room are not familiar with the information other than having the comments and the original discussion about how they have been written for the Chapter and some limited knowledge of how these treatments have been applied.  

There was some criticism of NACTO in that there isn't a full vetting process of some of the treatments in their documents, i.e. the general public has not had a chance to comment. The reality of the work in the Urban Bikeway Design Guide is that is that is a collection of work and practices implemented in major cities that are not represented on the National Committee of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and since it is not a standard, it's a collection of practices. NACTO uses the MUTCD concepts of options, "standards", etc.  The examples below are not uniform, but the pieces are largely similar. Uniformity at lower speeds is less necessary in my perspective and a discussion of the potential to confuse motorists has not been demonstrated in research. 

Examples of Two Stage Queue Boxes (NACTO City submissions)

In summary, the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide highlights specific treatments and examples that provide information about how two stage queue boxes have been applied. Submissions by City staff involved in NACTO although not fully vetted through research, is informed by practice. A professional could argue that City staff are as knowledgeable about the effectiveness of their treatments as researchers that study the treatments for a few days in a more comprehensive way at sites in order to get a statistically valid sample. Yet, there are criticisms of that approach as well and while the NACTO guidance is not vetted in the classic research sense, the authors are familiar with the applications and the practical experience is used to adjust the treatments to make them effective based on customer complaints. 

One of the other challenges of the NCUTCD group is that the technical committees meet separately so the entire Signals Committee rarely talks to the Bicycle Technical Committee nor the Roadway Markings Committee, etc. If the National Committee is to continue to be the national experts on traffic control devices, the group has to do a better job of: getting research presented as a part of the consideration of new devices, exploring treatments that are being implemented in the field, cross training NCUTCD members on context sensitive design, and advocate for increased funding for research that identifies innovative techniques to move people safely in urban areas.