in Density, Urban Change

The Vehicular Pedestrian

Making way for the Vehicular Pedestrian will be more than a critical mass issue due to significant changes in dense urban land use and dimly recognized design problem that must be solved. As a result,  Personal Urban Mobility Assistants (PUMA) and power assist vehicles (HPV) will begin to reshape urban design decisions the hard way. Unfortunately, the city remains poorly prepared for this change.

For some time, the rule demanding the separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic has required extensive revision.  The reason is the emergence of the “vehicular pedestrian”  in small, lightweight vehicles. As they continue to arrive on the roads far more quickly than the current supply of re-designed or de-vernacularized roads can manage, trouble is inevitable. Moreover, HPVs and PUMAs are ecologically appropriate and efficient for urban use yet confront a dangerous interface with the American fascination with the truck chassis beneath a sports utility vehicle.

HPVs and PUMAs are well-known as bicycles, in-line tandems, and power-chairs. They now include power assist recumbent, side-by-side tricycles, and standing boards.  These and many others fly along the roads with impressive power and speed.  All are causing urban designers to examine a brand new set of “right-of-way” challenges. Regrettably, they are not successfully awakening the need for lawmakers to pave the way. Transit leadership has responded with paint for lanes, moved auto parking a bike lane away from the curb, and posted “share the road” signs. The campaign has included not-so-subtle reminders on bus ads that tell you that it is a felony to knock a person of a bicycle. If the speed is over 30mph, the rider’s death is more likely. Finally, NYC took a “Vision Zero” view of NYC’s speed, lowered the limit to 30mph and then to 25mph, and added speed cameras with priority placements near public schools.

Only a tiny part of the regulatory way is established in the American Disabilities Act (ADA).  Practical, if not elegant, design solutions serve physically disabled travel on pedestrian routes and “low-speed roadways” where various wheeled “cart” vehicles are available.  Use does not require registration or licensed use. Still, much is unclear about proceeding from this modest standard of care framed by the ADA.  These design solutions have made it easier, but the problem remains well beyond improving access. New forms of mobility will completely reshape the way we live in cities with more ways to move to get things done as individuals, families, and businesses.

New forms of mobility will completely
reshape the way we live in cities.

The mobile web is built on mobile devices with processors running on faster networks that access cloud services described in thousands of publications entitled the internet of things (IoT).  The two most common outside of the home, the smartphone and personal vehicles. 

The Mobile Web

The mobile web changes everything. Finding your way, the acquisition of connected things nearby translates into dramatic changes in business technology toward user-centered design in the context of every possible use.

For decades, development practices and residential investment behaviors have produced what the planners, urban designers, and architects often refer to as “non-place” landscapes.  They are deeply intertwined with the public’s demand for personalized transport – a car. 

These vehicles offer multiple destination flexibility, abundant storage, and varying levels of self-expression, from practical to exuberant.  With this as a given, it is logical to seek ways to encourage movement from a school campus to a train station, hospital or shopping district by other means such as walking or cycling. The destination should determine the choice of vehicle if the option was available.  To do that requires an improvement in public policy on mobility systems driven by the mobile web.

Vehicular Diversity

Vehicular diversity is controlled by the pathway offered. The vehicle is of little use without a public right of way. The power to alter it should be shared equitably, but it is not.

The planning and urban design approach involve partially or completely de-vehicularized roads or routes that add alternative vehicular capacity.  This dual approach is gaining added attention for two key reasons.  First, it serves public safety due to the increase in human-powered-assist vehicles (HPVs).  Second, mass transit can accommodate the addition HPVs. They are as benign as folding bicycles or power boards, but it stops there.  Therefore, the problem includes encouraging the routine use of HPVs as life-affirming, turf-sharing, circulation, and vehicular portage.

The demand for HPV route designs is significant. So much so that the lack of “parade” permits has been used to prevent “future now” or “critical mass” expressions by cycling interests eager to demonstrate for added safety.  The image below is drawn from a Community Design Center in Arkansas (see website: here). 

The Yellow Brick Road in Arkansas

The “mall culture’s” unintended social and environmental consequences reveal opportunities to expanding access to destinations that increase urban development and density. The demand for transportation options between “big box” retail exposes mass parking lots as “ex post facto” land uses.

Perhaps the most visible choice of personalized vehicle is the fully-powered Segway and competitors serving security at the “mall.” At this point, they are classified as neither a motor vehicle nor a consumer product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a preliminary opinion that they should be considered a “consumer product.” Therefore, they remain unregulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This designation will change as more personal mobility devices become common due to necessity.

The initial result driving the change envisioned in Arkansas was market-driven regulation arising at the state level to protect citizens.

  • Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing the use of Segways.
  • Five states (CO, CT, MA, ND, and WY) have no legislation permitting the use of Segways.
  • Two states (AR and KY) have no statewide prohibitions against Segways, but local regulations may exist.

Choices that do not require new regulations or added government oversight are broadening rapidly in the HPV/PUMA business in general, thanks to the aggressive marketing efforts of Segway. The range of vehicles entering the market is, in fact, staggering.  A review of what Segway and others are launching is aggressive, only hampered by the CPSC list of recalls. The NHTSA’s focus on adding automobile connectivity can reduce collisions, but the NHTSA has yet to focus on alternative vehicles. The following runs through a brief search of what’s “out there.”  The short answer is not much.  Not yet.

The B-cycle has gone electric in its locations, the Citibank’s bike has captured NYC and remains human powered.

The B-cycle offers a “what if” link that is based on zip codes.  At one time, a researcher could experience a marketing effort for New York City. Put zip-11368 on the website, and you are asked if you want Flushing or Corona, Queens.  Choose Flushing, and the program tells the reader is in an area with just over 1 million people that could use about 380 bike stations and nearly 5,000 bikes.  It suggests that if just 10% of residents participated for just 30 miles per year, the following dramatic results would occur. 

The vehicle miles traveled would be some 3.5 million.  This translates to reducing carbon emissions by about 1,700 tons; it would save over 170,000 gallons of gas and produce $2 million in savings for other expenditures.  In addition, the use of an HPV would help reduce traffic by over 100,000 cars, and the users would burn around 162 million calories or the equivalent of 47,000 pounds lost or 0.403 pounds per cyclist.

This particular “bike-share” idea is a partnership of three industries. Humana. Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.   A health services corporation and a bicycle manufacturer combined resources on the bet that people are looking for new ways to move around their city. However, people are being motivated by the vague influence of climate change data, the addition of health providers, transit planners, and urban designers are seeing an opportunity to make the roads human again.

Market-Driven Change Failed

The big boys on the block all also have their ad-eye on the advancement of HPVs.  These companies are directly tied to selling more stuff in more ways than ever with ads called faces.  HPV stations and bus shelters meant getting faces on more places as close to eye level as possible. When web-connected, each face could project the newest stuff, like rain gear that enhances the joy of a wet bike ride.

Cemusa, Clear Channel and Decaux

JC Decaux reported over $5,000,000 in losses related to its Paris bike-share fleet over eighteen months.  Some have suggested this is a negotiating ploy for aid from local governments eager to earn green points.  Another leading company the expressed an early interest in the bike-share field is Clear Chanel.  In the mid-1970s, this industry claimed a significant share of New York City’s public space.  At the time the New York was in a recession and severe financial crisis.  They offered a share of ad revenue from “faces” on bus shelters that Clear Channel would provide and maintain.  Unfortunately, their shelter design and management solution proved to be a failure on many levels.  Cemusa has recently taken the NYC market share with a bus shelter and/or newsstand upgrade and new technology. They are also interested in the placement of bike-share kiosks or stations as sites for ad space.

Opinions, from the average person to the head of the Federal Reserve, the more stuff we buy, the better off we will all be, except for the contradiction that over the long term, this is not possible.   Confronting inherent contradictions in wealthy society is difficult. Exponential growth cannot go on forever in a finite world that demands adherence to sustainability principles. Those who promote the idea of exponential growth are either quite mad or economists, as Kenneth Boulding once noted.  But, it was Marshal McLuhan that reminded us that only the little secrets are protected. The massive ones are kept secret by our own incredulity. The one we live with now is that our economic system must fit itself into the ecological system.

Yes, buying more and more stuff may not be good, yet reversing life to spiritual self-fulfillment, is not as easy as riding a bike. Does it come down to something as simple as an HPV and the new kinds of urban environments they would shape?  It is not about more stuff but choosing more rightly in a newly designed “waste nothing” world.  Therein lies the classic contradiction when company sponsors use bikes to encourage consumption. An HPV minimizes consumption to maximize rider well-being—leadership in advancing the law on landscapes for public health and safety is needed. The investment compromise is obvious, and it is possible to list where ads are allowed on what retailers call “faces” and expand the use of slower places for riders.

Public Interest Design Explorations

In 2008, a modest step in the direction of encouraging bicycle use was taken by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Transportation Alternatives.  The promotion of the CityRacks Design Competition admitted a need above the existing 5,000 bike racks in the city.  However, tossing more bikes onto the streets is not placemaking.  While welcomed, the entire process missed a key point addressed by the Forum for Urban Design.  The Forum is a New York-based membership organization to advance awareness of best practices and confronting urban design challenges. The New York Bike-Share Project was one of its initiatives.  Here, place-making was emphasized as a “bike station” for personal bike storage and bike rentals in the Red Hook Competition.  In turn, this opens the discussion productively in the “best location” area and, after that, to the public responsibility to promote placement incentives.  Perhaps, the lesson to date would find an “urban design” and an industrial design process beginning the more supporting community design process is not developing well.   

Test Cases

Today, cities have a few slightly heavy, modestly well-branded bikes free for 30 minutes round trips but rentable for any “station-to-station” travel.  Beyond the initial hype, they are a feel-good utility in the service of touring hotspots. Still, they are unlikely to shift the paradigm to general public use of HPVs as viable or zero-carbon transport for modern urban living.  So if leadership in this area delivers ad companies, what are the other choices?

Advancing good business practices by outfits such as  Sustainable Business Consulting offer an understanding of the metric tons of carbon dioxide produced by staff activities.  The reduction of harm is beneficial. It sets goals and measurable objectives for CO2 reduction reducing water use or sending zero waste into landfills.  The steady flow of metrics into the process is an appropriate push on public policy.

The New Equity is Energy Used Well

The interplay between transport systems and urban design is evident. Whenever a system can deliver 9,000 people to a place per hour, the responsibilities go well beyond appropriate circulation and way-finding.  It is exhibited everywhere, from suburban sprawl to new cities that have adopted transit-oriented development. 

Adding alternative transportation concepts to the system has begun.

  • The power to provide “the way” is in the public domain.
  • Making way for newly competitive low-cost public transit from HPV to a bullet train only requires two components: lanes and destinations.
  • In older urban centers such as New York City, transit-stationed neighborhoods are equivalent to entire towns in other parts of the nation.
  • Efforts to produce transit-oriented villages remain in the planning stages.  In New York City, multiple public transit hubs are recognized for robust economic returns.

The lesson learned by newer places such as Portland or Seattle is to add value by defining transit stations as whole places.   The American Public Transportation Association’s (TPTA) work on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) develops in various local and international case studies. The central issue is how to frame development benefits sufficiently to assuage the perceived loss of market share by reducing auto parking to minimal yet reasonably accessible levels.

Measuring the public benefits more broadly (i.e., carbon cap and trade systems) will be helpful, and legislation has stumbled for over a decade.   Nevertheless, improvements in the health of the walking/cycling community are genuine savings.  Ultimately, the household pocketbook issue remains central to effective change.

Infrastructure Change is Too Slow

Put Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) into any search engine, and the data for nearly every website concerns trucks and cars. Not cool.

September-October 2008 issue of World-Watch explored alternative transportation ideas. Gary Gardner wrote When Cities Take Bicycles Seriously (World Watch 11, no. 5 (1998): 16-22) cited increases in bike commuting and its growing prestige. He suggested that if five percent of the 1.5 trillion miles consumed each year in cars and taxis were taken by bicycles, it would save its consumers $100 billion. Moreover, if ordinary people could safely choose five percent of their trips using an HPV, it would easily and consistently move upward in urban areas alone just that five percent is the break-even point on the investment, more on the subject (here).

When redefined as urban “hubs,” the train or subway station becomes a prime asset.  Obviously, they cannot all be “grand central’ in character yet sufficiently equal in charm to encourage social capital and enhance the public’s sense of well-being.  NYC’s lesson from these newer urban cities is less about real estate value than effective leadership in five-point placemaking. 

  1. Efficiency: The average cyclist travels at about 12 mph.  This is faster than the average driver during peak hours anywhere in New York City. The peak is around 2:30 PM and bracketed by the morning and evening rush.
  2. Equity: The low infrastructure cost of cycling is obvious.  An HPV uses one-twelfth of the mid-sized car space. Transit systems with infrastructure for all forms of HPVs generate more efficient point-to-point destination volumes.
  3. Exercise: Biking uses more muscles than walking. It invokes the release of endorphins — natural renewable energy that includes a strong sense of well-being.  Riding as little as five miles each day improves health.
  4. Affordability: A bicycle is more than affordable.  Public transit in NYC cost fours dollars round trip (2009) and $5.50 (2020) and rising steadily.  Three months of bicycle use for commuting would equal the average acquisition cost of a bike and now deductible as a business expense for employers.
  5. Sustainability:  Public knowledge of sustainability concepts will grow if walking and HPV are used to acquire goods and services.  Extending new access modes to regional centers expands competitive positions.

NYC Planning Department website describes mandated bicycle parking in privately-owned public spaces (here). Grasping the budget and regulatory pressures in New York City is difficult. Why does it take over 25 years to get 70% of the way toward increased HPV use and safety? The 1997 Bike Master Plan, by the City Planning, set a goal for 1,800 miles. The Department of Transportation celebrated getting to 1,000 miles in 2020 (described here). For a brief comparison, spend a moment or two on the Tokyo bike storage system for up to 10,000 bikes.  

The (Bike) Path Ahead

A place HPVs creates a highly strengthened transit-oriented system.  European examples abound in this area.  The Tokyo system is one example. In the United States, the empirical insights of Jane Jacobs remain a compelling argument for the diversity of use inherent to the dense urban grid.  

This is because the city makes the bicycle and HPV vehicles extremely useful. Therefore, policies that make the city more efficient in this way will release design creativity.  Three locations in NYC are manufacturing sites for HPVs.  The only element missing to bring this market forward are places for the vehicles on the streets of NYC.

Policies that make a more human-powered city:

  • Ban or reduce automobile traffic lanes from streets: Just three lanes of Manhattan’s north/south avenues could serve over 100,000 bicycles per/hour per/block.  Steps for increased HPV/bicycle safety require a design solution.  In NYC, a street closing caused stress.  The strain of a complete conversion is spread to all north/south streets can be made permanent by the current design.  HPV dedicated cross-town routes can work as well.  Imagine pleasure riders but see a vast increase in business-to-business deliveries. Extend the policy to the boroughs.
  • Replace car lot space with bike lot space: Obviously, bicycles are a better fit. A law to provide a tax-free pricing system for bikes can be absorbed by increasing rates for cars.  Is there room for “bike stations”. 
  • Increase tax on trucks/cars: The gas tax in Europe is five times the USA.  Congestion pricing to push truck deliveries into night schedules is common.  While regressive in the short term, it is worthwhile to stimulate “pedestrian-oriented” cities across the nation.   Places like the Netherlands have thousands of miles of a dedicated bike path. Still, they are New York City’s routes growing correctly – to assure success?  Have you been “doored” lately?
  • Walkable city: Reduced auto use increases transit and design efficiencies once well-placed mass-transit development centers are identified.  Where is the leadership at this point in NYC?  The term “woonerf” is Dutch.  It describes streets as dominantly pedestrian.  These are tree-lined routes with culvert drainage systems and “neck-downs” open enough for local traffic and emergency vehicles.  Implemented for residential life, they were quickly adapted to commercial settings.
  • HPVs for long or short-distance transit routes: Trips from Midtown Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, as “HPV ride would add seats to the train. Mass transit needs the low-impact of the vernacularized rider. 
  • Arrivals and Departures: Zoning bonuses and related tax incentives should emphasize space for showers and bike storage. More people would ride a bicycle to work if they could do so in a designated bike lane, park their bike in a safe place, and clean up a bit on arrival. 

Existing urban design solutions promote “pedestrian and bicycle-oriented” travel reasonably well.  A row of parked autos protects pedestrians. The same solution now serves human-powered vehicles.  Turning the dominance of the automobile readily available to manipulate into a source of added HPV use.  The college campus or other large regional parks already also offer clear bike transit that does not require reinventing the wheel. All that is needed is safe passage and the opportunity to build a brighter, cleaner, sustainable neighborhood, city, and world.

An excellent summary of the issues associated with the “critical mass” bike ride occurrences in NYC and the response of the NYPD was prepared in 2006 by the New York Bar Association.  The Association criticized the legislative role of the NYPD on HPV.  It advised the City Council to discourage using the police power to pre-determine constitutional issues based on vague rules defining “a parade.”

Legislation based on basic economics, triple bottom line science, ecological footprints, happiness indexes, and accurate cost accounting are emerging.  All seek the means to press for more sophistication in measuring and confirming sustainability principles in the city.

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