07 April 2013

“Road Diet”: Losing Width by Retrofitting (Re-post from the Progressive Press)

(Re-posted from the Progressive Press.)

 For most of the last century and continuing into this century, transportation planning in the United States has been mainly concerned with accommodating vehicular transportation. This automobile-oriented bias was embedded in travel demand forecasting models, transportation funding, zoning/subdivision regulations, street design ordinances, the general public and the general mindset of policy makers. The result in most cities has been a continual process of widening, and building new roads to alleviate traffic congestion due to increasing automobile ownership.

What was not accounted in this automobile bias oriented transportation system was the detrimental impact that it would have on neighborhoods; making them dangerous for pedestrians and bicycles. Neighborhood residents and local commercial establishments  previously would have put up with the problems for a while but, eventually if they could afford it or their business failed, they would leave the area, creating vacant buildings, marginal commercial and residential areas which were once vibrant.

However, in the last couple of decades, particularly as people are moving back to the city, the public is becoming more vocal and advocating changes to make places more pedestrian, and bicycle friendly. Transportation planners that once were concerned mostly about street widening , new roads and perhaps fixed route public transportation were assisting neighborhoods in their battle against the intrusion of the automobile in their neighborhoods.

A “road diet”or “rightsizing”  was one of the solutions created by planners to design roads that are more accommodating for other modes of transportation. A “road diet” usually consists of  reducing the lanes generally from four travel lanes to: one turn lane, two travel lanes and bike lanes on both sides. However, by reducing the amount of lanes, the street may also accommodate traffic islands, berms separating pedestrian and bicycles from traffic. Further possible options could be placing light rail or Bus Rapid Transit in the center, with two travel lanes and bicycle lane accommodation.

The following is a highlight of the some examples that I found that illustrate ‘road diet:” I included links so that the reader can look at these projects in more detail.

In San Francisco, reduction of traffic lanes has been linked to making cities more livable. The city has been doing this since the 1970s. Before the “road diet” many of the streets were known as merely a route to go from one place to another. People raced from stop-light to stop-light, endangering pedestrians and bicyclists. Now, on San Jose Avenue, traffic lanes are taken out, bike lanes are designated and the green areas are created. This change has created more of a neighborhood atmosphere. The empty storefronts, now are occupied and an additional benefit is reduced accidents. One resident stated that before the “road diet” there were one collision a week, but now this is reduced to almost none.

On Edgewater Drive in Orlando Florida, a four lane street was reduced to two travel lanes, one turning lane and bike lanes. After these changes, there was a major reduction in speeding, on some segments up to thirty-four percent reduction was observed. There is also reduction in crashes per miles traveled, an increase in pedestrian traffic by twenty-three percent and increase in bicycle traffic by thirty percent. There was not a decrease in property value or increase in traffic on the parallel streets. Although there were some calls to revert it back to its previous state, but after realization of its benefits, these complaints died down.

In Philadelphia, a project termed “The Porch” was initiated which eliminated a parking area near outside the 30th Street SEPTA transit, Amtrak and trolley station and replaced it with a large sidewalk, and an outdoor seating area with umbrellas. This caused no problems in parking or traffic congestion. It has since become a place for music performances, a farmers market, and other events. The station has some of the largest passenger traffic in the nation.

A more dramatic “road diet” would be to reduce a multi-lane street and put exclusive transit lanes in the middle (Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit) with bike lanes on the side.  This concept (minus the bike lanes) was used in Curitiba, Brazil, where there are two exclusive bus lanes in the center and ‘tube’ stations to protect passengers in inclement weather.

Istanbul, Turkey used the same concept in its Metrobus system on a major arterial (E-5). The lanes were reduced by two to allow for two exclusive lanes in the center with stations. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT ) route has significantly reduced traffic on the road (particularly bus traffic which was a major cause of congestion) and greatly decreased public transportation travel time.

The concept of using a ‘road diet’ on roads can be used in the smallest cities up to major metropolitan areas. It is demonstrated in the examples given that this technique reduces accidents, decreases congestion, increases pedestrians, increases bicycle riders, encourages pedestrian oriented business, and creates a sense of community. Reducing lanes to create exclusive transit lanes or BRT makes use of the street to create a more attractive public transportation system. It is expected that more cities will be using  a “road diet” to confront the conflicts between automobiles, pedestrians and bicycles.

Video Credit: StreetFilms

A ‘Smart City’ or the ‘Matrix’? (re-post from the Progressive Press)

(This article is re-posted from the Progressive Press.

Cities are rapidly becoming engulfed in the technological revolution which is advancing at “warp speed”, rocketing the entire globe out of the post-industrial age into the emerging Information/Hyper-Global Age.
The ability for the complex networked structures of a city (government, services, institutions, residents etc.) to effectively utilize its human capital, connect with the global economy, collaborate and use its infrastructure is becoming essential for its future welfare. This is being facilitated by the burst of technological devices and the Internet.

In the Information Age, the most connected cities are becoming the most dominate, resting on their financial capability, their human capital and infrastructure (i.e., New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong). A city’s hinterland, its access to ports and manufacturing base, are becoming inconsequential to a city’s importance.

All cities are aspiring to be “smart cities”—connected, innovative, prosperous, globally footloose and riding the wave of technological innovation. The reality is that only a handful is approaching being a true “smart city”. It is not a ‘flat world’, but an uneven one with disparities within cities and among cities.
But, what exactly are the attributes of a “smart city”?

The following are two definitions:
Maggie Comstock (Comstock, 2012) of the World Banks states,
At its most basic level, a city is comprised of a government (in some form), people, industry, infrastructure, education and social services. A smart city thoughtfully and sustainably pursues development with all of these components in mind with the additional foresight of the future needs of the city. This approach allows cities to provide for its citizens through services and infrastructure that address both the current needs of the population as well as for projected growth.”
Another definition of a “smart city” would be one that successfully uses technology to efficiently handle the complexity of many issues (housing, mobility, economy, culture, governance, and environment), and accomplish a level of sustainability (“In focus: Smart Cities”, N.d.)
This definition is more fully explained on the webpage of The State of Green (a website focusing on sustainability in Denmark):
‘The smart city is based upon the visions for the sustainable city and visualizes the city as an inclusive system and not consisting of separate parts, but the smart part is how you use smart technologies to collect data, how you choose to work and with which resources. It is a city which is designed to optimize the interaction and integration of existing technical and digital solutions, so the smart city does not necessarily provide the solutions, but it presents a way of accelerating innovation and creating new possibilities and partnerships. The practical use of the concept rests on two pillars’:
1- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
2- Optimization of technological infrastructure
(“In Focus: Smart Cities”, N.d.)

One of the foundations of the smart city is the development of digital geographic databases, spatial technologies (Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems etc.) coupled with a robust globalized cadre of spatial technology professionals. This is a billion dollar industry which was in its infancy just twenty years ago.

Not so long ago, GPS was only known only to professionals. Now, it has become a household word with many cars and trucks equipped with GPS units.

This digital spatial grid, and associated spatial technologies, realizes efficient dispatching of fire and police vehicles for emergencies, public transit buses to be better coordinated; better knowledge of motorists concerning congestion and accidents, and better locations of problems on electrical grids.

Now an app is being developed by Honda that would be able to sense potential traffic jams and direct drivers on an alternative route (Vijayenthiran, 2013).

Systems have been theoretically tested so that all vehicles in a city can be monitored and guided in the street network via an integrated system of sensors and guidance systems to avoid accidents and congestion (Tang, 2012), (Khekare, 2012).

Remote Sensing (satellite imaging and interpretation) is becoming so powerful that small changes in the urban landscape can be detected (Blaschke, 2011.)

However, not all aspects of ‘smart cities’ are benign. The use of drones, also using geographic databases and spatial technologies to monitor criminal activity and for security is already being considered for domestic use, but under considerable controversy (Stanley, 2013). There is also a discussion on the use of drones for small package delivery, agricultural uses, search and rescue and emergency disaster assistance.

Another aspect of the ‘smart city’ is the increasing communications among individuals. Most everyone in a city is now almost constantly connected to those in the city, and outside including internationally if they own a cell phone, tablet (i.e. IPad), lap top or other devices.

Many in cities are self-organizing to become a powerful force in government with the assistance of communication technology such as mobile devices. The Arab Spring revolutions occurring in Tunisia and Egypt in their urban areas were greatly facilitated by mobile phones and social media. The international Pirate Party, which uses social media to get issue petitions and consensus-based decision-making, presents a possible revolutionary way for direct democracy.

The software that is the backbone of communication among the worldwide Pirate Party is LiquidFeedback, an open-source software package. The most active Pirate Party was in Germany, but currently it appears to be in a state of confusion and undergoing a state of self-destruction, ironically through the platform that brought its members together, the Internet (Becker, 2013).

In many cities around  the world technology is opening up new avenues of social engagement that were not possible before, creating a greater sense of community and encouraging  local government to be more transparent and integrated with its citizens (Sánchez-Chillón, 2011.)

It would seem obvious, but a “smart city” must be inhabited by “smart people.”  This requires an excellent system of free public education, including university level. It takes educated people in a city and nation to be able to design, maintain and coordinate/plan for intelligent technology. It also takes a population which has equal access to this technology.

In the present system, with the middle class decreasing and those in the upper income brackets gaining more income and control, a “smart city” would be greatly hampered to reach its full potential. There would be a continuing gap between those that have the technology and those that do not. There also continue to be a gap between the technological advantages of cities in developed countries as opposed to those in developed countries.

Regardless of the present economic stagnation, income inequality and “Luddite” governments that controlled by an economic elite and corporations, it is still  a marvelous and complex world that we now live. Cities are being caught up in the technological revolution that is dynamic and often confusing. It is determining how individuals operate within it, aiding in the delivery of public services, determining the planning of infrastructure and challenging local governments to be more transparent, more responsive, and shifting the power away from the plutocracy that controls cities. The “gauntlet” put before cities is how well they can use this technology to make cities more livable, accepting, just (economically and politically) and sustainable.

Works Citied:
Becker, Sven. “German Pirate Party Sinks amid Chaos and Bickering.” Spiegel Online. N.p., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Blaschke, Thomas, et al. “Collective sensing: integrating geospatial technologies to understand urban systems—an overview.” Remote Sensing 3.8 (2011): 1743-1776. Web. 26 March 2013.

Comstock, Maggie. “What Is a Smart City and How Can a City Boost Its IQ?” Sustainable Cities Blog, World Bank, 9 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“In Focus: Smart Cities.” N.p. State of Green. N.d.. Web. 24 March 2013.
Khekare, Ganesh S., and Apeksha V. Sakhare. “Intelligent Traffic System for VANET: A Survey.” International Journal 2.4 (2012). Web. 27 March 2013.

LiquidFeedback. N.p. N.d., Web. 24 March 2013.

Sánchez-Chillón, Pablo.”Sentient city: From Living Labs to hackathons and city hackers.” URBAN 360 by Pablo Snchez Chilln Pabloschillon. N.p., 22 November 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Schaffers, Hans, et al. “Smart cities and the future internet: Towards cooperation frameworks for open innovation.” The future internet (2011),: 431-446. (Available via Open Access)

Smart City Expo World Conference (13-15 November 2013.) Web. 24 March 2013

Stanley, Jay. “Eight Factors That Will Shape How America Adapts to Drones.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013 .

Tang, Xiaolan. “Integrated Extensible Simulation Platform for Vehicular Sensor Networks in Smart Cities.” International Journal of Distributed Sensor Networks (2012). Web. 27 March 2013.

Vijayenthiran, Viknesh. “An App to End Traffic Jams?” The Christian Science Monitor. 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013
Image source: picstopin.com