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The loneliness of a middle distance pedestrian

Geez, even WESA buries the bit about the flags not really working at the very end of the article. Is there any politician willing to stand up and proclaim that aggressive / speeding / red light running / non-yielding drivers are the actual problem and it's time to do something to address it? It's just ridiculous.
2013-09-18 23:42:55
I wish all these politicians and traffic engineers would talk to me. Since I started riding transit in 1990, I've been years (decades?) ahead of the curve in knowing what kind of changes need to be made out there. First and foremost, city and suburb and rural, is to slow the fuck down, and the second thing is to get people not to drive at all. Make it possible not to drive. And right up there on the top of that list, are funding transit, and enhancing the pedestrian's lot. Sidewalks new and repaired, ped xing lights that actually stop traffic, shoulders that don't turn to goo in 0.2" of rain, tackling knotweed infestations that push you out into the street. Nearly all of these are unbelievably cheap, in the overall scheme of things, but get virtually zero attention. For years, I think I walked a half hour a day as part of my regular commute. Precious few people can say that they've done that, 250 days a year, 10+ years running. For cyclists, the drain grates thing I've been harping on for five years. Hell, a million bucks (the cost of a traffic light at a big intersection) would be a game changer. It's a wonder nobody has gotten seriously hurt in one of these, or maybe it's just that the news doesn't get to us, or it's that those who actually dare to bike have learned to avoid them, but it's keeping others from trying.
2013-09-19 01:12:58
To go a level higher than what Stu is saying, this entire society needs to slow the fuck down. In all respects. People are hurrying to work and here and there, cutting each other off, and running each other over, stressed out because some dickweed somewhere WANTS THIS NOW! And that report you just killed yourself for is going to sit on someone's desk, uh, maybe forever. We are burning energy and using resources like there's no tomorrow. It's bullshit. Americans work longer hours, harder, for fewer benefits and a lower quality of life than any other developed nation. We are acting like rats trapped in a basement, literally killing ourselves and each other, just because. Anyone really believe this doesn't relate to traffic fatalities? It does. That's my beef.
2013-09-19 06:53:23
This all boils down to a disjointed police force that doesn't want to be bothered informing the speed limit. For some reason, no one can stand up to them in politics. I remember one time I was coming home from the South Side to a DUI checkpoint. Guess what the cop handed me at the DUI checkpoint? I petition to sign that they shouldn't be doing that. I kid you not. For some reason, speeding around the city is okay regardless of the carnage it causes. On top of all this police shouldn't be allowed to be off duty security for business owners. That is a complete conflict of interest. I bring this up to show a bigger picture of what is going on in our city. I just don't think anything will change unless the entire police force is fixed from top to bottom.
2013-09-19 07:44:47
you guys are right the stuff i see while driving my shift in shadyside and east liberty everyday no one stops for red lights its hard to believe more people dont get hit
2013-09-19 07:59:45
“If you’re a parent walking three or four kids home and you have to cross one of those dangerous intersections, we want you to have a tool that could allow you to be safer as well.” We actually do have a high priced tool to serve and protect us. If they could pull themselves away from arresting suspected anarchists, beating black teenagers, and eating donuts, the problem would be easy to fix. When was the last time someone got a speeding ticket on Wightman? I'm guessing 1989.
2013-09-19 10:36:26
gg wrote:Guess what the cop handed me at the DUI checkpoint? I petition to sign that they shouldn’t be doing that. I kid you not
In my opinion they wre right. The city shouldn't be filled with streets where drivers can violate the traffic laws with total impunity - particularly at 2 am on a weekend. Peppering a few violations of the 4th amendment that focus on DUIs might help a little, but is no substitute for enforcing the traffic laws. If someone is driving badly, I want them stopped, regardless of how much they have or haven't drunk. Being sober should not be license to drive like a drunkard.
2013-09-19 10:41:33
Mick wrote:Being sober should not be license to drive like a drunkard
I love this statement! Think of any bike/ped "accident" that wasn't fully prosecuted... yep the phrase works.
2013-09-19 10:57:35
edmonds59: +1
2013-09-19 11:37:30
I'm waiting for the Law Department to chime in on this. If the city deploys these at dangerous intersections doesnt that mean that the city is now admitting that an intersection is dangerous? So when a pedestrian is injured or killed their lawyers will have proof that the city knew these crossings were dangerous and did (virtually) nothing to mitigate the danger.
2013-09-19 13:46:34
I have a particular gripe with ped xing lights which give the pedestrian two-maybe-three seconds advance of the light turning green. So you're half paying attention, the walk light turns on, you just about step off the curb, and the guy behind you pulls out to make the turn, not seeing you because of a telephone pole. Kabam! What I want to see is every ped-xing light bring traffic to a complete halt in every direction for 30 seconds. Yeah, that will likely slow traffic horribly. Boo fucking hoo! Prime offender for the first paragraph, though I haven't been over there in a while: Campbells Run Road at Steubenville Pike in Robinson. I had to cross that one twice a day for seven years. I found it safer to take the lane as a pedestrian, and walk across when I got the green. At least I knew they could see me! The bus used to let us off about 50 yards short of the corner, on CRR. So what I'd do was, as cars got maybe 100 yards away, to march out into the lane, turn, face them, point at them, then turn and march up to the corner at walking speed, giving zero fucks. Not a whole helluvalotta people have tried that one, AFAIK.
2013-09-19 17:15:18
I was on my moto on bigelow going 55mph, which is 20 over. Cars were angrily passing me. Seriously faster than the flow of traffic on rt 28. I stopped to let somebody cross at mathilda / liberty and the car behind me passed me on the right assuming I was going left sans turn signal. They can spend all the money the want, but until there is a disincentive for people (fines/jail etc) ... people are going to continue to be assholes. I hate cops, but somebody needs to calm traffic.
2013-09-19 20:09:50
Bigelow Boulevard: The only place I know of where it is common and accepted to travel at fully three times the posted legal speed limit.
2013-09-19 21:29:16
word. if you try to drive the speed limit, people are Pissed.
2013-09-20 09:52:39
Part of that is because the speed limit is totally inappropriate for the road (or maybe the other way around). It's built like a highway, so people drive like it's a highway. In the case of Bigelow (especially the stretch closest to downtown), it doesn't really bother me because there aren't pedestrian crossings, but on streets with bikes and pedestrians, we need traffic calming measures beyond just speed limit signs and the occasional speeding ticket.
2013-09-20 13:43:45
WillB wrote:the occasional speeding ticket.
That would be a wonderful thing! But I'm not sure that it has happened at all in the city this century. I mean that literally.
2013-09-20 13:55:42
Mick wrote:But I’m not sure that it has happened at all in the city this century. I mean that literally.
Agreed. I just meant that even increased enforcement would only amount to occasional speeding tickets. There's no (desirable) way that we can ticket every speeder, so we should use other tools to change behavior as well. Enforcement plus design.
2013-09-20 14:39:12
Bigelow is merely an egregious example of what goes on regularly all over the city. Tickets would probably help, but I think the problem is deeper than that, that the infrastructure itself is wrong and invites speeding. If I had some way to pay my bills and feed my family, I would run for public office, just so I could make some noise to the effect of making it possible *not* to use a car. Problem is, I rather enjoy eating, having heat, and someplace to keep my old record albums, though, so I've shied away from the idea. I do not in any way expect I would actually win a political race, and I'm not sure I'd even want the job. But it would take some wrangling at that level to start changing minds.
2013-09-20 14:41:45
@jonawebb - this is one of my favorite solutions.
2013-11-19 12:19:54
That is an outstanding idea.
2013-11-19 13:41:53
I have a hunch that some sections of the town are set to cycle through red lights with slowing down traffic in mind Second Ave for example through Hazelwood cycles through red lights even when their isn't cross traffic, which used to annoy the hell out of me when I was coming home from work at 10pm
2013-11-19 15:29:56
Well, Forbes/Fifth through Oakland are a perfect example of that- there's no point in driving over the speed limit there, but people still do. Also, most every stop sign in the city is actually a speed control device in disguise.
2013-11-19 16:25:58
salty wrote:Well, Forbes/Fifth through Oakland are a perfect example of that- there’s no point in driving over the speed limit there, but people still do.
On Fifth, if you blast through the light at Bellefield, at 50, just as it's turning from yellow to red, you can proceed at 50 MPH down Fifth and the light at Craft will turn green just as you get there. OTOH, I have beena passenger in a car where the guy gunned it at every light and complained that he had to brake at the next one.
2013-11-19 18:00:58
Back to the pedestrian flags idea: I've seen these in San Jose and I found them to work quite well. They're a nice way to empower people (kids, elderly, etc) to feel safer: wave the flag as you walk across. It's fun for the pedestrians and very eye-catching for the drivers. Yes, the city should definitely try them in several locations. Installing them shouldn't cost more than $100 per crossing, I would think.
2013-11-19 22:34:05
I have come think that a lot of this is traceable back to PennDOT and the standards they set. Penn DOT is about two things; (1) moving traffic (meaning internal combustion powered vehicles), and (2) not getting their butts sued, since everyone sues PennDOT at the drop of a hat for anything. Then when PennDOT sets its standards, the local municipalities all copy them because if the state thinks they are good enough to keep them out of trouble, then they must be OK for us, too. End result: PennDOT specs design a road that moves traffic efficiently (read: quickly). But at the same time, they set the speed limit on that road 10 mph slower than the road "reads" to a car driver as a safety allowance so they don't get sued. We end up with roads that read "go fast", with signage that reads "go slow" and that everyone ignores. And that seems to be what we're describing in this thread in real life.
2013-11-25 13:26:36
Then maybe that's where we need to make the most noise. PennDOT doesn't want lawsuits? Then we start suing them anytime there's a fatality or major injury which can partially be traced to a design decision based on throughput. In short, we need to start yelling, at high intensity at every point possible, "NO! We DON'T want to get there in a hurry. We want to IMPEDE traffic. We want to MAKE it difficult and long to get from here to there. Because doing anything else contributes to people getting KILLED."
2013-11-25 15:15:44
"The Target intersection is problematic because it has five lanes, including turn lanes. Also, Penn Circle South does not meet Penn at a 90-degree angle like streets on a grid. It swoops around, sending cars accelerating onto Penn before drivers can see the crosswalk." They make this sound like happenstance when the whole intersection was just redesigned and rebuilt to be this way. So, redesign the thing - mostly all it would take is widening the sidewalks to remove some lanes and get rid of the "swoop".
2013-11-25 23:18:10
salty wrote:They make this sound like happenstance when the whole intersection was just redesigned and rebuilt to be this way. So, redesign the thing – mostly all it would take is widening the sidewalks to remove some lanes and get rid of the “swoop”.
Yep. "Traffic" engineers thinking like traffic engineers. Autocentric. A separate certification needs to be required anywhere non-motorized human beings are involved. Most traffic engineers need to be limited to designing interstate highways.
2013-11-26 07:39:52
From the CMU engineers point of view the thing just happened and they have to deal with it. I'm sure they weren't consulted on the intersection design. So that's what they're saying. If only there was some organization, perhaps a government agency, which would actually design our traffic infrastructure in such a way as to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe!
2013-11-26 08:05:54
We already have a government agency that is supposed to design traffic infrastructure like that. It's called PennDOT. We see how that works out. One of the problems is that they have a mindset to do what they know and have always done, are comfortable with and don't have to think about. A while back in the thread about the Carson Street design someone here quoted a discussion they had with a person who was involved in the initial design. When it was submitted to PennDOT they asked for something more "traditional." As a result an opportunity was lost for a generation and we got the half-assed abortion that is going to get built. Another problem is that these bureaucracies are full of lifers that remain while elected officials like governors who could force a change come and go. They outsurvive them. Basically this bureaucratic mindset has to change. I admit I don't know how to do that. Attrition and the passage of time? Lastly there is the matter of culture. I suspect it really will take a sea change in the popular will and perception of the car culture as the only means of transportation before much will change. At the moment it isn't there yet in sufficient force to change things. Too many people still believe in how JH Kunstler puts it -- the age of Happy Motoring where we all expect to continue to drive to WalMart forever. Change that cultural perception, and then we can change the culture of PennDOT. That may simply mean people have to decide to become cyclists one person at a time however they get to it. But there are signs that it's changing. More millenials are forsaking cars for other means of transportation. And there was that article someone linked to a couple of days ago about how bikes are now outselling cars in Europe. That will eventually come here also. in the meantime, I guess we get to keep fighting the good fight.
2013-11-26 09:17:41
Software guys write to the minimum spec provided. I'm guessing having pedestrian detection or exclusive right of way was not in the specs. However, by adding these features in now (or 6 months from now, or whenever they finish updating their software) this will have a net benefit, since they should be able to use this logic on the other intersections that are controlled by this same system. It will hopefully have an even larger benefit than improving just the target intersection.
2013-11-26 09:18:30
Change in these agencies comes from the top. I'd be willing to bet that the guys doing the design are fully capable of designing stuff that would benefit pedestrians and cyclists, but they've been told to maximize motor vehicle traffic flow. What we need is for the people we elect to make safety for pedestrians and cyclists a higher priority than that.
2013-11-26 09:28:11
In regards to the CMU software; I wonder if there is a good data-log being generated. I hope it’s being analyzed to see how often the ped-button was being pressed and when. It would be even better if they had sensors to pick up pedestrians & notice how often peds don't press the button. A simple photo sensor would probably work. Then those smart CMU folks would have all the variables not just the cars
2013-11-26 13:03:59
Marko82 wrote:In regards to the CMU software; I wonder if ...
I used to work in the CMU Robotics Institute. I went to and looked up the RI researchers mentioned in that PG story, and sent them an email: Subject: questions about Surtrac on bikepgh To: Stephen Smith, Greg Barlow Stephen & Greg: I'm a cyclist and a former member of CMU SCS. I saw a discussion on the Bike Pittsburgh bboard about the PG story on Surtrac ( ) where people had questions about your traffic control software. If you're interested in being part of this small conversation, please see http://localhost/mb/topic/the-loneliness-of-a-middle-distance-pedestrian/#post-286941 thanks -Paul
2013-11-26 13:27:30
^Cool! It would be great to hear their take on the system.
2013-11-26 13:42:22
Just to add a bit to the traffic monitoring discussion. I would be extremely surprised if the intersections were not instrumented in all permissible ways. These systems are based on statistical models, and you want lots of data to make them robust Moreover a good design will be adaptive: the system continues to tune model parameters based on observations, both to get more accurate and to track drifts in car/driver behavior over time. According to the article they are currently working on modeling pedestrians and differentiating vehicle models (car/bus/car/etc). No mention of bikes in the article but I would hope that's already on the agenda. The PI, Stephen Smith, has worked for a long time on automated scheduling and planning. I would trust him to make the right decisions (the roads people willing). There's a couple of papers on his pubs page on the topic: here
2013-11-26 18:28:23
Why would you trust the CMU folks to make the right decision? I would trust them to try to optimize the system given some set of goals and some set of constraints - not to make public policy decisions. The most recent article gives me some hope, but what has been done so far has exactly the wrong goals for an urban area - making things more convenient for drivers at the expense of pedestrians. I walk through the experiment zone all the time and I'll be happy to take anyone who is interested on a walking tour of the area. Ultimately, it is up to the city planners to set the proper parameters, and the guidance does ultimately have to come from the mayor. Hopefully the new administration will reverse this trend of anti-pedestrian "improvements" so we end up with a city more like Paris and less like Orlando.
2013-11-26 18:58:39
salty: Why would you trust the CMU folks to make the right decision? Ahlir: (the roads people willing) Note the caveat. I don't completely expect anyone to make the right decisions without the right data(*). The ELib situation is probably evolving in the right direction: the city implements a solution. They get feedback; they pay attention and change things. Iterate. For us, the most effective thing to do right now is to get on our bikes, all the time. And, by persuasion and example, get everyone we know to do so as well. Push the limits (and take the lane). Remember that "facts on the ground" are what make a difference. High-minded appeals to this or that don't really cut it. When most of the people on the street are on bikes or are walking across it, the world will be forced to change ("we are the world" and yada). And it doesn't even have to be "most". (*) Certain political sects make decisions independent of data. Lamentably they occasionally take power. Make sure you vote for reality-based governance (and people-friendly representatives).
2013-11-26 19:37:51
I certainly don't agree that things are moving in the right direction. The "solution" that has been implemented (the road design as well as the signalization) is car-centric and despite 1000+ signatures on a petition and a rally I still haven't seen any sign that they're even going to address the single most egregious problem, much less undo all the damage they've wrought. Instead, you see press releases touting the increased traffic volumes and promising to bring the technology to even more of the city. The solution is certainly not "let's wait and see if more people are willing to walk in the shitty conditions we've created". That's a guarantee that you'll end up with the status quo, and it's certainly not what more progressive cities are doing. Forget about bikes and come spend some time walking around. Why do you constantly find yourself staring at a "Don't walk" sign when the light for the cars is green? Why is there a green arrow encouraging cars to make a right turn through a crosswalk with a "Walk" sign? Why do you have to walk 20 feet out of your way at every intersection to push a button that does nothing aside from prevent you from getting screwed out of your chance to walk? Sometimes you get to do it twice to cross the same street! None of that makes any sense.
2013-11-26 23:16:18
salty wrote:so we end up with a city more like Paris and less like Orlando.
Wow. Lived in Orlando for years and been to Paris. What a great example. Orlando is horrible for cycling. We are already ahead of that dump, but we can do better. I think we slowly will get better. I am pretty happy with the progression, but want it to continue. What a horrible ride home today from work, but the ride in was nice. Sorry, I just wanted to get that off my chest. lol
2013-11-26 23:17:24
I would expect that our relentless pursuit of "improved traffic flow" through improved control technology will follow the same progression we have discovered in the realm of improved traffic flow through the building of roads, i.e., building more roads simply caused the volume of traffic to expand to a similar level at which the roads were choked previously. It will be a futile tail-chasing exercise. So there you go CMU geniuses. Urban streets need to be designed for the comfort and convenience of pedestrians as the base parameter, motor vehicles need to be treated as the guests in the realm of the city that they are.
2013-11-26 23:59:38
The safety concerns at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Penn Circle East/South in East Liberty are prompted by the physical design of the roadways. The Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control technology we’ve deployed optimizes the signal timings at an intersection, but we are not involved in intersection design. Before the construction of Penn Circle, the intersections of Centre and Collins with Penn Avenue were offset (Frankstown also used to intersect Penn here as well: map from 1890, map from 1924), and when Penn Circle was constructed, Centre was shifted to directly connect to Collins at a shallow angle. When this intersection was rebuilt in 2010/2011 for the Penn Circle South/East two-way conversion, this corner was actually squared off quite a bit. In the summer of 2011, our research group at Carnegie Mellon University got a grant from the Heinz Endowments for a pilot deployment of the Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control technology we’d been developing. Since eight intersections in East Liberty had just been upgraded with video detection as part of the two-way conversion, we only had to upgrade the signal equipment at Penn and Highland, which made East Liberty an ideal location for our pilot.The intersection design had been done several years before, and the construction had been complete for a year before our system started controlling the signals in June 2012; we were not involved in either the physical or operational design of any of the intersections. The pedestrian signals continue to operate exactly as they did before we deployed our system; the length of the pedestrian phases is unchanged, and pedestrian button actuations are independent of our system. The Surtrac system continuously optimizes the existing conditions at an intersection based on the available detection, which includes pedestrian buttons; our work is separate from the design of intersections. Since deploying, we’ve been looking for ways to further improve Surtrac. With an improvement we deployed about six months ago, we’ve been able to reduce pedestrian waiting time, particularly at intersections, like Penn and Eastside, where pedestrian traffic is one of the main reasons the signal changes to serve the side street. This is a much safer place to cross Penn that is more convenient to the busway and bus stops on Penn, and Surtrac helps make it more responsive to pedestrians at the same time as it reduces vehicle idling to reduce emissions. We log everything about the operation of our system, including pedestrian button actuations. What we don’t have, however, is a way to see when people don’t press ped buttons or a way to see how many pedestrians are waiting to cross. These are complex detection problems that can’t be solved with a simple photo sensor. As the article mentions, we are interested in testing some of the pedestrian video detectors that have come on the market in recent years, but the effectiveness and maintenance costs of these types of detectors are still very unclear, which puts the city in a difficult position, so they have not yet approved the installation of these types of detectors. We’re working with them to find the right opportunity to try this new detection technology. In addition to these pedestrian cameras, we are also interested in a test deployment of bike detection cameras, which are more proven, but not deployed here in Pittsburgh. We have an ongoing dialogue with BikePGH, and we will be meeting with Scott Bricker again in December. We’ve also worked with East Liberty Development throughout this project. As the city considers changes to this intersection, they will keep us up to date, and we will adapt as necessary. Greg Barlow, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
2013-11-27 01:02:53
Thanks so much for taking the time to join in, Mr. Barlow.
gjb wrote:The intersection design had been done several years before, and the construction had been complete for a year before our system started controlling the signals in June 2012; we were not involved in either the physical or operational design of any of the intersections.
Understood. However, even with that being the case, as an expert working with the city, I hope you are using the opportunity to raise the issues of grievously inadequate design for pedestrians. As an architect, if I am brought in to alter only a portion of an existing building, and in the course of my work find that there are too few emergency exits, inadequate fire protection, or unsound structure, it is my professional responsibility to bring these issues to the attention of the owner, even if it is not in my scope. And if the owner fails to address basic safety concerns, it is in my best interest to walk away from the project. The city put itself in it's "difficult position" by accepting an unacceptable intersection design, so I have no empathy for that. I do sincerely hope that, in your field of work, you proceed according to the tenet I previously stated, that on urban streets, pedestrians must be the baseline from which all other considerations stem, independent of available technologies. Also, do not live under the misapprehension that you are simply gathering and analyzing data. You are now involved in transportation design, whether that was your original intent or not. Upon which human lives depend most directly.
2013-11-27 07:49:58
salty wrote:Why is there a green arrow encouraging cars to make a right turn through a crosswalk with a “Walk” sign?
I think this is the single biggest issue with this intersection. Especially since oncoming cars don't see peds until they start turning and are already moving at a good speed. Cars shouldn't be yeilding to peds here, they shouldn't even have the option to move towards them when pedestrians have the walk signal.
2013-11-27 09:52:41
Yes, thanks for the clarification. I did not realize that your system was not controlling the pedestrian signals - I think that it should, since it leads to one of the problems I've observed. If the length of the pedestrian phase remains the same while the length of the green signal is extended by Surtrac, then pedestrians spend a lot of time needlessly staring at a "don't walk" sign. So, it sounds like most of my gripes are with city planning, although I still don't agree that increasing traffic volumes is an appropriate goal in an urban area. FWIW, I really have a distaste for pedestrian buttons, and I don't think more technology is the solution. Just eliminate the buttons and illuminate the "walk" signal every time, like how it works when there are no buttons. There is nothing more infuritating than arriving at an intersection one second too late and being forced to wait for 90 or 120 seconds to cross the street, for absolutely no reason.
2013-11-27 10:09:19
^Seconded, and seconded.
2013-11-27 10:45:26
That would surely signal a sea change, wouldn't it? The pedestrian crossing light is always on, until a car approaches and trips it to change. We will have won this war when we delineate a perimeter around the city and every light within that boundary functions like that. Start with one. There.
2013-11-27 10:55:54
I really love this idea. My concern is bike detection. As a cyclist, even one who will selectively but unapologetically run reds, it would be highly annoying if I went undetected and were seeing red at EVERY light. I guess if it were institutionalized that bicycles can cross at the pedestrian signal (slowly and with deference to pedestrians) that'd work ok. I do this already situationally, but if I have to do it all the time I want it to be an officially accepted practice.
2013-11-27 11:24:21
Goes without saying probably, but places we put car detectors and trigger lights dynamically from them, it's a fantastic opportunity to enforce the speed limits with red lights, and one I hope we'd seize at the same time. If this were done in a 25 zone (or better still, twenty is plenty, if we can get any of those), suddenly you have a very cyclist friendly environment.
2013-11-27 11:43:35
stu, that would be great but I wasn't suggesting anything quite that radical... just that the walk signal should illuminate every time, like it generally does downtown. here in east liberty, if you don't press the button at the right time, you get a green light combined with "don't walk", and you're supposed to wait an entire cycle even though the cross traffic has a red. it's nonsensical. basically all I'm saying is revert to the way it worked for 100+ years before they "improved" it.
2013-11-27 11:57:52
Salty, that makes perfect sense as an achievable short term goal. Having written this blarg, I'll continue off track on the thought experiement for one more post: This default on position of the pedestrian signal works by far better in a no turn on red zone. You can determine driver intent easily when there's a turn lane. Failing that, I guess if someone has the green to go straight and stops, you know they mean to turn and you can give the green light to turning when opportunity arises (I assume camera tech up to detecting turn signals? Blinking light on one side or the other of a blob sounds easy in comparison to a lot of other patterns... if that works that makes this all work so much better.) Now, if only car manufacturers were required to install something that more directly broadcasts turn signals in a way dumb cheap durable solid state electronics near intersection boundaries could detect! The rest of this could work without cameras just with crossing strips I think. Money will always gate anything we try and do. Anyways, right hooks of pedestrians are depressingly common and reducing that risk should be prioritized in these zones for the same reason pedestrians are prioritized generally in these zones.
2013-11-27 12:11:36
Thanks for taking the time to respond Greg. The PG article comments on your system hopefully being able to detect buses and give them priority. I like that. I don’t know if this is something you guys have already thought of, but since pedestrians usually appear after the bus stops - can that somehow be built into the model? I’m thinking along the lines of the bus tripping the pedestrian walk signal. Also, usually someone has pressed a stop-now button inside the bus to let the driver know that they want off at the next bus stop. If this were a signal that could be detected outside of the bus your system would know that the moving bus was going to stop at the next intersection regardless of the traffic light color. So at a minimum the curb lane is definitely going to be stopped for X-seconds and at least one new pedestrian is going to be discharged at the intersection. It might be practical to give the bus a red light in such circumstances.
2013-11-27 12:18:50
byogman - the easier solution to that is to eliminate turns on red... like NYC and basically all of Europe. It's fundamentally anti-pedestrian.
2013-11-27 12:30:10
Salty, no turn on red I agree is on the list and needs to be considered near the top of it for any streets where any number of pedestrians are expected. In my prior post, I was assuming a no turn on red, and talking about how to eventually let a car turn (when to change the signal for them) if they're not going straight.
2013-11-27 12:55:09
It's interesting to me that many of the proposals made here would have the effect of slowing traffic--precisely the opposite of the stated goal in the PG article--which is exactly the point. What we want is to improve people movement through this shopping area, not traffic movement.
2013-11-27 13:09:20
WillB wrote:
Mick wrote:But I’m not sure that it has happened at all in the city this century. I mean that literally.
Agreed. I just meant that even increased enforcement would only amount to occasional speeding tickets. There’s no (desirable) way that we can ticket every speeder, so we should use other tools to change behavior as well. Enforcement plus design.
Coming from England, when I was driving I absolutely loathed cameras, but there is no question they change driver behaviour, especially in Urban situations. At intersections red light cameras are particularly potent. I honestly think if they were used in Pittsburgh it would be fine and point apocalypse. My earliest impression of Pittsburgh drivers was pretty poor. Everybody speeds, by a considerable margin, too. Red lights are continually blown. Walking to work every day Is a real eye opener and I'm amazed I've not seen more accidents. I'm not saying these things don't happen everywhere - they do - but the speeding thing in particular is pretty outrageous here. On a bicycle, the experience is not too different to England for me. Motorists are about the same; they get resentful if you act like traffic (by playing by the rules) and resentful if you break them. I would say the general level of aggression is a little bit higher, but you will hear the road tax argument in both places.
2013-12-06 15:59:54
I pulled up to the light at 5th and Beechwood tonight just as it was changing, so I decided to time it. I should do this again because I'm not positive it's accurate, but I'd say +/- 5 seconds. t=0 5th ave inbound light and left turn arrow turn green, "walk" on north side of 5th t=10 turn arrow off, 5th ave outbound light also green, "walk" on south side of 5th t=25 solid "don't walk" signal on the north side of 5th t=35 solid "don't walk" signal on the south side of 5th t=105 light on 5th turns red That last part affects cyclists (and drivers!) as I had to wait 105 seconds to cross 5th avenue legally. That is patently ridiculous - even having waited there many times I would not have guessed it was so bad. For reference, before they "improved" the timing maybe two months ago, I don't know for sure but my best estimate is that the green time was fixed at 30 seconds. Since the "improvement" the timing is variable, but this happened at 7pm, there was not much traffic on 5th, there were cars waiting on Beechwood for essentially the whole cycle. It's inexcusable that this is happening, and I think the light at Penn & ELB is just as bad if not worse. For pedestrians, note that for 80 seconds, you are not legally allowed to cross the street in the same direction as traffic, on the "minor" street, i.e. you are staring at a green light and a "don't walk" sign. That is why it pisses me off to no end to hear this being described as a "pedestrian improvement" - what kind of "improvement" is it to have your opportunity to cross the street reduced by 77%? All so cars can make right and left turns without having to worry about being "obstructed" by pedestrians?
2013-12-18 22:53:18
salty wrote:For pedestrians, note that for 80 seconds, you are not legally allowed to cross the street in the same direction as traffic, on the “minor” street, i.e. you are staring at a green light and a “don’t walk” sign.
At the admittedly difficult intersection of Liberty/Stanwix/Forbes downtown, it is the same condition. The Walk signal could and should be on for 75% of the light cycle, not 25%, or that range, as it is now. Traffic engineers, feh, a species of idiots. Most pedestrians ignore it anyway because the set-up is effing STUPID.
2013-12-19 07:35:13
Sully wrote: Motorists are about the same; they get resentful if you act like traffic (by playing by the rules) and resentful if you break them.
Yeah, that's the thing, right there.
2013-12-19 12:05:10
Some of the cross streets on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill are rigged so the walk light to cross Murray is on only during alternating times when traffic on the cross street has a green light. So it repeats red with no walk, green with no walk, red with no walk, green with walk. I've never seen any pedestrian wait during a green with no walk phase. A sufficiently misdesigned traffic device is indistinguishable from broken.
2013-12-20 02:09:30
And the Murray and Forbes intersection used to be good. Red, green, then (if a button had been pushed) WALK in all directions. I gues I should 311 it for what it is: a malfunctioning signal.
2013-12-20 04:48:10
Forbes and Murray is still like that, with an all-way walk ("pedestrian scramble"). I'd say about half the pedestrians wait for the walk signal, and half cross during a green/don't walk phase. The Murray Avenue intersections at Bartlett and Darlington, directly south of the Forbes intersection, are the ones with the alternating walk signals.
2013-12-20 12:46:34
Hey, now you can't cross East Liberty Blvd legally even if you wanted to wait 3 minutes for the signal, because it never comes on. I've seen this happen before, and today I watched it happen 3 times so it is not a fluke. As I noted in the comments, there is *no* button to push to cross ELB, the only buttons on either side are for crossing Penn. I'm sick of this. Maybe I'll flag down a cop and ask him to write me a ticket for jaywalking so at least I can get something in front of a court because I don't see any other action happening.
2014-02-03 15:56:04
I 311'd this and also tweeted it to Dan Gilman (it's right on the border of D8/D9) and Pittsburgh311
2014-02-03 16:10:16
I'd suggest also tweeting it at D9 councilman Burgess, but he doesn't seem to actually use his account. His COS @ShawnCarterPGH is pretty active, though.
2014-02-03 16:17:35
I'm extremely unhappy to see Surtrac is expanding onto Centre and Baum. Sounds like the grand vision of the "alternative to the Parkway East" is taking shape, which I'm guessing doesn't bode well for any rumblings I might have heard in the past about bike lanes on one of those two roads. I keep hearing about how Peduto is bike/ped friendly, but it's high time he "shows me the friendly", because I haven't seen squat yet and this is an awfully big hole to dig out of.
2014-05-01 21:25:21
What is Bike Pittsburgh's official position on this? Was there any opportunity for public input? Any independent studies of the effects on the neighborhoods or even confirmation of these alleged benefits? Or did they just trust the people selling them the system to report back on how great it is?
2014-05-01 21:28:17
1. We have to do something about traffic on Penn Ave. 2. Surtac is definitely something about traffic. 3. Therefore, we have to do Surtac on Penn Ave.
2014-05-02 07:47:57
I am somewhat wary of increasing the deployment of surtac, especially after the pedestrian issues at center/penn intersection by target. I really hope surtac is improving it's cyclist detection. I put in a 311 ticket based on it not handling a group of cyclists at the intersection behind target at broad st and larimer ave. I think the biggest need for this is during the off hours when a single cyclist or a couple cyclists would come up to a light, and it doesn't change at a reasonable interval despite lack of traffic in other directions. I would love this system to be able to detect when it thinks a driver is going to run a red light based on signal state and driver speed and keep all signals red until they have cleared the intersection, reducing the chance of collision. Heck, while they are at it, maybe the video could be forwarded to law enforcement to issue a ticket.
2014-05-02 07:55:18
If they could tie in a few other sensors or cameras, they could detect speeding between intersections, then force redlights when speeding is detected. Put up the appropriate signage to tell drivers that if they speed, they will be presented with a red light at the next intersection. Then there is no incentive to speed at all. Could this be the solution to speeding on penn ave????
2014-05-02 07:56:53
I'm sure there are all sorts of cool things they could do with this technology, but what they are doing is not cool. I've seen it in action every day for years now. The goal is moving more cars and if that means peds get 20 seconds every 3 minutes to legally cross the street, that is exactly what happens. Or the walk signs don't come on at all.
2014-05-02 08:39:25
It's worth repeating that we need to insert ourselves at the most upstream point in the thinking here and raise serious hell. NO! We don't want to "reduce travel time or wait time". We want to *increase* it. That's a good thing. "Reducing emissions" means not driving at all. Once we get that into decision-makers' heads, then we might have a shot at not getting mowed down by people making use of "reduced travel time".
2014-05-02 08:49:49
How should it deal with peds? It should detect their location and wait until the intersection is clear before allowing traffic flow to restart in the directions peds are crossing.
2014-05-02 08:55:42
We have always wanted to get feedback on the operation of Surtrac, particularly where there are specific problems we can address. It is most helpful when we can get that feedback directly so we can have a conversation to gather more information, rather than getting complaints third hand or on social media. We usually get to see 311 reports, but it sometimes takes awhile for them to get to us, so if you've got an issue you think we should know about, we're going to be able to address it fastest if you send it to us at the same time you send it to 311. One of the things I'm excited about with the expansion along Baum and Centre is that the radar detectors that will be installed do a much better job of detecting bicycles than the cameras in East Liberty (which were installed before our project started). If you find that the cameras aren't doing a good job detecting bikes in specific places, please let me know, I can probably do something to improve it. We have been interested for a long time in doing a test deployment of sensors designed specifically to detect bicycles and pedestrians, but we haven't had much interest from BikePGH or the city. Our signal optimization already includes pedestrians, but suffers from a lack of sensing, since we only have the buttons to go on. Feel free to get in touch with me. I'm happy to setup a call or meet in person as well. Greg Barlow, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
2014-05-02 10:01:19
You know, that's the kind of response that makes a man reconsider his complaint.
2014-05-02 10:02:48
Cool. I have 311 on speed dial (Actually, I have a bookmark to the web form which I tend to use frequently). I'll be happy to report any weirdness with respect to bike/ped stuff through this channel. Greg, thanks for reading and commenting.
2014-05-02 10:18:44
My apologies for a late reply, but I did not notice the new discussions in this thread until today when I was trying to collect more feedback and suggestions for improving the experiences of pedestrians and cyclists. As the creator of the core control algorithm of SURTRAC, I am sorry for the frustrations caused by our system on pedestrians and cyclists in this neighborhood. At the time of starting the control algorithm, its main objective was to reduce drivers' travel time, fuel consumption, and vehicle emissions to our environment, which were all from a vehicle-centric view. Started from around one year ago, I have been working on improving the broader mobility of other modes of traffic that are central to sustainable urban living, particularly pedestrians. As noticed by rgrasmus, the control algorithm has incorporated pedestrian pushbutton information, to improve pedestrian experience at some intersections, such as Penn Ave and Eastside. Several months ago, the control algorithm has been further generalized to optimize the delay tradoffs between pedestrians and vehicles. This new version has shown its capability of significantly reducing the pedestrian wait time. I found many helpful discussions in this thread. Next step, Greg Barlow and I will try our best to solve some issues that were raised here. For the following months, we might test different versions to improve pedestrian experience, and we are expecting timely feedback and suggestions from you. One possible communication mode is to use this mailing list:, for receiving announcements of new changes and for sending your experience and feedback. In the meantime, you are of course welcome to drop us emails. Xiao-Feng Xie, Carnegie Mellon University
2014-05-04 22:34:25
FWIW, I was a pedestrian at Penn and Centre on Saturday. I eventually crossed three sides of the intersection, and waits were short each time, with the longest maybe 45 seconds or so. We've been unwitting beta testers for a system that has a lot of promise, and naturally that experience has gone about as well as any other beta testing. :-) It's a bit worrying that the city's talking of expanding the system before every issue has been worked out, but given the lead times for construction I guess it makes sense. Hopefully it'll be issue-free for bikes and pedestrians before too long. Thanks, CMU folks, for posting here; that's very encouraging.
2014-05-05 00:35:26
"Reducing drivers travel time", i.e., facilitating driving, and "reducing fuel consumption and emissions to the environment" are contradictory goals. You are, apparently unwittingly, being suckered into the same logic vortex that the highway builders of the '60's/'70's pushed onto society - "More highways! Less congestion!" We are only now beginning to crawl our way out of that hole. Facilitating driving does not reduce traffic, it increases it. You are selling snake oil. If you sincerely want to work toward the goal of reducing fuel consumption and emissions to the environment, you do not work on facilitating driving. You work on something that will make mass transit more functional and appealing to the American public. Thanks!
2014-05-05 05:40:31
I think Edmonds makes a very good point--even though I see that the CMU folks are fixing the bike/ped problems. If you effectively increase the capacity of the road by making the traffic control system smarter, what will happen is more people will drive. Wait times and emission will increase, not decline. This has been shown over and over. Cars just aren't that efficient a way of moving people, compared to the alternatives.
2014-05-05 06:15:01
I am pleased to see that the CMU folks are following this discussion. To make analogy to naval warfare ~1800, they're coming up with better cannonballs and powder, but someone else is still aiming the cannon and deciding what to aim at and when to fire. I'm really happy that we have better cannonballs and powder, but I also really wish we could get the decision makers to pay better attention, too. Better traffic through-put is only OK *if* we can *first* not scare cyclists away from using the streets and pedestrians from crossing them. Better signal technology does not translate into "leave the damn car home".
2014-05-05 07:16:03
Along these lines, does anyone know if this is still in the works: "Stephen Patchan the bicycle coordinator for the city came to us to speak about creating a bike lane on Centre Avenue. This proposal would take away parking on one side of the street. This is in the early stages and he will come back as it develops further." This is from the 2012 Shadyside Action Coalition meeting minutes
2014-05-05 09:04:45
Reducing transit time benefits buses as much as cars. And a smart traffic signal offers the possibility of detecting and prioritizing buses over cars. It's possible the net effect of smarter traffic signals on a corridor like that one with frequent bus traffic is to make transit more appealing by making it faster.
2014-05-05 12:58:22
@Steven I think the issue is that the research appears to be vehicle-centric (even though it breaks out buses separately and could treat them as a special case). If you start from the point of view of moving vehicles more efficiently, as opposed to moving people more efficiently, you end up being very sensitive to changes in motorist behavior. And even if you try to give buses priority it's not going to make much difference so long as buses and cars share the same lanes. Suppose you started from the point of view of "what can we do to move more people in to work along the Penn/Center corridor"? I think the first thing you would try would be to get drivers out of their cars, which take up so much space, and into more efficient vehicles. You'd be trying different incentives to get them to change their behavior. You might be thinking about BRT, or dedicated bus lanes, or bike share, etc. You might even try to increase the inconvenience of driving, while offering a viable alternative. I don't see how you would come to the conclusion that reducing driver wait times at signals would help that much.
2014-05-05 13:21:54
Well, I don't think the goal is moving more people to work along that corridor, but moving the same people to work faster, as well as reducing pollution. (If we can't agree on the goal, we're not going to agree on how to get there.) Even if we do a great job encouraging non-car modes, we'll still have lots of people commuting by car. It will take decades to even make a dent in that, getting people to abandon the suburbs and move into the city while we build vastly better transit facilities. And with our hills, there will always be a very high percentage of people who just aren't going to bike to work. This says about 71% of Pittsburghers drive to work now. Suppose our goal is simply to reduce pollution, and we have the option to make all their trips 10% longer. That should decrease the 71% figure, if transit and biking are still just as fast, but by how much? If those 10% longer trips push an extra 1% of our population to use bikes or buses (to 70%), we've made a lot more pollution. If the longer car trips knock that 71% number down to 60%, we've made pollution better. (Well, probably: I've read that buses are so inefficient that moving people from cars to buses doesn't do all that much to lower emissions. So it might depend on how many of those former car users switch to bikes or walking.) Likewise, reducing drive times will directly reduce pollution and average commute times. Indirectly, it could get more people driving, but (I'm guessing) not enough to outweigh that.
2014-05-05 17:02:51
Other trends are at work. For example, people are moving back into cities. When they do they won't need to drive as much.The sensible thing is to make this migration easier, by improving public transit and by making cities more accommodating of bicycles and other alternatives (inclines anyone?) Transportation is expensive and people notice. Give them incentives to change their habits and they will do it. A gallon of regular gas is currently ~$8 in France, higher elsewhere. If our gas was priced more realistically there would be even more incentive for people to do the "right" thing. We should all have access to a car when we need one. But we oughtn't need a car just to get around in our daily life. That's just bad transportation planning. [grumpy postscript:] Allegheny County should introduce a "pothole surcharge", say $15 per car (less than 1/2 a tank!), more for heavier vehicles. How could anyone possibly object to attacking this cursed blight? (This is after having to deal with the non-solution of cold patch: are we all supposed to buy jumbo-fat bikes just to be able to make it down the street?)
2014-05-05 19:19:33
I see the point of the research. It's a good idea to try to make better use of existing road infrastructure. I don't see that in the particular case of Penn Ave, things are going to work out the way that's being reported. Increasing throughput is going to lead more folks to drive, the way it has in the past.
2014-05-05 20:02:19
Furthermore: City speed limit needs to 20mph, strictly enforced. I will admit that I exceed this limit on occasion (on my bike), but I can live with slowing down, or suffering the consequences. For the public good.
2014-05-05 20:54:51
I'm not sure if I've seen these issues addressed but now that we have the designers here... 1) Is there a mechanism to time the lights such that the speed limit is enforced? Ideally, a car traveling well-above the speed limit between lights should be stopped by frequent red lights. It should only be possible to get from one intersection to the next with greens at both by going approximately the speed limit. 2) Will the large amount of data be analyzed? Many people here predict that if the travel times along this corridor are significantly reduced, then more people will start driving there and the congestion will go right back up and cancel out any benefits. This system is trying to turn a surface street into an alternative to the Parkway. If it works, more people will see it as an alternative and drive there. The data should bear that out, and I hope it will be monitored.
2014-05-05 21:18:47
Allegheny County should introduce a “pothole surcharge”, say $15 per car (less than 1/2 a tank!), more for heavier vehicles. How could anyone possibly object to attacking this cursed blight? Would the state let us? They seem to heavily restrict the types of taxes localities may use. And since the state keeps track of car registrations, not the county, I imagine they'd have to implement it too. But we oughtn’t need a car just to get around in our daily life. That’s just bad transportation planning. It goes beyond transportation planning, though. It's very expensive to run mass transit to the suburbs. I'm not sure there's a way to fix that without increasing population density. And most of those folks aren't willing to bike 40 miles each way to work, even with ideal bike facilities. Part of fixing this is getting people to move back to the cities (which of course they are now, a little, and we'll have to see if that trend continues to the point where it has a real impact). But making that happen in a big way requires more than just transportation planning.
2014-05-05 21:47:24
Poor transportation planning is exactly what created the suburbs in the first place. People are moving back to cities because they're starting to realize that there is no real solution - as you said, transit and cycling are impractical. Unfortunately too many people don't shed their car dependence even when they move here, and of course we still have suburbanites by the gazillions coming and clogging up the roads as well (and complaining about potholes they help cause but don't really help pay for, but...). Back on Surtrac, I do appreciate Greg and Xiao-Feng posting here - I know I tend to rant at times but it is frustrating not to be heard. Like many people here, I also do not agree with the premise that moving more cars is a reasonable goal. Leaving the larger philosophical discussion aside for a moment, the practical issues are what frustrate me (and many others) on a daily basis - mostly the long signal times, with the short or nonexistent walk cycles being a close second. These issues are not technological, they are policy issues. I believe light cycles should be capped at 60 seconds, and should be much shorter during non-peak times. I also think when the green light is on, the walk signal should be on for the same amount of time, regardless of whether anyone pushed a button or not. I understand doing these things will lower traffic volume, which is why I think that is the absolute wrong metric.
2014-05-06 02:04:17
Everything this Rube Goldberg system hopes to accomplish can already be done with a properly programmed system of pavement detectors, pedestrian pushbuttons, and timers, EXCEPT, ironically, cyclist detection. Which does not seem to have received any priority whatsoever, initially. In urban conditions, pedestrian "friendliness", safety, and functionality needs to be given priority one. This needs to be clearly communicated to your clients. Until that takes place, your project is misguided exercise in building a better mousetrap. Or, Monorail, as the case may be. But hey, good for you for finding a way to take home some cash from an already strapped city. The initial failure of your project was to take the clients goal - "Move traffic!" - at face value, without fully evaluating all the all the associated parameters. Such as, oh, pedestrians. Like setting out to design a really energy efficient building and forgetting toilets. Or not considering that an O-ring might need to continue to function at sub-50 F temperatures. Poor engineering practice.
2014-05-06 05:30:17
Ha, the quote button doesn't work anymore for me on Chrome. Interesting. @edmonds: EXCEPT, ironically, cyclist detection Actually, the magnetic systems developed to detect cars can detect bicycles if you ride on the detector line (and you have metal rims). They are designed to do that. There are stencils that can be used to mark where to ride if the line isn't visible as a cut on the road. Experiments on real systems have shown that properly adjusted and maintained systems can detect bicycles. But sometimes the sensitivity is not adjusted correctly, and other times the system is just broken.
2014-05-06 07:57:58
@Steven: 1) It's not a tax, it's a surcharge, or maybe a user-fee... mustn't use words like "tax". 2) The idea would not be to make transit and biking easier out to the suburbs, it's to make it better in the cities so that people have reasons to migrate inwards (in addition to the amenities). This is where the good planning comes in. On a separate note: Many streets do seem to have sync'd lights: Liberty from the Bloomfield Bridge to the Strip (~30mph) and the drive between Homestead and Squirrel Hill (also ~30mph). Of course the signage doesn't quite tell you this.
2014-05-06 08:03:56
...or not considering that an O-ring might need to continue to function at sub-50 F temperatures. For those of us not getting the reference, see "Challenger disaster". Back to the present. Almost. An early form of speed control via traffic lights I saw in use one time was in Buffalo NY, circa 1979. It was a simple, standard traffic light, in the middle of a block, that cycled every 15 seconds, stayed red maybe one second, then back to green. Street posted 25. With over 200 yards of sight line, it caused people to slow down to 25 and stay that speed. I'm sure the technology has improved markedly in 35 years, but it's useful to have seen this in practice at least once in my life.
2014-05-06 09:17:11
But hey, good for you for finding a way to take home some cash from an already strapped city.
Just to clear this up, since there may be some misperception, the city of Pittsburgh isn't paying for any part of the Surtrac project. Quite the opposite, by the time the expansion along Baum and Centre is complete, we'll have donated just shy of a million dollars worth of detection, communication, and other traffic signal control equipment to the city. The Baum-Centre expansion of Surtrac is piggybacking on a signal retiming and limited equipment upgrade project that the city and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) already had on the books. We put together the money from the foundations and UPMC to upgrade all the intersections that are part of the project with the communication and detection the city prefers.
2014-05-06 09:44:32
@Steven, BTW: Well, I don’t think the goal is moving more people to work along that corridor, but moving the same people to work faster, as well as reducing pollution. I was assuming what the end result will be. I predict traffic will shift from unoptimized routes onto this one, or motorists who have given up on driving to work will take it up now that the route is faster. So you end up moving more people on the same route, even if your original goal is to move the same people faster, making that the realistic goal. This is an empirical question, which I hope the research will measure; but there's lots of previous experience suggesting that is what will happen. And, BTW, if your goal is to either to move more people or to move the same people faster, getting people out of their cars is the way to do it. If you could get a fraction of the people on Penn Ave to use more efficient modes that would mean less congestion for the rest, and faster travel times, even without optimizing the signaling.
2014-05-06 10:44:16
Let me take an auto-centric approach to addressing this problem. OK, given you want to both reduce pollution and increase throughput, but not attempt to reduce driving, how about this: Assume everyone is driving a manual shift vehicle. If you can get people from one end of your study area to the other without using the clutch once, you will achieve exactly the same goal, and also benefit what we cyclists want, too. It's the same thing as trying to get down the Parkway East at 7:15 a.m. without touching the clutch once (which I've done). Go at a very steady, even speed, even if a big space opens up in front of you. As if to say, "I don't care how slow you go, but don't slow down." Be looking six to 10 cars ahead, and match that car's speed, not the one in front of you. Net effect, as applied to ELib, is nobody travels more than 15 to 20 mph, ever, but also very infrequently stops. Cyclists can easily ride with auto traffic, and pedestrians can get across the street at marked spots without unreasonable delay. Car pollution is minimized since there will be many fewer speed changes or stops.
2014-05-06 12:18:46
StuInMcCandless wrote: Net effect, as applied to ELib, is nobody travels more than 15 to 20 mph, ever, but also very infrequently stops. Cyclists can easily ride with auto traffic, and pedestrians can get across the street at marked spots without unreasonable delay. Car pollution is minimized since there will be many fewer speed changes or stops. That is a great idea, and I like it a lot. Trouble is, for almost all drivers, this mean "Go 35 in a 25 mph zone and stop at every light for a few seconds." Signage might make good driving strategies more clear, but I suspect clarity isn't the issue. Example: what part of "Speed limit 25 mph" on those Greenfield Ave signs is unclear?
2014-05-06 14:25:36
"We put together the money from the foundations and UPMC to upgrade all the intersections that are part of the project with the communication and detection the city prefers." That's too bad. So realistically you contribute very little to the overall vision. I've got a better idea. Red lights for vehicles at all intersections, all directions, at all times, with detection devices of your preference that decides when a vehicle arrives to be let through, and pedestrian push-buttons with automatic override. Make it safer, more pleasant, and more convenient to walk a mile than to drive a mile, and inefficient, short-hop driving is reduced or even eliminated. Suburbanites using city streets as tertiary highways are discouraged. The entire sense of the urban environment changes. Sadly, the situation described above is exactly what we have established for pedestrians. Our society has things exactly fucking assbackwards.
2014-05-06 20:08:21
1) Surtrac is not a product, it's a research project. The most valuable thing about it is the data it's generating. and the experiments it can support. There will be enough knowledge in the end to support sophisticated modeling and the consequent ability to influence driver behavior according to reasonable policies. 2) Just to repeat: there's nothing wrong with cars. It's just that people tend to use them for all the wrong things (like everyday commuting). Offer alternatives and they will choose the right thing.
2014-05-06 21:16:03
Realistically, I own a car and ride a bike. I probably ride a bike more than I drive, since I use that for commuting and leave the car at home. I'm just as interested in not getting stuck in traffic jams on both forms of transportation. If surtac can improve traffic flow, prioritize mass transit, and create safer conditions for pedestrians than current system I'm all for it. It really amounts to what goals does the city and the designers of the system want to include and prioritize. The nice thing about this system, is that the software can be updated a bit more dynamically than the existing system (I assume), so the optimization can be adjusted to better suit different goals as the system grows and it's capabilities are expanded. I see this as a huge win if they can prioritize bus traffic at signals, especially if the system gets more widespread distribution.
2014-05-07 08:51:09
@ahlir, SURTRAC is a spinoff, so a product and not just a research project. Nothing wrong with that, really, I guess, though I suppose if it turns out that optimizing traffic signals doesn't reduce congestion some folks are going to be pretty disappointed. They're not all going to be saying "that's an interesting research result." Their web site has lots of info and links to articles. They might be overselling the system a bit. The article from Business Insider is titled "18 Brilliant Ways To End Gridlock And Save Billions."
2014-05-07 09:21:29
@Benzo - I agree completely! I couldn't have said that better.
2014-05-07 09:48:14
@Benzo - It really amounts to what goals does the city and the designers of the system want to include and prioritize. That's what I was getting at when I said "someone else is still aiming the cannon and deciding what to aim at and when to fire." The technology may be great and wonderful, but it still has to be used by somebody for an intended purpose. My beef is with the purpose, not the technology. We still need to get people to a) leave the car home, b) to drive around not through this area if they're going beyond it, c) to expect to move at bicycle speed if they are going to go through here. Lower the pollution counts and delays by a, b, and c, not by making it easier to drive through ELib.
2014-05-07 10:22:40
(Quote function also no longer working for me in Chrome) @stu "b) to drive around not through this area if they’re going beyond it," This is basically the logic behind Penn Circle (and many highways) and has proved to be deadly to vibrant business districts. One of the things that gives this corridor such economic potential is that so many people pass through it. I agree that they ought to be doing it at a slower top speed, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
2014-05-07 11:36:37
I meant to not drive through ELib if all they're doing is trying to get from Monroeville to downtown. There's a perfectly good interstate highway a mile or two away. Use that, not blow through here as a supposed shortcut.
2014-05-07 12:09:21
I know, and that's what I was responding to. One of the things business districts need to succeed is for people to know about them. When people take highways instead of surface roads, that means that they don't see (and occasionally stop at) the businesses. This is not to say that we want the whole of the Parkway East driving down Penn, just that we don't want to get rid of too much traffic. If the only people who drove down that stretch of Penn were people going specifically to East Liberty, I think that would be very bad for East Liberty.
2014-05-07 13:16:59
We should just build the mon-fayette expressway. That will take congestion off these surface streets! (not really, please don't)
2014-05-07 13:59:42
Is the east liberty portion of penn ave a penndot road? The reason I ask is that it seems PennDOT has zero concern for pedestrians, bikers, and the neighborhood through which roads travel. Their only concern appears to be maximum car traffic. The most obvious examples of this are the new lights installed on Penn between braddock and 5th. Refrigerator sized signal control boxes were installed in the middle of the sidewalk. To make matters worse, the new poles are set back from the road, also blocking the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the old poles are still there, contributing to the obstructions. Pedestrians have to walk in the road or turn their shoulders sideways to get through the worst of these blocked sidewalks. It is pretty comical to see a ADA compliant curb cut for wheelchairs and strollers... leading to an impassible sidewalk. Put simply, the PennDOT employees responsible for overseeing that job should be fired.
2014-06-09 14:45:19
If it's PennDOT, which I think it is, you can fix the problems by going to this web form: and entering a description of the issue. Be sure to mention the ADA compliance issues. I've gotten problems fixed using that form. (Absurdly, it only works with Internet Explorer, but whatever.) Basically, what happens is PennDOT hires a contractor, who does a crap job, and if nobody complains they don't have to fix it. So complain.
2014-06-09 14:51:49
That sucks. I'd 311 it, at least... probably won't help but at least there will be a record of it.
2014-06-09 19:53:27
Is there no systematic way of knowing (short of something being a limited access highway), when to log complaints to the near black hole here vs. what I thought was a total black hole (and am happy to hear of a counterexample) here ? Pretty clear case of a need for a google maps mashup. I took a look at a few maps on the PennDot website and was pretty frustrated, but this one was interesting: The visceral effect is somewhat the same as looking at scars. I saw the parkway ramp spillout onto Bates there (page 14 of the PDF, coded SR 8006) and complained about lack of safe ADA compliant crossability of that sidewalk. Not holding out any real hope, but was worth a form submit.
2014-06-09 21:20:01
Is there no systematic way of knowing (short of something being a limited access highway), when to log complaints to the near black hole here vs. what I thought was a total black hole (and am happy to hear of a counterexample) here ?
I don't know of a proper listing of state roads (Wikipedia's trying, but it's very incomplete), but the state offers a map which marks all state roads. It's a humongous PDF, though: Per the map, Penn is a state road east of Target (as PA-380--coded SR-0400...loooong story--and then PA-8), and between 31st St Bridge and Butler St (as SR-2122), but from Downtown to 31st and from Butler to Centre it's a city road. As for relative black-hole-ness, I've found the 311 twitter account (@Pgh311) pretty responsive...
2014-08-04 12:25:27