Monday, July 18, 2011

Research Summary

Making the Case for Investment in the Walking Environment
The UK-based organization Living Streets recently released a report that explores the potential benefits of investing in the walking environment. It outlines many of the well-known benefits of improving the pedestrian environment, including increases in physical and mental health, improved mobility for specific groups like children and the elderly, environmental and economic benefits.

Among the report's key points:
  • The most significant measured benefit of investments in the walking environment is improved health from increased physical activity
  • User experience (often referred to as journey ambience) is the second largest benefit
  • All the evidence reviewed of evaluations of walking environments showed positive cost benefit ratios, of up to 37.6
  • investment in the walking environment is likely to be at least, if not better, value for money than other transport projects
Attitudes Towards Red-Light Camera Enforcement in Cities with Camera Programs
The objective of this report, published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, was to obtain information on attitudes and experiences related to red light camera enforcement in cities with camera programs, as well as in Houston, Texas, where cameras were removed after voters rejected the program in November 2010. Telephone surveys were conducted with 3,111 drivers in 14 large cities (population greater than 200,000) with long-standing red light camera programs and 300 drivers in Houston.
According to the report, among drivers in the 14 cities with red light camera programs, two-thirds favor the use of cameras for red light enforcement, and 42 percent strongly favor it. The chief reasons for opposing cameras were the perceptions that cameras make mistakes and that the motivation for installing them is revenue, not safety.

Forty-one percent of drivers favor using cameras to enforce right-turn-on-red violations. Nearly 9 in 10 drivers were aware of the camera enforcement programs in their cities, and 59 percent of these drivers believe the cameras have made intersections safer.

Almost half of those surveyed knew someone who received a red light camera citation, and 17 percent had received at least one ticket themselves. When compared with drivers in the 14 cities with camera programs, the percentage of drivers in Houston who strongly favored enforcement was about the same (45 percent), but strong opposition was higher in Houston than in the other cities (28 percent versus 18 percent).
An Assessment of Urban Form and Pedestrian and Transit Improvements
A recent study from the Washington State Department of Transportation looked at the impact of various community design strategies on travel and carbon emissions. The study used data from the 2006 PRSC Houshold Activity Survey and existing sidewalk data in its evaluation, controlling for household characteristics that could influence walking behavior.

According to the statistical analysis in the study, travel pricing and demand management strategies yield consistently large and significant influence on VMT and CO2 generation. For example, filling in a community's sidewalk network so that 70% of streets offer safe pedestrian space reduces vehicular travel by 3.4% and carbon emissions by 4.9%. The analysis also suggests that only moderate increases in sidewalk infrastructure may be needed to yield significant decreases in VMT and associated CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, more aggressive and substantial increases in land use mix may be required before a greater return on investment is realized. Moreover, the authors make the important point that the success of strategies to promote land use mix and sidewalk availability may largely depend on having a local land use and transportation system to encourage alternative mobility options.

It's important to note that the study was hindered by a lack of sidewalk data for much of the region, so the results should only be considered a "first step"--albeit an encouraging one. Eventually the DOT hopes to expand the study when data from more neighborhoods becomes available.

Health and Transportation Toolkit
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has developed a free, online toolkit to help public health work with transportation professionals to ensure that transportation decision-making emphasizes public health concerns. The toolkit offers three principles to change the dynamic between transportation professionals and public health officials

Principle 1: Meet Them Where They Are. Transportation decision-makers need to understand that the public health community understands the day-to-day challenges they face. Right or wrong, their focus is overwhelmingly on keeping cars moving. Acknowledging this reality is important – and the fact is that the same options that improve public health cut traffic congestion and keep roads safe and in good shape.

Principle 2: Talk in Terms They Understand. The transportation decision-making process is driven by money, doing a lot with a little on ever-shrinking budgets. Where possible, the economic component of public health benefits should be part of our communication.

Principle 3: Then Own Your Own Space. The purpose of these guidelines is not to make us apologize for promoting policies that protect public health – we can and must provide the best information about how decisions can increase opportunities for physical activity, improve road safety, reduce air pollution and more. But by presenting these arguments in a context that validates the core concerns of transportation decision-makers, they are far more likely to be heard.

The kit includes several helpful components, such as fill-in-the-blank letters to the editor, OpEds, and press releases, as well as general talking points and background materials.

Safe Routes to School Local Policy Guide
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership recently released its Safe Routes to School Local Policy Guide. As described by the Partnership, "The Local Policy Guide was published to help local communities and schools create, enact and implement policies which will support active and healthy community environments that encourage safe walking and bicycling and physical activity by children through a "Health in All Policies" approach...The Safe Routes to School National Partnership's Local Policy Guide was compiled through the help of more than a dozen leaders throughout the country who provided success stories and examples of local policy wins."

The Guide begins by making several key points about improving safe routes to school policies:
  • There is no single policy that will make walking and bicycling completely safe for children
  • When creating policies, use powerful language that clearly identifies goals rather than vague or ambiguous language that allows for multiple interpretations
  • Realize that creating the policy is only part of the process. Policy change also requires working with power brokers and agency s taff to ensure that the policy is being implemented
It goes on to outline key concepts to be considered when advocating for policy change. Adapted from work completed in Colorado, the "Seven Ps of Policy Change" (Power, Philosophy, Policy, Procedure, Project, Partnerships, Promotion) can help advocates develop a working strategy for improving local transportation policies.

The remainder of the Local Policy Guide includes more than 20 policy change examples, such as regional transportation plans, Complete Streets, fine based mechanisms, school bonds, crossing guards, health impact assessments, joint-use agreements, speed limits and more.

So Many Choices, So Many Ways to Choose: How Five State Departments of Transportation Select Safe Routes to School for Funding
This report compares how five state DOTs – Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin – select the most promising SRTS proposals for funding. It reviews how the five states approach the selection process by considering grant types, SRTS plans, eligibility requirements, program distribution policies, proposal review processes, and established selection criteria.

The SRTS application selection criteria used by each state DOT were reviewed in detail for examples that addressed (1) the four common barriers to walking and biking to school (distance, income, parent values and parent concerns); (2) the "five E’s" commonly used to classify SRTS program elements (engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation); and (3) the five conceptualized stages of an SRTS program (existing conditions, planning, proposal, implementation, and assessment of outcomes). These three selection criteria subjects were chosen because they are factors that contribute to the potential success of an SRTS program.

The authors note that some states offered separate grants for infrastructure and non-infrastructure SRTS programs, whereas other states offered grants for combined programs. Both of these approaches appear to have drawbacks and benefits. SRTS planning was universally encouraged among the five states as a means to achieve higher quality SRTS program proposals. States offered a variety of technical and monetary assistance for SRTS plan development. An in-depth review of the planning assistance currently available in states should be carried out to identify effective ways DOTs can help communities—especially those with few resources—develop successful SRTS plans.
The five states used various safeguards to ensure the equitable distribution of SRTS grants. The authors recommend that states should consider how the goal of distributing program funding equitably may affect the goal of increasing the rates and safety of walking and biking to school in areas with the greatest need, regardless of location or budget requirements.
All five states incorporated a wide range of experts into the proposal review process. The authors recommend this practice to help ensure that all pertinent issues are considered when proposals are ranked. The authors explain that it is clear that to facilitate the selection process, state DOTs should collect from applicants standard information on existing conditions, including the four barriers to walking or biking to school; the planning process; the proposed program elements, including the extent to which it features each of the five E’s; implementation plans, and plans for the assessment of outcomes. This information will allow reviewers to ensure that existing conditions and proposed elements of the program align with the program goals. It will also facilitate routine evaluations of SRTS programs, which will help identify the characteristics of programs that result in improved safety and numbers of students walking and biking to school. These findings will enable state DOTs to develop evidence-based selection protocols and criteria, which will further improve the selection process in the future.

The Plaza: A Place of Encounter
"The potential for social integration in the city depends on possibilities for social encounter and exchange among people. In this sense, the use of public space, and particularly the plaza, is an effective instrument for social cohesion."

This article describes the first of an important series of seminars on the Plaza in urban life that recently took place in Ecuador. Following 2 ½ days of presentations and discussions, 15-20 representatives from each of four cities, Cuenca, Ibarra, Zaruma and Vinces held workshops to discuss the most important goals and strategies needed to guide revitalization of their city’s historic plazas. Through intense debate, each city outlined its priorities and strategies. Participants will return to their city to engage citizen participation in developing goals for the revitalization of their city’s plaza, and then. apply for grants (to a maximum of $600,000) to carry out the work.

The article summarizes some of the key presentations on the role of the plaza in Ecuador, and elsewhere. Some highlights from urban historian Fernando Carrion:

"The plaza is the place where we encounter the other, those different from ourselves. It is, therefore, a place where different values and opinions are expressed...public spaces are being destroyed by the enactment of laws designed to minimize conflict, for example, current laws preventing the poorest citizens from selling produce on the plazas. It is the role of the central plaza to reactivate the historic centers to regional status....By strengthening the public realm – the plaza – we can rebuild the city itself."

And from Dr. Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard:

There are "...three essential physical elements of a successful plaza: 1) a transportation policy that frees the plaza from traffic, calms traffic in adjacent streets, ensures easy access by public transportation; and enhances the experience for pedestrians; 2) A hospitable setting that includes appropriate formal and informal seating for young and old; focal points such as fountains that draw people together, and “anchors” such as bollards that provide a place to pause; public art that reflects the city’s history and traditions and supports children’s play; and shade and shelter from the elements through arcades and awnings; and 3) Surroundings buildings that enhance the “spirit of place” through their civic and religious functions; the composition of buildings around the plaza; visual enclosure, threshold experience, arcades, mix of building uses, especially the shop/house, a fine-textured urban fabric, and architectural characteristics that reflect the city’s identity."

The plaza restoration initiative was launched by the Ministry of Patrimony, and coordinated with the Municipalities of Quito and Ibarra, and the Organization of Ibero-American States.

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