Category Archives: Transportation

Bike Repair Stations

Bike Repair StationFortunately for bicyclists, public agencies are not only installing more bike trails, lanes, and shared use paths. Over the last few years many are also recognizing the need for support facilities and adding bike repair stations along these routes. The Fixit station shown in the photo above has an air pump to the left and a bike mounting/repair station on the right. This specific type of station includes the following tools which hang inside the station to assist in repairing your bike – a close up of these tools is shown below: Bike Repair StationTools

  • Philips and flat head screwdrivers
  • 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm Allen wrenches
  • 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 32mm box wrenches
  • Tire levers (2)

This specific model, made and sold by Dero, is available in three styles and in many different colors and finishes including galvanized, thermoplastic, and powder coated. Their website offers CAD drawings, specifications, and other information. The company also publishes a map showing where their stations have been installed which might be helpful to bicyclists who are planning their routes. According to the map, bike repair stations have been placed in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The company also offers other useful bicycle support structures such as shelters, lockers, racks, and signage.

Some agencies such as the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) have adopted an innovative idea of installing these stations at their own facilities. VCFD is taking advantage of National Bike Month to launch the installation of 16 repair stations at fire stations across the county. And they are hosting a Bike 'n' Ride event to celebrate. You can read more about the department's innovative support of their cycling community in this article in the Camarillo Acorn: "Fire stations across county to add bike repair services."

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Mapping the Accessible Path

Access map screenshot showing sidewalk steepness at 0.5%The Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) team, a group out of the University of Washington, has been involved in an effort to improve mapping of the pedestrian way. By making use of the work from the OpenSidewalks project, they created AccessMap – a trip planning tool for people with limited mobility. With this tool, people can find the most accessible path through a network of sidewalks connected by curb ramps and street crossings.

At this time, the tool has only been implemented in Seattle, but the group plans to expand to other locations. The data used for the project is a compilation of the following elements with sources noted:

  • Base map – OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Sidewalks and curb ramps – Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Street crossings – DSSG Team
  • Elevations – National Elevation Dataset, USGS

When a user clicks a sidewalk segment, the steepness or grade is displayed. The screenshot of the map above shows a sidewalk segment along 1st Avenue between Madison and Spring streets at a 0.5% grade. Sidewalk segments are also colored coded to indicate the grade with red exceeding the required 5%, yellow just below the requirement, and green meeting the requirement. Clicking a street crossing or crosswalk displays the steepness or running grade along with a "Yes" or "No" to indicate whether or not curb ramps are at the corners.

To plan a route using the map, the user types in their origin and destination in a manner similar to how other mapping programs work. The difference is that Accessmap has a drop down tool for the user to designate a limit for maximum uphill and downhill grade and the need to avoid construction and require curb ramps. Different mobility assisted devices such as wheelchairs or canes can also be designated. Below is an example of a planned route.

Planned route example on accessmap

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Newly Released Pedestrian Facility Selection Tool

PedestriansLast 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:

 
  • raised platforms,
  • kerb extensions,
  • median refuges,
  • zebra crossings,
  • signals,
  • grade separation,
  • 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.

Pedestrian Selection Tool Top Section

 

 
Pedestrian Selection Tool Bottom Section

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.

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Using Stationary Bikes to Design Bike Trails

Stationary Bike ScreenAs 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! 

 

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Improving Bicycle Path Design

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

Root Damage on Bike 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). 

Roadway approaches

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.

Sight distance

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.

 

Adjacent surfaces

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.

Gravel along bike path

Path Material

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.

Bike Path with Sand

 
 
 
Signage
 
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.
 
 
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Using Augmented Reality to Visualize Engineering Designs

This week I experimented with using an augmented reality app at a public meeting to display this simple visualization of one of our projects.

3D model of a project using Augmented Reality

My experience was that it did seem to help with explaining or showing people not only an overall snapshot of how the roadway will look when finished, but it also helped show specific design and operational details that were difficult to describe. So I figured I'd post a quick explanation of the software I used to create the model and which app I used to host and display the visualization in case anyone else is interested in trying something similar out at their own meetings.

To begin, I would have liked to just export the project directly out of CAD and into the program where I assembled the 3D model because this allows for a more accurate representation and saves some steps. I've done this before using AutoCAD, and it was very straight forward and easy. Unfortunately we use Microstation at work instead of AutoCAD and so far I have been unable to find a way to get this to work with that software. The main problem seems to be that although it has 3D export capability, the program will not allow me to export something with a thickness so everything ends up flat. And it won't let me expand my export in the "Z" direction even if I import it into other 3D programs. I've spoken with a representative of the company, and as I've indicated in previous posts, he said Microstation is not interested in supporting this because they don't see a need for engineers to use this type of feature – as he put it "we're engineers, not gamers." So because of this, I had to create the 3D objects in other programs and use a PDF of the plan view as a guide in placing the objects. Also because of this and my time constraints I only modeled a portion of the project where there were no complex shapes.

So the program I used to create and assemble the 3D objects is Opensimulator. It's a free, open source program that runs as a web service and allows you to create and texture 3D objects then export them as models. You can set up Opensimulator on your own desktop by using something like SimonaStick or you can run it by installing it on your computer and connecting it to a service that allows you to access the interface with the use of a viewer. I used the second option and connected it to a service called OSGrid then used the Singularity viewer to log in and build. The main difference between building with this method and one that would use a more traditional 3D program like Blender is that building in Opensimulator is much more intuitive because you create using an avatar or 3D representation of yourself. Opensimulator has also greatly simplified the creation and texturing of objects.

Here is an "aerial view" of what my "build" looked like inside OSGrid right before I exported it as a 3D model.

As a side note, what is nice about building in Opensimulator is that you can use your avatar to walk through the project and get a feel for how it will function. If we were also building a streetscape, the use of an avatar helps assist in placement of elements. And from what I understand, if I had an Oculus Rift device, I could have put it on and immersed myself in the design as if I was actually there. This is something I hope to also eventually try as a design tool once I get a chance to buy one of those devices.

The only elements in the photo above that I could not create in Opensimulator were the cars and curbed medians. As you can see from the attribution note in the photo, the cars were 3D models I downloaded from the Kator Legaz website then uploaded into Opensimulator using Singularity. And I also uploaded a median that I created in Blender because I wanted the top to be curved like a regular curb is – Opensimulator does not allow for the creation of something like this so I had to use Blender then import the 3D model into Opensimulator. For all the graphics or textures applied to the models, I created them using a graphic software package then uploaded them into Opensimulator. There are many graphics programs that I use, but if you are looking for a good, free program, you can always use Gimp.

Once everything was assembled, I used the export 3D model feature in Singularity to create a Collada file of my build. Then I used my account on Augment to upload the model so I could access it and view it using the Augment app on my iPhone and iPad. Having the model available at the meeting made it convenient to show people what it will look like when built. For example, when I was having trouble explaining how the inlets impact the bike lane, I was able to just use this model to show someone how the inlets effectively reduce the bike lane from 7.5 feet in width to 5 feet if people do not want to ride over the inlet. Overall I would say having the model did enhance the ability to share our project with the community, and I hope to be able to build upon this experience to create more complex and detailed models in the future. If you want to check out the model yourself, you can access it here:

3D Model of Protected Bike Lane

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