Infrastructure
June 18, 2019

Midblock Crossings, Raised Crosswalks, and StreetsBlog’s List of Best Pedestrian Practices

I have previously been writing about  midblock crossings and raised crosswalks on this blog as well as on Walk Metro Vancouver’s website.

There is always lots of discussion about midblock crossings, and the term “jaywalking” was developed in the 1920’s to refer to those pedestrians who darted mid-block instead of freeing up that road space for rapidly moving vehicles. Pedestrians were moved to intersections controlled by engineering traffic standards, as the assumption was that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and with all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

I have also written about my involvement with the installation of the first permanent raised crosswalk in Vancouver located at East 22nd Avenue and Commercial Street north of Lord Selkirk Elementary School. The raised crosswalk is a walkable speed hump that is at the same grade as the sidewalk on either side of the street. The raised crosswalk serves to  elevate the pedestrian, and slows vehicular traffic which should be travelling the posted school speed limit anyway. You have probably driven over the  raised crosswalks located outside the Vancouver Airport.

So how effective are mid-block crossings and raised crosswalks at making pedestrians safer, more comfortable and secure on the street?Angie Schmitt of StreetsBlog has been collecting data on pedestrians and crossing safely, and the statistics she has found are quite shocking. In looking at how many drivers yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk without a traffic signal or signage, she found that only 16 to 32 percent of drivers will stop for those pedestrians.

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While most cities are now embracing the importance of ensuring that cyclists and sidewalk users have safe accessible ways to travel to services, shops and schools, Saskatoon has proven to be the remarkable disappointment, choosing hyperbole and conjecture instead of good data and researched example in ripping out their existing protected downtown bike lane.

We talk about equity, sharing the road and giving the most vulnerable road users priority,  but places deeply entrenched in vehicular movement use those politics to continue the 20th century domination of road space. I have written about the Transport for London study released this spring that shows that street improvements for walking and cycling increased time on retail streets by 216 percent, with retail space vacancies declining 17 percent. Best of all, and just like studies conducted in New York and Toronto “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

Back to Saskatoon. This is a perfect place to put in protected bike lanes, and they are needed to provide connected, safe travel. But imagine this~in April Saskatoon City Council voted to remove the protected bike lanes on Fourth Avenue North which had been in place for two years. Why? Because of “member of the public” complaints about limited parking space. What that really meant is that drivers could not park in front of businesses as they had been accustomed to.  Drivers were also concerned that bike lanes were cleared of snow before vehicle lanes, and that cyclists were in danger in drivers’ “blind spots”.

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Take a look at Norway where the capital city Oslo has removed over 700 parking spaces in the downtown and replaced those spaces with benches, bike racks and public spaces.The City has 50 parking spaces left, mainly for disabled persons in vehicles and for deliveries to local businesses.

i have been writing about European cities going for slower streets, and finding that residents are happy with the slower vehicular speeds. The Economist observes that many European cities are going for outright vehicular reduction in their downtowns.  London and Stockholm have congestion charges, and I have written about London’s new ultra low emissions zone.

Paris has tried to limit vehicular use on certain days. But Oslo’s approach of closing off the downtown to private cars, and changing streets to limit traffic flow in one direction is the closest to a “downtown car ban” . While opponents to the ban have complained about limited access to the downtown, there are still vehicles in the downtown, just fewer places to park. Downtown Oslo business owners worried that “fewer cars could mean fewer customers”. While those statistics are not in yet, pedestrian traffic has increased in the downtown by 10%, and the experience in London showed that spending increased by 40% with people that walked, cycled or took public transit to downtown shopping areas.

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Transportation and Land Use Planner Eric Doherty in The Observer has written a thoughtful piece that drills down on the “Climate Emergency”. Earlier this month Canada endorsed the global “Green New Deal” which aims to halve greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in eleven years.

There are two main causes of GHG in Canada~transportation and the oil & gas industries. Doherty makes a convincing argument that transportation, “the second largest source of GHG pollution in Canada, must not be ignored.”  

We must be politically prudent in having the discussion about the impact of vehicle pollution on climate change. And that will require a complete shift at the federal and provincial levels in terms of what is funded and why, and ensuring that link between GHGs and vehicle use is recognized in effective policy to mitigate climate change. We simply need to stop building roads.

The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. Governments understand full well that expanding highways results in more traffic and climate pollution. The 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (the federal-provincial climate agreement) already commits the federal and provincial governments to shift spending away from things that increase carbon pollution, such as urban highways and airport expansion, to low-carbon transportation including public transit, walking and cycling. However, both federal and provincial governments are largely ignoring this commitment.”

With transportation increasing GHG pollution by 43 percent between 1990 and 2017, public spending on highways increase air pollution. Commuting leads to health problems and isolation.

Doherty identifies several ways to mitigate the transportation GHG impacts.

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In a densifying city that is serious about being sustainable lowering vehicular speed limits within neighbourhoods is a good way to enhance livability for local residents, decrease automobile emissions, plus lower the likelihood of serious injury or death. You would think that in a country with universal health care that lowering vehicular speeds within neighbourhoods would be the right thing to do to foster walking, cycling and interaction among residents.

But we forget that the street fabric and the way that our communities are designed and indeed funded have been for vehicular movement, and that mode of transportation has (pardon the pun) had a free ride.  Auto infrastructure has been funded by the general tax base and not by the user. Cars have gobbled up the majority of shared road space, and our 20th century mindset does not know how to slow them down.

Until now.

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Dr. Bridget Burdett in New Zealand sent along this link to a new article in Science Direct published in  the Journal of Transportation and Health.  Researchers included Corrine Mulley, one of the editors of “Walking~Connecting Sustainable Transport with Health”.

The study looked at the qualitative experience of over three hundred individuals who relocated to suburban areas without good transit or active transportation links to work centres. Since residential development in outlying areas often arrives before public transportation infrastructure, researchers wanted to assess the health impacts of longer and changing commutes on commuters.

Using multiple regression techniques, researchers had some surprising conclusions. Longer commutes and changing the time needed to leave for commutes was found to be directly related to lower mental health levels and the perception of a decrease in wellbeing. But researchers also found that independent car use and not using public transport was associated with “increased happiness”.

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Nothing new or surprising here for Motordomheads, but a real nicely paced visual summary of three case studies: Portland’s Harbour Drive, San Francisco’s Embarcadero and Seattle’s Alaskan Way – real-life examples of what happens when a section of freeway is removed or closed.

Why, why does Carmageddon never happen?  (Confident prediction: same with Vancouver’s Viaducts.)

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From the South China Morning Post:

The son of a Chinese tycoon is buying a C$5.1 million (US$3.8 million) custom Bugatti sports car in Vancouver, apparently with his father’s Union Pay credit card, according to a picture of the invoice the young man posted on Instagram to complain about Canadian taxes.

Ding Chen published a copy of the bill bearing his father Chen Mailin’s name on his Instagram stories, with an exasperated message overlaid in Chinese: “These taxes … my heart feels tired”.

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Speed kills in cities, and in Great Britain many cities are considering lowering speed limits within their jurisdictions to save lives and reduce injuries under the banner “20 (miles per hour) is plenty”. Portland Oregon as part of its commitment to eliminate all road deaths by 2025 has adopted the Vision Zero approach, accepting no road deaths as acceptable on their street networks.

Last year the city of Portland Oregon lowered the speed limits on their municipal road system from a default speed of 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour, or 32 kilometers per hour. In one year, the results are starting to come in, with a death toll on the roads of 34 people in 2018, a reduction from the 45 lives lost in 2017 before the reduced speeds.

There is sea change in the United States regarding road safety. A University of Chicago  poll of 2,000 U.S. residents  showed that 60 percent were “were supportive of using speed and red-light cameras as an automated enforcement tool. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said they would support lowering a speed limit by 5 miles per hour if it was justified with crash data.”

Lowering road speeds in cities has a remarkable impact on crash survival rates for vulnerable road users~a pedestrian has a 20 percent survival rate being crashed into at 30 miles per hour. That increases to 70 percent at 25 miles per hour and to 90 percent at 20 miles per hour. In the United States municipal speed limits are set by each state or territory, with the default speed being 25 miles per hour or 40 kilometers per hour.

The cities of Portland and Eugene have been looking at the safety system and Vision Zero approach embraced by European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden in making their cities safer. A “context-sensitive approach that emphasizes safety for vulnerable road users will lead to safer outcomes on streets in urban areas” 

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