Monday, 23 May 2016

Little things that we can do to improve our roads

There are a lot of small things that we rarely think about when looking at roads. I have few ideas about some small things that make a big impact.

The pedestrian crosswalk lights. These should be shielded from the driver's perspective. It makes them use it to figure out whether they will be able to proceed through or not. Especially if they have a countdown timer to the solid don't walk (or solid red man, depending on where you are) signal. It is causing more crashes than they save.

Curbs. Why don't we angle the curbs here? A small change from 90 degrees to 45 degrees in terms of the curbs next to roadways and from 90 to 30 when next to cycleways or roads with bicycles intended to be used on them. They forgive errors, reducing injuries, often serious, and sometimes even fatalities, on bike and they make it easier for drivers to exit the road if they absolutely have to while still discouraging it being done and reduces the damage done if you do accidentally hit the curb. It just saves a lot of money while not really costing anything. I doubt that people would actually really notice on a day to day basis.

Crosswalk signs. Often times these are more effective, even if you don't have amber flashers, if you put the sign above the road lanes, not to the side of them. Having such a sign is very unusual to have overhead, and thus more likely to be seen and understood.

Removing the upstand and adding tactile paving. I have often times have had drinks spill when cycling just because someone didn`t ensure that there is no upstand to the curb ramps whenever I use a pathway ramp. And when pushing wheeled things, the upstand on normal sidewalks as well is very annoying.

Raised intersections. Add these to intersections to help control speeds, especially where it will matter most. Design them to be comfortably taken at the speed limit or less. 30 km/h in access roads and where you cross cycleways and footways without traffic signals, like at roundabouts, 50 km/h at most arterial road intersections, 70 on a few urban through road corridors and on the exits from the motorways at interchanges when you come off and go back to being on a normal road.

Paint posts with stripes. Probably normal horizontal strips, but maybe angled ones work even better. Either way, they work very well to make the contrast very much improved. Poles tend to be rather unforgiving in a crash. Thus, seeing where they are is a good thing to have, especially in the dark. Posts that may affect cyclists are generally red and white in the Netherlands, most other poles are black and white, and posts holding up navigation signs are usually blue and white. Interesting choices by the Dutch, but they work, so why not?

And finally, road studs. As in, when slightly tactile markings are used that also show where the line markings are optically. Usually called cat's eyes in the UK. I drove in British Columbia at nightlast year, and it was far easier to see the lanes because of the reflectivity. And driving around the main city at night also was easier because of the traffic signal visibility. It's obvious that these are really useful. Even on a bike they can help. Adding yellow ones to the centre lines of two way paths would show when paths are bidirectional, and also adding white ones to the edges as well through curves shows where the curve goes. It may be that even a high powered bike light won't reflect (though car headlights will work anyway). If that is the case, solar studs can do this too. It works best for line markings because other shapes are hard to show via cat's eyes. They also give a bit of tactile feedback, letting you know if you are straying from your lane, even in the daytime. I suggest using yellow as centre lines, white for normal lane markings, red for the right edge markings, and green for turn lanes and exit lanes and also when lanes are joining the other lanes. It is very easy to remember and works brilliantly. Even better news is that they are friendly to snow plows. Even better.

So there you have it. 7 ways to improve the operation and safety of roads without much cost and without people really caring at all about them consciously but they learn to use these to great effect. It saves money from collisions prevented and with less damage to roadside objects. Why not?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Double standards

I've been reading quite a bit about statistics and the logic that different people put out. I want to show you some examples of double standards when it comes to this.

Planes are actually statistically safe. You know all the buzz that came when a Malaysia Airlines flight was lost over the Indian Ocean? It got so much buzz because we don't need to save the next day's newspaper space for the next crash which isn't likely to happen again for a long time. There are loads of procedures meant to remove the ability for the screw ups of humans to make us do dangerous things. Autopilot being a useful tool in this. People get bored pretty quickly. This, it takes over during long flights, and is actually capable of operating entirely on it's own if it were allowed, landings and take offs included. Loads of checklists for just about everything. There are two pilots so that there is a smaller chance that one will be doing something stupid, and one can take a break when they need to. There are also very few opportunities that planes could ever get near one another. Air traffic control routes planes on completely different paths keeping them often kilometres apart if not tens of kilometres apart or more. And if they ever do stray, there is plenty of time to correct a mistake, there's lots of space to realize that a mistake is being made and you can correct with time to spare.

And if a crash does happen, it's among the things that makes crash investigators work the hardest on even the smallest details, down to duct tape on the plane skin even. It can take more than a year to issue the final report. Sometimes regulation changes even occur. This leads to a very low crash number, 898 fatalities each year. Over a world population of more than 7 billion people, and especially comparing that 1.2 million are killed each year in motor vehicle crashes, this is very safe. Of course they go further, but this is balanced out by people generally taking few place trips per year. It also feels like every plane crash is a disaster, even though the US alone needs only about 3 days to create as many casualties as MH17

Car crashes on the other hand aren't treated like this. Few are ever considered a disaster, massive pile ups on motorways perhaps. They are shrugged off, very quickly. If we were to have the same coverage dedicated to car crashes in the media as plane crashes, we'd be swamped, easily overwhelmed by the sheer number. The investigators would also probably be overwhelmed as well, although there is usually less to check out. How many wikipedia pages do you think there would be? Millions per year just dedicated to car crashes. We often don't investigate their causes very well. We don't take corrective measures. We give the driver at fault a fine, maybe license suspension and possibly prison, maybe a civil trial will award damages, but nothing really happens after. The road stays the same. If you are LUCKY, someone will add extra signs and the cops might focus for a week an extra sting there. If there is a fatal crash in Edmonton, the city puts up a diamond shaped sign (like a cross), no, more like a kite shape, As if that's going to change road user behavior.

Our roads NEED to understand that humans are not perfect, and we can't make ourselves perfect. Just as dog breed makers in the 1800s and Dr Frankenstein played God for a while, they failed too, because they aren't capable of making something work the way they think it would. We must make our roads capable of absorbing our mistakes. They thankfully do this a lot, most mistakes don't lead to crashes. We'd have a problem more than a hundred times worse if it didn't. But they don't go nearly far enough. We can't just expect education and enforcement to solve our problems. Our infrastructure must change. We cannot allow conflicts that are more dangerous than our roads are capable of handling and allowing mistakes that will lead to crashes too severe to be present on our roads. We can't put non forgiving lampposts next to a motorway designed for 110 km/h without a crash barrier, allow cars to mix head on at 100 km/h, require that cyclists and pedestrians mix with motor traffic on a shoulder at 80 km/h, or other conflicts that will inevitably have people making mistakes. It only takes one to cause a major problem.

We try to solve this problem for cyclists by making them wear helmets and high viz or advising them to ride in the middle of the lane. This doesn't work. Car drivers aren't hitting cyclists because they can't see them just because they don't have a high viz jacket, they miss them because of the inherent sightlines that the road has. Cyclists' lives aren't being saved with helmets in the Netherlands, they are being saved because of the fact that motor traffic is kept away and cross or mix only at low speeds and with very few cars to begin with, or with a traffic signal giving specific times to specific users.

Pedestrians too are targeted by the high viz jacket campaigns, or at least bright colours part. Just last week I missed a pedestrian wearing white while crossing the wrong arm of a junction where it was prohibited to cross with a speed limit of 60 km/h. It actually made her blend in, somewhat ironically with the white painted fences on either side. It actually made me feel horrible as a result because I know that a fatality  (for the pedestrian) is almost certain at 60, and if my mom didn't spot her before I could reach that point on the road... This also shows that most people aren't ignorant, nor are they trying to commit driving offenses, and that people if a crash happens do feel horrible and often hate themselves for making a mistake like that. People normally have altruism, and people normally want to take care of others, especially if they know in their hearts who made the mistake.

Most car crashes are genuine mistakes. It is the consistent failure of our roads to give natural reasons for obeying a rule, to forgive mistakes so that they are not lethal nor seriously injurious, and to rule out conflicts happening at speeds where they will seriously hurt people, or worse. Our roads are not Sustainably Safe. Please understand this. If you still blame people for their own misfortune, well who would be blaming you if a crash involving you happens? The number of people killed each year is equal to that of a large city each and every year, more serious injuries, broken bones, disabilities, lost limbs, brain function loss, paralysis, dangerous infections, more of those happen as a result of car crashes than the entirety of Canada's population, all of them, and more than twice the population of Australia, and the equal of South Korea.

And do you seriously want to continue these policies for people who don't even have the freedom to not live on roads like this, like small children, who have to use them despite the serious risks involved?

Monday, 16 May 2016

But, it causes congestion and slowdowns right?

This is the phrase that many people use to try to fight separate cycle infrastructure, and sometimes cycling in general. I am going to show how congestion is fought in the Netherlands.

First, the fact that there are so many different alternates to driving a car means that you have plenty of options, you don't have to drive. If you do, it's a genuine choice between many fast and safe options. Thus, many will switch to cycling, walking and public transport. This massively reduces the number of cars you have on the road in the first place. It also means that you can take routes you might not have before. You can go straight to work while your children cycle to school or take the bus. This reduces the number of trips even more. And many shopping trips will be done by bike, another large chunk of journeys not done by car.

The next big thing they use to fight congestion is to use well designed motorways or expressways and through roads to carry most of the traffic. This means fewer stops, more space between interchanges, less weaving, fewer crashes and by using electronic controls, they reduce the number of time delaying and often times dangerous crashes and improve the efficiency of the road in the first place. Shoulder running can be allowed during congested periods too, as can a ban on trucks overtaking. This can add a huge amount of efficiency.

Another major addition is the reduction in the number of stroads and monofunctionalizing roads. Imagine if you drove down a road like Gateway Boulevard but didn't have to deal with nearly the number of minor side streets and perhaps even avoided a couple traffic lights. This also decreases weaving, lane changes, congestion and the number of crashes. Access would be maintained via 30 km/h service streets or via side streets.

The Dutch model also adds bus bays and bus lanes. A lot of the lane changes in urban areas is done to avoid being behind a bus, and so by not needing to worry about this, it's safer and more efficient, and less congested.

Parking would also occur less often on main roads and collector roads, removing more obstacles and providing better sightlines, and thus fewer emergency slowdowns would occur.

Traffic signals are reduced in number and made much more efficient. Traffic signals are operated by demand not pre programmed. Pedestrians only get walk lights when they are actually there, thus, the amber light can come on more quickly when they don't come. And by using crossing sensors to figure out whether pedestrians have cleared the crossing gives them extra time if they need it and less time if the crossing is clear. By having signal stages that rely on demand as well, you don't always need to have left turn arrows if there is no left turning traffic. Having separate turn signals for all of the different directions and modes, transit if they have reserved lanes, cyclists if they have either a separate path or dedicated lane, and pedestrians if they have their own sidewalk, allows the signals to be much more flexible.

Many grade separations in vital areas would be added. Sometimes for car to car conflicts, more times for pedestrians and cyclists and car conflicts. 75 St would have at grade pedestrian and cycle crossings removed and replaced by underpasses. By adding these underpasses on the desire lines this doesn't cause a problem for them, but it removes a lot of the danger of at grade crossings with such a busy road and prevents slowdowns.

Roundabouts add a lot of efficiency. They would replace many traffic signals and stop signs. It is better to be flowing at 30 km/h than going 0 km/h waiting 45 seconds for a green light. And many stop signs would be removed in favour of yield signs. This reduces driver frustration and allows more efficient movements.

Speeds would be made more homogeneous under the principle of Sustainable Safety. Thus many speed limits will change to account for this. You'd be able to legally go 120 and 130 km/h on hundreds of kilometres of roads in the province. Some urban arterials would be upped to 70 km/h, and some limited access corridors would go to 100, like Wayne Gretzky Drive. Many arterials would go down to 50, but it would be offset by having less stop start traffic and the ability to use roundabouts more effectively.

Some roads would be built as bypasses. An East bypass of St Albert would help traffic coming from the East that never intended to go into St Albert. Many local communities wouldn't have to deal with a massive flow of traffic. And the motor traffic wouldn't have to deal with the reduced speed, stop signs and traffic lights.

The Dutch really do have less congestion as a result of this, and more efficient journeys. And if you are worried about lane reductions, keep in mind that traffic will expend or reduce to fill just about any niche if you let it. Rarely is congestion the result of a lack of lanes but a bottleneck somewhere. Or multiple bottlenecks. Removing these bottlenecks is the main thing that I try to reduce with the designs I just shown here. They work. Even in North America. Why not adopt them to show just how efficient our roads can be if we let them?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Pedestrians and the Dutch model

Pedestrian groups in many areas often are divided about supporting cycle infrastructure or not. I want to debunk some myths about it today.

There are some that oppose it, like a Blind people association in London, this is a common theme around disabled people's rights groups, they tend to oppose separate cycle infrastructure. Seniors groups too, for the same reasons. Children's groups may or may not oppose it, and some people concerned about public transport also may be concerned about pedestrian access.

There are common themes to their opposition. I think the source of this is the divide we have between vehicular cyclists and relaxed but slow cycling. Unpredictable, going to run over everyone without even ringing their bell, and others along the lines of this. The main reason why cyclists tend to not be predictable is that the road design doesn't give them obvious reasons for doing what they are supposed to do. There isn't an obvious reason for obeying stop signs if the visibility is sufficient. And there isn't an intrinsic reason why a red light should be obeyed if there isn't a car in sight. And if you don't have a separate path to ride on in the face of fast and or heavy traffic, then you often take to the sidewalk. Thus, you scare pedestrians in the process. This is solved by having cycle paths at far lower thresholds, about 2000 PCU/d and over 30 km/h in the built up area. And the second part is by having signs and signals intrinsically linked to how you should obey them. Short waiting times at traffic signals, and not using stop signs unless the visibility is exceptionally poor and nothing else can be done about it.

The part about being run over tends to come from a bias towards looking for events that happened recently or were talked a lot about, and from the perception as that vehicular cyclists don't care for other people. Just because something is well talked about does not mean that it is common. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. They are talked a lot about because they are so rare. The shooting in Parliament that required the sergeant at arms to resolve is extremely uncommon. If we talked about car crashes as much as plane crashes we would be swamped with news reports. And most people do care for others. It's called altruism. We recognize other members of our species, or even with characteristics that we have, like puppies, and care for them, almost as if they were our children. And you often do feel incredible guilt if you know that you cause a problem. Most people do show remorse and try to help as best they can. It's the exceptions that make us mad. Thankfully, these are also uncommon. Car drivers angry at other car drivers are helped by the fact that they would be yelling at an object, not a face.

Blind pedestrians tend to object due to how cyclists are silent vehicles, and worrying about how they will be able to cross a cycleway from the sidewalk. The Dutch have blind pedestrians, obviously they are coping somehow. Providing tactile markings to show where the crossings are helps a lot, and making laws that give those who are blind, or who look like they are likely to be, a white cane, a dog with a badge on the side, someone holding the arm of someone in sunglasses, helps. And better education about how to give priority to a blind pedestrian could be used. But among the most important of these is that most cyclists do care about other people and would usually be on omafietsen, not race bikes.

Now that most of the misconceptions are out of the way, let's go into exactly what the Dutch have done to change the environment of pedestrians.

Pedestrian courtesy crossings as they are called in Ontario, or just uncontrolled pedestrian crossings in normal terminology outside North America, are when pedestrians know they don't have priority, but car drivers are asked politely to let pedestrians go first, but they aren't obligated to. Pedestrians look both ways, look for a good time to cross, and once there is a good gap in the traffic, they can proceed. Of course if there is too much traffic, there is going to be a long wait, so a low enough volume is critical. A median refuge island really helps here if you can provide one. Low speeds too are important. 30 km/h is the best speed for these crossings, with 50 as an absolute maximum. Even 70 is too fast in the built up area.

Normal pedestrian zebra crossings are also very helpful and would be widely used. They let pedestrians get immediate priority. I believe that it would be a good idea to restrict these to places where a car would only pass through at 30 km/h or less. On a 30 km/h road of course, but also near a roundabout and where there is a median refuge design with a curve sharp enough to require 30 km/h speeds. They would be well marked, and usually with an overhead sign. Amber flashers shouldn't really be needed, as it relies entirely on drivers wanting to give way, not anything physical.

Both of these crossings can be used on cycleways as well. Given that they have low speeds anyway and rarely have too many cyclists to use otherwise, non priority crossings are probably going to be more common. If an important footway, like the one that the cycleway would parallel, for example at a protected intersection, or at a busy bus stop, at a crossing near a school, hospital, or areas with very many pedestrians or so many cyclists that gaps would be hard to find, then zebra crossings may be used.

Jaywalking would not be an offense in and of itself. Failing to give traffic the right of way first would be the offense if you did fail to yield. But even still, if motor traffic had time to react to you, they should have stopped under the principle of that everyone must not create extra dangers and all must do what they can to avoid a collision, they are still partially guilty and liable.

Now minor side roads will change dramatically. Paralleling a distributor road crossing a minor side access road with a 30 km/h speed zone with no roundabout or traffic signals would mean that the access road would not be continuous over the footway. The footway is the same elevation as it normally is, and the material would be the same as well. Same with business accesses. The cars have to go up and down. This makes it very obvious who waits and who has visual priority. At intersections between 30 km/h zones, then they would often be raised intersections to help control the speeds. But they also give pedestrians presumed priority. Either using zebra crossings or a continuous footway built into the bricks of the raised intersection surface would make it last a long time and with minimal maintenance.

The footways in general may change. The Dutch put utility lines under the footways not the road. This makes the latter not doing to be disrupted and the surface won't be broken. By using bricks for the footway not concrete or asphalt, it means that they are easily repairable. This could be a means of making maintenance easier. And because you could temporarily walk on the cycle paths instead, disruption is minimal.

Pedestrians would rarely interact with motor traffic at all. They rarely would walk more than a kilometre or so. Because most destinations would either be a pedestrianized shopping area or in the residential areas, both places where motor traffic would be excluded, there would rarely be crossings. Of the locations that do remain, they are likely to remain small intersections to deal with. The protected intersection or simultaneous green or roundabouts or zebra crossings would be the most common means of dealing with them. Main routes for pedestrians and grade separation would be rare because of how the through roads would be unraveled so much from pedestrian routes. But of the places where they do still exist, they would have a separate sidewalk.

Footways would be wider, usually at least 2 metres wide, 1.8 metres minimum. Sometimes wider sidewalks will exist. A considerable improvement from the 1.5 metres we often use.

In areas where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians are not disadvantaged. They are either going to be on a cycle path, or on a low speed low volume road. This way, you still have the freedom to walk in these areas if you chose to do so, just that there would be few who do alike. All you do is walk on the left side of the travelway facing cyclists and motor traffic.

This shows how pedestrians have a lot to gain and are not going to have their lives ruined by the Dutch method. Dutch pedestrians have a higher quality of life than ours. And safer travels. Why don't we make pedestrians the focus of our lives again? We have legs for a reason. What use are they if we don't feel comfortable walking somewhere?