Author Archive

Image of an evening shot in New York City looking at a pile of snow in the middle of a crosswalk with many sets of footsteps through it. There are people in the background on the other side of the street in winter clothing walking around.

Fair Weather Safety

Snow. Some people love it (ME!). Some people hate it (everyone else!). However, we can all agree that it presents some interesting results from a planner or engineer’s perspective. Planners love to point out the “sneckdowns” that occur to show all the underutilized roadway space that exists. They have their merits because they do serve to calm traffic and shorten crossing distances… that is, if you are physically able to cross the street.

No matter where I have lived in this region or others, urban or suburban, when we have snow storms, pedestrians are often not as well considered or prioritized as other modes. Roads are plowed, cycletracks are plowed (well, plowed enough), but sidewalks are often left subject to property owners’ discretion and shoveling prowess. There are a few problems with this kind of policy:

  1. Sidewalks can often become hazardous when it ices over if not shoveled and treated properly. If a sidewalk is not continuously and consistently shoveled and treated, icy patches can send someone to the hospital. I was especially conscious of this because after a certain point in pregnancy, any fall means a trip to the Emergency Room to check on the baby. These patches are equally as problematic for seniors and those with disabilities.
  2. Crosswalks are often impassable. Plows often pile up snow at the intersections and in many cases, this means near crosswalks and curb ramps. The snow then refreezes into an ice mountain. Crossing becomes impossible unless you can scale a 3’ snow mountain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically pack my ice climbing equipment on my way to work. Best case scenario, you try to climb Snow Mountain and your foot falls through what is actually slush and you end up with squishy, wet shoes all day. People in wheelchairs have an even worse time in these situations because crossing is just not an option.
  3. Pedestrians often must walk in the street. Since streets and roadways are a priority for plows, pedestrians often must resort to walking in the street because it is the only reliable place to walk where the likelihood is lower that you’ll slip and have an injury. This becomes a huge hazard especially with dark winter clothing, earlier sunsets during winter, and malfunctioning street lighting or lighting on timers. I’ve seen multiple people utilizing right turn pockets on busy roads to get past the intersection and rejoin the sidewalk where the plows have not piled up snow. Even worse, people have died in these cases
  4. Pedestrian refuges become precarious because they are often left unplowed or overcome with snow. This results in longer crossing distances and increased time needed to cross.

This becomes a Vision Zero issue because people can be seriously injured or killed in these situations. While this kind of safety may not be a nation-wide concern, in the Northeast and regions with heavy snow storms during the winter, it is a largely overlooked issue. It is a relatively easy fix as well. Training plow drivers and independent contractors to plow snow away from pedestrian crossings rather than into them. Attaching fines to those that do not comply. Agencies can also deploy smaller plows, snow blowers, or other equipment as they do for cycletracks or protected bike lanes to clear crosswalk ramps and pedestrian refuges. Depending on policies, these are generally in the public right of way, and would fall under the purview of municipal agencies. If not, the property owner on the corner should be responsible for ensuring at least the curb ramps are clear.

Bottom line is, transportation conditions impact choices and many people still need to travel to their jobs during or after a storm. If people can’t walk to the metro or bus stop, they may choose to drive or rideshare. For those that can’t drive as an option they make unsafe choices to walk in the street. For a region that is focused on reducing congestion and increasing safety, this is a relatively small change that could make a big difference in getting back to normal after a storm by focusing on all modes as they reconnect the transportation network. As a region we can look to other cities or federal guidance that experience more intensive storms to learn from them. I even came up with the initiative name: Vision ZerSnow and that one you can have for free.

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

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Accessibility for the Disabled in Your Community

Last month when I crossed the street in Fairfax, I saw a very intriguing curb ramp that caught my attention. I noticed that the material on the slope surface is different than elsewhere. At first I was curious why it was designed that way, then I realized the material for the ramp was rougher compared to the rest of the sidewalk, and it has more friction on the surface. I assumed this is for people who are waiting to across the street and not to slip over the curb, especially on a rainy day. Also, for people who may have a physical disability, this kind of material can help the wheelchair gain more friction as they stop to check the traffic. I was surprised when I saw the detailing on the curb ramp to help people, and I started to pay attention – discovering those little nifty helpful details in my community.Picture1

 

As an Urban Planner, we need to do our best to plan for those who have a disability, making sure they can also have access to and can enjoy a high quality of life. When we deal with open space design, such as recreation areas and pedestrian routes, we need to pay more attention in these details. For example, we use Metro as our daily commute and we notice that the metro station does a really good job in providing accessibility: from going down to the train level to getting onto the train.

I found a handbook online: Accessibility for the Disabled – A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment.

This book mainly talked about 5 target disability categories:

(a). Wheelchair users

(b). People with limited walking abilities

(c). The sightless

(d). The partially sighted

(e). The hearing impaired

In the urban design consideration, it divided into 10 chapters:

  1. Ramps
  2. Elevators
  3. Platform lifts
  4. Stairs
  5. Railings and handrails
  6. Entrances
  7. Vestibules
  8. Doors
  9. Corridors
  10. Restrooms

The book has many details of the accessibility that we probably haven’t noticed before such as a barrier-free path for the safety and independence of disabled people; symbols of a wheelchair figure with either a square background or a square border. It gives principals about obstructions, signage, street furniture, pathways, curb ramps, etc.Picture2

 

In another article: Technological Innovations in Transportation for people with Disabilities

It talked about using technological advancement to help people with disability, and other technologies that could provide board safety and mobility benefits for pedestrians. Also, target assistive technologies to improve accessible transportation for people with vision impairment and other disabilities. There are 6 topics:

  1. Triggering a Virtuous Circle of Self-sustaining Accessibility and Transportation.
  2. Environmental Awareness for People with Visual Impairments-Gaps, Challenges and opportunities.
  3. Getting there is you are blind: Synergistic convergence of technologies to improve wayfinding.
  4. Using robotic and artificial intelligence to improve mobility and navigation of people with special needs.
  5. Opportunities and innovations in ITS and mobile technology for accessible transportation.
  6. Making technology universally accessible for all users, including those with sensory and cognitive impairments.

Accessibility in urban areas is now of more interest to me. I will continue reading the handbook but also figure out how it applies in reality.

Putting all of this into practice, Nspiregreen is currently working with the  District Department of Transportation on a project called Inclusive Transit – accessDC. The study will identify ways to give people with disabilities and aging adults in DC better access to multiple transportation services, allowing for greater mobility with dignity and independence, and easier integration in the community. I am happy to be a part of a project to make transportation options better for disabled people.

 

 

 

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How Transportation Shaped Black Communities

Transportation is a tool that can be used for the good of the community or the good of one community over another. It can be the glue that holds everything together or be like a knife that divides.  It can be the center of life, culture, and entertainment. It can also be a place where dreams are deferred. For this Black History Month post, I put together a list of some articles, websites, and critical reads on how transportation has shaped black communities for good and for bad.

Thriving Corridors of Life and Culture

U Street NW in the District of Columbia: U Street NW was once a thriving cultural corridor with Black entertainers such as Duke Ellington. Today, his name is used for names of apartment buildings. Here is a list of articles and books about U Street.

Greenwood, Oklahoma: In the early part of the 1900s, Greenwood was dubbed “Black Wall Street”. There were thriving businesses and culture. In 1921 it was all destroyed by the Klu Klux Klan.

Sweet Auburn, Atlanta


Transportation that Divides

Cross Bronx Expressway: Most urban/transportation planners know the name Robert Moses. He was “visionary” behind the highway. Constructing the highway displaced thousands of families and divided the Bronx.

Public Transportation and Highways

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.





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