Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Liveable Streets

We all know how ugly most city streets are, how uncomfortable it is to walk or bicycle on streets designed for cars, crammed in between tall buildings, with little life other than motorists in their metal cans and pedestrians sprinting for safety.

What to do? Should we build more unhuman transportation systems, hang them on the buildings, suspend them over the heads of pedestrians and bicyclists, little individual cars whizzing about on permanently affixed tracks, cluttering up our sky, crossing our greenways, using energy even when not in use.

How about the approach in the photo above? Let's make our streets more human, more organic. Let's reduce space for cars and increase space for humans. It's called Liveable Streets. You can see the legend for the photograph here, and learn more about Liveable Streets here.


  1. Cool, but what happens when the cyclist wants to turn right? Get in the car lane?
    Looks like you'd have to jump a little curb or move in front of oncoming traffic.

  2. This would be a good place for a "Bike Box," a kick-out of the bike lane into the transit lane to allow bicyclists to turn right from a protected lane.

  3. A Transportation Enthusiast8:11 AM

    Once again, you show a city with wide streets to support traffic. It looks idyllic in a still shot, but what about during the rush when dozens of cars are backed up and the intersection is blocked by turning vehicles?

    And that street is WIDE with no apparent parking to speak of. Where do all the cars go? Is there a giant parking lot just behind the camera to support those cars?

    I also notice the bus lane. What is the construction energy required to build a dedicated 12-foot wide bus lane through the whole city, for a transportation mode that is less energy efficient per passenger than a SUV? And the best bus systems in the country get, what, 5% of mode split in a city? So you've allocated an 12-foot wide swath of the street for a mode that uses more energy and carries less people, and is noisy and polluting.

    So, to summarize: you object to a 3-foot wide lightweight elevated PRT guideway with a support post every 50 feet, because that would require too much construction energy. But you support the building of a *12-foot* wide concrete bus lane? That's a minimum of 4 times MORE concrete, probably more because more concrete would be needed to support multi-ton buses than ultra-lightweight PRT vehicles.

    And similarly, you are skeptical of ridership projections that show up to 30% or more mode split for PRT, but then support buses which are *KNOWN* to draw no more than a few percent. What's better, trying something new that doesn't impact the street and which has the possibility of a 30% draw, or sacrifice 30% of the street to build a dedicated lane for transit system that pretty much *guaranteed* to draw no more than 5%?

  4. Jean Brocklebank8:44 AM

    In response to Possom's question, rather than a dedicated "bike box," the bicyclist simply signals her intention to turn right,responsibly blends into the lane and turns right (after pausing for pedestrians who have the right of way in the crosswalk). This is how a moving vehicle is supposed to operate in traffic. In fact, I would eleiminate that dedicated bike lane altogether in this simulated design.


  5. Jean Brocklebank9:10 AM

    Hello TE ~

    How about discussing this issue without the words "you do this" or "you do that?" This way we can focus on the issue rather than personalize this debate. It is always an interesting exercise to see if one can make one's point without the "you" word (which is really making someone else's point, huh?).

    To the issues:

    1. I agree that using a simulation begs the question of reality. Therefore, I think that this simulation is as fraught with errors as are all of the PRT siulations I have seen.

    2. I am suprised that PRT pylons would have to be every 50 feet! That is even more of an intrusion into my neighborhood and cityscape than I realized. No wonder people are objecting to this project everywhere its investors are trying to sell it (with the exception of Masdar, that so-called sustainable city in the desert).

    3. Question: if the PRT pylons are every 50' and the PRT stations are every 1/2 mile, on whose property is all of this placed? Public rights-of-way? Eminent domain takings? (No wonder those Bufflao, New York conservatives don't like PRT...it appears to be ripe for property issues.)

    4. My vision of the future of transportation in cities includes little electric cars on the roadway, small buses and/or trolleys and, for larger cities, light rail. All are on existing roadways, not in the air. As for road width, as long as the roads are wide enough to eventually turn a horse and wagon around, that should do.

    To know what transportation will be like 100 years from now, look at 100 years ago.


  6. A Transportation Enthusiast10:24 AM

    Jean, you talk about not making it personal, but wasn't it you who started this thread calling us "PRT pimps"?

    And I am addressing Hayduke's arguments, not him personally. His arguments are internally inconsistent, for example, in his complaint about construction energy of a skinny little guideway even as he proposes a wide bus lane.

    To your points:

    1. The simulations will be moot in about 5 years, because a few progressive efforts are trying PRT now, mainly in Europe.

    2. You are concerned about a 2ft diameter pylon every 50 feet? Do you also object to lampposts? :-)

    Seriously, it's very difficult to understand how you could object to an infrastructure that would consume maybe 1/5th of one percent of the street level. Why are you not concerned about parking for all those electric cars you propose? If there are 10,000 cars in downtown every day and PRT saves 10% of them, that's 1000 parking spaces. Even at 90 sq. ft. per parking space (15*6), that's 90,000 sq ft for the parking that a minimal PRT network would eliminate.

    Worrying about tiny pylons is penny-wise, pound-foolish.

    3. Do you really think there is a ROW problem for 2-foot diameter pylons? As for the stations, it's a tiny amount of space, maybe a little bigger than a bus stop, and *elevated*. A 2400 sq ft station every half mile above the street is a tiny amount of ROW, especially when you and Hayduke are proposing dedicated bus lanes and rail.

    4. The genie is out of the bottle. You can't ask people to turn back the clock 100 years, they *won't* do it. Your electric cars solution does not solve the parking problem, nor the safety problem, nor the congestion problem. It's just more of the car culture. And if you believe that buses and rail can make a dent in the car culture, then I'll show you about 100 other cities where that didn't happen. Even the so called successes like NYC are overrun by auto travel, and even their system requires a HUGE subsidy that would be impractical for any place other than NYC.

    We need to look forward, not backward. PRT is efficient and convenient and personal without decimating the city.

  7. Jean Brocklebank1:19 PM

    TE ~

    In my posts on this blog in the last several days I have not once called anyone a PRT Pimp. My original post, which used that generic term, was not a conversation, a discussion a debate.

    Please pay attention: If one addresses another's arguments, simply stick to the arguments, deleting "he," "his," "you." As I said, it takes some effort and ability to communicate one's thoughts without using the personalized pronouns. Just try it; like all habits, it will grow :o)

    Now, to the issues:

    1. How can a pylon that requires a 2 foot diameter base (probably more that 4 sq. ft. including housing)be called "tiny?" Is the word "tiny meant to make it sound so? My main concern is with the almost 3,000 pylons that would be scattered all ove my community. The whole is a sum of its parts.

    2. I am not concerned about parking for electric cars because I know the total car population will diminish with oil depletion and so there will be fewer cars on the roads without PRT anyway. By the way, there are not 10,000 cars in downtown Santa Cruz every day. Our car population swells with tourist traffic, most of which park to go to the Boardwalk.

    3. PRT stations are huge compared to our bus stations (50 sq.ft or less). I'll get a picture and send it to your Hotmail account.

    4. I won't have to put any genie back into a bottle. Peak Oil will do that nicely.

    5. Looking backward is what we do when we propose to solve problems by creatng yet another on demand, personal car...the same policy that got us into this mess in the first place.

    Your Progressive Jeannie

  8. A Transportation Enthusiast3:04 PM


    A little math:

    2 ft diameter ~= 4 sq ft.
    1 mile = 5280 ft
    PRT pylons per linear mile = 106
    PRT pylons in a 10 mile network = 1060
    Total space used by PRT pylons in a 10 linear mile network: 4,240 sq ft.
    1 sq mile = 27,878,400 square feet.
    Total percentage area consumed by 2 ft diameter PRT pylons: .0015%, or 1/6575th of the areaIn a 1 square mile area (i.e. smaller than Santa Cruz's downtown), 10 miles of network would be a grid with 5 lines of guideway each way. Evenly spaced, that's 1/5th mile between guideways, and a corresponding maximum distance to the network of 1/10th mile from any point in the city. In other words, 10 miles is quite sufficient to provide very dense coverage in downtown Santa Cruz.

    More perspective: an average off-street parking space consumes about 300 sq ft., meaning that the entire street level impact of PRT pylons in all of downtown Santa Cruz is equivalent to FIFTEEN parking spaces - in *all* of downtown.

    Earlier I had calculated the estimated square footage of all parking in downtown Santa Cruz at 500,000 sq ft. PRT pylons would occupy 0.9% of just the *parking* square footage in Santa Cruz - a ratio of 118 to 1.

    The "pylon" argument is much ado about nothing - almost *literally* nothing.

    And, the reader will surely notice, the word y*u does not appear in this comment. ;-)

  9. Jean Brocklebank8:27 PM

    I do not care how many square feet of Santa Cruz is occupied by pylon pfeet.

    I do care about the City's airshed being occupied by close to 3,000 pylons.

    I am not involved in an "argument."

    I am merely trying to establish the amount of pylons that would be plopped on the ground in Santa Cruz, based on one every 50 pfeet for the number of stations that would be required (according to the PRT designer) with a station located every 1/2 mile in the city in which I reside.

    And, yes, I am pleased to see a response with no "you's" in it.

    Merci bien,

  10. A little reality:

    Once again, we are presented with data in the absence of knowledge. The amount of space taken up by the footprint of the pylons, compared to the total amount of space served by the system is totally irrelevant. This is a meaningless factoid that has no application on the street.

    What is important is the visual environment of the person on the sidewalk, the number of pylons in view, plus the number of stations, plus the guideways in between, with podcars whizzing by every few seconds.

    Furthermore, the description of the support structure for the PRT system as "slim pylons" compared to lamp posts is misleading. Santa Cruz is in earthquake country. In 1989, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on the San Andreas fault just three miles away devastated the downtown Santa Cruz areas. Those parking lots so decried as wasteful space served as sites for tent cities for businesses whose buildings had collapsed. Santa Cruz was up and functioning within three days largely in part to extensive open space in the downtown areas that was used for necessary businesses and staging areas for earthquake recovery.

    Think of a "slim pylon" or a lamp post with guideways and podcars on it whipping back and forth in a major earthquake. Think of a golf ball on the end of a straw. How far do you think the pod cars would be hurled?

    In order to withstand the earthquake forces in this area, the entire structure would have to be far more robust than in, say, Buffalo, New York. Slim pylons won't cut it. They'd have to be "thick pylons" and far more of them to comply with earthquake standards. Elevated stations would have to be supported by robust pillars, much as our freeways have been retrofitted in recent years. Elaborate rescue and escape systems would have to be built to rescue people stranded in pod cars by power loss and structural collapse.

    PRT is an engineers dream that dissolves in the morning sunlight.

  11. A Transportation Enthusiast3:34 AM


    This is where our views apparently differ: I see parking lots as ugly, density-killing, life-sucking, neighborhood destroying warts; I don't view parking lots as community assets.

    Clearly, any suggestion that some parking space could be reclaimed for parks or green space is not going to be well received here, so I will not continue to press that point.

    As for earthquakes: Japan is seismically active and has plenty of monorails. In fact, after the 1995 Kobe earthquake (6.8 magnitude) the monorail was one of the few transportation modes that survived unscathed, and that monorail played a critical role in transportation in the days immediately after the disaster. The same level of earthquake safety could certainly be applied to PRT.

  12. I would probably get rid of the bike lane or use the kick out approach. Jean, it doesn't look like there's any way to merge as you proposed unless you do it in the crosswalk, a dangerous and inappropriate place to merge. Otherwise, I agree with your approach.

    But this is just a small issue easily fixed. The overall approach is a "greener," friendlier street and neighborhood. There's even trees for the birds and other critters.

  13. Clearly, PRT would not eliminate parking lots. Parking lots are used by more than commuters going to work. Parking lots are used by the 5 million people over the hill, many of whom come to Santa Cruz to play, the people whose custom pays the salaries of those who live and work in Santa Cruz.

    We do not accept the premise that maximum population density is a desirable goal. We enjoy living in Santa Cruz, not Los Angeles.

    Enough is plenty

    Notice that I did not say that a PRT system could not be built to seismic standards for our proximity to the San Andreas fault, the most active fault on the North American continent. I did say that building to meet seismic standards would result in a structure much more robust than envisioned, that would have much greater visual impact than that displayed in current simulations, and that would be much more expensive to build than anything yet designed.

  14. Jean Brocklebank9:05 AM

    Possum said: "...it doesn't look like there's any way to merge as you proposed unless you do it in the crosswalk, a dangerous and inappropriate place to merge."

    As I said before, this simulation has many mistakes. Notice the bicyclist is turning left into the crosswalk. And then what?! He can move out of his bike lane to his right well before the crosswalk and make a legal right turn. But the simulator forgot about a left turn in the path of those two lanes of vehicles.

    What I meant in my previous post was that bicyclists operate moving vehicles (in Calif. they must obey the Dept. of Motor Vehicles laws). As such, their job is to be a part of traffic, not segregated from traffic. Ideally, existing roadways can be re-developed with bike lane striping to provide a real lane on the right for slower moving bicycles. If not, the bicyclist in our state gets to "take" the entire right-hand lane or the entire lane in the case of a one lane road.

    The more bicyclists on the road, the slower goes vehicle traffic. I witness this every day.


  15. Jean Brocklebank9:17 AM

    TE said: "...any suggestion that some parking space could be reclaimed for parks or green space is not going to be well received here..."

    Quite the contrary, I look forward to the day industrial parking lots have been re-developed, reduced and re-claimed with soil and living landscapes. Here in Santa Cruz, many of our parking lots have already been transformed (the huge one at the Boardwalk stands alone as sterile). Our parking lots are tree-filled because of zoning regulations. This is how Santa Cruz has been consistently named one of the "tree-friendly" cities of the nation.

    Still, when we progress to the Future Primitive, we will need "parking lots," if for nothing else as places to leave our horse & buggies while we shop for locally produced goods. Humans need not only walk in the future; they will always have some personal forms of transportation that require a place to park.

    Even bicycles, tricycles, electric cars and scooters need parking places. Besides, where else can we have tail-gate parties before football games?

    Go Niners,