Posts about UK
Traveling around a city is typically considered a chore, something necessary to get from point A to point B. But why can't the journey be the fun part? A game called Chromaroma does that in London:
People sign up and let Chromaroma track their movements using their Oyster cards, the London version of SmarTrip. People can see brightly colored visualizations of their travel, earn "points" for traveling, join teams to amass the most points and even complete "missions" like going to certain locations.
This is all possible because Transport for London has been willing to let Chromaroma access the travel data for individual members. That's not a type of open data that WMATA or other local agencies yet support, but we could imagine a lot of great applications if an individual user can grant permission for a tool to access their personal data (but only if they so choose).
It's the same way that Twitter of Facebook have applications that access your personal information: The application can't see your tweets or your wall until you specifically grant it access. This "platform" strategy has done a lot to make these social networks the big powerhouses they are. A transit data "platform" could allow making riding much more fun.
At last night's NCPC panel, "Redefining Security a Decade After 9/11," we were reminded that on security, Americans are a "cantankerous bunch." According to Brian Jenkins of RAND Corporation, US residents demand to feel 100% safe at all times at no cost to their way of life.
Jenkins, joined by architect Thomas Vonier and landscape architect Alan Ward, addressed this dilemma and others in a discussion on balancing physical security needs with good urban design. When it came to how much security is appropriate, though, the panelists diverged in their recommendations.
Vonier's talk seemed to encourage a "whatever it takes" mentality on introducing both visible and concealed security measures into the urban space. He embraced the use of "choke points," or highly supervised, securitized points that all people entering a site must pass through. Vonier lauded Lafayette Square as a successful example of an urban control zone.
In contrast to Vonier stood Ward, who turned to the Washington Monument as an ideal example of a minimalist solution to security concerns. The Monument received a security facelift in 2003 with the addition of sunken walls that naturally curve around the base of the hill on which the Monument stands, providing additional security without encroaching upon visitors' privacy.
Unlike Vonier, Ward seemed more inclined to respect historical precedents and maintain the natural order of a space to the greatest extent possible. He lamented the 18-foot descent that pedestrians endure when approaching the Capitol Visitor Center, a sensation he described as the antithesis to the entry experience one expects of such a grand building.
Jenkins and Vonier both suggested civic authorities reduce security risks from vehicles by creating pedestrian roadways with reduced or no car and truck access. London developed the "Ring of Steel" after a series of IRA attacks. This is a perimeter of Closed-captioned Television (CCTV), police, and bollards within the City of London, Greater London's financial district. According to Jenkins, as a result of the "Ring of Steel," the streets have been "pedestrianized," and commerce is thriving.
Ward, however, disagreed with adopting a similar approach. "We don't have the density of pedestrians" to eliminate cars from certain roads, he said. Ward also suggested that the economy would not support such changes in traffic patterns, which could "kill businesses."
The panelists bandied about a number of solutions to the question of how to simultaneously provide both security and amenity. Vonier referred to the classic necessity of more eyes on the street to increase vigilance against threats. He suggested that police and civic authorities encourage proprietors to take ownership of the sidewalks and streets in front of their businesses, creating a "defensible space."
During the question and answer session, Jenkins suggested that in order to make the public more accountable for security, governments must improve education and communication, helping individuals to better understand policy decisions and security protocol while empowering them to be more vigilant.
Disappointingly, some of the pricklier subjects, such as congestion pricing, closed circuit surveillance, and defense against airborne security threats were mentioned in brief but not explored much further.
Many questions still remained unanswered. How can design engage the public in the provision of their own security? At what point did Americans become passive potential victims, as many of the latest security measures suggest? Which works better: the prototypical Parisian cafe-style of surveillance, or the large setbacks and empty spaces prevalent in front of federal buildings?
Nobody seemed fully equipped to provide answers, largely because the issue frequently turns into a matter of subjective opinion, as the talks showed. At the very least, however, the panelists could all agree that many existing security features around DC, like the Jersey barriers outside of the Federal Aviation Administration's building, can and should be improved to reflect stronger urban design and a better connection to the pedestrian experience.
Michael sent along this amusing "FAIL" photo... but is it really a fail at all?
At first blush, this looks ridiculous. How can closing a lane ease congestion? But actually, it can.
Let's say you have a road that's one lane in each direction. At one spot, it turns into 2 lanes each direction, then back to 1. What will happen?
People will speed up when the road widens, then merge back where it narrows. Merging creates "friction," forcing drivers to slow down a little more than usual and to wait for each other which can be inefficient. The end result is lower throughput overall than if the road simply stayed one lane.
This exact thing happens on the Clara Barton Parkway. There's an area just outside DC with exactly this geometry. The parkway might flow well until that point, yet during periods of moderate traffic there's always congestion right at the merge.
Sometimes an extra lane is worthwhile. Many mountain interstates widen to provide climbing lanes for large trucks, for instance. But the Clara Barton Parkway is not such a situation (and doesn't allow trucks, anyway).
For a short time I had to drive to Potomac in the evening rush periodically, and always wondered why this bizarre situation still existed. If the parkway simply remained one lane each way with the other closed, it would indeed ease congestion.
Maryland narrowed Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda around where it crosses the Beltway. The road, usually 2 lanes each way, widened to 4 and then narrowed again. Now, 2 whole lanes are marked off with stripes. That smooths traffic and also gives bicycles and pedestrians a better shoulder to use when connecting between neighborhoods on either side.
As for the FAIL Blog photo, that was on a highway in Cornwall, England in 2006. Huge numbers of drivers were descending on the region for a music festival, and officials recognized that a 2-mile passing lane would actually worsen traffic with the heavy load.
It may sound barmy but in fact it makes a lot of sense because, if it was left open, traffic from the two lanes would have to merge into one at the top. This causes a lot of aggro and a lot of stopping and starting which has been shown to delay traffic even more.How about cutting down on the "aggro" on the Clara Barton as well?
Maps matter. Metro's and London's transit maps present distorted geographies in order to make the system's organization clearer. They have become iconic, but the way they present distances shapes people's understanding of space and distance in their region.
An NYU study found that distances on such maps affect people's travel choices much more than actual distances. Riders on the London Tube who had choices between multiple transfers were twice as likely to take the route that was shorter on the map but longer in real life. Even people who ride every weekday did this.
This reinforces an important idea we've discussed before: The map forms people's views of a city. To many people, the Metro map is the mental image of DC and the surrounding area. Geographic distortions may be appropriate to help a map be simpler, but designers should consider carefully the effect of each such change.
Peter Dunn pointed us to a Metro map he made, which makes distances match travel times. The overall shape of the map is the same, but stations that take longer to travel between appear farther apart:
This is less useful in many ways than the classic map. Most riders travel to and from stations in the core, and tourists or other riders unfamiliar with the system are most likely of all to do so. This map gives little space to that area and leaves large amounts of empty space at the edges.
However, based on the NYU study, this map would leave people with a much more accurate conception of the region. The question for mapmakers is, when is it more valuable to make a schematic map simple and understandable, and when does the way it distorts people's own mental maps of the area outweigh the benefit?
The current map, for example, greatly distorts the distances between stations and the key attractions on the Mall, which are most relevant to tourists and visitors. Someone looking at the map would think Metro Center and Federal Triangle are a lot closer to the White House than McPherson Square and Farragut West, which is not the case. Union Station appears to be much farther from the Capitol than it is; on the map, it looks like it's the same distance as Potomac Avenue.
Metro plans to add more rush hour trains over the Yellow Line bridge and have fewer rush hour trains going past Arlington Cemetery. People who ride from Franconia-Springfield to Foggy Bottom don't like that their commutes will get longer. But as Matt showed, the time difference is pretty small.
Would a map like Dunn's make this clearer, since it's obvious that the trip from Franconia to Pentagon is far longer than the trip either way into DC? Would that affect rider support for the plan? In this case, it may not matter, since Metro is going ahead regardless, but many future and more political decisions may well turn on people's mental maps, accurate or not.
Meredith Begin from the DC Bicycle Advisory Council sent around this video animating bike sharing usage in London for one day:
During rush periods, it looks like the circulatory system of some kind of life form.
The video is a few months old, but I don't recall seeing it or having it posted here.
The town of Rotherham, in Yorkshire, England, has a terrific interactive video showing off their transit, walking, and bicycle accessibility.
One map shows all of the local and regional bus routes. Instead of showing them as a complicated spaghetti of lines, it animates the number of each bus emanating from the town center and following its route around the area.
Clicking on any of the villages leads to another video which shows, also through animation, walkable shopping areas, the range of walkability, bike routes, parks, schools, buses and bus stops. A link from the school section leads to a page on sustainable practices, and from the bus portion to real-time bus arrival times.
Human Transit, which pointed this out, suggests some next steps, such as animating the bus routes in sync with the times buses arrive at those locations.
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Vienna Metro town center won't have a town center