Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Active cities

The Transportation Research Board (USA) recently issued a guide for city leaders on improving how cities support active lifestyles. I love the way the USA makes guidelines, statistics and research publicly available for free. They have some brilliant resources. Although they tend to be focused on the USA they are often more applicable in Australia than similar European research and guidance.

I love this quote from the report:
'Cities that make physical activity a priority, convert existing spaces into active spaces, and design environments for people to be active will create a legacy of physical activity. These active cities will be better off by almost every possible measure.'
The report has some great statistics and info-graphics. Not all the research is from the USA as the guideline is aiming to show a broad base of evidence of the benefits of active cities. In fact Adelaide is mentioned as an example of a city that is doing well at supporting activity.

The guideline gives simple and practical advice on supporting the development of an active city related to:
  • open spaces and parks
  • urban design and land use
  • transport
  • schools
  • building design and work spaces
It then gives policy interventions that will deliver positive outcomes - including 'quick wins'. And then it also provides links to a wealth of tools and resources. This guideline is a valuable resource that is aimed at the non-technical leader / decision makers in cities. It would be good to get more awareness of it amongst transport planning professionals and public figures.

Brisbane is doing many of these interventions and that is one of the reasons I love living here. Wouldn't it be great if these principles could be completely embraced by our cities.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Economic benefits of active transport

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently published a white paper on evaluating the economic benefits of non-motorised transport. It provides a short review of available economic analysis tools, and recommendations on how they may be used. The comparison table of tools in Appendix A provides a useful comparison of what the tools can tell you, their data needs and usefulness.

Although it is a very brief paper, it provides an extensive list of reference works that provide some interesting data snippets from the USA and the UK.

Some interesting snippets of facts cited in the report:

Project specific economic benefits in New York:

  • 49% increase in retail sales near the protected bike lanes on 8th and 9th Avenues in Manhattan (compared to a 3% increase borough-wide)
  • 49% fewer commercial vacancies near the reconfigured pedestrian plaza at Union Square North (compared to 5% more borough-wide)
  • 172% increase in retail sales at Pearl Street in Brooklyn, where an underused parking area was converted to a pedestrian plaza (compared to an 18% increase borough-wide).
  • 58% decrease in injuries to all street users on 9th Avenue in Manhattan where a protected bike lane was installed
Macro-economic benefits: Vermont
  • Vermont hosted over 40 running and cycling events in 2009, which attracted over 16,000 participants spending over $6 million in the state. The running- and cycling-related spending from these events supported an estimated 160 workers;
  • A business survey found that bicycle- and pedestrian-oriented businesses in Vermont generated $37.8 million in output and directly employed 820 workers with $18.0 million in labor earnings

Friday, July 10, 2015

Making walking and cycling safer

The European Transport Safety Council has recently released an interesting report called Making Walking and Cycling of Europe's Roads Safer. It makes for interesting reading. The variation in safety is significant across Europe with countries like Romania and Latvia having average annual pedestrian deaths over 7 times those of the best performers like the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

There are some strange statistics. Such as the gender of pedestrians killed on the roads. Why is there a greater proportion of men than women pedestrians killed in the UK, while Switzerland has roughly even number of male and female pedestrians killed over the last three years.

The breakdown in cyclist deaths by age category is interesting. Generally older people appear to be more at risk than younger people. Since the statistics are based on deaths per population the figures are skewed to show poor performance in countries with large numbers of people cycling (like the Netherlands).

What is interesting is the discussion on what is needed to make roads in Europe safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The interventions are obvious:

  • improve urban road design characteristics to be safer for cycling and walking - it will also help address congestion
  • reduce traffic speeds to 30km/h on residential roads and those in business districts
  • change the design of cars and trucks to reduce the risk if pedestrians and cyclists are hit by a car 
  • Change truck design to improve visibility of cyclists
  • have automatic/passive measures to reduce the risk of driver inattention 
  • behavioural changes for cyclists and pedestrians to reduce risk

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

People are driving less

The US has just released an interesting report on the surprising reduction in fuel consumption that has been observed since 2005. This is contrary to the models that predicted in 2003 that there would be a significant increase in fuel consumption due to increasing economic conditions in the USA. The data shows that the bulk of the reduced fuel use is due to people driving less (see below from the report).
This trend is despite increasing real disposable income per capita, shown in the figure below from the report.

The report notes that there is limited research to explain this 'surprise'. Some potential reasons given include:

  • an aging population drives less
  • 'millennials' drive later and less
  • the internet is reducing the need to drive
  • the real cost of fuel has risen in the USA
Interestingly, there was no mention of how supportive land use, improved public transport or active transport infrastructure may be contributing to the reduced need for people to drive a car.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Personal safety

A while back I visited a friend who teaches underprivileged children in Phnom-Pehn, Cambodia. If you have visited Cambodia you will know the chaos on the roads. Pedestrians, vendor carts, bicycles, motorbikes galore and motor cars, buses and trucks compete for space in a seemingly lawless free-for-all on the road and footpath.

When our friend first moved to Cambodia several years ago she got around by bicycle because she could not afford a car. I asked her about how safe she felt cycling in the chaos. Interestingly she didn't talk about road safety, she spoke of her fears for her personal safety when cycling at night.

As soon as she could scrape together enough money she got herself a car so that she could feel safe leaving home after dark.  Having a car made life far more expensive and difficult. Finding parking on the street she lived in was impossible and caused huge conflict with her neighbours. Traffic jams are a continual frustration and her commute by car often takes longer and is less reliable than cycling was. The cost of running a car is more than she can really afford. But the peace of mind afforded to her of being cocooned in her little car, protected from predators made the pain and frustration of driving a car worthwhile. 

This got me thinking about how perceptions of personal safety/security can influence ones choice of mode. Here in Brisbane the threat of muggers, rapists and human traffickers is comparatively zero, yet for a large portion of the population (as much as 50%?) it can have a major influence on their choice of mode or route. 

A few years back Gayle (my wife) was working a late shift at a business in the Valley. Because of the issues of finding parking she decided to try cycling to work. Although the cycle network into the Valley is not great she found the afternoon cycle into work quite pleasant. However at around 10pm I got a rather concerned phone call from Gayle. She had successfully cycled out of the city on the bikeway but now found herself just south of Buranda where the bikeway goes along the creek corridor. This was before lights were installed on this section and she did not feel safe cycling through deserted parklands. She felt far safer cycling on road the rest of the way because the perceived threat to her personal safety of cycling through a dark and deserted park was greater than the road safety risk of sharing a road with no cycle lanes. 

A friend cycles to work at the PA hospital. Despite having access to a bikeway just down the road she cycles the first section on road because she does not feel safe riding through Tooheys forest on her own at any time of the day. 

Because of this it is always important to remember to consider personal safety/security when planning and designing cycle networks. The CPTED guidelines are useful as a tool for informing route option assessment and design. However it can also sometimes be a hindrance to delivering some excellent network outcomes due to concerns about sending cyclists down hidden corridors behind noise barriers and back fences of properties, or through woodland areas. Even with lighting these places can seem very threatening at night, particularly in certain areas or on parts of the network where there are few users. 

I think however that CPTED issues should rarely be a reason not to deliver an off-road cycle link that has clear network benefit. A route identified through a CPTED assessment as having a risk to personal security should have appropriate design treatments to reduce the perceived and actual risk. And if possible it would also be good to provide a on-road alternative to allow for greater route choice. That way cyclists can make a choice of route based on the perceived risk. By having an integrated network of on-road and off-road cycle routes we can serve a larger cross section of user needs, and hence make cycling a more attractive proposition for a greater proportion of the population. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cycle lane life-cycle cost

I was walking through the city and noticed this advanced stop line for cyclists. Although it is great to see the facility, the standard of maintenance is rather poor. It got me thinking about the longevity of the pavement markings used for cycle lanes. A cycle lane treatment recently installed close to my home didn't last much more than a month before the buses turning over it ripped off massive chunks of the green painted lane. As can be seen in the picture above, the wear from traffic has inflicted far more damage to the green cycle lane than to the white edge lines. 

Austroads undertook a study of Australian practice in cycle lane marking which is rather inconclusive about the longevity and lifecycle cost of cycle lane treatments. From what I have noticed the Gold Coasts thermoplastic cycle lane treatment (see the picture below) which is heated and melted into the asphalt. This is best done when the road is resurfaced. Painted cycle lanes have lifespans up to two years (less in high abrasion areas) while thermoplastic treatments last around 5 or more years.

Does anyone know of any conclusive research on the life-cycle cost of different cycle lane treatments? I suspect that there may be sensitivity in publishing research of specific products, however it would be useful for practitioners to know what type of treatments (especially paint vs thermoplastic) yield the lowest life-cycle cost.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mode share targets

Mode share targets for active transport are always a bone of contention when preparing a transport strategy. The targets for active mode share in the Queensland Cycle Strategy (2011 - 2021)  and Connecting SEQ 2031 are often dismissed as unrealistic - nice ideas but not possible.

Part of the problem is that there is very little empirical evidence that is available to test active transport mode share targets. Mode share targets are most often tested/verified using a strategic transport model. However, none of the models we typically use in transport planning include active transport in the trip choice algorithm. Therefore we cannot use modelling alone to develop mode share projections. There is a need for a method to empirically develop realistic mode share targets.

One way is through citing evidence from other jurisdictions. Citing city-wide active transport mode share for world's best practice (like the Netherlands) is unlikely to win much support from anyone other than an active transport disciple. There is too much that is different between the structure of cities and the management of our networks for this to be a realistic comparison.

However, what is useful is comparing active transport mode share for different distance bands (trips less than 1km for walking mode share, and those less than 3km and 5km for cycling mode share). That way the structure of the city doesn't cloud the mode share argument. Citing Australian or American good practice active mode share for short trips as the target to aspire to can sometimes make a significant difference to active transport mode share for the city or region as a whole. The argument that this is not Europe can then be removed from the discussion. What is essential is that the strategic modelling incorporate these assumptions into their future modelling projections or the model will not register this change and will over-estimate the number of vehicle trips for short trips.

But the argument about active transport mode share targets is often due to the fact that it is very difficult to visualise a 6%, 3% or 1% cycling mode share for all day trips. We need to translate this from a percentage into a behaviour. A useful tool here is the household travel surveys (HTS) - an extremely valuable resource for transport planning and strategy.

Looking at an arbitrary example - Rockhampton. With a current cycling mode share of 1% what does this mean in behaviours. According to the HTS a resident of Rockhampton and Yeppoon make on average 3.4 trips per weekday. That translates into 17 trips per person for a typical work week. There are an average of 2.8 residents per household in Rockhampton. That makes 48 trips per household for a typical week (excluding weekends).

With an active mode share of 1% that equates to each resident making a one-way cycle trip every six weeks. Or each household making one return cycling trip a month (note that your daily commute to and from work is two trips, not one). This trip could be a recreational trip every two weeks (going for a bike ride = 1 trip), a trip to the shops once a month, or the kid cycling to school one day a month. These trips make up almost 70% of the trips made in a typical work week.

3% cycling mode share means every household makes 3 return cycle trips a month.
6% cycling mode share means every household makes 6 return cycle trips a month.
10% cycling mode share means one person in every household rides their bike to work/school/shops every day for half of the month.

When I was young most of us cycled to and from school. When we visited friends we walked or cycled. We rarely were driven anywhere. The National Cycle Strategy says that half of Australian households own one or more bicycles. If one resident of every one of these households were empowered to use their bicycle to make any trip at least once a week we would have more than a 3% daily cycling mode share.

When mode share is translated into behaviours in this way the targets seem so much more achievable.