Friday, June 5, 2015

Walking Towards Change

Photo courtesy of The European Magazine

One cold December day in 1913, a man put on a Santa suit and started America down the path towards criminalizing walking. “Jay-walker!” he taunted, startling people who strolled in the middle of the street. With the help of the auto lobby the term soon became ubiquitous, and suddenly roads were no longer the rightful domain of pedestrians.

A century later we’re struggling to overcome the problems we created by shifting the focus of public space from people to cars. In 2013, nearly 5,000 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in the US, and 66,000 were injured. Obesity rates in the US have soared in the past two decades, driven by neighborhood designs that discourage physical activity. Air pollution, water pollution, habitat loss, and other environmental troubles are all linked to the predominance of private vehicle travel in America.

Read the full article in the European Magazine here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Two-Road System: A New Vision for Sustainable Living

Image courtesy of Access Magazine

In the latest issue of Access and have figured out a solution to all our transportation problems. Okay, maybe not quite every last one. But, they do offer a radical new design for cities that would lessen the safety and pollution problems created by excess vehicle travel (aka, how we get around most cities today).

The concept centers around the idea of a two-road network. In two-road cities, one street network would be dedicated to pedestrians, bikes, mopeds, golf carts, and other "low-speed, low-mass vehicles (LLM). The other would serve cars, vans, trucks, and the rest of the "fast, heavy vehicle" inventory (FHV). By separating LLMs from FHVs, walking, biking and other sustainable forms of travel become safer and easier, leading to environmental benefits in the form of reduced vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, the FHV network becomes more efficient, because it isn't required to carry the high volumes of traffic it does today.

Delucchi and Kurani acknowledge that they aren't the first to consider the idea of separating transportation modes in this way. They point to work by William Garrison at UC Berkeley, but if you read this post about the history of the sidewalk you'll see that the idea has been around much longer than that.
Leonardo Da Vinci's vision for a two-road system, circa the late 1400s

Nonetheless, the two-road network idea has yet to gain much traction in the real world. Delucchi and Kurani note that some cities have managed to at least partially implement the system (Davis in California, Houten in the Netherlands). But they suggest that future cities could be constructed around this pattern, particularly in developing countries that are expanding quickly into green space. Using the two-road system could help these countries become more sustainable, even as they embrace the automobile.

As incomes rise in places like India and China, people are driving more and more. This is already creating serious problems for pedestrians in those countries (and everyone else impacted by pollution from driving). A two-road network is one way to reduce pedestrian injuries while potentially lowering pollution from vehicle travel.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Complete Streets are Complete for Everyone / Jan Moser

This new post from Strong Towns offers a helpful take on creating streets that are universally accessible. Written from the perspective of someone who both implements streets for people with disabilities and uses a wheelchair herself, the post from author Heidi Johnson-Wright highlights some of the key elements that make a street "work" for someone in a wheelchair (not to mention those of us who push strollers, etc.). Here are some

Build wide sidewalks
For me, the ideal accessible pedestrian path of travel is as wide as the sidewalks lining the great avenues of New York City. Plenty of room for walkers, wheelers, babies in strollers and then some. Lots of space for me to safely pass around slow walkers when I'm in a hurry.

Keep paving in travel ways smooth
...smooth concrete with narrow stress joints works for me. I also love wide, flat flagstones like the ones used throughout Barcelona. I dislike even the smoothest of pavers and despise brickwork. What looks like tiny seams to walkers means major up-and-down bumping for wheelers.

Avoid "cookie-cutter" curb ramps
...differences in terrain and limitations of space require different ramp designs in order to be compliant and safe. Level landings at top and bottom are essential...And please: TWO curb ramps per corner instead of a single diagonal ramp.

Keep sidewalks clear of obstructions, even temporary ones
Coordination between local public works, transit, utilities, and state DOT is essential to preventing obstructions caused by landscaping, light poles, street signs, signal boxes, bus shelters, bus benches, newspaper boxes, bike racks, etc. Just as bad are sidewalks suddenly blocked off with little or no warning...I mean many months of torn up or obstructed rights of way due to long-term construction projects which provide no alternative, accessible, safe pathway.

If you take a look at the street from last week's post, you'll see it follows the bulk of the these rules. The sidewalk could be wider, but paving along travel ways is smooth, two curb ramps are in place, and obstructions are pushed to the edge of the sidewalk in the "street furniture zone."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Complete Streets, Ecuador Style

I was browsing through some of my non-American transportation pictures when I came across this photo of an amazing street in Baños in Ecuador. Isn't it great?

But before I break down the details of what makes this street so awesome, a note on why I was looking at streets in Ecuador in the first place: So often when we point to examples of the best complete streets, we're showing places in affluent (read: white) neighborhoods in Europe or the US. At the same time, we're often working in neighborhoods that don't exactly share those demographics. It's worth noting that Copenhagen and San Francisco don't have the monopoly on walkability.

For the record, I'm just as guilty as the next planner of doing this-- thus my perusal of South American streetscapes. Which brings us back to the street above. First, let's look at land use: two stories of residential over street-level storefronts. This keeps the density relatively high while maintaining a "human scale:" the buildings are probably about 35 feet high and are proportionate to the width of the street. The variety of commercial uses on the ground floor serve residents in the neighborhood, making it easier to accomplish daily errands without driving.

About those commercial uses--notice how they're set up with outdoor displays, café seating, and windows to engage people walking down the street. You can see at a glance that this street would be interesting to explore. Importantly, those outdoor displays and café tables aren't blocking the sidewalk, and neither are the planters and benches on the other side of the travel way. I especially like how there are decorative tiles in the street furniture zone of the sidewalk, but not in the pedestrian pathway. Decorative paving looks great, but it can be tricky to navigate (e.g., try walking on cobblestones in heels).

Friday, April 10, 2015

How 15 mph Makes a Difference

I've written before about how critical slower speeds are to pedestrian safety, and this week has a great post that pulls together a lot of important information about vehicle speed and safety. I especially liked this graphic that shows the difference between what a driver traveling at 30 mph sees vs what a driver traveling at 15 mph sees.
Notice how all the pedestrians on the sidewalk disappear at the higher speed. As Bill Lindeke writes in the post,
"If you look at the average speed of traffic on a urban commercial streets, there are a lot of things that begin to change when you slow down cars from the 30 to 35 mile per hour range into the 20 to 25 mile per hour range. Most importantly, perception, reaction time, and crash outcomes are far better at 20 than at 30 mph, while traffic flow doesn’t seem to change very much."
Even thought risk of death and injury is dramatically higher when vehicle speeds exceed 20 mph, most local roads (especially older ones like those in my neighborhood) are designed to encourage much greater speeds. Until we address this problem (admittedly a challenge, given the cost of retrofitting roads to narrow them) speeding and the dangers it presents will continue to be a problem for pedestrians.