Category Archives: Traffic

ON COMPLETE STREETS

The road is frequented by a variety of users – drivers, public transit vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, as each of these users, there are many obstacles, which typically involve the other users getting in the way. This is most common for drivers – since the typical North American road design is oriented towards easy mobility for cars, drivers have adjusted to a culture of innate entitlement for the road. This makes it more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to get around, less likely for people to use transit, and increases the likelihood for a collision.

jp-PEDESTRIAN-2-articleLarge

toronto_cyclist.jpg.size.xxlarge.promo

It is no longer uncommon to hear about cyclist deaths in the City – and it’s not always one person’s fault. It’s the way our streets are designed. There are definitely careless drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, that cause accidents. However, if the road was designed to cater for everyone equally, in a way that prevented anyone from feeling like they ‘own the road’, then everyone would naturally look out for each other.

img_2184

A ‘ghost bike’ commemorates the death of a fallen cyclist in a roadside accident.

There is a fairly modern transportation policy and design approach called ‘Complete Streets‘ that advocates the ‘share the road‘ mentality. The goal for the Complete Streets approach is to achieve and maintain safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. In many cases where the Complete Streets approach has already been implemented, the designs have proven to improve safety, health, economic and environmental outcomes.

measuring-the-street Since automobile dependence has been engrained into American city designs from the start, many regions are interested in adopting Complete Streets policies into their own Official Plans, in order to move forward in a more sustainable and safe manner through design. This is part of the reason why roundabout, public transit and bike lane funding have become such hot topics, for example.

TCAT-image_Yonge_Panorama_Complete-Streets

This rendering illustrates a person’s idea of what Yonge street could look like if it was redesigned under Complete Streets standards. Notice a few things – wider sidewalks, bike lanes, interlock pavement for drivers (the more detail in the paving, the more likely people are to slow down, reducing the likelihood of a collision), and seating.

Burrard-Dunsmuir-128

Complete Streets means everyone shares the road. Complete Streets means everyone gets equal respect. Complete Streets means everyone gets to where they are going safely.

Advertisements

COUNTDOWN – WHO ARE THE SIGNALS TALKING TO ANYWAY?

Pedestrian countdown signals are beginning to appear more and more throughout our cities. Research shows that this type of signal helps to create a safer pedestrian experience.

The City of Toronto states on their website that

“The City of Toronto’s Transportation Services Division has installed ‘countdown’ signals at more than 2,100 intersections in the city to assist pedestrians in crossing the street.

“The devices provide a numeric count down display that indicates the number of seconds remaining for a pedestrian to complete their crossing of a street. The countdown counts the length of time between the current ‘walk’ signal and the solid ‘don’t walk’ signal which gives more precise information to the pedestrian than the current system.”

Pedestrian signals and pedestrian countdown signals were created with the intention of targeting pedestrians with information. But let me play devil’s advocate and ask – what if these signals are targeting drivers as well? Drivers are not the intended recipient of this information, but it has become common for drivers to use the countdown signal as a ‘pre-warning’ for the yellow light, helping them to make more informed decisions regarding their navigation and speed. Drivers may be doing this consciously or semi-consciously, but either way – drivers are not intended to be directly affected by the countdown signal.

hurryoryouwontmakeitDevil’s advocate again here – what’s wrong with using this pre-warning for the intended pre-warning? Doesn’t the anticipation help the driver make more informed, and therefore safer decisions? This can hold some truth – for example, halting at a yellow light can be more dangerous than beginning to slow down naturally with a 10 second yellow light warning. But take a second and think about all of the times you’ve seen drivers abuse this information (similar to advance green arrows) – many drivers will use the countdown to make damn sure they get through the intersection no matter what. The second this happens, they are putting themselves first, and the second anyone on the road puts themselves first they are putting everyone else at risk (with shifts happening in modal split, awareness to ‘share the road’ is increasing, which means we must all be on the look out for each other, not simply ourselves).

driverviewpedview

It has been brought to my attention that truck drivers and larger or heavier vehicles commonly take advantage of this signal and call it a ‘stale light’. This creates another grey area to be considered – does this mean that the roads travelled by trucks are not fit for larger or heavier vehicles? Does this mean that truckers need their own signal?

Aggressive driving is a risk factor, and my hypothesis is that this risk is increased when the pedestrian signal countdown targets the driver – the non-intended user. This raises the question – should the pedestrian signal have a different design, one that can target the intended user more successfully?

A Few Ideas…

ISOLATED PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS

isolatedview

A new design, or an addition to the current design, in order to attempt to block off the view to the existing signal light except for straight-on.

LINE-OF-VISION SIGNALS

newpedheight

Average ped height or low.

HIGHLIGHTED CROSSWALK

illuminated

We’ve seen the futuristic renderings of all kinds of ‘highlighted’ crosswalks.

ACCESSIBLE PEDESTRIAN SIGNALS 2.0

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) were designed to convey information through the auditory sense for the visually impaired. APS 2.0 could build on adding more ways to receive information by transferring the countdown onto a screen near where the button is positioned.

Tagged ,

TWO CENTS ON ROUNDABOUTS

Pro-roundabout residents in Canada argue that collisions occur at roundabouts because people don’t know how to use them – this article is trying to prove that logic wrong:

WATERLOO – “People drove more often through more roundabouts in 2011 – and yet they continued to collide at the same high pace. This suggests no progress on a learning curve uncerway since 2004 when roundabouts were first installed.”

Retrieved from: http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/804446

I don’t think that roundabouts are a band-aid solution to every problematic intersection, but I do still think that, if warranted, a roundabout’s engineering is not usually the cause for collisions – lack of education is. If collisions continue to occur at roundabouts, it’s because people are so frustrated with them that they have become stubborn and refuse to understand. They accrue bad habits and stick to them.

Hopefully roundabout education and testing is being incorporated into new generations of drivers to build a safer attitude towards using roundabouts for the future. I think that if everyone understands how to use one, and more importantly, that they are built for more than just drivers (respect for multimodal transportation is way behind on awareness), the mentality can often surpass the safety of a poorly engineered roundabout.

For example, I’m not an experienced transportation planner, nor am I a roundabout engineer, but I do know that the roundabouts in Square One must be poorly engineered. I make this assumption because even when I deliberately go out of my way to check for cyclists and pedestrians in all directions at all times, and pay close attention to the number and speed of vehicles approaching and using the roundabout, and try really hard to make a safe decision for when it’s my turn to enter the roundabout, I still feel like a possible collision may be out of my control. I feel anxious, worried, and uncertain. This is mainly because the approach is not clear enough, there is a lack of visibility, and the size of the roundabout is so small that it’s over before you know it. A secondary reason is because the driving attitude in Mississauga is rough and cocky, meaning that if you want to be safe you actually need to expect people to drive too fast and to be assholes about it in order to seize the opportunity to foresee an accident.

So yes, roundabouts can be poorly engineered. And yes, those roundabouts can entice collisions to occur. But a warranted, well planned and engineered roundabout can be extremely beneficial for optimizing traffic flow and safety. That is, only if these two things change:

  1. All roundabout users must fully understand how to use a roundabout;
  2. Everyone must accept that roads are for everyone (drivers, but also pedestrians and cyclists), and must learn to respect each mode equally (working towards a complete streets mentality).

In the mean time, here is an informative video by the MTO for how to use a roundabout:

http://youtu.be/lbC3CAa-8vA

THE THING ABOUT THE EMERALD CITY


Short visits to foreign places can often leave a percieved impression on travellers that may stray to a certain degree from what those places are really like. However, these short visits can sometimes be insightful to permanent residents who naturally disregard certain details of where they are from, simply because those things seem normal to them. What may be special to you may go unoticed to someone else: like the bicycle culture in Copenhagen to someone from Orlando, or the grand new-age architecture and car-oriented built-form in Dubai to someone from Bordeaux.

The following text outlines the city elements that embody the character of downtown Seattle (WA) to a short-term traveller:

 

Attention to detail

What stands out the most in Seattle are the little things. Seattle is a great city for its investment in all sorts of urban pockets – interesting car parks, miniature squares, miniature parks, resting spaces -, in public art, in informative signage, in facade and street materials, in facade details, in crosswalk and bike path clarity, in restaurant/cafe/bar density (even hidden and facing the back alleys like Bathtub Gin & Co), in street decor, and what it’s most famous for – trees and other greenery.








Independent Retail Competition

There may be a Starbucks on every corner (and if not, on every block), but that doesn’t seem to change the fact that independent restaurants, cafes and bars have the upper hand in downtown Seattle. There is a culture of visiting cool and unique places, and they make for a cool and unique sense of place. Having so many different and unique shops makes a street so much more unpredictable, vibrant, interesting, and desirable. It’s always about – let’s go to THE Unicorn. Let’s go to THE Poquitos. Let’s go to THE only place that can make you and your belly feel that way. Seattle most certainly does not allow people to feel like they have to settle for a Starbucks to ensure a decent cup of coffee, a Molly Blooms for a decent beer, or a Jack Astor’s for a decent dinner.




Traffic Flow and Patience

Seattle is nestled between mountain ranges and is overall extremely hilly and full of sharply sloped streets. So sloped in fact that if a car’s brakes stop functioning or if a child accidentally runs into the middle of the street, a collision of some sort is bound to occur. Due to the geography of the land that the tightly knit street network grid is placed upon, there is very little reaction time to avoid collisions.

This is why, even after a long red light and no cars, people do not jay-walk in Seattle and most drivers do not speed. This city must have some of the most patient, respectful and educated travellers anyone has ever witnessed. No one seems to be in a rush. It is no wonder their dangerous-seeming intersections still exist – it is because people know how to use them (not that I am crazy about roundabouts or anything, but take that roundabout complainers!!).



Urban Pockets

Space is very well used within the downtown urban core. No nooks or spaces go wasted, and are always used up by something to make a space or a journey more enjoyable or interesting. One of the most impressive aspects of Seattle’s public realm is how many urban pockets there are, and how many of them are used to illuminate the streetscape with a node, a feature, or an activity. These pockets bring the streetscape to a pedestrian level, add character, and make it easier to get around by using cognitive mapping – “meet me by the popsicle sculpture…”.











Punks and Street Kids

Yes, punks. They stand out. And not just any punks – Seattle punks. They have this thing about them that makes them distinctive. A distinctive grunge/streetkid culture. Sometimes it’s as if they are always the same group of them because they all kind of look the same and act the same and do the same things (all-black clothing, usually involving chains, tattoos, funky hair cuts and hair colors, smokey makeup, and random piercings, usually hanging out with 2 or more people and one or more dog, usually smoking, and can usually be seen like this hanging out in parks and public squares). But then again, this is just a generalization and an outsider impression from someone who was slightly intimidated! It had to be mentioned because it really does add to the character of the city.

So the thing about the Emerald City is – the little things. The little things, like public art details, resting spaces and overhead canopies, manicured and interactive little spaces and nooks, and interesting facades. The little things are what give short-term first-time travellers a good impression of this City.

PS: To any Grey’s Anatomy fans, no, Seattle isn’t what they make it look like on the show.

%d bloggers like this: