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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I Bike. I Walk. I Vote.

Thursday, September 15 by silvia

From the League of American Bicyclists: This year, around $700 million of Federal transportation funds, which in reality is less than 2% of total transportation dollars, will be spent on bicycling and walking.  In 2012 that figure might be a big fat zero.

We expect that in the next few days, Senator Coburn (R-OK) will ask Congress to eliminate the federal Transportation Enhancements program – the primary funding source for the past 20 years for bike lanes, trails, bike racks on buses, bike education etc.  This isn’t safe or smart; it’s not good for the economy or the environment; this is bad health policy and bad transportation policy. But they are going to try because they don’t think bicycling matters.

Even though bicycling projects create more jobs per dollar than highway-only projects and cutting enhancements won’t impact the deficit – the money just won’t be spent on bicycling – some Members of Congress want to  force us backwards to a 1950s highway-only mindset: as if oil embargoes, congestion, smog, the obesity epidemic and climate change never happened.

Now is the time to Save Cycling, so we are asking you to contact your Senators and urge them to support continued funding for biking and walking. Don’t let them take away this vital investment program for smart, sustainable, safe transportation choices.

And as America Walks notes, the Transportation Enhancements program has also been the primary funding source for sidewalks, crosswalks, trails and more. If Sen. Coburn succeeds, it would mean an immediate end to funding for Transportation Enhancements.  It would also mean that our chances of sustaining any funding for bicycling and walking (including for Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails) in the long-term reauthorization bill would be more difficult.

West Windsor has gained numerous sidewalk extensions and bike lanes in recent years, and these projects haven’t been exclusively funded with local tax dollars. Let’s make America more bikeable and walkable. Let’s have complete streets — streets that work for all users.

Need an instant e- letter to send to our senators? Here’s one from People for Bikes.

Watch the League’s video.

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Public Comment Needed on Route 571 Main Street Project

Wednesday, June 22 by JerryFoster

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is putting out the New Jersey  federal transportation improvement projects for comment, including the Route 571 project between Clarksville and Cranbury roads. You can find details here:

The West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance’s recommendations for the project are here:

The current design calls for adding a center left turn lane, sidewalks and a bicycle-compatible shoulder, maintaining the existing design speed (45mph).

The problem is that the combination of same design speed, the additional center turn lane and roadway widening, but no pedestrian refuges halfway across the road will make it harder, not easier, to cross the street.

Essentially, there will be 30% more cars to dodge when crossing, which will be going faster than today, since they wouldn’t have to slow down for left-turning vehicles (which will be in the new center turn lane).

In our view, Route 571 is already too hard to cross, and this design will make it worse. Please join us in adding your comments to the DVRPC by following the instructions on their web page.

The stated goals are for a bicycle and pedestrian friendly main street, but the design details do not support the goals, according to the NJDOT Smart Transportation Guidebook. On the plus side, the recommended changes will save money and most importantly give us a Main Street we can be proud of, while still increasing  capacity.

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Congratulations, Hoboken!

Tuesday, May 3 by sandy

Hoboken crosswalkHoboken has been named a Gold-level Walk Friendly Community! Only 11 cities received the designation, and Hoboken ranks near the top. In October we reported on Montclair and Hoboken earning Bicycle-Friendly honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists.

Hoboken’s 20 is Plenty program encourages speeds of 20 mph rather than the posted 25 mph. And there’s a citywide car-sharing program to encourage families to give up their cars. Read more about Hoboken’s innovative programs.

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, introduced the Walk-Friendly program to encourage communities to make walking safer and to encourage families to be more active, with a goal of improving health and reducing our need for fuel.

walk-friendly gold medalWalk Friendly Communities (WFC) is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program recognizes communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.

What’s your suggestion for making West Windsor more walkable?

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Secretary Ray LaHood on bikes and the budget

Sunday, March 6 by sandy

Sean Mellor of BicycleRadio.com interviewed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday, March 1. Listen to the interview on the secretary’s blog, fastlane.dot.gov.

LaHood discusses the 2012 budget, with a proposed increase in the transportation portion of the budget. LaHood emphasizes livability issues, multi-modal transportation, livable communities, walking and bike paths. He also discusses his campaign to end distracted driving.

On March 3, LaHood spoke before the Senate Budget Committee about President Obama’s 2012 budget proposals.

LaHood’s message was clear: “It’s essential to America’s economy that we find a way to repair our national infrastructure where we must and build for the future where we can.”

He said that “to spur new business and produce new jobs, we must … invest in .. .bike paths that make our streets more livable.” We heartily agree.

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Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?

Wednesday, December 15 by JerryFoster

from Shared Space: Safe or Dangerous?Township Council recently adopted the shared space concept as fundamental to the lawsuit settlement with InterCap over the new Princeton Junction Transit Village. Under this concept, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians share the roadway as peers. But is it safe?

Four European experts reported results of their studies of the shared space experience in the Netherlands in 2007 at the Walk21 Conference held in Toronto. Shared space was implemented several locations between 1998 and 2001, with studies published between 2003 and 2007.

Overall, “reported accidents have decreased substantially.” In one location, however, minor injury collisions persisted, and “bicyclists were overrepresented”.  Significantly, “police report only a (minor) part of the accidents. Particularly bicycle and pedestrian accidents are often not reported to the police. This means that reliable and valid conclusions regarding the safety of cyclists and pedestrians cannot be made.”

What makes shared space work? “At low speeds people have more time for communication and the interpretation of verbal and non-verbal utterances.”

What keeps it from working? “Children and people with a visual or mental handicap cannot be expected to comply. Also, the elderly are not always able to anticipate and react in time, especially not when it is crowded and many things happen in a short period. This group (in total 25% percent of the population!) runs a substantially raised risk.”

How do people feel about shared space? “Most respondents do not think the situations are safe. Both car drivers and bicyclists and pedestrians are critical about it. In Haren remarkably many people (90%) demand a clear choice regarding the position of the bicycle: either on a bicycle lane or on the carriageway. The experts prefer the bicyclist on the carriageway; the public prefers a separate recognizable lane.”

The WWBPA supports the shared space concept, but recognizes that to work, all roadway users must be provided with subtle guidance as to the preferred positioning within the space. Bicyclists must be encouraged to stay out of the way of opening car doors (the “door zone”), such as through the use of a special color or pattern of pavement to guide where they ride.

The current (pre-settlement) language in the redevelopment ordinance calls for buffered bike lanes to achieve this goal. This goal can be achieved in the shared space concept, but the language regarding bike lanes is proposed to be removed. Please contact our public officials with your questions or concerns regarding the safety of our proposed new shared space.

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Tale of Two Engineers – One Visionary, One Recovering

Thursday, December 2 by JerryFoster

A revolution is underway in how towns are being redesigned for livability, and it’s playing out right here in West Windsor. The late Hans Monderman launched a movement for better safety without signs and signals, while in the Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, another engineer realizes that “Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people.”

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), recounts the work of the late Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer who held to a maxim: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.” In appropriate settings, he removed the signs and signals that tell drivers what to do. His goal? “I don’t want traffic behavior, I want social behavior.” His work underlies the design for the promenade in the new transit village west of the train tracks.

In Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, Charles Marohn relates his professional experience “convincing people that, when it came to their road, I knew more than they did.” Why? “I had books and books of standards to follow.” Finally, “In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people.”

This realization is slow in coming to our Rt 571 Main Street design, where the state guidelines are in place but the design hasn’t taken them into consideration.

Please help the county engineers learn from the transit village engineers by supporting the WWBPA’s recommendations for Rt 571 Main Street – slower speed, medians with pedestrian refuges and a pedestrian-activated signal that stops traffic at the crossing at Sherbrooke Drive.

This redesign is our chance to make drivers comfortable with the slower speed – just posting a lower speed limit will not effectively slow traffic. Our tale of two West Windsors might have the happy ending of a pedestrian-friendly Main Street and transit village promenade, leading to higher property values for us all.

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West Windsor’s New Woonerf

Wednesday, November 24 by JerryFoster

PJ Promenade as Shared SpaceTownship Council adopted a new concept Monday night for shared streets, also called a woonerf, for the Princeton Junction Transit Village. What’s a woonerf, and how does it work?

Developed by Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, a woonerf is a street where pedestrians and bicyclists share the roadway with motorists as equals.  This concept goes by a number of other names, such as Living Streets, Home Zones or shared space.

The safety of such spaces depends on extremely slow speeds and one-on-one human eye contact to negotiate movement through the space. Read about one town’s experience with removing traffic lights.

The WWBPA made several recommendations to improve the bikeability of the proposed area, including more bike parking at the Farmers Market and in residential parking structures, as well as requiring back-in diagonal parking for improved safety.

The WWBPA is confident that this plan, if built as shown in the pattern book, will be eminently walkable, and will provide those bicyclists who are comfortable in traffic with a wonderful place to stop and enjoy the amenities, like the Farmers Market. We are hopeful that motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians will embrace the new shared street and quickly learn to navigate without traditional traffic control.

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A View From the Other Side

Tuesday, November 16 by silvia

Bike, bus and traffic

courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org / Laura Sandt

Here’s one way to promote better understanding between cyclists and various kinds of motorists: swap roles. A town in New Zealand tried this with cyclists and bus drivers. The bus drivers got on bikes and cyclists rode with bus drivers, where they realized  how difficult it is for bus drivers to see behind and to the side, exactly where cyclists tend to be. As for the bus drivers, one cyclist and transportation planner noted: “My bus driver buddy said it was a relief to get out from the main traffic and into a bike lane where he felt a bit safer.”

“It was amazing to see how quickly people’s viewpoints change once they can see the road through other eyes,” he added.

While an experiment like this won’t eliminate all the tensions between motorists and cyclists, it — and some common courtesy — could help reduce the tensions on the road.

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How Can We Tell a Main Street Roadway Design?

Thursday, November 11 by JerryFoster

571/Wallace-Cranbury morning commute 4What is a Main Street and how can we tell a Main Street design when we see it? For West Windsor, this question is important because the county reviewed a Concept Design for Rt 571 in December 2009. Is it a main street design?

The Princeton Junction Redevelopment Plan adopted in March 2009 has a goal to “create a “Main Street” through incremental development that would transform the existing strip commercial form of development along Route 571 into a village form, with buildings close to the street. The objective is to achieve a desirable mix of pedestrian-friendly, village scale development with an emphasis on uses that service local needs. A village character would be created by encouraging pedestrian flow and stores and shops and personal service establishments on the ground floor of buildings and the use of upper floors for offices and residential dwelling units.”

Excellent so far, but what of the roadway itself? How do we know if the street supports these planned uses, or if it’s pedestrian-friendly?

Fortunately for West Windsor, many communities have faced these issues in the past, and based on that experience NJDOT and PennDOT compiled a comprehensive and flexible set of design standards in the Smart Transportation Guidebook, published March 2008. Following is a high level introduction, with extensive quotations.

Why Smart Transportation?

“NJDOT and PennDOT cannot always solve congestion by building more, wider and faster state roadways. There will never be enough financial resources to supply the endless demand for capacity. Further, both states realize that the ‘wider and faster’ approach to road construction cannot ultimately solve the problem. … The desire to go ‘through’ a place must be balanced with the desire to go ‘to’ a place.”

Context Sensitive Design

“Roadways should respect the character of the community,and its current and planned land uses.  If appropriately designed,  vehicular speeds should fit local context. The concept of desired operating speed  … is key to the context sensitive roadway.”

Design Elements

Three kinds of design elements are described:

“Desired Operating Speed: This is the speed at which it is intended that vehicles travel.

Roadway: The design team should select roadway elements and geometry with a clear understanding of surrounding land uses.

Roadside: The roadside primarily serves the pedestrian and the transit rider and provides a transition between public and private space.”

Land Use Context

Seven land use contexts are described – Rural, Suburban Neighborhood, Suburban Corridor, Suburban Center, Town/Village Neighborhood, Town Center, and Urban Core.

Roadway Categories

Overlaying traditional functional categories, the guidebook describes a typology “which better captures the role of the roadway within the community.” These categories are Regional Arterial, Community Arterial, Community Collector, Neighborhood Collector and Local.

Main Street

“Main Street is characterized by:
• Wide sidewalks and regular pedestrian activity;
• Street furniture and public art;
• Heavy use of on-street parking;
• Speeds of 30 mph or less;
• Preferably no more than two travel lanes, although three to four lanes are seen on occasion.

The Main Street would typically belong to the Community Arterial road type, or to the Collector road type. This is the case on Route 27 in New Jersey; this roadway hosts two Main Street segments between New Brunswick and Trenton, in the towns of Princeton and Kingston.”

Tables are provided which describe the appropriate roadway design standards for each type of roadway and land use context.

Based on the provided descriptions, the WWBPA believes Rt 571 is a Community Arterial in a Suburban Center, with the plan to become a Town Center over time. The table for a Community Arterial in a Suburban Center recommends the following (in part):
Lane Width: 10 – 12 ft
Shoulder Width: 4 – 6 ft
Bike Lane: 5 – 6 ft
Median: 12 – 18 ft for Left Turn, 6 – 8 ft for Pedestrian
Clear Sidewalk Width: 6 ft
Desired Operating Speed: 30 mph

The WWBPA reviewed the proposed Concept Design for Route 571 against these and other Smart Transportation Guidebook design standards – please read our recommendations published January 2010.

The WWBPA believes the county engineers should consider these design standards in developing a Route 571 roadway that supports our goal of a Main Street for West Windsor. Please support our call for the engineers to review the design against the Smart Transportation Guidebook by contacting our public officials.

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Turn Off The Lights

Saturday, November 6 by silvia

Imagine what would happen if traffic lights were turned off. How would traffic and motorists’ behavior change? The results in this English town surprised everyone.

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Roadways Designed for Speeding?

Friday, November 5 by JerryFoster

Cars Don't Want to Stop from 40mphAccording to NJDOT’s Smart Transportation Guidebook, many different factors come into play when choosing a desired operating speed for a roadway. From the discussion of speed:

“Desired operating speed is best explained by its relationship to three other concepts of speed: operating speed, posted speed, and design speed.

Operating speed is the speed at which a typical vehicle operates, commonly measured as the 85th percentile speed of all vehicles.

Posted speed is the legal speed limit on a roadway. It is often set without any means of self enforcement, and drivers tend to travel at what they perceive as a safe speed regardless of the posted speed. Fewer than a third of drivers go the speed limit on urban and suburban arterials.

Design speed (as defined in the AASHTO Green Book) is the speed used to determine various geometric design features, including horizontal curvature, gradient, superelevation, stopping sight distance, and, for rural highways only, lane width.

Historically, New Jersey has required the design speed to be 5 mph above posted speed for existing roadways, and 10 mph for new roads.

The greatest drawback to the existing design speed approach is that drivers usually drive as fast as they believe the road can safely accommodate.

Existing policy may thus encourage operating speeds higher than the posted speed limit and/or selected design speed in an area.

In the interest of highway safety, it is desirable to have a stronger relationship between the posted speed limit, design speed, and operating speed. Therefore, this guidebook recommends that the desired operating speed for most roadway types be the same as the design speed, and also the same as the posted speed.”

According to the Rt 571 Concept Design reviewed by county engineers in December 2009, the Main Street Princeton Junction design speed is 45mph, posted speed is 40mph, keeping the same values as exist currently.

Vehicle speed affects pedestrians’ safety in a number of different ways.

Likelihood of Collision

“Faster speeds increase the likelihood of a pedestrian being hit,” according to Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

Severity of Collision

If a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle traveling at 40mph, he/she has a 15% chance of survival, but if the vehicle is going 30mph, chance of survival increases to 55%, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian Facilities Users Guide: Providing Safety and Mobility (2002).

Crosswalk Compliance

Last, motorist compliance with yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks is significantly improved by reducing vehicle speed to below 35mph, according to the federal report Improving Pedestrian Safety at Unsignalized Crossings.

The WWBPA has requested the township to work with the county to follow the new NJDOT approach (called Context Sensitive Design) to choosing a desired operating speed, to support our emerging Main Street. NJDOT guidelines for a Community Arterial in a Suburban Center or Town Center context call for a desired operating speed of 25 – 30mph. Please support the WWBPA by contacting our officials, or write us an email at wwbikeped@gmail.com.

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AASHTO Recognizes Livable Communities

Wednesday, May 5 by JerryFoster

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials just published a guide to Livable Communities that included PennDOT’s use of the Smart Transportation Guidebook, which was developed with NJDOT and is a primary resource in the WWBPA’s recommendations for downtown Princeton Junction.

“Through a program called “Smart Transportation,” Pennsylvania has been working to find innovative solutions to the challenges of constrained resources, aging highways and bridges, and congestion by reexamining the relationship between land use and transportation. One example is PennDOT’s U.S. Route 202 Parkway project in suburban Philadelphia. First envisioned as a new four-lane expressway between Doylestown and Montgomeryville, the project’s cost was simply not affordable. After an extensive consensus-building process, a lower-cost option to build a parkway-type design was approved at roughly half the original cost. The new Parkway included a 12-foot wide bicycle and walking path along its entire 8.4-mile length; concrete stamped , and painted to simulate the appearance of stone on all bridges, culverts, and retaining walls; and landscaped median strips and other aesthetic enhancements.

The Parkway will be built as four lanes for two miles and two lanes for six miles and speed limits will be lowered. Nine signalized intersections will replace three interchanges and slower speeds will help increase safety.”

There is also a section on Main Streets in the document, which can be found at:
http://downloads.transportation.org/LR-1.pdf

AASHTO is traditionally very motor-vehicle-oriented, so for them to recognize the role of context sensitive roadway design in making our communities more livable is a welcome sign of improvement.

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