Tag Archives: transportation

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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Submit Your Ideas on Transportation & Assistive Devices & Technologies

Pedestrian and Signal Technology

The U.S. DOT through the FHWA has opened a dialogue on Transportation and Assistive Devices and Technologies. You can visit their Ideascale site to offer your own ideas about how best to make use of technologies to enhance and support mobility for transportation users with disabilities.

It's important for all of us in involved in roadway and signal design to remain involved in dialogues like this so that new technologies can be integrated in the most efficient and effective manner. Even if you don't want to comment or offer an idea, it's helpful to read through the ideas and comments to learn what those who use facilities we design really need. And there are a few comments that lead to other resources and tools which might be useful to planners and designers.

I offered one idea we've been discussing since visiting a community that had an older APS installed at an intersection. We noticed the voice was difficult to hear and understand. I want to add though that neither of us have a vision impairment so our observation was made as users who often rely on our sight for guidance and therefore could be different that the opinion of a person with a vision impairment. (You can watch a short video we took of the cycle to listen yourself to what a pedestrian would hear at this intersection.)

Other than the inability to really hear and understand what is going on from these devices, we are also aware there is concern about the constant noise created in the environment. While this is useful and necessary when needed, is it best to have a device that continues to make noise in the environment even when not needed? Especially when it begins to compete with other signal device sounds in a highly dense, and urbanized area? 

Before smart phones these were perhaps our only solution and therefore necessary, but now with smart devices, we wondered if it wouldn't be better to have pedestrian signal devices communicate directly with smart phones or devices. The APS could activate only when sensing a device that is programmed to request specific information from the APS such as location of button, path guidance, and area location information. If a path or destination had been programmed, perhaps the APS could even signal to the user which direction to go or if they are on the wrong street.

We also talked about installing something in the pavement along both edges of the crosswalk that could communicate with a pedestrian and let them know through vibrations or a pulse they were wandering outside of the crosswalk area.

Since exploring these ideas, we have not yet had the chance to discuss it with anyone who has a vision impairment which is why the dialogue is so important. Perhaps there are issues with our ideas we have not considered since we are primarily the designers and not the users of these devices. So I encourage everyone to take just a few minutes to visit the site, read the ideas, submit your own if you have them, add some comments, and work together with everyone to increase the use and mobility of our designs for everyone. 

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The Game is On – FHWA is Seeking Your Input on Smart Cars

USDOT Connected Vehicles ImageThe USDOT and several other transportation agencies around the nation have been paying close attention to the emergence of the smart car. Over the last few years, they have funded research in this technology and studied how to integrate it into the existing system. And now, they are reaching out in several ways to share what they have learned and seek input from the public and other professionals to help develop guidance for connected vehicles. Here is an excerpt of the notice from FHWA:

"The Federal Highway Administration plans to issue deployment guidance on connected vehicles to transportation infrastructure owner/operators in 2015. Your input is needed. Tell us what would best support decision making and deployments at the state and local level."

You can read more about this effort and access the link to provide your own thoughts and ideas at http://www.its.dot.gov/connected_vehicle/fhwa2015_connected_vehicles.htm. (The link to provide input was not working for me so if it does not for you, here are the email addresses it is set up to link to: Robert.Arnold@dot.gov and Cynthia.Maloney@dot.gov.) FHWA also collected public input at a session held on Jan. 16, 2014, in Washington, D.C. As the proceedings from that meeting become available, they will also be provided at that site.

Before providing input, FHWA suggests people read an article in Public Roads, Linking Drivers and Roads, to get more background on the technology and potential benefits which include the ability to:

  • deliver more accurate and robust hazard warnings to drivers
  • collect data for use in improving the transportation system
  • deliver vehicle location and speed information to traffic signals to adjust phasing and avoid vehicle idling
  • deliver road conditions to State and local agencies to help improve maintenance and service
  • deliver traffic and transit information to help travelers select optimal routes
  • provide specific, dynamic warnings that are more reliable than static signs and more likely to capture drivers' attention
  • provide invehicle alerts to drivers about potential violations of upcoming red lights
  • alert motorists when it is unsafe to enter intersections
  • alert the motorist to slow down if a driver's current speed is unsafe for traveling through an upcoming road curve
  • implement crash avoidance systems
  • inform visually impaired pedestrians of when to cross at intersections and how to remain aligned with crosswalks
  • allow for smartphones of registered blind users to alert traffic signal controllers and drivers to the presence of visually impaired pedestrians waiting to cross
  • enable granting buses priority at traffic signals based on factors such as number of passengers, schedule and headway adherence, service type, and peak direction of travel
  • provide travel information to commercial vehicle operators, including freight-specific route guidance, and facilitate coordinated load management to reduce empty-load trips
  • facilitate integrated transit operations, such as passenger connection protection, transit dispatching, and new forms of operational practices intended to enhance dynamic ridesharing

Another interesting section in the article summarizes the studies funded by FHWA and provides links to their findings.There are at least five other resources cited where you can learn more about this technology.


I've included a few more resources below for those who are interested in reading more about this technology:

USDOT Connected Vehicle Research Page: http://www.its.dot.gov/connected_vehicle/connected_vehicle.htm

Videos discussing connected vehicles from the opening session of ITE 2013 Annual Meeting and Exhibit in Boston, MA. http://www.ite.org/connectedvehicle/openingsession.asp

Tom Bamonte Twitter Stream (Tom regularly posts links to stories about driverless technology) : http://twitter.com/tombamonte

 

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