Friday, July 22, 2011

Green wave Raadhuisstraat - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Great video describing a green wave for cyclists in Amsterdam.
Combined with the simulation it shows how people on bicycles can be given priority and how signal timing analysis and simulation can represent the real world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review - Better: Notes from a Surgeon on Performance

This book was recommended to me by Paul Zebell who had read it. I found several takeaways that can apply to transportation or any industry.  

 Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

You go into this work (medicine) thinking it is all a matter of canny diagnosis, technical prowess, and some ability to empathize with people. But it is not, you soon find out. In medicine, as in any profession, we must grapple with systems, resources, circumstances, people-and our own shortcomings as well. We face obstacles of seemingly unending variety. Yet somehow we must advance, we must refine, we must improve.

Three core requirements for success:
  1. diligence, the necessity of giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles. You just pay attention, right? No.
  2. do right, reduce failings like avarice, arrogance, insecurity, misunderstanding.
  3. ingenuity, thinking anew. Ingenuity is often misunderstood. It is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change.
Betterment is a perpetual labor. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns.

Trying to find a way to reduce malnutrition, doctors went to the homes of villagers to learn what the families of the best-nourished children were doing.
There was a “positive deviance” idea- the idea of building on capabilities of people already had rather than telling them how to change. 

Chapter 3 entitled “Casualties of War” – describes how the armed forces have determined how to save more lives during battle by using forward medical teams that reduce transport time.

One way to improve is “to make a science of performance, to investigate and improve how well “they” use the knowledge and technologies they already have at hand”. You can make simple, almost banal changes that produce enormous improvements.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Follow Up Actions from Trip for Signals

There's a lot of information that was on this blog related to what I saw in Europe. Someone asked me today what I was going to bring back to Portland. Here's 5 things, part of these are already underway..

1. Nearside bicycle signals designed at a human scale: common application in the Netherlands: in procurement.
2. Redundant detection for bicycles (and other users): loop detection and push button: started this, but not complete.
3. Confirmation of actuation for travelers: LEDs light up after being sensed: this would take some work.
4. Uncoordinated operation to improve responsiveness: underway at Half Signals, do we need to expand?
5. Collection of data and Performance Measures (where possible) at Traffic Signals: underway.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

PSU Delft Experience highlights

Taking the students on this adventure was a great experience. The program achieved its objective of presenting an introduction into transportation engineering applications in the European context. It built on earlier courses with a special emphasis on differences between U.S. and Dutch standards. The course curriculum featured material that shows the contrast between engineering principles and policies focusing on the standards presented in both the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Highway Capacity Manual. More on the PSU website:

The last full day in Delft is marked with heavy rains and wind that will soak cyclists to the core on even the shortest trips. The woman helping me check out of the place I was staying chalked it up to climate change. Climate change is a serious issue for the Dutch considering that a good percentage of them live below sea level. It's going to rain 55 mm today, just over 2 inches.

I am pleased with the rain because it is giving me a chance to catch up on the students' projects and blog posts.

So here's my Top 5 things that happened on the trip (not in rank order, sorry Brian).

1. Jane Jacobs and her Influence - How European Cities Have Social Networks (no not Facebook)
My favorite post to date was a psuedo assignment related to the book I assigned for the class: Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Brian Davis provided this insightful blast related to how communities can be organized to provide social support. It's not something I ever learned in a transportation engineering course, but creating a transportation system that allows a place to play seems as important as any effort I would produce in my profession. Recognizing the importance of a local community is key to the success of city planning. The density of the City allows this easily in Delft, but I wonder if the combination of the Farmers Market, local businesses, and interactions surrounding Llewllyn Elementary will contribute to the sort of community that will make Sellwood like this.

2. Education of the Future Users of the Transportation System
I really enjoyed the lectures that were part of the program. I learned a lot that I am looking forward to taking back to the City of Portland to apply in our community. One of the most important elements in the Netherlands is their education of future users of the transportation system. It is mandatory that each student take a test on navigating the City by bicycle in the 7th grade. This is all part of the sustainable safety program. They get police involved during the test and the students go through a course that is on city streets. This is after a detailed program on an off-street course.

3. It's All About the Bike (in Urban Planning)

It's often debated of whether there is a bike culture here. I would argue there is, yet it is not a subculture. Everyone has a bicycle. Most use it on occasion which results in them appreciating the vulnerability you feel when one is cycling. This results in a fairly courteous driving population overall and everyone concerned with the safety of each other. They also appreciate the importance of mobility, so the streets carefully discriminate between those that are for cars and freight and ones that are community oriented. They have support for the bike oriented streets because most people cycle. The City of Houten was an extreme example for making it irresistible to cycle to most destinations as highlighted in Sam's post on the community. Kirk and Pam from the class have also done an amazing report that shows some of the bike vs. car routing. Kirk summarized his visit with some more pictures. We also saw the ring road that seemed to work really well for freight and other traffic movements that were longer than just a few miles.

4. What's Wrong with the U.S. - Getting the Little Things Right

I borrowed the last part of the title from Marc Schlossberg Most of the concepts common in the Netherlands are considered radical in the U.S. It seems that working with some of the principles will take time but that incorporating small items like bicycle signal heads that are 10 cm are worth moving the industry towards design at a human scale. It is also clear from this trip that many of the things I have been introducing at the City are consistent with practice here. It is very interesting to consider how the public and the press will take to these ideas. The Portland Mercury followed some of the work here, but they are also the newspaper that post the Pedalpalooza schedule (not exactly on the coffee table of every home in Portland).

Traffic Signal Timing for Cyclists from Peter Koonce on Vimeo.

Here's another one that we did for Broadway/Williams. This is important for the Broadway bicycle traffic that we're trying to make safer. There's a slight tradeoff currently for motorist traffic that we will improve when we make the modification at Victoria associated with the streetcar.

5. Creating the Transportation Leaders of the Future

Lastly, I had a great time getting to know the students of PSU, Peter Furth, and Tom Bertulis. Their energy and excitement about the future of transportation was an inspiration during the trip.

So, in all a great experience. Now, it will be great if it will just stop raining.

Leaving Delft

Luckily I won't feel like Yehuda does in this comic when I get back home.

Unfortunately, this is reality in many U.S. cities. There's a lot to be said about safety in numbers and Portland has been successful in doing a lot with a little. I am looking forward to the future. I pondered my return to Delft and after finishing dinner, biked through the amazing square paying respects to the people of Delft that built such amazing monuments. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Last Field Trip for PSU Netherlands Trip - Rotterdam

Fietsenstalling is bike parking. It is a bike shop where we got our day rentals.  
We started out meeting at Delft the train station. There was a little confusion about the train station, but the good news is that Delft provides better train service than Delft Zuid (south).

We got off at Rotterdam Centraal which was under construction. We would come back there after an orientation at Rotterdam University. Our topic today: Sustainable Safety.
Excellent ramp down into the parking garage at the University!

The bike parking was under the garage and amazing welcome mat the University lays out for its students every day!
Hogeschool Rotterdam or the University is establishing an exchange with Northeastern University. There was interest in setting up a similar arrangement with Portland State. I think it would be an amazing opportunity for students if you can swing the tuitiion arrangements. The housing costs might be a bit challenging, but what a pheonomenal opportunity for exposure to another culture, especially one that has such amazing experience with construction techniques with below sea level and flood control.

It was a great day with a great topic and a fun city to explore. Sustainable safety is a fantastic topic and the Dutch seem to have it figured out. That is, until I got back to the Delftse Hout and as I was making the 50 meters to the house there were two kids that ended up crashing on their bikes because one of the kids wasn't looking. I hope that doesn't disuade them for riding their bikes, they are much better off on two wheels.
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Rotterdam Part 2

Entering the Maas Tunnel, we enjoyed the elevator that took us down below the river. Kirk Paulsen, Tom Bertulis, Kate Petak, and several Northeastern University students (in the background) were amazed by the infrastructure and the 1,070 meter length of the tunnel.
As I was taking this picture, I was thinking "Welcome to Rotterdam, now get underground".
For the next picture it was, " Welcome to Rotterdam, there's traffic behind you!"  Rotterdam is a bustling metropolis, very busy with traffic and freight as it hosts the second busiest port in the world. Not known for its cycling infrastructure there are parts of the City where you feel like you're in the U.S.

One of the most impressive sites in Rotterdam outside of the wide range of modernist architecture and buildings is the Erasumus Bridge. This engineering marvel was completed in 1996. The 802 metre long bridge has a 139 metre-high asymmetrical pylon, earning the bridge its nickname of "The Swan".
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Bike Signal Video from DC

A came across this video this morning while the students were working on a project at the University of Rotterdam.  

Another great video on how detectors work can be found below.

UC Berkeley has a nice summary of bike detection and supporting reports here

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Portland State Student Blogs for the Study Abroad Course

Updated to bring this to the front of the page. I continue to use this to keep track of the students and their work. I am expecting the students on the Portland State University Study Abroad course to produce all of their information electronically via their blog. We have a number of assignements prepared. Here's the list of blogs.



We're not the only Oregonians in the Netherlands studying this summer. Marc Scholossberg has a group of students from the University of Oregon and Portland State. Their blogs are online at:

Traffic Signal Treatments in the CROW Manual

The CROW Manual is written to describe measures that will make cycling irresistible.
Here's the list of treatments and selective text taken from the Manual that I copied down while listening to a lecture by Peter Furth. The "V" is used in the Manual to identify where there is a sketch in the back of the document.

Traffic lights - Page 203 - Section
Criteria and design requirements
Location of traffic lights
Flow capacity
Waiting time and chance of stopping

Cycle time
Preferably not longer than 90 seconds. 120 s for motorized traffic is too long for cyclists.

Subconflicts between motor vehicle and bicycle
Cycle track, cycle lane, or combine cyclists with other traffic
Three main movements can be distinguished for cyclists at an intersection: they turn right, they ride straight on, or they turn left. The choice of type of bicycle facility on a controlled intersection depends on the bicyle facilities present on the approach roads, the existence of subconflicts and the motorized traffic intensities that occur.

Cyclists turn right V47, 48
At an intersection with traffic lights, delays for cyclists turning right can be limited by leading these cyclists around the provision (right turn past red) or if necessary by permitting ‘right turn through red’. In that case, cyclists turning right must not be hindered by cyclists riding straight ahead (and vice versa). Attention must also be paid to cyclists merging (use protected are, if necessary).
V49 If neither ‘right turn past red’ or ‘right turn through red’ are possible then the stacking space for the cyclists is important. Cyclists who are stacked in front of a red light with the intention of turning right must not hinder cyclists proceeding straight ahead or turning left. To increase the flexibility of the provision, it may be desirable for cyclists turning right to be allocated their own signal group. IN that case it is desirable that they have their own stacking lane.

Treatments for "Cycles ride straight on" V 50
With a combined profile

Treatments for Cyclists that turn left V51, 52, 53

The Manual goes on to identify "Maximum waiting time for motorized traffic."
Naturally, the criteria for the flow of motorized traffic should also be considered together with the criteria and design requirements for bicycle-friendly traffic control systems. The quality requirements for motorized traffic also determine the options of shortening waiting times for bicycle traffic. In general, an average waiting time of 60 s and a maximum waiting time of 120 s is used for motorized traffic.

Policy and management
One of the most significant improvement options for bicycle traffic in traffic lights control systems is at the level of policy development, or more concretely, in the formulation of clear basic policy principles. Experience has shown that many traffic light provisions are created by a traffic control engineer with a large degree of independence. Taking account of the interest of all traffic participants and based on their own knowledge and expertise, engineers create a traffic control system that is always a ‘compromise’. Such an approach means that the control engineer has a significant influence on traffic policy of the road management authority concerned.

In order to avoid this ( I guess they assume Dutch signal engineers aren't designing for cyclists?), but also so as not to leave such dilemmas to the engineer during the design process, road management authorities responsible for various traffic control systems should develop ‘TCS policy’. (We wrote about this in the Signal Timing Manual's Chapter 2, but not specifically with bikes in mind). This should state what priorities are assigned to the various categories of traffic participants in the various road situations. A basic principle that can be applied is that (sections with) main cycle routes have right of way at intersections inside the built-up area. It is also possible to indicate maximum values for waiting or cycle times. If such basic principles are recorded in administrative regulations, the control engineer has very clear goals, which can also be tested easily.

(We have now started this in Portland with our half signals)

In many situations, current practice often results in unnecessary and unnecessarily long waiting times for cyclists, without this having any basis in policy. Research has shown that at almost all intersections where waiting time for cyclists were judged to be unacceptable this was the result of priority for other traffic (green waves or priority to public transport); in most cases, this was not based on adopted policy (even in the Netherlands).

Another important measure is carrying out regular maintenance of the control system. Once a traffic control system is up and running, it is all too often neglected. Carrying out regular maintenance and checking on the street to see whether specifications are still satisfactory helps to ensure that a system is optimally adjusted to the traffic situation.

Options for bicycle friendly provisions V 54 to 67, 76 & 77
The facility sheets of this Design Manual contain many measures to improve the situation for cyclists at intersections with traffic lights. A large number of these measures concern shortening the waiting time for cyclists. A minimum waiting time is essential for bicycle-friendly control. The various measures can be implemented individually, but often also in combination (see table 26). The effects of the various options can differ from situation to situation. Consequently, every situation must be thoroughly analyzed to determine the most appropriate measures.

Now if only the MUTCD was more like this.

Delays at Traffic Signanls

Great post by a blog that I haven't read for awhile, but came across it while I was searching for a few things.
Click the title for a perspective about how badly traffic signal engineers treat pedestrians and cyclists.

Microwave Detector for Bicycle Traffic in Delft

I took a picture that gave me a google match that was close enough that I coudl get some info on the product. I used agd nettenbouw, which is what the sticker has on the side of the unit.

The cut sheet is linked through the title of the post and I am going to try to post a video here.
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Detection for Bicycles in the Netherlands

I have found that the Dutch use a lot of redundant detection for bicycles at signalized intersections.
Here's a particular example where they are pushing the stop bar forward at an intersection to improve sightlines. They detector is placed at the pole where one could push a button if they felt it necessary. They also give feedback for the cyclists, once the detector has identified a cyclists, it lights up the pedestrian push button. This is a nice treatment that we should use in the U.S.

They certainly put in a lot of poles. It is as if someone decided they were going to trade the costs of a mast arm pole for the pedastal mounted signals.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bicycle Turning Movements Striping from a 2-Way Cycletrack

Found this application in Amsterdam and this goes in the "we would need to work really hard to make a 2-Way cycle track work.
The small signal head on the pole that seems normally reserved for bikes is for cars (there is no bike lane due to the cycletrack). I am also assuming that the cycle track goes back to one way after this picture. I turned here because the striping was so compelling.
The through movement for bicycles is prioritized and the intersecting traffic has the yield markers. The turning cyclists go beyond this point and turn on the other side of the median where the cargo bike is parked.
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Amsterdam Bike Parking

I don't remember such a focus on bike parking, but Amsterdam has stepped up the signage a lot. It could just be that I am more observant now, but I don't remember the big red & white signs indicated where you can park your bike. The access is also top notch, this neighborhood center is a 24 hour facility.

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Streetcar Tracks Sliippery When Wet, Especially with this thermoplastic

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Bicycle Countdown Signal - Time to Green

The bicycle signal countdown timer in Amsterdam, a video can be found here and one in Delft here.
The following is an example of a Countdown to green indication for a bicycle signal in Amsterdam.

The exact time is not provided, but a Wacht message with the circular display that reduces the number of LEDs.

This is similar to the Japanese (sand in the hour glass concept). My host told me that studies have shown that the addition of this signal head has improved compliance. It was not clear from our conversation whether the data collected was from a statistically significant sample.

After uploading this I found a blog post or two about these installations.

In particular, the blog highlights two important concepts from the Dutch designs:
"Traffic light cycle times for cyclists are short. This leads to a low average delay for cyclists at these points, often lower than the average delay for drivers. This increases the competitive advantage of bikes over cars.

Permeability for cyclists. In both cases in these videos, we're crossing in a direction where motorists can't also drive, meaning that cyclists get more direct routes. Again, a competitive advantage for bikes over cars."

This is the one from Amsterdam.

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Delft Bike Lane and Bike Box or Crosswalk

Bike lane striping with a right turn slip lane for vehicles to the right
I originally thought this was a bike box, but on further reflection, it appears to be a bike lane with a crosswalk colored the same as the bike lane that is developed.
This was in Noord-Oude in Delft Bike lane with Bike Box and Right Turn Slip Lane Example

The following text is excerpted from the Northeastern University student report which can be found here.The CROW manual recommends the following for intersections with mixed traffic [2]:
  • "Cyclists are kept within the motorists' field of vision"
  • "Where possible, conflicts are bundled so that an unambiguous situation is created"
  • "Cyclists having to make illogical movements at intersections or being diverted around intersections must be avoided"

Bike Box

Striping for the Copenhagen left is just starting to come to view
One solution the CROW manual uses is an Expanded Cycle Stacking Lane (ESCL), which are known as Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) in Great Britain and as bike boxes in the United states. Bike boxes are designated stopping areas at the stop line of a signalized intersection where bicyclists can queue and wait for a green light in front of waiting automobiles. The CROW manual recommends using these at the following intersections [2]:
Bike box with the Copenhagen left (turn box to the right of the through traffic )
  • Intersection with traffic control system
  • Inside well developed (built-up) areas
  • With a relatively large number of cyclists turning left
  • At well organized intersection
  • With combined traffic or cycle lane on carriageway
  • Maximum two lanes/stacking areas per approach road
Looking to the left while standing in the bike box
(pedestrians completed their movement in a not so well defined crosswalk)
The manual recommends these bike boxes are marked with a bicycle symbol, colored red, and be separated from a left turn lane for motorists. The introductory cycle or refuge lane is also recommended to be colored red. The depth of the stacking area should be 4 to 5 m (13.1 to 16.4 ft), with a width equal to the motorized traffic lane plus the introductory cycle lane. The introductory cycle lane should be at least 25 m (82 ft) long (reference p. 265 for additional dimensions). NACTO provides recommendations for bike boxes in the United States, and requires a 10 to 16 ft (3 to 4.9 m) deep bike box with bicycle symbol. In addition it recommends the bicycle box be colored. For more NACTO recommendations click the following link

There are several advantages to utilizing bike boxes. Most importantly, by having bicyclists wait in the front and center of an intersection in front of cars as opposed to the far right side, they become more visible to motorists in any direction, a key to increasing cyclist safety. Also, by using bike boxes to give priority to cyclists at a busy intersection, they will have the opportunity to quickly and safely enter and clear the intersection before automobiles have the opportunity to do so. Cyclists in the bike box will be exposed to less nuisance from exhaust fumes because they will be in front of cars.

[Two-Stage] Left Turn Bike Box

Another type of bike box is a marked waiting area on the right of the road for cyclists turning left at traffic lights. The CROW manual recommends these for areas with max speeds of 60 km per hour (37 mph) in lieu of a the left hand turning pocket lane. (CROW page 264.) This bike box should have a width of at least 1.2 m (3.9 ft) and requires an additional traffic signal for turning bicyclists [2]. NACTO recommendations are very similar to the CROW's, and can be found at the following link. Our first experiences with left hand turn bicycle boxes in the Netherlands led to confusion on how to access them when approaching an intersection. Improved signage and road markings would make these a more intuitive bicycle facility.

Click the link below for examples of effective and and less bike boxes in the municipality of Delft, Netherlands.
Bike Box Examples

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American Style Left Turn in Amsterdam

I came across this left turn today on a tour of Amsterdam.
The left turn lane is certainly long enough to queue up a lot of bikes. I wonder if they built this because they had the space. The left turn detection is via push button, which seems odd to me because of the location (the pole has already been hit at least once) and they have used detection in many instances I have observed.

The detection in the right most lane seems like it was formally in the travel lane and they reduced the number of lanes or eliminated the left turn lane for autos.

It has been the City of Portland's policy to signalize every crossing of light rail and most streetcars, but that's something that we may relax when they are simple intersections. Amsterdam clearly has many locations without crossings and several I have seen where there is just a tram warming sign. There weren't many cyclists at this location , but it was a Sunday morning, so perhaps the City was still waking up at this point.
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Crosswalk Over Bicycles

I thought this image could provoke some fun arguements about whether we should be prioritizing bicycles or pedestrians.
It seems in the U.S. we pay much more attention to pedestrians due to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although in most communities, it is still a lot less than we should.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Houten - PSU Delft Day 4

A fantastic day in Houten. The town of Houten has some fascinating urban design characteristics. This is especially true for how suburban the community is being outside of Utrecht a few train stops. The town of about 50,000 has two key features. First, a ring road that serves car access. This is virtually a ring road that allows access to about 300 to 400 different homes. These are mostly via traffic signals, but there are some that are unsignalized. The second element that is remarkable are the bicycle highways that they provide through the center of the city. The north portion of the City is bisected by a 3.2 km bike highway that results in the neighborhoods having amazing bicycle accessibility to all of the other neighborhoods. The streets do not allow auto access between neighborhoods, which is the function of the ring road.
The approaches to the bicycle highway are shown in these pictures. There are yield signs for traffic. The other unique element within Houten is that all of the reisdential streets are 30 km/hr speed limits and the fietsstraat signs share the message that cars are invited to stay behind the cyclists on the streets and prioritize their fellow residents.
Peter Furth calls it a "bicycle heaven" within the Netherlands which itself is bicycle heaven. There are a few things the class can learn from Houten, but being that it is a suburb, the model might be best applied on the outskirts of Portland as opposed to most of our city where we can wall off our residents from cut through traffic.

One of the concepts we learned from the Dutch is the concept of roadway demotion. Let's say the ring road needs to be expanded to add more houses. In this case, the old road that was the ring road will be usurped by a new road that widens the scope of the City. Once that road is complete, the old street can and should be used differently. Thus, you demote the old road from a 70 km/hour design to a 50 km/hour. In Houten, they made a bicycle roundabout grade separated from a roundabout that controlled the access to the office/work space.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pijnacker Route for PSU Delft Day 2

Pijnacker Route for PSU Delft Day 2

Portland State University Students in Delft to Study Transportation Engineering in Europe

The inaugural class of students from PSU are shown here before the first day of class ready for the first bicycle tour as a part of our learning experiences. The students from right to left are: Ian Trout, Sam Monsef, Pam Johnson, Kate Petak, Brian Davis, Will Farley, and Kirk Paulsen.

The Northeastern University students outnumbered us 3 to 1 and they lined up to the left. The students recieved their bikes on Friday during the first day orientation and had time to work out the kinks over the weekend.
The first tour was highlighted by a good trip to neighboring communities and Brian Davis started off the Blog of the Day which can be viewed here.
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