Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

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Rebuild or Rethink?

Earlier this month a $14.2 million pedestrian bridge collapsed in Miami, Florida killing six and injuring ten people. Immediately, new articles sprang up trying to figure out the cause, such as here, here, and countless others. I’ll leave it to the structural engineers and the courts to sort out the cause of the bridge collapse.

When I first saw the photos and video, I thought the pedestrian bridge was over a highway. As more photos became available, I realized this was a bridge over SW 8 Street, or Calle Ocho, with traffic lights and crosswalks. The purpose of the bridge was to connect Florida International University (FIU) students to campus housing and the adjacent community. The real problem with this street is that functions as a highway that prioritizes motor vehicles over people. If we can change our mindset to prioritize people, can reduce the roadway footprint and reduce our infrastructure needs.

From what I can tell on Google street view, the street is about 10 lanes wide (8 travel lanes, 1 hashed area the width of a lane, and 2 bike lanes that equal 1 travel lane) plus a median. Based on data from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Average Annual Daily Traffic on the street was 66,500 vehicles, which is about the same volume as New York Avenue NE in DC between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road which has 6 lanes plus a median.*

I made an approximate cross-section of the existing conditions at the location of the pedestrian bridge, based on Google Earth images. This perspective is looking westbound.

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After the investigations are finished, there is the question to rebuild the bridge. Rather than rebuild, FIU and FDOT should consider other options that would make it a complete and safe street. I played around with cross-sections including some that do not require putting SW 8 Street on a road diet. All the cross-sections are looking westbound. Some options they could consider, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Widen the median: It appears that the westbound lane had a double left turn at one point. Rather than narrow the roadway it looks like the lane was removed by hashing. Given the space available, they could reorganize the roadway, so the median is equal to the current median and the hashed travel lane or about 16 feet. It would create a pedestrian refuge. Below is a cross-section that I mocked up that maintains the existing number of travel lanes. 

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  • Install protected bike lanes: From the Google aerial, it appears there are bike lanes on both sides of the street. The speed limit is 40 miles per hour, which means people are probably driving closer to 50-60 mph. For even the most fearless of cyclists, that is terrifying. They could consider installing a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street or raised cycle tracks on both sides of the street. Below is an example of a two-way cycle track

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  • Increase public transit: The Sweetwater Trolley operates every half hour. The Miami- Dade Transit has three bus routes that serve the university even at their peaks they are about every 30 minutes. While the system is free, 30-minute headways are not ideal for encouraging ridership. FIU could work with Sweetwater and Miami-Date Transit to develop a robust public transit system that benefits the university and residents. For the illustrative, I repurposed two travel lanes for bus only lanes and added in a bus shelter.

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  • Create people friendly public space: The sidewalks are right at the curb, which means people are walking right next to the roadway. In addition, there is very little shade along the sidewalk. Even with the location of the utility poles on the south side of the street, it is possible to create a grass median between the curb and a wider sidewalk as well as adding trees to add more shade. On the north side, it is possible to add a sidewalk and shade trees to make the linear park something more special that how it is today. If the roadway is narrower by a lane, that space could be added to the linear park. For the illustrative, I kept the cycle-track, narrowed the inside lanes to 10 feet and reduce the capacity from 7 travel lanes to 5. I left the outside lanes 11 feet to accommodate public transit.
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These are some ideas based on doing a digital tour on the site. After the investigations conclude, hopefully, there will be consideration of turning SW 8 St into a boulevard that is a gateway to FIU and Sweetwater.

*Note: FDOT’s data is 2016 and District Department of Transportation’s data is 2015. The point of comparison is volume and number of lanes.

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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My First Year at TransportationCamp

The Transportation Research Board Conference is one of my favorite times of the year. For me it’s like a big reunion where I get to see everyone who has moved away from DC (we’re so transient) or who I met through various transportation events throughout the years. This year, however, is the first year I attended TransportationCamp (yes, it’s all one word). I had no idea what to expect from this “un-conference”, but as I did expect, I had a great time and was introduced to ideas I had never considered.

One aspect of Transportation Camp that is very different from other conferences I’ve attended is that, after someone from the host organization, Mobility Lab, gave an introductory speech, they went around the room and almost every single one of the 400 attendees said who they were, where they worked, and three words that described why they were at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised that there were attendees of all ages (‘camp’ made me think ‘young’), in all different stages in their career, and from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds. And TransportationCamp had sessions to please all groups, including the planners, engineers, data crunchers, GIS specialists, and more.

TrnspCmpThe first session I attended was my coworker’s Christine Mayeur. I may be biased but it was one of my favorites of the day. Each of the five or so tables were given a Google Map printout and description of a particular area in DC, trace paper, and colored markers. She began by giving a brief presentation about how the widespread switch to autonomous vehicles will open up street space for other uses by reducing the need for parking and allowing for narrower lanes. Each group was then asked to redesign their area for how it could look once this change happened. The ideas were interesting and I can definitely see them happening if there’s enough will for them. For example, blocking off car access on H St NW in between 5th St NW and 7th St NW. Removing car travel lanes and parking would create room for a cycle track, bus lanes, and wider sidewalks, since the area is always crammed with tourists and residents. See the drawing below for all of the ideas for the area!

I also really enjoyed a session that focused on transit videos, not just because I got to watch some wonderful, horrible, bizarre, and hilarious YouTube clips, but because it made me really think about the best way for transit agencies to advertise themselves and provide public service announcements. One video that really stood out for me was an LA Metro PSA about a superhero called “Super Kind”. It would definitely fall under the bizarre category. I can’t really even explain it well – you’ll just have to watch it yourself – but I will say there’s a big furry monster eating Skittles on the train and a superhero girl trying to get him to stop. The first time I saw it I was turned off because of just how weird it is, but after the panel started discussing it I realized I was approaching it wrong. The whole point of the video was to remind people that they can’t eat on the train, and it sure imprinted that on your mind. One of the panelists shared how she showed it to her 4-year-old and ever since then he is adamant about not eating on the train and is upset with other people he sees doing it. I guess it has its audience. Was the production cost worth it, though? Not sure. What do you all think?

The video that was rated the highest, though, and my personal favorite, is from our own WMATA to advertise the opening of the Silver Line. It’s probably because I’m a transportation nerd, but every time I see it I get excited about the work we’re all doing to improve transportation around the country (okay, so it’s definitely because I’m a transportation nerd). But here’s the thing I love about Transportation Camp, TRB, and all of the other conferences I get to go to – we’re all transportation nerds who love getting together to bask in our nerd-iness and our shared passion for creating better transportation systems. I can’t wait for the next one!

Image from Teamster.org of a horse and buggy and a motorized jitney bus

A Horse of a Different Character

A Horse of a Different Character

I’m a big fan of history. In planning we have to draw on our history as a nation and from human civilization to reflect on where we come from to know where we are going. Recently, I went to a symposium of sorts about autonomous vehicles and heard from experts about how soon these vehicles will hit our streets and the expected changes that will come with them, depending on the reception. In an ideal world, these vehicles are like carshares that can be collectively owned and shared between people, or a fleet owned by rideshare giants like Uber, Lyft, Via, etc. Think personal rapid transit that gives door-to-door service using roads.

One of the most interesting conversations at the meeting is how these vehicles and the idea of a shared fleet will impact current land and right of way uses. Being the fan of history that I am, I look back to think forward. The last big revolution of vehicular movement for individual transportation was probably the transition from horse to the car. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, (I was excited to roll up my sleeves and do some research/ glad that someone else was thinking about this too) for me someone had already looked into the relics from our horse-reliant past. This mental floss article explains each of these in detail, but essentially these urban relics are:

  • Stables
  • Carriage Houses
  • Horse walks (horse staircases)
  • Troughs
  • Fountains
  • Auction Houses
  • Horse blocks (to give us short people a much-needed boost)
  • Hitching posts and tethering rings
  • Horsecar tracks

Then there are the indirect impacts that are needed to feed the horses and deal with their waste like barns or grain silos to house their feed. As these are living creatures, waste collection and ways of dealing with manure and urine became important as well. Each animal produced 22 pounds of manure a day on average, I mean just imagine the… puns!! And the sanitary conditions, that’s important too! Y’all (I) thought snow is an issue when clearing streets, but imagine the equine alternative. I digress, but there were whole initiatives to deal with this including inviting farmers to come and collect the manure for free or would collect and sell the manure on their own. Then there are the jobs related to horse care like blacksmiths, stable people, veterinarians, trainers, carriage drivers, etc. The horse flu epidemic (the Great Epizootic) in the 1870’s left many horses dead in the streets. Cities didn’t have the capacity to deal with the carcasses so they were just left to rot. It sure puts those special parking arrangements into perspective, doesn’t it?

Modern Parallels

Many of these items have direct parallels in our modern world. Stables = our parking garages, Carriage Houses = car ports/ home garages, horse walks = car elevators, troughs and fountains= gas stations, auction houses are pretty much the same but require way more impervious surface. Horse blocks have been built into our current vehicles. Hitching posts and tethering rings= on-street parking. Horsecar tracks are actually quite useful nowadays as many cities are reviving streetcar systems and make an easier transition from current status to autonomous vehicles for transit.

The waste problem also has parallels. Instead of physical manure, the effects have been much less tangible over the past decades. Our environment has still suffered, but at a different cost to air quality and climate change versus piles of excrement. Jobs related to driving- especially specialized drivers with commercial driver’s licenses such as bus drivers and operators, freight truck drivers, streetcar operators (especially for heritage lines) and associated car care employment may soon have to adapt to the new trends or be retrained entirely. Dealing with abandoned cars in the streets is an issue that we’ve learned to deal with through towing companies, but what will happen when an AV vehicle fails and breaks down in the street? Tow trucks will likely still exist, but what will they look like as the vehicle designs change?

The Future is Now…

How I see it, our future can be predicted this way as well. Our concept for garages will need to change. There may not be a use for personal garages in the future, so we’ll likely absorb them as part of our living spaces. This is happening now. Watch HGTV for a hot second and there they are converting a garage to a ‘man-cave’ or a “she-cave”. Gas stations will die out for charging stations as we go electric, and they should adapt to become entertainment centers or community gathering spaces that do more than just gas up your vehicle. On-street parking can be traded for more green space or space allocated to alternative modes of transportation, or both (pervious bike lanes) to accomplish environmental goals. Our car stables (parking garages) will also need some rethinking and I have some ideas… which I’ll share in a future post, but it serves to be our biggest opportunity. The spaces are unfit for housing, but have other uses that they could easily transition to in order for cities to meet their goals and accommodate growth.

With the average age of a personal car hitting over 10 years old, it may be a while until we see a wholesale overhaul of our surface transportation system. The road ahead is not going to be easy, it will involve tradeoffs and lessons learned, but if we take a cue from the past, we can avoid and make up for some of the mistakes we made with the horseless carriage.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, 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 and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.





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