Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unthinking the Freeway

Building a freeway is the unthinking solution to addressing transportation problems. Its unthinking because freeway building is, at best, a band-aid solution to clearing our transportation arteries. But, more to my point, freeway building is unthinking because it really does not involve that much thinking. Building a freeway has become an impulsive act and process. On the flip side solutions that may be slightly more unconventional and require more time and energy in the planning stage are overlooked.
Highway 1 West, Victoria BC.

The Prevailing Standard
The prevailing ideology in transportation planning is to increase motor vehicle speed while reducing congestion and conflict. The engineering tools to accomplish this are well developed and widespread. One tool commonly used are level of service indicators.  If passing on a highway becomes difficult and/speed is reduced or varies the level of service is considered poor. If a highway fails to meet a minimum level of service than it is assessed as needing more lanes, more interchanges or other mediation. The use of these relatively simple tools has become routine and the applied solutions are similarly orthodox.

Some Assessments Prevailing Standards
Building infrastructure for the automobile is a relatively inefficient use of land compared other modes of transportation. Freeways are built for 20-30% of the week when motor vehicle traffic peaks (even in peak hours only half the freeway is really in use). Building freeways for peak traffic hours has resulted in a poor and inefficient use of valuable land. Replacing a freeway link with rail for example would (when factoring in the need for parking) would use up to twenty times less land (B Meyer 2000).
(Source: Sallis 2007)
Freeway construction encourages highly segregated land use development. Segregated land use leads to car centered sprawling suburbs and exclusively long trip distances. Sprawl creates scattered developments with poor accessibility between co-dependent land uses. Suburban sprawl, driven by freeway expansion, is expected to cost federal, provincial and municipal governments an extra 250 billion dollars over the next 25 years. These extra costs come from extending services such as local roads, sewer lines, school buses and fire protection to far flung places (Burchell 2000).

Air quality in metropolitan areas across Canada are strongly linked to sprawl and freeway expansion. Tailpipe emissions and fossil fuel consumption are leading contributors to co2 levels and air-born particulates. The majority of air pollutants and one third of green house grass emissions in Canada are caused by automobile use.

Innovative Strategies
We have many different transportation tools available to us. The automobile is only one of these tools, but has become central focus of most of our transportation planning. Alternatives to freeway construction such as multi-modal transportation and integrated transit are less methodical and not as conventional. You have to get cars, buses, trucks, trains, bikes, pedestrians and ferries all working together and this is not easy to do. It involves a lot of thinking and re-thinking. Trains, shared cars, ferries, shared bikes and buses that may have operated as separate systems may need greater integration. Creating a functioning multi-modal and integrated system is a much more cerebral task for transportation engineers than planning and designing a freeway.
Bicycle Hanging Racks on Transit
Connecting bikes to public transit is an excellent means of creating better multi-modal and integrated transit systems.  Providing spaces for bikes on buses and trains has become common in many Canadian cities. However, to establish a realistic alternative to freeway expansion and a truly integrated transit system we must creating quality connections between bikes and public transit. Quality connections include:
  • matching bicycle travel times with transit arrivals and departures 
  • reducing capacity constraints
  • greater ease of boarding for people with bicycles
  • comfortable facilities for cyclists at transit stations
Hanging racks in train baggage car
Creating an efficient and integrated multi-modal transit system is more difficult largely because the tools are are not well established in the standard practice of transportation planning and engineering. Spending a little more time in the planning stage to fine tune an integrated multi-modal system will result in a lighter, more elegant, more cost efficient and environmentally sound product. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Secure bike parking Portland

This is a secure bike parking facility at Portland State University. 

The bike station has a repair centre located in it.

Demonstration of loading bike onto top rack
From cycling portland