Here’s a location where sensors and an immediate green for pedestrians when no opposing traffic would make sense. Several people, one pushing a baby carriage, crossed against the light in the time before the light finally turned green for pedestrians.
After my post Traffic Signals for Active Mobility several people sent ideas for and examples of using traffic signals to encourage active walking and cycling, so I thought it would be a nice idea to keep track of the ideas just in case someone decides to pursue the idea of developing a best practices summary in the future.
Self-Controlled Traffic Signals
Self-controlled traffic signals use sensors to detect how many vehicles, cycles and pedestrians are approaching from each direction and the optimization algorithm continuously recalculates signal timing to minimize stop time for everyone. The approach was tested in Lucern Switzerland during 2020. After implementation the average waiting time for pedestrian traffic at one intersection was reduced by 29 percent thanks to self-control, and by 18 percent for car, motorcycle and bicycle traffic (ETH Zurich Research Report – German).
Reduced waiting time for pedestrians and cyclists = more walking and cycling!
Plus … no one gets mad waiting for traffic signals while no traffic is coming = less crossing against the signal and fewer complaints about the city not knowing what they are doing.
Real Time All-way Walk Phases
Figure 1 (top) shows normal traffic signal operation. Traffic and pedestrians on up-down street have right of way (green signals). Vehicles/bikes and pedestrians on cross-street are waiting (red signal).
Sensors determine there is no vehicle/bike traffic approaching on up-down street.
Figure 2 (bottom) shows that vehicle/bike traffic on up-down street receives a red signal and pedestrians on cross-street receive a green signal enabling them to start crossing the up-down street early.
It might be possible to exempt bikes from stopping and allow them to start crossing the up-down street with the pedestrians, but this would require some good cooperation from everyone.
Independent 4-way walk phase.
Real time all walk phases would be especially useful on one-way arterials where traffic often moves in bunches down the street, leaving relatively long periods where no traffic is coming. This encourages pedestrians to cross against the light (in New York this is practically standard procedure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous).
The photo at the top of this post shows one of these situations in Vienna. I was shocked to see a person pushing a baby carriage cross against the light.
Your idea here!
I’d like to make this an updated list of ideas. So please send your ideas or comments to the above and I’ll update this post in the future.
In our paper Experimentation in Transport Planning: BridgeX Case Study presented at the 2021 Transportation Research Board annual meeting, we looked at how experimentation has been used to test transport changes before a decision is made whether to keep, refine or remove the change. Tactical urbanism is a form of experimentation and it’s now a well established approach for testing small changes.
Our paper examines the idea of using experimentation for larger projects. We investigate examples and identify a set of best practices for using experimentation on large projects. Our examples were: removal of freeways in San Francisco, Stockholm’s congestion charging program, New York’s Times Square pedestrianisation, Vienna’s Mariahilfestrasse shared space and several more. I thought it would be interesting to keep a list of more examples. This is it. Send me additions and corrections.
Toronto King Street Streetcar
Streetcar in Toronto
Toronto tested a public transport priority project for it’s very busy King Street streetcar line starting in 2017. The test was hugely successful and the project was made permanent in 2018. The project used all the strategies identified in our research: (1) inclusive and detailed advance planning, (2) quick and dirty implementation, and (3) rapid and continuous improvement.
Laurence Lui, of the Toronto Transit Commission made a presentation summarising the project to the TRB’s Streetcar Subcommittee on 12 January 2021, here a link: Performance of the King Street Streetcar Pilot Program (to be added).
More Projects Coming
Send me additions and corrections.
2021 is the European Year of Rail. It reminded me of an idea I had several years ago that European Railways should start something like the European Song Contest, In this case it would be the “European Train Song Contest” and it could be held every year in one of Europe’s beautiful old (and new) train stations. I still think that would be a cool idea. It would be a lot of fun to start in this Year of Rail!
I had the idea after making my first music video parody: What do you get when you take the train? It’s based on that great Burt Bacharach / Hal David song I’ll never fall in love again. My line is … I’ll never take a plane again. Well, at least until tomorrow. I worked in a little Amy Winehouse at the end with … try to get me in an airport, I say no, no, no. Filmed on location at Vienna’s Westbahnhof in November 2008.
Let me know if you want to work on this idea!
Vienna’s old bus/tram stop sign on the left and new sign on the right.
UPDATE: 14 January 2021
Of course the Wiener Linien, the public transport company that makes Vienna the world’s most livable city, has very good reasons for the new signs. (I should have known given the overall excellent quality of the Wiener Linien public information.) I just saw a video about the Wiener Linien’s new signs on LinkedIn that describes their advantages:
- Signs designed with strong involvement of accessibility community;
- Barrier free (type size, contrast, audio information, big red post);
- Video displays that provide route information, schedules, transfer points, walking distances, changeable with an accessible button;
- Information consistent with the WienMobil Vienna multimodal trip planning app
As they say at the end of the video, the new signs provide more information, more comfort and are more barrier free. Again, the Wiener Linien shows why they are the leader in all things public transport. I can always see the old signs in the wonderful public transport museum Remise Vienna transport history museum.
The Viennese have a reputation in Austria of being grumpy (“grantig” in German). They are also, justifiably in many cases given the city’s beautiful historic buildings, parks and public spaces, not particularly enamored with change.
After living here 13+ years maybe I’m finally becoming Viennese. I’m really grantig about the new signs being used to designate bus and tram stops (Haltestelle).
BusMeister game bus stop improvements panel.
The old signs are simple, low tech, instantly recognisable, useful (most have attached garbage cans as shown in the photo) and clear. Note how the old tram signs are oval and outlined in red while the bus signs are half-oval and outlined in blue. I was surprised that the game designers who created my BusMeister game actually knew this difference and incorporated the half-oval signs into the game. And, of course, the old low-tech signs are also consistent with Vienna’s historic feel.
The new signs just seem blocky (in contrast to the old signs’ simple elegance). Sure they include the real time display (which is on a separate pole at many stops with the old signs), they clearly show the stop name, and they use more up-to-date fonts, icons and corporate design. But, hey, I’ve become old fashioned.
There’s no question in my mind that the Wiener Linien (Vienna’s public transport company) is the finest public transport operator in the world, but I just wish they would keep the old signs!
Andy and one of Vienna’s great pedestrian information maps on the corner of Mariahilfestrasse and Kaiserstrasse in Vienna.
This year I’ve been getting more involved in local transport planning politics – reminding me of my days as a leader in San Francisco’s environmental movement.
In October I had an idea for people to meet in the morning and take a walk together before work: Walk to (home) work. I submitted the idea to Agenda Neubau, a city district supported effort to encourage residents to get involved in neighbourhood planning (they provide some professional advisors, organisational resources and a small budget for projects), and it was accepted. We were even given a budget for small treats after the walks.
We had three walks before the latest Covid-19 lockdown meant we could not meet and walk together any longer. Now we are walking alone and sending photos to the Agenda Neubau. We’ll organise a group walk after the lockdown and have a nice breakfast together to make up for all the missed treats.
Here’s the Walk to (home) work project description on Agenda Neubau’s website. And here’s a link to the Walk to (home) work with Andy! post.