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Lessons From The Transportation Research Board

At TRB‘s annual meeting in DC, I usually try to avoid pure engineering workshops. Sessions like, “New Innovations in Hot Mix Asphalt”, or “Regression models for Synchro” just don’t get my blood moving. The planning/engineering-lite workshops I do find are really good, though. At a context-sensitive design presentation, I was lucky to see John N. LaPlante speak. As the Chief Transportation Planner at T.Y Lin International, I was expecting road-widening rationals, travel demand models and a boring run down of ITE guidelines. Instead, it was like this guy has been reading my blog for the past few months and gave a stinging indictment of unimaginative, auto-oriented roadway designs.  A few notable points he made:

  • Designing for anything “better” than Level of Service D in urban areas is a waste of time and money.
  • Travel time savings of 3 minutes is not reason enough to design roads like airport runways.
  • Vehicle miles traveled has hit a plateau. 1% background growth for x out years is unrealistic and will result in gridlock projections for every model.  Don’t let models dictate design.
  • Tighten curb radii, even if it means trucks have to turn from the outer lanes.
  • On/off ramps connecting freeways to urban areas should not be designed like interstate ramps. Design speeds should drop dramatically to force drivers to slow down.
  • 10′ lane widths should be standard for roads with speed limits under 45mph – anything over 11′ is a waste of money and a danger to pedestrians.
  • Medians, trees, and on-street parking are our friends and serve as natural traffic calming.  Removing on-street parking, even just during peak hours, has deleterious impacts on nearby businesses.
  • Urban arterials (like MLK Jr. Blvd), which typically have the most traffic of any urban street, should not be designed to maximize capacity and speed. Because people live, work, walk and bike on these streets, the same complete street principles should apply.
  • There is nothing in AASHTO and ITE guidelines which prevents these, or other complete street designs from being included in projects. We are only limited by our imagination.

In another session about urban circulators, the Charm City Circulator was used as a case study for downtown shuttle systems. It compared favorably to smaller systems in Austin and Philly which have less reliable funding (grants, MVR, etc), shorter operating hours, or routes which do not serve major tourist attractions. When compared to other cities, I think Baltimore and DC have the best downtown circulator systems in the country right now.