The EPA has been promoting Fix-a-Leak Week (March 16-22, 2015) for the past seven years. But like many issues in public works, sometimes it is difficult to drive awareness and attract people's attention to the message. Even with great social media resources and a topic that left ignored could mean a loss of money, it's still not easy for a message like this to stand out in today's constant stream of information. So some communities are taking a different and innovative approach by promoting the problem of running water with a 5K Run, and a few races will even include a running toilet.
If you manage a water system and have been looking for an idea for getting your message out about Fix-a-Leak, you can check out the races listed at the end of this post and consider organizing something similar in your own community. As the popularity of the race in Roswell, Ga., shows, your one event can end up reaching 800 people from your community. If the idea of a race is too much for your staff to manage on their own with the often limited time and resources available, you can follow the lead of Fort Worth, Texas, and partner with a local running group or club to help organize and host your run.
Many of the communities also enhance their event by incorporating social media. A few have created videos to promote their run (included with each listing below) or encouraged participants to use social media to post photos of themselves running in the race. Some of the races are themed and include a costume contest. At least one of the races offers a prize to a random person who posts on social media something they learned from the event. And others, including the one in Fort Worth, have also arranged for groups such as the EPA, local water conservation organizations, and local hardware or plumbing companies to set up information booths at the race. What better way to raise awareness, offer information, and have some fun!?
Last month, Austroads, the association of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies, released a Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool. According to their website, "the Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool is designed to help Australian and New Zealand practitioners select the most appropriate type of pedestrian crossing based on walkability, safety and economic outcomes." They have produced a User Guide and will be offering more information about the tool at a webinar scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The webinar has already filled up, but the site indicates it will be recorded and offered on the website at a later date for viewing.
The tool can be used to assess the following types of pedestrian facilities:
or combinations of these facilities.
According to the User Guide, the tool can also be used to assess the following:
"Puffin signals: the default signal type assessed by the tool, in which all pedestrian green phases are associated with pedestrians actually crossing
Wombat crossing (Australia): treat as Zebra with platform and adjust posted/approach speed if required"
You can try out the tool by clicking this link: Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool Link, then reading the necessary guidance and inputs on the page, reading the disclaimer, and clicking the link at the bottom of the page to indicate your acceptance of their terms and to access the tool. Below are screenshots showing the top and bottom sections of the tool.
For each option, "the tool then evaluates pedestrian and vehicle delay, safe sight distances, pedestrian level of service and, using default economic parameters developed for each Australian jurisdiction and New Zealand, calculates a benefit cost ratio." And if you are interested in learning more about the research undertaken to support and develop this tool, you can check out this report: Development of the Australasian Pedestrian Selection Tool.
If you implement a running program at your company as part of your wellness program, you might want to also offer guidance and resources about running to those employees who begin taking up the sport in earnest. Because shoes are one of the main items of gear needed for running, some advice on picking out the right shoe can be a great place to start. There are so many factors to consider in picking out a shoe that it can seem overwhelming to a new runner. So to help summarize the process, we did some research about choosing a running shoe and put together a simple infographic with the basic information someone might need to pick out the right shoe for them. Feel free to use this in your own programs, share it on your own social media channels, or grab the embed code below to post it on your own website.
As I ride my bike through some of the grades, curves, and alignments along the bike paths in my area, I often wonder if the person who designed them rides a bike. Because I can't imagine anyone who rides regularly making some of the design choices I encounter. This got me wondering if the designer would have still made those same choices if they had to first ride their design before building it. Of course, up until recently this really would not have been possible. But thanks to newer technologies, this type of design tool could probably be implemented today, and here's how I'm thinking it could be done.
Let's say I am given a project with the goal of designing a bike facility. This route could consist of a shared use path or an on-road facility or a combination of both. I would begin with a fairly traditional approach of analyzing potential alignments. Then after choosing one or more proposed routes, I would arrange to have these alignments surveyed, bring them into a CADD program like Autodesk Civil 3D, and start developing my design for each alternative. At this point, the final alternative would be chosen by analyzing the route for impacts, costs, public opinion, access to specific destinations, property acquisition issues, and other typical factors we usually consider when finalizing a design. The downside of this approach is that the actual performance of the facility can never be assessed. It is just assumed that if the engineer followed the same design criteria for each alternative, they would all perform in a similar manner. However, based on specific environmental conditions or design choices, this might not necessarily be true. Then it is not until the route is built and the money is spent that the users realize there are some issues with the design. So how can we use newer technologies to overcome this inability to assess our design before actually building it?
During the stage in which we analyze the alternatives, we could export a 3D model of our design. Then we could upload it to a stationary bicycle that has a screen display of our route. The computer on the bike would then pick up the design parameters such as slopes, lengths of segments, curves, etc., and then program the bike to react to those parameters. So if I have designed too steep of a slope for too long of a distance, it will become very obvious as I actually bike that route. And while this could be done simply to analyze only the design of the path, other models such as terrain, trees, intersections, and buildings along with environmental conditions such as wind, sunlight, and perhaps even traffic flow could also be added to allow for a more detailed analysis of how the environment impacts the path. In addition to having the engineer bike their own design, potential users of the path who span a whole range of abilities could also bike the design and offer input and comments.
So how close are we to being able to do this? I suppose that is a question for the companies manufacturing stationary bicycles. I know they can take a route and project it on the screen as you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post. And I know they can adjust the bike for grade/resistance. But can they read essentially what would be metadata about the images being displayed and use that to control the grade? I don't know with the current bikes, but I am sure if it's not possible now, it could definitely be programmed to function in this manner. As for exporting a file from Civil 3D that could integrate with a stationary bike in this manner, I would think based on how innovative Autodesk has always been that company would have no problem figuring this out.
And even though my main thought in all this was to help us design better bike facilities, it also made me wonder if something like this could lead to a whole new industry for civil engineers in which we design virtual bike experiences for stationary bikes too!
Over the last year or so we've logged significant mileage on our bikes. While one outcome has been the expected increase in personal fitness, another has been better awareness and insight into design of bicycle facilities. Most of the paths along which we ride have been in place for many years so were probably designed under older guidance, but I am still not sure that all of the issues we've noticed have yet been addressed by more recent bicycle design manuals. So I wanted to share a few of the problem areas we have identified to see if anyone else has figured out or has any comments for some best practices or guidance to improve these aspects of design:
Tree impacts to the path
A lot of off-road paths are lined by trees. This can create a few issues that could cause a cyclist to fall and possibly be injured. This can occur in the colder climates because trees drop leaves that can pile up and become slippery if not cleared. Trees also drop seeds such as acorns or walnuts. Hitting these the wrong way could cause a cyclist to lose balance and fall. I know of at least one agency that regularly sends out a small sweeper about once a week to clear debris, particularly in the fall and that maintenance activity appears to keep the path in that area fairly clear.
Trees can also cause damage to the path from roots. As you can see in the photo here, someone has marked areas of the path where trees have caused the path to heave. If a cyclist did not see these bumps, they could lose balance and fall.
The tree's proximity to the path can also cause a potential for problems. As shown in the photo, trees are often located very close to the pavement. If too close, the trunks of the trees can also grow into the pavement. One day when we were riding in another area of this trail, we saw a cyclist miss navigating a curve and hit a tree that was very close to the path. He fell and fortunately was not hurt. But it made us wonder if there should be a clear zone for bike paths similar to the concept used for roadway design. The Washington State Shared-Use Path Design Manual does call for a horizontal clearance of two feet (page 1515-5).
A lot of the trails we ride follow a river so quite often we end up having to navigate steep slopes when the path changes course away from the river. There have been a few instances where it seemed the designer could have mitigated the slope by lengthening out the transition, but instead took the shorter route which resulted in a slope almost steep enough to require us to dismount and walk our bikes. We've also wondered why when a bike route we follow is moved onto streets, the steepest street in the area is chosen for the route. One of the roads we ride along is so steep we definitely have to get off our bikes and walk them a block or two until the route turns down another, flatter street. I realize the calculation for bike level of service does not take into account grade – probably because it was developed in Florida along flat routes – but if I have to get off my bike, I am no longer able to use it as a bike route which would seem to mean a complete failure of that bike facility. So I definitely believe grade should be incorporated into the Bike LOS calculation.
The other problem with steep slopes is that they require a lot of energy and momentum to ride up. And because many paths we bike along seem to have been designed with a steep slope immediately adjacent to an intersection with a road, we end up going up the slope approaching the road at a high rate of speed and with a lot of momentum then have to slam on the brakes immediately as we hit the road. I always wonder how we appear to the cars that are approaching the crossing. I would think it looks like we are not going to stop. The other problem with this design is there is usually no flat area at the top of slope at the road intersection. So as you wait for the cars to go by, you are sitting on that steep slope which makes it even more difficult to start moving again and quickly pedal across the road. A better design would seem to be to pull back the slope slightly and allow for a flatter area at the top where the path intersects the road. The question would be what distance would work best here? Another consideration would perhaps be to give a widened area at these intersections to allow for several users to queue while they wait to cross.
The other area where slopes seem to cause problems is at stream crossings. On the paths where we ride, there are many of these crossings and usually the downgrade is very steep on both sides of the bridge. So the ideal approach would be to ride fast down the hill and across the bridge so we have enough momentum to assist in making it up the hill on the other side. Unfortunately most of the designs have brought the slope down almost to a "V" at the edge of the bridge instead of designing in a gradual vertical curve. And because the joint where the asphalt path meets the bridge is not always smooth, we end up having to reduce our speed to make it over this severe change in grade that might also have a bump. So the only distance we have to build up speed again is across the short bridge which usually isn't enough.
It seems that there is some guidance out there for sight distance, but that doesn't help riders on paths that were built with no thought to this design consideration. Perhaps on older facilities, agencies responsible for the paths could go back and assess their facility and add in striping or signs to let cyclists know there are potential sight distance problems in a specific area.
Surface material of areas adjacent to bike paths can cause damage to the path or unsafe conditions for users of the path. For example, one trail we ride is located next to a gravel parking lot near a school. After riding through here a few times, we've gotten to the point where we now remain in the road through this section because there is always a lot of gravel on the path. This appears to be due to the drainage design and grades of the road, lot, and path in this location. As water flows from the road and across the lot, it picks up gravel from the parking lot. Then as the water flows across the path, the gravel drops out onto the asphalt, possibly because the path looks like it could be a localized low area. The gravel on the path is difficult to ride over and can cause instability to a cyclist which can result in them falling and possibly getting injured.
Path material is definitely an important component of a bike path. There is a path we ride along, or I should say used to ride along, where the agency decided to place asphalt grindings over the crushed gravel that was initially placed as the surface. Grindings are definitely a material that should never be used for a shared used path or even a dedicated bike path. There are usually few fines in it unless it has been processed to have fines added which usually isn't the case. So riding along a path made with grindings ends up somewhat similar to the experience of riding on marbles. We also came across another path where an agency had placed sand. Riding in sand is also not very easy. So as you can see in the photo below, people appear to avoid it by walking their bikes through the grass which is exactly what we did. The FHWA provides some guidance on surface materials for shared-use paths as part of their Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access Part II of II: Best Practices Design Guide.
Another issue we noticed along many bike paths is a lack of directional signage. One day last year, I decided to go on a 30+ mile bike ride that took me along many routes with which I was not familiar. One particular route required me to transition between trail and roadway several times. Unfortunately it was difficult to navigate using my phone since it was having battery issues and didn't make it through most of the trip leaving me stranded with no map. Fortunately there was another cyclist who knew exactly where to go to get off one trail, make our way through a maze of streets and connecting trails and manage to end up where two main trails picked up again. And he was nice enough to realize I was lost and needed his guidance. Just a few well placed signs would have really helped me find my way because I really can't go biking on a regular basis hoping there will be a nice person there who knows the way and will help.
We are starting out the new year of 2015 still a little overwhelmed by everything that happened in 2014. This was due to several factors including an increased yet exciting work load at our primary jobs and some major changes we were making in our personal lives leaving little time to hop online and share with all of you. So because of this, as regular readers might have noticed, there have been few posts made to the site since June of last year.
We want to thank all of you for being patient with us while we were going through these changes. Hopefully they have increased our knowledge and abilities so that we can bring a new and better offering to all of you over this new year.
So what happened in 2014?
The Book! First, we’d like to review the status of the goals we set at this time last year. One of the most exciting of these was to begin writing a book that will offer information and guidance about city engineering. This effort was started about mid-year. And as each chapter is completed, an excerpt or synopsis will be posted online on the Public Works Magazine website. The first article was published last fall, Establishing the City Engineering Position, and the next one is due to be online soon. So if you’ve ever wondered about how to establish and run a city engineering department, make sure you stay tuned for the release of each article. And when the book if finally completed and available for purchase, I’ll announce it here.
WATERCON!Next, as planned, I was able to attend WATERCON in March of last year. It was incredibly informative as always. As part of this, I did set up a small demo of a WATERCON conference site in Unity3D you can check out over on the WATERCON blog site along with the other resources. However we were not yet able to develop the remaining Unity3D offerings we had planned and will most likely extend that goal into the new year along with the development of an Android app for PROWAG which we were also not able to make time to create. But with PROWAG still not yet adopted, this goal could also be extended into 2015.
The Curve Balls!The surprising, yet very positive, upsets in our careers last year were lessons in how goals can easily be redirected. As mentioned above, while we did manage to make a few of our planned goals a reality, most of our accomplishments ended up not planned at all causing us to change direction mid-year:
Not long after 2014 launched, both of us had the opportunity to be involved with the update of our agency’s ADA Transition Plan. As part of this initiative, I had the opportunity to become the ADA coordinator for my area at work. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you would best understand what this meant to me. Accessibility and ADA related matters have long held a strong professional interest for me. (A few years back I developed a 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government and have been working on other related resources for some time.) This opportunity allowed me to attend the Annual ADA Symposium in June of last year which was highly informative and helped to solidify my understanding of this topic. And I’ve been able to teach a few ADA courses alongside some of the professionals I’ve known and respected for a long time.
I was also asked by my co-workers to become more involved with our employee health and wellness and was allowed to became a member of our health committee. We organized bike rides after work and worked on several other programs the group regularly offers. Personally I started running regularly with their encouragement and ended up becoming significantly more fit as a result of their support and influence.>
Finally both of us were able to take more active roles in our agency in bicycle planning and design. This is still somewhat of an emerging trend in civil engineering. So while the efforts have taken over the year considerable time and commitment, we are excited to be actively engaged in our agency’s activities in this area.
So, dare we plan for 2015?
Even though 2014 was a good lesson in proving we cannot completely predict the future, we still believe it is helpful to have some type of plan. The key is understanding the plan should be flexible enough to respond to changes if necessary. So here is what we are starting out with as a general framework for 2015:
Finish that book! >Yes, we hope to finish the book on city engineering so that you can have your very own copy by the end of the year. That is a huge goal, but one we are most focused on accomplishing.
Finish developing an online PROWAG related course! Last year I also started setting up an online training course for learning PROWAG. The opening video for the course is below. When complete, the entire class will have 57 short modules designed to level someone from an accessibility apprentice to a PROWAG Master.
Develop and offer employee health and wellness resources! Because of my involvement in employee health and fitness, I’ve become more aware of just how much employers are focusing on this issue. So drawing on our own knowledge and experience, we’ll be setting up an online resource to begin offering health-related information to both employers and employees. As this goal develops, we'll keep you posted here.
So that’s it! While we would like to pursue many more goals, we will have our hands full just meeting the ones listed here. Keep stopping back to check our progress as we will try to keep you up to date on the status of each of these goals.
Finally we wish all of you a healthy and success-filled new year!