Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cal Poly Pomona students attend Caltrans training on Pedestrian Safety

Two workshops, funded by the Federal Highway Administration's Safety & Design National Technical Services Team, were held this past week to address pedestrian safety at the Caltrans building in Los Angeles. The first training was a three day workshop, from Monday through Wednesday (May 7-9), and the second was a two day workshop, held on Thursday and Friday (May 10-11).

I participated in the second workshop, a two day training entitled "Designing Streets for Pedestrian Safety". While it was conducted primarily for Caltrans traffic engineers, several other professionals were also in attendance, including John Kemp, Planner for the City of Los Angeles, along with other planners, landscape architects, and--from both Caltrans and the City of Los Angeles--public works engineers. Sean del Solar and I were the only two students in attendance.

Mr. Reagan, Deputy District Director of Design at Caltrans District 7, welcomed participants, and shared that he was happy to see two Cal Poly Pomona students in attendance, as he received his bachelors in engineering from the school in 1986.

The training was well organized, and professionally run, by Maggie O'Mara, Senior Transportation Engineer from Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento. The presenters, Rudy M. Umbs, P.E. Chief Highway Safety Engineer from the Federal Highway Administration, and Peter Lagerwey, from the City of Seattle's Department of Transportation, kept the information relevant and engaging.

Mr. Lagerwey is co-author of "How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan", one of the books provided to workshop attendees. He and Mr. Umbs systematically explained various methods and tools available to professionals for designing pedestrian safe streets. They described planning factors that impact pedestrian safety, and talked about sidewalk design elements and intersection geometry, including intersection signalization, roundabouts, and my favorite: road diets.

FYI: Road diets are a technique whereby a 4 lane road gets turned into a 2 lane road with a two way left turning lane (TWLTL), and bike lanes in both directions. Benefits include reduction of collision and injury, reduced conflict points, reduced vehicle speeds, improved sight distance, etc.; and, over all, it's a benefit to the neighborhood and community because they create walkable, more enjoyable streets. So businesses prosper more as well.

In addition, the workshop included two field trips to surrounding streets to review, and put to use, our newly acquired knowledge. En route, and quite surprisingly, a young Caltrans engineer even realized he had just approved sidewalk ramps which were not ADA approved!

Mr. Lagerwey emphasized the concept of "Complete Streets", streets which accommodate all users (pedestrians, wheelchair users, vision impaired individuals, cyclists, etc.), and not only vehicles, while Mr. Umbs stressed the importance of understanding three variables which affect traffic safety: 1) number of lanes, 2) vehicular speed and 3) average daily traffic (ADT).

And yes, the workshop was chock-full of acronyms, including ADT, RSA, ITE, AASHTO, TEA-21, LOS, STP, HSIP, TE, CRF, HCM, MUTCD, SU, LPI, RTOR, ITS and SPUI. The presenters, however, were gracious enough to explain each of them, even as participants scrambled to keep up.

I found the training to be a great learning experience, reinforcing much of the theory and urban design I've been learning in Cal Poly Pomona's Urban and Regional Planning program, and the fact that the explanations came from the perspectives of current engineers and practitioners was especially helpful.

Hector Solis
President, American Planning Student Association
Bachelor Urban and Regional Planning Student
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Flickr photo by Salim.