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!

Experimentation in Transport Planning – 2021 TRB

Experimentation in Transport Planning – 2021 TRB

Illustration of Bridge X proposal for Brooklyn Bridge developed by ScenesLab

We applied the strategies for transport experimentation in our Bridge X design for the Re-imagining Brooklyn Bridge design competition in 2020 (Source: ScenesLab, www.bridgex.today).

Our paper Experimentation as a Public Engagement Strategy in the Bridge X Proposal for Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge was selected for presentation at the 2021 Transportation Research Board meeting, this year all online.

UPDATE: If you know of examples of using experimentation in transport, please add them in the comments or on the post Experimentation in Transport Examples.

The paper presents recommended strategies for using experimentation to implement big transport changes in cities. Cities have been using tactical urbanism to implement “small” changes for many years, but only rarely have experimented with big changes. The strategies were identified by looking at examples of big changes including removal of San Francisco freeways, introduction of congestion charging in Stockholm and pedestrianization of Times Square.

Illustration from BridgeX proposal by ScenesLab

BridgeX balcony zone by ScenesLab

We applied the recommended experimentation strategies in developing the BridgeX proposal for New York’s Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge design competition in summer 2020. The big change consisted of creating open space on the existing Brooklyn-bound lanes and shifting all traffic to the existing Manhattan-bound lanes while the bridge’s promenade deck is widened to reduce pedestrian and cyclist overcrowding. New Yorkers could decide to keep the open space or return traffic to the Brooklyn-bound deck after completion of the promenade widening. The same experiment could be tested with the winning proposal Brooklyn Bridge Forest.

We’ll be online for our poster presentation in TRB 2021 – Session 1175 – Current Issues in Public Engagement and Communications; Tuesday 26 January 2021; 11:30 AM to 13:00. Here are links to our presentation slides and video. And, here’s the paper abstract:

Cities are increasingly using experimentation to test innovative and controversial policies and infrastructure projects. Experimentation consists of making temporary changes, carefully assessing their impacts, and using this assessment to decide whether to keep the changes or refine them. For example, tactical urbanism tests small changes such as cycling lanes. Using experimentation for large changes is more difficult and often depends on seizing unique opportunities. This paper outlines a model and recommendations for using experimentation in transport planning and applies them in a case study. It argues that enabling people to directly experience the impacts of a transport change provides them with a much better understanding of project impacts and benefits than possible in traditional transport planning processes. The case study describes how experimentation was integrated into Bridge X, a proposal prepared for the Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge competition. Bridge X combined one large transport experiment (replacing the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound vehicle lanes with space for active transport and open space), with many small urban design and transport experiments on multimodal access routes, the vacated bridge deck and anchorage areas. Bridge X proposed initial ideas for these transport and open space designs as well as community engagement processes. A continuing public engagement process was proposed to refine these initial ideas. This paper presents a model for using experimentation in transport planning, the case study and recommendations.

Traffic Signals for Active Mobility

Traffic Signals for Active Mobility

Photo of people waiting to cross street in Vienna.

Many people waiting to cross this street in Vienna did not know they needed to push a button for the walk signal.

I’ve found, in my walks and rides through cities, that traffic signals really impact my route selection. I avoid intersections where I need to wait a long time or need to cross in multiple stages (the completely awful waiting on a traffic island with traffic speeding by on both sides). In other words, from my perspective at least, traffic signals have a huge impact on pedestrians and cyclists.

Photo of a cyclist green wave signal in Vienna.

A cyclist green wave traffic signal on Vienna’s Praterstrasse.

On the other hand, some cities are changing their traffic signals to improve walking and cycling. Methods include count-down timers, improved timing to reduce pedestrian wait times, using sensors to detect waiting pedestrians rather than forcing them to push a (beg) button and green-wave timing for cycles.

UPDATE: If you have ideas for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling, please add them to the comments below or the comments on my list of Traffic Signal Strategies for Encouraging Active Transport.

I thought it would be interesting to comprehensively document these techniques for using traffic signals to encourage (or at least, not discourage) walking and cycling. Therefore, in 2020 I prepared a research proposal for developing a set of best practices for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling. Here’s the abstract:

Traffic signals are a key element of urban transport. They allocate, in time, street space to users. Traffic signals were invented as part of the effort to make room for motor vehicles in the early 1900s. Traffic signal planning, arguably, incorporates an unconscious bias towards prioritising motor vehicle flow. Furthermore, traffic signal planning (e.g., timing, phasing, location) is complex, making it difficult for non-specialists to effectively participate in design decisions. Some cities are using traffic signals to increase walking (e.g., smart signals) and cycling (e.g., green waves), but many of these strategies and their detailed engineering are not widely known. The project’s objective is to identify, design and communicate strategies for using traffic signals to increase the use and safety of walking and cycling. Therefore, this project will bring together traffic signal planners with academics, NGOs and local residents, to survey existing methods, develop new strategies, and broadly communicate recommended best practices, for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling. Importantly, because autonomous vehicles will also need some process for allocating right-of-way at intersections, the project will consider how the best practice strategies can be implemented in both today’s traffic signals and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicle control software.

Cartoon asking what if intersection crossings were designed for pedestrians not vehicles?

Comic by Dhiru Thadani, Source: Strong Towns.

One of the proposal’s organising concepts was that we currently focus on allocating street space … we should think more systematically about allocating TIME. For example: Why, when most cities have the goal of encouraging walking and cycling, do they focus on timing their signals to encourage driving?

We also planned to develop and investigate new technologies and practices that could be applied to traffic signals to help encourage walking and cycling like using sensors to give early green phases when pedestrians or cyclists are waiting – but there is no opposing vehicle traffic.

Unfortunately the proposal was rejected by the funding agency, but I still think it would be an excellent research project. Contact me and I can send you more information and put you in contact with my excellent team of collaborators.

References

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