Melbourne is Counting Pedestrians in Real Time

You can’t manage what you don’t measure is an old management adage. In many ways the way we have managed our streets has proved this point. Every time a new building goes up, or a transportation project is proposed the number of cars are counted and projections for the number of cars in the future provided.  Yet, cities traditionally have done a pretty poor job of keeping track of how many people get around on foot or by bike. What we get then are streets that are really only designed for people in cars.

An example of one City that is filling this void is Melbourne, which has developed a sophisticated 24-hour pedestrian counting system. The City has set up 28 sensors installed under an awning or on a street pole in the city centre. The sensors, pictured below, counts all pedestrian movements, in two directions, passing through the counting zone.

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Not only are the pedestrians counted, but the data is shared in real time on a snazzy looking site.  From the website, you can drill down and see exactly how many people walk down a given street in Melbourne at a given time of day. This shot was taken today at 5pm Eastern or just after 8am in Melbourne.

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Accurate counts of pedestrians and cyclists is very important in order to influence policy, inform transportation planning, and support investments in infrastructure that support physical activity, such as walkways and bicycle facilities.  I hope to see systems like the one in Melbourne in cities across Canada soon!

Better Streets: Vanderbilt Avenue, New York City

The New York City Department of Transportation has released a report on the economic benefits of its better streets. The report has seven case studies which provide evidence that there is a real economic benefit to improving streets.

For example, Vanderbilt Avenue was retrofitted to create a dedicated cycling space, improve pedestrian safety, calm traffic, and improve the streetscape. The transformation can be seen below:

Vanderbilt Avenue Before and After

Vanderbilt Avenue Before and After

Vanderbilt Avenue performed much better than two similar sites in Brooklyn. The authors argue:

It is reasonable to conclude that the improved safety, shortened crossings, and new landscaping all combined to increase foot and bicycle traffic and enhance the sense of place, creating a virtuous cycle of retail development that was greater than it otherwise would have been.

As can be seen from the chart, the combined retail sales on Vanderbilt Avenue outperformed both the borough as a whole and two comparison sites. This shows at the very least that a significant transformation of a street won’t necessarily hurt business or retail.

Comparison of Combined Retail  Sales

Comparison of Combined Retail Sales

Check out the report to see some of the other case studies. The methodology is definitely one that should be examined by cities implementing street transformation in order to gather evidence and build the case for better streets.

Better Streets: Indianapolis Cultural Trail

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I’m always amazed at the variety of projects that are in the works in cities across North America to improve the public realm and make cities more vibrant and walkable. For example, in May of this year, Indianapolis put the finishing touches on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail:  A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick. The trail, pictured above, is a 13km greenway through the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Project for Public Spaces describes the project as “what may be the boldest step of any American city towards supporting bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Rundell Ernstberger Associates designed the trail to be a major pedestrian and cycling route as well as a significant piece of storm water infrastructure. The swales and trees planted along the trail’s route provide significant environmental benefits.

What is most incredible is the trail, which cost $63 million to build, was largely financed by private donations, including a $15 million donation from Indianapolis developer Gene Glick. Clearly, Mr. Glick, a housing developer, saw value in improving walkability and public space in downtown Indianapolis.

A study by university students from Butler University attempts to quantify some of the trail’s early environmental and economic impacts. The study found that planting a significant number of trees, over five hundred, provides energy conservation benefits, improves air quality, and raises property values along the trail. However, while most businesses interviewed along the trail did not see a significant increase in sales, they also did not see a decrease. In this case, there was no evidence that removing traffic lanes to widen the sidewalks and add bike lanes and swales negatively affected businesses.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an excellent example of how private and public investments in streets can improve the qualify of life and the quality of public space in cities. For a better sense of some the trails features check out this video on The Magnificent Bioswales & Stromwater Treatment Along the Indy Cultural Trail.

The Magnificent Bioswales & Stormwater Treatment Along the Indy Cultural Trail from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Better Streets: Fountains Place, Poynton

Photo by SK121NZ

Photo by SK121NZ

In England, the Village of Poynton has implemented a bold transformation of its centre, Fountains Place, which is located at the crossing of three major routes, London Road (A523), Chester Road (A5149) and Park Lane. Nearly 26,000 cars pass through the large intersection in the heart of the village every day. This traffic and the design of the intersection had a significant negative impact on the community. As Hamilton-Baillie Associates write in the Poynton Town Centre Study:

Pedestrian activity on Fountains Place is constrained by the layout of the junction and intrusive impacts of the large volumes of traffic. Street activity is limited to the functional, with pedestrians moving around the margins of the space and opportunities for pedestrians to move through and across the junction compromised by the limited crossing facilities. The church is particularly isolated by the lack of crossings from Park Lane.

Poynton before

From video “Poynton Regenerated”

In order to revitalize the centre, Hamilton-Baillie proposed an innovative solution, a shared space. The result:

Poynton after

From video “Poynton Regenerated”

As can be seen, the intersection was entirely transformed. The traffic lights were removed, the sidewalks widened, the curbs were taken out, and public space was reclaimed in front of the church. As can be seen the new intersection looks better, but does it work better?

So far the consensus seems to be that the intersection is safer. Traffic moves just as well, or maybe even a little better than it did before. But above all, there is more vitality and energy in the centre of the village. Its has become a meeting place instead of merely a place to pass through.

To see an excellent overview of the project and its results I recommend watching the following 15 minute video produced by Hamilton-Baillie. As one commentator in the video observes, people are not crossing with their heads down or focused on waiting for a green light. Instead “Most people crossing the road will wave (to the driver). That goes on to feed all these other small gestures of kindess and consideration.”

Better Streets: Lancaster Boulevard, Lancaster

Photo by San Diego American Planning Journal

Lancaster Boulevard. Photo by San Diego American Planning Journal

How can an arterial streets be improved? Lancaster, a city of 158,000 provides some lessons. The city recently completed an $11.5 million dollar project to revitalize its main street, Lancaster Boulevard. The main street, like many in North America, was in decline due to competition from commercial centers and strip malls. For years, big box retailers and regional malls had captured nearly all new commercial growth. The City was looking for a strategy to revitalize the main street and settled on a revitalization that emphasized slowing traffic and improving the streetscape. The results, profiled by NRDC Switchboard and the San Diego American Planning Journal are incredible.

The City hired the architecture and planning firm Moule & Polyzoides to redesign Lancaster Boulevard from a four lane arterial into a walkable main street. The most innovative part of the project was implementing the “Ramblas” concept. The Ramblas, which runs in the middle of the street, includes a flexibly designed space that could be used for either parking or for special events.

Other elements included widening sidewalks, building awnings and arcades, providing outdoor dining, enhancing crosswalks, planting trees, and adding lighting, gateways and public art.

The Multi-Use Ramblas. Photo by the San Diego American Planning Journal

The Ramblas in Parking mode. Photo by the San Diego American Planning Journal

The economic results? According to Moule & Polyzoides forty-nine new businesses have opened, property values rose by 10 percent (the rest of the city saw a 1.25 percent decline), and 800 permanent jobs were created. Furthermore, there were significant benefits to public safety. Traffic collision rates were cut in half, while injury-related collisions plummeted 85 percent as a result of the new street design and traffic pattern (based on a comparison of the two years prior to the transformation with the two years following).

City of Lancaster Christmas Market. Photo by THE Blvd

The Ramblas in event mode. Photo by THE Blvd

Those are impressive gains and demonstrate how transforming streets can transform communities. Lancaster Boulevard is a great example of how an arterial can be retrofitted to create a street that attracts development, improves safety, and promotes walkability.

Stroad: A bad Road and bad Street

Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco, California via Strode to Boulevard

Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco, California via Strode to Boulevard

Happy New Year!

My first post of the year is about a tumbler I stumbled upon “Stroad to Boulevard” by @Neil21.  For those who do not know, a stroad is:

A street-road hybrid that frustrates everybody who uses it. Roads efficiently connect clusters of destinations. Streets are the spaces between those local destinations. Roads are fast, wide and straight. Streets have intersections, crosswalks, parking, cyclists and sidewalks.

A Stroad is both a bad Road and bad Street: the worst of both worlds, frustrating and harming drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, businesses and homeowners.

Stroads are commonly called Arterials in North America. They are an anachronism, surviving only by inertia from 1960s traffic engineering guidebooks.

The tumbler exhibits examples of Boulevards across the world. I share Neil’s enthusiasm for boulevards as an alternative to Arterials. Adopting a boulevard approach would be one of the best strategies for improving walkability along post war arterial roads.

Inspiration for the tumbler is drawn from Allan B. Jacobs’ wonderful The Boulevard Book, which also provided me with a great deal of insight while working on my graduate research project. I have been meaning to add this book to my personal library.

So check out Neil’s tumbler and buy the Boulevard Book!

Can driverless cars pave the way for complete streets?

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Richard Gilbert is writing a comprehensive series in the Globe and Mail on driverless cars. I’ve written before on the topic, but Richard has done an amazing job researching the technology’s potential. Most tantalizing he suggests that driverless car sharing services may be available in as few as five years:

Google has hinted that it may see car-sharing as the primary business model for its driverless car technology. The above-noted statement by IEEE members suggested that driverless cars will be much used in car sharing programs. A car-sharing service using driverless cars and an AT service amount to essentially the same thing.

My personal hope is that the new technology will not only change how we move around but how our cities look, paving the way for complete streets. Not every house will need a garage or as big a garage if more cars are shared. Malls and retail centres won’t need as many parking spaces, and the ones we do build can be built out of the way. We can better share the space on our roads because automated cars will be able to use it more efficiently. This technology provides a great deal of promise and Richard makes it clear that my generation is ready for a transportation revolution.

Toronto’s Dangerous Streets

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This week Toronto had another reminder of how arterial streets are dangerous places.  On Monday, eight people in Toronto were hit within a 45 minute period. While details on most of the collisions are sparse, the two where a location was provided occurred on wide streets where the speed limit was over 50km/hr. This is not surprising as it is on these types of streets where 2/3 of all pedestrian fatalities occur.

Kennedy Ave. & Corvette Ave.

Kennedy Ave. & Corvette Ave. where an 83 year old man was struck and taken to hospital.

Don Mills & Havenbrook Blvd.

Don Mills & Havenbrook Blvd. where a women pushing a stroller was hit.

Police responded to the rash of accidents by advising people to wear light-coloured clothing to be more conspicuous. The Ontario Safety League echoed the statement saying “pedestrians simply need to be more visible during this time of year, when the days are getting shorter.”

Brighter clothes might help in some instances, but if we want to make walking and driving safer we need to change streets, not just clothes. In September, the Ontario Chief Coroner released a Pedestrian Death Review.The review contained a  range of recommendations to prevent accidents on streets like those picture on the right. They include:

  • Reducing the number of travel lanes
  • Installing wide parking lanes
  • Reducing the width of travel lanes, in concert with the introduction of cycling lanes
  • Installing centre medians
  • Introducing road diets
  • Installing automated traffic enforcement systems which are scientifically validated and strategically located

It is time that we start discussing these recommendations to improve safety on Toronto’s dangerous streets.

Better Streets – Knox Street, Dallas

Knox Street Before Transformation. Photo by Team Better Block

In September, the Dallas Team Better Block re-engineered a three block stretch of  Knox Street for four days. The project successfully calmed traffic, create more opportunities for pedestrians to safely cross, and made a historic business district into a more comfortable and vibrant place. How?

The demonstration project involved converting:

the four lane auto-dominated street into a two lane complete street. Parking was changed from dangerous 90 degree head-in to 45 degree angle, a center turn lane made it easier to turn and reduced lane widths from 12 feet to 10 feet and improved traffic calming. A dedicated two-way cycle track further reduced the width of the street, making it easier for pedestrians to cross.

The project on Knox Street was the first demonstration of a Complete Street in Dallas. Dallas launched a Complete Streets Initiative in June 2011, with the goal of instituting a new approach to designing and building streets. They are planning a least a dozen more demonstrations.

Knox after Transformation. Photo by Team Better Block

What I like most about the experiment was the Team Better Block not only re-engineered the street, they created economic activity by converted a vacant gas station to a market and outdoor beer garden, and created new ‘green’ space through the incorporation of parklets and additional public seating.

Parklette. Photo by Team Better Block

A great example of how we can experiment with streets. Not every project needs to cost millions.  Experimentation and flexibility are the key building better streets.

Better Streets – Woodland Ave & S 42nd St, Philadelphia

Woodland Ave & S 42nd St, Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Google Maps

We are all too familiar with the kind of corner pictured above. Forgettable, except for the planters placed to make it little less grey. We have lots of these types of forgotten corners in Toronto and cities across North America. It is the kind of corner we come to expect.

Yet, as reported in Next American City, Philadelphia is remaking corners like these. If fact, the corner above was transformed for $50,000, slightly more the the cost of the average kitchen renovation, into the beautiful space below:

Photo Credit: Alex Vuocolo/NAC

The renovation was paid for as part of a project that aims to reduce storm water runoff and encourage walkability. The planters are built from reclaimed lumber and are filled with native plant-life.

This project is the result of a collaboration between the City the local Business Improvement Area, University City District, and the University of Pennsylvania to lower costs and work on ensuring the space will be properly maintained.  A great example of how everyday places can be transformed and sustained.