Category Archives: design

The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!

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Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

Changing Perceptions of Our Streets

I found a good example of model language for a community wide vision for complete streets from Change Lab Solutions, “law and policy innovation for the common good”.   We are in the public comment phase now for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Planning and Zoning update process.  Now is a good time to chime in.  Here’s an example of what kinds of changes citizens can ask for pertaining to the way we structure our city going forward:

Transportation Vision Statement: The community of Albuquerque envisions a transportation system that encourages healthy, active living, promotes transportation options and independent mobility, increases community safety and access to healthy food, reduces environmental impact, mitigates climate change, and supports greater social interaction and community identity by providing safe and convenient travel along and across streets through a comprehensive, integrated transportation network for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and drivers, push scooters and skateboarders, and people of all ages and abilities, including children, youth, families, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

The technical know how for designing complete streets is here.  We know how to empower the movement of people beyond private automobiles.  Here’s a good example of how we do that at a detailed level, from intersection design to lane widths and signal timing:
http://www.ite.org/css/online/DWUT10.html

We do that, we might be able to improve healthspan, a concept that combines longevity with quality of life.  Doug Seals is doing a talk at CU, Boulder on healthspan.   My work focuses on this intersection of health, transportation, and the opportunities to make improvements.  Supporting health in the environment and people is a mutual goal that takes care of our greatest economic assets, a healthy planet and a healthy happy empowered humankind.

piñon stand

Walking UNM

I took a walk on the University of New Mexico’s main campus yesterday after a meeting.  I had planned to visit the library but it was a nice day to walk and look at that horizon where the landscape meets the sky.  The wooden trim and decorated beams adorning buildings and the places where adobe brushes celestial blue make for an abstract charm such as music imparts.

UNM blanca

UNM chapel wood

UNM double corners

The integration of the built and natural environment is exceptional in New Mexico.  Cultural traditions intertwine and inspire new creations.  Trees lend a rooted and organic flavor.

UNM colors

UNM Maxwell Adobe Wall

UNM chapel

UNM spikey desert plants

Everything in planning and design is about getting it down to human scale.  And making the big things like buildings approachable and inviting.  The vernacular architecture of UNM makes the mundane seem extraordinary and imbues an everyday walk with a special character.  The upclose environment is warm and stimulating.  Clouds roll and dissolve in the mile high sky against distant mountain drops.  The omnipresent sun.  Time has a way of vanishing here.

UNM opening

UNM turqoise courtyard

UNM spiral

UNM big office

UNM greetings

Bike Infrastructure 2.0

Since I’ve moved to Albuquerque I’ve really brushed up on my traffic skills.  In Flagstaff we had a few busy intersections, a few tricky places to navigate.  Albuquerque is much more complex.  Figuring out the safest way to proceed through town is not always clear.   I work hard at it.

Albuquerque has more linear miles of bicycle facilities than almost any city I know.  Many of the bike lanes in place are first generation bike lanes, and almost all of them are too narrow.  They guide bicyclists into a riskier position over at the far right edge of the road.  The good news is we are learning how to design better bike facilities.  Time for bicycle infrastructure 2.0 .

bike lane preferred safe design iamtraffic

I like the ‘best practice preferential use lane’ in the graphic above.  It guides bicycles to a position that is more advantageous and reduces conflict with motorists and pedestrian traffic.  The six foot bike lane integrated with a narrower general use lane and buffered from the edge makes bicyclists more visible, which is the number one concern for comfort and safety.  It makes bicyclist more predictable because they won’t have to maneuver as often to avoid debris, bad pavement, or a car pulling out from a driveway or side street, and bicyclists will have a better field of vision and improved sight lines.  Crash risks from cars turning right in front of bicyclists, or crossing left in front of bicyclists from the oncoming direction, will also be reduced.  With an integrated bike lane (integrated meaning flush with the pavement of the general travel lane, with a simple white stripe between them) bicyclists have maximum options and can change lanes to pass slower traffic, to turn left, or to avoid a hazard such as a dog on a long leash along the side of the road, or to give extra room to people walking or to protect playing children.

A six foot lane encourages bicyclists to ride two abreast.  Two abreast means bicyclists double their vision and are poised to communicate.  Riding two abreast makes bicyclists more visible.  Riding with a partner is the safest and most encouraging way to bicycle.  And yes it is fun!

Narrow, rough, edge bike lanes have caused a lot of undesirable outcomes.  Bicyclists are less visible, and motorists and bicyclists sometimes interpret this road configuration as meaning bicycles have less priority and are supposed to be out of the way.  That is the wrong orientation for safety, and quite frankly it can be very discouraging to ride in that environment.  The good news is we have knowledge and tools to make things better, and we know how to use them.   We know that increasing bike and pedestrian safety increases road safety for everyone.  We know that encouraging more people to feel they have the choice to ride when they want to is empowering, and can be a gateway to habits of lifelong health and positive social relationships.

The best infrastructure makes traffic principles intuitive and the rules of the road clear.  The Bike League’s Quick Guide has the basic rules of the road and principles of traffic law on p. 14, 15.  I see a lot of bike guides and maps that quote local traffic code, but that is not always easy to digest.  The Quick Guide distills the practices of safe cycling to essential components. The pathway to growing bicycle ridership is easier than we sometimes think.  If we simply focus on supporting the people already bicycling and treating them with respect and dignity, then it will be easy to see that this way of travel is something our society embraces and promotes.

Roadway Safety Culture Conference Nov. 5-6

I was browsing the FHWA’s Planning resources and found this upcoming conference.  Here’s the registration link.  When we get organized, partner up and decide we are going to do something about an issue, we make progress.  Here in New Mexico our Dept. of Transportation is working on “retooling” itself to “improve safety for all system users…provide multimodal access and connectivity for community prosperity and health…and respect New Mexico’s cultures, environment, history, and quality of life” to meet these goals set forward in the 2040 Transportation Plan.  By tapping into these national resources, learning about organization transformation, and building interdisciplinary and interagency networks, plus forging public private partnerships, we can accelerate progress on increasing roadway safety.  We’ll get immediate and much more satisfactory results by coming together and focusing.  Here’s more information on the conference:
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Road Diets and Safety Measures

We love our American streets but there are many planning and design devices to make them even better.  The Pedestrian Bicycle and Information Center is offering a free 12 part seminar series for improving walking safety.  Street designs for walking as a primary and dignified travel mode set the foundation for building a culturally rich and lively community environment.

Here’s a brief announcement highlighting the 12 part seminar series:
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pedbikeinfo pedestrian safety 12 part series Fall 2015

This series will provide participants with an in-depth exploration of some of the countermeasures and design strategies that can be implemented to improve pedestrian safety. Each of the 12 sessions will feature detailed information about countermeasures and design strategies, supporting research and guidance, as well as case studies highlighting examples of implementation from around the country.

  • Crossing Islands and Raised Medians
  • Road Diets
  • Marked Crosswalks
  • Curb Extensions, Bulb-Outs and Neckdowns
  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons
  • Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon
  • Leading Pedestrian Intervals
  • Pedestrian Safety at Interchanges
  • Lighting Strategies
  • Traffic Calming
  • Pedestrian Safety at Roundabouts
  • Transit Stop Improvements

Led by national experts in pedestrian safety countermeasures and design, this series of webinars will be highly valuable for engineers and public works staff who are involved in roadway design. Each presentation will be followed by a discussion period involving a question and answer session with the presenters.  Those who attend the live sessions will be provided with a certificate of attendance for 1.5 hours of instruction. The webinars will also be submitted to the American Planning Association to be considered for 1.5 CM credits.
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Changing the culture around driving, walking and street use occurs simultaneously with upgrading road designs.  Making cultural adjustments can be one of the more challenging aspects of any street redesign project.  A basic part of the approach is providing facts to the public, elected officials, and transportation staff to address fears or misperceptions.

When a community meeting was held in Los Angeles to discuss traffic flow on a street with a new configuration, an 11 year old boy stood up to deliver comments that stunned the crowd.  He said, “I don’t understand why driving a car makes you think you’re more important than someone else.”  And he called out the behavior of adults for their horrifying words and violent actions harassing, intimidating and bullying fellow citizens on the road.  This young person expressed the incredible power of clear human wisdom, empathy and an egalitarian mindset.

Doing proactive community engagement, outreach and education helps people experience the power and excitement a good walking and biking network unleashes, and helps us open to the possibilities for improving health, social connectedness and economic growth.  We want to live in a world that recognizes, values and activates our inherent powers.  We want environments designed for health and mobility freedom.  Walking and biking are basic elements of human living, as important as clean air and water.  They are part of the basic constitution of human rights, required for people to survive and thrive and live together.  It makes sense that our everyday culture and environment is designed to support these beneficial activities.  Walking and biking are essential elements of the good life sustaining the American dream.

Resources:
Federal Highway Administration road diet guide:
http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/road_diets/info_guide/index.cfm
Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/separated_bikelane_pdg/page00.cfm
Bicycle Safety Guide and Counter Measure Selection System
http://pedbikesafe.org/
Here’s the link again to the upcoming 12 part series on pedestrian safety by pedbikeinfo.org
http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/training/webinars_PSAP_countermeasurestrategies.cfm
The comments from the 11 year old person are here.  It is one of the most articulate statements I’ve heard on the frankness necessary to call out and eliminate barbaric behavior on roads.  I found this story from Steve Clark, from the Bicycle Friendly Community program.