Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 26th, 2008

The yield to the right concept

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Not politics, but traffic regulation. And one of my hoby horses. A letter appears in the ITE Journal this month that is worth repeating here as it introduces information that I was not previously aware of. The author is Kenneth Todd, and while I do not have his permission to reproduce it I think he will be pleased that this idea is promulgated.

The yield to the right concept originated in France. Charles-Marie Gariel, a professor of physics at the School of Highways and Bridges, proposed it in 1896 as a rule when two cyclcists arrived at an intersection at the same time (source: Gariel, Charles Marie. “De la Règle à adopter en cas de Rencentre sur deux Routes qui se croisent” Revue Mensuelle du Touring-club de France July 1896 pp. 246-247) The rationale was that the cyclist on the left had no need to stop or slow down too much when yielding to the one on the right. Gariel only considered the conflict between two cyclists, not three or four.

Paris, France adopted the rule in 1910 for intersections where two roads of equal width met, and another rule gave drivers on wide roads priority over those on narrower ones. The League of Nation’s International Convention relative to Motor Traffic adopted the rule in 1926, as did the US Uniform Vehicle Code. It remains valid in all US states and by international convention in all countries where traffic drives on the right side of the road.

As William Phelps Eno, the American “father of traffic control,” and others pointed out in the 1920’s, the rule paralyzed traffic when drivers entered an intersection from all directions and obstructed others from leaving. (sources: Eno, William Phelps Simplification of Highway Traffic Saugatuck CT USA Eno Foundation 1929 p.15   McClintock, Miller Street Traffic Control New York NY USA: McGraw Hill 1925 pp 126-127  Lefferts, E B “Giving Man on Left Right of Way” National Safety News December 1922 p40) The rule is rarely in force today, but it shows that early law-makers lacked the most elementary understanding of the intersection problem. Reversing the rule so that the driver on the right gives way to the one on the left would make an intersection function like a mini-roundabout and avoid the installation of countless traffic signals.

The problem is that the ITE Journal is not read outside of the profession – you have to be a Member to get hold of it. I doubt that it is in many public libraries. So I am taking this bold step of doing more than a brief quotation in the hopes that this idea will spread.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Traffic

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Vancouver’s walkability — a sign of good health

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Dan Burden, Special to the Sun

(Dan Burden’s Great Pacific Northwest Tour on Town Making begins in Seattle on Aug. 28 and arrives in Vancouver Aug. 30 for a two-day amble.)

Dan Burden is senior urban designer with Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin and founder of Walkable Communities Inc.

In terms of walkability, the Vancouver region is strides ahead of other North American regions.

I am glad that is what he thinks. It is nice to know that we are doing something right. But I am surprised at his use of the word “region” as the only examples he quotes are in the City of Vancouver – False Creek and West Broadway. These two locations are hardly representative of the City let alone the region. They are the exceptions, not the rule.

So what creates a walkable place? Walkability is a composite of accessibility, health and place. It includes an abundance of sidewalks, trails and crossings. But it is much more than that. It is the presence of buildings, large and small, providing “eyes” for well-located retail, parks, schools, civic spaces.

All of which I endorse, but feel forced to point out that this does not describe most of this region. “Abundance of sidewalks” is hard when most residents refuse to pay for them outside their single family homes. Larger developments usually get the sidewalks squeezed out of them by the municipality, but they are hardly part of a connected up network of safe routes. Pedestrians always prefer straight lines – as any “informal trail” on flat land will testify. But most walking paths meander. Nice for recreation, not good for personal transportation – and downright dangerous in some cases. For example the bit of the BC Parkway through Central Park in Burnaby, which was designed as a rhododendron walk and is now used by speedy cyclists (the parallel Interurban right of way is broad and straight – and unpaved).

The suburbs are not designed for walking. They are designed to deter through car traffic. People do walk in them – mostly on the road. Sometimes there is a shortcut between the houses to enable one to get out of the subdivision to the arterial roads (all wide and fast and horrible to walk next to) where the buses run. When they have a service, which is by no means universal.  But lots of luck getting a new direct path out of existing home owners, who can only see security and privacy issues that threaten their interests.

The great challenge we face in making our region sustainable is making the suburbs into walkable areas. That will not be easy or cheap. And we have hardly scratched the surface

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in Urban Planning, walking

Free ferries raise ire of users

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Nanaimo Daily News

“Freshwater ferries” inland in BC are all offered without charge. People who live on the Gulf Islands think their ferries should be treated in the same way. There is the usual argument about BC Ferries being part of the provincial highway system – which I think is a normative not a descriptive statement. It is certianly not historically accurate. If anything they were part of the national railway network (service to Vancouver Island being a condition of BC joining Canada).

What is somewhat surprising is that the Albion Ferry is also included in this discussion, as that is no longer a provincial service but was downloaded to Translink.  So far as I am aware there is no specific funding for the ferry but was covered by the transfer of gas tax points in the same way that downloaded roads and bridges were. The story also fails to mention that the days of the free ferry from Surrey to Maple Meadows are numbered. It is to be replaced by the – tolled – Golden Ears Bridge. Most people using the ferry said they would be happy to pay a toll to avoid the long waits for the ferry and get a shorter journey time.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Transportation