Walking – Mobility Lab https://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:01:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Capturing major DC events on bike and walking counters https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/17/bike-ped-counter-major-events-options/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/17/bike-ped-counter-major-events-options/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:18:27 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21595 Bike/ped traffic counter spikes for disruptive events emphasize importance of transportation options Arlington has 38 bike and pedestrian counters along its trails and bike lanes, six of which capture how many people cross the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., every day. Two counters are located on Memorial Bridge, two on Key Bridge, one on Roosevelt... Read more »

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Bike/ped traffic counter spikes for disruptive events emphasize importance of transportation options

Arlington has 38 bike and pedestrian counters along its trails and bike lanes, six of which capture how many people cross the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., every day. Two counters are located on Memorial Bridge, two on Key Bridge, one on Roosevelt Bridge, and one on the 14th Street Bridge.

The counters provide a look at what kind of bike/ped activity occurs on bridges into D.C. when there have been major events that disrupt street traffic and create crowding on transit. The bike and pedestrian daily counts can show how people are thinking as to when they resort to two wheels or their own feet.

How did the numbers of people in Arlington traveling by bike or foot compare to bike/ped ratios on normal weekends or holidays, when commuter traffic is more typical? Looking into this change could clarify how residents seek alternatives when major events disrupt transit and car traffic.

counter events

The events

Of the recent events captured in counters, the Women’s March induced the highest turnout by far, with a nearly 500 percent increase in bike and pedestrian traffic above the average weekend day or holiday. Meanwhile, Trump’s Inauguration doubled typical counts.

The travel ban protest, on January 29, 2017, drew about a 40 percent increase. As a small-scale event organized with little advance notice, the protest is still a notable recent event, as it drew thousands into the streets of downtown D.C.

The Pope’s visit to DC and Obama’s inauguration both induced a mild increase in traffic. In these cases, as with the Trump inauguration and Women’s March, much of the crowd likely came from out of town. It seems, though, that street closures around the Pope’s visit encouraged many to attempt a bike ride. Also notable: the Pope visited in September, when the weather was much more comfortable for riding.

Overall, pedestrian traffic seems less responsive to events than bike traffic. Perhaps the speed of biking allows bicycles to better replace transit and driving options. In each case, there are multiple reasons why more people might be biking or walking across the Potomac. In many instances the event closures force drivers or transit riders to switch modes in order to get to their usual destinations. In other cases, the events draw new visitors and curious Arlington residents into the District, who may augment normal counter figures.

The total attendance numbers are important to recognize: The travel ban protest, at an estimated 5,000 in attendance, was small, as a reactive protest organized in just two days. Meanwhile, Obama’s 2013 Inauguration drew 1,000,000 attendees, and Trump’s Inauguration and the Women’s March brought in at at least 250,000 and 500,000 respectively. The Pope’s visit to D.C. doesn’t seem to have cut and clear attendance numbers, as he traveled to multiple destinations within the District, but he spoke to a crowd of 11,000 people on the White House lawn on September 23, 2015.

Weather is another significant factor that should be recognized: Trump’s inauguration faced cold rain, and Obama’s 2013 ceremony was cool and cloudy. The Pope’s fall visit, however, was largely sunny and temperate.

The Memorial Bridge counters do not distinguish between bicyclists and pedestrians so that counter was only included in the total counts, but not in the individual bike and pedestrian breakdown. For the percent increase calculations, traffic counts on the day of the event were compared to weekend and holiday averages for the same month they occurred in (excluding the days of the events themselves).

Regardless of the exact reasons for the new biking and walking trips, the raised counts highlight the availability of additional travel options that can ease the impacts of major events on the D.C. area.

Photo: Pedestrians and a bicyclist on the Arlington side of the Memorial Bridge, looking eastward into D.C. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com)

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Visualizing a 10-minute walk’s worth of transportation connections https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/10/walkshed-transportation-arlington/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/03/10/walkshed-transportation-arlington/#respond Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:06:56 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21534 How far will 10 minutes of walking take you in Arlington? And which transportation options will you find? Mobility Lab’s tech advisor Michael Schade, inspired by a Twitter inquiry about walkshed visualisations, recently set out to create a localized walkshed tool that links walking to any number of transportation options. Speaking at last month’s walking-centric Transportation... Read more »

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How far will 10 minutes of walking take you in Arlington? And which transportation options will you find? Mobility Lab’s tech advisor Michael Schade, inspired by a Twitter inquiry about walkshed visualisations, recently set out to create a localized walkshed tool that links walking to any number of transportation options.

Speaking at last month’s walking-centric Transportation Techies meetup, Schade explained how he began working with the API – the application programming interface – of walkability-rating website Walk Score. Walk Score’s existing mapping tool generates a walking radius “bubble” over a given area, using Google Maps as the base map, and allows programmers to tweak a few small preferences.

transit walkshed

A transit-centric view from Ballston, Arlington.

To localize it to Arlington County, the tool incorporates data from the county’s Open Data Portal, bringing in additional options missing from Google Maps and the Walk Score API. Launched last year, the portal makes publicly available a wide array of data about Arlington, from maps of its streams to data on filled potholes. The locations of dedicated Zipcar and Enterprise carsharing spaces and ART bus stops all came from data hosted within the portal.

Lastly, a layer of the Arlington Bike Comfort map came from Arlington’s GIS Open Data site. Users looking for bike connections can toggle the colored biking routes onto the Google Maps base layer. By checking the relevant options, a map user at Court House (see screenshot at top) could determine that the Capital Bikeshare station at Key Boulevard and N. Vietch, a mere five-minute walk away, is a good option for them because of its location on a comfortable biking street.

Like any good open data project, the walkshed visualizer is a work in progress. Other layers of data for additional modes, street conditions, or destinations could be added in the future. What other features might it include to best represent walking connections and conditions in the area? Feel free to chime in below.

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University of Maryland project looks to crowdsource an accessibility map of DC’s sidewalks https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/15/umd-project-crowdsources-dc-sidewalks-accessibility/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/02/15/umd-project-crowdsources-dc-sidewalks-accessibility/#respond Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:31:07 +0000 https://mobilitylab.org/?p=21234 Other programmers at the recent Walk Hack Night presented data visualizations that explore walkability and walking connections in the Washington, D.C., region. Across the United States, 30.6 million Americans older than 15 live with mobility impairments, a significant portion of whom require an assistive aid like a walker or wheelchair. Despite progress since the Americans... Read more »

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Other programmers at the recent Walk Hack Night presented data visualizations that explore walkability and walking connections in the Washington, D.C., region.

Across the United States, 30.6 million Americans older than 15 live with mobility impairments, a significant portion of whom require an assistive aid like a walker or wheelchair. Despite progress since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it is still difficult for many of them to navigate cities.

Manaswi Saha presenting Project Sidewalk's progress.

Manaswi Saha presenting Project Sidewalk’s progress.

To identify the conditions creating these barriers, a team at the University of Maryland is crowdsourcing a map of sidewalk impediments within the District of Columbia. Presenting at the latest Transportation Techies’s Walk Hack Night, Manaswi Saha showed attendees the mapping progress of the project, now called Project Sidewalk, since it was last demoed for the group in 2015.

Inspired by Walk Score, which rates the walkability of neighborhoods nationally, Project Sidewalk seeks to provide a better understanding of the District’s walking accessibility, especially for people who depend on assistive aids. Instead of creating ratings based on proximity to amenities, Project Sidewalk catalogs the quality and accessibility of sidewalks and curb ramps.

The web tool, deployed publicly last fall, currently depends on public participation to evaluate D.C. sidewalks. Users mark problem spots with one of four tags: missing curb ramp, obstacles like fire hydrants, surface problems like crumbling pavement, and overall missing sidewalks (as shown above). Using Google Maps’ Street View, the tool drops participants into random locations throughout the city and prompts them to audit up to 1000 feet of that neighborhood. So far, the 475-person Project Sidewalk community has covered 463 miles of D.C. roads with 64,000 labels. This data is will be available for specific routing instructions, and also informs a WalkScore-esque neighborhood rating system.

Saha hopes the project will eventually cover 100 percent of the District, but its dependence on crowdsourced information is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and makes it difficult to expand to other locations. Ultimately, Saha and her team plan to automate the process, teaching the program to identify problem spots on its own, and to communicate the information to relevant government entities tasked with fixing them. In addition, they aim to build accessibility-aware navigation, providing users directions based on their dependence on assistive aids.

walkshed capture

These tools were made for walking

The other presenters at Walk Hack Night followed similar paths, demonstrating tools to better understand the distribution and quality of pedestrian infrastructure.

  • Aaron Ogle shared the history of Walkshed.js (above), a visualization of what people can reach on foot from any given point. When it first began years ago, Ogle approached the project by thinking of walkability as a surface, rather than a network – similar to how water in a given area returns to the ocean. From this lens, a walkshed map can better address how a person can reach a certain point or amenity from any location. Using a color gradient that accounts for obstacles like rivers or highways, walkshed.js creates a strong visual sense of where walking is most convenient.
  • Similarly, Transportation Techies organizer Michael Schade has been developing an Arlington Walkshed tool to help employers in the county educate their workers about the myriad commute options within the radius of a short walk. Schade’s tool highlights areas that users can reach within a chosen timeframe from 10 to 60 minutes, using walking and other modes.
  • University of Virginia’s Andrew Mondschien describes Tysons Corner – a historically car-centric area in the midst of an urban transformation – as having only a “nascent” level of walkability. Mondschein and students have been mapping the current quality of walking around Tysons with wearable sensors, collecting a range of ambient information, from air quality and noise levels to types of land use. Over time, Mondschein hopes to use these datasets to measure walkability for people at a certain time within a complex area, and to understand how this changes over time. This data, he said, should be “as community-based as decision-making is,” leading residents to be more invested in their environment and providing the information to ensure planning is making their city more livable.
  • District Ninja’s Matt Triner and Amir Farhangi shared District of Pedestrians, a 2015 analysis of the safety issues facing pedestrians, built from D.C.’s Vision Zero website. Drivers failing to stop for pedestrians was the number one infraction, and the VZ data showed that neighborhoods close to each other tended to share similar problems, creating pockets of geographically-linked safety issues.
  • Finally, many companies are working to understand indoor walking habits (mostly to encourage visitors to buy stuff). Chris Fricke of Geometri explained how Bluetooth sensors placed in lighting fixtures track customer movements within buildings. Using this data, programmers can determine the position of people within three feet, analyzing how they move around stores and where they spend the most time.

Images, from top: A screen capture of the Project Sidewalk crowdsourcing tool. Manaswi Saha presenting at Walk Hack Night (MV Jantzen, Flickr, Creative Commons). A capture of Walkshed.js in Philadelphia.

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Paving the way toward walkability by kicking deadly driving habits https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/30/paving-way-walkability-driving-habit/ https://mobilitylab.org/2017/01/30/paving-way-walkability-driving-habit/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 17:06:03 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=20164 Long gone are the days of Mad Men, when smoke-filled offices were common place. If you had told anyone during that era that in 30 years, it would be illegal to light up in most public places, they would have laughed in your face. When smoking was identified as a preventable killer and a threat... Read more »

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Long gone are the days of Mad Men, when smoke-filled offices were common place. If you had told anyone during that era that in 30 years, it would be illegal to light up in most public places, they would have laughed in your face. When smoking was identified as a preventable killer and a threat to public health that had to be curbed, it was obvious it would require dramatic behavior change to shift social attitudes. Several decades later, we now find it hard to imagine that smoking in public places was ever allowed.

Re-imagining the future with different behaviors can be difficult, but we have to act now. 2016 saw a dramatic surge in travel deaths in the U.S. This included car-crash fatalities as well as a surge in pedestrian deaths by cars. Car-related fatalities have affected all of us taking any mode, but the good news is that this phenomenon is preventable.

International progress towards safer streets

In the 1970s, the Netherlands saw a dramatic increase in car-related deaths, and public outcry ensued. They created a campaign advocating for safer streets for the most vulnerable people in society, children, called “Stop de Kindermoord,” which literally translates to “Stop the Child Murder.” Dutch cities responded with traffic-calming measures and shared-space designs in neighborhoods called “woonerfs,” which dramatically decreased the number of fatal car crashes.

Along the same vein, the Danish decided that they wanted to have safer, healthier citizens, which could be achieved by creating a more livable city. They invested in creating more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. By striving for this vision, the City of Copenhagen has transformed to become a place where more than 50 percent of people commute by bike every day.

U.S. driving in the future

Campaigns such as Vision Zero propose that no loss of life on our roads is acceptable. Such organizations re-frame the conversation to acknowledge that road deaths are preventable, not part of the game, and have helped us envision a safer and healthier future.

Several U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., are leading the way by adopting Vision Zero strategies and are actively making roads safer for all. The adoption of Vision Zero in D.C. has opened several doors, including collecting and making the District’s crash data open and more accessible to the public. This allows advocates and civic programmers, like Mobility Lab’s Transportation Techies group, to experiment with the data and gain new insights that can be used to identify specific locations that require new interventions and safety strategies. It has also included education and enforcement campaigns aimed to protect our most vulnerable road users.

A future that is dedicated to the goal of zero car-related fatalities will be a healthier, more productive future for everyone sharing the road. This future of safer roads with adequate space and facilities for pedestrians and cyclists will entail less congestion for motorists. The societal benefits that bicycling and walking produce are vast and cost-effective and reverberate to everyone who shares the road.

What you can do

Local, state, and federal governments all play a role in creating and maintaining our transportation system. All levels need to be involved in this re-visioning of safety and shift towards transportation planning practices that focus on all modes of transportation. They also need to be held accountable.

Shifting transportation goals, policies, and laws from a focus on the throughput of vehicles (which entails a certain percentage of crashes) to safely moving people to the places they want to go aligns with the mission of transportation-demand-focused agencies. Therefore, as constituents, it’s important to push for the adoption of Zero Vision policies and a shift to Complete Street design strategies, particularly at the local level. These will save lives.

It’s high time we commit to curbing our dangerous driving addiction and enjoy the benefits of safe streets.

A version of this post first appeared on the Arlington Transportation Partners blog.

Photo: Pedestrians navigate an intersection in Arlington County. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com)

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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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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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Pittsburgh emerging as a transportation leader, still has work ahead https://mobilitylab.org/2016/10/11/pittsburgh-emerging-transportation-leader-still-work-ahead/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/10/11/pittsburgh-emerging-transportation-leader-still-work-ahead/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 18:48:39 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=19186 Pittsburgh’s time to shine has come. The city has been thrust into the national spotlight, viewed by many transportation leaders as one of the nation’s promising blueprints for how cities can finally do transportation well. But while visiting Pittsburgh last week, I had the chance to put Pittsburgh in context with what people outside of town... Read more »

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Pittsburgh’s time to shine has come. The city has been thrust into the national spotlight, viewed by many transportation leaders as one of the nation’s promising blueprints for how cities can finally do transportation well.

But while visiting Pittsburgh last week, I had the chance to put Pittsburgh in context with what people outside of town think.

The positives:

  • Mayor Bill Peduto is a real mover-and-shaker, something any city that wants to retrofit its car culture must have.
  • Pittsburgh made it into the final seven for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge (which was awarded to Columbus, Ohio).
  • Mayor Peduto is hiring for a director of the just-announced city Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, which will think more holistically about the ways Pittsburgh uses its streets and public spaces.
  • Pittsburgh has become a testing ground for Uber’s autonomous vehicles. It’s unclear so far how much the citizenry actually embraces this, but you have to hand it to Peduto and city leaders for trying something – anything – that’s an improvement over our current car culture.

The challenges:

  • That car culture is certainly alive and kicking in Pittsburgh. Anecdotally, at least compared to the rapidly improving Washington, D.C., region, there seems to be considerable amounts of honking, unsafe maneuvers in crowded areas, and a general animosity towards people on foot and bicycles.
  • Several times, I walked along Forbes Avenue – a major one-way thoroughfare that runs east from downtown to the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Walking along on the sidewalks or waiting at bus stations feels terrifying, with fast-moving buses and cars passing dangerously close by. This is a street loaded with college students, who are the keys to our future and arguably one of the city’s greatest calling cards. Wouldn’t Forbes Avenue be better served as a red carpet of sorts for tourists and students to see what a great city it is they are entering? Traffic-calming measures, better and more creative sidewalks and bus stops, and protected bike lanes are all desperately needed. (The same holds true for the parallel, westbound and equally as dangerous Fifth Avenue.)
  • I loved the 28X bus that takes visitors straight from the airport to downtown. But apparently not many other people love it, which is a shame. It only runs every 30 minutes and the buses I rode had passengers, but they were not so full that anyone had to stand. More frequent buses and some sustained marketing could help make it more popular, because once you arrive in downtown or Oakland, it can be really beneficial not to have a car.
  • Healthy Ride launched as Pittsburgh’s bikeshare system just over a year ago and has been successful enough to see pretty phenomenal expansion, from 12 stations to 50 and growing still. As a tourist, I enjoyed the system and was able to quickly register and take $2, 30-minute rides throughout my stay. The challenge for Pittsburgh is its hilly topography. The city could install inexpensive wayfinding signage for the hills, similar to San Francisco’s The Wiggle, which directs riders to the easiest route around several hills.

I have a lot of hope that these challenges will be met. Pittsburgh is a hotbed of talented minds thinking about the city’s transportation issues.

In my time there, I was lucky enough to represent Mobility Lab and Arlington, Va., in presenting to two groups about how to identify and influence the decision-makers who can get things accomplished, and initiating little things, like pilot projects, that can add up to successfully changing resident’s perceptions.

First, I spoke to students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon University as part of a speaker series hosted by Traffic21, a group focused on transit technologies that is probably as close as Pittsburgh gets to having its own “Mobility Lab.”

Then, I spoke at the 4th Annual Oakland Transportation Fair to transportation experts from throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. The fair, at the University of Pittsburgh, had exhibits featuring fascinating tools and products, free rides in an autonomous vehicle, and was organized by the Oakland Transportation Management Association, which is itself directed by one of the city’s transportation leaders, Mavis Rainey.

Forbes Avenue doesn’t seem to be as dangerous through the Carnegie Mellon campus as it is around the University of Pittsburgh. But it’s encouraging that CMU’s chief campus architect Bob Reppe told me all about the plans for that stretch of roadway. PennDOT is renovating it as a complete street, with features that recognize the existence of pedestrians and cyclists. Where once there was an underused parking lot, there will soon be a much more attractive welcoming space to the campus, and parking will be placed underground and out of sight.

It won’t happen overnight, but for rebuilding a city that’s better for everyone – drivers included – there is a formidable braintrust in place to keep Pittsburgh heading in the right direction.

Photo: A bike lane on Clemente Bridge, installed in 2015 (David Kent, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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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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“Trail towns” embracing economic benefits of long-distance biking routes https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/14/trail-towns-embracing-economic-benefits-of-distance-biking-routes/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/09/14/trail-towns-embracing-economic-benefits-of-distance-biking-routes/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 14:41:13 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18969 Editor’s note: This is one of the final parts of our Transpo(nation) series, in which Andrew Carpenter bicycled across the U.S. – from San Francisco back to Washington D.C. – to report on transportation options. The home stretch of my trip through Pennsylvania and Maryland followed the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal... Read more »

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Transpo(nation) logo

Editor’s note: This is one of the final parts of our Transpo(nation) series, in which Andrew Carpenter bicycled across the U.S. – from San Francisco back to Washington D.C. – to report on transportation options.

The home stretch of my trip through Pennsylvania and Maryland followed the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath trails.

Meeting in Cumberland, Maryland, the trails form 325 miles of unbroken, off-street walking and biking paths from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. It was a relaxing finish to a cross-country route marked with close-passing freight trucks, potholed highways, and punishing sun.

Along the trails, I met multiple people on repeat trips of the GAP and C&O. These travelers praised the beauty and serenity of the route, but also the easily accessible destinations along the way. In turn, residents and local businesses also benefit from this increased access through active transportation.

Communities along the GAP and C&O trails, historically grown around the respective train and canal routes, have been enhancing their accessibility for recreational hikers and bikers on long-distance and day trips, which has improved options for active transportation within towns. With encouragement by advocacy groups, communities along these trails provide an example of the economic and social benefits, yet in a rural context, that can come with increased active transportation.

ac-trail-town

Embracing the trail town role

Along the GAP, as well as other developing rail trails in Western Pennsylvania and Maryland, Pennsylvania-based non-profit The Progress Fund has been running an economic development initiative called the Trail Town Program. It works to harness the economic potential that comes with access to quality outdoor recreation and communicate how walkability can benefit rural and urban communities alike.

The stretch of trails provides access to active travel for a significant number of people  – approximately 700,000 people are estimated [PDF] to have used the GAP in 2013. According to a user and business survey [PDF] that Trail Towns conducted in 2014, more than half of the people on the rail-trail were taking multi-day trips, and the number of first timers doubled to 46 percent from three years prior, suggesting an influx of visitors to the towns along the way.

Put into economic context, the benefits of accessible trails and outdoor recreation become very apparent. According to the same survey, 40 percent of all businesses along the GAP indicate plans to expand due to this increase of trail users. According to The Progress Fund, the Great Allegheny Passage has generated about $50 million in income from visitors using the trail.

trail-towns-user-survey-chart

The Trail Towns 2014 user survey found travelers spending more per night than in previous years.

With so many travel options to reach the Passage, there is a wide potential customer base, and the Trail Towns Program is working to ensure  there is a similar abundance of bike- and pedestrian-friendly options in these towns for lodging and eating. Through technical and marketing assistance, the initiative coordinates with businesses to improve wayfinding and bike parking, as well as fosters the expansion of resources for travelers, such as gear shops and campsites, creating a welcoming and attractive atmosphere for active travelers. Connellsville, Pennsylvania, exemplified this with free Adirondack shelters for camping, as well as route suggestions that encouraged me to spend extra time there and explore the restaurant scene.

Cultural benefits

Having developed around a canal and railway in the 19th century, these towns are uniquely positioned to bring that history to modern users of those routes. Each town I passed through showcased substantive historical exhibits and many promoted active arts scenes. There was a noticeable level of civic pride around what they had to offer travelers.

I also noticed that many more people were walking   than in other rural towns I had seen across the country. In the areas that did not have such recreational facilities nearby, anybody traveling without a car, like myself, seemed out of place, and drivers didn’t know how to deal with that presence. With so much development around active travelers, it has worked into the local culture as well , making the roads feel safer and welcoming for visitors and locals. Ohiopyle, Penn., especially seemed to embrace this role. Despite being a tiny community, there were wide sidewalks, green areas, and even bike lanes. The priority that the area gives to pedestrians and cyclists was distinct, with large groups of cyclists gathering at cafes and no cars on the streets in the few hours I spent there.

While each individual town along the two trails is small, they make up a thriving network rich in history that is also developing an impressive set of restaurants, lodging options, and cultural attractions. Such an extensive off-street trail like the GAP or C&O Towpath help promote this vitality while allowing communities to retain their rural identity.

The rise of the Trail Towns Project, and the focus it has brought to active transportation, demonstrates the role that biking can play even in a rural context. An initiative like this in conjunction with trail advocates like the Allegheny Trail Alliance or Rails to Trails Conservancy provides a great example of what is possible around the country to build and promote trails, which in turn connects communities and makes them better places to get around.

Photo, top: People riding bikes and hiking on the Great Allegheny Passage (Jon Dawson, Flickr, Creative Commons). Middle, a visitors center along the trailpath (Andrew Carpenter).

 

 

 

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Car-centric data encourages car-centric transportation planning https://mobilitylab.org/2016/08/22/car-centric-data-begets-car-centric-planning/ https://mobilitylab.org/2016/08/22/car-centric-data-begets-car-centric-planning/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:28:42 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18842 We often discuss the role of data in the transportation industry, especially how advocates are using it and new technologies to improve non-drive-alone transportation options. But Joe Cortwright, over at City Observatory, recently made a key point about data: the vast majority of new technology-driven transportation data is focused on making it easier to drive. The movement towards the development... Read more »

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We often discuss the role of data in the transportation industry, especially how advocates are using it and new technologies to improve non-drive-alone transportation options. But Joe Cortwright, over at City Observatory, recently made a key point about data: the vast majority of new technology-driven transportation data is focused on making it easier to drive.

The movement towards the development of “smart cities” largely emphasizes connected solutions for traffic flow and signal prioritization, but fails to capture the kinds of solutions that would improve conditions for biking and walking. As Cortwright notes:

As the old adage goes: If you don’t count it, it doesn’t count. That premise becomes vastly more important the more we define problems in big-data terms. New technology promises to provide a firehose of data about cars, car travel, car delay, and roadways—but not nearly as much about people. This is a serious omission, and should give us pause about the application of “smart” principles to cities and transportation planning.

A prominent example is also visible in this widely-shared video from MIT, which envisions a connected transportation system in which autonomous cars can communicate turns with each other, negating the need for stoplights. Connected vehicles offers a lot in terms of minimizing congestion, but the demonstration – based on a Boston intersection with two bike lanes – notably excludes people walking, biking, or taking transit.

The issue, too, is two-fold, since much of the data that informs walking and biking behaviors is qualitative, and thus more difficult to record, analyze, and communicate. Cortwright again:

Large parts of most American cities, and especially their suburbs, constitute vast swaths of hostile territory to people traveling on foot. Either destinations are too spread out, or there just aren’t sidewalks or crosswalks to support safely walking from point to point. Moreover, walking is so uncommon that drivers have become conditioned to behave as if pedestrians don’t exist, making streets even more foreboding.

From the standpoint of the data-reliant transportation engineer, the problems encountered by Dorantes, Yearsley, and Tektel are invisible – and therefore “nonexistent.” Because we lack the conventional metrics to define and measure, for example, the hardships of walking, we don’t design and enforce solutions or adopt targeted public policies.

There’s still much to be learned about how people drive from sensors and connected vehicles. The key challenge, though, is to find ways to include and prioritize multimodal considerations as new technologies improve our ability to gather transportation data.

Read the full article on City Observatory here.

Photo: Traffic in Arlington County, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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