Skip to content

Posts from the "Road Design" Category

8 Comments

Foxx: New U.S. DOT Bike/Ped Initiative “Critical to Future of the Country”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just announced to the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that the department is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” He said the initiative “is critical to the future of the country.”

Photo: Wikipedia

The top priority, he said, will be closing gaps in walking and biking networks where “even if people are following the rules, the risk of a crash is too high.” He said dangerous street conditions are especially severe in low-income communities, where pedestrians are killed at twice the rate as in high-income areas, often because they lack sidewalks, lighting, and safe places to cross the street. He noted that when he was mayor of Charlotte, a child was hit by a driver because the road he was walking on with his mother had no sidewalk, and overgrown bushes pushed them into the street.

In its announcement today, U.S. DOT noted that pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been rising faster than overall traffic fatalities since 2009.

As Foxx often mentions when discussing street safety issues, he himself has been the victim of a crash. He was hit by a right-turning driver while jogging one morning during his first term as mayor.

As part of the initiative, U.S. DOT just wrapped up bike/ped assessments in Boston, Fort Worth, and Lansing, Michigan. They’ll be leading similar assessments in every state in the country.

Without going into detail, Foxx also said the department plans “to re-examine our policies and practices that without intending to do so have occasionally resulted in road designs that shut out people on foot and on bicycle.” Certainly, there is a wide variety of federal transportation policies and practices that warrant examination on that front.

Read more…

13 Comments

Moving Cars vs. Investing in Places — The Struggle for American Cities

milwaukee_I94

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to jam an even bigger version of I-94 through the Story Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are brawling in the press over a proposed highway project — a fight that exemplifies the enormous rift in America about what transportation policy should accomplish.

Walker still thinks about transportation projects the same way the interstate planners of the 1950s thought about them. In his view, the economy depends on moving cars and trucks.

So naturally, Walker insists on plowing a $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee. Among the options on the table is a proposal to double-deck a portion of the highway through a densely populated neighborhood. According to Walker and the state DOT, spending a ton of money to stack highway lanes on top of highway lanes is a practical solution to aid the economy in this barely growing metro area.

“I think the last thing you want to do is have employers look to go bypass the city of Milwaukee when they’re talking about jobs and commerce here,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So you’ve got to make sure there’s a good transportation system.”

One person who disagrees vehemently is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In this case, Barrett represents a very different school of thought about transportation and planning — he thinks investing in places, not traffic movement, will make his city better off.

Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he’s “mystified” by Walker’s refusal to pull the double-decker option off the table. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the additional highway deck, which would have a “negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives” of residents of the Story Hill neighborhood.

Admittedly, there’s more going on here than contentious views about transportation. Walker and Barrett are political rivals who’ve faced off twice for the governor’s chair. But in many ways they embody the broader debate about American transportation policy — the tug of war between the Eisenhower-era mentality of moving traffic at all costs, and the seemingly ascendant notion that public wellbeing depends on transportation decisions that make places healthy and economically strong.

Read more…

15 Comments

The Street Ballet of a Bike Lane Behind a Transit Stop

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Why don’t more cities escape the curse of bus-bike leap-frogging by putting bike lanes between transit platforms and sidewalks?

Though “floating bus stops” and similar designs are being used in many cities, others have avoided doing so, sometimes out of concern that people will be injured in collisions with bikes while they walk between platform and sidewalk.

But is this actually a thing that happens? An intersection in San Francisco that uses a similar design seems to be working just fine.

The annotated video above shows one minute of the self-regulating sidewalk ballet.

Seleta Reyolds, the San Francisco Municipal Transportaiton Agency’s section leader for livable streets, calls the corner of Duboce Avenue and Church Street “a great example of how to design for transit-bike interaction.”

Though it’s only been open since June 2012 and hasn’t worked its way into the city’s official collision records yet, Reynolds said she couldn’t find any record of a complaint arising from the intersection.

A few details worth noting:

  • This block is unusual in that it’s closed to cars in the same direction, even on the other side of the transit stop. This removes any risk of right hooks due to limited visibility, an issue that other such designs must handle differently.
  • The relatively narrow bikeway here, with a curb on each side and a flat grade, prompts people to move at manageable speeds. This wouldn’t work as well on a slope.
  • There is no fence here between platform and bike lane. This gives people maximum visibility and maximum flexibility as they negotiate past each other.

A key lesson here is that what’s often true of car traffic — that the safest designs are the ones that avoid as many potential conflicts as possible — is not true for people on bikes and foot. In pedestrianized areas (a British study of 21 such spots turned up exactly one bicycle-related collision in 15 years) people are very good at negotiating around one another. Sometimes, we can all just get along.

Video shot by Charly Nelson. You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

22 Comments

Mapping How Far You Can Bike Without Breaking a Sweat

Left turn on bike

Stopping to make left turns costs cyclists, like this cargo bike rider in Toronto, considerable energy. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Any bicyclist knows that maps can be quite deceiving at first glance. The first time I tried to traverse San Francisco on a bicycle, I foolishly set out from the bike-rental shop on Fisherman’s Wharf with a basic street map, and decided that I’d avoid downtown traffic by heading south across the grid. While I was correct that the city’s connected street grid offered many direct routes, I neglected to notice the huge ridge of Pacific Heights looming directly ahead, or the numerous full-stop intersections along the way that would further sap my momentum.

University of Maryland professor Hiro Iseki also appreciates how a substantial climb can turn a pleasant ride into a hard slog. On his bike commute, “one last segment of University Boulevard, on the west side of the campus, is the hardest part for me — not just because of the slope, but because of the traffic.” Together with former graduate student Matthew Tingstrom, who first suggested the topic in a class, Iseki has used GIS analysis to analyze how overlapping factors might affect how far bicyclists are willing to travel. These maps can identify routes and destinations that require a similar amount of effort to cycle to, and offer an opportunity to find routes that won’t leave cyclists drenched with sweat.

Planners define a “bikeshed” as the area that’s easily bikeable from a given place, similar to how a watershed is the area from which water flows to a given place. Defining the parameters of “easily bikeable” can take into account many different and overlapping factors. The “travel impedance” factors that Iseki has overlapped include distance, terrain, and street connectivity. Many available mapping applications measure distance, like Walk Score, and some also measure vertical distances, like GoBikeBoulder or MapMyRide, but few have quantified connectivity’s impact on travel routes.

Interestingly, both terrain and connectivity can both help and hinder how far a bicyclist might travel. For every downhill, there’s an equivalent uphill; meanwhile, greater connectivity decreases distances between points, but also introduces more intersections. Iseki says that on balance, street connectivity is great for bikeability, “but at the same time riders have to stop at intersections.” He said that he “was curious about how stopping at intersections impacts the energy assumptions, which could potentially influence the way that people get around.”

Read more…

1 Comment

What To Do When Main Street Is Also a State Highway

Like thousands of small towns across America, Jena, Louisiana’s main street is also a federal highway: U.S. 84. That’s actually been a positive thing overall for this town of about 3,000, which relies on passers-by for business. Until recently, U.S. 84 was simply a two-lane road through Jena’s historic downtown, indistinguishable from any other road, design-wise.

Main street in Jena. Louisiana is also known as US 84. Image: ##http://jenalouisiana.net/historicdowntowntour.html## Jena, Louisiana##

The main street in Jena, Louisiana, is also known as U.S. 84. Photo: Town of Jena

But following Hurricane Katrina, U.S. 84 was to be widened; the road was among those targeted as an evacuation route from New Orleans. Little downtown Jena was right in the path.

Main streets that are also state or federal highways pose special challenges. The key to maintaining a functioning road for the community is to understand that main streets are places, in addition to thoroughfares, says Jim Charlier of transportation planning firm Charlier Associates. Charlier led a webinar on the topic this week with the Sonoran Institute.

“Why is it so hard when your main street is a state highway,” he said. “The state highway function starts to take precedent over the main street function.”

Charlier and his associate, Vickie Jacobsen, had some advice for communities in this position. It’s important to consider the unique conditions of every town in a road design, they said, but there are key hallmarks of successful main streets.

The most important ingredient in a main street, says Jacobsen, is on-street parking. “It is a critical aspect,” she said. “It has a role in how fast traffic moves through. The activity that happens in that lane slows traffic down.”

If there’s no street parking, businesses will start to supply it next to their buildings. Which leads to the second most important ingredient of a successful main street: few to no curb cuts. “Adding multiple driveways immediately erodes the ability for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate the area,” Jacobsen said. “It makes it a much more car-oriented street.”

Read more…

3 Comments

Flint’s Ingenious Plan to “Right-Size” Its Streets With Road Diets

Flint, Michigan, is probably best known as the poster child for population loss and de-industrialization, as captured in the Michael Moore movie, “Roger and Me.”

The Saginaw Street road diet and walkability improvements have made downtown Flint increasingly attractive to business. Image: Detroit Free Press

Though this town of about 100,000 has never fully recovered from the loss of 30,000 General Motors jobs that was the subject of that film, Flint is becoming known for its innovative strategies dealing with population loss. Flint’s Genesee County Land Bank is a model for other post-industrial cities throughout the country.

Here’s one innovative new idea out of Flint that was a long-time coming and should be emulated in cities across the Rust Belt. Flint is planning to reduce excess vehicle capacity on its streets by implementing road diets that make room for walking and biking. Road diets “are central” to the city’s in-progress regional plan, known as Imagine Flint, according to a recent report by the Detroit Free Press. Imagine Flint is funded through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Program (a grant program which Congress has since de-funded).

Other “shrinking cities,” like Youngstown, Ohio, have tinkered with ideas for reducing the size of their built transportation infrastructure. Youngstown’s talked-about proposal was to actually tear out underused streets, a plan that has proved more viable on paper than in practice.

Flint Chief Planner Megan Hunter told Streetsblog that because the city has lost so much of its population, its overly wide streets are often empty. Some streets in Flint were designed just to speed workers from auto plants out to the suburbs.

“When you have kind of a free-of-traffic, very wide roadway, the tendency is to treat it like a dragway,” Hunter said. “Road diets tend to increase pedestrian safety and vehicular safety as well.”

Read more…

9 Comments

“Bikes vs Cars” Director Fredrik Gertten Sets Out to Expose the Car Lobby

Films like Fast Food Nation and Gasland introduced critiques of the food industry and fracking to a broad audience. But as of yet, the active transportation movement has lacked a full-length documentary feature that screens widely in theaters or goes viral on Netflix.

Fredrik Gertten, a Swedish filmmaker with multiple full-length documentaries under his belt, hopes his film Bikes vs Cars — trailer above — just could be that film. Gertten was the co-producer on the 2010 Oscar nominated documentary, Burma VJ, about protests against the military regime in Burma. In addition, Gertten directed Bananas!, which told the story of a class-action lawsuit by Banana workers from Nicaragua against the Dole Food Company. The film prompted Dole, one of the world’s largest food companies, to sue Gertten for defamation. The lawsuit is the subject of his more-recent film, Big Boys Gone Bananas! (Gertten ultimately won.)

Now, Gertten is trying to raise $50,000 before November 1 via Kickstarter to make a film focusing on the global bike movement. So far, it has brought in more than $24,000 in pledges. I caught up with him by Skype recently to learn more about the project:

Angie Schmitt: So I think the trailer sort of nails it. Can you tell us more about why you’re trying to raise this money?

Fredrik Gertten: My last film opened at Sundance and we’ve been playing at all the major festivals, so we have the ability to make a big splash if we do it well. At the same time we, as anybody else in this world, have to fight for survival. It’s complicated when you talk about arts. Both my last films have played in 80 countries and every single state in the U.S.

Documentaries now, is a very strong genre and so they really reach out. We are kind of stuck we have like 50 percent finances. We need a Kickstarter to get moving again.

AS: What’s going to be the gist of the film?

FG: I read a survey about young people, what their biggest worries were, and they were all about climate change. I mean so much that they had pains in their stomach every week. And at the same time the [auto] industry is rolling like nothing ever happened. I mean in Europe and the United States car sales aren’t going up anymore, but in the rest of the world … I’m kind of interested in the mechanisms that make us not change when we know that we should change.

Read more…

19 Comments

NACTO Urban Street Design Guide Sets Out to Change the DNA of Our Cities

Innovative street designs like this low-cost pedestrian plaza in lower Manhattan can provide more space for people and protect them from vehicle traffic. Photo: NACTO

In a direct challenge to the long-standing authority of state DOTs to determine how transportation infrastructure gets designed, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) yesterday launched its Urban Street Design Guide.

NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide has already empowered cities around the country to embrace protected bike lanes and other innovative designs that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has shied away from in its engineering bible, known as the “green book.” The Federal Highway Administration has even endorsed NACTO’s guide, and the agency is currently drafting its own bicycle facilities guidance, which will likely fall somewhere in between.

The Street Design Guide goes much further, giving engineering guidance on everything from crosswalks (zebra-striped, please, for greater visibility) to parklets (go ahead, usurp a few parking spots!) and from contra-flow bus lanes (bicycles optional) to slow zones (speed humps, tables, and cushions). As NYC DOT Commissioner and NACTO President Janette Sadik-Khan said, it’s a new DNA for city streets.

Those are treatments you won’t find in AASHTO’s green book. “Most of the design guidance that we work with on the city side is really targeted toward suburban areas and rural areas and is not really designed to meet the challenges of our streets,” Sadik-Khan told a standing-room-only crowd last night at the Newseum in Washington, DC. “So many things have changed in 50 years, but our streets haven’t, and our design guidance certainly hasn’t.”

Read more…

No Comments

FHWA Endorses Engineering Guide for Walkable Urban Streets

A new engineering guide gives transportation professionals design standards tailored for urban streets. Image: CNU.org

Urban streets serve a much different purpose than rural ones: They’re for walking, socializing, and local commerce, not just moving vehicles. Unfortunately, American engineering guides tend not to capture these nuances.

That can lead to a lot of problems for cities. Wide roads appropriate for rural areas are dangerous and bad for local businesses in an urban setting.

But there’s change on the horizon. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Engineers’ “Green Book,” the so-called bible of transportation engineering, has some new competition specially designed for urban places.

Last month, the Federal Highway Administration gave its stamp of approval to two new engineering guides: the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ bikeway design guide, which features street treatments like protected bike lanes, and Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, designed to help cities build streets that are walkable and safe for all users.

The urban thoroughfares guide, produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Congress for the New Urbanism, is based on the concept of “context sensitive solutions,” which seeks to balance the movement of vehicles with other objectives, like promoting active transportation and fostering retail businesses. Both guides are now recommended by FHWA as companions to AASHTO’s guide.

Jeffrey Tumlin, a consultant with Nelson\Nygaard and an adviser to the development of the urban thoroughfares guide, said the revolutionary thing about it is the engineering guidance about the important ways urban “arterials” differ from rural highways. Problems can arise when the Green Book is applied to cities because it is written by the organization of state DOTs, which are mainly concerned with highway building, not local streets.

“While AASHTO guidelines do accommodate a broad array of street designs, where they are weak is providing designers with information about the way in which local streets are very different,” said Tumlin. “Engineers need more thorough guidance on the ways in which urban arterials are distinct from rural highways and ways in which to design those arterials to prioritize a wide variety of objectives.”

The new ITE guide instructs engineers to “use performance measures that benefit all modes,” and to consider the surrounding area — the character of the community — when designing streets.

Read more…

25 Comments

Study: Too Many Drivers Fail to Look for Pedestrians When Turning Left

Oregon State University’s Driving Simulator, which provides 220 degrees of projection, was used to study drivers' attention to pedestrians while making left turns. Image: OTREC

Drivers turning left are a leading cause of pedestrian crashes in urban areas. Where drivers can only turn left with a green left-turn arrow, pedestrians are more protected. But when drivers are watching oncoming traffic for a chance to make their turn, they tend not to be as vigilant as they should to watch for pedestrians. In fact, 5 to 11 percent of drivers don’t look for pedestrians in the crosswalk at all.

Two Oregon researchers observed people’s behavior and eye movements as they operated a driving simulator to see if they noticed pedestrians. David Hurwitz from Oregon State University and Christopher Monsere from Portland State University found that danger increased with more cars and fewer people walking. There is safety in numbers: The more pedestrians there are, the more drivers pay attention. But if there are more cars, they take up more of the drivers’ attention.

It’s no surprise that drivers’ attention is compromised when they have to watch oncoming traffic for a chance to turn. One solution is to prohibit left turns except with a green arrow — a “protected” left — instead of letting drivers pick their own moment with a “permissive” left turn signal — a circular green or flashing yellow, for example.

Michael Ronkin, a former Oregon DOT bike/ped coordinator who now lives in Europe, said “permissive [non-dedicated] left-turns are extremely rare in urban environments” there, with far better pedestrian safety as a result. “[The] clear message in the U.S. [is that] moving cars is more important than protecting people not in cars,” he said.

Pedestrian advocates also favor a signal phase exclusively for people on foot, such as a Barnes dance, where pedestrians can cross in all directions, even diagonally, and all traffic is stopped.

But are dedicated signals the solution?

Read more…