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Downtown Chicago from 28 floors up and half a mile away

I went to the top floor of UIC’s University Hall and took a few hundred shots with my Olympus E-500 digital SLR. That was 3 years. I came across them while switching photo libraries, iPhoto to Aperture. From this high up vantage point that’s removed from the skyscraper core, you can see different spaces, shapes, and interactions.

SAFETEA-LU extensions, explained

Why does Congress keep extending SAFETEA-LU?

SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009, but President Obama signed a 31-day extension on October 1, 2009. This is the same day the federal budget expired, and the extension, called a continuing resolution, also included funding for nearly all federal agencies to continue their work at current funding levels. The extension bill is H.R. 2918 (public law 111-68).

It’s now November 17, 2009, and what happened to that extension that expired on Halloween? A new bill was signed by the president (on October 30) that makes another extension, this time lasting until December 18, 2009. This extension is buried within H.R. 2996 (public law 111-88). Read the bill and you won’t find any explicit language that extends transportation funding.

Larry Ehl at the Washington (state) Department of Transportation (WashDOT) breaks down how to read between the lines to understand the text necessary to extend SAFETEA-LU. Essentially, H.R. 2996 modifies H.R. 2918. Subscribe to WashDOT’s Federal Transportation Issues blog to stay apprised.

Find bill text at Thomas, an online repository from the Library of Congress.

Increasing the City of Chicago’s tree canopy

The assignment: You are on a team working with the City of Chicago on increasing the City’s tree canopy from just under 15% to 25%. What would you recommend? Please bear in mind that most city staff feel that they have covered most city owned land and that to reach the goal they will have to get private landowners to plant the trees. How can we get them to do this? What types of parcels present opportunities?

The class: Sustainable Development Techniques

How the class works: The professors invite working professionals to speak to the class each week. After the lecture from these guests, a short discussion ensues. The guests design the homework questions. The following week, the class discusses their responses with each other and the professors.

I’ve identified four parcel types that present opportunities to increase the City of Chicago’s tree canopy from 15% to 25%.

1. Existing surface parking lots, both private and public
2. New surface and multi-level parking lots, both private and public
3. Schools, both public and private
4. Condemn private lots

1. The team will inventory private and public surface parking lots. Using demand survey data, the team will identify specific lots and direct them to reduce the number of spaces by half the difference between demand and availability. The team will select the spaces where trees will be planted at no cost to the parking lot owner. Alternatively, the parking lot owners can choose to purchase and install secure, sheltered bicycle parking on the spaces where trees would have been planted. Owners must install this facility at their own expense but may charge for its use.

The owners choose between a no cost option that potentially reduces their income, or a cost option that potentially reduces their income. Both options would potentially reduce carbon or carbon emissions associated with the parking lot.
2. The team will recommend zoning code changes that reduce the number of required auto parking spaces for new parking lots, increase the number of bicycle parking spaces, and improve the zoning code’s accommodations to alternative fuel, hybrid and shared car spaces. The code will require that builders plant trees in the space that would have been built as auto parking. The code will specify best tree planting practices so the builders plant trees in places on the parcel where it will live.

Parking lots will become useful to a larger number of users, and reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

3. Many schools have land paved with asphalt, acting either as a playground or parking lot for staff. Under a district (or diocese) and City-wide plan to reduce carbon emissions and improve the health of staff, schools will install sheltered bicycle parking on a small portion of the asphalt, and then remove a large area of asphalt. They’ll replace the removed asphalt with grass and trees. Principals will make up the first group of staff to adopt alternative commute methods (which can include carpool, vanpool, transit, walking or bicycling), starting with at least two days per week.

Students will receive a kid-friendlier playground. School staff will reduce their carbon emissions. Schools will help reduce their contribution to the urban heat island effect. New trees will reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

4. Lastly, the City will condemn private lots and convert these to urban forests. The team will first identify residential areas, and then commercial areas. Communities identified by the team to receive urban forests can choose to have and operate a farm or garden instead. The City will provide relocation assistance to all residents of a blighted or energy inefficient building who decide to move to a denser part of the city. The City would then condemn the lot and building, aggregating it into the forest. A variation of this plan includes strategic placement of the trees: The trees can be planted in such a way on the parcel’s perimeter that would permit a new parcel owner to build a new, energy efficient home on the lot.

I feel unclear about the consequences of this strategy. Will the new urban forests raise, lower, or leave alone property values? Will property owners appreciate a rise in property values? Will they feel their neighborhood has improved? How will the forests affect crime and other neighborhood activities?

Impacts of Intelligent Transportation System elements on bus operators

The assignment: “Describe the impact of the following ITS components on the bus operator.”

The class: Transportation Management

Background: Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) is the application of computers and electronics to vehicles, highway and transit systems to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and safety of the systems. Many elements of ITS are “behind the scenes” (like centralized dispatching or traffic monitoring), and others are “front line,” in view of the users or customers (like Bus Tracker/NextBus or paying a fare with a proximity card). Some of these elements will have an impact on the bus operator themselves. In this assignment I describe what those impacts are, organizing the short paper by each element and their intrinsic advantages and disadvantages.

The following Intelligent Transportation System components each have multiple advantages (A) and disadvantages (D) for the bus operator (driver).

  • In-Vehicle Automated Announcements
  • Transit Signal Priority
  • Security Cameras
  • Emergency Alarm
  • Centralized Dispatch
  • Internet “Bus Tracker”

In-Vehicle Automated Announcements

A: This component allows the operator to concentrate on driving the bus as well as the safety and comfort of the passengers. It may reduce the stress of the operator because they are no longer responsible for keeping track of the street names, activating the public address system, and announcing stops.

D: Some bus operators, particularly those who have been with the company for a long time and own embrace certain traditions, may feel this technology is a way to make their job obsolete. Some bus operators may feel it erodes the personal relationship bus operators have with their customers. Others may feel that announcing stops required a certain skill on which they could compare or compete with others; new bus operators won’t develop this skill or find alternate ways to develop customer relationships.

Transit Signal Priority (TSP)

A: This component can reduce the tedium of a bus operator’s job of accelerating and decelerating because the bus can sustain higher speeds and stop less often (at signals, but passenger stops) when it is given priority at traffic signals.

D: This component may eliminate the bus operator’s job. If the transit agency can operate fewer buses on a route with TSP at the same headways and level of passenger convenience, bus operators could be reassigned to other routes, or laid off completely. Operating a bus at a higher speed could increase the potential for traffic collisions without having time to adapt or appropriate training.

Security Cameras

A: Security cameras can help protect the bus operator in case of an on-board incident that harms them by either exonerating them, rewarding them for their exemplary behavior in handling the incident, or by assisting law enforcement and prosecutors in pursuing justice against the perpetrator.

D: Recordings may catch bus operators not performing as required and could be used against them in disciplinary proceedings.

Emergency Alarm

A: The emergency alarm has the capability of calling for help from the agency’s control center and from local law enforcement to come to the aid of the bus and operator. Depending on the simplicity of activating the alarm, this ITS component has the potential to speed aid to the bus operator and allow the operator to concentrate on the incident at hand instead of spending time communicating to the dispatcher; the incident could be crucial requiring the bus operator’s full attention.

D: Agency management may feel that the presence of an emergency alarm reduces the need for law enforcement or security patrols on buses while the bus operators would prefer to have a high level of security patrol to deter vandalism or potential criminal incidents that either harm the operator or their customers. To ensure this ITS component doesn’t influence an increase in crimes, the agency must base any decision about change in the level of law enforcement and security patrols on factual data and studies and collaborate with all parties (bus operators included) about recommendations or proposals.

Centralized Dispatch

A: This component provides a single point of communication, to and from which all messages will be sent. The bus operator will most likely communicate with a single person (or staff position) at the control center, who will be responsible for answering the operator’s questions en route, handling emergencies by calling the appropriate personnel, and ordering live route or operation changes.

D: The bus operator may have a poor relationship or lack camaraderie with their assigned dispatcher that might place a strain on the effective operation of the bus and the route. For example, the bus operator might not fully follow the dispatcher’s directions if there exists a mutual or one-sided distrust or dislike. However, this would most likely have a negative impact on the bus operator’s performance rating.

Internet “Bus Tracker”

A: The “Bus Tracker” system is based on automated vehicle location (AVL) technology, which includes a geographic positioning system (via satellite) to pinpoint the bus’s exact location. AVL can create a timeline of the bus’s travel and identify the times at which the bus stopped and started. The data from this timeline could be used as evidence to exonerate the bus operator in an incident in a situation where a customer or other person accuses the bus or its operator of doing something wrong.

D: The Bus Tracker could also be used against the bus operator by showing evidence that they did do something wrong. The timeline data (which would show schedule adherence and could identifying running ahead or behind) can be used as a measure of the operator’s work performance and serve as evidence in disciplinary proceedings. AVL could also determine if the bus operator took an unscheduled break or went off the route.

Additionally, I see a case where customers who follow and come to depend on the Bus Tracker website are influenced by their dependence to change their relationship with the bus operator or the transit agency. For example, if the Bus Tracker displays inaccurate time information (one time, or consistently), the customer may become upset with the bus operator (who would most like not be at fault for any delays or inaccurate time information) or the transit agency. Bus operators aren’t always equipped or trained mentally or physically to handle upset customers.

Do you have any other ideas about the impacts of these ITS elements on bus operators (drivers)?