Vol. 5, No. 4 Winter* 2009-2010
(See note on newsletter cover page regarding photo permissions.)
Walking (and Cycling) the Walk on a Tour Through Europe: presentation by Charles Zegeer on the The International Technology Scanning Program's International Scan on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility
As he surveyed his audience of a couple of dozen people in the meeting room at the UC Berkeley Safe Transportation Research & Education Center, just off the Berkeley campus, Charles Zegeer asked how many walked or bicycled to work or class on a regular basis. About one person in three raised a hand.
That response, roughly 33 percent, is an unusually high number for the U.S., where the national average is about one-half of 1 percent, according to U.S. Census data, and even metropolitan areas with the highest rates of pedestrian and bicycle use are lucky to see 3 percent. (Davis, California, home to the University of California at Davis, is a notable exception, with roughly 20 percent.)
In the hope of increasing those numbers, Zegeer, head of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, a part of the University's Highway Safety Research Center, joined 11 other transportation researchers and practitioners on the International Technology Scanning Program's Scan on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility, a project sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.
In May 2009, the scan team visited 10 cities across five countries in Europe to observe practices, policies, and devices that encourage walking and bicycling by making it easier and safer. The hope is to find approaches that can either inform U.S. policymakers or be adopted directly.
David Ragland, the founding Director of the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center (SafeTREC's precursor prior to its name change in October 2009), invited Zegeer to SafeTREC to share impressions from his trip.
Zegeer's journey began in London, and he pointed out the extensive use there of pavement markings, signs, even barriers, to make explicit the zones reserved for pedestrians and to make their journey through the city's heavily traveled streets safer. Zegeer can attest to their effectiveness. In his case, he said a "look right" sign painted in the pavement "literally saved my life."
Despite all the markings and signs, pedestrian will still jaywalk. One device to help discourage that behavior is the Puffin Signal, which detects when a pedestrian is present and sends the appropriate information to the traffic signal, either to initiate, cut short, extend, or cancel the pedestrian phase.
London does "a good job of signing for pedestrians," Zegeer noted. In addition, it has active campaigns for calming traffic, including one that shows drivers that higher speeds are measurably more lethal for pedestrians, with messages conveying the fact that there is an 85% death rate for pedestrians in crashes when the vehicle is driving 40 kilometers per hour, more than triple the rate at 20 kph.
The city has invested heavily in pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure, and now boasts some 200 miles of marked bike lanes, Zegeer said. Still, that is not as many as in the Netherlands, and he described riding a bike in downtown London as challenging: "You've got to be fast, brave, in shape, and young."
Copenhagen, too, uses extensive signage and pavement markings to make it very obvious that bicycles are expected and encouraged to use the street, Zegeer noted, "not leaving a lot of uncertainty for bicyclists and motorists." Blue paint shows bicycles where they belong, and shows cars where they don't.
While there are extensive alterations to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, "only in the last 30 years have they been changing things," Zegeer said.
In Bern, pedestrian and bicycle traffic was heavy, and included people of all ages, Zegeer observed. Some of the solutions were extremely low-cost and low-tech. After a bicyclist was almost killed when she was struck by a high truck that turned across her path without seeing her, her father waged a campaign to install convex mirrors on signal posts, to provide greater visibility. To ensure that they function even in the cold winter months, they are heated so that they don't fog up.
"The whole environment is attuned toward pedestrians and bicyclists," Zegeer said. The residents "demand motorists behave themselves."
This emphasis on non-motorized travel is reflected in the complex signal designs that incorporate pedestrians and bicyclists into the phases along with signals for vehicles.
In Amsterdam, Zegeer said, they used "lots of paint," with messages on the pavement, rather than the barriers and physical devices that were common in London. Amsterdam was also notable for its bicyclists' lack of helmet use, though "you see more of them on children," he said. "The culture is not helmets." As part of that attitude, bicyclists are more casual riders than can be found in other cities: "they're not trying to set land speed records."
In one small city near Amsterdam, the council decreed that the main road would no longer carry speeding traffic through the center of town and, "overnight," detours were installed to divert high-speed traffic to secondary roads encircling the town. Extensive traffic calming was installed on what had once been a major artery. While Zegeer and his group was able to drive into the center of town, "We had to yield to a basketball game."
In the cities they visited in Germany, there was a greater emphasis on retrofitting streets, without separating bicycles from cars and trucks. Parts of sidewalks have been set aside for bicycles, for example, but there are accidents when bicycles ride across intersections. At the same time, the German cities on the scan's itinerary had provided shelters and lockers for bicycles that protected them from thievery and the elements. In Germany, Zegeer noted, bicycles were generally of a more costly make and design than in other cities on their trip. "The average bike in the Netherlands is flimsy and is stolen within a year," he said.. The German cities also implemented a policy called "streets for living," where vehicles must travel no faster than walking speed.
"Carrots" and "Sticks"
A primary objective of the scan was to identify policies and methods that might be adapted to U.S. cities. One common theme was the power of combining "carrots" in the form of making walking and bicycling safer and more attractive, with "sticks" in the form of high parking fees and driving charges (such as London's $13-a-day fee to drive into downtown on a weekday). Another observation of the team: "people who are best at designing for pedestrians and bicyclists are planners and engineers who walk and ride."
There are certain geographic and cultural givens that make it difficult to replicate policies and approaches here, Zegeer cautioned. The Netherlands, for example, is extremely flat, making it physically easier to walk or bicycle. Also, distances are shorter: it is a small country.
The Importance of Land Use
Land use policies are another area of divergence. "They focus on connecting a pedestrian from their home to their school or their work," Zegeer noted. Safety awareness and education is much more extensive in Europe. Children and parents are drilled in safety rules, and drivers are imbued with the responsibility they have in exchange for the convenience and speed of cars and trucks. Bicycling and walking are more thoroughly integrated into the public transit system, which is also much more extensive than in most of the U.S.
The idea of "shared streets" or "complete streets," as a similar concept is known in this country, is attractive, but, Zegeer warned, it requires great care in implementing to ensure that speeds are safe and that vulnerable users are protected. Concerns about mobility for all road users must also be addressed. Design guidelines can be developed for such facilities based on evidence and factual observation. At the same time, he said, walking and bicycling need to be given the highest position in the traffic planning hierarchy.
"We are now looking for ways to implement some of these techniques and evaluate them," Zegeer said.
The group made 10 recommendations:
1. Establish policies that give biking and walking modes the highest priority in the road user hierarchy, which would require agencies to
- collect transportation and land use policies and strategic plans
- develop examples of successful policies.
2. Develop and implement a performance reporting program that regularly measures progress toward stated goals, which will require
- development of a performance measure framework
- improved and expanded data collection systems.
3. Deploy engineering measures, and those under consideration are:
- Passive detection of pedestrians to reduce delays at crossings and permit adequate time for pedestrians to complete a crossing
- Accessible confirmation for pedestrian push buttons, so that pedestrians know the signal has received their request to cross, similar to an elevator request button
- crossing islands
- raised crosswalks at unsignalized pedestrian crossings
- convex mirrors
- advanced stop bars for bike lanes
- separated facilities
- bicyclist pavement markings.
4. Evaluate the following engineering measures in the U.S. context:
- near side pedestrian signals
- near side traffic signals at midblock pedestrian crossing
- bike boxes
- bicycle traffic signals.
5. Evaluate the applicability of lower-speed street design in commercial and residential areas.
6. Develop guidance on best practices for integrating biking and walking with public transit.
7. Institutionalize ongoing traffic safety education at an early age.
8. Unify all U.S. traffic safety campaigns under a single national brand.
9. Promote the use of photo enforcement as a tool to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
10. Develop and implement programs that encourage and enable regular walking and biking.
The scan team is already taking steps toward some of these recommendations and, he said, is "looking for champions" willing to take some on.
When the situation is more complicated, the painted warnings also become more detailed, as shown in this photo of a London intersection. Note the multiple medians, complete with curb cuts designed to easily accommodate wheelchair users, that act as pedestrian refuges.