Making it easier to be multi-modal

As noted on a Bicycle Coalition Blog Post “Recently, SEPTA asked the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) to study obstacles that prevent more potential customers from using trails to get to transit stops. This seemed like a great opportunity to figure out where the demand for better bike parking and improvements to the local bikeway network exist. If this information could be obtained, it would help inform SEPTA, PATCO, and NJ Transit where to prioritize their resources.”  As part of this effort, the Coalition, SEPTA and DVRPC have recently launched an online survey to better understand where the demand for better bicycle facilities is greatest.  MOTU urges you to head on over to the survey, and let us know what you think.  Which transit stop would you bike to, if only there were better biking amenities there.


Research Rest-Stop — Americans Favor Transit

According new a recent Poll by the National Resources Defense Council, over two thirds of Americans favored local government investment on buses, trains and light rail projects.  This finding presents a new development in public opinion for the expansion of transit in cities and towns across the country.  In Philadelphia, there was found to be even more support for transit, by a ratio of 82% to 13%.

Commuters Board a SEPTA Train
(Photo courtesy of

When asked to grade the quality of transit service, only one-third of survey respondents ranked their transit service as an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  Furthermore, a majority of respondents (59%) agreed that the transportation infrastructure is ‘Outdated, Unreliable, and Inefficient.’

This perceived shortfall in transit service is seen as an opportunity for municipalities to invest in public transportation as an approach to solve long-term transportation problems.  In fact, the survey found that Americans are twice as likely to favor improving public transportation over building new roads as a method to solve these long term transportation goals.

Although the survey identified positive feedback for investing in new transit, it did not find an acceptable method to finance new transit investment.  Survey participants were apprehensive of raising sales or gas taxes.

Philadelphia survey respondents particularly disapproved of raising the gas tax, as most automobile drivers feel gas is expensive enough and state government opposes increasing the gas tax.

Despite financing difficulties, the results of this survey show that there is an increasing amount of support for the expansion of public transit as a way to  make commuting easier.

How would you pay for it?

Philadelphia Inquirer Article

NRDC Poll Results Memo

MOTUnes Monday │ Last of the Steam-Powered Trains

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases a transportation related song.  This week, we’ll wish a fond farewell to the “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains” by The Kinks.

Complete Streets Handbook, extensions and revisions


The Streets Department and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) have recently updated the Complete Streets Handbook checklist. The Streets Department and MOTU will be extending the comment period for the handbook until November 1st. We urge you to submit any and all comments to, in writing, between now and November 1st.

Checklists will be available at the appropriate counters for review from Oct 1. These checklists shall be distributed to all projects that meet the threshold for project review (see checklist). They will be distributed for informational purposes only. The revised Handbook will be made available on-line January 11th, implementation will follow begin on February 1st.

Don’t forget that on Monday, Sept 24th, MOTU is hosting another public discussion regarding the Complete Streets Handbook at 6PM, Room 1450 of the Municipal Services Building (1401 JFK Blvd), we encourage you to let your friends and neighbors know.  MOTU recommends you visit the Streets Department’s Complete Streets Handbook website periodically to check for any updates.

More Bicycling Leads to Safer Bicycling

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the improved bicycling safety in the city.  The article reports that over the past decade, the number of Philadelphia cyclists has more than doubled while the number of accidents has almost halved, from 815 in 2000 to 513 in 2011. That’s the difference between nearly 16 cyclists getting into accidents each week and less than 10 cyclists getting into accidents.  There is a strong positive correlation between the number of bicyclists on the street and the safety of those bicyclists.

Source: 2010 US Census, PennDOT

The trend of increased bicycle safety with an increased number of bicyclists has occurred in other cities in the world and is known as the ‘Safety in Numbers’ effect.  In short, because there are more bicyclists on the road, automobile drivers are more aware of bicyclists and take them into account when opening doors, making turns, and merging lanes.

Source: 2010 US Census, PennDOT

A key factor of increased bicycling safety is bike lanes, which highlight to drivers the potential presence of bicyclists.  Philadelphia currently has over 220 miles of bike lanes and according to the Philadelphia Pedestrian and Bicycle plan, intends to build even more bike lanes by 2020.

If the ‘Safety in Numbers’ trend continues, bicycling will become a much safer activity, which in turn can attract more bicyclists, making bicycling an even safer activity and will certainly contribute to Philadelphia’s plan to reduce bicycle fatalities and injuries by 50% by 2020.

Read the Inquirer Article

Check out Philadelphia’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan

Smoothing Roadways at the Right Time to Cut Emissions

If you haven’t yet driven or bicycled along one of Philadelphia’s recently newly repaved streets (like Walnut or Chestnut), I suggest you give it a try.  The smooth surfaces of these streets not only make driving (and biking) much more comfortable but also decreases the rolling resistance for vehicles which helps limit carbon and other green house gas (GHG) emissions compared to a bumpy road with a high rolling resistance full of cracks and potholes.

Newly Repaved Walnut Street
(Photo Courtesy of

Since this is well understood, how come State and Municipal DOTs don’t repave all streets in order to lessen emissions?  A recent study by the University Of California Berkeley Institute Of Transportation Studies examined this issue and has showed that there are two influential factors at work.

First, when determining how to best decrease GHG emissions, it is necessary to view all potential solutions through the life-cycle of the road.  Resurfacing a large roadway can result in excessive GHG emissions, when accounting for the supply chain to repave – energy to mine the stone, producing the asphalt or concrete, the transportation of materials as well as operating construction equipment.

The UC Berkeley study looks at all different types of roads, from two lane rural roads to large interstates and determines the point at which repaving will lead to decreasing GHG emissions overall.

This curve identifies the best time to repave a street accounting for cost and emissions.
(from Berkeley ITS Report)

The second factor is the fiscal cost repaving roads.  Since DOTs do not have unlimited budgets, they must prioritize projects over others in order to make the best use of available resources.  In terms of environmental costs, this means comparing GHG emissions and dollars.  To account for this difference, the study compares the total life-cycle dollar costs per kilometer per year and the CO2 emissions per kilometer per year, thus identifying the interval when to repave a road to minimize the costs as well as the GHG emissions.

In Philadelphia, the Streets Department can use these metrics to identify when to repave roads in the city for the best price and to decrease the most carbon.  This will help the City of Philadelphia fulfill its Greenworks Goals to reduce 20% of emissions, as well as improve the quality of roads and transportation in the city.

Find out more at Berkeley ITS

MOTUnes Monday │ Cul de Sac

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities showcases a transportation related song.  This week, we’ll take it easy on the “Cul de Sac” by Van Morrison.

Parklets are popping up all around Philadelphia

Earlier this week, Logan CDC debuted a Parklet in front of the Logan Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  

Logan’s parklet is unique for several reasons; it is located in front of a library instead of a retail establishment, and it features several unique design features that differentiate it from standard parklets (you can view more pictures here).  The mesh wall provides an opportunity to hang a scrim that the community has already used to screen movies, while the slate floor provides children a chance to literally leave a (chalk) mark on their neighborhood.  To learn more about the Logan Parklet read the PlanPhilly article here.

To date, there are three parklets in Philadelphia, the Logan Parklet at 1333 Wagner Ave, a parklet at 43rd and Baltimore and one at 44th and Spruce. To learn more about how the University City District chose their latest parklet location at 44th and Spruce take a look at this video:

How can Robots and Humans lessen Congestion?

Automobiles that drive themselves may seem like a sci-fi fantasy, but advances in research and technology are making automated driving vehicles a reality. A recent report examines the automated driving vehicle as a method to reduce traffic congestion.

On the interstate, safe drivers keep a sizable distance between themselves and the next car – in the event of an accident, the driver can stop safely before colliding into the vehicle ahead.  On average, the gap between cars going 60 mph is 144ft.  This large amount of space is required because it takes into account the reaction time of the person operating the vehicle.

Platooning Vehicles on the Interstate
(Photo from

If an automobile was operated automatically, it wouldn’t need to account for human reaction time and cars on the interstate could travel closely together and still not collide into each other in the event of an unexpected stop.  The practice of many automated vehicles grouping together is known as platooning and the study argues that if automatic cars communicate with each other and platoon during commutes, road capacity would increase and congestion would decrease. Moreover, automated vehicles would better manage the flow of traffic on city streets by reducing stop-and-go traffic.

Unfortunately, robotic cars will not be available for at least another decade.  Until they are available, there is another method to decrease congestion – considerate driving.

Give Respect Get Respect Brochures for Driving, Walking and Biking

Professor Abdulhai from the University of Toronto argues that poor driving behavior, like rubbernecking at accidents, cutting others off, aggressive starts and stops, and general selfish driving all contribute to increased congestion (as well as decreased safety).  It would be difficult to instantly change behavior city-wide, but Abdulahi advocates improving driver education to make the driver aware of their responsibility to everyone on the road. Last year, Philadelphia took the lead to promote considerate transportation through the Give Respect Get Respect campaign.  Give Respect Get Respect is an education initiative for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to be mindful of everyone on the road.  When everyone is looking out for each other on the road, not only is everyone safer, but traffic can flow more smoothly.

Want to find out more?  Check out these:

Highway Capacity Increases from Automated Driving

The Economist: Look, No Hands

The Atlantic Cities: The Key to Reducing Congestion Could Just be Less Selfish Driving

Dance on the Falls Bridge in East Falls

On Saturday, September 15, 2012 the East Falls Development Corporation will host “Dance on the Falls Bridge,” a unique event with live music, dancing, and refreshments on the Falls Bridge.

This East Falls event is one of many events where a neighborhood closes off city roads to automobiles for recreational purposes.  Other neighborhoods hold block parties, bike races, and charity walks, which all require street closures.  In recent years, many cities have opened their streets for activities under the ‘Sunday Streets’ campaign.

People Enjoy a Sunday Streets Event in San Francisco
(Photo Courtesy of David_Hill via Flickr)

The Sunday Streets movement is a series of recreational events put on by participating cities that promote healthy living.  Each Sunday, a large, temporary, public space is made by closing off portions of the city street to automobile traffic, allowing pedestrians, bicyclists, and other activities to occur.  Sunday Streets originated in Bogotá, Columbia as way to encourage bicycling and has recently spread to other cities in the world including Tokyo, Kiev, and San Francisco.

For over ten years now, Philadelphia has closed West River Drive to all automobile traffic, leaving the street wide open for joggers, rollerbladers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to enjoy a safe and scenic route through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River.

If you haven’t been to the Schuylkill Banks yet, take advantage of the good weather and go on relaxing bike ride or walk this weekend along West River Drive.

For more information:

Dance on FallsBridge

Schuylkill Banks Website

San Francisco Sunday Streets

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