Coffee Break! Today’s Topic: Bicycle & Pedestrian Improvements

Leslee Oliver By: Leslee Oliver

With Richmond, VA and numerous other cities adopting bicycle and pedestrian improvements to their downtowns, I sat down at the Quirk Hotel with Savannah Kappeler from Timmons Group’s Traffic & Planning team to get an expert’s perspective. Savannah is a part of our six-person team dedicated to all things traffic and planning. She’s passionate about pedestrian safety and even took the initiative to pass out bicycle lights firm wide during National Bike Month in May.

Q. I am seeing more and more emphasis put on cyclists and pedestrians in urban downtowns. We’re seeing it in Richmond, it’s happening in Norfolk and Reston. What role does traffic analysis play in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure?

It is a very exciting time for planners and traffic professionals! These cities are trying to find unique solutions for multi-modal facilities that allow individuals to walk, bike, ride the bus, carpool/ride-share between work/school, home and their social adventures. It’s important to offer a variety of facilities that suit all ages and comfort levels when it comes to infrastructure.  As planners and designers, it’s important to create cost-effective facilities that offer safety benefits for ALL users.  Per FHWA’s Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian, “pedestrians account for 17.5 percent of all fatalities in motor vehicle crashes, and the majority of these deaths occur at uncontrolled crossing locations such as mid-block or unsignalized intersections.”

Q. Do you think we will see this trend continue?

Absolutely! Forbes recently came out with an article at the beginning of last year that really summarizes what is happening in metropolitan areas.  Millennials actually surpassed the Baby Boomer generation in 2016 as the “nation’s largest generation cohort” and because of this, trends are focusing on where this generation wants to work, live, eat, play, shop, you name it.  What the census data is showing us, is that more and more people are moving within an urbanized area.  More so, empty nesters are selling their homes in the suburbs to downsize in a walkable community where they can enjoy the arts and social scenes that a vibrant downtown offer, without relying on a vehicle.

Furthermore, from a policy stand-point, States are beginning to put more pressures on localities to ensure that their pedestrian facilities are ADA (American Disability Act) compliant, so that all users have access to resources.  Curb ramp at signalized intersections without sidewalks are no longer viable options for compliancy, and developers and localities are required to design curb ramps that offer pedestrians continuous and safe travelways.

Q. What are some other ways within your role that you are focusing on pedestrians and cyclists besides just the addition of bike lanes?

As I mentioned earlier, more emphasis is being put on ADA compliance.  We are beginning to see APS (Audible Pedestrian Signals) installed at signalized intersections where countdown signal heads already exist.  Pedestrian push buttons have more strict requirements for their location in relation to curb ramps, so that individuals can access them more easily.  Crosswalks are also now being turned into raised treatments or have stamped concrete or brick to add edge-friction for those walking.

At the beginning of this year, under FHWA’s Every Day Counts Program, they began the Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) initiative.  I was able to attend one of the STEP workshops in March of this year here in Chesterfield. It was very well attended by localities and state agencies, which shows me they are placing importance on improved pedestrian facilities. The workshop/program focused on road diets, pedestrian hybrid beacons, pedestrian refuge islands, raised crosswalks and crosswalk visibility enhancements.

Q. What’s a successful project that traffic & planning has worked on that you think other municipalities could learn from and implement in their cities?

Timmons Group's traffic and planning team has been fortunate enough to work on several bicycle and pedestrian projects.  A few of our most prolific projects are:

The Virginia Capital Trail – a 52-mile dedicated multi-use trail connecting Richmond and Williamsburg along the Route 5 corridor. One of the most unique things about the trail was the 44 historical markers that lie along its corridor, offering a look into the areas 400+ year history.

Floyd Avenue Bike-Walk Boulevard – the first RVA Bike-Walk Street in the City of Richmond, Timmons Group offered concept design and public engagement initiatives for local residents.  Public outreach is such a key component to the design process, because without feedback from the facility users, we could be missing an entire group of users due to a lack of knowledge about current traffic laws and what different pavements markings mean to their users.

City of Charlottesville – West Main Street Downtown Improvements – this project focused on revitalizing the City’s downtown center as a complete street design.  Tying in the City’s residential neighborhoods with the university students and faculty, creating a cohesive lifestyle for all users.  Bicycle infrastructure included the options for a dedicated bike lane versus a protected bike lane.  Streetscape treatments such as docking stations, benches and bus stops are now opportunities for art installations.  Lighting for safety improvements, as well as resiliency improvements for low-impact stormwater facilities.  All things combined, creating a very unique atmosphere for individuals to come together.

Q. Widening a road to eliminate traffic congestion is not always the best solution. What else do you recommend?

So a lot of times, road widening doesn’t actually tackle the issues at hand.  We are seeing more traffic calming initiatives, where we decrease speeding vehicles through a residential neighborhood, but still provide access.  Timmons worked with the City of Richmond on several traffic calming initiatives in areas that saw larger volumes of pedestrian traffic.  Some examples include roundabouts and mini-roundabouts, speed humps, median islands, corner extensions/bulb-outs and more.

Q. What does complete streets mean to you?

Infrastructure that offers safe and easy access to everyone, regardless of their age or background.

Last month I attended the Virginia Transit Association (VTA) Conference, where the keynote speaker was Reverend Ben Campbell, with RVA Rapid Transit.  He said one of the most impactful things I had heard in a while.  He pointed at all of the consultants, policy-makers, and government employees and said, “You bring people together.”  We design facilities to offer people safe access, but it was the first time I actually let it all sink in – we are connecting people, goods and services and in the end that’s what really matters.

Read more about our transportation planning & design projects on our website: Timmons Group Transportation & Planning.