Community Design – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:55:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hey neighbor, slow down – Why speed matters https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/23/slow-down-speed-matters/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/23/slow-down-speed-matters/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 15:27:37 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=20108 It’s no secret – speed plays a major role in traffic related injuries and fatalities. With national traffic deaths on the rise, cities across the US are embracing safer street policies and lowering speed limits. Most vehicle crashes can be prevented by avoiding dangerous behaviors like distracted driving, driving under the influence, and excessive speeding.... Read more »

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It’s no secret – speed plays a major role in traffic related injuries and fatalities. With national traffic deaths on the rise, cities across the US are embracing safer street policies and lowering speed limits.

Most vehicle crashes can be prevented by avoiding dangerous behaviors like distracted driving, driving under the influence, and excessive speeding. Yes – we’re all human and we make mistakes, but human error shouldn’t result in life or death situations. Studies have proven lowering speed limits is a highly effective tool in creating safer environments for all users (i.e. vehicles, bikes and pedestrians) to share the streets.

Boston and Seattle recently joined a growing list of U.S. cities that have reduced speed limits on arterial (fancy word for major roads) and neighborhood streets in the name of safety initiatives, such as Vision Zero. As highlighted in this Vision Zero video, “No loss of life is acceptable. The road systems need to keep us moving, but it must also be designed to protect us at every turn.”

Why speed matters

It’s no coincidence progressive cities are reducing speed limits to 20-25 mph. Research has determined that traveling above 30 mph puts our most vulnerable users at higher risk of serious injuries and death. A recent study published by Smart Growth America, identified people of color, lower-incomes and older adults as being the highest risk populations.

The graphic below, created by the City of Seattle, illustrates the varied chances of a person walking surviving a collision with a vehicle. Pedestrians have a 90 percent survival rate if stuck by a vehicle going 20 mph. Sadly, chances of survival are reduced to only 50 percent when a vehicle is going +10 mph faster (30 mph).

infographic showing various speeds and people killed
 There’s no single solution to make our streets safer; however, there are proven fixes we can collectively pursue. In addition to speed reductions, tougher school-zone enforcement, installing protected bike lanes and implementing “Complete Streets” are all becoming increasing popular tools.

What’s next?

It’s simple, take action! We must demand safer streets and holistic collaboration from our elected officials, engineers, urban planners, enforcement officers, educators and citizens. After all – we’re all in this together and every day we delay taking action leaves our communities and loved ones vulnerable.

This post originally appeared on the WalkArlington blog.

Photo: A crosswalk in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington County (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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Hands-on with a new standard for safer biking intersections https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/18/hands-on-with-a-solution-to-safer-biking-intersections/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/18/hands-on-with-a-solution-to-safer-biking-intersections/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 20:14:59 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=20079 The last decade has seen bicycling rates double or triple in major metropolitan areas, helped in part by the modern consensus around what kind of on-street facilities are best at protecting and encouraging riders. While sharrows and signage have given way to protected, separate lanes, the designs of intersections – often the most stressful part of... Read more »

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The last decade has seen bicycling rates double or triple in major metropolitan areas, helped in part by the modern consensus around what kind of on-street facilities are best at protecting and encouraging riders. While sharrows and signage have given way to protected, separate lanes, the designs of intersections – often the most stressful part of biking – still pose a major problem.

Currently being adapted from successes in Denmark and the Netherlands, the protected bike intersection is one avenue of solving that. Rather than have protected bike lanes convert to mixing zones or indicate two-step turns, both of which can be confusing for drivers and bicyclists, the protected intersection aims to reduce conflicts and keep bicyclists in a dedicated space as much as possible.

Speaking in a session at TransportationCamp DC this month, transportation planner Emily Thomason and Nicholas Smith of Richmond, Va., modeled the protected intersection design for attendees, transforming a paper, four-way layout on the carpet with the addition of curb bulbouts and a delineated, green bike crosswalks (see above photo). As a bicyclist approaches the intersection, they can either move straight through the bike crosswalk, curve right along the protected lane, or take a left by first crossing straight, then left.

The main aim of the design is to eliminate sudden conflicts between bicyclists and drivers. By moving bicyclists closer to pedestrians, the intersection operates on the idea that bike-pedestrian conflicts are much easier and safer to negotiate than bike-car ones. And while left turns will take bicyclists longer to perform, Thomason and Smith explained, the easy right turns that require no traffic negotiation will create some time savings.

dutch intersection, northeasern delft

A protected intersection in the Netherlands. Note the driver turning right forced to yield to bicyclists, who cross parallel to the crosswalk.

Not only do the concrete islands protect people walking and biking, but they force drivers to take wider, slower, and more deliberate turns. Using a phone as a makeshift car in his diagram, Smith walked the session through the varying ways a driver can enter the intersection. The concrete islands are long enough so that a driver turning right can enter, clear the crosswalk, then make a right turn when they have a chance. Adding another paper cut-out and folding back the corner pieces, Thomason and Smith showed how the logic applies to low-traffic roundabouts, too.

The proposed intersection in Silver Spring. Source: MCDOT, via The Wash Cycle.

In the D.C. region, Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction with a protected bike intersection in its near-term bike plans. Part of a new network of lanes in downtown Silver Spring, the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Wayne would have concrete curb cuts on each corner.

While there are only 12 in the United States now (up from zero just two years ago), Green Lane Project’s Brad Anderson notes that the intersections make safety sense as a priority for cities, as they can be applied to conventional bike lanes too, not just protected ones. Protected intersections now exist in cities such as Davis, Calif., Austin, and Salt Lake City. Just as protected bike lanes are making streets more in line with the 8-through-80 year-old-friendly biking streets, protected intersections offer a way to complete those network gaps and simplify safer biking.

Photo: Top, the paper design laid out during the TransportationCamp (photo by author). Middle, an intersection in the Netherlands (Northeastern Delft, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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New report highlights most dangerous cities for walking, calls for pedestrian-centered streets https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/10/new-report-highlights-dangerous-cities-walking-calls-pedestrian-centered-streets/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/10/new-report-highlights-dangerous-cities-walking-calls-pedestrian-centered-streets/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:01:50 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19990 Ever since the car began dominating the way people move throughout the United States, bicycling and walking have become often dangerous and shunted propositions. Decades later, more engineers, planners, and developers are understanding the importance of rethinking the car-centered designs of roads in order to mitigate the dangers they pose for pedestrians. Today, Smart Growth... Read more »

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Ever since the car began dominating the way people move throughout the United States, bicycling and walking have become often dangerous and shunted propositions.

Decades later, more engineers, planners, and developers are understanding the importance of rethinking the car-centered designs of roads in order to mitigate the dangers they pose for pedestrians.

dd16-pdi-list

Source: Dangerous by Design 2016. See the full report for more information.

Today, Smart Growth America released Dangerous by Design 2016, the fourth edition of the annual pedestrian safety report, which now includes an improved version of its Pedestrian Danger Index, or PDI. While the last edition ranked the largest 51 metro areas, this year’s includes the largest 104 metro areas and adds a ranking of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The seven most dangerous metro areas, and nine of the 11 worst, are in Florida, with Cape Coral-Fort Myers taking the top (or bottom) spot by a bit of a landslide.

“The PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work – the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day – and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths,” said Alex Dodds, communications director at Smart Growth America.

The safest metro areas ranked are Colorado Springs, Co.; Portland-South Portland, Me.; and Madison, Wi. Of the states, Vermont, Alaska, and D.C. are the safest, while Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana rank as the most dangerous.

D.C. is a compelling example. Considered the third-safest state, it is 69th most dangerous – near the middle of the pack – as a metro area covering Arlington, Alexandria, and surrounding Maryland counties. “This provides a pretty big hint that the urban walkable places are a lot safer than the sprawling exurban, less walkable, drivable ones,” Dodds said.

SGA and its partners on the report and index – the National Complete Streets Coalition, AARP, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates – found that people of color and older adults are overrepresented among pedestrian deaths, and that PDI is strongly correlated with median household income and rates of uninsured individuals. Poor and minority communities are less likely to have effective pedestrian infrastructure, and in many places street designs lack key features, like curb cuts, that the elderly need.

The groups have several recommendations for cities and advocates, focusing on rethinking how streets are designed.

“The report doesn’t include analysis of why these fatalities happened. The dream would be to have a national inventory of national infrastructure and what these streets look like,” Dodds said.

“There are tons of public-information campaigns about ‘don’t text and drive or drive drunk’ and pedestrian shaming. What gets talked about less is that the way the street is designed is setting a dangerous environment,” she added. “Public-awareness campaigns [are often] missing the point: you have to build a street that builds in safety as a priority.”

Meanwhile, a recent court decision from New York’s Court of Appeals supports this frame from a legal basis. In it, the court ruled that cities are responsible for redesigning streets known to be sites of dangerous driving and can be held liable for failing to do so.

Streetsblog NYC reported last week:

“This decision is a game-changer,” says Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who represents traffic crash victims. “The court held that departments of transportation can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”

The New York ruling sets an interesting precedent. As Dodds explains, “If multiple people have been struck and killed on a given street, it should be clear to a DOT that the street is failing the needs of the community.”

She continued: “The data is out there showing what needs to happen: reducing speeds. How do you make that a priority? I don’t know what is more compelling as a motivator than death. The New York ruling might also make DOTs consider whether this is a legal liability as well.”

The full report and other materials are here. SGA encourages people to ensure their towns and states have Complete Streets policies, and to hold their elected officials accountable for using them to create safer streets.

Photo: An intersection in Alexandria in 2008. Today, the crossing has sidewalks and a crosswalk. (Anne Brink, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Our 10 most-read posts of 2016 https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/23/most-read-top-posts-2016/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/23/most-read-top-posts-2016/#respond Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:05:36 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19924 From tiny data-gathering initiatives to widespread carpooling ideas, here are our 10 most-read articles from the past year. 1. The yellow bicycle button that gets the attention of city leaders Swedish company Hovding, makers of the explosively inflating bike helmet, paired with the London Cyclists Campaign to create a simple button that cyclists could use to record... Read more »

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From tiny data-gathering initiatives to widespread carpooling ideas, here are our 10 most-read articles from the past year.

1. The yellow bicycle button that gets the attention of city leaders

Swedish company Hovding, makers of the explosively inflating bike helmet, paired with the London Cyclists Campaign to create a simple button that cyclists could use to record and, and later map, high-stress biking conditions. 

2. Bikeshare GPS insights highlight stark differences across types of trips

Contributor Jon Wergin worked with the District Department of Transportation on a rare study of Capital Bikeshare bikes tagged with GPS trackers. Wergin then identified common routes for both frequent, registered riders, and visitors, as well as areas that might benefit from new bikeshare stations.

3. Filling up seats in cars: The future of driving

What if we could put the empty seats on highways to better use? Our video examined what a future of efficient carpooling and traffic might look like, from better ride-matching to shared autonomous vehicles.

4. Affordable housing and transit should go hand-in-hand

Contributor Michael Ryan discussed the idea of employing affordable housing as a part of transportation demand management thinking. Through financing incentives, cities can locate more affordable housing, for whose residents transit access is essential, near frequent transit corridors.

5. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cuts solo driving with employee programs

Faced with a move to a new complex in downtown Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created a wide-ranging employee commuting program to reduce its 88 percent employee drive-alone rate. A combination of transit and biking incentives and flexible parking policies more than halved that rate in five years.

6. Bikeshare safer than riding personal bikes, new research says

A report from the Mineta Transportation Institute found bikeshare collisions occur at a lower rate than crashes involving personal bikes. The authors suggest a number of factors, from the types of people riding bikeshare to the design of the bikes, could contribute to the overall safety rates.

7. Transportation redefined: Cities must work with shared mobility options

Ride-hailing and -sharing transportation options are now ubiquitous in most major cities, and in order to create efficient transportation networks and best serve residents, agencies should look to ways to collaborate with them to improve access and reduce drive-alone trips.

8. Transportation options are looking different – sidewalks should too

Emerging, tech- and sharing-based transportation modes are changing how we use sidewalks and curb space. New public space design plans, writes contributor Lisa Nisenson, should consider the need for bike racks, bikeshare stations, drop-off areas, and more in addition to traditional curbside uses like private car parking.

9. Virginia’s new Capital Trail is spurring investments along its route

Not only has the 55-mile, year-old Virginia Capital Trail brought business and visitors to the corridor between Richmond and Jamestown, Va., but it’s also raising the visibility of biking as transportation in the area. Nearby towns are looking into ways to educate kids about biking and expand their biking facilities to connect to the trail.

10. Bike parking gets people riding. Here’s how to build it right.

Visible, safe, and covered bike parking can play a major role in encouraging people to bike to work and other destinations. The best kinds of racks, according to contributor Michael Ryan, are U-racks, while “wheelbenders” and wave racks actually create conflict and waste potential bike parking space.

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Virginia’s new Capital Trail spurs biking investments along its route https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/12/virginia-capital-trail-spurs-investments-biking-along-route/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/12/virginia-capital-trail-spurs-investments-biking-along-route/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 17:28:11 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19760 This is part two of contributor Gabriel Morey’s coverage of the year-old Virginia Capital Trail. Read part one here. The Virginia Capital Trail offers one of the best cases of how well-designed bike and pedestrian infrastructure can transform communities. The trail – a serene, 55-mile path from Jamestown to Richmond – has brought numerous economic changes... Read more »

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This is part two of contributor Gabriel Morey’s coverage of the year-old Virginia Capital Trail. Read part one here.

The Virginia Capital Trail offers one of the best cases of how well-designed bike and pedestrian infrastructure can transform communities.

The trail – a serene, 55-mile path from Jamestown to Richmond – has brought numerous economic changes to the cities and towns along its route. It’s lured large corporations like Stone Brewing to Richmond, and boosted business at mom-and-pop establishments like Cul’s Courthouse Grille in Charles City County. However, economic benefits are only part of the success of the trail: it has also brought a renewed push for bike infrastructure and an increased quality of life in the communities around it.

“We’re thrilled about the added value it brings to the Historic Triangle and the opportunities it offers for residents and tourists alike to enjoy the area,” said State Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg), a supporter of the trail.

Senator Mason’s hometown of Williamsburg recently won a state grant to build a similar multi-use path along Monticello Avenue, which connects the historic town to the Capital Trail. The Capital Trail Foundation has not slowed down its work either. Since the trail’s completion, the group has been busy installing amenities such as benches and portable toilets for riders. Most importantly, it has begun adding electronic bike counters to the trail to better gauge ridership and help the group advocate for expanding and maintaining the trail.

In Richmond, the city is proposing adding 25 miles of new bike lanes, including one to connect its weekly farmers market with the Capital Trail. Finally, VDOT and the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization are studying a 60-mile long expansion of the trail to Fort Monroe. While some of these projects might have gone through without the trail, its success smoothed opposition by proving the value of such infrastructure. As Beth Weisbrod, executive director the Capital Trail Foundation, put it, “Now [grade]-separated, multi-use trails are being discussed as transportation.”

Possible extension routes (red) for the Capital Trail. Image from the Hampton Roads Transportation Commission.

Possible eastward extension routes (red) for the Capital Trail. Image from the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.

This infrastructure is going in not just because localities want it, but because residents have demonstrated growing desires to have access to such facilities. Dot Boulware owns and operates the Edgewood Plantation B&B with her husband, Julian. While the trail has only minimally affected her business, it has added new life to her part of Charles City County, southeast of Richmond.

She said, “It’s not just [benefiting] the bikers, but it also [has benefits] for people that are older that can just walk the trail. People are not just sitting in their chairs anymore, or watching their televisions anymore. People are riding it, people are walking it, and are being very cordial to you. You don’t have to walk very far; you can judge your own time. It’s fun.”

Cullen Jenkin, one of the owners of the trail-adjacent Cul’s Courthouse Grille, shared a similar sentiment. “It got me off the couch,” he said. “It’s had a huge impact on me.”

Perhaps the most impressive impact of the trail can be seen at Charles City Public Schools, which has added a cycling program to its middle- and high-school physical-education curricula.

“The Capital Trail project really provided the initial inspiration for starting a bike program at our schools,” said Superintendent David Gaston. “Business and residents all noticed quickly that there was more activity as cyclists and citizens began to take advantage of the trail. If there had not been a Capital Trail built, I’m not certain that we would have thought about establishing a bike program, as these are extremely busy roads with a lot of fast-moving traffic.”

So far, CCPS has bought 24 Giant hybrid bikes for its classes, which feature both a riding component and a maintenance and safety component. The school system is also working with a local vendor to get classes on safety and technique taught to elementary-school students. While many students live far away from the trail, Dr. Gaston said that student interest in the trail has definitely increased. To further integrate the two, he hopes to get a connector built between Charles City High School and Route 5.

The economic benefits of the Capital Trail are impressive, but perhaps not as potent as the cultural changes it has brought. Just as the railroads and interstates re-shaped the American landscape, the Capital Trail is re-shaping Virginia’s Lower Peninsula, albeit at a slower and smaller pace, but as it continues to expand, one can expect to see more bike lanes, paths, and riders in places like Richmond, Williamsburg, and Hampton Roads.

Already the trail has surpassed its projected first-year ridership, drawing 550,000 riders from all over the nation. More than anything else, the trial has proven once again that if you build it, riders will come.

Photo: A couple rides along the Virginia Capital Trail near Sherwood Forest, Va. (D. Allen Covey/Virginia Department of Transportation, Flickr, Creative Commons)

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Virginia’s new Capital Trail has brought biking, business to Richmond and historic communities https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/06/virginias-new-capital-trail-brought-biking-business-richmond-historic-communities/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/12/06/virginias-new-capital-trail-brought-biking-business-richmond-historic-communities/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:05:24 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19695 Stretching between Richmond and Jamestown, the Virginia Capital Trail is a powerful example of how bike and pedestrian infrastructure can encourage economic growth and sustainable living in diverse communities. The 55-mile paved, multi-use path dances along historic Route 5, connecting small towns, bucolic farmland, historic sites, and high-rise apartments. First proposed in the 1990’s, groundwork... Read more »

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Stretching between Richmond and Jamestown, the Virginia Capital Trail is a powerful example of how bike and pedestrian infrastructure can encourage economic growth and sustainable living in diverse communities. The 55-mile paved, multi-use path dances along historic Route 5, connecting small towns, bucolic farmland, historic sites, and high-rise apartments.

First proposed in the 1990’s, groundwork for the trail began in 2003 when Virginia Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement made the trail a priority. The following year he helped found the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation – the non-profit that manages and promotes the trail – and in 2005 VDOT broke ground at Jamestown. Since its completion in October 2015, the Virginia Capital Trail has provided more than just a safe place to ride, walk, and run: it is also quietly changing the life and the economies of the communities that it passes through.

va-cap-trail

Map of the Virginia Capital Trail, via Terrain360. Click to see a trail-level view of the route.

No place is that more evident than in Richmond, Va., where the trail is helping power that city’s revitalization. Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Capital Trail Foundation (based in Richmond), sees the trail as a major economic engine for the city, citing packaging company WestRock’s 2006 decision to move to downtown as based partly on the then-incomplete trail. She also pointed out that smaller businesses have benefited from it as well. “When the trail opened,” Weisbrod said, “there was no place to rent a bike in Richmond. Now there are at least three.”

One of those places is The Kickstand, a non-profit founded by the Richmond Cycling Corps that advertises itself as “the easiest (and coolest) way to get on a bike and enjoy the Virginia Capital Trail.” Opened in July, The Kickstand does more than rent bikes – it also teaches kids from low-income households how to bike and fix bikes. Those students are then employed as mechanics for Kickstand.

To Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk-RVA, the trail is both a cause and an effect of increased cycling in Richmond. “I think it’s done a great job generating excitement around biking and walking” he said. “Once the snowball starts rolling, it just keeps getting bigger.” The stats from Richmond are certainly not small. The city has nearly doubled its bike infrastructure in the past three years, announced a bikeshare program, and hosted the UCI World Cycling Championships.

Furthermore, the trail has served as an anchor for new businesses. “Stone Brewing is one of the biggest examples,” Hepp-Buchanan said. “They are literally building their bistro on top of the trail.” While not all recent economic development can be attributed to the trail, Hepp-Buchanan argues that it has helped make Richmond an attractive place for corporations like Carmax, which recently moved downtown. “You can’t deny that having the Capital Trail right there is one of the biggest reasons why a company like that would locate downtown,” he said.

Cul's and bicycling patrons

Cul’s Courthouse Grille in Charles City, mere feet from the Capital Trail

The trail is also making an impact outside of Richmond. There is no better place to see that benefit than at Cul’s Courthouse Grille, a charming restaurant managed by mother-and-son team Bonnie Whittaker and Cullen Jenkins. Cul’s opened seven years ago when Whittaker, recently retired, decided to create a space for community gatherings near the historic Charles City Courthouse. Although Cullen stresses that Cul’s focuses on the community, not “dollars and cents,” it is impossible to ignore the business the trail has brought. “We’ve just tried to hold on and do the best we can,” Cullen said. “Recently, Channel 12 did a nice piece on the impact that the trail has had on small business, and they focused on us. My mom said that [business grew] by 30 percent in the interview, but she meant to say 300 percent.”

clip_ins_signThe increase in customers has meant more than just money for the restaurant. “We’ve been able to hire 10 folks because we needed them for the business,” Cullen said. Ten jobs might not seem like many, but in a small community like Charles City County (population 7,000), they make a huge difference. “These women are holding their families together with the jobs they have here,” Cullen said. “We can give someone a decent living wage where they can pay their bills and have a couple of bucks left over to improve their quality of life.”

Cul’s isn’t the only business to capitalize on the trail. Nearby Shirley Plantation recently added a large dining room to its outbuildings, placing in front of it a chalkboard sign reading “Welcome Cyclists: Please remove your clip-ins. Thank you!” Closer to Cul’s, rumor is that an old schoolhouse is being rehabilitated into a coffeehouse. And according to Beth Weisbrod, the Capital Trail Foundation is planning a connector trail to the Blue Heron Restaurant, another local eatery slightly off Route 5.

The money and cyclists flowing along the Capital Trail come from all over the world. Rich Thompson is a staff member at the College of William and Mary, where he helps lead the College’s Bike Alliance. (Full disclosure – the author was a founding member of the Alliance.) A regular cyclist on the trail, Thompson has met folks from D.C. and farther.

“I recently ran into a son and mother cyclist from Germany and Great Britain,” Thompson said. “They were vacationing here and biking in Surrey and Isle of Wight County,” and told him that they were planning on riding the trail later.

One of forces driving this tourism is the ever-expanding number of companies offering bike tours of the Capital Trail, including Road-Tested Tours, Carolina Tailwinds, Trek Travel, and Vermont Tours. Additionally, the Williamsburg Winery has added weekly 40-mile bike rides to its list of offerings, and Cullen Jenkins, for his part, is renting bikes out to Cul’s customers.

The market isn’t saturated yet either. Jennifer Billstrom is the founder of Velo Girl Rides, a North Carolina-based touring company that hopes to launch a Capital Trail tour. “The unique thing about the Capital Trail, in my opinion, is that it is fairly flat, and it is fairly doable by anyone. And it’s also just a ribbon that runs through a very rich historical area. So using this can be an educational experience … that engages people both physically and with a history lesson, and that’s very unique,” she said.

If other examples hold true, the Capital Trail is only beginning to spark growth around it. Wendy Lyman would know: as the owner of the cyclist-oriented Swamp Rabbit Inn in Greenville, South Carolina, she has seen her region’s Swamp Rabbit Trail revitalize entire towns along its route. She recently traveled up to visit the Capital Trail, and saw ample opportunity for future growth. “I was really impressed with it” she said. “That midpoint destination hub – there’s a lot of development opportunities there, and I think that would make that trail even more vibrant.”

She has observed this type of development before – the trail is built, several businesses take off, more entrepreneurs follow, local residents discover new ways to use the trail, and a new economic and transportation ecosystem is built. The Capital Trail isn’t at that point yet, but with 550,000 trips along the trail last year, that type of development is likely. The question isn’t a matter of if, but when.

Read part two of this article, about the increase in biking that the Virginia Capital Trail is generating in adjacent communities.

[Ed: a previous version of this article stated incorrectly that Richmond’s B bikeshare had already launched. The city is currently aiming for an official launch in fall 2016 or spring 2017.]

Photos: Top, the VA Capital Trail as it approaches downtown Richmond along the James River (Al Covey/VDOT, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, the Bike Alliance at Cul’s Courthouse Grille (Bill Horacio). Lower, a chalkboard sign for bicyclists at  Shirley Plantation (Rich Thompson).

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Cities need common sense before they get smart https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/22/cities-need-common-sense-get-smart/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/22/cities-need-common-sense-get-smart/#respond Tue, 22 Nov 2016 20:41:14 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19601 Most people have heard about “smart cities” by now, although it isn’t always clear what it means for a typical, medium-sized city. My home of Perth, Australia, has the same issues as most American cities. Does “smart cities” mean waste bins giving pep talks to stop littering? Traffic lights swearing at reckless drivers? No, the... Read more »

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Most people have heard about “smart cities” by now, although it isn’t always clear what it means for a typical, medium-sized city. My home of Perth, Australia, has the same issues as most American cities.

Does “smart cities” mean waste bins giving pep talks to stop littering? Traffic lights swearing at reckless drivers? No, the smart cities movement involves harnessing technology to make cities work better and more efficiently.  Sensors, communication, analytics, and extracting solutions from big data. This has obvious applications for areas like energy use and intelligent transport networks.

Smart cities are great, but first we need to explore being a “common sense city” – one that nails the fundamentals of an enjoyable lifestyle, where we get the time to do what we want (we can buy the gadgets later). To do that, we need to get smart in our thinking, not just our technologies.

Take a look at road congestion, the persistent beast. Driving to work and finding a car park is a daily chore for many commuters, resulting in a mean frown and a general desire to break things. But our cars are addictive: so convenient and shiny, so air conditioned.

On the other hand, cars are expensive pollution machines, causing urban sprawl and traffic jams and a population of people who just want to sit down. Why do something when you can sit, preferably in a man-made box of some kind – at home, at work, hell even between home and work?

Like many Americans, most Australians don’t get enough exercise and a majority are overweight or obese. We are chalking up a very impressive list of inactivity-related diseases.

These “choices” are not entirely our fault though, as they were never legitimate choices in the first place.  It comes back to city design. If the private sector spends its resources advertising the brilliance of cars, and the public sector spends its money building roads and bridges and not much else, then the people will drive.

What we need is a revamp of land use and zoning laws. Suburbs are not serviced properly by public transport, and they can be a bit boring – the local shopping mall is the jewel in the crown.  And they are often a long way from anywhere, especially work. The workers in the family spend their free time battling traffic between home and work.

This lifestyle is due to three factors that encourage urban sprawl:

  • An over-reliance on cars and roads – driving is the only realistic option. As the city gets bigger, the driving gets harder.
  • Low density development – the city footprint continually creeps outwards, forming a vast suburban-style metropolis, because we don’t build up.
  • Zoning – we separate commercial from residential uses, which means we have to travel significant distances to get what we need.

This urban sprawl also happens to be extremely expensive to maintain – we need a lot of infrastructure per person.  And it has led to transport recently becoming the single largest source of carbon emissions in the United States.

The three factors also make our lives time poor, difficult and generally a bit rubbish.  It doesn’t have to be this way, it’s just what we are used to doing.

The upshot is that cities are re-thinking how to combine homes, nature and business in close proximity, so communities function properly – safe, active, easy, neighborly.  These land use strategies are intimately connected to our transport networks.

And when it comes to transport people want convenience, reliability and options.

Here in Western Australia, Perth has a good public transport network, and it is improving. The city recently debuted a new bus port and a system for real-time bus information. Our active transport network (walking and cycling infrastructure) is decent but not great. Our road network gets the lion’s share of attention and funding, as in many cities.

Across the broader area, the Western Australian Department of Transport is starting to push public and active transport up the priority chain. There’s more that can be done, but it needs Perth’s residents to want it. We need to flip the usual approach upside down and focus on people, rather than cars.

Downtown, the Perth CBD train station should be like an international airport – a sparkling hub enticing people to catch the train. Instead, it is in need of a wash and a revamp and its metal seats seem specifically designed to make sitting uncomfortable.

Our trains and buses could use more attention too.  Efforts are already being made, but diverting road funding could achieve:

  • Extension of the public transport network
  • Trains and buses running regularly and on time
  • Prioritized cleaning
  • More security guards and safety measures
  • Installation of Wi-Fi and charging points
  • More comfortable and attractive train stations and bus stops

Public transport authorities are generally struggling due to lack of funding.  If they had teeth to get things done, and we as individuals followed up by actually supporting our public transport system, this would trigger a funding cycle that will do great things for our cities.

fremantle-cappucino-offchurch-tam

Fremantle’s “cappuccino strip” of cafes in 2009, which now has lower speed limits.

In terms of active transport, Western Australia is making good progress with cycling.  Continuous cycling paths are being built. Fremantle introduced a 30 kph (19 mph) limit down its “cappuccino strip” with road-sharing signage – there are far more riders now. “Bike boulevards” are planned for the nearby regions of Vincent, Bayswater, and Belmont, which will hopefully get the kids and their grandparents back on their bikes.

A more efficient transport network would give us realistic options. I now ride my bike to Fremantle train station, zone out for half an hour on the train, then walk to work. It takes an hour all up, but it’s an hour well spent – fun, healthy and relaxing.

While smart cities are the future, cities like Perth need to be careful about getting swept away by hype and investing in expensive technologies that seem cool, but may not achieve much. Let’s first work out how we want to design our cities, then make it happen.

Photos: Top, a sidewalk in Perth (Raymond Gangstad, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, the “cappucino strip” of cafes in Fremantle, a city in the Perth metro area (/Offchurch-Tam, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Day of Remembrance for Victims of Traffic Violence is a chance to reflect on nation’s street safety trends https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/18/day-remembrance-victims-traffic-violence-street-safety/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/11/18/day-remembrance-victims-traffic-violence-street-safety/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 18:44:40 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19578 For a country that appears to be growing more fearful, we seem to be letting our guard down on what may be the most unsafe activity of all: jumping into our personal vehicles every day. Which is why this Sunday, November 20, is so important. It’s the little-known World Day of Remembrance for Victims of... Read more »

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For a country that appears to be growing more fearful, we seem to be letting our guard down on what may be the most unsafe activity of all: jumping into our personal vehicles every day.

Which is why this Sunday, November 20, is so important. It’s the little-known World Day of Remembrance for Victims of Traffic Violence, established by the United Nations in 2005.

Ryan Packer of the Urbanist explains that the chances of dying in a car crash are truly scary:

In 2015, more than 35,000 people in the U.S. were killed on our nation’s roadways. Every single day, more than 100 lives were lost. The trend did not slow for 2016. For the first half of 2016, we again saw a huge increase of more than 10 percent from the same period of 2015. America appears to be developing a resurgence in the epidemic of traffic violence, one that appeared to be on a downward trajectory since the 1980s. The causes for this can be debated, but the fact that our roads are not anywhere near safe enough remains undisputed.

As Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, told The Hill this year, “These numbers are serving notice: Americans take their safety on the roadways for granted.”

Experts generally agree that cheap gas, low unemployment, and a stronger economy help account for more driving and the accompanying increase in fatalities. However, when it comes to safety, poorly designed infrastructure that doesn’t protect the most vulnerable road users, those who bike or walk, is often left out of the discussion. Designing inclusive, safe, and slower streets would ensure that people who may not feel safe on roadways made only for cars and trucks could give other modes a try.

fars-dc-region-map

Fatal crashes in Arlington and the D.C. region, 2003-2014.

Further, one might assume that slight increases in driving in recent years account for slight increases in higher fatality numbers. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Joe Cortright of City Observatory notes:

“A 1 percent increase in driving produces a much larger than 1 percent increase in deaths – actually, something like a 3 percent increase in deaths. The minor changes in the amount of driving that we do seem to have disproportionately large effects on traffic fatalities.”

Although it seems likely that distracted drivers (and people distracted on bikes and foot as well) could be driving up the roadway-fatality trend, the jury is still out on how much this factors. Neurologists point out that the human brain cannot multitask, yet it is common to see drivers with their heads down, staring at a screen. A lack of solid data on exposure and distraction has hampered the research and policy community from having a full understanding of the problem.

Cities are becoming more vocal about the high human costs of traffic crashes through Vision Zero campaigns and Complete Streets policies.  And, with road crashes annually costing the U.S. economy $836 billion (speaking with conservative National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers from 2010), the benefits of acting are indisputable.

Meanwhile, taking a step back to improve the infrastructure we already have in place, and adapt it to more efficient, safer uses – for everything from biking and walking to transit – may be the path we have to follow to induce people into fewer roadway fatalities. The World Day of Remembrance reminds us just how far we have yet to go.

Additional resources:
– Northern Virginia Regional Commission map of bicyclist/pedestrian traffic fatalities 2014-2016
– Vision Zero Network map of speed-related traffic deaths 2010-2015
– Fatality Analysis Reporting System map of traffic deaths 2004-2013

Photo: Top, a ghost bike in Brooklyn marks a bicyclist’s death caused by a traffic crash (Francisco Daum, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, a Fatality Analysis Reporting System map of D.C. region traffic deaths over 10 years (Metrocosm).

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Bringing transportation options to small and mid-sized cities https://mobilitylab.org/2016/10/20/bringing-transportation-options-small-mid-sized-cities/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/10/20/bringing-transportation-options-small-mid-sized-cities/#respond Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:00:05 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19293 Quality transit, abundant ride-hailing apps, and quick-trip bikeshare systems are largely assumed to be the province of big cities, but small and mid-sized cities are getting in on the game too. That was the takeaway at a workshop during this week’s Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago titled, “Scaling Shared Mobility in Small to Mid-sized Cities.”... Read more »

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Quality transit, abundant ride-hailing apps, and quick-trip bikeshare systems are largely assumed to be the province of big cities, but small and mid-sized cities are getting in on the game too.

That was the takeaway at a workshop during this week’s Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago titled, “Scaling Shared Mobility in Small to Mid-sized Cities.”

“Smaller communities have the same needs as larger ones,” said Nate Taber, head of marketing for Zagster, which operates 142 bikeshare systems in the U.S. and handles items such as funding, planning, technology, and promotion for all its jurisdictions.

He listed those needs as: filling transportation gaps, reducing traffic and parking congestion, promoting sustainability, building biking and walking culture, promoting active lifestyles, and supporting local businesses.

And it’s true. The panelists agreed that smaller communities can use the same kinds of actions that big cities take to change people’s driving-alone habits into more active, sustainable traveling.

“One of most effective things done is to literally take a map and call out key points of interest [for residents]. Things like bikeshare stations, the mall, and the transit center are so many miles from your office or university dorm,” Taber added. “It really, really works – to show that it’s a 10-minute bike ride to Target shows that it’s way easier than walking. People don’t know this stuff unless they’ve gotten out of the car and explored.”

Left to right: Aarjav Trivedi, founder and CEO of RideCell; Doug Snower, president of E-Rive; Mike Scrudato, senior Vice president of strategic innovation at Munich Reinsurance America; Allen Greenberg, a transportation pricing expert at the Federal Highway Administration; and Paul Mackie of Mobility Lab.

Panel speakers, left to right: Nate Taber of Zagster, Carly Sieff of Fehr & Peers, Gregory Sheldon of Rochester, N,Y, Janet Attarian of the City of Detroit, and the panel’s two moderators.

Gregory Sheldon, of the Rochester, N.Y., mayor’s Office of Innovation, said the actual design of the bikes is something that can go a long way towards subtly helping people think about transportation alternatives. For instance, cargo bikes could go in at local markets so people don’t automatically assume that they have to take a car to do grocery shopping. “People will understand and start to get it,” Sheldon said.

“Also, there are some really nice trails along the river in Rochester that are underused. They abruptly stop and don’t provide the connectivity needed. Even a couple blocks where the trail is missing can really kill [the usefulness of the trail],” he added. “You have to have seamless connections.”

Carly Sieff, a transportation planner with Fehr & Peers, said simply going to events where large percentages of smaller communities will be and passing out flyers is a tried and true way to publicize transportation options.

“Go to where the people are instead of them coming to us,” she said, referring to work her firm is doing in the Denver suburb of Centennial, Colo. In a smaller city, this strategy puts agencies in touch with a greater percentage of the overall community than it would in more populous areas.

Sieff said car culture runs deep in Centennial, as it does in most small and mid-sized cities. “Through a Bloomberg grant, we trained seniors in the community and they went and trained their peers” on how to use the Go Denver/Go Centennial app, the Xerox-developed multimodal trip-planning tool which is arriving in more markets.

Other differences between big and smaller cities that may actually be advantageous for small cities attempting shared-mobility initiatives? “It’s easier to ‘make it happen.’ All we have is the bus, so it’s us and the regional transit authority that need to sit at the table,” said Rochester’s Sheldon.

“And if we need to get the word out about [something like] bikesharing, it’s not cost prohibitive for us to go door to door to get the word out.”

Tabor, of Zagster, said some of the other bikeshare differences for smaller communities are that there may be longer ride times, lighter weight infrastructure may be necessary, more focus on park- and trail-oriented station placement, and local sponsorship considerations of working to build a community coalition of local businesses, rather than seeking a single corporate backer. Zagster’s model is to then have centralized operations and support that works directly with all of its local systems across various geographic areas.

What may be most important of all is ensuring that smaller cities understand that multimodal transportation is often a ticket towards a prosperous future.

“[These options make it] look like the area is headed in the right direction,” Tabor said. “The city is making steps toward investing in this community. It’s a lever to help businesses put offices and people on the ground.”

Photos: The Zagster-operated mBike system in the city of College Park, Maryland (Adam Russell), and panel (Paul Mackie).

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WMATA finds that biking, walking improvements near Metro stations pay off https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/29/wmata-biking-walking-improvements-metro-stations-pay-off/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/29/wmata-biking-walking-improvements-metro-stations-pay-off/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:56:32 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19062 Metrorail is the backbone of the D.C. region’s transportation system, but that doesn’t mean each station exists in a vacuum. For many people, walking and biking from their station to their ultimate destination is a key part of the Metro experience, whether we consciously recognize it or not. That’s a driving idea behind WMATA’s Metrorail... Read more »

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Metrorail is the backbone of the D.C. region’s transportation system, but that doesn’t mean each station exists in a vacuum. For many people, walking and biking from their station to their ultimate destination is a key part of the Metro experience, whether we consciously recognize it or not. That’s a driving idea behind WMATA’s Metrorail Station Investment Strategy, which set out to identify simple ways to expand the usefulness, safety, and reach of the rail system to nearby workers and residents.

The agency notes that walking is the leading way riders get to a Metro station, coming in at about a third of all riders. Meanwhile, biking only accounts for approximately 1 percent of riders. While some of that is attributable to peak-hour bike restrictions, biking network connections to stations also play a role. These numbers could likely be higher if many suburban or semi-urban stations improved key pedestrian and biking connections that made it feel safer to cross busy intersections or to ride on adjacent streets. But how exactly would these investments pay off?

Detailed in its summary report (PDF), WMATA identified hundreds of potential projects across the six jurisdictions, and quantified the financial benefits these would bring to the region in terms of safety. From the WMATA Office of Planning’s PlanItMetro blog (emphasis in original):

“In short, we’ve estimated that a $13M investment in some of the 394 top pedestrian projects leads to a $24M discounted revenue impact for Metro and its funders over the course of these projects’ useful life, a net positive benefit of $11M.”

That’s nearly a two-to-one benefit, largely in avoided costs associated with crashes, over 30 years. (Edit: The summary report emphasizes that as there is not data available on ridership and nearby bike lanes, the regional monetary benefit is derived from greater bicycling safety and fewer crashes.) The post continues, noting that the benefits also extend to other factors:

  • “New pathways shorten someone’s travel time, making Metro a more attractive option for the trip they are making;
  • New sidewalks may open up the station to an ADA customer who had to rely on paratransit before to get to where s/he was going; and
  • New bike lanes provide a separation between both moving and parked cars, and the bicyclist, making her safer.”
Ballston recs

Wayfinding recommendations in Ballston, Arlington County. Source: WMATA.

WMATA notes in the report that while the projects are up to the jurisdictions to fulfill, it hopes that its scoring methods – based on factors such as improving access to jobs, building off of existing WalkScores – helps them prioritize what to build next. For example, a wayfinding project in the walkable Ballston area would be immediately useful since many people are already walking there.

Also, as the summary-report maps explain, many of the suggested projects are already moving forward or funded in some way: cheap, simple ways to foster a multi-modal region and make the process of taking Metro safer and more simple.

Photo, top: People walking to the Clarendon Metrorail stop (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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