News Transportation

How to Reimagine Our Streets Around the Concept of Shared Space

CNU22 featured speakers from all over the world, from Bogotá to Toronto to Brighton. One plenary speaker from Bristol moved the audience with an idea called Shared Space that was beautifully simple and innovative, yet entirely new to most of the crowd.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie is a British urban designer, “recovering” architect and self-taught in the area of transportation planning. His presentation focused on explaining Shared Space as an urban design technique that can alleviate the frequently problematic interface between pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles and the public realm.

As the name would suggest, Shared Space advances the idea that streets themselves can be a seamless part of public space that is shared by all users. The method came from the Netherlands, where Hamilton-Baillie studied under transportation engineer Hans Monderman and Joost Váhl, who developed the Dutch woonerfs where pedestrians and cyclists have priority on roadways.

The concept also integrates a thoughtful assessment of human psychology as it relates to driving. “It’s essential to understand the changing view of the nature of risk,” Hamilton-Baillie explained. “Hazards keep us aware of our environment and allow us to adapt our behavior.”

This seems counter-intuitive, but it was effectively explained through an example of two cities in the Tel Aviv region of Israel.

Bnei-Brak, located east of Tel Aviv, is composed of largely low-income, ultra-conservative Jews. Ramat-Gan, also located east of Tel Aviv, is home to a more moderate, middle-income Jewish population. Hamilton-Baillie explained that the people of Bnei-Brak are known throughout the region as being unruly pedestrians. Adults and children cross streets with disregard for traffic. Locals know that they must be vigilant when driving there.

Conversely, the residents of Ramat-Gan respect pedestrian rules, crosswalks, and jaywalk less frequently. Drivers are more at ease in Ramat-Gan.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, there is a higher instance of pedestrian fatality in Ramat-Gan. Drivers in Bnei-Brak tend to cautiously drive at lower speeds, aware that there is a greater risk of a pedestrian appearing in the road. One can see in this example that increased risk makes for more attentive drivers.

Shared Space utilizes risk in the form of mixing cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on streets, and relies on the idea that removing lines and signaling allows for social protocols to take over more strongly than signs. This, Hamilton-Baillie said, is called “friction”, or natural cues that guide a driver’s speed. There is already an increasing awareness in North America that things like narrow streets, street trees and buildings built to the right-of-way naturally induce drivers to reduce speed without a speed-limit.

One might think that this friction would create delays, but evidence from project implementation has found the opposite, as did Hans Monderman’s projects in the Netherlands. And post-project evaluations, like in Poynton, UK, have confirmed the efficacy of Shared Space designs.

Poynton is a city southeast of Manchester. It is a throughway for traffic between the two larger cities of Macclesfield and Stockport. In this instance, vehicles were found to be passing on the main thoroughfare at a rate of 26,000 per day, many of which were trucks. The initial approach to relieve congestion was the construction of additional lanes of traffic.

Shared Space, however, was applied as part of a regeneration scheme in Poynton. The first task for Hamilton-Baillie’s consultancy was to “remove every trace of traffic engineering.”

Three lanes of cars were reduced to one, signaling was removed, additional on-street parking was introduced, and sidewalks were widened. There was increased edge friction through vertical elements within the driver’s line of vision.

Even after the removal of two lanes and signals, traffic flow stayed the same and pedestrian traffic increased five-fold. Before the project, 16 of 32 shops in town were boarded up; but within one to two years after project completion, all shop spaces in the business district were occupied.

Streets were able to concurrently be part of Poynton public space and serve through traffic – the change in aesthetics was remarkable.

It is certain that freight and car movement is critical to the healthy functioning of any economy. This fact is not contested. But since civilizations started building cities, they have been venues for people to roam – sometimes at odds with our economic necessity to move people and goods through them quickly.

Fast big things and slow small things do not mix well.

Shared Space demonstrates that these seemingly incompatible users actually function better when mixed within the city fabric – cars move more fluidly when drivers are forced to react to their surroundings instead of their actions being dictated to them. People are safer, too.

The outcome is that streets become a different kind of public space, where mobility means interacting with one’s surroundings.

When asked if he thought famously impatient North American drivers could adapt to the concept, he paused for a moment and said, “Everywhere Shared Space has been applied, I was told that the drivers in the locale couldn’t adapt. In every case they did.”

News Opinion Transportation

PHOTOS: The Impressive Urbanity of Colombia’s Third Largest City

If Medellín is the clean, gem of Colombia, Cali is the working man’s town. Visibly grittier than Medellín, Cali sports an incredible amount of assets that match and sometimes outshine Medellín.

Surrounded by mountains on one side, Cali’s skyline is more impressive than that of Medellín, while also seeming more original. Everything in Medellín is new, it seems.

While no rail transportation exists in the city, a large and extensive system of bus rapid transit allows traveling easy. In addition to their bus rapid transit system, Cali also has a system of bike lanes, although no bike share system.

They have impressive grand boulevards and arterials all throughout the city as well as grade-separated highways more impressive than those I saw in Medellín. In the downtown area, the city capped over a highway running along the river and made it a pedestrian and bus-only boulevard, following the river on the left and providing easy access to the center city and many historical buildings.

For a city with a reputation as being dangerous, it was incredibly efficient and had an impressive number of assets, including an incredible park system affording many breathtaking views of downtown Cali and the city sprawled out around it.

In the first official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Natalia Gomez Rojas, a city planner from Bogotá, to discuss Colombia’s pursuit and implementation of bus rapid transit. The discussion also touched on a number of societal issues facing Colombia’s cities as they continue to develop and evolve in a post-drug cartel era. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free. You can also read more of our coverage regarding bus rapid transit here.

This two-part photo series on Colombia’s second and third largest cities was put together during a four-month assignment by Jacob Fessler, during which he was based out of the city of Barranquilla.

News Opinion Transportation

PHOTOS: The Rebirth and Hype of Medellín Does Not Disappoint

It is not hard to understand why Medellín is being considered by many to be Colombia’s gem city.

From the moment I moved to Colombia, everyone I met talked about Medellín with a gleam in their eye. I half-expected to be disappointed once I finally arrived because of all the hype. Once I did arrive in the city, however, disappointment was not the reaction.

Sitting in a valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides, Medellín is an impressively modern city in the midst of a country still modernizing. Endowed with beautiful weather, clean environment and efficient work culture, it is a powerful part of the Colombian economy. For a city that a mere 20 years ago was among the most dangerous in the world, the transformation is remarkable and attests to the will of the people of Medellín.

Medellín’s transportation system consists of two grade-separated rail lines (elevated and ground-level), three metro cable lines, and two bus rapid transit lines. Maps of the metro system show a future extension of the smaller of the two rail lines.

While one of the metro cable lines is mostly for tourists, the other two have transformed commutes that used to take two hours through the winding streets of the city’s informal, working class neighborhoods into a short ride above the city that connects with the rail lines below. In addition to this, the city has a public bike share system.

While I was unable to see the extent to which the system was employed, the fact that they had it was very impressive. To go along with their bike share system, the city had a clear system of bike lanes on many of the streets. The city also has several grade-separated highways and large arterial roads, a problem in many Colombian cities.

In the first official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Natalia Gomez Rojas, a city planner from Bogotá, to discuss Colombia’s pursuit and implementation of bus rapid transit. The discussion also touched on a number of societal issues facing Colombia’s cities as they continue to develop and evolve in a post-drug cartel era. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free.

Up To Speed

Bus rapid transit systems in the U.S. not keeping pace

Bus rapid transit systems in the U.S. not keeping pace.

Many American cities, Cincinnati included, are working towards enhancing their bus systems as ridership grows. Bus rapid transit systems consistently come up as potential solutions, but rarely are they true BRT systems. More from Greater Greater Washington:

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy publishes BRT standards that describe minimum characteristics necessary for a bus route to qualify as BRT. Those standards establish three levels of BRT quality: bronze, silver, and gold. They include features like off-bus fare collection, high station platforms, and bus frequency.

So far, only 5 lines in the United States have scored highly enough to qualify as true BRT, and all 5 rank at the bronze level. Not one is even silver, let alone gold.

According to ITDP, the best performing BRT systems in the world are Bogota, Colombia and Guangzhou, China, which score 93/100 and 89/100, respectively. They are the gold standard.

News Transportation

Bogota’s TransMilenio serves as model for Cincinnati’s planned BRT

Cincinnati is exploring the idea of implementing bus rapid transit (BRT) lines to create better transit access from the city’s inner-ring suburbs to the employment centers of downtown and uptown. The success of BRT is often determined before the first passenger ever boards. Design, routing and operation planning often determines the level of success experienced. As a result, UrbanCincy traveled to Bogota, Colombia to see how one of the world’s most famous, and successful bus rapid transit systems works.

Bogota’s TransMilenio system first opened in December 2000. The investment was made in lieu of a much more expensive, and invasive, highway building project to relieve congestion in Colombia’s largest city. Since that time, the TransMilenio’s reach has grown along with its popularity, now serving 1.5 million riders each day along its nine lines totaling 54 miles.

TransMilenio Peppe Sierra Estacion on Bogota’s north side. Photograph by Randy A. Simes.

The TransMilenio operates in the center of major thoroughfares throughout Bogota. Riders often access the stations by crossing steel walkways that extend over the wide streets below. The stations also use similar steel framework and include glass doors that open when buses pull up to the platform.

The simple design helped to keep initial costs low ($9.6M per mile), but is showing signs of significant wear and tear. The open air stations also suffer from the extreme pollution from vehicle, truck and bus exhaust along the busy roadways.

The buses themselves are typically single-articulated red buses that are easily recognizable from the city’s plethora of private buses operating as circulators throughout the rest of the city. To accommodate more passengers, new double-articulated buses are now being integrated into the overall system as station design permits.

It is important to note that the TransMilenio only operates along major thoroughfares and functions much like an above-ground rapid transit system. The buses do not reach into neighborhoods and instead focus on moving people long distances along specific corridors. Other trips are better made by using the small, private buses operating on local streets.

The original TransMilenio lines were routed much like those being planned for Cincinnati. Lines focused on moving people from heavily populated residential areas to the downtown business district, surrounding university and government buildings, and tourist attractions. New lines are extending into secondary job centers including the city’s international airport.

TransMilenio BRT service in downtown Bogota along Calle 13 [LEFT]. Service doors at Avenida Jimeniz TransMilenio Estacion in downtown Bogota [RIGHT]. Photographs by Randy A. Simes.

The TransMilenio may be one of the most sophisticated BRT systems in the world. During peak travel times, buses operate at extreme frequencies with buses arriving at station platforms virtually non-stop. The buses also receive traffic light priority. They are not timed with lights due to the unpredictability of station length stops as passengers try to cram on the bus.

The system operates from 5am to 11pm and uses an electronic fare payment system. This payment system is different from others systems around the world. Riders purchase a specific number of trips from a person staffing each location. This creates backups during heavy travel times as many people attempt to purchase trip cards. These cards are then used until the last trip when the card is inserted into the turnstile and recycled for later use.

Fares have risen steadily since the system began operation in late 2000, and now costs 1,700 Colombian Pesos per trip (about $1). The huge ridership numbers clearly allow for fares to be kept low, but the rising cost of oil is sure to impact a system that relies solely on diesel fuel.

The buses are all managed at a central dispatch center which tracks average travel speeds, stacking at stations and other schematics. This system tracking allows operators to determine how future improvements should be made, and how operation changes can improve service.

Cincinnati should learn from Bogota’s experience. The TransMilenio offers superior service, but also suffers from problems that could be solved with a greater upfront investment.

When operating lots of big buses at high frequencies, it is no wonder that heavy pollution comes with it. Bus rapid transit in Cincinnati should utilize electric overhead wires, or some sort of clean fuel technology to prevent such pollution from proliferating along the lines.

When designing bus rapid transit lines and stations for Cincinnati, city leaders and transit officials should not view BRT as a cheap transit alternative. In the case of BRT, like many things, you get what you pay for. The TransMilenio has robust stations and huge amounts of right-of-way clearly separated from other traffic. BRT systems that do not invest in superior station designs and separated right-of-way, will suffer lower ridership due to the lack of improved travel times and overall perception problems.

Bus rapid transit should also not be viewed as a transit solution to be done instead of rail investments. This has been seen in Bogota, and city leaders there are now working on a new subway and a massive light rail system that will compliment the TransMilenio which will eventually cover 241 miles.