The Five Trends in Transportation You Need to Know
Here are five major trends in transportation to pay attention to .
1) Streets for People (and Trees):
Traffic engineers and city planners now realize that designing roads to move as many cars as possible has only led to an increased amount of cars and a reduced quality of life in cities.
Building more roads to accommodate more cars and decrease traffic congestion can actually do the opposite because of the phenomenon of induced demand.
If you widen El Camino Real to speed up traffic, a lot of drivers will switch to El Camino from 101 - and drivers will continue to switch until taking El Camino is once again slower than taking 101. In the case of roads, making driving easier makes it much easier for people to take more trips by car .
Image source: Driving in circles: road building and causal thinking http://beyondthisbriefanomaly.org/2013/02/15/driving-in-circles-road-building-and-causal-thinking/
More cities are beginning to emphasize quality of life for people. One path is to design better streets for people, bicyclists, and transit. These can take the form of wider sidewalk spaces, additional cafe and restaurant seating, new street trees, and paved bicycle lanes.
Image taken from the NACTO Urban Street Design Guidelines (http://nacto.org/usdg/)
Donald Appleyard, urban design professor at the University of California, Berkeley conducted a study on traffic's effects on the quality of life on three similar streets with different levels of traffic in San Francisco.
In his book, Livable Streets, Appleyard discovered that the street with light traffic had three times as many friends as the street with heavy traffic.
He also found that the heavily trafficked street tend edto have less pedestrian gatherings compared to the light traffic street. Studies such as these show the negative impact of the automobile on the quality of life of local streets.
The famous Danish architect Jan Gehl, once said: “A great city is like a great party. You know people don't leave when they are enjoying themselves.”
In designing great streets, Gehl notes three types of activities in a city [7, pg 20]:
Necessary activities: i.e. going to work or school, waiting for the bus, going grocery shopping.
Social activities: Meeting and interacting with old and new friends.
Optional activities: Recreational activities, surprises: i.e. walking down the promenade, standing up to get a good look at the city, eating outdoors, sitting down to enjoy the view or good weather, listening to live music, playing on a playground [7, pg 20]
Source of image:LindyCentral.com
Gehl notes that streets & public spaces that have a large amount of optional activities have a much higher quality of life. The experience of visiting that street is memorable and inviting: people want to come back and hang out.
Many cities across the United States are becoming very interested in reinvesting in their downtowns, and a key component is designing streets for people. Planning departments recognize that encouraging these sort of optional activities are key in bringing people to their local downtowns.
2) Traffic Management for Economic Development:
Cities in the Peninsula, such as San Mateo, Redwood City, Burlingame, and Mountain View, have put a heavy emphasis on creating a high quality of life for pedestrians to revitalize key neighborhoods.
By using the street design recommendations provided in the first trend, street design can create a strong sense of place, can brand downtowns, and bring much needed foot traffic to local businesses.
In his book Cities For People, Jan Gehl defines human scale as the following :
- “Five km/h (three mph) architecture is based on a cornucopia of sensory impressions, spaces are small, buildings are close together and the combination of detail, faces, and activities contributes to the rich and intense sensory experience.”
Examples of human scaled streets:
Broadway Avenue, Downtown Burlingame
Castro Street, Downtown Mountain View
Much of these human scaled streets are located in very vibrant downtowns with heavy foot traffic, and a variety of activities that bring people to live, work, and play. Aesthetically, there is a lot to look at, which makes the street very interesting to walk by. When you design a street at a 3 mph scale, there's a greater amount of optional activities that one can participate in.
However, Gehl goes on :
- “Driving in a car at 50, 80, or 100 km/h (31, 50, or 62 mph), we miss out on the opportunity to grasp detail and see people. At such high speeds, spaces need to be large and readily manageable, and all signals have to be simplified so that drivers and passengers can take in the information.”
- “The 60 km/h (37/mph) scale has large spaces and wide roads. Buildings are seen at a distance, and only generalities are percieved. Details and multifaceted sensory experiences disappear, and from the perspective of a pedestrian, all signs and other information are grotesquely magnified.”
El Camino Real, Santa Clara, California
In a 37 mph street, drivers are more focused on getting to their destination than experiencing the place around them. However, these sort of places don't bring a lot of foot traffic: there aren't a lot of reasons to go visit a noisy street, other than to wait for a bus, go to a grocery store, or park your car at work.
Using Gehl's words, the majority of these activities are necessary. Due to the noise and air pollution, 37 mph streets are not places people go to hang out on a Friday night or a weekend.
3) Right-of-Way as Real Estate:
Parking takes up a huge percentage of space in cities - whether it be on-street or off-street parking.
For example, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Parking Census, “San Francisco has 441,950 publicly-accessible car parking spaces. Of that, the 275,450 on-street parking spaces alone are enough to parallel-park a line of cars 60 miles longer than California’s entire 840-mile coastline”.
When a car parks in a parking spot, a parking space is immediately used for private use . Cities and communities are responding intwo ways:
One strategy is the parklet: parklets “enhance the urban sidewalk” by providing additional seating spaces near retail and local restaurants, as well as add additional art and green space that makes the street a pleasant place to visit.
Image taken from the NACTO Urban Street Design Guidelines (http://nacto.org/usdg/)
The City of Oakland's 2nd Parklet, located in Uptown Oakland. Source: City of Oakland
Secondly, cities such as San Francisco and Redwood City have recognized how parking in cities is “grossly underpriced” . When parking is free or priced at a very low rate, drivers will cruise around block after block, looking for a place to park. This increases pollution and congestion, and reduces available parking at any one time.
In 2010, the City of San Francisco started SF Park, a smart parking management system that prices parking by supply and demand. Rather than increasing the existing parking supply, the goal of SF Park is to price parking based on the time of day, as well as the occupancy rate, so that people can pay the right price for parking.
Images taken from the SF Park Website: http://sfpark.org/
4) Transit Technology:
Sasaki & Associates notes that cities such as Portland, Oregon & Camden, New Jersey are revitalizing their light rail and former streetcar lines.
However, another form of transit, known as bus rapid transit, is beginning to take shape.
Image Source: American Society of Landscape Architects & Jamie Lerner Architects: http://www.asla.org/ContentDetail.aspx?id=30875
Bus rapid transit takes the features of fixed rail lines (physically dedicated right of ways), and places them on major corridors. With lower capital costs than heavy rail transit, bus rapid transit can be a possible strategy that allows for high frequency transit, without the traffic delays buses currently face in major cities. You can read about the El Camino Bus Rapid Transit Project here.
5) Land-Use/Transportation Connection:
Understanding the relationship between land use and transportation is key.
In order for a transit service to operate at a financially sustainable model, it needs the high ridership to support the service. There is a strong relationship between urban form (density, walkability), service (frequency & span), and ridership .
The more passengers that take transit, the greater the frequency of the transit line. Many neighborhoods, for example, only have buses that arrive every thirty minutes to an hour, due to the low number of passengers that take the bus.
In order to have higher ridership, one needs to have a diverse mixture of activities (live, work, school, play) and a walkable street grid near bus and rail stations. This takes collaboration among transit agencies, city governments, local businesses, and community stakeholders to realize.
Therefore, to build high quality transit infrastructure, one needs diverse land uses to support it.
In conclusion, it's important to note that in improving transportation infrastructure, one has to think holistically - not only at a local scale, but also at a regional scale. For example, improving pedestrian infrastructure in a downtown area can improve the quality of life for residents nearby, but may not address the needs of commuters who are driving or taking transit from outside the downtown.
- The inspiration for each trend is based on a blog article written by Sasaki & Associates, the international city planning consulting firm: http://www.sasaki.com/blog/view/336/. I incorporated photos from different sources to help make the concepts easier to understand.
- Todd Litman, 2013. "Smart Congestion Relief - Comprehensive Analysis of Traffic Congestion Costs and Congestion Reduction Benefits". Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
- What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse: http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/
- Driving in circles: road building and causal thinking: http://beyondthisbriefanomaly.org/2013/02/15/driving-in-circles-road-building-and-causal-thinking/
- Census: SF Has Enough Street Parking Spaces To Fill CA’s Coastline: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/05/22/census-sf-has-enough-public-parking-spaces-to-fill-cas-coastline/
- Jarrett Walker. Basics: conceptual triangles: http://www.humantransit.org/2011/01/basics-conceptual-triangles.html
- For more on Jan Gehl's definition of human scale, see: http://vault.sierraclub.org/sierra/201003/gehl.aspx, Jan Gehl's definition of Human Scale: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/06/14/danish-architect-jan-gehl-on-good-cities-for-walking/, and Jan Gehl's book, Cities for People: http://www.amazon.com/Cities-People-Jan-Gehl/dp/159726573X