Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer ? Standards

Wednesday, December 11 by JerryFoster

Using Desired Operating SpeedTo learn to love our traffic engineers, we have to understand why they don?t feel they have the authority to design roads to meet citizens? needs ? the standards won?t let them.

Marohn notes that standards are ?the engineering profession’s version of defensive medicine.?

Gary Toth invites us to ?marvel at how thoroughly the transportation establishment delivered on its perceived mandate?, including ??language/terminology; funding mechanisms; curriculum at universities; values; and policies. Common professional organizations? reinforce and standardize this? at a scale that has rarely been matched by any other profession.?

Citizens should note that engineers are required to follow the standards for traffic signals (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) – the others are guidelines.

Toth advises ?Design manuals often present standards in ranges from minimum to desirable. Has the designer selected the desirables instead of minimums?? Residents will want the minimums, as the ?desirables? are from the point of view of creating a wider, straighter and faster roadway.

Conventional DesignIn this series, we?ve set up a ?straw man? based on traditional engineering practices. The critique reported here comes from within the profession, however, and context sensitive standards such as NJDOT?s Smart Transportation Guidebook have been published that, if implemented, will significantly improve livability, which is the goal of the WWBPA.

We?ve seen how standards? flexibility enable engineers to design bike and walk friendly roadways, so in our next installment, we?ll look at liability concerns.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Context Sensitive Solutions

Wednesday, October 30 by JerryFoster

Clarksville Pedestrians 2In our previous posts, we?ve seen that traffic engineers see urban where we see suburban or rural, and destroy downtowns by putting fast and wide arterials through them. As a result, conversations between residents and engineers are fraught with possible misunderstandings, making it very difficult to find the love.

Fortunately, this problem is well known, so the traffic engineering profession (Federal Highway Administration) developed Context Sensitive Solutions, to ?develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.? ?In other words, it encourages engineers to see farms and neighborhoods where we already see them, and to build appropriate roads for those places.

NJDOT and PennDOT even published the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008, which provides flexible roadway designs, e.g. for a community collector through a suburban neighborhood, 100% compatible with existing design standards (the flexibility was already there, who knew).

Problem solved? Not quite ? NJDOT didn?t adopt the principles and practices in the Smart Transportation Guidebook. Why not, and how can we learn to love our traffic engineers if we can?t even agree on neighborhoods? Stay tuned for the next installment ? Social Scientist.

 

 

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Is Roszel Rd a Complete Street?

Thursday, June 20 by JerryFoster

Roszel Repaved 3Roszel Road has recently been repaved, with new curb cuts on the sidewalk (one side only) to bring them into ADA compliance. Does that make it a Complete Street? Let’s look at the road in the context of it’s use to find out – we’ll use NJDOT’s Smart Transportation Guidebook (STG) as an objective source of a Complete Streets definition in the context of the road’s use.

Roszel connects Alexander Road (between Rt 1 and the train station) to the Carnegie Center office park, and is home to Tyco’s corporate headquarters among other office buildings. STG calls this context a Suburban Corridor, while West Windsor’s master plan classifies the road as a Principle Collector – STG calls this combination a Community Collector, and provides guidelines we’ll use to compare with the current design.

The NJDOT guidelines recommend paved shoulders and medians or a two-way left turn lane, since Roszel is a multi-lane road – neither of which were implemented.

Sidewalks are recommended “as appropriate”, with a footnote detailing specifics for state and federally funded projects, so sidewalks on one side might be appropriate in a charitable interpretation, but we believe sidewalks on both sides are appropriate in this case.

Bike lanes are listed “Evaluate for suburban and urban contexts” so their absence in the current road is mainly problematic because there are no paved shoulders or sidewalks on both sides to accomodate those cyclists who are not comfortable biking in the road. There’s still time to paint sharrows in the right lane, to encourage bicyclists to use the shared roadway.

Overall, a significant opportunity was missed – Roszel provides a connection to one of our town’s major employment centers, and paved shoulders, sidewalks on both sides and bike lanes/shoulders would have been much more bike and walk friendly. Given the low volumes, a 4-to-3 lane road diet would have been ideal and inexpensive, with no loss of roadway capacity.

What do you think?

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Transit Village Not Enough to Achieve Smart Growth

Sunday, December 25 by JerryFoster

This post was published as a Letter to the Editor in the West Windsor Plainsboro News December 16, 2011.? In response to Lucy Vandenberg’s letter in the West Windsor Plainsboro News December 2, 2011, WW Transit Village a Model for State. As I expect Ms. Vandenberg would agree, the Transit Village is a good start, but more needs to be done to achieve the benefits of Smart Growth.

It’s not enough that the Transit Village will “make it possible for people to get out of their cars and walk, bike, and take the train to their destinations.” We must be able to safely walk and bike to and from the Transit Village.

It’s not enough to have compact development – we need a grocery store within walking distance, like the Acme that used to be in downtown West Windsor. Land use law and/or policies must require diverse uses – we need more than banks and real estate offices downtown, so that people have a variety of walkable destinations.

It’s not enough that compact development could be environmentally beneficial – we need specific open space preservation tied to specific dense developments like the Transit Village. It’s irrelevant that other space in New Jersey is already preserved.

It’s not enough to have Smart Growth policies for land use – transportation policy must support land use policy, by implementing the flexible standards in the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Smart Transportation Guidebook.

It’s not enough that NJDOT and West Windsor Township adopted Complete Streets policies – Mercer County must also adopt the policy, which requires roadway improvements to support walking and biking. Otherwise major roads like CR 571 in downtown West Windsor are subject to expensive but counter-productive “improvements” that don’t meet the the township’s goal for “pedestrian-friendly, village scale development.” There’s nothing pedestrian-friendly about a wider road with 30% more cars going 45mph, with no place to safely wait in the middle when crossing.

The Rt 1 Regional Growth Strategy is not enough, since it doesn’t sufficiently support redevelopment in Trenton and New Brunswick, the two already-compact but underutilized “developments” anchoring the region. With the right policies, much of the region’s growth could fit into Trenton and New Brunswick with far less environmental and traffic impact. Without supporting our cities, the strategy’s Bus Rapid Transit system will effectively encourage sprawl in outlying areas, contrary to its stated goal.

Respectfully, it’s wrong to promise reduced congestion by implementing Smart Growth, even with Smart Transportation and the Bus Rapid Transit system. Like water, the transportation network balances itself as people choose to walk, bike, drive, or take the bus or train, depending on the cost and convenience of each. If there is less congestion, people will switch to driving until there is enough congestion to make it better to take another way.

The Transit Village is a good start, but doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We need complementary supporting policies to achieve the benefits of Smart Growth. If Smart Growth just means new and denser development, then it has already failed to achieve its goals.

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