Commercial Drive: A Complete Street?

A Complete Street Commercial Dr.? (Image Credit: Streets for Everyone)

Wow, this is a great design for Commercial Dr. (these to scale renderings where created by Streets for Everyone, a team of dedicated volunteers).   The sidewalks are being widened and protected bikelanes are being added, but vehicular parking, and right of way for transit and vehicular movement is still being maintained.  This is a true win-win-win solution!

Parking, protected cycling lanes, pedestrians all in the same space! (Image Credit: Streets for Everyone)

This design maintains on-street parking for vehicular access and freight deliveries.  Deliveries are the lifeline for many of the restaurants, and retail businesses on such a mixed-use street.  You have to maintain access for the delivery trucks for the supplies and goods that these businesses need.  Another thing to point out is that Commercial Dr. also has side streets and rear alleys which will also help facilitate deliveries.  My only criticism for this plan would to be designate one on-street parking spot per block for loading and unloading along Commercial Drive.

While cars will have to share only one lane with bus traffic the additional capacity being added for more pedestrians and people cycling will far out weigh the capacity lost. You can move more people as pedestrians, on bikes and transit, in the same space than with cars.

Same number of people, but different space requirements. (Image Credit: www.cyclingpromotion.com.au)

Crowded and Narrow Commercial Dr. Sidewalks Source: https://flic.kr/p/6B1Mrv

Crowded and Narrow Commercial Dr. Sidewalks Source: https://flic.kr/p/6B1Mrv

If you have ever walked on Commercial Dr. recently, you may have noticed how crowded the sidewalks become with street lamps, restaurant patios, pedestrians, strollers and dogs all competing for space on the narrow sidewalks.  This can get in the way of peoples enjoyment of their time there.  This can also get in the way of peoples desire or ability to stay in the area on the streets which is vital for street life and commercial businesses. In high quality public spaces, people attract people and make the street attractive.

Which is more attractive this?

Which street makes you want to stay more, this? (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/94rHfN)

Or this?  (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/acLfYf)

Or this? (Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/acLfYf)

Widening the sidewalks will give visitors and residents a little bit more breathing room, and add capacity for more people.  This may even allow for more patio room and potentially a low cost way to increase seating capacity and revenue generation for restaurants.  Other businesses may have more room to display their wares outside the store, inviting people to wander inside your business. Pedestrians can relax and slow down which can also help translate into more sales for the businesses, as they have more time to peruse the wares.

Another great feature of this design is the addition of the traffic separated and protected bike lane.  Cycling lanes are often relegated to the “off-broadway” quieter streets so that cities can minimize safety investments where people actually want to be, “on-broadway.”  This will add more “foot traffic” directly onto Commercial Dr. and visibility for businesses, which can result in more exposure and sales for businesses.  There are some studies that show that while pedestrians and people cycling spend less per visit, they also visit more often, ultimately spending more overall than people driving in some situations.

People walking, cycling and using transit may the same amount or more than people driving for some businesses. (Source: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/12/cyclists-and-pedestrians-can-end-spending-more-each-month-drivers/4066/)

Cycling Traffic Separated Intersection (Image Credit: Streets For Everyone)

These designs don’t mess around, it introduces complete cycling traffic separation.  The cycling lane is being protected by a physical concrete barrier and a lane of parking.  The most important safety feature (often neglected in North American cycling lane designs) occurs at the intersection which is the most dangerous location for pedestrians and people cycling in our road network. According to this study conducted by the City of Vancouver in 2012:

Approximately 75% of all pedestrian collisions were located at
intersections.

The proposed concrete islands at the intersections will provide a safe waiting spot for people cycling and pedestrians.  It will also slow down drivers since the tighter turning radius requires drivers to navigate more carefully to make a turn. People cycling will be able to pull ahead at intersections behind the barrier to maintain visibility with drivers and gives them the lead in intersection light sequencing.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you watch this video and this video to get a sense of how this would work.  (**Please note that for this intesection to ensure safety it is necessary for the cycling stop line to be in front of drivers for maximum driver, cycling visibility.

These bike lanes also make things safer, and more enjoyable for pedestrians by further separating them from the traffic.  People will be able to carry out conversations.

Could this be Commercial Drive? (Image Credit: Bicycle Dutch)

Some of the other nice designs features I noticed:

  • The cycling lanes are raised at the intersections which will help the comfort and dignity of our most vulnerable; older adults and those with strollers, wheelchairs and disabilities.
  • Seating is being added at intersection “bulb outs” which allows people to sit back enjoy the exciting Commercial Drive activities. This will also give busy shoppers a chance to catch a break or for people to enjoy their gelato.
  • Waiting zones with shelters are added for people waiting for transit, removing them from blocking business store fronts and the flow of people.  These zones still maintain access for one of the busiest transit corridors in Vancouver (2nd best bus route in terms of the number of passengers per route per year, and 7th best in terms cost per boarded passenger according to TransLinks’ 2013 Bus Service Performance Review)

Bikeshares As Evidence for Pay as you Use Road Pricing

I have been writing a series of articles explaining my SFU Master of Urban Studies thesis results, which can be found hereherehere, and here.  This time I want to present evidence for pay as you use road pricing.

The gas tax does not provide enough revenue to cover the cost of building and maintaining roads, the shortfall usually comes from general tax revenues which everyone pays for. Regardless of how often some people use their cities’ roads, everyone pays similar rates of taxes for road construction and maintenance.  So for those that choose to not drive or simply can’t drive (children that can’t get licenses, elderly and the the disabled that cannot drive anymore, which can make up to a third of the population), they are actually paying a disproportionate share for a service they will never use.

A solution for this is for people to pay for what they use.  With transit you have to pay some sort of fare before you can use the transit services, so why shouldn’t access to roads be the same?  If you want to access the road network that supports driving you should have to pay for that access.  Not only that, but busier routes should have a higher cost because they are in more demand.  Simple demand and supply economics, let people decide how important each roadway connection really is.  This will mean that those that prioritize time over cost will opt to continue driving on that route, and others that don’t will find alternative routes or modes.  The most famous examples of this are downtown London’s congestion charges and Stockholm’s congestion charge (I highly recommend you watch this TED talk by Jonas Eliasson). No city to date has implemented a city wide road pricing scheme, however the Netherlands came close.

Despite this the London and Stockholm examples show how charging a few dollars is enough to have dramatic shifts in travel behavior.   My research also shows this, the following table shows that 88.7% of all 1.5 million trips were 30 minutes or less.

trip duration stats

Why does it matter if trips were 30 minutes or less?  Based on the Capital Bikeshare pricing structure, after paying for access to the system, the first 30 minutes of every trip is free.  The table below shows that by going over 30 minutes is a small fee of $2.00.  This is a very small fee, but the impact is huge, only 11.3% of the trips studied were over 30 minutes.

Capital Bikeshare pricing

Urban Studies Thesis: Bike Sharing Systems Pt. 4 – How do Bikeshare Trips Connect to Transit?

This is the fourth installment of a series of posts describing my thesis for the SFU Master of Urban Studies program.  My first three thesis articles here and here examined some of the underlying reasons for my research and the results here.

Since it is well known that separated cycling lanes help support cycling growth among those 60% of the population that are “interested but concerned” in cycling more.  It is also well known that transit agency suffer from the weak link known as the “first and last mile.”  Essentially the requirement to walk far distances to get to transit from home is a significant impediment for increasing transit ridership.

This study takes actual Washington D.C. bikeshare trip data (1.5 Million of them to be exact, that were made between April 1, 2013 and September 31, 2013) and attempts to determine if there is a relationship between where people were making trips and the built environment, nearby separated cycling lanes and nearby high frequency transit services.  This installment will focus on the multimodal (cycling and transit) “first and last mile” aspect of bikeshare trips.

It is the hope that this research will provide empirically based evidence showing how people are using bikeshare systems and provide strong support for the investment of separated cycling infrastructure lanes and the resulting safe cycling environments.  Developing the understanding of how people are cycling within cities and the relationship with other modes, will also help guide policy, implementation and design decisions for these bikeshare systems.

Right from the beginning it was very apparent that the Capital Bikeshare system usage was heavily dominated by a subscriber commuting patterns (subscribers are users with annual or monthly subscriptions, casual users have 24-hour or 3 day passes).  Subscriber users also accounted for 75% of trips for the study.

peak graph

How do these trips related to the Frequent Transit Network (defined as the network of bus and rail based transit services operating at 15 minutes or better all day frequencies)?

finalaveragestart metro stations

The bikeshare system is well used within walking distance (400m) of the Frequent Transit Network.  Approximately 93% of all trips were made at bikeshare stations within walking distance from the Metrobus based Frequent Transit Network.  On the other hand approximately 50% of all trips were made within walking distance of the Metrorail based Frequent Transit Network.

Since it was hard to discern any visible pattern from the visualization for Metrobus based transit, the following section will focus on trips related to Metrorail stations.  The following table shows that during the peak time more trips are ending at Metrorail stations in the morning and starting from Metrorail stations in the evening.

peak metro percentages

Since the above table showed strong commuting patterns the following four maps visualize the average number of trips per days in operation per bike share station.  These maps also attempt to visualize the typical commuting pattern from 6am to 11am and 3pm to 9pm by filtering the stations (show in color) based on their walking distance to Metrorail stations.  These maps clearly show for the AM Peak a large portion of trips starting in the residential neighbourhoods surrounding the downtown and ending within walking distance of Metrorail stations.  The evening peak shows the reverse pattern.

finalaveragestart peak am metro

finalaverage end peak am metro

finalaveragestart peak pm metro

finalaverage end peak pm metro

What did the statistical analysis find?  Any rows that have been highlighted in green indicate a positive statistically significant relationship, while red shows a negative relationship.  No colour indicates no statistically significant relationship was found.  The results find that there was only a positive relationship between more bikeshare trips and only with Metrorail station frequent transit services during the peak times.

Metrobus based frequent transit services were found to have weak or negative relationships with more trips at bikeshare stations.  Why would this be?

Some answers may be revealed if we refer to a 2012 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey conducted on its subscriber members.  First it is important to note that I understand that my study and these surveys are measuring completely different things.  This survey measures members responses, where as my study measures bikeshare station trips relationships to the surrounding walkable area.  That being said there are some similarities between the results that can be compared.

So what did this survey find?

“respondents reduced use of all other transportation modes; 50% drove a car less often, 60% use a taxi less often,61% ride Metrorail less often, 52% ride a bus less often, and 52% decreased their use of walking.”  

Basically 52% of all bikeshare members were using Metrobus services before they had a Capital Bikeshare membership.

To explain the negative relationships with Metrobus based frequent transit services you also have to take into account that Metrobus fares are not transferable to Metrorail service or vice versa.  Another key distinction is that Metrobus services do not have their own separated right of way and have to mix with traffic making them succeptible to traffic jams.  The Metrorail service meanwhile has high capacity, high frequency, wide stop spacing and its own dedicated right of way as it zips along under the downtown uninterrupted by traffic.  There is potential that the bikeshare system is competing with the Metrobus services to complete the “first and last mile” getting to and from Metrorail services.  When you look at someone that has to make a choice between the Metrobus, Metrorail, and Capital Bikeshare with different fare systems it is easy to see someone opting for the spontaneity and flexibility of the bikeshare and the reliability, speed and reach of the Metrorail service.

Potentially an integrated fare system that combines all modes under one pricing structure may be able to mitigate these issues.  Metrobus and Capital Bikeshare can compliment each other rather than compete for the same resources. Alternatively separating Metrobus services from traffic on key corridors may also help.

So what do these results mean for planning bikeshare systems and cycling infrastructure.  You can anticipate higher bikeshare trips at Metrorail format of transit with high capacity, high frequency, separation from automobile traffic and wider stop spacing services.  These results provide strong support for placing bikeshare stations as close as possible to Metrorail stations.  Since higher trip activity can be anticipated at Metrorail stations in the peak times, planning agencies can focus system rebalancing, marketing and incentive efforts here.

Additional capacity should be added at Metrorail stations by placing larger bikeshare stations there.  This will help mitigate having not enough bikes, or having too few places to return the bikes.

It was also found that there was a relationship with separated cycling lanes, therefore the network of separated cycling lanes should be extended to connect major employment and higher density residential destinations with the Metrorail stations.

Real time information on bikeshare station availability and connecting bus arrival times (such as TransitScreen) can be provided at Metrorail stations, key government offices and businesses.  This can empower prospective members with the information to make decisions of which mode will work best at any given time.

Finally incentives such as providing additional time for commutes that naturally redistribute the bikes, can be provided to encourage people to make trips and potentially save bikeshare operating costs.

Peak Multivariable

Peak Multivariable PM

Car(e) Free

Vancouver Gas Prices - July 1st

My wife and I have been car free now for five years. One of the great things about being car free is I never have to worry about the price of gas. Using a combination of my own steam either on foot or bike I have spontaneous access to close destinations and the entire downtown including all of the necessary banking, shopping, services, groceries, liquor stores and restaurants.

Occasionally for farther away destinations, days with poor weather or the need for speed I will use transit.  Even then I know exactly how much my commute will cost, I know that going from my home to downtown will cost me no more than $2.75.

A few key things have allowed transit to support my mobility freedom, the first is my smart phone and Google Maps, which eliminates the previously tedious task of figuring out which bus will get me from point A to B and when. Frequency (or the number of times a bus for a route will stop at a particular bus stop) is also necessary as it provides me the opportunity to use transit free spontaneously, free from a schedule. Social media such as twitter has also really opened up avenues to instantly communicate with TransLink about issues or seek clarifications.

Finally with real time bus location information via the TransLink Next Bus app provides me with peace of mind that my bus is on its way.  If in the rare case that it isn’t then I am empowered with reliable information to seek alternatives.

pedestrian travel map

You can never really be sure what you will run up against while driving, there may new construction, a concert or something else that snarls up traffic for blocks.  On the other hand I have never seen a walking or cycling jam, have you?  Ditching the car has given me freedom, it has given me peace of mind.  I am no longer anxiously shackled to the volatile day to day price of a litre of regular gasoline, or the hair-pulling and mind numbing pain sitting in traffic looking at the rear lights of cars.

Of course what helps ensure that this is all possible is a very efficient and world class transit network, in addition to a network of traffic separated cycling lanes through out Vancouver.

Urban Studies Thesis: Bike Sharing Systems Pt. 3 – The Pricing Structure as Evidence for Separated Bike Lanes

This is the 3rd installment of a series of posts describing my thesis for the SFU Master of Urban Studies program.  My first two thesis articles here and here examined some of the underlying reasons for my research.  Basically our cities have been built almost to solely accommodate the automobile over the last century.  This has created a deficit in equitable high quality options for getting around the city.  One way to introduce equity into our cities, is to level the playing field by making it safe and easy for everyday people aged 8 to 80 years old to walk, cycle and use transit.  A good litmus test is to ask yourself if you would send your grandma to walk or cycle to her doctor appointment or your child to walk or cycle to school alone.  If you answer no, then it is most likely that it is not safe to walk or cycle.

Since it is well known that separated cycling lanes help support cycling growth among those 60% of the population that are “interested but concerned” in cycling more.  It is also well known that transit agency suffer from the weak link known as the “first and last mile.”  Essentially the requirement to walk far distances to get to transit from home is a significant impediment for increasing transit ridership.

This study takes actual Washington D.C. bikeshare trip data (1.5 Million of them to be exact, that were made between April 1, 2013 and September 31, 2013) and attempts to determine if there is a relationship between where people were making trips and the built environment, nearby separated cycling lanes and nearby high frequency transit services.  It is the hope that this research will provide empirically based evidence showing how people are using bikeshare systems and provide strong support for the investment of separated cycling infrastructure lanes and the resulting safe cycling environments.  Developing the understanding of how people are cycling within cities and the relationship with other modes, will also help guide policy, implementation and design decisions for these bikeshare systems. There has been a recent explosion of bikeshare systems with over 600 systems worldwide, so this research would be useful.

world bike locations

My thesis uses a combination of visualization and statistical analysis to determine if there is a relationship between trips made using Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare system.  There could be hundreds of factors that influence the rates of cycling, therefore this thesis only focuses on the strongest known factors influencing where people cycle.  This can be broken into the fourteen variables listed together which can be broken into two distinct groups describing the socio-economic demographics and the built environment surrounding each bikeshare station.  These fourteen variables were accounted for in the statistical analysis to determine if separated cycling infrastructure and high frequency transit services play a significant role influencing where people are making trips.

thesis variables

So what did my research find? One of the main findings was that the pricing structure of these systems heavily influence the trip patterns.  The Capital Bikeshare system is designed so that there are two main ways to access the system:

  1. Long term annual or monthly “subscriber” membership
  2. Short term daily or three day “casual” membership

A key feature about the Capital Bikeshare is that access to the system provides you unlimited trips for the duration of membership as long as trips are 30 minutes or less.

Capital Bikeshare pricing

When you look at the statistics of the 1.5 million trips analyzed in this study you find a strong tendency for most trips (88%) to be less than 30 minutes. When you look at the subscriber members you find this pattern strengthens with 97% of trips less than 30 minutes.  Casual users are a different story, 37% of casual user trips are over 30 minutes.  This indicates that based on the current operating model and pricing structure, the strongest revenue potential exists with casual members.

trip duration stats

It was found from a 2012 Buehler study that casual users were most likely to be using the system for tourism or personal reasons mainly in the National Mall area.

For those not familiar with Washington D.C. this map will give you some basic context.  The National Mall is a large area in the center of the city with museums, monuments and parks.

Washington D.C. Context map

My visualization research also found that the highest number of trips made by the casual users were also located within the National Mall area.

Casual Users

Which also corresponded to the longest average trip length per station.

trip durations

This area also corresponded with some the highest use stations within the system.

finalaveragestart

And the highest volume of trip connections between stations.

spiderdiagramnew

Clearly there are high number of trips being made within the National Mall area by casual users, but the question is why? Why are casual users, many who are domestic tourists from the United States making a high number of trips within the National Mall, often for the first time (according to Buehler)?

national mall bike lane example

It could be that the National Mall has a high total length of off-road separated bike lanes.  These bike lanes provide a journey almost completely separated from traffic to view many of the United States greatest attractions including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol.  These wide and generous bike lanes may provide a comfortable cycling environments such that a large number consider it safe enough to cycle.

My statistical analysis certainly supports this.  The following tables shows the multivariable linear regression findings taking into account the fourteen variables described above.  Any rows that have been highlighted in green indicate a positive statistically significant relationship, while red shows a negative relationship.  No colour indicates no statistically significant relationship was found.  This table shows a clear positive relationship with separated bike lanes.

casual linear regression

From this research one can clearly anticipate that the pricing structure will affect how long people will use the bikeshare system, more specifically with subscriber members.  Casual members present the highest revenue generation, and are making most of their trips within the National Mall’s network of separated cycling lanes.  This provides strong support for expanding the network of separated cycling lanes in order to extend the areas that casual users can reach safely using the capital bike share system.  This in turn may see a growth in revenues.  You may also have noticed there was a negative relationship with bus based frequent transit services.  An upcoming installment will explain this important result.