Last one on Adanac, I promise. Although I’m mostly concerned about the intersection designs (because that’s where the accidents happen) Frances Bula has reported on the usual bikes-stole-my-parking complaint.
(As an aside, plenty people have told me they think Adanac is perfectly safe, and for much of the route I’m inclined to agree. Again: it’s the intersections.)
But considering Union East of Main - the focus of the article, and the home to a cluster of pioneering/gentrifying new businesses: is there a configuration that would be safer than the status quo (i.e. slower) yet retain most parking?
My suggestion above. Apparently it’s safe enough in the proposed redesign (peeking out right of picture) for trucks, bikes and cars to share the East-bound lane, so it must be fine West-bound too. Parking cars, painted mid-block crosswalks, and pedestrians crossing to their cars, will ensure slow through-vehicles. The wide pedestrian realm in the middle will help connect the stores to the park. If the loss of south/park-side parking is a worry to businesses, people must already be crossing mid-block: this design will make that safer.
The fun stripey bit is the bike parking. (I’m an artiste!)
Intersection design: Poynton
I’d like some more data on that project, please. And not because I don’t like it; on the contrary. I want the data to be able to properly defend and boost it.
Playing devil’s advocate, I can see long lines of cars at several points in the video.
I understand that, as opposed to waiting for the lights, those long lines are constantly nudging forward. This is probably better for their engines than stop-start.
I also understand that there’s more to the project than moving cars. Stretching out the line of waiting cars spreads the pollution of idling engines over a longer stretch, as opposed to concentrating it at the intersection, with the people and the stores. Since they’re not quite idling, but nudging forward constantly, the streetspace is all used more effectively.
At 13m50s in the video (direct link) you can see a sped up video of flow through the intersection, which appears to show constant flow.
What I’d really like to see is an animation with exactly the same cast of characters - cars, trucks and pedestrians - approaching the intersection with the same trip intent, and meeting the two different configurations. So in the first video you might see a highlighted red car join a line of cars at a red-light, wait, and then go; while on a parallel animation you’d see the same car join a (longer?) line of cars slowly nudging forward. Similarly pedestrians arriving, waiting, then crossing; vs pedestrians arriving, waiting-less and waving, then crossing. On the side of the video, we could tally the total time savings.
As I say, I’m inclined to believe this works, I’d just like some slam-dunk animated and metered evidence. If there was just one pedestrian, then the cars would get to flow more in the new design than before. If there were a lot of pedestrians, they’d all get to cross without having to wait. In both cases, the intersection may ‘clear’ more quickly, resulting in time savings all round. I’d like to know how this would vary with the rate of arrival of pedestrians and vehicles from each direction.
Intersections are where collisions happen. How can we design them to be safe for children?
This is a normal Vancouver intersection. I’ve highlighted the “Dutch Island” for pedestrians.
The same protective corner principle can just as easily apply to bikelanes.
This is Hamburg:
This is Rotterdam:
I think this ‘islands’ design is safer than Vancouver’s preferred bike boxes design for intersections. In the islands design, left-turning cyclists are guided to behave like pedestrians: cross twice. Adding the cyclists to the pedestrian numbers makes everyone protected, predictable and more visible.
In the bike-box design, left-turning small children on bicycles are guided to behave like cars: move forward to the middle of the intersection, vulnerable and alone, and wait for a gap in oncoming traffic. Far more people, especially small children and older people, are happier behaving like pedestrians: therefore public infrastructure investments must reflect this. Those who wish to run with the bulls still may, of course.
The red dots are supposed to represent large terracotta planters, while the blue bars represent Vancouver’s favoured concrete brutalist highway divider. All you need for safe streets are some paint, and bunch of these planters.
Another way to make intersections safer for children, is to bulge out the sidewalk, narrowing the entrance/exit so that pedestrians have less far to cross. Bulging and narrowing slows cars, so that cyclists also might be happy to share the lane. Again, you can achieve this with some paint and planters, if you’re short on cash.
You can see here that the bulging simply takes up the space before the intersection where parking is disallowed.
This intersection just has a bulge on one side, but note that the whole intersection is raised to pedestrian level.
Better yet, you could redistribute the bulging and design a Blackson Twist. This has the advantage of forcing cars to wiggle, slowing them, and providing something to block their view: a terminating vista, as they say in the business. It also provides a larger pedestrian space on one corner, which you can use as a patio or ultimately build on.
This example in London wasn’t retrofitted, but approximates the Blackson Twist design.
These two ‘fused grid’ designs aren’t true Blackson Twists, having symmetrical treatment only on two corners. This intersection in London has space for just one car at a time to pass through the between the bulges. It’s also raised.
This intersection in Vancouver has space for just bikes to pass through.
The more common ‘wiggle’-forcing design is the roundabout. Like streets, space on a roundabout can be shared if it’s made narrow enough; if wide, roundabouts must be ‘complete’ with separated spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.
It’s worth noting that safety is improved by using intersection (and street) designs that slow, wiggle and separate traffic, as opposed to traffic signals that explicitly direct stop-start flow. Traffic will slow by being forced to wiggle, or squeeze through a narrow gap between bulges.
When traffic signals are green, intersections can all but disappear: approaching traffic doesn’t change speed at all through the intersection. This is clearly dangerous by design.
After age (cancer, heart disease) motor vehicles are the most common cause of death in the developed world. When deadly collisions happen, they happen at speed and they happen at intersections: broadside t-boning is not only immediately deadly for pedestrians and cyclists, it tends to take out drivers too. The designs above offer examples of safer alternatives.
If your city, like my “greenest” one, doesn’t design intersections like this as a matter of course, then they are dangerously and undemocratically serving a subset of citizens only, while failing to uphold the transport hierarchy.
Regular readers will recall my recent suggestion that ‘Dutch Islands’ be included in some of the intersection redesigns on Vancouver’s Adanac bikeway. On Saturday, the city held a public open house to allow the interested public to quiz our public servants on their proposed 8-to-80 designs.
I came away from the open house with the usual frustration: the staff seem kind and earnest, but resigned to designing child-unfriendly streets in order to permit limit cases, and due to pressure from other departments and businesses. A lot of ‘yes but department x wouldn’t like it [shrug, sigh]’. I was even told that ‘conservative, liability-limiting design means wider lanes’. Maybe that’s the point of these open houses: to help the public empathize with our bureaucrats stuck in our bureaucracy.
There seems to be a complete disconnect between the transport hierarchy and street design in Vancouver. Goods movement is supposed to rank below pedestrian and cyclist comfort, and yet where child-safe infrastructure would discomfort goods movement, two-wheelers lose out.
Staff also repeatedly said they didn’t want to spend much money on this, because the viaduct removal - if approved, they always caveat - would mean huge reconfiguration. I’m a-ok with not spending much money on streets: paint, planters and parking all the way, baby. However I also worry that this was also code for “we don’t want to think too much about this”.
The engineer I spoke to kindly noted down my suggestion to narrow the C-C cross-section on Quebec with a wide striped median (as above). He also said they’d be open to alternatives to the ugly concrete (but noted the ‘industrial character’ - i.e. ugliness - of the neighborhood) and that they’d look into a crosswalk on Quebec at Pacific.
Semis and Dutch Islands
The fat swept path of a semi-trailer truck must be ingrained in all engineers brains.
The basic problem with protective “Dutch Islands” in this context, is the need to accommodate large turning trucks. Semis have a large swept area, and so usually hug the curb, passing right through where a raised, protective “Dutch Island” would go.
One alternative to corner-hugging, is to allow the semi to pull out of its lane, either at the entrance or the exit of the turn.
In the exit case, shown above, and where there aren’t two lanes to allow this, you can move the stop-line back so that cars wait well before the intersection. However the engineers explained to me that cars sometimes disobey this, and then you end up with a stuck truck. Fair enough.
An alternative to a sweeping out on exit (diagram on the left below) is to sweep out on the entrance (diagram on the right below). Or perhaps you can mix and match both, to fit in the fat sweep?
I know I’m a bit fixated about these Dutch Islands, and I think it’s because of the intuition that cyclists should be treated like pedestrians. If the semi can turn around the sidewalk, then it can just as well turn around a sidewalk-like bikepath. That’s what the Dutch Island video demonstrates.
How can we fit in a bike lane that acts just like a sidewalk? Well, if we’re essentially pushing out the sidewalk, then we’ll need to push the center line over too. This would make the non-turning lane a lot thinner, so we’d lose the separated bike lane, but a thin lane could in that case be safely shared between cars and bikes.
Obviously we couldn’t do this on every corner, but I suppose the most important corner for cyclists protection is the one where where the semis turn.
What do you think? Is this a net safety improvement for 8-year old girls on bikes, as opposed to bike boxes? Is this a net street improvement (are highly ranked modes made more comfortable)?
Again of course the caveat that these are not measured-out drawings: they’re sketches to demonstrate a principle. Comments to the usual place please.
(By the way I’m still not convinced there isn’t enough turning space for truck-sweeping past protective corner barriers on Pacific and Quebec. Pacific is two lanes one way, so has loads of space. The issue here I think is the bike lane being on the wrong side of the parked cars at present: Pacific is out of scope in this study apparently, mostly because of the viaduct removal.)
県道68号線 in Nagoya, Japan has the approximate layout of a multiway boulevard - two one way streets, either side of the two-way central lanes - but it’s clear even from the streetview that it doesn’t function like one. The access lane is not the pedestrian realm, but instead a bus lane, with wide lanes also used by cars. Pedestrians appear well served by the ample sidewalk, but are blocked by greenery and bollards from crossing to the tree’d median.
Vancouver is planning a street reconfiguration in order to reflect the transport hierarchy more accurately. Here are some thoughts on the proposal, which I’ll try to learn more about at the open houses.
Here are my prejudices, by which I judge street designs.
- Stroads should be completely rejected. Stroad design mixes wide, highway-like lanes of roads with the frequent intersections of streets, frustrating drivers and endangering all other modes. Instead, streets must have narrow lanes to slow cars.
- Streets, as public spaces, should be beautiful. Only drivers don’t care about aesthetics: all other modes are more exposed to the streetscape and need to feel comfortable and attracted to the space.
- Bike and pedestrian accidents happen at intersections, so safety starts with intersection design.
- 8-to-80 streets means you should think of your “design user” as an 8 year old girl.
- Avoid signalised stops wherever possible: instead force slowing by design (squeeze! bulge! wiggle! twist!).
1. Many of the car lanes are too wide. In the cross-section below (C-C), the lanes are 3.95m wide: almost 13 feet. Standard highway (road) lane width is 12 feet; street lanes should really cap out at 10 feet and can be far thinner. For reference, cars are about 6-7 feet wide.
2. The proposed concrete barrier is ugly. It makes the street look like a war zone. Street improvements should improve the street for all users.
What about square planters, the same 0.5m width and 1m height, but brown on the bottom and green on top? They cost about $200 each, which is about the same as concrete barriers. Space them out to save more money.
3. The intersections - which is where accidents happen - appear to have had very little safety treatment. Consider this four-way intersection, with Pacific Boulevard running North/South and Quebec running East/West. (These directions obviously aren’t strictly correct, but will serve for labeling here.)
- There is no pedestrian crossing on the West side.
- There should be ‘Dutch Islands’ on this intersection to protect turning cyclists.
- The cycle lane from South should be against the sidewalk, with right turns protected by the Dutch Island.
- Similarly the cycle lane on North should be against the sidewalk: use parked cars to protect cyclists, not vice versa. Avoid deadly doorzone bikelanes.
- The bike box from West will not be used by 8 year old girls for left turns. Instead the design should unambiguously guide them to cross parallel to the pedestrian crosswalk, and around a Dutch Island on the South/East corner. Vehicular cyclists can still run with the bulls in the car lane if they wish.
- As mentioned above, the car lanes are far too wide.
Here are two alternatives, produced with the best tools I have available (Apple’s Keynote). The red dots are supposed to represent planters, so are the equivalent of the blue cycle lane barriers above. The double-yellow center lane helps to narrow the over-wide East-West lanes. For clarity, I’ve painted the bikelanes green, and marked lanes on the intersection - this makes the picture quite busy, and wouldn’t necessarily all be painted in reality.
Try following a few routes with your finger, to see whether it’s clear to you.
In this second picture, I’ve made the North-South route wiggle, in order to slow down cars, and so improve the intersection experience for higher-ranked modes. The inspiration is the Blackson Twist design, modified for the multi-lane one-way street North-South. We’ve lost the left turn lane, which is appropriate with regards to the transport hierarchy. We’ve gained two pedestrian bulges on the W side.
(Sorry for all the dots, which makes it look like the street has measles! They’re the fault of the software I’m using, and my own laziness. In reality a few strategically placed large planters would be sufficient to mark the painted islands.)
I started by drawing the outline on top of the original, so even if the lane spacing is awry, the right-of-way widths are correct. Obviously these are not engineering quality diagrams. My intention is to provoke debate. Do these two designs more faithfully respect the transportation hierarchy? If designs like this have been considered and rejected by the Adanac correction team, what was the rationale?
Why don’t you try redrawing a few of the other intersections under study, according to these design principles? I’d love to link to them from here.
Here’s Union and Quebec, a much simpler intersection. Again there’s a bike box, but only on one side (are left turns from the North disallowed?) and the separated lane vanishes right where it’s needed most: on the intersection.
This alternative was done with Powerpoint, so the outbreak of planter measles has turned into hotdogs! I’ve also stuck on some really dubious and oversized clip art.
Are there simple user-friendly street and intersection design tools that I’m missing somewhere, or will I have to keep subjecting you, dear reader, to my hasty scrawls in the styles above?
Thoughts for George
George Anderson, Chair of the Nanaimo Transportation Committee, has kindly asked me to share my thoughts on the Transportation Plan.
Here are some rules-of-thumb to help judge any Transportation Plan.
- Modal choice is induced by the built environment; it is not an intrinsic personal trait.
- The best transportation plan is a land use plan.
- Make sure roads are roads, and streets are streets.
- Focus on intersections.
- Safer streets do not require expensive infrastructure.
- In transit, frequency is freedom.
- Think of cyclists as pedestrians with wheels.
Modal choice is induced by the built environment; it is not an intrinsic personal trait.
You might hear that ‘people like to drive’. We all like to drive: on the open road, in a fun car. This doesn’t mean you should design your city around driving. When you design a city around driving, most people aren’t cruising a sportscar around empty streets: they’re sitting in congestion in station wagons or cheap sedans.
Those same people will happily park their cars and walk or cycle around when they visit Victoria or Vancouver, or Paris or Amsterdam. And on the flipside, when a French or Dutch tourist visits Nanaimo, he rents a car: there’s nothing about being Dutch that makes you cycle, it’s simply the natural reaction to the built environment they live in.
Note one very important consequence of this: induced demand. Your engineers should not measure today’s car traffic and speeds, and design streets primarily to accommodate them, or some linear forecast of volumes from today. Instead, you will get the traffic that you design for: the more car space you provide, the more cars you will get. The more bike, pedestrian and transit space you provide, the more of those you’ll get.
The built environment is set by public policy: streets are a state monopoly; and development on private lots is strictly regulated. Your transportation plan is about the former (but the latter is just as important).
Remember that streets are a use of land, just like buildings are. From the point of view of your municipal budget, land use policies that promote car use are higher cost and lower income, compared to policies that promote all other modes (walking, cycling, transit).
Narrow, shared or complete streets flanked by mixed-use buildings cost less to maintain, and bring in more property tax revenue. On the other hand, a constant flow of heavy, fast vehicles, wears surfaces more quickly than feet, bicycles and intermittent buses do. Large setbacks, wide streets and surface parking don’t pay you any taxes. Businesses on unpleasant streets pay you less than businesses on great streets.
Fortunately, it’s also clear from the Phase One transportation survey that you have a lot of people who would like to be able to get out of their cars. You have the popular mandate, and you have the financial incentive: your only barriers are inertia and outdated engineering advice. For the good of Nanaimo, you must fight both of these.
The best transportation plan is a land use plan.
If you zone by single-uses, mandate parking minima and setbacks, and generally treat pedestrians as secondary, then nobody will walk or cycle, and there won’t be anyone around to use transit. Instead zone by form first, mandating buildings that are pleasant to walk past (i.e. that have windows and doors) and only lightly restricted uses (e.g. no noise or pollution in urban areas). A mix of workplaces and homes on a block means that the block will have people on it through the day, so transit can run more frequently, and the stores get more customers. A residential subdivision or business park are very hard to serve with transit, and can’t support retail choices.
I know you’re only chairing the Transportation Committee, not the Planning Committee. But the responses to your survey were clear: destinations must be allowed to be close together. A mix of workplaces and homes on a block means that the block will have people on it through the day, so transit can run more frequently, and the stores get more customers.
Make sure roads are roads, and streets are streets.
Roads get you from a-to-b as fast as possible. Think of the open road, and rail-roads. Roads have very limited access, no sidewalks and wide travel lanes. Roads can be just two lanes, or a full highway.
Streets are urban thoroughfares and are important public spaces. Streets have multiple intersections and access points, homes and businesses either side, sidewalks, bikelanes, transit etc. They can be just one shared lane, all the way up to Great Streets like the Avenue de la Grande Armée.
(Note the café on the left, which does great business despite being on a wide street. The trees aren’t even very tall: you could probably transplant them that size.)
Many engineers will refer to road safety guidelines, when talking about streets. They’ll say that wider lanes and setbacks are safer. This is true for high speed travel, but travel along streets can only be high speed for a block or two, because there are intersections. Your journey time along a street is not set by your top speed, but by the number of stops you have to make. It makes no sense to design streets for high speed travel.
Trying to design streets with road-like features gets you a ‘stroad’, a horrible mixture that is neither a good road, nor a good street.
Island Highway is a ‘stroad’, for example. It has sidewalks, buildings and intersections like a street; but also wide lanes and big setbacks like a road. Nobody will choose to stroll along Island Highway, but drivers will also get frustrated by people pulling out of driveways, and by intersections.
The important thing for streets is that they function well as streets. This means fundamentally that they must be pedestrian first: a good rule of thumb is for at least 50% of the building-to-building space to be the ‘pedestrian realm’, i.e. an area where pedestrians feel in charge. The pedestrian realm can be pure sidewalk, or it can be shared, like a laneway or the seawall.
One of the trickier design problems is wide streets, which need to accommodate through traffic as well as having a great pedestrian realm. Simplistically, you could achieve this with a “complete street” design, chopping up the street into separate transit, car, bike and pedestrian lanes.
However, trying to retrofit this clear demarcation can stoke unnecessary antagonism. Cyclists might read the separate path as an invitation to speed along, scaring pedestrians; drivers might stare angrily at the empty transit lane, and get frustrated as parking cars stop traffic. The ‘pedestrian realm’ is still restricted to the sidewalk.
For this reason, I favour the multiway boulevard configuration. Here, the lane on the right is a mixed space for pedestrians, slow cyclists and parking cars: it acts as a large pedestrian realm. The middle lanes can travel more consistently without those distractions.
Focus on intersections.
Intersections are where accidents happen in Nanaimo today. But they are also the hubs of great cities. Indeed intersections are the birthplaces of cities: without an intersection, you have no definition of place. They are the natural gathering places, great places for commerce and for pedestrians to linger.
My advice: remove signals wherever possible. “Racing up to the next red light” is a classic sign of a badly designed street; and so is sitting at a red at 10pm at night when the streets are completely empty.
Instead, nobody should be ‘racing’ on streets, because all the design signals - narrow lanes, bulges and wiggles, close-in buildings and trees - all point to slower speeds.
When you have a ‘hard stop’ and an extra turn lane, you have a mostly empty street behind a crowd of idling engines right next to the waiting pedestrians. Instead, if you have a narrow, slow ‘yield’ scenario, the line of cars may extend back up the street at busy times but will be mostly and moving forward. See this design in Poynton, England.
Nanaimo’s Transportation Plan should work towards being able to remove all traffic signals, replacing them with 3-ways (one access clearly yielding to the other two), roundabouts and, at a push, really small 4-way stops. You can turn a four-way intersection into two 3-ways like this:
Safer streets do not require expensive infrastructure
Don’t let anyone tell you that “we don’t have the money for great urbanism”. The truth is that you don’t have the money to maintain the status quo.
Paint, planters and parking can get you a long way. This low cost “tactical” urbanism can be a great way to demonstrate a lot of the refits described above.
Furthermore, with reference to the “best transportation plan…” advice above, updating your zoning codes is just a question of ink on the page. Your city staff should be set this as an explicit task - and consider crowdsourcing existing forms as much as possible - but even the most in-demand transect consultant shouldn’t cost you more than $1m, far less than a highway interchange, for example.
In transit, frequency is freedom.
Focus your transit resources on a handful of key routes, and make them excellent. Give the bus a dedicated lane, make the shelter large and attractive (and on the ‘upstream’ side of the stop). Zone for attractive mixed use around the stop to ensure custom and activity.
This bus stop in Vancouver fails in all of these: note how people line up ‘upstream’ of the bus stop, back towards where the bus is coming from, yet the shelter has been placed ‘downstream’.
Trade off less frequent stops for faster travel between those less frequent stops. A great, frequent, rapid line will have a larger catchment area. People will walk further if they can be guaranteed a bus within five minutes, and one that will only stop a couple of times before they get off.
The phrase “frequency is freedom” belongs to Jarrett Walker, whose book and blog Human Transit, is a must-read. I’ve deliberately ignored ‘coverage’ goals here.
Think of cyclists as pedestrians on wheels.
Those who are happy to cycle under your current policies, are already cycling. With major promotion and a few more painted lanes on stroads, you might add a few more percent, but it’ll be a long hard slog.
They key to a marked uptick in cyclists is to treat it like walking. If you wanted to get more people walking, you would need a complete, safe, attractive sidewalk network, with unambiguous intersections (go here, do this, wait here), and no special clothing regulations. You need the same for cycling: a network of ‘sidewalks’ and ‘crosswalks’ for bikes.
Again, this doesn’t have to be expensive. Paint, planters and parking will get you a long way in the short term.
A common error is to paint a cycle lane between the driver-door of parked cars and moving cars. Far safer is to put the cycle lane between the passenger-door of parked cars and the sidewalk. If your curb is very high (more than 10cm or so - again a hold-over from high-speed road design) then you might need to raise the cycle lane half way.
However I’d almost say it’s more important to start by removing ambiguity at intersections. Provide a clear, safe space for cyclists to go when they want to turn left. Many streets are ambiguous: should the cyclist behave like a car, and move to the left lane to turn left? Or should should they behave like a pedestrian, and cross twice?
If you have a really narrow, one-lane, shared street, then the answer is the former, and you can paint a bike box before the intersection to make the cyclist priority clear.
If you have a street that’s any wider, then make the intersection a roundabout with a separated bikelane all around, or implement the ‘dutch islands’ design, to encourage a two-part Copenhagen left.
BC bikeshare advocates Sit Up Vancouver focus heavily on framing “cyclists as pedestrians” and publish thoughts sporadically. The focus of the recent global revival of everyday cycling is often Copenhagenize consulting.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Of course there’s a lot more to great urbanism than this simple list, but a Transportation Plan that addresses all these will be well on the way to making Nanaimo a happier, healthier, wealthier place. Good luck, George!
- Modal choice is induced by the built environment; it is not an intrinsic personal trait.
- The best transportation plan is a land use plan.
- Make sure roads are roads, and streets are streets.
- Focus on intersections.
- Safer streets does not require expensive infrastructure.
- In transit, frequency is freedom.
- Think of cyclists as pedestrians with wheels.
Since this turned into a bit of a manifesto, I’m going to add things down here for completeness.
Park and ride: don’t do it. Instead use the parking lot space to build an awesome compact village. Build 4-8 story T4 and T5 on thin streets. You can get the same number of transit users in the space, while simultaneously building new housing options and retail space, and attracting pedestrians from nearby T3 suburban family homes. A 100 square foot parking space (8ft x 12ft; one transit user) multiplied by 5 floors gives you 500 square feet per person. So 1000 sqft two bedroom apartments for couples, 1500-2000 sqft for families. Obviously eye-level design is key. See Mid-rise, mixed-use, “How many Jakriborgs is that?”, Market Urbanism Flickr pool, Small Streets collection and Walter Hardwick Avenue.
One way couplets downtown: don’t do them. They frustrate drivers by breaking the grid, and by providing stroad-speed for a block or two. Also like arterial stroads, that one-block speed means they’re dangerous for everyone else.
Speed humps: don’t do them. They’re lazy, and bad for cyclists and emergency vehicles. Instead narrow the through-space by bulging out the sidewalk on one or both sides, either physically or with paint and planters. Double-win: extended pedestrian space and slowed cars.
Turning circles: make sure they’re built big enough, and introduced by a narrowing neckdown. If the fire department complains, paint the circle bigger instead of pouring concrete: the psychological effect will help. Cars must make a significant direction change to slow them.
Speed limit signs and police enforcement are indicators of design failure. Roads are safe at any speed. Streets force slow speeds by design.
I just got home from the first Connecting Transportation Professionals evening in Vancouver, and I’m buzzing. The organizers Iona and John managed to bring together professionals from Translink, from municipalities, from consultancies, from the property world and interested amateurs like me, and they got us all talking to one another and … well it was good. I can’t wait until next month, and I really hope it keeps going.
At the end, I met a bike planner and we drew on this post-it note.
The conversation with this planner started really well. She joined me in bemoaning the past influence of the “strong and fearless” on bike planning, and we agreed what an improvement the current, modern focus on the “interested but concerned” was: getting non-cyclists on bikes, rather than designing streets for today’s cyclists.
For example, we both agreed that the Dunsmuir separated bike lane was a good thing. Dunsmuir is a one-way street in downtown Vancouver where one of the three lanes was turned into a two-way cycle path, with planters and some concrete as a barrier. Cyclists numbers are up, and new interested-but-concerned cyclists (especially moms and kids) prefer planters over paint.
However, I suggested, while Vancouver is of course better with Dunsmuir than without, maybe the two-way separated track is still more dangerous than it need be, because it’s not clear how how to turn off. (For this reason, Copenhagen threw out on-street bi-directional lanes from their Best Practices a couple of decades ago.)
“Yes!” agreed my new planner friend. “That intersection design on Dunsmuir isn’t as safe as it could be. What we need,” she said, “is a one-way contraflow separated cycle path.”
Here we began to disagree, and I lost a little bit of faith in Vancouver bike planning.
The professional explained that in her ideal intersection, there would be a separate left turn phase for cyclists and cars. But even without this, the contraflow would mean that the car had a clear view of the cyclist, and so wouldn’t accidentally turn into them.
I respectfully disagreed on that point, claiming instead that
- drivers wouldn’t be expecting contraflow movement, so sometimes wouldn’t see cyclists, especially small or fast ones
- that cars accelerate through left hooks and
- that head on collisions are the worst kind when they do happen.
I said I wouldn’t want my kid turning left there.
I drew my alternative proposal, with cars and bikes going the same way, and with Dutch islands to protect cyclists from turning cars. We don’t need a special turning phase, because the cyclist is kept separated all through the intersection. I said this design treated cyclists as “pedestrian-plus” instead of “car-minus”.
My interlocutor flatly disagreed with this characterization of cyclist as “pedestrian plus”. “Cyclists are not ‘basically pedestrians’: they’re vehicles, and they’re clearly visible from the front in my diagram, and therefore they are safer.
“Furthermore if we want more people on bikes then we need to make the experience better than being in a car. In your diagram, the cyclist has to change direction and has to wait twice to turn left. They might even have to wait through two signal cycles.”
“Yes”, I said. “Like a pedestrian. Note that, if it’s green when you arrive, you won’t wait actually wait any longer. But even if you do have to wait twice for safety: that is a-ok by me, and I bet it’s ok by your target customer.
“Remember that it’s the ‘interested but concerned’ we’re seeking: for them, safety takes precedence over speed. Think of your target customer as a 14 year old girl on a Bixi if that helps. She is not hitting such mid-block top speeds that her journey time will be greatly reduced by an intersection delay.”
What say you, dear reader? I really was surprised and frustrated by the cognitive dissonance of serving the interested-but-concerned with vehicular left turns. This was a young, female planner who genuinely wanted more people to cycle. But the hypothetical design she would choose - free from the political restraints of her day job - would be expensive, still partly dangerous, and barely move the needle on safety perception.
L’esprit d’escalier (literally, staircase wit) is a French term that describes the predicament of thinking of the perfect comeback too late. The blogger can always get the last word which is unfair: I’ve posted this in the hope of being constructively criticised.
This four-way Dutch intersection demonstrates a cyclist-controlled but vehicular left, and on a much bigger street than above. Maybe I should I eat my hat. Among the multiple left-turns shown in these six videos most do have islands, but most are three-way, which may make a difference. The general case made in this video is pro-islands for safety.
Regarding contraflow cycling, wikipedia claims the following from various sources: “Wrong-way cycling increases closing speeds and wrong-way cyclists are easily overlooked by motorists at intersections. Wrong-way cycling also makes bike-bike collisions more likely.”
A video advocating for the use of BC’s carbon tax revenue on transit includes the sequence above, in which a four-plus-one stroad is turned into a complete street. (Click the arrows on the side of the image to see the sequence.)
I note that the street transformation precedes the building redevelopments, which I think reflects reality: government, with their monopoly on streets, must lead private developers in stroad retrofits. No one’s going to hang a flower basket on a freeway; and developers rightly recoil from the horrible stroad environment, setting buildings back and putting parking out front.
Of course such pedestrian-oriented mid-rise, mixed-use development must be legally permitted, which means amending the many current zoning laws that actively ban them, and which instead promote today’s low-rise in a sea of parking.
I also note that, despite the extensive streetscaping, the “nature strip” of grass and trees is still shown to the right of the bikelane, as opposed to on the left, where it would protect cyclists from the cars. Such a simple change clearly and correctly identifies cyclists as “pedestrian-plus” rather than “car-minus”.
Finally, despite the advocacy intent of this video, simply restriping and rezoning do not require large additional funds. You - the modern municipality - could paint in those pedestrian crossings, run BRT lanes up this street, and even get advertisers to pay for the shelters if you were seriously budget constrained. Or you could rezone at the same time, and use a bit of the new property tax revenue to build shelters and do some landscaping.
Despite the message of this video, it’s not money that’s holding you back.
Lancaster, California. An absolutely fantastic transformation, and surely an inspiration to every ailing stroad-ed small town in Western Canada. Frank Murphy has suggested it as inspiration for Nanaimo, BC, for example.
While the Californians appear to have planted trees, and added streetlamps, I bet you could get a long way towards this with paint and planters.
Stroad Economics 101
Chuck Marohn has posted three one minute videos in which he follows the dollars of public infrastructure investment. Please share them widely.
Some recent local examples that might benefit from this kind of analysis.
- $7.9m Highway 99 - 16th Avenue interchange
- $7m Highway 99 corridor improvements in Delta
- Widening Highway 17 and 52nd Street in Tsawwassen
- Squamish intersection redesign to accomodate a Tim Hortons drive-thru
- The latest Port project
Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I have never seen a Strong Towns ROI analysis for these projects. That might make a great project for UBC SCARP or SFU Cities students.
Coincidentally, Metro Vancouver is convening interested voters in mid-April to discuss “Paying for Our Cities”. I hope the discussion is well-informed, precise and fruitful.