Confessions of a Recovering Engineer

Anne asked that we cross-post the article Confessions of a Recovering Engineer from Strong Towns Blog, an engineer’s take on the profession and how we’ve gotten into our current fix by prioritizing speed over other values. The article has generated 46 comments in the last week, and comments are remarkably on-topic and intelligent for the Internet.

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A greenway on Nevada St?

Please watch the StreetFilms video on Portland’s neighborhood greenways, and think about the applicability and practicability for Carson City.

Portland has a grid street system, except for the west hills and the far suburbs, and Carson City does not have a grid except in a few areas, so it is difficult to identify locations where a street parallel to the arterials and collectors could be prioritized for bicycle use.

But Nevada Street immediately popped into my mind. It runs a fair distance, about 1-1/2 miles from nearly Winnie Lane on the north to 10th Street on the south. It is already a fairly calm street, so it would require less traffic calming than would many other streets. A few speed humps (like the one on Division Street), a reduction in the speed limit to 15 or 20 mph, bulb outs and/or bicycle and pedestrian passthroughs at major street crossings (Fifth Street certainly, and perhaps Musser, Robinson, Washington and Long) to discourage through motor traffic, and orienting signs for bicycle free flow, would create a bicycle friendly route.

As shown in the video, the greenways create comfortable and practical routes for all sorts of bicyclists, not just regular commuters who feel comfortable riding in traffic. I can imagine it being a part of our yearly Bike to Work Week cruiser ride. The route passes close to Fritsch Elementary School, and is not far from Bordewich Elementary. It also provides access to downtown from both the north and the south.

The idea is that only people who live on Nevada Street would be using their motor vehicles on Nevada Street. Others might be on for a short distance, and would use cross streets, but the nature of the street would be a place friendly to and safe for bicyclists, pedestrians, kids, dogs, etc.

What do you think? Would it work in Carson City? Is Nevada Street the best place for a pilot? What traffic calming actions would make the most difference? What other streets might be good candidates? How would you make use of the neighborhood greenway?

No traffic lights?

traffic signals, from FitRoads

A fascinating and provocative video from an organization in England, FitRoads, about an experiment which turned off the lights, the traffic signals, and what kind of behaviour followed.

I just received this link today, but it seems quite timely following the NDOT meeting on safety improvements to Hwy 50 through Mound House last night, in which much of the audience was advocating for traffic signals at the best solution. Traffic signals do indeed increase the rate of crashes, though they may decrease the severity of crashes.

Could it be that a complete street is a street without signals?Worth thinking about!

NDOT meeting on Hwy 50 tonight

NDOT is holding an scoping (informational) meeting about the section of Highway 50 between Deer Run Road and Hwy 341 to Virginia City, the “Mound House” section. This section has seen an epidemic of  fatalities and serious injury crashes this year, so NDOT is accelerating planning to improve the highway. (Nevada Appeal article)

This project could also make things safer for bicyclists, if it is designed correctly, but it could also make things worse for bicyclists, if it is not. There are several bicyclists who commute regularly from Dayton to Carson City, and the roadway sees quite a lot of recreational use on weekends. Tim Rowe of Alta Alpina Cycling Club, and Muscle Powered board member, has asked that people attend the meeting tonight to ask questions and provide information about bicycle facilities on this section of highway.

The highway itself should either have wide shoulders (six feet or more) or marked bike lanes, and any cross streets or grade separations should have marked bike lanes as well as sidewalks. A separate multi-use path might be appropriate in some areas, however, it must not be inconvenient or unsafe for commuting bicyclists to access the path. Lowering the speed limit on the highway should definitely be considered, since speed is the biggest contributor to fatality and injury in accidents. A widened highway that encourages higher speed would be a mistake for all users. The Nevada Appeal article mentions acceleration and deceleration lanes. These can be a significant hazard to bicyclists if they are not designed and stripped properly, and again, they allow higher speeds.

The meeting is Thursday, October 21, 2010, 4:00 to 7:00 PM, at the Lyon County Utilities Building, 34 Lakes Blvd #103, Dayton NV. A notice of the meeting with sketch map is available at http://budget.state.nv.us/clearinghouse/Notice/2011/E2011-058.pdf.

A Highway 50 Corridor Study from 2007 is available http://www.nevadadot.com/planning/pdfs/US_50_2007.pdf. The study mentions bicycles in a number of places but doesn’t make clear that bicycle facilities are needed along this entire stretch, nor does it define what sorts of facilities might be provided. The Carson City Unified Pathways Master Plan from 2006 indicates an existing on-street bike lane out to the county line (though it is insufficiently marked for this), and a proposed paved shared path (bicycles and pedestrians, not horses) to the county line, and then indicates a shared street (shoulder) in Lyon County. The CAMPO Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) from 2009 shows the Lyon County portion to Hwy 341 as a bicycle lane proposed (page 5-19).

NDOT turns its back on biking and walking

no pedestrian facilities in Las Vegas, PedBikeImages, Dan Burden

State transportation agencies recently had to return unspent money to the federal government, in a process called rescission. Twenty states cut transportation enhancement (TE) funds at or at less than their share of the overall transportation budget. Nevada chose to gut the TE program by taking 62% of the rescission from this program. Transportation enhancement funds are used for bicycle and pedestrian enhancement projects, as well as some others. Though all projects are supposed to accommodate bicyclists and walkers, they often do not, and certainly projects built in the past did not, so there is much work to do just to bring these modes to a share of the public roadways. Transportation enhancement funds can be used to make streets and highways into “complete streets,” facilities that serve all modes of transportation.

Why did Nevada have so much in unspent TE funds to begin with? Because the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) drags its feet on implementing projects to enhance biking and walking. Why did they take so much from TE? Because NDOT does not support the idea of bikers and walkers as having a right to a share of transportation infrastructure.

Rails to Trails’ rescissions page has more detail, and the linked table show just where Nevada stands. Not at the bottom, but third from the bottom, exceeded only by Nebraska and Texas. Several states, recognizing the backlog of bicycle and pedestrian projects that are critically important to safety and fairness, did not cut any funds from transportation enhancement.

Muscle Powered wrote to NDOT Administrator Susan Martinovich asking that transportation enhancement funds be cut in proportion to their share of the budget, or not at all, but we’ve received no reply. If this is important to you, you may want to write Martinovich yourself, or contact the new media. If NDOT succeeds in gutting transportation enhancement this time, they will continue to do it in the future.

Anne on Narrowing Carson Street

“Imagine getting out of your car and joining the world again.”

Anne Macquarie, board member and founder of Muscle Powered, penned a great opinion piece for the Nevada Appeal today on Narrowing Carson Street. She points out the numerous benefits that could come from the narrowing, not the least of which is a Carson Street that pedestrians feel comfortable crossing. The struggle to revision Carson Street will happen before the Board of Supervisors, the Redevelopment Authority, and the Regional Transportation Commission, but it will also play out in the pages of the Nevada Appeal. There have been several letters recently objecting to narrowing, and in favor of “the way things used to be” (though of course they never were) and for a continued dominance by cars. If you feel that the narrowing is valuable, please consider a letter to the editor saying so and providing your personal experiences and dreams.

Carson City Sidewalk Projects Update

Washington St

Patrick Pittenger, Transportation Manager at Carson City Public Works, provided a list of recent and future projects to improve sidewalks around Carson City.

Recent

  • Fremont Elementary – Sidewalk widening and new connection to gate, about $16k from RTC, complete.
  • Curry near Sophia – Install new detached sidewalk and curb ramps at request of local business, about $20k from RTC, complete.
  • Washington – Sidewalk addition and improvements from Carson St to Roop St, about $306k from CDBG grant and about $13k from RTC, complete.
  • Division/Spear – Remove old sidewalk and replace/upgrade and install corner ramps, about $6K from RTC and remainder from property owner, complete.
  • Fifth and Goni – Sidewalk and bike lane additions on Fifth St between Fairview and Carson River Rd, and on Goni Rd between Arrowhead Dr and Conestoga Dr, CDBG grant, sidewalk work complete but landscaping now being added to Fifth St.

Continue reading “Carson City Sidewalk Projects Update”