Monthly Archives: December 2013

Urban Studies Thesis: Bicycle Sharing System – High Frequency Transit

Hello everyone, I think this will be my last thesis article until after the holiday break.  Last week I explained half of the reasoning for my thesis project centered around need for safe, separated cycling infrastructure.  This week I will go over the other half of my project, studying how high frequency transit affects the rate of cycling trips.  

Often transportation planners will talk about the “final mile” problem of public transportation services.  Public transportation services are often subject to extra financial scrutiny despite the massive economic, social and environmental benefits they bring to our cities.  As a result transit agencies are often required to operate with limited budgets and stretching this limited funding works best when you can capture the maximum patrons per service hour with the minimal amount of bus/train investments.  This typically results in higher quality main services that lead into and out of downtown or along main commercial streets and lower quality routes often in the suburban residential neighbourhoods that feed those latter routes.  In other cases, sometimes planners can design poor transit services.  The result is that some trips have undesirable conditions due to transit services that end far from origins or destinations requiring long walks, or services that are not reliable or frequent enough to warrant use from prospective patrons.  

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(Source: TCQSM Chapter 3, Appendix A, p. 3-93.  Discussion and version in US units is on p. 3-9.)

There is a maximum distance that people are willing to walk to get to the nearest transit services.  Surveys have been conducted to calculate the typical distance people are willing to walk to the nearest transit services, such as the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual from the Transportation Research Board.  Jarrett Walker, author of the Human Transit blog explains that the rule of thumb for the maximum distance that prospective patrons are willing to walk for infrequent low quality services is around 400 meters.  People of course are willing to walk further for more reliable, faster and frequent services.  

Transit services that are more frequent mean that instead of a bus/train arriving every 10 minutes, it will arrive every 5 minutes.  Transit services with high frequency offer freedom, freedom from schedules.  Trains and buses come by so often that if users need to go somewhere they simply walk to the station or bus stop and they know that they will be on their way in no time.  This is critical for providing the spontaneous mobility that urban inhabitants need for living, working and playing as well as competing with the convenience of the automobile.  

Since bicycles can cover more ground quicker than walking (often driving too, over short distances) and bicycle share systems provide readily available bicycles for public use, it is often claimed that bicycle share systems solve this “final mile” problem.  It is being suggested that bicycle share systems can extend the reach of reliable transit services and attract those prospective transit users that are unwilling to rely on infrequent and unreliable feeder services.  It is very easy to see how potentially valuable bike share systems can be when they offer users schedule free mobility options that integrate and support high frequency transit services.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support these claims, I have been able to find very little empirical evidence for this phenomenon.  Bike share systems are a relatively new area of study, however some studies are verifying that there is a relationship between transit and bicycle share station trips.  My project will attempt to determine if there is a relationship between the availability of high frequency transit and the higher trip rates at Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare’s stations.  Focusing on the high frequency services will allow me to put this “final mile” assumption to the test.

Well that is all for now, next time I will explain some of the history and features of a Bicycle Share system.  I hope you have a happy holidays!

Using Snow to Plan Traffic Calming

I was inspired by this post, which showed how the snow on the roads was mother nature’s way of creating natural traffic calming curbs. I am a big advocate for showing proof of the changes that infrastructure can bring by temporarily demonstrating the changes with pylons, barriers etc.  Snow can show the desire lines of drivers, and essentially how much of the road space is actually being used by automobiles.  This is very important because as a result of the last century’s planning philosophy, our cities have been designed to accommodate almost solely the automobile and moving them as quickly through our cities regardless of the needs people and other mobility options.  Street calming makes it safer by slowing down traffic for those already walking/cycling or using transit, and encourages more to switch from driving.  

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I was very struck by this photo from Jan Gehl’s book “Cities for People”, we all do this and we can all emphasize with this.  Cars bring fear to our cities and streets, so much that we cannot even cross a narrow street without fearing for our lives.

I was ready to hit the streets any day now and put this snow planning experiment to the test, luckily I woke up today and it was snowing in Vancouver!  The results are impressive, if you don’t believe me take a look for yourself.  I highly encourage anyone the next time a traffic engineer is talking about making traffic flow better, making the roadway bigger, have photos like this ready to show them proof that cars are not using the space.  Recently I read the New York City Making Safer Streets, which shows that more road space does translate to better traffic flow.  Rather higher quality traffic lanes that provide space for all modes actually can make driving easier and improve traffic flows.  The main thing that these photos show is that drivers are using less space and yet there is not chaos, people driving can still get where they need to go.

This photo actually shows some of the new improvements on Comox St. installed over the summer, it looks like they could have provided more of an pedestrian island.

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Again here is another example at Cardero and Comox St. showing how a curb bulge out could have been installed to make this intersection safer.

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This snow pocket on Denman St. is interesting especially given how over built the automobile infrastructure is in this entire area and how narrow the sidewalks are.

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The snow in the middle here also shows there is too much space and that the sidewalk could be extended at Denman St. will no ill effects.

 

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The road right in front of my house, on the right it certainly looks like there is room for more sidewalk, cycle lane, or swale, all of why which would serve a better use than unused asphalt that the city still pays to maintain and replace.

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This one is fascinating, drivers are not using the triangle at this traffic circle.  This space could be transformed into a nice pedestrian island.

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There were many examples were a curb extension could be installed to minimize the crossing distance for pedestrians.  In many of these cases curb extensions can also prevent through traffic in the parking lane.  We can make the city a more attractive place to live, work and play if we can accommodate the basic humans needs and right to walk.

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Urban Studies Thesis: Bicycle Share Systems

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Paris Velib Bikeshare Program

The last year has been exciting with the intensive and eye-opening Simon Fraser University Masters of Urban Studies Program.  I have submitted my prospectus with great help from my other M.URB colleagues, visiting jury members and alumni, and professors, and I am ready to move onto my thesis.  I figured since I am embarking on this wonderful thesis journey I would share my process and research with the world wide internet (that’s you!).  Over the next few months about once a week I will do up a small write up on my thesis work (I will try my best to keep it interesting!).

My thesis focuses on the Washington D.C. Capital Bikeshare system.  I chose to study cycling, because of a few main reasons:

1.  It is a great mobility option that is highly flexible, adaptable and inexpensive (Cars can cost up to $14,000 a year to own and operate)

2. Cycling is very democratic and equalizing, both rich and poor are given more equal opportunities for mobility and therefore life advancement

3. Cycling lanes can move more people per hour than a single car lane can with cars, with less costs to install and maintain which means less tax dollars from you and me

4. Cycling can provide people with the minimum 30 minutes of exercise which is the bare minimum required to fight obesity (Obesity is a growing problem that can cost $Billions for cities, and countries)

5. Despite these benefits, cycling is often disregarded as a viable mobility option and faces inequality from city officials from the public, public officials and staff

This is just a sampling of the benefits and reasoning for my research with bicycling, however the last point is very important.  Over the last 30 plus years many cities around the world have been accommodating cycling by treating them like automobiles, applying the same rules meant for a 2000 lb automobile to a 200 lb and vulnerable person cycling, forcing them to mix with fast moving automobiles.  One mistake and you could be under someones wheel.  It’s no wonder there have been low cycling rates historically in places like the USA or Canada. When faced with the possibility of riding in traffic most people would choose not to.  

Fortunately city administrations have had a recent awakening to the benefits of cycling, strengthened with new allies such as the Health Care industry in the battle against epic proportions of obesity imposing large burdens on our economic vitality and tax base.  Research and market surveys are increasingly showing that one crucial element for encouraging people to cycle is the introduction of separated cycling infrastructure.  Places like Copenhagen, Groningen, Amsterdam have known and developed networks of separated bicycle lanes for years and reaped the benefits.

This brings me to half of my thesis project where I will be exploring the actual usage data available from Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare.   I will be using data on actual trips made to determine how separated cycling lanes affect the number of trips at surrounding bike share stations.  The other half of my thesis will focus similarly on how high quality transit affects the number of trips.  I will elaborate more on all of this with future thesis blog entries.