Thursday, 25 February 2016

Rural Areas Part 2

I made a post before about this, but now I have more information. Rural areas remain among the most dangerous roads to drive on, with the notable exception of freeways. So making them safe is a crucial goal of mine.

First, let's identify Sustainable Safety. First, functionality. Roads are through roads, access roads or distributor roads. There are two main kinds of through roads: expressroutes, or what the Dutch call autowegen, limited to 100 km/h, in Canada that would mean a 2 lane highway with a shoulder, control of access, no access from 40 km/h roads in particular, grade separation to the greatest possible extent, a divide between the two directions if possible, roundabout control if grade separation is not possible if possible, and when not a divided roadway, having a painted buffer between the two directions, and freeways, limited to 130 km/h, with at least 3.7 metre wide lanes, a right shoulder, a left shoulder when possible, a divide between the two directions, a vertical barrier too when possible, 2 lanes per directions (except on interchange ramps), full control of access, no at grade crossings and no traffic lights or stop signs. Note that the limit can change if it's needed for safety.

(I boiled, I mean changed (GMM viewers know why this is funny) the rural access road limits for safety, 40 is a much more survivable speed in a crash with pedestrians or cyclists, and is equal to or less than the 50 km/h cap on T bone crashes, plus it is easier to come down from when crossing cycle paths or footways midblock or at crossings, and the sightline distances don't need to be as long)

Access roads are 40 km/h roads, with no traffic that doesn't need that route to get around. They have lower volumes, are not divided roads, have no centre line for the most part, either have dashed white lines on the edges of the road or no markings at all, and only provide the roads that you might use to get from a farm to a county highway, or are the main routes between very small communities. 40 km/h roads are also usually the more direct route between 2 communities, however it is traffic calmed to ensure that it does not become the through route. 40 km/h roads also are used to bypass villages and small towns.

And distributor roads are 70 km/h roads, with a centre line, usually a double dashed centre line, a dashed right edge line and sometimes a divide between the two directions. Intersections are where possible under roundabout control, otherwise by using traffic lights or yield/stop signs facing the minor road. Four way stops often get congested because the traffic from the right rule often can't even be observed, let alone encouraging the traffic to stop in the first place. A few 70 km/h roads have interchanges but that's pretty uncommon. 70 km/h roads also tend to preform the function of bypassing smaller cities and towns, if that job is not taken by a through 100-130 km/h road.

So that is functionality, and I covered some of the basics around homogeneity of traffic flows, but let's take a look at it in more detail.

In urban areas directional conflicts are slightly less of a problem because of the lower speed. In rural areas the speed is usually between 40 and 130 km/h, so it is not good to have directional conflicts. The most obvious directional conflict is the head on kind. This can be solved on some roads with a divide, a verge or vertical barrier. As long as there isn't too much of a need of overtaking, even on 2 lane roads this can work ok. The other main directional conflict is the side conflict, or T bone. Roundabouts work extremely well at preventing this crash. In fact it's nearly impossible to have a head on or T bone crash at a roundabout.

Speed differentials are a big different among the different kinds of motor powered vehicles in rural areas. Many agricultural vehicles can't go freeway speeds. Thus, they should be required to go no more than 40 km/h and use a 40 km/h local access road and not use a 60 km/h minimum speed limited freeway or autoweg. Mopeds too. They use either a low volume 40 km/h local access road or a cycle path designed for 50 (the limiters on mopeds should make this required). Whoever came up with the idea that you should be able to use the shoulder of a freeway to cycle on, I challenge you to do that very action. Cycle on the shoulder of a freeway, and come back and tell me how stressful and dangerous that felt. Shoulders are not suitable cycling facilities, and without a shadow of a doubt, not next to freeways or on autowegs. Not even on 70 km/h roads. Cycling is not allowed on these roads. They are always routed on a separate route or path. The Dutch don't even use the concept for 40 km/h access roads. 40 km/h roads usually either have a cycle path or are low enough in volume to mix safely. A few are 6 metres wide with 1.5 metre wide red asphalted stripes on the sides with a 3 metre wide bidirectional space for motor vehicles to use, but that is fairly uncommon.

Next we have predictability. This can be a challenge in rural areas. Let's make the identification of the roads in question easy.

Starting with freeways and expressways. We can use the European signs for expressway and motorway to fit our definitions. Freeway begin signs are also regulatory, indicating the minimum and maximum speed limits (60 km/h min, 100 on an expressway and 130 on a freeway), the categories of vehicles that are prohibited, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, farm vehicles and mopeds, that stopping, u turns and that reversing are all prohibited (why would you park on a freeway unless your car broke down?). Then we can make expressway classification predictable by always having a hard shoulder, 3.5 metre wide lanes, a green stripe between the 2 yellow ones on non divided expressways.

70 km/h roads are next. Let's make them predictable. Upon leaving the built up areas, you will see a sign like the one to the right, using the one with the red stripe :

This sign indicates clearly whether we are in a built up area or not. Having this sign also has the advantage that we don't need to have 70 km/h speed limit signs in areas of Edmonton that aren't yet developed. By law all areas within an urban type municipality defined by the corporate limits is where the 50 km/h road limit begins, aside from provincial highways where it would be 70. I also want to remove the law that makes designation of a road as being a provincial highway raises any urban limit to 70 and rural area to 100 km/h by default. It is a useless designation because it says nothing about the kind of road we are on, all we know is that it forms a part of a provincial network. 

OK, now that we know whether we are in the urban area or not, let's make the road identifiable from the design. It should be at least 6.4 metres wide, for 3.2 metre wide lanes each direction, and the outer 30-40 cm of the roadway should be divided from the rest of the roadway with a dashed white line. This provides optical narowing, and makes it a hallmark of rural roads with 70 km/h speed limits in conjunction with a centre line. It is perfectly legal to use the extra bit of the road to use, but you are psychologically discouraged from doing so. The centre line is the other hallmark of 70 km/h roads, and without it, it would be more like a 60 km/h road. A double dashed yellow line should be introduced as the new way to indicate an area in a rural area where it is legal to overtake in both directions where there is two way traffic. This makes it easier to see the double lines. 70 km/h roads where roundabouts nor traffic lights are used otherwise, have the right of way over side streets. 

On access roads, we can easily define this with having just a pair of dashed lines on either side of a road or no markings at all. This makes it easy to understand at a glance. There will also be a sign indicating the beginning of a 40 km/h zone. Having mostly unmarked uncontrolled intersections and raised intersections where possible, sometimes with measures to make only 1 direction of traffic able to flow at any one time, makes the 40 km/h low volume restrictions better enforced. 

Cyclists need separate paths in most rural roads. With the sole exceptions of 30 km/h low volume villages and low volume 40 km/h roads, it is not safe to allow mixing. Country back lanes are fine to cycle on, as they have low speeds and low volumes, but not even medium volume 40 roads. 

So how to design such paths? Well, usually they are bidirectional in rural areas, although one way cycle paths are better next to roads where there are more frequent side road conflicts. They must be a concrete minimum of 2 metres wide for a one way, 2.5 metres standard, and 3 metres minimum, 3.5-4 metres standard width bidirectional, same as in urban areas, separated from the road via a vertical barrier, verge or median. The more the traffic and the faster it flows, the more space is needed. This creates the comfort required. Also consider road noise and emissions in relation to how pleasant it is to cycle. 1.5 metres is the standard next to a medium to high volume 40 km/h road, any less and a vertical barrier is required. 6 metres is preferably next to 70 km/h roads and 10 metres or more is standard next to anything bigger, and noise and visual screening is definitely required near those. 

At side roads, if they are minor and the road the cycle path parallels also has the right of way over the side road, then the cycle path probably should too, unless the side road is a like a freeway ramp coming on or off the main expressway or freeway. If the main road doesn't have the right of way, then the cycle path probably shouldn't either. A median refuge, bending out the path at least 6 metres, preferably 10 or more, from the main road and clear yield signs and sharks teeth make it clear who yields and who doesn't. The colour and surface of the crossing should resemble that of the road it is crossing how it ordinarily is for them. The markings should indicate legal to cross without dismounting but you must yield. Thin parallel lines work to this effect. If the cycle path does have priority, then the crossing should be surfaced in red asphalt, have elephants feet markings, have no difference in elevation in the cycle path, be on a raised table against motorists preferably, and there should be a sharp bend in the road for motorists to control their speed if they cross the cycle path. 

Roundabouts should have a non annular cycle path and no priority for cyclists, like at other roundabouts in urban areas. Median refuges are essential here. 40 km/h roads can join up with roundabouts, but they should be the kind busy enough to have separate bicycle paths and white edge lines. Note that cyclists can only cross a single lane safely at a time. If they need to cross multiple lanes, like at a turbo roundabout, then it is not safe enough. Crossings of right turn bypass lanes can be acceptable but must have low volumes and low speeds and a median refuge between the right turn lane and thru/left turn lane. Turbo roundabouts should ideally not even be anywhere near a cycle route, but if they have to be near them, grade separation is practically required. 

Some traffic lights are likely to need to remain in urban areas. Cycle routes should preferably not even be located near there, or at least be routed in such a way to minimize interaction. Grade separation is usually even better. But sometimes it is not possible to avoid at grade crossings requiring a traffic light controlled crossing for cyclists. If this is the case, then simultaneous green is still an option, though I am not quite certain about how useful it is in rural areas. May very well be so, But if you don't use simultaneous green, then it should be designed like a protected intersection. Not quite like how Nick Falbo has it though. Larger, with separate traffic signal phasing for conflicting directions given the speed of the traffic, and also the volumes, and more space between the different kinds of traffic. More like this picture (David Hembrow):

Rural areas have very scary roads if you want to cycle along them, and the distances can be shorter than you think. Even 15 km is not too bad for cyclists. A velomobilist can feasibly commute 30 km one way in just 1 hours, a reasonable time to commute given good conditions. Beaumont town centre is just about 8 km from Ellerslie Road, where a major transit centre is planned to be built. Not too bad either. On a new unraveled route for cyclists assuming a direct route is taken, cycling between Downtown Leduc and the airport is a reasonable distance, about 6.5 km away. Leduc and Nisku are also not too far apart, the journey could be made by bicycle by at least some people. Spruce Grove and Stony Plain. I can find examples in a lot of places. Does anyone seriously believe that cycling on the roadway with 70 km/h traffic, or worse 125 km traffic on QE2 (normal speed of traffic not the speed limit) is a safe thing to do for themselves, let alone children, your grandparents, parent's with babies in a trailer? 

And rural areas have a very high casualty rate. These improvements make a much greater barrier between conflict points and dangerous differences in masses, speeds and/or directions, making it far safer. 

And many rural communities have lots of shortcutting traffic. Beaumont has all of the traffic going right through the town, making it a very busy road where it should be a much quieter town. An 70 km/h limited access bypass on either the east or west side of the town would greatly civilize the town. Leduc has a lot of traffic going through the city on Highway 2, an elevated freeway, and creates a barrier for the town. Having it go around the city makes it more pleasant. Same with Highway 39 through Leduc. It doesn't have any other way to go through the city onto the through roads directly. Morinville while it does have a Highway 2 bypass, it does have have a Highway 642 bypass making the centre of the town much busier than it should be. The 2.4 km diameter town is a small one, and practically everyone there could have a cycling journey that they could make on a daily basis that is pleasant to take. Three Hills has the Highway 583 running through it with over 4000 vehicles per day. That makes it a not very pleasant road to have in such a small town. I could never go out on my own when I was a smaller kid and visited there. In fact I was rarely even outside. All this despite a small community with everything very close by, a perfect place to be able to walk or cycle for any journey you may have had to do.

Rural areas have a lot to improve on. Rewrite the design manuals, create funding for these improvements, actually build the improvements and introduce legislation and pass regulations to the effect of this blog post. Many things can be done today, and even more within a year. It only took about 10 years for the Dutch to really civilize their streets, including rural roads. Why do ours remain crumbled asphalt "roads"? 

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