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Several parklets have recently been constructed in Los Angeles.  Parklets also known as “pocket parks/plazas” or “street porches” are typically conversions of curbside parking spaces into open space for the public to enjoy. They often include seating, bike racks, landscaping, and other urban design features.  Parklets can come in many shapes and forms, but they are used to transform areas into car-free zones. Parklets are relatively new to Southern California, but they have been implemented in San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia.

The City of Los Angeles has recently unveiled four curbside parklets including two in Downtown LA, located at 639 S. Spring Street and 611-615 S. Spring Street.  Four parking spaces were reconfigured to two parklets, which were designed by Utopiad.org together with DLANC Complete Streets Working Group, landscape architect Tony Lopez, Berry and Linne, Lyric Design and Planning, and Hensel Phelps Construction Company.

The Spring Street parklets feature planters, benches, swing seating, tables, exercise bikes, and a foosball table. The third parklet located at 5030 York Blvd. in Highland Park and was designed by Steve Rasmussen-Cancian and features meandering benches with colorful mosaic glass tiling. The fourth parklet is located at 4910 Huntington Drive in El Sereno. It was designed by community members, Shared Spaces, and the Green LA Coalition’s Living For additional information on parklets, please consult UCLA's "Toolkit for Creating and Implementing Parklets."

Parklets provide opportunities for communities to create quick and affordable open space.  They can support urban ecology, help foster social cohesion, and improve community fitness.  However, several considerations should be taken into account before creating parklets, including traffic congestion, parking availability, and public input.

Reader Feedback

What do you think about the four parklets that have been created in Los Angeles? In your opinion, will the parklet trend continue?

LRH
 
 
As regions struggle to improve air quality, take vehicles off the road, and keep up with the transportation needs of growing populations, investing in traditional public transit systems can be cost prohibitive.  Rapid Ultra Light Rail Transit (RULRT) is catching on across the globe as a lower-cost alternative to other urban transit systems such as streetcar, light-rail, or heavy urban rail (BART, subway). 

The Davis City Council recently approved a resolution to support the exploration of RULRT technology and participate in any County efforts to pursue grant funding for the installation of a pilot high-speed test track in Yolo County by Cybertran International Inc.    The high-speed test track could potentially be expanded in the future to connect Yolo County cities, UC Davis, Sacramento, Sacramento International Airport, and beyond.  Davis considers the exploration of this transit technology to be valuable, as it presents opportunities to further achieve the City’s transportation, climate action, and economic development goals.

RULRT is a unique passenger rail that uses small, light-weight vehicles running on an automated, demand-responsive system.  The light-weight guideways can be installed easily in 50 foot segments along existing right-of-ways or elevated above.  Because the vehicles are light, the cost to construct the guideway is significantly less than other transit systems.  Stations are located on siding tracks off the main-line, so that vehicles can make stops and reenter the mainline without disrupting through vehicles.  Because stations are off-line, adding additional stations does not affect the travel time of the system unlike conventional rail transit systems.  Once passengers enter the station, they select their destination, and in a short period of time, a vehicle arrives (if it’s not already there) to whisk them along the shortest possible route directly to their destination with no stops.  

The system’s electricity comes from solar-panels on the guideway, and can feed power back into a city’s grid through regenerative braking and surplus energy during periods of low passenger-usage.  Due to the low energy consumption and maintenance costs, Cybertran claims that the RULRT systems can cover their day-to-day operating costs entirely through passenger fare revenue.

So at this point, some readers may be thinking, “what makes this system different from Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)?”  The following chart outlines the main differences.
Read more about the pilot project HERE.  Find out more about the manufacture of RULRT, Cybertran International Inc.

Reader feedback: Are the construction and operating cost savings of RULRT worth the loss in passenger capacity per hour compared to light-rail, BRT, or heavy-rail?  What can cities do to help blend in the visual characteristics of the system into the existing urban fabric? 

JA
 
 
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Bicyclists who find themselves in the blind spot of large vehicles making turns are exposed to potentially serious injuries, but one group of innovators offers a solution in bicycle detection. In 2010, The Guardian described the dangers and consequences of collisions between bicyclists and turning lorries. Over a year later, The Guardian held an online poll to award funding for an innovative idea, and readers chose the bicycle-detection device Bike Alert.  Under the detection system, each bike is equipped with a tiny transmitter uniquely encoded to communicate with the Bike Alert receiver on a vehicle. The Bike Alert receiver in the vehicle processes positional data of the bicycle and links with on-board speakers to notify the driver. The system can be fairly cost effective compared to other alternatives, but a variety of challenges would hinder widespread implementation at this point, including legislative hurdles, extensive integration into vehicles, and the desire of bicyclists to purchase the transmitters. Moreover, there are other contributing factors to bike collisions such as roadway design, driver education, and cycling behavior. Although Bike Alert is just one solution to a multilayered problem and faces numerous challenges in widespread implementation, it is an interesting concept that uses technology to address bicycle safety issues.

If you were to choose one approach – technology, education, design, or other – to address the issue of vehicle blind spots that lead to collisions with bicycles, which would you choose?

JS

 
 
As California cities examine their transportation planning approaches under Complete Streets policies, sharing the roadway becomes an important focal point. But how do users of one mode feel about sharing the road with users of another? How would each group prioritize overall safety improvements on the road?

Rebecca Sanders and Jill Cooper of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SAFETREC) at UC Berkeley investigated the desires for roadway safety improvements among travelers of all modes. The location of the study was San
Pablo Avenue, a major corridor in the East Bay. From survey responses given by people who travel along this route, they found that bike lanes were one of the more desirable features, regardless of modal preference. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers ranked bike lanes as the top street improvement that can enhance perceived safety. The study shed some light on whether roadway users preferred the same features or whether there were divergent opinions. The responses seemed to indicate a willingness to support options that would improve perceived safety, even if users of a particular mode were not the primary
beneficiaries.

Although bike lanes may seem to benefit bicyclists exclusively, users of other modes see a mutual gain in supporting bicycle facilities. Clearly delineated lanes for cyclists may reduce exposure to certain conflicts in the competition for road space. The SF Weekly local blog references the study and mentions that bike lanes make everyone more comfortable: bicyclists can avoid riding with traffic and drivers do not have to share the road with bicyclists who can be hard-to-see and unpredictable. Even pedestrians may be more comfortable due to added human presence because bike lanes attract riders who might not otherwise travel on the road. As long as roadway safety is improved, it seems that users of a particular mode would support other modes as well.

Are bike lanes among your top choices to improve roadway safety? What other improvements would you choose?

JS

 
 
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Los Angeles has a reputation for being an auto-centric area.  However, according to LA Metro about 14 percent of trips within Los Angeles County are made by walking.  Pedestrians in Los Angeles were given more support on June 28, 2013, when the City Council voted and approved $1.8 million for  the implementation of Phase I  of the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan Phase I of the Master Plan calls for a road diet by reconfiguring Broadway’s six lanes of traffic into three lanes (one southbound and two northbound lanes). The project will extend nine blocks between 2nd and 11th streets. It will include greater pedestrian space such as wider sidewalks and will incorporate traffic calming features, which are semi-permanent and could be undone.  Phase I, a.k.a. the “Dress Rehearsal,”  is the City’s first step  toward implementing the Broadway Streetscape Master Plan’s final goal of reintroducing Broadway  as one of Los Angeles’ preeminent multi-modal thoroughfares, which will include a Downtown streetcar, curb extensions, reduced crosswalk widths, enhanced pedestrian crosswalk treatments, curbside 24-hour parking, loading and valet areas to support Broadway merchants, transit stations, enhanced lighting, bike racks, way-finding signs, trees and plantings, and a storm water retention and recycling system. The Streetscape Master Plan seeks to:

 •   Tell the street’s many and varied stories and celebrate its past.

 •     Improve the street’s image by clearing away the clutter, restoring the light and luster of the district, using consistent, high quality, elegant materials, and enhancing function and comfort.

 •     Draw visitors to Broadway, and enhance its appeal for its many stakeholders – not only those in the entertainment industry, still there today, together with the creative arts communities, but also residents, workers, and retailers.

 •     Accommodate future change and evolution, in land uses, in activities on the street, and in transportation systems serving the street.

According to the City Council, this project represents Los Angeles’ commitment to moving towards a more pedestrian-oriented Los Angeles and is based on the success of other projects such as Times Square in New York and the Sunset Triangle in the Silver Lake District of Los Angeles. In addition to improving the pedestrian environment, the hope is that the new streetscape will contribute to economic revitalization of the area.

 Reader Feedback

What do you think about the changes to Broadway? What other areas in Los Angeles should receive pedestrian improvements and what should those enhancements be?

LRH

 
 
Picture bayareabikeshare.com via Streetsblog SF
In August, San Francisco will open its new bike sharing program and join cities around the country that have promoted greater bicycle usage in their transportation networks. Bike sharing is a service that  provides individuals with access to bicycles for a limited time period. The availability of bicycles for short trips gives users an alternative to automobile travel and addresses some of the problems in “last-mile” trips from transit stations. The program, managed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), is part of a larger region-wide effort to develop and expand bike sharing in the Bay Area. About 350 bikes at 35 stations have been planned for San Francisco; another 350 bikes will also be set around Caltrain stations in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, and San Jose. 
 
However, San Francisco is not the only city opening a bike sharing service this year. Alex Goldmark, writing for Transportation Nation, reports that eighteen cities are expected to launch their programs this year.  By the end of the year, an expected 53 bike sharing programs will be operating in the county, with more on the horizon in 2014.

From the first bike sharing program in the 1960s, bike sharing systems have evolved with technological innovations. In a brief article from ACCESS Magazine, Susan Shaheen and Stacey Guzman discuss the breakdown of different eras of bicycle
sharing that are distinguished by different technologies and management approaches. A major component of the current generation of bike sharing services is the use of information technology. 

Bay Area Bike Share makes use of information technology to connect users to bicycles. Their website provides information to would-be users about how to use the service, the membership rates, and station locations. Users with an annual membership will be able to access bikes with an RFID key at any of the system’s docking stations. Users who wish to pay for a 3-day or 1-day membership will be able to pay online and print a “Ride Code” to unlock bikes at docking stations. Although the “Ride
Code” may only be used for one trip, users can swipe their credit cards at a bike share kiosk for additional trips during the membership period. Members can make an unlimited number of trips that are 30 minutes or less; overtime fees apply for trips that are over that time limit. Each bike is equipped with a GPS that allows SFMTA to collect real-time data on cycle usage.

Even as many Bay Area residents await the opening of the bike sharing service in San Francisco, the bike sharing concept continues to evolve with new technologies and new ideas. The current generation makes use of a variety of technologies, including solar-powered stations, online account systems, and interactive capabilities with mobile applications. Shaheen and
Guzman wrote that the next generation of bike sharing will be characterized by a multimodal focus. With the growing use of smart cards that provide a convenient single payment method across multiple public transportation services, integrating bike sharing services into a larger overarching payment system would provide a great opportunity to promote bike sharing and improve the ease of access for users. 

What have been your experiences with bike sharing? And what are some of enhancements you would like to see in the next generation of bike sharing?

JS


 
 
From Monday, July 1 to Friday, July 5th, the entire Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) network shut down completely, leaving its 400,000 average daily riders scrambling to find other means of transportation.  
  
BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system and carries passengers from the furthest reaches of the East Bay’s densely populated cities and suburbs to San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) across the bay. It also serves Oakland International Airport and drops baseball fans within walking distance of the Oakland A's home stadium. 
  
With 44 stations in four counties and 104 miles of lines, BART handles more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). 

How did the shut down of the region’s  transportation backbone impact the Bay Area?

The Roads

Traffic on San Francisco city streets inched along, and drivers heading in and out of the city during peak commute hours experienced up to an additional 2 hours of delay. With more traffic, also comes more air pollution.  If the average driver is being delayed an hour during their AM and PM commutes, the Bay Area Council estimates that increased traffic congestion is generating an additional 16 million pounds of carbon emissions and wasting 800,000 gallons of gasoline each day at a cost of about $3.3 million.  In addition to environmental impacts, the BART strike is also dealing a blow to the economy as well.  Here is an excerpt from the Bay Area Council Blog:  

“The environmental cost comes on top of the $73 million a day that the Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates the BART union strike is costing the region in lost worker productivity. That economic impact is a very conservative estimate and doesn’t include direct economic activity that could add tens of millions of dollars to the cost.”  (Bay Area Council Blog, July 2, 2013).   

However, morning rush hour did not come to a standstill as feared, and some travelers who used carpool lanes and other options added relatively little time to their commutes.  I can imagine it has been an absolute nightmare for some commuters, but fortunately the Bay Area didn't see total gridlock.  Despite the delays experienced by drivers, the MTC data confirms that peak-hour traffic levels across the bay bridge were slightly lower than the week before. However, a lower number does not necessarily mean fewer cars were on the road.  In this case, it means the flow of traffic was lower because there was more of it.  Think of it like pouring water through a funnel. When more vehicles clog the road and create congestion, fewer vehicles can get through during a specified time span as opposed to a situation where the traffic is free-flowing. 


The impact could have been much worse, but there were a few main factors that prevented the Bay Area from experiencing LA’s “Carmageddon”.  One reason is that everybody got so worried about potential congestion that they found an alternative to driving solo.  Another factor is that the BART strike landed during the week of a major holiday, Independence Day, which normally sees less traffic anyway.  Plenty of people were out of town or didn't go to work, while others had prepared for it and chose alternatives like ferries, buses, carpooling and telecommuting.

Transit

While some of the 400,000 riders joined the arduous traffic commutes, shifted their work-schedules, or telecommuted from home, a significant portion of riders found other means of transportation to get into the city.  Transit agencies all over the area boosted their services to help accommodate the stranded BART riders.  

AC Transit, which is in negotiations of their own over an expired contact, ran extra buses and accommodated thousands of extra passengers on Tuesday - about twice the number of passengers it would carry on a normal day.  BART ran 36 charter buses free of charge from its West Oakland Station into the city, and 40 buses from three other stations along the BART network.  Unfortunately, all of the chartered buses, according to the SF Examiner, reached capacity by 7am and could not accommodate more.  According to Mercury News, San Francisco Bay Ferry tripled its service and carried 7,835 riders on the first morning of the BART strike, up from 2,500 on a typical morning.  Ferry officials also provided additional parking in the form of satellite lots with shuttle service to keep up with the demand.

For BART commuters headed up the Peninsula, Samtrans offered free temporary shuttles from the South San Francisco BART stations to Daly City, where passengers could transfer to MUNI.  Caltrain, which runs commuter rail service up the Peninsula, offered extra stops on its express trains at Millbrae, the transfer point between BART and Caltrain.  The SF Examiner estimates that 500 BART riders used the free shuttles and 3,000 riders hopped on Caltrain on Monday.  

San Francisco International Airport is providing free shuttle service for  BART passengers to the BART - Caltrain transfer station in Millbrae every 15 minutes.  According to an airport spokesperson, 1,500 passengers utilized the shuttles on Monday.  To read more, click here.

I happened to be riding the Capitol Corridor Intercity rail service during the strike period on July 4th heading to
Emeryville from Sacramento.  At the Richmond station, the BART platform was eerily empty, but the Amtrak platform was packed.  While the train was not overly full on this run (probably at about 85% capacity), the ridership was noticeably higher than on normal holiday runs, which typically lure fewer riders than weekday commute runs.  I did, however, manage to snap a shot (see lanes of traffic on the other side of the freeway pictured below) of the San Francisco-bound traffic congestion from the train as we whizzed past the gridlock at 80 mph.
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Bicyclists

Monday was supposed to mark the first day of a four-month trial that would allow BART passengers to take their bicycles on-board during peak hours.  Many frustrated bicyclists that would have ridden BART that morning were left with very few options.  All the transbay buses were packed, and with only three bicycle spots available per bus, trying for one would be like trying your chances at the lottery.  Many bicyclists turned instead to the San Francisco Ferry.

Due to the increase in bicyclists on the ferries, officials provided free bike valets at the terminals and tried their best to accommodate bicycles on-board the ferries. 

Ridesharing

Perhaps the most drastic changes in travel demand during the BART strike were illustrated by the demand for ridesharing services in the Bay Area. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of ridesharing (also known as peer-to-peer taxi service), travelers use a website or app to match their car with prospective carpoolers along their route to help pay for gas or vice-versa.  With the advent of smart-phones, ridesharing is emerging as a megatrend for people moving into cities who do not want to own a car.  Using the app or website, passengers can search for drivers along their route at anytime and be alerted when a ride is available near them. 
 
During the week of the strike, Avego, one of the rideshare networks, stepped up its marketing promotion efforts on social media and saw sign-ups jump from hundreds to thousands over the weekend.  On its website, Avego boasts that “Bay Area sign-ups... grew by 8,825% this week (yes, you read it correctly). This has resulted in countless shared rides in HOV lanes, an additional fleet of buses, and even helicopter rides home for the lucky winners of our promotion.”   Perhaps their new web address, www.bartstrike.com helped.  By 9:30 a.m. on Monday, another rideshare service, Sidecar, reported a 40 percent increase in rides over  the previous Monday, and had increased the number of drivers on the road by 50 percent.  The strike may have been an unfortunate situation, but services such as Avego and Sidecar have shown that, through adversity, incredible things can happen when people come together.

Overall, this strike highlights the necessity of providing reliable rapid transit that connects people to job and activity centers.  It also underscores the importance of providing people with a diverse range of choices in transportation so no one event should have to disrupt your life.  

Reader Feedback

Do you have any travel stories related to the BART strike?  How was your trip affected by the strike?  What has been your experience using rideshare services?  What kind of role do you think a Bay Area bikeshare system could have played in this scenario?

JA

 
 
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I have been cycling for about thirty years and living auto-free for a little over eleven years. I strive to illustrate, by example, to those who are weighing the pros and cons of bicycle commuting that it can be done.  However, not all roads have gradual grades and service bicycles in the best possible way (debris in bike lanes, excessive motor-vehicular traffic, exhaust fumes, etc.).  Some roads prohibit cyclists altogether!  Also, I still get nervous when a big truck does not give me a three-foot passing cushion or a misinformed motorist yells at me to get off the road.  Of course, I will get back in the saddle to ride another day, but what about parents riding with children, or young cyclists just learning to ride?  How are these potential cyclists expected to become cycling commuters when they face such disturbing bicycling conditions?  I look forward to a time when I can cycle with hundreds or thousands of other cyclists, on designated cycle routes, to and from work, whether I live and work downtown, live in the suburbs and work downtown, or vice versa.

Marking Where Cyclists Ride

The quickest and least expensive option for getting more people to opt for the bicycle over the car is to provide clearly marked paths where bicyclists may travel.  Marked paths include bike lanes, sharrows and way-finding signs.  These elements of a completely connected bicycle network help orient cyclists and alert motorists to the presence and potential presence of cyclists.  I stress the word “completely” because would-be cyclists are often turned off by the infamous “bike path to nowhere.”  The bicycle should be a means of getting from A to B, not from A to C, back to A, and thru D to B!

Gradually, cities are catching on to the exponential benefits of encouraging cycling (lowering obesity rates, lowering pollution levels, reducing motor-vehicular volumes, increasing profits for local businesses, etc.), so cities considering the installation of bicycle infrastructure have models to emulate and avoid.  The cities of Los Angeles, New York, and London have begun painting green or blue lanes to mark where cyclists can be expected.  

London’s blue lanes might be worth avoiding in the United States, as blue generally designates space reserved for drivers with disabilities.  London’s plan for a cycling superhighway system is grand, yet right from the outset, the City has had some difficulties with cyclists having to navigate between cars, buses and trucks in the bike lane.  Alternatives have been sought including lowering speed limits and avoiding overly-congested intersections completely.  

Right here, in Redding, in the cash-strapped state of California, the City is investing in an urban way-finding system for cyclists.  The way-finding signs are expected to reduce motor vehicle volumes, lure local and touring cyclists and raise revenues for local businesses.

Separating Bicycles from Cars

Many people see the separation of bicycle and motor-vehicular infrastructure as an obvious answer to safety concerns but separating these two modes of transportation is actually a long-standing debate. Concerns have been raised that building bicycle-only infrastructure gives motorists the false impression that cyclists simply do not belong on the street when, in fact, they have every legal right to operate there.  Also, pedestrians often create a safety hazard for cyclists on the “bicycle-only” infrastructure.  

Nevertheless, construction of multi-use and bicycle-only infrastructure continues, and in some places, it looks to be the wave of the future.  London is considering investing tens of millions of dollars in bringing bicycles off the streets and into the sky…via London’s Skycycle that is.  The Skycycle would allow cyclists to travel away from the congested city streets for a one pound user fee.  The Netherlands are creating fietssnelwegen, “fast bicycle routes,” as a means of luring more commuters to quicker, safer cycling.  To get an idea of what it is like to ride on a Dutch fast bicycle route, watch this video (try starting at 1:44) from David Hembrow:

Of course, the ultimate in bicycle infrastructure, lately, is the Danish Bicycle Superhighway which has twenty-six new bike routes linking Copenhagen to its suburbs.  To listen to a NPR report on Denmark’s Bicycle Superhighway, follow this link.

All of these interesting projects in Europe, and what is going on here?  Portland, Oregon has long been the mecca for American cyclists, but Minneapolis is now a great spot for cycling with the success of its Midtown Greenway.  Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is promising 645 miles of bike lanes in the Windy City by 2020.

The United States Bicycle Interstate System

In an economy struggling to recover, many people cannot find jobs in their community and must look for jobs in neighboring communities, or beyond.  For these people, a cycling commute appears more daunting.  But it does not have to be!  The United States Bicycle Route System has been under development since 1978. After a long period of stagnation, the system has undergone expansion.   It needs funding, but given an investment of the necessary resources, I might be able to more easily commute from Redding to Anderson or the City of Shasta Lake on my bicycle.  International tourists may be drawn to the United States for the opportunity to cycle from county to county and state to state on the ultimate American adventure: a bicycle trip.

Reader Feedback

How should American Bicycle Superhighways look? Should pedestrians be allowed?  Should there be a parallel hiking/walking trail? Should merchants be allowed to establish businesses along bicycle superhighways?  What do you think? 

KW
 
 
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A lot has happened since my last post.  I have graduated from Cal Poly; moved
up to Redding, CA; passed a course on becoming a cycling instructor with the
League of American Bicyclists; and I have recently attended a meeting on
preparing the city of Redding for Bike Month (in May).  Please pardon the absence.  The postings shall resume a normal schedule now.


The bridge in this picture is called the Sun Dial Bridge and is located in Redding, CA.  The bridge that links the north and south parts of the Turtle Bay Exploratory Park is more than a practical bicycle/pedestrian connection for the city of Redding.  Its awe-inspiring and functional design (the single cantilever tower acts as a sundial) is a huge draw for tourism and, despite the $23.5 million cost of construction, it continues to generate millions of dollars of commerce and tourism each year.  The bridge also serves a pivotal connection along the eleven miles of trail that run along the Sacramento River.  In an auto-dominated environment, the trail is an oasis while the bridge serves as a beacon for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and commuters of non-motorized vehicles.

What facilities or landmarks serve as beacons to cyclists and pedestrians in your community?

For more information on Redding’s Sundial Bridge, please visit Turtle Bay Exploratory Park’s website.

KW

 
 
The results of a special mail-only election for a Community Facilities District in Los Angeles are in.  Seventy-three percent of registered voters approved $62.5 million in local funding to bring a streetcar line back to L.A.  A high voter turnout helped the measure pass easily, securing approximately half of the project’s $125 million budget. Federal funding will be sought to cover the remaining construction costs for the project.

The Downtown L.A. Streetcar is planned as a modern, fixed-rail streetcar system to link with regional transit, running seven days a week, 18-hours a day.  Modern streetcars are curb running and they travel at the same speed as cars, and in the same traffic lane.  They are also carbon emissions free and accessible to individuals with disabilities, parents with strollers, and cyclists.

Construction could begin by the end of 2014, and operation of the new streetcar line could begin as early as 2016.

For more information, please visit Brigham Yen’s recent post at www.brighamyen.com.

KW