Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From EcoVelo: A Video, and a discussion from me

This was posted up on Ecovelo today, and I thought it worth a mention:

Once you have watched it, and/or taken a look at the comments on the Ecovelo post on this video come on back, I do want to think some more on what this brings up, in terms of design.

Now I am a huge proponent of separated infrastructure when speeds are higher than 15/20mph. For the Dutch, this typically means no separation in residential areas, and perhaps in city centers as well (although these are typically ped/bike only with deliveries at odd hours). This has provided for a huge cycling rate, the highest(overall) rate in the world(something over 30% I think now, some cities top out over 50 if there is a college). They are the only ones that have achieved this rate through effort(China/India have high rates through poverty and need, typically) and thus they are a good model to use if we wish to see cycling as a significant transportation mode-share.

This poses interesting challenges in terms of our cities here in the US. The population of the entire Dutch country (~16 million) is less than that of New York City(~19 million) for example. It is hard to find space to allocate to the majority of road users in NYC(ped/bicycle) without stepping on somebody's toes, and the car/taxi lobby is quite loud when it comes to stepping on toes.

So what can we do?

In many cases the ability to have a good separated lane is critical, we need it, to encourage new bicycle users to come to the street, and to narrow the space for cars (thus reducing traffic and through speeds) this is good, and for the most part we can do that in blocks, yes there are pedestrians and yes there are loading issues, still a problem, but I feel that that kind of problem can be solved by working with delivery times and positions, and making sure pedestrians know that there is a bicycle route next to the sidewalk, and it is not for them to go into(that should become apparent as more cyclists use it every day, people wouldn't have a chance to step in it for fear of being run over every 5 seconds).

Providing ample space to pedestrians so they do not use the bicycle lane as extra sidewalk is also critical to this design. Yes this means less road space, but often lanes can be re-stripped down to the minimum MUTCD standards and a couple feet for either side can be added to the curb(or get rid of parking along one side, or remove a travel lane, or make it one way...). The main point being, the designers we have now can figure out how to squeeze an ok separate lane into the built environment, its not perfect, but it can be done and it can be done safely in many places.

The big deal is at intersections(and noted in the video). For the Dutch, many intersections are round-a-bouts with wide spaces around them to provide for proper building of separated facilities.(example ped/bike/car, example bike/car, example bike bypass Either that or they are very small and it is in a shared use space, thus no need for separation in the first place. (example)

The crossings are not right at the entrance/exit to the roundabout, but typically at least 1 car length back from where one would enter the actual round-a-bout (typically 2 car lengths with newer designs). This means you interact with ped/cyclists at the start or at the end, not at the same time as other cars, as you travel through the round-a-bout, you as a user of the space can focus on one element at a time, not everything at once (as in a typical urban intersection).

Intersections are a different story. If you have spent times zooming around the Netherlands via the wonders of Google, you will notice that no intersection is exactly the same as the other, each is fit into the specific environment of that situation, or designed to meet the perceived development opportunities for each site (in fact you don't typically find many major road intersections). This is a note for any type of interaction between multiple transportation options (ped, bike, bus, car, tram etc)

For a typical 4 way intersection there are a couple options, depending on traffic and size of road/speed. Really we are just interested in city/urban intersections. In Assen, these are actually few and far between, other than the low speed shared road intersections. Here is one Example though. Pedestrians are combined with cyclists, but have their own area crossing the intersection and have their own lights. Any disable persons can use the bicycle crossing, or the ped crossing, as curb cuts are provided. Walk buttons are provided on all 4 signals to cross this one part of the intersection, there is a resting area in the middle, in case you move slower than the full crossing lights(as a ped). Typically ped and bicycle lights for the whole intersection would go at once, and no turns would be allowed onto this road while bicycles and peds are moving. Either lights are timed at different speeds, a ped pressing the bicycle light will find they might be stuck halfway across.

This intersection appears to not have a loop detector for bicycles, but does have a button, and these do respond to cyclists and often one push will shortly stop all other traffic and allow the cyclist to cross. In many cases intersections have both(loop and button).

In some cases a loop detector is placed further back from the intersection so that a cyclist, moving at typical 10mph will reach the intersection as their bicycle light turns green. Other places it is always green for bicycles unless a car comes and triggers the car detector loop, in which case the bicycle light will turn back to green shortly. Yet other places the bicycle lights are triggered to give cyclists a "green wave" to allow for ease of movement and convenience at 10mph(or designated speed). Left or right turns on red are only allowed in special circumstances, and sometimes these turning options have their own separate interaction with cyclists(even at a round-a-bout)

If the road has many driveways or entrances or has deliveries, and there is no room for a separate infrastructure, what the Dutch have done is lower the speed, or remove through traffic alltogether. (Example area)

Here there is a road on the left that has parking and a "door zone" cycle lane with two traffic lanes (what we typically see here in the US). This is a lower speed road, maybe 25/30kph max, and the bicycle lane is dashed to allow for cyclists to move as safety dictates.

The road to the right (which google has gone down, but technically really should not have unless it was during delivery times...) is a bicycles only in the center, and pedestrians to the side (although at low speeds for bicycles it is not critical to separate (example) (again this must have been done on a Saturday/Sunday morning, due to lack of ped/bike traffic and amount of truck/delivery traffic when viewed at streetview)

Even when looking at more of a grid pattern, such as in Groningen to the North, many streets are ped/bike only and limited car traffic, very low speed shared space, or even along a main higher car traffic/bus route road, the intersecting roads are one of the above types, with "give way" markings along the road as designation. (Example)

Yes grids are wonderful, but we need to do more than just build a European style cycle track along the uninterrupted roads, or build it and do nothing about side streets. The Dutch have shown that intersections are terribly important, and the most important to get right. Many deaths/injuries in NYC are at intersections, such that it is safer to jaywalk mid-block than cross at the intersection (in terms of likelihood of injury) to make a point.

What we need to do is start making side streets bike/ped only, or limit car/truck access to only deliveries, or certain hours, or make one way(with bi-directional cycle paths). We need to close off streets and narrow others. By moving the traffic from these side streets to designated larger arterial roads, we have more options in terms of planning and redesigning the intersection, there is simply more room to do it right. Space is always a problem, and will be when retrofitting a city, but it is true, if there is a will, there is a way. Yes the US is uniquely different from Europe, but many things they have done can be adapted here and made to work just as well. All it takes is knowledge/understanding of the issues, creative thought, and a will.

Much of the Netherlands was as we are today in the late 60's, it took concentrated and sustained effort to be where they are now, many lessons were learnt and designs improved. We have the chance to use some of the best and well tested designs out there, if we simply open our eyes.

We can make American more bicycle friendly, even a city the size of NYC, or car choked as LA.

Yes there will be issues with urban hipsters speeding along on fixed gears, grandmas on old cruisers, business men in Lycra commuting to the office, small children or families going to the park etc.

The more types of people we have using a bicycle, the more everybody starts to play along. Yes there are bad apples, they are part of our society, but if the majority is going at 12mph, and a few want to go at 25, and simply cant because there are too many bicycles on the road, well then maybe that is a sacrifice we have to make to allow for more people to choose bicycling as a transportation option

For further study on the Dutch system, please see the wonderful posts by David Hembrow at his blog, hembrow.blogspot.com

for critique. comments, or thoughts please feel free to let me know :)

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