Friday, February 20, 2009

Modern Parkway: Carmel, Indiana

This post showcases a modern approach to the precursor of the modern freeway: the grade-separated parkway. In Carmel, IN, Keystone Ave. (formerly IN-431) runs just east of the Civic Center, between US-31 to the north, and I-465 to the south. A 4-lane facility, with at-grade intersections with the primary cross-streets, Keystone Avenue needs congestion relief, and dissatisfied with INDOT's solution of adding another lane to each directional flow, Mayor Jim Brainard decided to revive the old form of the urban parkway, a grade-separated road with emphases on context-sensitivity, nature, and safety. Unlike the Arroyo Seco Parkway, or the original parkways back East, Carmel is implementing roundabout interchanges so as to minimize the footprint of the grade-separations. The following link takes you to the project website, where you can find pictures, videos, renderings, and other information about this endeavor that is unique in the United States, but borrows from concepts present in Europe:

Project CarmelLink

My Thoughts

The Good:
  • Attention to detail, particularly with regards to aesthetics.
  • Grade-separation at key intersections.
  • Parkway depression instead of elevation transforms a series of auto-oriented, pedestrian-unfriendly intersections into potential linkages connecting eastern Carmel to the central core.
  • Use of compact, dual "teardrop" roundabouts instead of traditional diamond interchanges or expensive SPUIs.
  • Because of limited depression, on- and off-ramps are shorter, so closeness of interchanges should not be an issue (~ between 1.1 and .4 miles apart)
  • Bicycle-friendly
  • Planned hardscape improvements
The Bad:

  • Currently planned 40mph speed limit is a 10mph reduction over current configuration, and bears no correlation to design speeds; blatant revenue-generator.
  • Raised curb median is not appropriate for the intuited driving speeds.
  • Horizontal cross-section may be insufficient to widen in the future with adequate shoulder space.
The Unknown:

  • Would raised planters with landscaping surrounded by Jersey barriers (Caltrans: K-rails) improve crashworthiness?
  • Will adequate advanced signage of turning movements at roundabout interchanges be installed?
  • What about 131st St./Main St.? How will this interchange interact with the interchanges at 126th and 136th Streets? Will proximity be an issue?
  • Will "weave lanes" be striped between interchanges?
  • What about metering?

Despite these questions and criticisms, I rate this project very highly. The vision is far greater than anything any other cities in Indiana attempt to create, and the potential for this to be regarded as Mayor Brainard's legacy is high; Carmel just won the bid to host the 2011 National Roundabout Conference and has more roundabouts inside the city limits than anywhere else in the United States (40+ built, ~80 in total planned), and all were implemented by Mayor Brainard.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Metrolink To Stop Offering Metro Rail Transfers

Metrolink-to-MTA transfer policy set to change

3:49 PM | February 13, 2009

Metrolink customers who transfer to MTA buses and trains in Los Angeles County should brace for some bad news for their wallets: The days of free transfers will likely end next year.

The issue was discussed at today's special meeting of the Metrolink Board of Directors in downtown Los Angeles. The board was set to make a decision about the transfers at its regular meeting on Feb. 27, but that has been postponed.

The issue is coming to a head because of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision last February to install gates and turnstiles at many of its rail stations to reduce the number of passengers who ride without buying tickets. The problem for Metrolink customers is that the paper tickets Metrolink uses won't work in the turnstiles the MTA is installing.

So the onus is on Metrolink to do something. After reviewing the available technology, Metrolink staff told board members that one possible solution is to require customers to also buy a TAP card -- the electronic fare cards that the MTA is trying to adopt. Metrolink would provide the TAP card at a discount: $20 to $30 for an MTA monthly pass, which currently sells for $62.

To put it in more blunt terms, Metrolink passengers who now transfer for free would have to carry two tickets and pay $240 to $360 extra annually to transfer to MTA buses or trains. Metrolink says this would be an increase of about 11% in total cost for their average customers.

As part of the switch, Metrolink also plans to end free transfers for people traveling with one-way or round-trip tickets. Between the moves, Metrolink expects to lose about 725 passengers a day who don't want to pay the higher fares. The trains currently carry about 46,000 passengers on the average weekday.

The obvious problem here is that the two agencies have incompatible ticketing systems. That leads to the obvious question: Why not have Metrolink and MTA adopt the same ticketing system?

Not so fast. Metrolink also runs in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, and transit agencies in each of those counties have their own ticketing systems.

"We have four other counties that would have to adopt the TAP system," said Francisco Oaxaca, a spokesman for Metrolink. "We're the one that has to come up with a way to work across all five counties. The other counties are going to follow their own paths toward some sort of smart-card technology similar to TAP, but they're all on different time frames and have different needs."

At this point, the only potential out for Metrolink customers is if the MTA decides to chip in some money to further discount TAP cards for them. The chance of that happening? Probably not very good, based on past fiscal policies.

-- Steve Hymon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Smart Transportation

The Wallstreet Journal released an article detailing how new "smart" infrastructure can reduce congestion and help America build for the future.

Article can be viewed here

The article discusses smart transportation and cites how CalTrans has been reviewing car travel speeds in the Bay Area to predict when traffic jams will occur, before they occur. Regardless, there is a large demand for more data in order to create the necessary models that will estimate arrival times. Singapore currently uses IBM technology to predict congestion blocks up to 45 minutes before they happen.

It also discusses the use of smart bridges, which can have sensors detect stress points in a bridge during high traffic times. This will allow for better maintence, and reduce incidents like the Minnesota bridge collapse.

The article also discusses the smart grid and smarter water systems.

A good article to read for anyone working in the city.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alaskan Viaduct Replacement

The Seattle Post put out a story today talking about the new replacement for the Seattle Viaduct.

The story discusses the new less lane tunnel as a good alternative for the present viaduct because of its integration of SOV and public transit services.

The only debate now involves the future funding of the project. Several new taxes and fees have been proposed to fund the project.