Archive for October, 2011

11949849761176136192traffic_light_green_dan__01.svg.medWe were curious about the Traffic Signal Priority system being touted as a benefit of the new RapidRideB service, so we took our questions to John Toone, the ITS program manager at King County Metro. John regularly works to expand and extend the capabilities of the ITS architecture of the transportation agency, As program manager, his duties range widely from policy and planning to installation and operation, and he was instrumental in getting the TSP system in place. Our conversation is below:

CYWB: What exactly is Traffic Signal Priority and where is it being implemented?

John: TSP is simply the idea of giving special treatment to transit vehicles at signalized intersections. Since transit vehicles can hold many people, giving priority to transit can potentially increase the person throughput of an intersection. TSP is currently active for RapidRide buses at all but three intersections on the B Line, which will come online as construction in Bellevue finishes.

CYWB: Could you describe how the technology works to a layperson, like ourselves, and explain why we should be excited about it?

John: TSP is part of our Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) architecture where the buses, roadside and central systems are all connected via a single network. The buses know their location using GPS and other technologies. When it reaches a defined point on their trip, the bus sends a wireless message with about 25 pieces of information to a device on the roadside. This device generates a request to the signal controller if the criteria set by Metro and the City are met. TSP doesn’t just make the trip faster, it’s also more reliable. So, buses come more regularly, get to their destination faster, and it costs less for Metro to provide service.

CYWB: How can you tell (as a rider) when it’s in effect?

John: TSP is a priority treatment, not a preempt, so a rider or driver won’t really notice an obvious change happening at the signal as with an emergency vehicle. The green light is held a little longer or the wait at the red light is shortened for the bus, but the lights will never change order. People get to know the patterns of familiar intersections, so if they get the feeling a light has been green for longer than expected, look around for a bus. In general, though, it’s hard to know for certain that a bus got priority at a specific light without looking into the system logs. But over a trip a rider will notice that the bus spends less time stopped at lights than a car.

CYWB: Will we see its use expanding to other routes as well?

John: TSP is a core feature of RapidRide, so the A Line and all future lines (we currently have plans for 6 total) will have this technology. Every bus in the fleet is equipped with the same on-board equipment as the RapidRide coaches so this could be expanded to other bus corridors as well, although there is no budgeted project to do so at this time.

CYWB: Can you name any “TSP success stories”?

John: On the A Line one less bus was needed than was initially scheduled to provide service due to the success of TSP and other priority treatments.

CYWB: What is the relationship (if any) between TSP and the new SCATS system being implemented in Bellevue??

John: SCATS is a very cool new generation signal control system that’s very smart and uses a lot of information inputs to adapt to traffic conditions. The first SCATS intersections with TSP are currently planned to be installed in January/February 2012 at 120th/NE 8th and 124th/NE 8th. With their integration, our system can be considered one of the inputs to their adaptation. As you probably know, modern thinking about traffic management is that the infrastructure is intended to move people and freight, not vehicles. SCATS can be much more successful about moving people by knowing which vehicles are buses full of them. We should be able to be more aggressive in how long we could hold a green light for a bus, as we have confidence SCATS can compensate quickly for those movements that were delayed a little more.

CYWB: At Metro, are you working on any technology-related projects besides traffic signaling that could potentially make bus rides go faster?

John: As I mentioned above TSP is just one part of our ITS architecture. This architecture includes the next bus arrival signs and ORCA card readers located at the RapidRide stations on what we call the “Tech Pylons”. Paying your fare while you’re waiting for the next bus is a great way to get on board and on the road faster. We designed the architecture so that new technology systems can be more easily integrated, which is one of the reasons it was nominated for this year’s ‘Best of ITS’ award that will be announced soon!

Monday, October 31st, 2011 11:40 AM | by admin | Add a Comment

untitledIf you’ve ever missed a traffic light by mere seconds only to be held hostage for a seeming eternity, you’ll certainly appreciate the intuitive new signaling system currently being implemented throughout Bellevue. Traffic signals may not come across as the most scintillating of topics, but they can absolutely make a difference in the amount of time each day you spend waiting, having a huge affect on your quality of life.

The Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System, or SCATS as it’s more commonly known, continually obtains traffic data from all lanes in order to determine traffic light cycle length, eliminating inefficient cycle time and providing extra time when needed. You’ll see it in full effect in downtown Bellevue at the intersection of NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way, as well as NE 8th Street and 112th Avenue NE and myriad intersections further east.

Bellevue has the distinction of being the first city in Washington to implement the system, and to impressive results: where it has been deployed locally, SCATS has shown to reduce delays by an average of 10% throughout the day, and as much as 20% during rush hour. Or, to put that in more concrete terms, it produces an average 70 second reduction in individual wait times, or saves 6,400 aggregate hours for drivers over the course of a year.

But perhaps you don’t drive? The system dazzles with benefits for pedestrians, as well. SCATS has the capability of producing a walk sign midway through the cycle at the press of a button. Since implementation at NE 8th Street and Bellevue Way, there has a 8% increase in pedestrian opportunities, and this function will be extended to more intersections in the future.

SCATS can also respond to accidents and disruptions in real-time (something that was nearly impossible to do with CompuTran – the former signaling system) and comes complete with the flashing yellow arrow function, which enables it to change left turn rules based on traffic conditions.

SCATS is currently in effect at 28% of the intersections in Bellevue, and partially in effect at 51%. Implementation will continue in phased rollouts until 2015, or until a new technology comes along that knocks us off our feet again. Such is the cycle.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 1:15 PM | by admin | Comments (3)

On Tuesday, November 1 from
4:30-6:30 p.m.
, the DSC01009_2City of Bellevue will host an open house and scoping meeting on the Downtown Transportation Plan Update.

The Downtown Bellevue Transportation Plan Update is a focused, 18-month planning effort just getting underway, intended to update transportation plans and projects that will accommodate the growth that is expected in our city
between now and 2030.

There are two main objectives for this meeting: to provide information to a broad section of the community about the purpose of updating the Downtown Transportation Plan at this time; and to receive comments and suggestions regarding specific transportation issues that affect Downtown mobility and livability.

Following an overview presentation in the Council Chambers, those in attendance will be invited to the Concourse to join in small group conversations with City staff focused on specific mobility modes such as pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and roadways. In this format, the City hopes to hear from the community about the transportation system issues that concern them and their ideas for improvements. People are encouraged to visit more than one of the mobility display tables to help in the challenging task of planning for a multi-modal transportation system in a complex and dense urban environment.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Bellevue City Hall – Council Chambers and Concourse

450 – 110th Avenue NE

For further information, consult the web site: www.bellevuewa.gov/downtown-transportation-plan-update.htm

You may also contact the project manager, Kevin McDonald at 425-452-4558, or kmcdonald@bellevuewa.gov.

See you there!

Monday, October 10th, 2011 1:20 PM | by admin | Add a Comment

Who says people only drive in Bellevue?

Friday, October 7th, 2011 12:32 PM | by admin | Add a Comment

Deric Gruen is the Sustainability Coordinator and Resource Conservation Manager at Bellevue College, where he works to plan, implement and evaluate iniPicture 028tiatives to integrate sustainability into institutional practices.

Deric received his Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington, and has lent his expertise to a diverse array of organizations, including the Sightline Institute, the Puget Sound Regional Council, and the Trade Development Alliance at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

In just one year at BC, he has already spearheaded a successful movement to bring Metro bus route 240 to campus, heightened the campus sustainability web and social media presence (see Facebook and Twitter pages), as well as instituted a college-wide paid parking program that began this fall.

We chatted with Deric about organizing, land use, making biking “cool,” and what’s next for Bellevue College.

CYWB: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about how you came to work at Bellevue College, and what you do there?

Deric: I began working at Bellevue College in September of 2010, following a year of traveling through the Middle East and Southern Africa by bike on a fellowship through the University of Washington. The first thing I was tasked with was tackling the longstanding transportation issues on our campus. I quickly helped to develop a task force comprised of students, faculty and staff that served as a platform for ongoing discussions about how we continue to grow mindfully while remaining an accessible institution for everyone.

CYWB: We hear you’re a something of a community organizer—would you mind telling us the happy story of bus route 240?

Deric: Earlier this year, I worked with student groups in an effort to get the Metro bus route 240 to make a stop at the Eastgate Park and Ride, the closest transit station to the College. We determined that 23% of Bellevue College students come from areas that would be served by this route, and that the cost of this change would be a mere five minutes for some commuters, but would save our students about a half an hour. We encouraged students to send letters and emails of support to the King County Council, and they went and testified before Council about how critical the bus service was to them. Their testimony tipped the scales, and as of October 1, the 240 now stops at Eastgate. Students often don’t count as much as jobs in transportation route planning, but they matter just as much, which I’m glad the Council recognized.

CYWB: Bellevue College has also been in the headlines lately for their new paid parking program, which is quite a change for the suburban-style campus where about 70% of the students and faculty drive alone. Can you explain how this came about?

Deric: We’ve long offered subsidized ORCA passes for our students, but with sharp increases in the cost of the pass, we realized we wouldn’t be able to continue to make the numbers work without a funding source for both parking and ORCA. We hired a consultant to conduct a parking study for us as a requirement of a new building we have permitted, and they issued the recommendation that charging for parking was the best solution to maintain accessibility of our campus. Furthermore, we determined that 75% of our emissions are commute related, and we want to reduce this by 10% over the next 5 years as part of our campus Climate Action Plan.

CYWB: Parking is often a contentious topichow did you win the support of the campus community in this process?

Deric: The student government came out in support of it after a long review and deliberation—we have a very active student body and strong leaders on campus. The toughest sell was some of the employee union groups—they’ve long considered free parking to be one of their benefits. The whole bargaining process took a good 6 months. But in the end, the students were able to make the case to the Board of Trustees that we would never have a different future if we didn’t make this change now. It was approved in June of this year, and we began implementation this fall. The rates aren’t prohibitively high$65 a quarter for students, less if you drive less, and just $15 a quarter for faculty and staff.

CYWB: If you could explain why institutions should charge for parking to the unconverted in just a few sentences, what would you say?

Deric: People need to understand that parking is not a free resource, and at Bellevue College, we’ve decided that we’d rather put our resources towards the students. Parking costs about $500 annually per stall, so it’s really a trade off when you think of it like that. As an institution, we want to become mode neutral and not subsidize one commute method over another. We want to always give people the element of real choice.

CYWB: Transportation and land use is often thought of something separate from sustainability efforts—often organizations that have recycling and energy saving programs don’t even mention transportation. Why the disconnect?

Deric: There’s always the fear factor of engaging around commute issues—it’s a very personal thing to people, with often intangible manifestations. It also takes work to organize non-drive-alone commutes, which is why before we enacted the paid parking scheme, we set up 5 informational booths around campus with representatives from King County Metro and the City of Bellevue and other students to help people plan their new commutes. That way it became more tangible, and manageable. Interventions like (PARK)ing day can help to make physical effects of parking more visible, as well. That’s something we might try on campus.

CYWB: Do you have any thoughts or tips for other institutions (schools, hospitals, etc) who might want to shift to paid parking?

Deric: Do the analysis to find out the true cost of parking on your institution and explore whether subsidies for parking are more than your subsidies for other modes and consider if that is fair.  In times of tight budgets consider your priorities.  Once you’ve done that analysis bring the findings to your employees and clients.

CYWB: How will you be able to tell if the new paid parking program has been a success?

Deric: We’re planning to do parking counts and a transportation survey but we haven’t decided whether it’ll be the spring or fall. Sales of parking passes and ORCA cards are going briskly, as expectedwe’ve actually sold out of the cheaper ORCA pass—and we will continue to help with individualized commute planning through our SHIFT partnership and RideshareOnline. The parking program is a biennium, so we’ll re-evaluate it in 2013.

CYWB: What’s up with biking on the Bellevue College campus? You’d think it would be the perfect demographic for it.

Deric: Anecdotally, I’ve seen more bikes this fall than ever before. We’re installing covered bike parking, and our gym is free to use for showering purposes. We’re in the process of setting up a maintenance facility, and working with the Bicycle Alliance of Washington to organize safety and maintenance classes that will train our faculty and staff so that they can offer classes on campus themselves.

In the longer term, I want to work to make biking “cooler” on campus. That could look something like organizing something to coincide with the Tour de Fat (beer tour) or a “pimp yo bike” ride, or bike swap similar to the annual one in Seattle.

CYWB: What are some other forthcoming projects at Bellevue College that you’re excited about?

Deric: We’re starting a carshare service with WeCar, a service of Enterprise sometime this fall, which will help those traveling the 5 miles between our two campuses, as well as to our newest location in Issaquah in the future. We’re also researching the idea of installing trip planning electronic kiosks similar to the ones in South Lake Union.

CYWB: What does Bellevue College 10 years from now look like to you?

Deric: A campus that uses of land, energy and material resources only to the extent necessary to advance College goals.  A campus that’s easy to access to bicycle, transit, and personal vehicles.  More space for learning and campus life due to a drop in demand for parking.

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 1:33 PM | by admin | Add a Comment

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