Sunday, October 24, 2010

WTS Speaking Engagement

WTS November Luncheon Featuring Peter Koonce, Portland Bureau of Transportation's New Signals and Street Lighting Manager 
Tuesday November 9, 2010, 11:30 AM - Save the Date

Luncheon Presentation at The Governor Hotel

Today, most streets are designed and managed to meet mobility standards that focus on the movement of motor vehicles, failing to adequately accommodate and prioritize transit, walking, and biking. A new culture of innovation is needed in transportation as traditional solutions alone will not suffice. By 2035, the Portland Plan envisions transportation facilities that are designed and managed to prioritize travel investments that improve walking, biking, and universal accessibility as the first priority.

In support of this vision, Peter Koonce, Manager of the City's Signals, Street Lighting, & ITS Division will discuss how he's looking to make the City's traffic signals consistent with these goals resulting in more effective integration of land use, transit, cycling, and walking.

Please RSVP for this event by Registering Here

Friday, October 22, 2010

Madsen Bucket Bikes

Very cool contest from Madsen. I went to the Bike Gallery unveiling of these things and wanted one back then! MADSEN Cargo Bikes 
Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WTS Speaker - November 9th

I was honored when I got the phone call to talk about the City's signals during the upcoming Women in Transportation Seminar speaker series. It will be a good time to reflect on the first year at the City and share my vision for how traffic signals should be part of the solution. So much of it is your approach to traffic and following the policies of the transportation plan. Ours is at:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Baltimore City Response to Citizen Inquiry

I came across this letter from the City of Baltimore via Twitter. The City signals staff that I worked with (the transit agency was my client mostly), was pretty focused on moving cars. So, back then, I wouldn't have expected the mention of transit in a response about signal timing. It was a pleasant surprise, or is it greenwashing.

First on Fox...

Following the lead of KATU, Fox interviewed a cyclist for a sound bite.

"I haven't had as many close calls as I used to," said Jeff Ihle, a cyclist. "This was a really bad intersection before because the cars would cross ahead of the bikers and they wouldn’t look. So, this way, it’s just getting used to the new signal. I think it will be OK"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are No Turn on Red Signs Confusing?

Yesterday, KATU Channel 2 lead off with this as their top story for 4 PM. I don't agree that it warrants front page cover and the news anchor seemed to spin the information a bit. I hope the thing that the citizens of Portland realize is that it is a construction zone. mentioned it wasn't ready for prime time and that was somewhat true, but at the same time, how many signals are the day after construction while there is still construction active. We seem to be under the microscope a bit for this and I am okay with that, but the video here confirms that often times the public is quick to make an excuse when in reality you're on shaky ground. The cyclists that didn't see the indication... really? There are two locations where we show you the same indication. I am not sure you could miss it AND the two or three signs in advance of the intersection that describe "bike signal ahead".

The key to this for drivers is paying attention to the No Turn on Red Sign. That shouldn't be that hard because there are two of them. One that is a static full time sign (the standard black lettering on white) and the other that is dynamic that comes up right before the bike signal is green and then turns off when the right turn is allowed.

When it says No Turn on Red, we're not just offering this as a hmm, maybe you shouldn't do this. It is a requirement.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Signal Timing Using Quarter Cycle Offsets in Downtown Portland

I was interviewed last week for this article by Peter Korn of the Portland Tribune. This blog post is inspried by my attempt to describe the signal timing in downtown without any technical terms to a member of the media. I was sure I struggled mightily and the first time I said quarter cycle offsets, I expected his eyes to roll, but we drew up a sketch discussed the math and related that to his experience. The sketch looked an awful lot like what I had previously written for the Signal Timing Manual back in 2008 while working for the FHWA. Here's the text:

A similar method of manual coordination timing can be applied to downtown grid networks. This method has been deployed in downtown Portland, Oregon by separating intersections into a quarter cycle offset pattern. The block spacing in downtown Portland is fairly uniform and relatively short (280 feet) and the grid is a one-way network. Each subsequent intersection is offset by a quarter of the cycle length, which is selected to progress traffic in both directions. The result is a progression speed that is dependent upon the cycle length. This approach establishes a relationship in both directions of the grid and permits progression between each intersection in each direction based on the speed that is a result of the selected cycle length and the block spacing. As shown in Figure 6-18 cross coordination throughout the grid is achieved using the quarter cycle offset method. This approach can be adjusted to account for turning movements within the grid and subtle  modifications to the distribution of green time.

In downtown Portland, the p.m. peak hour cycle length is 60 seconds, which results in a 15 second time difference between subsequent intersections. To travel the 280 feet in 15 seconds, one must travel (280'/15sec) or 18.67 feet per second or 13 miles per hour. The lower the cycle length, the faster the travel speed. Thus, Downtown Portland has progression in multiple directions at a slow speed which is especially good for buses that are accelerating from a stop, cars that can drive through at a consistent speed and come to a quick stop if someone in front of them pulls out of a driveway unexpectedly, and reasonable for people travelling on bicycles to use the lane and move along the signals without stopping every 280 feet. The short cycle length is also important in the condition that you have a high percentage of turning traffic that can result in queue spillback between the intersections. Short cycle lengths give an opportunity to keep traffic moving. There's a longer debate on short cycle lengths, but the important element of block spacing is a big part of that  debate.

NOTE: for some reason this figure is not available on the FHWA version of the Signal Timing Manual. I have confirmed that this link has a proper copy of the graphic.

Rose Quarter Bicycle Lanes + Box

TriMet fought bicycle lanes through the Rose Quarter because of the inherent conflicts of having people on bikes travelling through the busiest bus transfer centers in the City. I enjoy this picture because this was the confluence of the early peak period of cycling in Portland and our tour group heading back into town.
I wasn't sure how good an idea mixing buses and bikes at this location was. Having sat here for several years as a high school student transferring from MAX to the OLD line #5 TriMet Bus (Interstate before MAX)....

The transit center was enhanced with the extra eyes on the street and the break up of the concrete (with the center bike lanes that are in green).
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Bikes Belong Visit to Portland

The day before my big trip the City had a visit from Bikes Belong, an organization that brings engineers, policymakers, and planners together to visit great cycling communities. Their visits have included travel to European cities and mostly small groups and this was their first visit to Portland with people from Chicago, Houston, Seattle, and another City I can't recall right now. The visit was lead off by Mia Birk and Lake McTighe on Sunday. Catherine Ciarlo, Roger Geller, and I lead the presentation.... and Roger and I gave the tour. You always learn something when you are sharing. On this visit there was City Councilor from Houston who wanted to learn about the horse project which I had seen before, but hadn't been tracking very much in the past year. I know that when the kids are grown I am going to take all of the plastic animals and share them with the community throughout Southeast Portland in my bid to share and Keep People Weird.
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grand opening for East Burnside-Couch Couplet

The City's signals group got a little more good press with the Grand opening for East Burnside-Couch Couplet.

Koin Reporter Carly Kennelly: "The City has actually timed all traffic signals along Couch to improve safety."

BTA's Gerik Kransky "Basically the signals are timed so traffic does not increase above 20 mph, and if the cyclist is in the lane sharing the road with automobiles, it is pretty comfortable and safe."

Music to my ears. BTA had a nice blog posting too, where they touted what we're doing with the signals. "One of the things that we are most pleased about is the timing of lights on Couch coming into the bridge.  Travel speeds are now at or below 20 mph providing safer speeds for shared traffic."

Broadway/Williams Bicycle Signal

KGW offered this short blurb about our newest bicycle signal that will be at N Broadway/Williams. This intersection has been a challenging one for navigation by people on bicycles.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bicycle Transportation in Tokyo

Bicycles in Tokyo come in all shapes and sizes. You have your carbon fiber road bikes, track bikes, your rusted out old clunkers and the newer (some older) power assist bikes. The power assist were more prolific than I have seen anywhere and could be an Asian phenomenon considering the number of scooters that are used in these countries for basic transportation. The one pictured at right is a power assist bike that has what appears to be a refrigerator on the bike rack for deliveries of all sorts of food or whatever needs to be kept cold. It could just be a convenient box they had that would latch.
Overall, I was impressed with how many of these makeshift cargo bikes I saw and what was peculiar was how the racks don't seem any more stout than ours in the U.S.

I have much hope for cycling when I see women feeling comfortable on their bikes. The next population that is good to see are gentlemen in suits looking dapper doing business on a bike. This particular fellow doesn't look like a spring chicken, yet he's getting what he needs done and looking pretty good while doing it.
The riding on the sidewalk was a bit unnerving to me, but my fellow pedestrians didn't seem to care and I didn't see any conflicts just walking around the City.
Delineation of different modes happened some places, but it wasn't consistent. I am still worried about how motorists deal with cyclists at intersections.
The examples of these two pictures show a nice delineation on the bottom example and no such marking on the second. I'd be curious what their crash rates are compared to European practice. There is definitely a good amount of use in some of the older parts of town and a wide variety of facilities that are provided.
This location near the Imperial Palace was well delinated, but not heavily used. It may be a current best practice (it looks fairly new), but on my next trip it would be great to get together with the technical folks that are studying these facilities to learn more about the experience.
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Bicycle Transportation in Tokyo

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This takes me back to my travels to Copenhagen this summer. I was in the CPH bike tour this summer and really enjoyed taking in the facilities there. I could go back in a second.

Tokyo Trains

In a haiku format in honor of the Japanese form of poetry:
Ever efficient
Always on time for my trip
Please export this, please

I couldn't resist. More to come. Part of the reason the train sevice is so effective is that they run so frequently that the drivers don't have room for much variability. The lowest frequency I saw in a subway was 6 minutes. It was 15 minutes in the very off-peak on the light rail in some of the rural parts that I saw on Monday of my trip.
It was very hard to tell if the signs (this one pictured isn't real-time persay) were based on schedule or the actual information from the train because there was hardly any difference.
During the peak hours, I didn't observe any of the train packers that push you in towards the doors. That's not to say that they aren't out there, it's just that I didn't get a chance to go check them out.
That's something a guidebook should have is to identify where the busiest train lines are and then direct you to watch. I am sure that in this day and age of Mixed Martial Arts that someone would be interested in the carnage that is train boarding (ha!). I am pictured packed in a train pretty tightly. It's definitely a fond memory that brought new levels of the term personal space into my consciousness. It didn't bother me really, but then again I am not a woman that has to endure travelling with men. But the Tokyo rail folks have thought of that and they have women only rail cars that serve those that have been groped one too many times in a crowded rail car. With two girls at home, I sympathize with them and applaud the transit agency's efforts to provide for a secont of the population you might otherwise not have riding the subway. This is somewhat akin to Portland's efforts to organize bike rides for women, which Susan has used as a springboard to enjoying cycling much more than she ever would have if she was pedaling along a bunch of smelly guys like me.
The train station transfer areas sometimes lacked a little in the way of capacity, but in all were very sufficient for moving people. One of the success factors for queuing (just like with traffic signals) is to keep the time people (vehicles in the U.S.) have the ability to congregate to a minimum. Thus, by having a short headway between trains you can keep people moving through the stations and reduce the surge of people that get on or off at anyone location. It also helps to eliminate the passengers who want to save themselves the 10 or 15 minutes between trains that stick their hand into the door to get on this particular train. That happens more than it should in many systems I have experienced and it results in the problems with variability, etc that plague transit.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tour of Tokyo Traffic Management Center

I was very fortunate to visit the world's largest traffic managment center (based on number of traffic signals controlled at one location), which of course is located in Tokyo.
The Police agency is responsible for operations of the facility. I found a few key differences between Japanese operations and what we find in the U.S. First, because the transit agencies are private they don't allow them in the Traffic Management Center. The transit agencies essentially get the same information that the public does through the feedback gained from police.
The director of operations of the Tokyo TMC is here showing the ultrasonic detectors (12,000 of them in all) that provide the real-time performance for the entire system. The travel speed is updated every 50 seconds from the detection. The data is better than the loops that we use in Portland becuase the detectors provide better resolution of the data. Their 50-second data isn't quite as good as our 20-second resolution and I wonder if that's a function of their communications and another element that I wasn't able to learn about during this visit. It made me want to offer to host anyone in Portland and give them the full run down as an important educational function. There are quite a few things that are worth sharing and it's similar to the bicycling experience we have, only less revolutionary (pun optional).
The traffic management center screens are each 50" and were installed over 15 years ago. The system is 6 high and 12 wide and this is additional 6x6 screens on either side of the huge one. Amazing. They can place any camera where they want on the video board.

There is a 511 like system that takes the information and provides it for people on the phone that call in for information. They see an opportunity to change that over time and use the in car GPS. I was impressed when I was in taxis and how good their mapping systems were. The GPS in the cab had the lane configuration of each intersection and gave the driver information about how close they were. The Japanese are working on an IntelliDrive like system and it would be worth doing an assessment to determine if we should learn from them or vice versa.
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Tokyo Transportation Continued

I continue to pick up on things about the transportation system while experiencing it. Jamie Parks mentioned the bicycle and pedestrian joint sidewalk use and so I have paid some attention to that and this picture shows the design of what we would call a crossbike in the Portland Bicycle Master Plan. Tokyo applies this in most cases and has a lot of marked use of sidewalks for bikes. What is not clear to me in this example is whether the bicycle striping is for both directions. It seems that they they are and they aren't planning for that many cyclists or if you're overtaking, you might just use the crosswalk. The markings don't seem to result in compliance and people on bicycles travel in the roadway and on these cross bike type of facilities and the don't often stay within the lines.
The crossbike has applications including when there isn't an alternate facility and at the bicycle scramble where we may want people on bicycles to travel concurrently with a bicycle scramble (southbound at N Interstate/Oregon) without the vehicles that would conflict with people on bicycles accessing the Eastbank Esplanade path.
The innovation that I would like to bring back to Portland is the countdown timer in conjunction with the Walk timer. It isn't specifically a countdown but a relative message the describes that the Walk is expiring. This might be better than a countdown because the number is representative of time as opposed to the reduction of the "percentage". I find it unique that the top indication is where the time is counting down, perhaps it is just to reduce the confusion in the original message.
The second of these pedestrian signal indication pictures shows the count down of the indication. It appears that there are 10 LEDs in the head. I am curious if their signal heads are using the times from the previous cycles and what they do about changing the cycle lengths. There are a lot of unanswered questions related to signal control I have from this trip, but alas, there wasn't enough time to meet the folks that can talk about the details and they are probably like me, too busy to learn a language because they are sweating the small stuff like signal timing.
Where the pedestrian and cyclists are supposed to be on the sidewalk together, I am assuming that they are allowed to travel in both directions in their designated spaces, but I can't be sure from the observations I have made. I wouldn't say that there are more one direction or another.

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