Tagplanning

Policy insights for Moving Design

I’ve collected into a single website all seven of the policy insights I gave at Moving Design in July and August 2011 about bicycling and planning.

Policy Insights

If I had an actual photo of me giving a policy insight to 40+ designers, the facilitators, and Rick Valicenti, I would post it here. Instead, here’s what Rey Colón looks like talking about policy and planning and our Bike/Walk35 presentation, and me listening. 

Policy thought of the day, August 8, 2011

Chicago’s bronze-level bicycle friendly community sign is posted inside the Chicago Department of Transportation’s office at 30 N LaSalle Street. 

West Town Bikes
Alex Wilson was telling me that he can reach more people if he had the same money that now goes to infrastructure. He added, “There should be an education component alongside any infrastructure change.”

—-
Chicago, IL got Silver in 2005.
Boulder, Davis, Portland have Platinum.
Naperville, Schaumburg, Urbana bronze
Full list of communities: http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/pdfs/bfc_master_list_spring_2011_revised5.pdf

Bicycle friendliness
What makes a hood or biz bike friendly?

Measures of effectiveness
Last time I talked about data collection that you would use to evaluate projects.

LAB uses the 5 Es to measure the bike friendliness of universities, cities, and states.
“Education, enforcement, engineering, evaluation, encouragement”

Communities:
http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/bfc_five-Es.php

Schools:
http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/bicyclefriendlyuniversity/bfu_five_e_s.php

Madison, WI application

Cache of 5 Es webpage: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:UhGg_iiDcJkJ:www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/bfc_five-Es.php+league+of+american+bicyclists+enforcement&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari&source=www.google.com

What is a bike friendly community?
-bike parking – enough
-marked bike lanes and signs
-laws and enforcement
-community events that surround cycling
-people that bike
-bike shops
-old ladies biking
-children biking
-people who aren’t afraid to bike
-low mortality rate
-weather

When you are making projects, think of how they can fit into these categories. Form a descriptive narrative around these categories. When you communicate to politicians and planners, this will help form your common understanding of the project, its intent, and the impact it will have the community.

Read more policy insights from Steven Vance. 

Gaps

A map that focuses on striped bikeways in downtown Chicago.

When you look at your bikeways more abstractly, like in the graphic above, do you see deficiencies or gaps in the network? Anything glaring or odd?

It’s a simple exercise: Open up QGIS and load in the relevant geographic data for your city. For Chicago, I added the city boundary, hydrography and parks (for locational reference), and bike lanes and marked-shared lanes*. Symbolize the bikeways to stand out in a bright color. I had the Chicago Transit Authority stations overlaid, but I removed them because it minimized the “black hole of bikeways” I want to show.

What do you see?

Bigger impact map

This exercise can have more impact if it was visualized differently. You have to be familiar with downtown Chicago and the Loop to fully understand why it’s important to notice what’s missing. It’s an extremely office and job dense neighborhood. It also has one of the highest densities of students in the country; the number of people residing downtown continues to grow. If I had good data on how many workers and students there were per building, I could indicate that on the map to show just how many people are potentially affected by the lack of bicycle infrastructure that leads them to their jobs (or class) in the morning, and home in the evening. I don’t know how to account for all of the bicycling that goes through downtown just for events, like at Millennium and Grant Parks, the Cultural Center, and other theaters and venues.

*If you cannot find GIS data for your city, please let me know and I will try to help you find it. It should be available for your city as a matter of course.

Bump out opportunity

I was reading a plan for a streetscape design (doesn’t matter for where) and I saw a street map with orange dots showing “bumpout opportunities.” The plan was mostly images and didn’t describe this feature.

Were these opportunities because the community had indicated their desire for slower turns, shorter crosswalks, additional landscaping, or they needed space for bike parking?

Or did someone think, “A bumpout would fit here, let’s install one.” (In other words, “because we can.”)

This post is less about questioning the rationale behind constructing bumpouts (also called curb extensions), but about questioning why and how we decide to build stuff.

Do we build things because there’s a need for that thing, or because someone thinks that thing is needed? This discussion leads us to talking about the role of public participation in planning. Often I see public participation used as a way to measure support for an idea that seems like it will become real regardless of which way the vocal public feels. Organizations should measure, instead, the demand for a solution of a problem, from which they can attempt to discover, understand, and propose fixes or improvements to the problem.

Can we use location-based services to make urban planning “rise”?

Facebook launched a feature called Places that allows its users to “check in” to Places and to see where their friends are. People can also see where the most popular venue is at any given time (provided they have friends there).

SeeClickFix has mobile apps (and a website) that enables users (in participating locales) to report issues (like graffiti and potholes) in their neighborhoods.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones overlay the virtual world (of yellow pages and restaurant reviews) on the physical world depending on where you point your phone’s camera.

Is there something (an app, a concept, a teaching) that we can develop that uses these apps or the same technology to raise awareness of “urban planning” in all of our cities’ citizens? Such a scheme would attempt to educate and involve more people into the city’s social, cultural and built environments, the urban fabric (buzzword alert!), as well as the history of their surroundings.

Possible scenarios

1. While riding the train through a neighborhood, the new location-based service that encompasses everything about urban planning might aggregate information relevant to the location and activity. Perhaps the application would display to the user information about the history of this particular elevated train’s construction on this branch as well as pull up information on upcoming schedule changes. Lastly, the transit operator may ask the user to take a survey about this particular trip, looking for information on how the user accessed the station (via bike, walking, car, or bus?).

2. My friend Brandon Souba created a proof-of-concept app called Handshake that tells you about nearby app users with similar interests. But this hardly raises civic or urban awareness. Maybe non-profit organizations who need volunteers could create profiles in Handshake and when you’re near a staff member or the headquarters, your phone alerts you to a possible volunteer opportunity.

3. What are your ideas?

I think I finally figured out the purpose of making plans

No, not plans with friends for dinner at Ian’s Pizza in Wrigleyville (which was great last night, by the way).

I graduated in May 2010 and I’m just now figuring out why we should make plans. What did I come up with?

Plans are to give a basis for the future so that the future is shaped from what people collectively need and want. They keep you on track so you focus on what’s most important and not the things that will derail the path to the plan’s stated goals.

(You can quote me on that. But I wouldn’t rely on that statement to stay the same – it’s still a work in progress.)

For example, you go out and survey the bike parking situation at all transit stations in your city. You collect data on how many bike parking spaces are available, how many bikes are present (both on bike racks and other objects), and bike rack type.

You then gather information like ridership, access mode, and surrounding residential density. From this you can list the stations in order of which ones need attention now, which ones need attention later, and which ones won’t need attention. Talking to people who work at the stations, who use the stations, and others will help you fine tune the ranking.

That’s the plan. The plan might also include narratives about the rationale for having high quality, sheltered, upgraded, or copious bike parking at transit stations (hit up the Federal Transit Administration for that).

Then the plan sits. Two years later, someone reads the plan and decides to apply for funding to build bike parking shelters at the transit stations in most need.

What stations are those? Oh, the plan tells us.

Successful bike parking

UPDATE, 04-23-10: I start to further address distance in the discovery of “Bike Parking Phenomenon A.” Also on my Master’s Project website.

Not every concept, skill or tool can be further and further simplified. Does anything really take just 3 steps?

1. Set it, 2. Forget it, 3. No third step! (This article is about bike parking, not Ron Popeil’s Showtime Rotisserie!)

I believe I can simplify bike parking. Here are my two rules to have successful and well-used bike parking:

1. Put bike parking as close to the front door as physically possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bicycle riders use a substandard sign pole or tree instead of a high-quality bike rack because the bike rack was an additional 20 feet from the front door. UPDATE: As Dave Reid points out in the comments below, close parking increases security. Additionally, I’ve now written about the phenomenon where people lock to inadequate fixtures when high-quality bike parking is nearby, what I call “Bike Parking Phenomenon A” or the “50 feet rule.” Every foot makes a difference!

The bike parking in this photo sits only 20 feet away from the front door to a popular Chicago, Illinois, restaurant.

The bike parking in this photo is too far away from the store entrance for bicyclists to consider using it.

2. Choose the right bike rack. How do you know? Give bicycle riders a bike rack that’s easy to use and secure (i.e. don’t let the bike rack be the weak point in the bicycle’s security).

Six u-racks (also known as inverted-u, or staple racks) line the sidewalk in front of Kuma’s Corner in Chicago, Illinois.

If these two tips aren’t good enough, read through the online brochure, Bicycles at Rest, from the Capital Bike & Walk Society, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Comparing the Portland and Seattle bike plans

The assignment:  Find two plans written on a common theme from cities with similar attributes and compare them. The purpose is to start reading plan documents produced by firms, agencies, and organizations around the country. Furthermore, the comparison should include a critique of each plan. For this assignment, I compared the bike “master” plans for Seattle and Portland. The cities have a similar population, and are geographically close.

The class: Making Plans, Making Plans Studio. This class has a lecture and a lab. The assignments are due in the lecture session, which have little to do with the single assignment for the lab. In the lab, students write an actual plan. I took this class in Spring 2009 and each of the four labs independently write an economic development plan for Blue Island, Illinois.

Portland and Seattle are very closely located cities and have a population difference of only 20,000. Portland is recognized as the bicycling capital of the country, but Seattle desperately wants to compete. I reviewed each of their bicycle master plans, but Portland’s is in need of an update. Seattle released their bicycle plan in 2007.

Organization and Design

Portland is definitely known around the country and world as the United States’ premier bicycling city. The leading hobby magazine, Bicycling, identified Portland as such back in 1995 (according to their Bicycle Master Plan). As such, I was expecting their plan to be near perfect. I found that its organization was haphazard and difficult to follow.

Portland installed its first bike boxes in 2008 in response to deaths caused by right-turning trucks.

For example, the plan is 159 pages long but does not use paragraph or section identifiers (i.e. Objective 1.2) or page headers or footers that can tell the reader where they are in relation to the other sections of the plan. The only understandable section identifiers are in the table of contents and the objectives labels. The objectives labels are taken straight from Portland’s comprehensive plan and all come from the same section of that plan (section 6). Eventually you may find that the Portland bicycle plan does have a chapter for each subsection of section 6 in the city’s comprehensive plan. Unfortunately the label is written once at the beginning of the section and is blurred into a black and white photo.

The Seattle plan smartly follows the Chicago example of heavy sectioning and sub-sectioning. This method makes it easy to reference, locate and describe an exact strategy in the plan. In this way, each strategy, or action item as Portland calls them, has a distinct identifier. By following the Chicago example, plans can also more easily internally cross-reference. The one cross-reference in the Portland plan tells me to find Section IV B3. Section IV is only labeled at the beginning of that section, so a reader first has to find that page. Then within Section IV, “B3” is nowhere to be found. There’s no way to infer what B3 could mean. It could mean “benchmark” but Section IV has no benchmarks for the strategies described. Cross-referencing in the Seattle plan is helpful: the links usually take the form of, “For more information, see Chapter 4.” Sometimes the Seattle tells visitors to go online.

Both the Seattle and Portland bicycle plans have great initiatives to improve bicycling, but Seattle’s document surely makes their future work much easier to find!

Bicyclists are the first customers off the ferries in Seattle. On an average day, over 50,000 trips are taken by ferry.

Content

Both the Seattle and Portland bicycle plans provides a lot of extraneous but relevant information, including tips on safe cycling, traffic laws, maps, facility design guides, and crash data. This makes for a long plan but provides governmental and transit agencies the information they need to make decisions available in a central place. The plan document can also act as a self-promotional tool: information contained within the plan is identical to the information that the plan makers want to educate people. For example, within the Portland plan, safe cycling guidelines are included. The necessity of its inclusion in the plan document is debatable, but it doesn’t distract from the plan’s reason for existence.

Portland also includes in its plan a streets and bikeways design guide. This is a separate document that explains to traffic engineers and roadway constructors and planners how to design and build streets, including signage, that make it safer for bicyclists to ride upon.

Both plans have very similar strategies, but because of Seattle’s more recently developed plan, it includes recently accepted innovative traffic calming techniques as well as new bikeway designs (like bicycle-only left turn lanes).

The Portland plan’s age might become a disadvantage to the city and its bicyclists if uninformed agencies are strictly following its guidelines. The Portland Bureau of Transportation, in which sits the Bicycle Program, has fortunately not stuck to strategies listed. PBOT has installed several bikeways and bike parking facilities that are not mentioned in the plan, namely colored bike boxes between pedestrian crosswalks and motorist stop bars, as well as on street bike parking.

UPDATE: Portland closed on November 8, 2009, the public comment period for the 2009 Bike Master Plan Update. Read the draft plan.

Biking to the Chicago Olympics in 2016

What does the Chicago Olympic Committee’s bid book say about bicycling as part of the Olympic transportation system? A system that has to move 15,000 Games workforce, 30,000 athletes and their coaches and support staff, as well as 1.5 million everyday “background” users like you and me commuting? This:

“Travel by bicycles, always welcome in Chicago, will be used practically to augment the plan through the use of bicycle valet service near rail stations.”

The end.

This one line was found under section 15.10, “Public-Transport Network.” It’s public transport-related because the bike valet will be at CTA and Metra stations near the venues. Many of those stations are up to 1.6 miles away, according to the plan. These bicyclists will be expected to ride from hotel or home to the rail station nearest the Olympic venue, park, then board a shuttle bus. 

The worst part of the statement within the bid book is that they felt compelled enough to insert the snide comment that bicycles are “always welcome in Chicago” as if readers may have been confused that Chicago would, in some way, disallow their use during the Olympic Games. Or, perhaps, historically, Chicago didn’t welcome bicycles. With this, I feel the bid book authors have never actually seen bicyclists in Chicago and had to learn this through secondhand communication – this is belittling and dismissive to bicyclists around the world.

The Olympic plan should use bicycling as a mode and opportunity to solve the complicated, expensive, and potentially messy transport issue. Bicyclists should be allowed to ride straight to the gate, which is where they would find bike valet service. And volunteers and staff can ride between gates, venues, and operations centers on bicycles. Instead, Olympic games workers will be driving singly in small SUVs or on Segways just like our public transport and police do now.

A final note on the use of shuttle buses: My concern is where these buses will come from, and what the CTA or other agency will do with them post-Games. According to section 15.11, “Fleet and Rolling Stock,” the Chicago Olympic games “will have access to the Federal Borrowed Bus Program.” What is the FBBP? The internet doesn’t know! A web search reveals one result: an entry on the CTA Tattler blog. No agency in this country has buses they can lend. A table in the bid book following this section, Table 15.11, has a column for transit fleet and rolling stock, and it’s conflicting or confusing. One column indicating the number of vehicles in possession now by various agencies, the next, a number to which these inventories will expand, and the third, the number of additional vehicles on hand for the Games. All rows in the third column indicate that NO additional vehicles will be needed for the Olympic Games – all agencies will have the necessary fleet vehicles to provide transport for the Olympic Games.

I don’t get it.

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