Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wired interview

On 28 Apr 2010, at 13:56, Keith Barry wrote:

Thanks Nick --

I just have a few questions about the concept:

-- How long did it take you to develop it?
Not long my background is as and Engineer and an Academic.

-- Where did you get the idea for a bicycle skyway?

Aa friend took me to a rails-to-trails track outside Atlanta. After a while of having an incredibly pleasant ride I looked down and thought wow I've travelled 20 miles in practically no time and hardly noticed I was doing it. I tried cycling in Atlanta and realised that places I thought where a huge distance away where quite close on a bike. I think cars have change our perception of time and space, we think the city is much bigger than it actually is. Perhaps its not cars but congestion that has done this. 

I was working for the Georgia Regional Transport Authority in Atlanta/Georgia working on Atlanta's congestion problem where I became aware of new kind of public transit system called  Personal Rapid Transit.  The mathematics of PRT fascinated me, here was something that could finally compete with a car in terms to door to door transit times and yet was much cheaper than introducing a bus service and produced less CO2 than anything.  I wondered if I could do better. Most PRT operates like a micro-monorail  so it can retro-fit into the city( the city was considering building a monorail at the time) 

The key to cost was the weight of the vehicle. The heavier the vehicle/pod the stronger the beam/track and the closer together you have to build the legs. So I experimented with the lightest possible vehicle you could build - a bike. I liked the mathematics, in theory this would reduce the cost and the technical risk significantly. 

I also liked what it told me about how we think about cycling and our attitudes to it. 

For example if you talk about a covered way you find people (even other cyclists) feel cyclists deserve to suffer outside in the heat,rain and snow. I don't know anyone who would work out a gym in the rain. 

  It seems strange so why do we suddenly feel surprised when people for some strange reason people don't like cycling.

  By doing this I began to have a new perspective on how we support cycling. 

-- How would bikes be able to pass each other? Would there be potential injuries from doing a header and falling off the skyway?

Cyclists would pass each other the same way drivers do on freeways  - on separate freeways.  Most PRT systems have separate up/down loops on near by streets. Most cyclists like car drivers don't mind the extra distance one way systems provided they don't have to put to much effort into it. 

The injuries  from  falling off a skyway would be about the same as driving your car off an elevated/raise freeway (fatal) and about as likely (never). If your genuinely worried about potential injuries what about  the numbers who would gain in life expectancy by getting mild regular exercise and those saved by avoiding collisions with cars?

 The system would be enclosed ( roof to stop rain and protect from sun )   some designs other people have done have air conditioning, I think you could do it with natural ventilation.  Many elevated cycle lane systems have fans driving air down the tube creating a wind to your back so you need to be enclosed. I think most building regulations would stop you building something you could climb out of. 

 What about riders who are afraid of heights?
For riders who are afraid of heights would be in the same can as drivers who are afraid hights when they are driving on raised freeway sections or pedestrians are afraid of walking on those covered raised walkways you get in Minneapolis and down town Atlanta, they would have to ride on the ground.  

-- How would the design affect streetscapes? 

Down town As little as possible. The Chicago loop fills the street where as  skyways would be 8 to 10 time narrower.  The supports would be like slightly fat street lighting and at the same interval.  The glass of the cycle way would be frosted if the cycle way was too close to the second or third story building view. Like down town Minneapolis you might see shops, malls, offices and hotels developing special third story entrances from the upper level system. 

Most importantly we are dealing with bikes so while you might have something carrying the same capacity of people as an 8 lane highway above you I don't think you would notice the sound. If you don't believe the 8 lane claim then check out - its a good visual example of how low density automotive traffic is. 

Generally you would see more bikes running on the street as people move from stations to there places of work. I think the biggest thing you would notice would be fewer cars sitting in traffic less and you might notice fewer very fat people. 

-- Would it be built on existing rights of way?

Most PRT systems mix above freeway, with above highway use to maximise rights of way this would be no different. By being so light weight and modular an elevated cycle system could be fairly flexible, temporally crossing a disused space or car lot. One big advantage over monorails is an elevated cycle lane can turn quite sharp corner which sound minor until you realise that most monorail and light rail systems don't have the kinds of turning circles you find in built up urban areas. 

-- Is there any popular support for building such a network of elevated trails?

Well I don't think there was popular support for the Internet before people saw it  but does give the lovely image of people marching around Lincion Laboratory at MIT in the 50's with placards shouting "what do we want?" "some form of electronic digital communication' 'when do we want it?" "'by the late 1980s". People don't support technologies they haven't heard of and I wouldn't expect them to.    

Alternatively if you ask people "would you like a form of transport which can be 50 times cheaper per mile than building a transit system and 2 to 10 times cheaper than a new bus service, it would do a fantastic job on your carbon foot print, it would soak up congestion like a wet sponge and could well do your BMI index a lot of good"  I think many people would say "its worth giving 
the idea a chance" 

Popular support, if you check my blog you can see I'm not the first or  last one to come up with the idea. Shweeb do a nice variant on the theme.   Many households have bikes so you have to ask your self what is stopping people getting on them? I think what something like elevated cycle lanes do is ask what happens if you treat cycling as a form of transport rather than a leisure activity? 

shweeb technology

I like the Shweeb system a lot, why ? Well firstly they have built one which says a lot.

The big advantage of this kind of system is that the monorail is very very minimal hardly any visible intrusion which is a big objection with a monorail concept. This should have the lowest unit capital cost of any PRT (or road ) system which is a big plus for 
 Also a cycle lane has the reputation of being quite. 

I do like this system and wish it all the best.

I think the elevated cycle lane concept does have the advantage that by cycling to the nearest station you get a much larger what they call service radius ( area serviced from the station ).
That said the Aeorider concept originally had attachments to the bike which let you join the monorail at stations ( technically making it dual mode but who's fussing) so getting the best of both worlds.
Also with the elevated cycle lanes you don't have to have a guy who can move empties from destination stations to source stations. 
To explain in a rush hour everyone wants to go from A to B so you need to move empty ones from B to A. In PRT this happens automatically, with a cycle lane system unless your doing a tour (round trip ) you end up with lots of pods left at B. So either you provide lots of parking ( the car solution ) or shift empty machines back. This isn't a big problem you just have some caretakers who can pull a small train of empty pods back. 

Any way enough fussing, GO Shweeb! 

Shweeb Cycle monorail

Finally someone has built a cycle monorail, except in Newzeland, but there is a UK company promoting it.

Very cool. Forget the fairground ride. Imagine what would happen if this was in a city. The supporting posts are very narrow not much bigger than lamposts.
Light vehicles means that you get small thin support rails and so you shouldn't get huge numbers of people objecting to the 'visual intrusion' of the overhead rails.

The vehicles are both enclosed so good for rain, wind, vital for a 365 days a year usage. Its important for safety (falling out) and it means you can easily carry stuff with you
The recumbent position means less less wind position and a much better cycling position ( more speed)

I'm very excited by this. Basically you don't get any lighter or more reliable than a bike. Its very quite too.

More importantly you can sail over junctions and traffic lights and you can change the heights of the posts to keep the system on the level. I love the idea that everywhere becomes Holland or Cambridge. On big hills they could put an assist ( like the chains they have for roller coaster rides).

I do wonder about the wheels are they rubber tyres or steel ? Steel is louder but more energy efficient ( less rolling resistance)

Best of luck to the UK company I think they are thinking of it in a transport context.

How can you possibly suggest that cycling might be faster than driving or taking a bus or a train ?

Sky-Cycle-Ways, Elevated bike lanes

How can you possibly suggest that cycling might be faster than driving or taking a bus or a train ?

This is very much the case of the turtle and the hare. In this case the hare is the car, it can be very fast, how ever the car has to deal with traffic lights and intersections. The car can be quite fast between junctions but a the junctions it's waiting. It also takes time to accelerate to the maximum legal speed, people tend to let the car in front take off before moving them selves. All this added together makes the average speed in urban/sub urban driving low. Next time you go to work try this - get in your car and make a note of the distance on the pedometer and the time. When you arrive and have parked make find out how far your have traveled and how long it took. Divide the distance (in miles) by the time it took to travel ( in miles per hour ) and you might find the average speed is a lot less than the speed you might think you where actually moving at.[More details]

The logic is the same for trains, the top theoretical speed is higher than the actual speed. Unlike a car you have to add in transfer times, that is time spent waiting on a platform when you transfer from a bus to a train or a train to another train.

[ If you want to find this out your self click hereCALCULATOR ]

For trains we solve the stop problem with 'express' trains, the stop less and so can go much faster. For cars we solve this problem with highways/freeways/motorways/autobarns. The main flow of traffic is never interrupted there are no stops and so the average distance between stops is higher.
In town bikes suffer the same limitations as cars - they have to wait a junctions and lights. For the humble cyclist this is worse than for a car the cyclist has to put more personal energy into accelerating. The stop/go stop/go nature of in town movement adds to the lower average speed of the bike. This is partly reversed by the bikes ability to weave to the front of the queue at the lights. Traditional cycle lanes don't try to solve the problem of stopping at traffic lights. What would travel be like if we had a cycling version of freeway or express lanes' ?
The overhead cycle lane is just such an freeway for bikes. If you have traveled on one of the 'rail to trail' cycle ways you might be quietly surprised by how far you can travel so fast The rail to trail routes tend to have a very low gradient on them, this again helps by reducing the effort to travel. Naturally any long, segregated,junction less and preferably flat cycle path would be sufficient to gain high speed bike travel. For example a underground system might be able to make the same gains in speed, an old underground subterranean rail route would work. For practical reasons I think it would be cheaper to construct flat overhead bike paths than dig new tunnels. If a city had an abandoned network of long subterranean passages it might consider using them in a cycle network, the gains in time should match those of the over head overhead bike paths.
Again the same average speed logic would work for a cycle path which was on the surface and followed abandoned rail routes into the city center. Most rails to trails routes tend to be in rural areas, if an urban rail line was available for conversion then the higher average speed on uninterrupted routes would make up for the average lower speed of the bike. Both the underground and rails to trails option both suffer from the reutilization problem. We build them where we can, not because there is a demand. Imagine what would happen if we built free ways because there was some suitable space, not because there was some quantifiable demand to use the route ? The overhead system works because it can 'share' the roads and be built in response to need.
If you examine the PRT (Personal Rail Transport ) concepts, they are trying to achieve for monorails what a freeway achieves for the car or the an express does for a train. By not stopping for stations and not stopping to change routes a slower PRT can achieve higher station to station transfer times.
To conclude
By having a 'freeway' for bikes would reduce the average time for uninterrupted travel between two points to near or below those of cars and trains. This average speed logic only works over shorter distances, while you might out pace a car traveling 30 miles in heavy congestion I'm sure the cyclist would become exhausted at some point. The informed reader might have realized that nearly 50% of journeys are less than 3-4 miles which in the right urban conditions (lots of traffic lights) give a uninterrupted cycle path the advantage.

Notice also that like a car freeway system the over head cycle paths don't have to be monolithic but hierarchal. We don't all drive to work exclusively on freeways even though they might make up 80% of the distance traveled. We don't need a 100% complete network of overhead cycle lanes over every road, we only have to provide well chosen arterial routes and use the roads and ground level cycle paths to reach the final destinations.
Naturally the argument presented is that of a pure system. There is no fundamental reason not to combine systems. For example a train might be used to travel a longer distance with few stops. The skyway network might be then used to reach out from the station to the surrounding urban context. By eliminating the walk to the station
Notes on calculating speed
If you would like more information on the average speed for light rail calculation you might want to see the fun calculation spreadsheet by Douglas J. Malewicki, AeroVisions, Inc. at [this external link].

Sky Cycle-Ways, Elevated bike lanes

This is the outline for a proposal for a new kind of elevated cycle way. The sky cycle way is an elevated cycle network which reduces time for travel for cyclists. This network turns any city into a flat Amsterdam or Cambridge. I believe this is the lowest cost for installation for any personal rapid transit system. By expanding on the understanding of the design and construction of monorails and other elevated transportation methods.

An imaginary ride

In your mind you leave your house to ride to your office. You leave your house by bike, you cycle either on the road, the sidewalk or on a separate bike path or trail to your nearest 'station'.
The station is a simple affair, perhaps it includes some kind of smart card to help pay for the network and raise money for more skylanes or perhaps it is just sponsored by the city to reduce congestion for those who live much further out. Overhead a light network of steel lifts a tube high into the air. From the ground you are pulled up by a ski lift or escalator to the operating level of the skyway just above the level of the traffic.
Cycleway entrance.
A high capacity entrance with travelator to help get to the main route.
The skyway is a long cycle lane. It's naturally ventilated but enclosed, in the summer the roof shades you from the worst heat. In the winter the glass helps keep the warmth in. In the fall the glass keeps the winds from slowing you down. In the spring the roof keeps the rain off your back. The perfect cycle floor, always free of glass and debris, always as level as the best technology can make it means a fast pleasant ride in. You can ride slowly conserving energy on the way in, passed by more enthusiastic commuters who have a shower waiting at the far end. You normally coast most of the way to work, the legs of the skyway change height flattening out the changes in ground level. Your policy is to ride to work but on the way home the skyway becomes your gym.
Looking to your left, out of the window you see down to the street level. The skyway is deliberately designed to make it hard to look directly down, this helps nervous riders who might have problems being this high off the ground. The skyway it's self casts a thin shadow down the street below, on the street you see traffic idling at one red light after another. While the cars might be fast between junctions, you never have to wait at a junction and so quickly loose the car that passed you as you entered the network. Sometimes the windows are frosted on one side or another, this was part of the agreement not to 'peek' into the adjacent buildings.

skyways go directly over junctions eliminating traffic stops reducing door to door travel times to comparable levels for car journeys
Above you there is the lattice of the ceiling. There are lights at intervals which provide lighting at night. Between then are the security cameras which guide the security patrols who keep the cycle ways safe. So safe in fact that some parents are happy to bring their children to the nearest skyway station, and leave them to cycle to the skyway station next to their children's school. Occasionally you see an east/west cycle lane which is a few meters/feet higher than the north south lane you are using. This vertical separation of lines means that you never have to stop at a junction within the cycle network. You have a green light from one end to another.
At intervals you pass the 'stations'. These stations are where people might enter or exit the raised systems. Sometime the stations lead directly into the first or second floor of a building, meaning you can travel 90% of you journey in the dry even in the worst weather the winter can muster. Some of the more central stations have more facilities such as secure parking and showers. These are used to help supplement the income of the skyway system and pay for it's maintenance and expansion. Between the stations there are occasional emergency exits. The whole skyway system is a white modular steel construction. If one section is damaged it might be lifted out of place one night and replaced with another section. At intervals there are 'splitters' which indicate the potential for future expansion. Some times when building work is happening the whole local network is rebuilt changing routes around the blockage. The skyway network is flat, so deviations from the shortest route are not really an inconvenience.
If this was a cycle way, it would have the same load capacity of 8-10 lane freeway!
The skyway system is laid out like a system of rail routes. It's time for you to change from the north south blue route to the east west green route. This involves a change of levels which is facilitated by a flattened escalator which lifts cyclists between levels. Even when the escalator is not working the system keeps working - you just have to cycle up the slope.
You drift almost silently though the urban landscape which has appeared around the skyway as you get closer to town. Your station appears, the cycle way is pretty crowed now so you check behind before pulling off on to the exit ramp. The exit ramp leads down and a n incline, unlike the hard floor all over the skyways this is made of soft rubber. The design is such that you can free wheel down the ramp but your speed at the bottom is not that great. This helps prevent collisions with both traffic and pedestrians at the bottom. It's almost a shock to appear on the ground with the noise and grime of the city. If this was a rail system you would now have a long walk to your office. As you are on your bike you can use it to reach your destination quickly and more importantly your not late for your early morning meeting.
When the skylanes first appeared, your choice at the exit from stations was the road, or to walk on the sidewalk. As the number of cyclists started to increase a sporadic network of surface cycle lanes emerged over the years. The local shops also joined in this change by installing bike racks outside there shops to induce passing trade to stop. Much of your journey from the station to your office is now on dedicated green lanes. The number of cyclists is now so large that drivers are aware of and sensitive to them on the streets. This help keeps the number of accidents on the streets to the same number as those between vehicles and pedestrians. As you go down the street you hardly notice the thin skyway over head. The skyways come in a number of modular sizes, narrower streets support one way single lane skyways, larger streets support larger two way units. Unlike the Chicago loop the street remains relatively open, the cycle way introduces practically no noise (unlike most overhead rail and monorail designs ), the cycle path also does not transmit 'shudder' though the foundations.
An entrance could be a compact lift smaller than this!
The skyway network is far more reliable than the congested traffic including the bus network. Your at work on time, now you don't have to find a parking place for your car anymore you've managed to leave home later and arrive at work earlier. The office converted a parking space to a sheltered cycle rack. You lock up your bike and go to work.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ray LaHood (US Transportation Secretary )

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a “major policy revision” that aims to give bicycling and walking the same policy and economic consideration as driving. ( says New York Times )

the comments where more interesting

'Almost 50 years ago William F. Buckley, Jr. ran for mayor of NYC and one of his planks was the construction of elevated bike paths in the city. He was ridiculed by many, but that was when gasoline was about 50 cents a gallon. Someone should breathe new life into this idea. Thousands of New Yorkers use their bikes for transportation to work and the number will grow. They should be enabled.' 

Said  Joe B Cooperstown, NY March 28th, 2010

I'm with him on that one. 

Most people are up in arms about cyclists not paying anything (its a mater of fairness the auto makers claim). Naturally the an elevated cycle lane could charge a toll if necessary to recoup the capital cost.