Making Boulder streets safe is an issue of equity

My comments below to Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board on June 8th, 2015.


Boulder’s debate on reconfiguring its streets is centered around how we use our scarcest resource – land – for transportation. We need a just transportation system that gives equal opportunity to all users regardless of wealth, age, or physical ability. Making Boulder streets safe is an issue of equity.

We need increased equity of space. Biking and walking use land much less intensely than automobiles to move people around. And Boulder’s auto-oriented street design prioritizes peak-hour traffic, leaving our streets less safe and inefficient the other twenty hours a day.

We need increased equity of safety. The benefits of reconfiguring our streets flow across all users, but particularly help the young, the old, and the less confident who walk or bike. People in Boulder should not have to own a $25,000 piece of property to transport around town safely.

We need increased equity of affordability. Housing is the most expensive part of living in Boulder, but transportation often consists of the next highest cost. We must provide safer means to use varied modes of transportation so that Boulder families with less income can consider making these tradeoffs.

As someone who advocates for getting more people on bikes, our request for equity is simple: one safe travel lane in each direction through direct routes in our city.

@ericmbudd

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Why I Support Right-sizing Boulder Streets with Living Laboratory

Boulder’s debate on reconfiguring its streets centers around how we use our scarcest resource – land – for transportation. We need a just transportation system that gives equal opportunity to all users regardless of wealth, age, or physical ability. I’m writing in support of right-sizing all four streets in Phase 2 of Living Labs.

Comments on the particular corridor plans:

Folsom Street / Iris Avenue:
As higher-trafficked corridors, both streets represent a challenge to right-size. However, Folsom and Iris also show the most benefit as central arterial roads in Boulder which function with few or no other direct routes to use on a bicycle. A right-sized Folsom could become easily the best north-south bicycle route in the city and a beautiful street.

Looking at the analysis for each corridor, I believe the staff recommendations are appropriate: to maintain both turn lanes at Iris/Broadway, and provide a limited treatment on Folsom between Canyon and Arapahoe. If the Living Laboratory project on Folsom is successful, I’d like to see further discussion on how capital projects may improve the corridor between Canyon and Arapahoe.

20150606_145444

55th street off-peak (Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM).

63rd Street / 55th Street:
63rd Street through Gunbarrel and 55th Street through East Boulder are a different usage case than Folsom/Iris, as each traverse industrial/office park zoned areas, but are quite similar themselves. Both have substantial (but workable to right-size) peak-hour automobile traffic, but very low off-peak and weekend automobile traffic. Please see my attached photos/links of each corridor below, taken on Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM. At this time, the cars in view were approximately equivalent to the number of lanes (only 3 to 5 on the entire stretch of the corridor), which suggests highly overbuilt roads on these corridors a majority of the time.

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63rd street off-peak (Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM).

For 55th street particularly, I have read the many concerned letters from the TAB packet which center around the train crossing. A train crosses 4-6 times per day, occasionally falling during peak periods. Many drivers understandably complain about the delay when a train passes and fear that right-sizing the corridor would make the delay worse.

But the crux of complaints are due to waiting for the train itself, which is separate from right-sizing. Yes, right-sizing will marginally increase the amount of wait time due to a train crossing. But the delay will still be primarily due to the train, not a change in the street configuration. Let’s not forego ways to make great streets by only designing for peak periods, and let’s not forego even the *testing* of this project for a rare occurrence.

We cannot build successful streets by compromising their design to address an edge case (train crossing) of an edge case (peak-hour traffic). Right-sizing these streets now will help steer a walkable, bikeable vision for these corridors into the future.

Final Thoughts

Based on the analysis from staff, I urge the Transportation Advisory Board and City Council to move ahead with right-sizing on all of the proposed streets. We need to re-emphasize that these are pilot projects, and readily embrace public feedback to continue improving these streets over time.

We need right-sizing projects in order to build a functional on-street bike grid covering the city. These four corridors will provide a great base from which to build an on-street system with powerful network effects: the more streets we can connect, the more useful the system becomes for the typical person.

Right-sizing is critical for the city to extend beyond Boulder’s current plateau as a “confident cyclist” bike city; we can no longer rely only on indirect routes or multi-use paths to get us there. And if successful, we may even reduce the current load on our path system to allow slower, more leisurely purposes while the on-street bike network functions as designed – to efficiently and safely move people where they need to go.

I leave you with this image and quote:

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Boulder Must Choose To Squelch Or To Embrace New Voices in Public Discourse

For background on this letter to Boulder’s city council and planning boards, please read from Erica Meltzer in the Daily Camera:

“Profane speech at Ignite Boulder lands city consultant in hot water”

The Housing Boulder Process Subcommittee will meet tomorrow to decide how to proceed with the controversy.
*** Update 5/26: Per Erica Meltzer, this topic will not be on the agenda for tomorrow.

If you can attend in person, the meeting information is here:

Wednesday, May 27, from 12 to 1 p.m.
Municipal Building, 1777 West Conference Room (first floor), 1777 Broadway

If you can e-mail on this subject:

HousingCommittee@BoulderColorado.gov

Or e-mail all of the city council and planning board members:

council@bouldercolorado.gov
boulderplanningboard@bouldercolorado.gov


Boulder Housing Process Subcommittee:

City Council Members: Lisa Morzel, Andrew Shoemaker, Mary Young
Planning Board Members: Crystal Gray, Leonard May

I ask for the city to reinstate Becky Boone and continue the Code For America contract.

Verbatim from the City of Boulder web site announcing the Code For America partnership:
https://bouldercolorado.gov/planning/code-for-america

“This new initiative will harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the Boulder community to develop new approaches and tools that support more inclusive, transparent, collaborative, and interactive community engagement.”

The seven-month project began in January 2015 and will create a variety of ways for community members, particularly underrepresented groups/individuals, to work cooperatively together to address important issues.”

Two important lines from the CFA partnership:

1. To develop new approaches and tools

Becky’s engagement at Ignite Boulder shows an innovative public way to engage existing groups in Boulder that are not traditionally involved in local policy. Her approach used in the talk spoke to young people in the language that would promote reaction and they would understand.

2. [Engage] particularly underrepresented groups/individuals

As the city’s data show, the current processes the city employs on housing particularly under-represent young people and renters. Becky’s target audience at the Ignite Boulder event worked to complement her other approaches like the housing subcommittees and City of Boulder meetings which over-represent homeowners and older demographics.

Councilwoman Mary Young believes that Becky’s work has not maintained a neutral appearance. I reject this notion. The nature of employing any non-traditional methods easily attracts criticism from establishment groups as unfair and biased — but Becky called for action to participate while not taking a viewpoint on the matters themselves.

What was the purpose of the city partnering with Code For America if your intent was to exactly maintain the status quo? Or are you satisfied with only the illusion that you attempted to engage young people and renters, even though the existing methods have not succeeded?

A removal of Becky Boone and end to the Code For America contract will not only declare failure to engage un-engaged people: it will declare that you never desired real change to happen at all.

A new movement in Boulder is growing as we speak. I ask you to listen to these voices who’ve been inspired by Becky’s work, many of whom are participating for the first time, and continue this conversation.

Eric Budd
3025 Broadway St. #38
Boulder, CO 80304
https://twitter.com/ericmbudd

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Boulder evaluates right-sizing streets to encourage biking and walking

The City of Boulder’s “Go Boulder” organization is seeking input on right-sizing car-centric corridors to improve biking, walking, and motorist safety. I ask the transportation advisory board and city council to support these changes.

Here are the “Complete Street” corridors the city will evaluate:

Map of Boulder potential right-sizing streets

Map of Boulder potential right-sizing streets

Iris Avenue Conditions

I want to analyze the current conditions of one of these roads I bike on ~500 times per year (approximately twice every workday), Iris Avenue in North Boulder. On Saturday, May 2nd, I spent an hour photographing the corridor.

Iris’ bike lanes are in disrepair where vehicles routinely drive over the bike lanes.

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The current bike lane design includes areas that dangerously squeeze cyclists, as demonstrated by how vehicles have removed the bike lane paint from the road.

Car drivers routinely drive in the bike lanes.


The width of the lanes vary, from as wide as 4.5 feet in some places, to just over three feet (39”) on the northwest side of the corner.

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This portion of the bike lane is only 39″ wide.


Right-Sizing Our Streets

Here’s a comparison image between the current street and a mock-up provided by Go Boulder:


Here is a street-view comparison of how the corridor might change. The bike lanes could increase from the current 3-4 feet to 5-6 feet with 2-3 feet of buffer zone.

iris-ave-current

iris-ave-right-size (3)


Iris is one of the few East/West bike corridors but it’s used significantly less by bikes than other thoroughfares in the city. A Strava heat map (based on recreational cyclists who use Strava) shows its use versus surrounding corridors:

strava heatmap iris


The Urgency of Improving Our Streets

Boulder has had a strong history of biking and walking, and now has the opportunity to make those amenities accessible to a much larger part of the population. Here are a few reasons to do so:

  • To give residents and their families safe, economical options to move around the city
  • To reduce the need or desire to drive when taking short trips through town or to downtown
  • To improve safety for motorists by reducing the speed in these corridors and adopt a safer lane configuration
  • To design streets that work better for more people at all times of day rather than focusing on only rush-hour or peak traffic periods
  • To align with the vision set forth in the Transportation Master Plan relating to mode share, energy, and vehicle use

The demand for bike infrastructure exists. We need to provide safe spaces that are equitable for all users of the road.

A woman rides with her child on the sidewalk because the bicycle lanes are not safe.

@ericmbudd

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How Strava Could Embrace Bike Commuting and Electric Bikes

Strava, the popular GPS-based activity tracker for athletes, has developed a strong following among cyclists and runners worldwide. The service offers competitive aspects on “segments” of road or trail, tracking best times or performance to compare against oneself or others.

Even though Strava’s team designs with athletes in mind, it’s shown a potential to serve a larger and more general audience with the global heatmap and activity playback using data aggregation in urban areas.

Strava Global Heatmap (Boulder, Colorado)

Strava Global Heatmap (Boulder, Colorado)

 

Why?

Why might Strava invest resources into such features? By embracing bike commuters and e-bikes, both the company and end-users would benefit by:

1. Growing a huge untapped market of new users

Bike commuters are the fastest growing group of cyclists in the US and a substantial percentage of bike riders around the world. E-bike users are a small but growing group of riders that will likely increase as tech advances improve price and availability of these bikes. 

2. Increasing the number of paying users

While commuters and more e-bike riders may want to start riding with Strava, the service doesn’t tailor to non-athletic uses. Providing these users a similar value proposition as for athletes could lead to higher use and willingness to pay for a membership. Many of Strava’s users commute to full time jobs and would benefit from improved ways to track active transportation.

3. Leveraging excellence from athletics into e-bikes

While electric bikes do provide motorized assist, they also provide an opportunity to analyze fitness. E-bikes measure power output contributed by the rider, a feature that a vast majority of ordinary bikes do not provide. By highlighting the fitness elements of e-bikes while downplaying the speed/time elements, Strava could also give a great user experience for e-bike riders that fits in the context of health and athletic performance.

4. Getting better data

Because Strava is athlete-focused, heatmaps and routes have a likely bias toward younger, fitter, often-male cyclists. By also catering to commuters and more casual riders, Strava could better balance its data set and provide more value to cities that may be interested in using the data for planning purposes.

 

So, how?

Without prying into Strava’s business model, it’s hard to make a case that the company should pursue these features. I’m going to focus on the ‘how’ – if their priorities aligned, what are a few cool things their team could do to meet these ends?

1. Interface enhancements

One simple change would be to add an option in the post-ride screen to mark a ride as a commute. In the right picture, you see the Desktop interface which allows a user to mark a ride as a commute (so Strava already supports the feature on the back-end), but unfortunately there’s no button in the mobile app (left) mark commutes (I’ve added one).

Strava Mobile (added commute button)

 

Strava Desktop commute tagging (existing layout)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other enhancements might include:

  • Optimizing the mobile app startup process to allow quicker ride starts. For long recreational rides, startup time matters less since it’s a low proportion of total ride time, but matters more when a total commute ride may be 5-20 minutes.

*** Update 1/11 – Matt Laroche informed me there’s now a quick start option from mobile home screens:

Strava fast record

Strava fast record

  • Use previously recorded user patterns (or any rides under a certain distance) to auto-populate the commute checkbox post-ride. For instance, if I ride point-to-point and previously select a route as a commute, Strava could check the starting/ending locations compared to previous commutes and pre-mark the commute check-box.

2. Highlight data that commuters care about

Once collecting reliability commute data, Strava could provide metrics more interesting to people who bike commute, such as:

  1. Use average end-to-end time instead of just riding time
  2. Summarize information about commutes (number, time, total distance, average distance) per week, month, year
  3. Gamify The Commute – make it social, and connect people who live nearby or ride the same routes
  4. Provide a “City View” option to enhance the Activity Feed: instead of a chronological feed of mostly text, display the day’s rides as a map where routes of people you follow overlay onto your city. In fact, some of this tech could be adapted from the “activity playback” feature, with a mock-up below:

A city-based Activity Feed

As a commuter in your city, you may develop connections with friends who also use Strava to track their biking or running trips around town. A view of the city will be much more interesting for that type of user than a series of short, disjointed rides.

3. Make electric-assist bikes a feature like power meters

Here’s a screenshot from data captured at a recent test event for the Copenhagen Wheel, an add-on for regular bikes that converts them into electric-assist bikes. Newer e-bikes have sophisticated power measurement techniques that can isolate the human-powered component, which Strava could use just as if the rider had a built-in power meter.

MyCopenhagenWheelDemoRide crop

The fundamentals of athletic training carry over to e-bikes, and could become more prevalent among bike riders than power meters (the latter being a $600+ investment). This is a basis for some of James Peterman’s work at CU-Boulder who’s analyzing the fitness benefits of sedentary individuals who begin using e-bikes. (Contact Jim if you’re interested in this study)

The same concepts of power-based training still apply: duration (time), functional threshold (sustainable power),  intensity factor (power output relative to sustainable power). All can be used to improve athletic performance for e-bike riders in the same manner used for elite athletes.

Zones

 

Wrapping up

To finish where we started: Strava aims to be the best GPS-based tracking software in athletics—but I hope to have shown some compelling reasons to see the service more deeply. Strava could become a nexus for all active transportation, not only the athletically-based kind. Athletes often commute, and people who start to use the service as commuters may transition into using it as athletes.

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Geography, movements, and other tidbits from Boulder’s B-cycle bike sharing system

I put together an analysis of the 2013 Boulder B-cycle data and wanted to share a few interesting tidbits! Here’s a link to a PDF of the full presentation for anyone who wants dive right in: Boulder B-cycle 2013 Analysis

Objective

as a person in a city

I want to understand the layout/flows of bikeshare systems

so I can move around efficiently

System Layout

In 2013, the Boulder B-cycle system had:

  • 22 Stations
  • 276 Docks
  • 138 Bikes

The largest station had seventeen docks while the smallest had nine. Note the large grey dot which marks the geographic center of the system, which did not have a station in 2013 (but does now!)

2013 station layout

Elevation and distance from the center:

2013 Station distance from center and elevation

System Usage

The basic 2013 Boulder B-cycle usage statistics:

  • Total 2013 rides: 28,256
  • Median duration: 14 min
  • Median distance*: .77 mi

Note that distance is calculated “as the crow flies” and understates actual distance traveled, but can be useful as a proxy for distance.

Here’s a map showing each station, with the largest bubbles having the most in/out trips while the smallest have the least:

2013 most active stations map

 

Right away, we notice that the two most likely indicators of trip count are both proximity to downtown Boulder and proximity to the geographic center of the bike-sharing system.

The majority of trips are under 60 minutes and travel less than 1.5 miles.

2013 Distance and Duration

 

On an hourly basis, total bicycles checked out peaks at 11AM and has a second, lesser peak at 5PM. Casual users peak gradually in the mid-afternoon while annual users patterns are less uniform. Also note that Boulder B-cycle was only available between 5AM and midnight in 2013.

2013 24-hour usage profile

 

When accounting for day of week, we see more and later-in-the-day usage toward the end of the workweek. And total usage on weekends for all users more closely mimics that of casual users in general.

2013 24-hour usage profile per day

But another interesting question – how does this usage change in different seasons, with sunlight and temperature likely being big factors?

In the colder/darker months, September through April, we see a much sharper usage pattern that focuses on warm daylight hours:

2013 24-hour September through April

In the summer, we see a much wider usage pattern, extending more heavily into the evening, with many more total riders:

2013 24-hour May through August

We see total ridership reflected in the next graph, with significant increases in the summer months (much of the increase reflecting many tourists in Boulder):

2013 Daily Rides

 

Station Usage Factors

Since we’ve looked at total rides, now let’s look at where people ride to/from the most. Bike-sharing is point-to-point instead of out-and-back, the system allows for net increases or decreases in the number of bikes available at any given station (which requires system rebalancing).

Stations with large bubbles marked in green are net positive in bikes, and small bubbles in yellow/orange are net negative in bikes:

2013 flows map

 

Let’s look at some of the factors that may be in play to explain why stations are net positive or net negative.

We see there’s a correlation between distance from center and a net decrease in bikes at a station.

2013 station net change vs distance from center

 

Another attribute we’d like to test is station elevation. This chart shows an inverse correlation between station elevation and net change in bikes. There may be several factors at play, but generally people have an easier time riding downhill than up.

2013 station net change vs elevation

Other Usage Factors

How sunlight trends with ridership.

2013 Daily Rides vs sunlight

How high temperature affects ridership.

2013 Daily Rides vs temperature

How precipitation affects ridership. Yes, Boulder did get 9 inches of rain on Thursday, September 12th, 2013, during the history flooding event.

2013 Rides vs precipitation

A closer look at ridership during the 2013 flooding:

2013 September Rides vs precipitation

Hopefully this helps understand a bit more about the bikesharing patterns in Boulder. The system has since added many more stations so I’ll hope to update some of the graphs in the future to see how things change. Please send me a comment or note if you have any questions!

@ericmbudd on Twitter.

 

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Facebook is the suburbs while Twitter is the city

Facebook headquarters

Social networks enable varied forms of interaction between their users, through spectrums of openness, hierarchy, and discovery. Facebook and Twitter are the most used services to connect people socially, but bring people together in surprisingly different ways. Facebook’s strengths rely on easily connecting with established networks, showing highlights, and sharing meta-actions (like posting pictures or events). Twitter’s advantages lie in instant communication, building ad-hoc networks, and providing public and widely accessible information.

Why compare social networks to geographical networks? I’ll argue that the same openness, hierarchy, and discovery also applies to suburbs and the city, greatly affecting our modes of relationship. Suburbs span a large area, creating both silos of community and a greater privacy. Suburbs aren’t great for meeting people, but they do provide a framework for connecting disjointed entities to a center.

Twitter headquarters

In comparison, cities move quickly and connect people through greater density. People gather at the local events or meetups, making new friendships from shared interests. Rather than surrounding a center, the city is the center.

The Chasm of Public versus Private

Probably the most often used word in a sentence concerning “Facebook” is privacy, a concept almost never discussed about Twitter. Many Facebook posts are marked ‘for friends only’, and some are concerned over the privacy issues with ‘mutual friends’. Conversations happen in response to a post and comments—very much in a stimulus/response methodology. While commenters sometimes talk among themselves in a post, a trend emerges: the commenters are either friends already, or there will likely be no lasting relationship between them. Compared to Twitter, responses to an original tweet may invoke conversation between responders (sometimes facilitated by the original tweeter), and at its conclusion, responders may choose to follow one another, building a network link between them where one previously didn’t exist and being a part of future cross-talk. Choosing to follow someone on Twitter denotes a more casual relationship than befriending someone on Facebook.

Facebook interactions tend to center around the originator, making only weak links between the other parties.

These human interactions mirror those of a suburb versus a city. Imagine the conversation on the Facebook post as a house party in the ‘burbs. The friend of a friend that you met has context per your conversation at the party, but you may have little connection afterward. And without much way to build a relationship between the two, you may never cross paths again perhaps unless you happen to be at your friend’s house. But Twitter is like meeting that friend of a friend at your local coffee shop that you three frequent. You can establish a few things in common, and if you go there in any frequency, you’ll meet up again and potentially create that new relationship. Not only that, but because your conversations are public, like a group of 10-15 people meeting at that coffeeshop, new organic connections will be made between individuals with shared interests much more easily than in the private confines of a home.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 9.36.26 PM

Twitter interactions have fewer barriers to growing beyond the initiator.

Crosstalk is a feature of Twitter where, if two people you follow converse with messages to each other, these notes will show up in your timeline. Facebook has a similar feature—if one posts to a mutual friend’s wall, you’ll often see this in your Facebook timeline. But on Twitter, conversations are natural—encouraging others to pipe in—as they are clearly public, after all. Twitter serves as an equivalent of a public forum, rather than overhearing someone’s conversation, as there is no expectation of privacy.

The Destination versus The Journey

Suburbs classically keep their gems along huge arterial roads, surrounded by seas of parking lots. Drivers often complain about traffic while traveling on unsafe roads, having to walk across a large expanses of blacktop, traveling five or ten miles from their homes to a destination. City-living people often walk, bike or bus a few minutes from their homes, to a small and livable place, built at human scale. The experience that can be enjoyable—or terrifying—like our interface through Facebook or Twitter.

Facebook posts are often post-facto—reflections, pictures, collection of thoughts—in which the things you see are selected by an algorithm, based on likes, comments, or how much a company has paid for you to see it. It’s prepared. Sometimes stale. May be non-chronological. Packaged for sitting on shelves in a big box store, staying ‘fresh’ for months. Twitter, on the other hand, has fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market downtown. The fish from the sea this morning (sometimes with a less-than-pleasant smell). Rather than buying a five pound box, you get just what you need for breakfast this morning.

Tweets are often not fully-processed, mass-produced packages. They have defects, or they don’t sufficiently capture an idea. But sometimes they capture someone’s first thought in the morning, or an observation walking down the street not significant enough to warrant a post to Facebook. And sometimes that thought comes in a series of three, four, or five tweets—the timing, organic nature matters, and gives a unique flavor that big-box chain restaurants will consistently fail to deliver.

Choosing your friends versus Befriending your neighbors

When someone retweets someone else’s tweet into your timeline, it’s introducing something new into your system. The tweet is reproduced whole, with no comment, and including the original poster’s avatar. At first, retweets can feel almost like a breach of friendship—similar to a friend letting an unknown stranger into your home. It’s not uncommon for new Twitter users to ask how to turn off retweets in their timeline.

This similar occurrence doesn’t wholly exist on Facebook, but people can share an item (usually with comment). Instead, Facebook’s filtering isolates you from unwanted intrusions. Your Facebook timeline’s stories are likely influenced from a friend’s likes or comments, or Facebook’s algorithms show you things it determines you may want to see. Getting that semi-random retweet from a person that’s not expected, or sometimes not particularly wanted, doesn’t exist. You can move further out of town to stop this (i.e. disable retweets from the retweeter) . You can put up a fence (blocking the retweeted person). But you live in a dense neighborhood which by default accepts diversity over homogeny.

Mapping existing networks versus Building new networks

Friends don’t let friends move to the suburbs. Why? Because often it’s a precursor to devolving friendships rather than building them. Partly the lack of density strains friendships, requiring travel to visit old friends (suburban or urban). People keep their friendships when moving out of the city, but the friendship structure is now virtually out of balance with reality. The same is often true with Facebook.

Facebook communities and friendships are descriptive—they exist to mirror an external friendship/relationship (school, family, acquaintances . Twitter communities and friendships are conscriptive—they’re often building a relationship that wasn’t there prior to Twitter (location based, interests, learning). The problem with Facebook networks is that they quickly get out of date, stale, and siloed.

Living versus Deteriorating

Twitter is the ever-changing city. There are always new people to meet (follow) and old friendships may lapse when it’s time (unfollowing). Time is a constraint. There is a limit to how many people, things, and ideas a single person can care about. Twitter rarely has the nostalgia factor that keeps so many dead Facebook friendships alive. Yet Facebook allows relations to persist like an old, dead mall that’s long past its relevance.

@ericmbudd on twitter

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