Small things

Small things

Photo of Vienna Museumsquartier courtyard filled with large tent

It’s a small thing but …

Artaustria has set-up a huge tent in the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) courtyard for a three-day art show exhibiting Austrian paintings and art. So far, so good. But …

Photo of Museumsquartier courtyard without tent

MQ courtyard, one of Vienna’s most popular outdoor spaces.

Why here? The MQ courtyard is one of the most beloved open spaces in Vienna. It’s packed all year round. The tent takes up most of it. And, although the event only lasts three days, set-up began a week earlier and take-down will take several days, so the courtyard is occupied for almost two weeks in mid-summer when we’re all itching to be outdoors post Covid.

Sure, it makes sense to have an art show in the middle of several wonderful art galleries, but were there no other options?

How about in front of the MQ? While this is also popular open space it’s not as pleasant as the courtyard due to the vehicle traffic and therefore not as well used.

How about in an existing building? It’s not as if Vienna doesn’t have any good indoor spaces for an art show. Especially now with hotels and conference facilities empty due to Covid.

Furthermore, tent needs to be heavily air conditioned to protect the art – wasting much more energy than an existing building.

And the air conditioning ruins the remaining courtyard with noise, blowing hot air, and perhaps particulates (are they diesel generators?).

Photo of large tent in Vienna MuseumsQuartier courtyard - June 2021

Noise and hot air from air conditioning equipment makes the MQ courtyard uninviting.

Think about this in connection with society’s goal of creating more sustainable and livable cities, and you’re left scratching your head.

So, yes, the Artaustria tent is a small thing, perhaps someone balanced the negative environmental and urban livability issues against the benefits, but maybe not – and that’s the problem: many small things add up to an uninhabitable world.

Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2021

Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2021

TRB Annual Meeting 2021 Logo graphic

My thoughts about this year’s Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRBAM), which was held virtually in January 2021. I’ve been a regular TRB meeting attendee since the 1980s and serve on several TRB committees.

Committee Meetings – Excellent

Black cat with zoom on computer screen

More attendees than usual at TRB committee meetings.

Especially good was higher attendance made possible by fewer conflicts than at real meeting.

Chair’s meeting management is critical (TRB should provide 10 rules for good zoom management to all chairs! For example Zoom tips from Seth Godin).

Presentations at committee meetings helped keep interest. I tuned into several committee meetings just because of the presentations!

Recommendations:

  • keep the sub-committee meetings virtual,
  • hold sub-committee meetings before January,
  • consider holding some committee meetings online,
  • post sub-committee/committee meeting agendas in online platform early.

Poster Sessions – Mixed

Andrew Nash with 2020 TRB poster on railway digitalisation

Andy Nash with Railway digitalisation poster TRB 2020

I had a poster.for our paper Experimentation as a Public Engagement Strategy in the Bridge X Proposal for Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge It was great to be able to upload 4 files. We uploaded a video presentation and our presentation slides.

The video presentation was just like a lectern presentation, this is really great.

Unfortunately, we did not receive any feedback on our poster. Maybe the subject was uninteresting, but you did not have the impression anyone was “walking by” during the live session and only two people left comments. (It would also be good to be notified by mail when someone left a comment.)

In short, the virtual session missed the spontaneous interaction of an in person and physical session.

Finally, identifying the posters you wanted to see and then navigating through the virtual system to view them was clunky … there were lots of clicks, signing-in again, the inability to keep several digital discussion windows open simultaneously (so we could monitor our poster and view our virtual “neighbors” poster) …

Recommendations:

  • return to holding physical poster sessions,
  • keep ability to upload video presentations before meeting.

Lectern Sessions

Diagram summarising strategies for using experimentation in transport

Slide from our presentation on experimentation in transport planning.

These worked well on-line. Of course, physical would be better.

Much appreciated that the viewing period was extended through March.

Often the presentation only sessions arranged by committees are excellent. These presentations should also be available on the TRBAM Library discussed below. (With videos of the sessions if possible.)

Discovery

Given the size of the TRBAM it’s always been a problem to discover the papers, posters and sessions you want to see. The online program was fine but the lack of integration with the virtual platform was a drag (just as the lack of integration between the mobile app and online program was in the early years).

A better key word search, consistent across posters, papers and sessions would be great.

Related, authors should be able to directly enter the committees they want to review their papers. Maybe this is a SAGE journal thing but having the committees and sub-committees in the key words section seems convoluted. Keep key words and committees separate.

Also, the letter-number TRB committee labeling is difficult. Not only are zeros, “Os”, ones and “Ls” mixed in (is it a zero? Or an O?), but people referring to committees by these labels is a real turn off for new people.

Availability

Photo of Capitol Bikeshare bikes in snow at night

Snow at the 2020 TRB Annual Meeting.

The TRB Annual Meeting posters, papers and presentations should be more easily available online and available for a longer time.

It would be great to be able to use the better key word search system described above to actually access these files.

Open the TRBAM Library in December, authors upload materials before the meeting, and make them available for attendees until, for example, March.

Summary

Everyone did a great job this year. It was remarkable how well the meetings went; how much information was exchanged, and how much work was done.

But I look forward to meeting in person next year!

Using Traffic Signals to Encourage Active Transport – Examples

Using Traffic Signals to Encourage Active Transport – Examples

Photo of two people waiting to cross an empty street

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

Illustration of an intersection with traffic signal indications

Normal operations.

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.

Illustration of an intersection with traffic signal indications

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.

Mobile Apps to Influence Signal Timing/Phasing

The idea of using mobile apps to influence traffic signal timing and/or phasing to provide advantages for pedestrians and cyclists has been evaluated in several research projects and prototype applications. The idea is similar to vehicle-based systems (e.g., traffic signal priority or emergency vehicle priority) but using personal devices carried by pedestrians and cyclists.

The Netherlands has a program where mobile phones are used to alert smart traffic signals about approaching cyclists and other roadway users. The BITS Project has an interesting news item describing the real-time system and how smart traffic signals have been hacked by researchers. The BITS project also describes a program called SnifferBike in Utrecht which uses mobile phone data to evaluate route choice and delays cyclists experience at traffic signals. BITS – Bicycles and ITS is a great source of information on ideas for using traffic signals and other technology to support cycling. Here’s an article from BITS on using sensors to detect groups of cyclists (“pelotons”) and use the data to influence traffic signal timing to encourage cycling: Better flow for cyclists thanks to link with ITS technology.

A recent product called PedPal, has been developed by Carnegie Mellon University, with funding from ATTRI. It is a mobile smartphone application that enables pedestrians to communicate directly with signalized intersections and to influence traffic control decisions to their advantage. PedPal combines emerging connected vehicle communication technology with a recently developed real-time, adaptive traffic signal control system to provide for a safer and more efficient intersection crossing experience for pedestrians with disabilities.

Safety and Active Transport

Figure summarizing the status of Vision Zero improvements in San Francisco.

Walk SF’s San Francisco Vision Zero Summary

It’s intuitive that safety would have an influence on peoples’ desire to walk or ride a bike. Here’s a very nice graphic from Walk SF’s Report on the Status of Vision Zero in San Francisco. Notice they all involve traffic signals and intersection design.

There’s been lots of research on perceived safety and cycling, especially interesting are studies using the four types of cyclist model that use a measure of cyclist traffic stress … how stressed out cyclists feel riding in a particular location … in the planning process.

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.

Experimentation in Transport – Examples

Experimentation in Transport – Examples

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

Photo of a streetcar in Toronto

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.

European Railway Song Contest – for the Year of Rail

European Railway Song Contest – for the Year of Rail

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!

Wiener Grantig: New Bus-Tram Stop Signs

Wiener Grantig: New Bus-Tram Stop Signs

Photos of old and new bus stop signs in Vienna

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.

ORIGINAL POST

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).

Screenshot from BusMeister game showing bus stop improvements

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!

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