Around and Around for Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow, and Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern

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Bicycle in Roundabout (Source: bikewalkencinitas.org)

Roundabouts were introduced to America’s traffic system as a way to increase traffic safety and support greater traffic volumes without extensive new construction. A roundabout’s circular formation works by making incoming vehicles yield to circulating and exiting traffic. This allows cars to maintain a steady traffic flow through the intersection and not have to come to a complete stop. Roundabouts have been proven to be able to handle up to 50 percent more traffic compared to traditional intersections that use traffic signals or stop signs. Further, due to vehicles’ reduced speeds at roundabouts, crash and injury rates can significantly decrease, especially for motorists. According to the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety (IIHS), studies of U.S. intersections that have switched from stop signs or traffic signals to roundabouts have found a decrease in all traffic crashes of 35-47% and a reduction of injury crashes of 72-80%. The IIHS importantly notes that the U.S. studies have focused primarily on single-lane roundabouts. When included in research studies, two-lane roundabouts have been shown to have smaller reductions in crashes compared with single-lane roundabouts or even with increases in crashes. Crashes at roundabouts have also involved bicycle and pedestrians. Non-motorized road users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians, can face several safety and technical challenges when traveling through roundabouts. These challenges can lead to greater crash risk at roundabouts.  Dr. Eleni Christofa, UMTC Affiliate Researcher Civil Engineering and Professor Aura Ganz of Electric and Computer Engineering from UMass Amherst are studying the safety of visually impaired pedestrians at roundabouts. Visually impaired pedestrians may be used to having auditory cues from traffic and signals at intersections to know when it’s safe to cross. Roundabouts, designed with continuous traffic flow in mind, may not have such cues. Additionally, it can be difficult for drivers to detect pedestrians at a crosswalk while the driver is focused on navigating a roundabout.  Dr. Christofa and Dr. Ganz have developed a new dynamic warning sign to alert drivers entering a roundabout as to where pedestrians are attempting to cross. This sign contains a symbolic traffic circle and symbolic crosswalks for each approach of the roundabout. If a pedestrian is about to cross one of the roundabout’s approaches, they can activate the sign which will then flash to alert drivers where pedestrians are crossing in the roundabout. This is designed to help both with driver awareness of pedestrians and pedestrian safety. The dynamic warning sign will be tested on the UMass Amherst advanced driving simulator this summer. If the sign works as expected, it could be used to help with the safety of pedestrians at roundabouts generally and particularly for the visually impaired and those with mobility impairments who take longer in crosswalks.

 

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Proposed dynamic warning sign for pedestrian crossings at roundabouts. Pedestrians activate the sign to flash and show where they are crossing to help alert drivers traversing the roundabout to their presence.

One of Dr. Christofa’ s graduate students, Derek Roach, conducted other research on roundabouts for his Master’s thesis. His study looked at the impact of roundabouts from a driver behavior, vehicle emissions, and safety perspective. As part of his research, Roach reviewed other studies that examined the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians at roundabouts. One of these studies found that drivers who are exiting a roundabout are less likely to yield to pedestrians than when the drivers enter the roundabout.  This same study found that as speed increases in roundabouts, drivers are less likely to yield for pedestrians, making it harder and less safe for pedestrians to cross.

In terms of bicyclist safety, Roach examined a number of studies by researcher Stijn Daniels and colleagues in Belgium. Daniels’ work has found increases in the number of bicyclist crashes and in crash severity when intersections are replaced with roundabouts. Other studies have reported potential explanations for these increases. One study, by researcher Bob Cumming in Australia, found that a contributing factor of bicyclist crashes in one lane roundabouts was bicyclists staying very close to the right curb while going through the roundabout, which would lead motorists to try and pass them in the roundabout. In these cases, it is safer for bicyclists to take the main travel lane instead of being so close to the curb.

At the MassDOT’s 2017 Innovation and Tech Transfer Exchange, presenters from Kittelson and Associates gave an overview on bicycles at roundabouts, including a review of bicycle facility design standards and practices in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Each of the MassDOT Highway Districts in the state has at least one roundabout. MassDOT’s guidance for roundabouts gives special attention to rotary retrofits, building roundabouts in constrained environments, and incorporating state-of-the-practice bicycle and pedestrian design into roundabouts. One important current practice is to treat low-traffic volume and high-traffic volume roundabouts differently, to support bicyclist safety. For lower traffic roundabouts, bicycles are encouraged to circulate with motor vehicles. For higher traffic roundabouts, it is encouraged for bicycles to have a protected intersection with a separate bicycle path, and for bicyclists to have the option of either going through the intersection as a vehicle or pedestrian.

Massachusetts Highlights Alternative Transportation Achievements

by Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern

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Hubway bike Sharing Boston

As warm spring temperatures finally welcome us in Massachusetts, pedestrians and bicyclists emerge from a long winter’s hibernation. Lucky for many of these pedestrians and cyclists, they are greeted by new infrastructure, trails, and programs implemented by the Baker-Polito Administration and the City of Boston.

All throughout 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) worked to improve pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure to get more people using alternative modes of transportation. In November 2017, their work seemingly paid off, when Massachusetts was nationally recognized by the League of American Bicyclists for being the fourth most bicycle-friendly state in the nation.

The report took into account each state’s infrastructure, funding, policies, programs and education on bicycle friendliness when creating the rankings. It is no wonder Massachusetts ranked so high on the list as huge strides have been made in the past year to fund alternative transportation.

For example, Governor Baker created an Interagency Trail Team with MassDOT, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Their goal is to create a unified network of biking trails throughout the Commonwealth.

So far, $1.5 million has been dedicated to fund designs of the 10-mile Northern Strand Community Trail running through Everett, Lynn, Malden, Revere, and Saugus. There has been $12.2 million distributed to 33 municipalities in order to improve over 200 intersections and crosswalks, as well as add or improve over 16 miles of sidewalks and trails.  At least eight other trails or intersections have also been completed, improved, or added this year.  There has been an increase in education for bike safety through videos, conferences, and safety campaigns like, “Scan the Street for Wheels and Feet.”

The Baker-Polito Administration also increased funding to $3.2 million per year for the DCR to give out grants for those who wish to construct or maintain trails across Massachusetts for the next two years.

This summer, as part of this healthy and supporting alternative transportation initiative, Boston’s Hubway, a bike sharing system throughout Boston and surrounding municipalities, is expanding to over 70 locations that were suggested by Boston’s citizens. Proposed maps can be seen on the Boston Bike Share website or the scheduled 11 open houses throughout Boston. After receiving final comments and opinions on the proposed site expansions, the stations will be created and ready for use.

Boston Hubway currently has over 1,600 bikes at over 160 stations in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. The program has many affordable options, costing either $99 or $50 a year depending on income eligibility, or if one is not looking for a commitment there are 24 and 72-hour options for $8 to $15. The bikes can be picked up at any convenient location and returned at another without penalty.

As the temperatures rise, there are plenty of options for Massachusetts’s residents to safely consider alternative transportation in their future travels.

According to Professor Robert L. Ryan, FASLA, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and UMTC Affiliate Researcher, “Boston has long been a leader in alternative transportation through its commitment to the historic Emerald Necklace of parks and trails.  Recent efforts to complete this historic vision are the exciting new Emerald Network project.”

“The Emerald Network is a vision for 200 miles of seamless shared-use greenway paths in the urban core of Boston and its adjacent cities” (Source: https://www.emeraldnetwork.info/ ) that is being proposed by the Livable Streets Alliance and is working in conjunction with the City’s efforts.

Currently, senior undergraduate landscape architecture students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst under the direction of Professor Ethan Carr, FASLA and Assistant Professor Theodore Eisenman, PhD, MLA are working on conceptual designs for key sections of the Network as part of their senior capstone project for spring 2018.

 

Getting Around on Two Wheels, with a Motor, Instead of Four

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

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MassDOT’s sustainability initiative calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and for promoting transportation modes such as bicycling, walking, and public transit. Electric bikes are a viable, environmentally-friendly way to get around.

Electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, are bicycles with an electric assist motor attached to the frame. With some e-bikes, the motor supplements pedal power as needed; with other e-bikes, the rider can choose to not pedal at all. There are currently close to 230 million e-bikes worldwide. They are especially popular in China, which has over 200 million of them, in other parts of Asia, and in European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. U.S. e-bike sales are small compared to sales in other parts of the world, but U.S. sales are growing. It’s estimated that 263,000 e-bikes were sold in the U.S. in 2017, an increase of 25% over the previous year.

As described on an e-bikes website, e-bikes “provide all the advantages of a regular bicycle: fun exercise, free parking, zero emissions, and freedom from gridlock, while eliminating one of the bicycle’s more serious drawbacks, lack of power.” Because of their power assist, including on hills and with longer distances, e-bikes can be an option for people who might otherwise not be willing, or able, to bicycle for certain trips. This includes people traveling to work who don’t want to get sweaty during their commute and have to change or shower at the end of their trip.  It also includes older people who would stop biking without power assist.

E-bikes are also environmentally friendly. Transportation researcher Mirjan Bouwman from the Netherlands has estimated that e-bikes are thirteen times more energy efficient than a typical four-door car and six times more energy efficient than rail transit. E-bikes are also less expensive than a car. A typical e-bike sold in the U.S. costs between $1,000 and $3,000. In some situations, families have decided to purchase an electric bike, in lieu of having a second car. One example of a versatile e-bike is the cargo bike.

Some bike sharing programs now have e-bikes, which can help make them more affordable and further increase their use. The first e-bike only bike share program in the U.S. started last summer in Park City, Utah. Another e-bike bike share will be starting this year in the cities of Davis, Sacramento, and West Sacramento, California. Some regular bike share programs, such as in Birmingham, Alabama, have expanded to include e-bikes. In Massachusetts, bike share programs currently exist or will be starting up this year, in a number of cities including Boston, Worcester, Revere, and Quincy. None of the Massachusetts bike share programs includes e-bikes yet.

As e-bikes have become more popular, some cities have restricted or prohibited their use, citing safety concerns. This has been the case in a number of Chinese cities, and in New York City as well.

In Massachusetts, a bicycle is considered a “low-speed electric bicycle” under Federal law (15 U.S.C. § 2085) that does not have to be registered with the state Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) if it meets all of the following criteria:  has as two or three wheels; has fully operable pedals; has an electric motor of less than 750 watts (one horsepower); and has a maximum speed of less than 20 miles per hour (mph) on a paved level surface, when powered solely by the motor.  “Low-speed electric bicycles” can be used on any roadways that bicycles can, and anyone under age 16 who is riding one is required to have a helmet.

Pedestrian Research Findings Presented to MassDOT

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Belmont Ave., Holyoke, MA

On Friday, Jan 26th, Dr. Robert Ryan, from UMass Amherst, and his graduate students presented their results on The Role of Street Trees on Pedestrian Safety research project at an Executive Briefing meeting which took place in the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP).  This research aims to study the link between street trees and pedestrians’ perceptions of safety, along with actual safety while walking along street corridors in Chicopee, Holyoke and Springfield.

One research objective for this project centers on how road volume across street corridors, as well as streetscape features may impact pedestrian safety. Another key objective includes understanding how both residents and nonresidents value the presence or absence of street trees as related to vehicular traffic speed, as well as how to spatially assess pedestrian-vehicle accident reports with the presence of street trees.

Preliminary findings discussed at the Executive Briefing include:

  • Socio-demographic information
  • Important features for walking route choice
  • Results by city
  • Results by street tree cover
  • Results by age, gender, income, and race
  • Preference for additional tree plantings and future improvements

Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon Devices Rescinded

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

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A Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB). Source: Carol Kachadoorian (2012)

Many Massachusetts towns and educational institutions, like UMass Amherst, have installed Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) devices at crosswalks, to alert drivers of a pedestrian crossing. This will be changing in the future. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) prohibits patented devices from experimentation, Interim Approval (IA), or inclusion in the MUTCD. Based on an Interim Approval, in June 2008, for this device, the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Division recently rescinded all new RRFB devices. Existing devices, already installed, can remain in-place for their useful life.  Additional information will be forth coming.  Please contact FHWA Massachusetts division office for guidance.

MassDOT Contracts with UMass Lowell Researchers on “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy Analysis.”

by: Shannon Greenwell, MassDOT Transportation Planner and edited by: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

MassDOT has chosen Affiliate Researchers, Danjue Chen, Yuanchang Xie, and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier to start a 12-to-18-month research project based in UMass Lowell.

MassDOT’s primary lever for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is investment in transportation projects and programs that reduce congestion and promote low emission transportation options such as transit, walking and bicycling. Primarily, this includes traditional capital projects such as constructing sidewalks and bicycle lanes, improving intersections, and procuring cleaner transit vehicles. While these investments are integral to MassDOT’s mission to provide safe and reliable transportation options, and also support Massachusetts’ efforts to achieve the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction targets set out under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA),[1] they often have high capital costs and long design and construction timelines.

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Through this search endeavor, MassDOT seeks a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy and scaleable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments. This data will inform decision-making on how MassDOT could diversify its investments to further support greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts. MassDOT is specifically interested in capital subsidy and direct incentive compensation strategies.

 Shannon Greenwell is a Transportation Planner with MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning. As a planner within the Sustainable Transportation group, Shannon’s work focuses on the research, analysis and development of strategies that reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from capital investments in infrastructure, to wider-reaching programmatic interventions.

[1] Requires Massachusetts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Glow-in-the-dark Lighting Lanes for Safety

This past fall at Texas A&M University, glow-in-the-dark markings were used on the green bike lanes at an unsignalized intersection. The intersection chosen was a Dutch junction which protects cyclists from motorists at the intersection and increases the visibility of cyclists during turning maneuvers. This type of markings can enhance the safety and usability of bike infrastructure. The technology is based on phosphors, a material which is used in glow sticks, televisions, and computer screens.

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Photo Source: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Similarly, in Lidzbark Warminski, Poland, the same technology was used to illuminate a separated bike and pedestrian path. The 330 foot-long, 12 foot-wide path was illuminated to create a bike lane and a pedestrian lane. The city plans on using this stretch as a pilot study.

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Photo Source: Strabag

While there are many ways to light a bike lane, there are several advantages to this method. This technology can provide continuous lighting relative to street lights, reduced light pollution for surrounding homes, ability to light paths in remote locations without electrical service, and the use of renewable energy reducing potential climate change impacts.

Both of these projects are pilot studies and are primarily focused on testing how long the product will last under the wear and tear of cyclists and weather. Texas A&M has only installed the glow-in-the-dark markings at one intersection on campus and the stretch illuminated in Poland is limited to just 330 feet. This technology is very new and has limitations for wide spread use due to cost. In Massachusetts where winter months can result in additional stress on pavement due to snow and ice, implementation of this technology could be costly and might be better used strategically rather than as a standard method for all bike paths and lanes. Glow-in-the-dark pavement markings may be ideal in areas with high volumes of cyclists, on bike paths adjacent to residential neighborhoods, and college campuses where the technology could also be used on crosswalks. It will be interesting to follow the findings of these pilot studies in Texas and especially Poland, which shares a similar climate as Massachusetts.

The Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning

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Are you interested in what planners from around the world are doing to design innovative bicycle and pedestrian corridors, green streets, and other creative solutions to challenging urban conditions? To explore these issues, international experts gather every three years at the Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning to highlight recent trends and expand the research about landscape and greenway planning. The aim is to explore how landscape architects and planners from different countries have approached greenway planning and to understand how greenways have been tailored to each county’s unique geographical, cultural, and political circumstances.

The conference is organized by Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with generous support from the Fábos Fund in partnership with Szent István University, Bdsc09888udapest, Hungary. Professor Emeritus Julius Gy. Fábos is an international leader in greenway planning who taught for over 35 years in the UMass Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. For more information about Dr. Fábos see http://www.umass.edu/larp/people/julius-gy-fábos.

This year’s conference, the 5th Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning, Greenways, Corridors of Change and Resilience was held in Budapest, Hungary on June 30-July 3, 2016 and featured over 150 speakers from over thirty countries and five continents. The conference focused on the challenges of rapid social, economic, political and ecological change caused by forces such as urbanization and climate change. These conference papers range from solutions to creating urban greenways in some of the most crowded cities in the world, as well as innovative design solutions for old industrial waterfronts, to historic and cultural trails, such as the Dinosaur Trail for the Connecticut River Valley. The full papers from the conference are available in a two-volume edited proceeding at https://sites.google.com/site/fabos2016/publication.

The next Fábos conference will be held in spring, 2019 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. For more information, please contact conference co-organizer, Professor Robert L. Ryan at rlryan@larp.umass.edu or Tel. (413) 545-6633.

By Professor Robert Ryan, PhD, FASLA – UMass-Amherst Department of Landscape Architecture

A Seasonal Bicycle Demand Model Using A Sinusoidal Function

As urban populations increase, there is a growing need for efficient and sustainable transportation modes, such as bicycling. Unfortunately, the lack of bicycle demand data is a substantial barrier to efforts in designing, planning, and researching bicycle transportation. Estimating bicycle demand is especially difficult not only due to limited count data, but due to the fact that bicyclists are highly responsive to a multitude of factors, particularly seasonal weather conditions. Current bicycle demand estimation methods are increasingly improving and are capable of accurately adjusting for seasonal change in demand. However, these methods often require substantial data for each calibration, which is often difficult or impossible in locations with partial or minimal continuous count data. This research aims to help mitigate this challenge by developing an estimation method which uses a sinusoidal model to fit the typical pattern of seasonal bicycle demand expected in in many locations. This sinusoidal model utilizes a single calibration factor to adjust for scale of seasonal demand change and is capable of estimating monthly average daily bicycle counts (ADB) and average annual daily bicycle counts (AADB). This calibration factor can be established using a minimum of two short term counts to represent the maximum monthly ADB in summer and minimum monthly ADB in winter, or ideally with continuous counts. The calibration factor can then be applied to other locations that are expected to have similar seasonal patterns, even if they have different overall counts. To develop the model this research uses data from bike-share systems in four cities and permanent bicycle counters in six cities. Ultimately, this model functions as an alternative, or supportive, estimation method which allows for researchers and transportation agencies to approximate expected demand in locations that suffer from minimal seasonal bicycle demand data.

By Nicholas Fournier, Eleni Christofa, and Michael A. Knodler Jr., UMass-Amherst Researchers

 

Innovative Strategies for Safer Cycling

Research is in progress at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst underway to evaluate newer bicycle infrastructure treatments such as bike-boxes, merge lanes, and protected intersections to identify patterns around driver behavior and performance when approaching these new innovative bicycle infrastructure treatments. The information collected can then be used to develop countermeasures such as infrastructure geometry, signage, training campaigns, etc. The goal of this information is to promote cycling by mitigating bicycle safety concerns through improving driver awareness at new and unfamiliar bicycle infrastructure treatments. For more information please click here.

By Professor Eleni Christofa and Ph.D. Student Nick Fournier, UMass-Amherst