TagWalking

People want more walkability and property developers can make it happen

Columbus Commons

The Columbus Commons in the tationty center. Photo by Brandon Bartoszek

This is my favorite part of Sam Schwartz’s book “Street Smart” so far. You’ll find it on page 117 following a discussion of Walk Score, a tool used mostly by realtors that measures “walkability” of any place in American cities based on the location and diversity of services, shops, and amenities nearby.

Every way you slice the data confirms that what all the polls say is true: people want more walkability.

Why, then, is there so little of it?

Why is there such a mismatch between the supply of, and the demand for, walkable neighborhoods?

Is it because, as one observer wrote, “Americans would like to live in places that don’t really exist”?

Do you live in a walkable place? Answer, and then check your Walk Score. I’m curious to know if they match.

Schwartz answers these questions with “not really”.

They want to live in places that do exist, but there are far too few of them.

Schwartz mentions that the housing prices in the most walkable cities – San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City – are so expensive, but being walkable is what makes them the “coolest” cities.

Higher Walk Scores positively correlate with higher housing prices, “which is a problem”, Schwartz says.

[It’s] also an opportunity. By definition, only a few neighborhoods can be the coolest places to live. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make everywhere cooler.

Many pages later Schwartz describes how one city attempted to get property developers to make their proposed buildings or complexes more receptive to walking and biking (active transportation).

Columbus, Ohio, needed to lose some body weight. The city’s sprawling nature contributed to 59 percent of adults being obese or overweight, and 38 percent of children in the third grade (here’s the citation).

The Columbus Healthy Places program was formed in 2006 and implemented by the transportation and public health departments. Here’s one of the strategies they undertook to affect the built environment.

[The transportation and public health officials] persuaded the [buildings] department to grant them an opportunity to comment on all requests from developers to rezone a particular bit of land.

With that opportunity, Schwartz explained on page 133, they proposed that developments with shopping centers, bus stops, schools, park, libraries, drugstores, or grocery stores, within half a mile of residences, “include a suite of active transportation elements” like bike parking, connections to bike lanes and trails, and wider sidewalks.

It worked, he said. Before the program only seven percent of projects requesting a zoning change included active transportation elements, but after it was reviewed by the Columbus Healthy Places managers it “jumped” to 64 percent.

Going to worship at The Beer Temple takes too long

Minor suggestion to improve Elston-California-Belmont

A map of Belmont, Elston, California with lines and labels that show how I get to The Beer Temple and where I think the city should add car parking.

The Beer Temple opened two blocks from my house in Avondale last year, at 3185 N Elston Ave, on the six-way intersection of Belmont Avenue, Elston Avenue, and California Avenue. This intersection is beastly.

And it’s timed wrong. Since I live southwest of the great craft and imported beer store and it’s on the northwest corner of Elston (a diagonal street) and California, I have to cross twice. I make the first crossing, east-west across California at my street, and then walk north to the second crossing, north-south across Elston.

I cross at my street across California because there’s no light to wait for, and the crossing isn’t diagonal like my other option at Elston (which would mean I walk north, then diagonally south and east). Once I get to Elston, though, I’m screwed because the walk signal is about 15 seconds long but the wait for the next walk signal is about 90 seconds long.

It’s so long because the green for Elston is held for Elston traffic, but also held green for eastbound Belmont traffic that makes a right turn onto southeast-bound Elston. Instead of the walk signal being green for two phases of the cycle (for two of the three streets), it’s green for only one cycle: California’s.

This is because this six-way intersection is the less common type, the type with an island in the middle. It’s got the island because the three streets cross each other at different points and don’t share a common cross point. I’ve got to wait for two phases because Elston needs to stay green for Belmont traffic because you can’t have drivers waiting in the island area – too many cars may stack up and block cross traffic during another phase.

(At many intersections I would just cross whenever there’s a gap between fast-moving cars, but with six-way intersections you don’t always know from where a car will be speeding towards you.)

I get that, but that makes it suck for walking in this area. This design also makes it suck for people biking and driving to turn left from certain streets to other streets because they can’t make the left turn and keep on going. They make the left turn and then have to stop and wait for a second phase to keep going.

I’ve racked my mind for ideas on how to improve this intersection just mildly, in such a way that few would oppose (because that’s really the threshold you can’t cross to have a nice outcome in Chicago).

My idea? Add car parking in front of Dragon Lady Lounge in the “non-identified lane” there. It’s used as a travel lane, or a right-turn lane, depending on who’s driving and how they choose to maneuver their vehicle. It’s not needed for either because of the way traffic moves southbound on Elston past Dragon Lady Lounge and that Elston only has one travel lane in each direction on either side of this big intersection.

The parking would have the obvious benefit of putting customers closer to their destination, but would have the less obvious benefits of protecting people on the sidewalk, buffering noise and speeding vehicles from sidewalk users, and slow traffic past Dragon Lady Lounge when people are parking.

Something new in Salt Lake City transit

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve visited my mom in Salt Lake City and there’s a new transit line to gawk at. Three years ago it was the FrontRunner North commuter line between SLC and Ogden. Two years ago it was two new light rail lines (with new Siemens S70 vehicles). Last year was FrontRunner South to Provo (where my brother lives), and this year it’s the S-Line streetcar line.

On Wednesday, on my way back to SLC from Provo, I took a bus from my brother’s office to the Provo FrontRunner station, then the FrontRunner train to Murray station, where I switched to TRAX to ride up to Central Pointe station where the streetcar line terminates. A test vehicle was stopped at the single-track platform.

I wanted to see the route, the stops it makes, the station design, and the adjacent biking and walking path so I started walking up and down and across the blocks to check it out. I ran into two train several times while UTA staff tested them and made the video above.

Google Maps is annoying sometimes

I was looking up traffic counts on the Chicago Traffic Tracker website and saw that the Halsted Street bridge over the Chicago River just north of Chicago Avenue is missing. It’s shown as a gray line with the text “Halsted Street (planned)”.

This is not the most accurate message. The west side sidewalk is still open to foot and bicycle transportation, as I pointed out in my Grid Chicago article, The Halsted Passage. I wonder how it got in there.

I’ll report this as a problem, but I’m wary of it actually being updated to show that people on foot can still cross the river here. I’ve used Google Maps’s Map Maker tool once, and I didn’t like the experience. My correctly-made adjustment of a street was questioned and I was asked to revert my change. I refused and eventually my change was approved… because it was correct. I guess that someone used Map Maker to (incorrectly) modify the street at this part. This street segment in Map Maker should be designated something close to a “pedestrian walkway” instead of a bridge for automobile, bus, and bicycle traffic.

The Google Maps walking directions for walking from Division Street to Chicago Avenue don’t show the option of using the sidewalk, which is entirely possible (I did it again this week).

The 3-way street

Update June 12, 2011: Added a link to and excerpt from commentary by David Hembrow, a British blogger in the Netherlands.

How does a 3-way street work? Easy, just watch the video.

I like the term “aggressive yield” to describe the situation when a motorist does yield to pedestrians crossing the street, but in a way where they inch forward continually, slowly pushing, with a buffer or air, the people out of the way.

I really like the comment from Tuesday by Anthony Ball:

those red markers are just showing the limits of tolerable risk as established by years of system development. If the collision speeds were higher, those red circles would be far few – it’s simply a system finding its own point of stability.

If you really want to wreak havoc – try to control that system without corrective feedback (eg more rules, lights, controls, etc) and you’ll see the system kill people while it tries to find new stable relationships.

don’t forget that rules, signs, lights, etc have no direct impact on the system – they only work through the interpretation of the users.

What did David Hembrow have to say? David lives in the Netherlands and disagrees with the common sentiment that these conflicts are caused by selfish users.

I don’t see the behaviour at this junction as being about “bad habits”. What I see is simply a very badly designed junction which almost invites people to behave in the way that they do.

Dutch road junctions don’t look like and work like this – they are different for a reason: it removes the conflicts and improves safety. A long-standing theme of Dutch road design is the concept of Sustainable Safety. The concept is to remove conflict so that collisions are rare and the consequences of those which remain are relatively small. Roads are made self-explanatory so that bad behaviour is reduced and the way people behave is changed.

Reading this reminds me of the work of the students in George Aye’s class at SAIC, “Living in a Smart City.” The students attempted, through an intersection redesign, to reduce the stresses that lead to crashes.

Where are the 3-way streets in your city? Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee in Chicago comes to my mind easily. Also a lot of streets in the Loop. Oh yeah, and The Crotch, at Milwaukee/North/Damen.

Save the depot

The last thing we did in Detroit was visit the Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (according to contributors of Wikipedia). It’s an interesting area, with big lawns and boulevards leading up to it. There are many homeless people hanging around under the broad trees. One of them came over to ask that I don’t take her photo.

Travelers

Photo of me and the “tourist assistant” by Francesco Villa.

A guy riding his bike came over to talk to us. I asked him if he knew how to get into the train station. He did and showed us where the fence could be easily lifted (someone even tied a rope to the fence) and you could slip under. I gave him a dollar for his help (actually, he asked when I said goodbye).

Thankfully the cool station is on the National Register of Historic Places* making demolition much harder. The problem is getting the right idea and developer married to renovate the station and put it back into productive use.

Amtrak served the station until 1988. I find it odd that Amtrak, or any passenger train, came here in the first place – the station feels far from downtown Detroit. Walking is possible, along Michigan Avenue, but there’s no street activity along the way. I presume that when it was constructed in 1913, the Corktown neighborhood was a bit more hoppin’.

We walked from the train station to the Greyhound station at 1001 Howard Street, a 1.2 mile walk. We stopped for lunch at Great Wall Chinese Food. It was cheap and tasty. Another customer there told us he drives 40 minutes for this restaurant. He also said he worked the light show at the VitaminWater stage at the Movement Festival (formerly Detroit Electronic Music Festival) we spent the previous two days dancing at.

Someone has placed letters at the top of the building saying, SAVE THE DEPOT.

Detroit has so much space. What should we do with all of that room?

*The National Register website doesn’t have permalinks (stupid). So search here for reference number “75000969” or name, “Penn Central Station”. I don’t know why the NHRP calls it Penn Central Station.

TransportationCamp: Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location, Session Two

Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location How can we get it? What can we do with it? How can it not be creepy?
By Eric Fischer.

My summary of the discussion

There are many existing data sources that are published or have APIs that could stand as reasonable proxies for tracking people who are walking, biking, or just ambling around the city – some of this information is given away (via Foursquare) by those who are traveling, and other information is collected in real time (buses and taxis) and after the trip (travel surveys and Flickr photos). I don’t think the group agreed on any good use for this data (knowing where people are in the city right now), nor did the group come up with ways to ensure this collection is not “creepy.”

Eric’s original question involved the location of people bicycling, but the discussion spent more time talking about pedestrians. However, some techniques in tracking and data gathering could be applied to both modes.

See final paragraph for links on “further reading” that I find relevant to this discussion.

Schedule board at TransportationCamp West on Saturday in San Francisco at Public Works SF, 161 Erie Street.

[Ideas and statements are credited where I could keep track of who said what, and if I could see your name badge.]

Eric, starting us off:
We have a lot of information about where motor vehicles (MV) are in cities.
A lot of experience of city is not about being in a MV, though.

How many bikers going through intersection that are NOT getting hurt.
Finding places where people walk and where people’ don’t.

Where do people go on foot and on bikes?
As far as I know this isn’t available

Foursquare has benefits (awards) so people are willing to give the data, but we don’t want another Please Rob Me.

In SF, there are flash mobs, sudden protests, Critical Mass

Data sources:
-buses – boarding and deboarding – you can get a flow map from this. Someone said that Seattle has this data open.
-CTPP (Census Transportation Planning Package)
-city ped count
-Eric: Where people get on/off taxis.

“CycleTracks” – sampling bias, people with iPhones
-70% of handheld devices are feature phones, not smart phones. So there’s another sampling bias.

Opt-in factor
How do you sample?

SF Planning Dept. had a little program or project ask people to plot on a map your three most common walking routes.
What is your favorite street, and where do you not like to walk?

Eric: My collection tool is Flickr. Geotags and timestamps.
flickr.com/walkingsf

Magdalena Palugh: Are there incentives for commuting by bike? There are incentives for people who vanpool.
If there is incentive, I would gladly give up my data.
Michael Schwartz (SFCTA, sp?) What is difference <> SFCTA/MTA?

-If part of this is to get at where the trouble spots are, could you have people contribute where the good/bad parts are? “This overpass really sucks.”

Tom: Can you get peds from aerial images?
-Yes, but there’re too many limitations, like shade, and tree cover. Also, aerial images may be taken at wrong time (for a while the image of Market/Castro was during festival).

Brandon Martin-Anderson: What strategies have you tried so far?
-aerial images
-Flickr/Picasa location
-Street View face blur (a lot false positives)
Anything you plot looks kind of the same.

People like to walk where other people are. For safety reasons. -Good point on real-time basis.
Eric: Not a lobbying group for peds.
Eric: Find interesting places to go.
Richard: We need exposure data.

Paris bike sharing report showed that “Cycling is faster on Wednesdays.”
Europeans more open to sharing their private details – possibly because of stricter regulation on what agencies can do with the collected data. (There was a little disagreement on this, I personally heard the opposite).

Andrew: Can we use something like Xbox Kinect to track these people?

National Bike/Ped Documentation Project – same format
Seattle – 4 different groups that do annual bike counts. UW bike planning studio.

Who pays for this?
-Transportation planners pay for this.
-Private development projects (from contractor).
-Universities, NSF, Google
-Community groups –

Further reading

People

Mike Fleisher – DS Solutions
Andrew – @ondrae – urbanmapping.com

Notes to self

Is Census question about commuting about time or distance of “most traveled” mode?
Splunk – data analysis tool
What is difference <> SFCTA/SFMTA?

Where I went in 2009 through 2011

I think my trip to San Francisco this past weekend for visiting friends and Transportation Camp West winds up over a year of domestic and international travel. This post links you to all the recap entries and Flickr photo galleries for the awesome cities I traveled to, rode the train in, and biked through.

2009

September

December

Approximate 2009 travel distance: 3,792 miles*

2010

April

August

September

November

December

Approximate 2010 travel distance: 17,515 miles (does not include intercity train trips)*

2011

January

March

May

August

September

Approximate 2011 travel distance: 8,271 miles (does not include intercity train trips and one car trip)*

*Travel distances exclude biking, walking, and trips on transit.

Wildly different priorities

The people of the Netherlands show how they place priority on a multitude of transportation modes on every block.

Take for example this Hard Rock Cafe in Amsterdam, a restaurant known around the world – there’s always one in each country’s largest cities.

The only way to arrive is by foot or by bicycle! There’s no car drop off or parking lot. The rear of the restaurant has patio seating along the canal so it might even be possible to dock your boat here!

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

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