A Look at Traffic

Case studies to allow an analysis of traffic.

Friday, September 20, 2013

All About: MEGABUS; Tips, Tricks on How to Enjoy Your Trip

This wouldn't be a very good transportation blog, if it didn't cover one of the best things to hit California since the Gold Rush. That's the Megabus! This thing is awesome and I love riding it!! Efficient, cheap and with expanding destinations. The East Coast has known Megabus for a while now, but only recently (Dec. 12th 2012) have we seen Megabus come to California's Union station, SF, Oakland, and others! This blog post is intended to show you some tips and tricks about Megabus so you can be well informed with the knowledge you need on your next trip!

This double decker Megabus take a night stop off I-5 for people to stretch their legs, grab a bite to eat and use the restroom.



Buying your Ticket and Boarding

To ride megabus, it requires pre-booking on their website: www.megabus.com. Buy your ticket online and confirm you get a text message or email of your boarding number. It's a long number/dash/Letters kinda thing. It looks something like this:
10-6828-094042-M10-0654-SFR-LOS
Those last letters show the origin and destination location (S.F. and Los Angeles in this case), the other numbers are still a mystery. From my experience, 90% of passengers have their "boarding number" sent via text message to their phone or email, leaving them to look up the number on their phone at boarding time. I prefer to write the boarding number down on a piece of paper. Simple, like a ticket, won't run out of batteries, and quick to pull out of my pocket.

The more advance you can buy the ticket, the cheaper it is (like an airlines). When a bus fills up, you can't buy any more tickets anymore. Buses hold about 62 passengers (+2 drivers). If you are the first one to book a ticket, it costs $1 (+.50 cent fee). Then it jumps up pretty quickly. LA-SF is usually $35-$40. If you compare this to ZimRide, for the same route, it's comparable. Except that ZimRide is probably more direct, if not door to door. Megabus does have a wonderful effect for being a long range, low cost bus service operator in areas of need!

 

Choosing a Seat

Most Megabus buses have a nice spacious, conversation friendly environment on the lower level. If you are in a group of 3+, try to snag this area. If you are traveling alone or with one other person, upstairs works pretty well. If you are one of the firsts to board, you will have a option of a window seat upstairs, or an aisle seat. The window seat gives better views, something to lean on for napping, and leaves it up to fate for who will sit next to you (Once I saw a guy sitting in the aisle fall asleep and lean on the guy sitting in the window sleep. This was not a pleasant experience) . If you choose an aisle seat (by choice, or availability), you will be able to stretch your your legs into the aisle a bit and have easier access to get up for a bathroom break (don't forget to lock the door in the bathroom). From my experience, early morning buses are usually less full than evening buses. Also some window seats have the ability to recline further than normal. Like obnoxiously far back if someone is sitting behind it.

 

The Ride

Below and between the two seats is a outlet for plugging in your electronic device. This works really well. Above is a bright reading light for use if the person next to you does not mind (these lights are not as focused as the airplane lights) and a stop button in case of an emergency.

For some reason, the thermostat on Megabus, day or night, is set to a uncomfortably low temperature. They are unable to adjust it, so dress warmly! 2 layers with a sweatshirt and beanie/head covering is not excessive to be comfortable. I remember looking at some passengers on a night bus ride, and they had a blanket completely covering their head and body to fall asleep under. So take note, warm clothes, sweatshirts, beanie, blankets and even neck pillows are all highly recommended!

The seats are nicely covered in some sort of fabric, with a decent amount of cushion, but after 6 hours, they become a bit uncomfortable. However, what seat wouldn't be.


Inside a Megabus, notice the 'hip' neon green light to illuminate the bus at night. Don't forget to buckle your seat belt!


In California from Union Station to SF/Oakland/SJ, the Northbound bus typically stops here. On the trip south, the Megabus usually stops in this parking lot, and it usually stops long enough for you to run across the street to the Subway to get a sandwich. Oh, and they do a count on the bus before they leave to make sure everyone is there, so you shouldn't have to freak out.

Let's be honest, the Megabus Wifi sucks!! Kiss that Netflix movie stream goodbye! I did connect to it before and it was great for 5 minutes, and then it didn't want to establish a connection. Other times it never connected. If you have data on your phone, don't waste your time with the Wifi! Just for the record, they do have a Wifi signal on the bus, but whether it actually connects to the internet is hit or miss, and it's usually a miss!

So what do people usually do on the Megabus? The #1 thing is probably sleep. If not sleeping, social media is a great time waster while on the bus. If you have some specific complaints about your Megabus ride, there is a group for you on twitter for you to tweet to; @megabusfail. You can see the common complaints on there have been addressed above!


Passengers board outside of the West Oakland BART station. It's handy to have your boarding # and luggage ready for quick and efficient boarding


The Megabus provides a great opportunity for Art and photography. One one ride, I saw a guy take out his DSLR and snap a wonderful sunset shot over the rolling hills to the West of I-5. He didn't mind completely turning around in his seat to prep the shot and snap it.If I had a camera I would have been taking the shot also! On a different trip, I snapped the picture below off State Route 152.

View of Pacheco lake off of Pacheco pass on SR-152

In talking with a friend about the Double Decker Megabus, he suggested I try to get a front row seat and capture some pictures for a timelapse. I was able to follow through in this and setup a GoPro camera on my shoe to take pictures every 2 seconds. The video of these pictures stitched together can be seen below!






 

Concluding Thoughts

I hope this demonstrates why Megabus is awesome!!! Just be sure to check for updates on the megabus website about where stop changes occur so you don't miss your bus! I hope this has helped plan for your trip and everything goes smoothly! Safe Travels Amigo!

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Growth of Orange County Bike Lanes, Planning and Electric Bikes


Ask anyone in the Netherlands, Bikes work as an efficient mode of travel! Cities in the United States are slowly learning that bikes can have a huge impact on how people get around while also creating a healthy and enjoyable place to live.


 "Adding that more people on bikes eases congestion and boosts residents’ health, sense of community and economic opportunities." - BikesBelong.Org

Bike lanes and paths can also provide a cheaper alternative to traffic congested highways. Bike lanes and routes in Southern Californiaare continuing to grow, considerably in Orange County. OCTA provides a excellent GIS file containing the existing an proposed bike routes. Here is a simple map of these routes throughout the county.



Crunching some numbers on these bike routes, we find that currently (as of GIS data updated in February 2013) there were 1,035 miles of existing bike routes. This includes all three classifications for bike routes

  •    Class I (Off-street Paths)  – Separated multiuse path typically shared with flood channels or abandoned railways (Rails-to-Trails).

  • Class II (Bike Lane) – Striped bike lanes established along roadways primarily used by vehicles

  •  Class III (Shared Road) – Signs and some painted street delegations appended to roadways to inform drivers the street is shared with bicyclists 

View Larger Map


The Cities and public agencies within Orange County are making huge progress in addressing additional bike facilities to create a network of interconnected bike routes. Mileage wise, the total number of 2 or more lane streets sums up to 1,497 miles. Class II bike lanes currently cover 692 miles, or 46.3% of the wider 2 or more lane streets (Not bad!). If we only consider the number of street segments, and not mileage, we learn that about 33% of the higher volume streets have bike lanes.

Additional bike facilities are planned for the County. Class I bike paths are expected to increase 45% to 470 miles, while Class II bike lanes are expected to increase 37% to 1095 miles. While I am not a huge fan of Class III shared roadways, they are planning to increase 46% to 156 miles. All this is great news for bike riders in Orange County. Hopefully this trend continues and we see Cic-OC-via before 2015!


Planning additional bike facilities can sometimes cause quite a disruption with residents. While studies have shown that bike routes generally improve neighborhood, it can still be unsettling to know that your property will be a byway for a large number of bicyclists and the like. Regardless, creating bike routes that integrate well into the city/county is an important part of bike planning. Considerations for new or upgraded bike routes include
·         Safety
·         Cost
·         Available land to add facility
·         Connectivity to:
o    Schools
o    Parks
o    Shopping Centers
o    Entertainment Attractions
o    Bike Shops
o    Libraries
o    Connection to transit hubs
·         Elevation change along street segments

What if bike maps started to look more like transit maps highlighing the destination and simplifying it a lot while avoiding showing the way to get around by car.While route choice is one thing, adding bike lanes can help all types of active transport modes.

Idea: It would be nice to have an online mapper tool that allows cycling activists to use a fixed amount of dollars the city has, to plan bike lanes on certain streets within a city. Within the website, it would know how much it costs to develop bike lanes along each street depending on the available space and existing geometry. A tabulated list of changes and costs would be automatically calculated.
Growth of the Electric Bike cannot be ignored either! The synergies between bike routes and electric bikes can have huge impacts to change mindsets of biking. If pedal powered biking results in 1% bike commuters, how much could electric bikes increase bike commuters? 10 fold? And what about bike share changing the perception of who a bike rider can be?


At the end of this Blog post, I still have a few questions:  What bike facilities are being used the most? How would the best way to track bike lane usage?
 

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Universal Sign for Turning on Headlights


Soon after I earned my license, the first time I was pulled over was for driving without my headlights on. The officer was nice and let me go once I had my headlights turned on. Since then I have seen others driving while I was a pedestrian or on my bike and want to inform them to turn on their headlights to possibly prevent a ticket or accident. There has been no clear sign of communication to do this....Until Now!

With this quick gesture seen below, you can easily communicate to drivers to turn on their headlights.  It's friendly, efficient and hopefully effective to increase visibility on the roadways.



Hopefully this symbol can be put to good use out there and it can increase safe driving conditions!


Safe Travels!

Update: Using the "L" universal sign helps drivers realize to turn on their lights faster than any other symbol.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving I-5 and I-405 Traffic Congestion Analysis: When to Drive North

Holiday travel is always a bit more.....congested. While the season brings friends and family closer, this comes at a cost of travel. Some have short distances to cover, while others much further distances. Regardless travel is typically required. For those travelling in the Southern California region, the following graphs maybe beneficial in determining when to make their journey.

The following graphs show a wealth of information to help analyse when an appropriate departure time maybe. The following contour plots show different color's to represent varying speeds. The X-axis shows time of day, while the Y-axis shows a distance (in this case a post-mile on the highway). These graphs are tailored specifically for travel originating in Irvine and travelling north. The focus is mainly on the Los Angeles region which is so well known for it's snarling traffic. Here is an example of the I-405 northbound freeway for Thanksgiving eve from 2009.

I-405 Speed Contour (2009) Source: AAA

From this plot we can see that speeds are below 30 mph until about 18:00 near the 12 postmile. Also we can see additional bottlenecks further down the roadway around the 55 postmile. A trajectory departing from postmile 0 would be optimal to leave after 18:00 to avoid traffic congestion.
We can also produce these contour plots for the I-5 northbound freeway for the past 5 years to see if there is a general travel pattern for thanksgiving travel. These plots have distance on the Y-axis from the El Toro Y in south Irvine to the End of the Los Angeles County line in the north. Speed is indicated on the right hand side of the image with yellow and white meaning 60 mph or more.


I-5 Speed Contour (2007) Source: AAA

I-5 Speed Contour (2008) Source: AAA

I-5 Speed Contour (2009) Source: AAA

I-5 Speed Contour (2010) Source: AAA

I-5 Speed Contour (2011)   Source: AAA
Based on these spatio-temporal plots, we can say that it is better to leave Irvine after 7:00 pm  to keep speeds above 50 mph for most of the travel north on I-5. There still seams to show congestion while leaving LA county line, but it will be minimal considering what those ahead of you went through. The typical pattern from these 5 plots show a significant decrease in congestion compared with the massive slow down in 2009 to the 2010 and 2011 speed contour plots. The congestion appears to form as early as 10:00 am.

Happy Thanksgiving, and drive safely.
Speed Contour Plot Credit: AAA - Ankoor's Amazing Analysis.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Southern California HOV and HOT/Toll Roads Map

In planning my recent trip in Southern California I found it helpful to know where the Carpool lanes and Toll Roads are to ensure speedier travel through the region. Rather then plan a trip through toll roads or high traffic corridors without High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes as an option, I re-routed to find a route with the most HOV lanes (and HOV2HOV connection flyovers!)

Below is a map (updated: Nov. 2012) for your next trip planning in LA and Orange Counties to use HOV, HOT or Toll Roads. Note the recently added I-110 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes have been added! Soon to have more HOT lanes. If you notice a blue light above some of these toll readers, this is for nearby CHP officers to see if a vehicle toll tag violation occurs. When a vehicle passes under the toll tag reader without a transponder, a blue light will flash. Any CHP nearby will then know to chase after that vehicle for a violation.

Graphics Credit: Nadim
I think it would be great if Google added a layer for this! For now Caltrans has an official map here.

Safe Travels!

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Help! - Highway Traffic Edition

In the year 2012 A.D. highway dynamics appears to be a result of individual drivers simply trying to minimize their travel time and drive in a way that only benefits them. This is known as User Equilibrium solution, because it creates a condition on the roadway that stabilizes to a point where every user achieves about the same efficiency, with nobody receiving an unfair advantage. If some users are willing to let others cut in front of them or allow others to take a faster route, these maneuvers could result in an overall increase in travel time for the local highway network. If all vehicles follow rules to overall reduce the travel time on the highway, this is described as a System Optimal solution to the highways. It should be of no surprise that a system optimal scenario rarely happens on roadways. This will hopefully change!


I bring up these two types of traffic dynamics because the other day, on my bike ride home, I saw a situation on the highway that deeply bothered me as an extreme example of User Equilibrium case of traffic. The situation on the highway was this:
            A car was stopped in one of the middle lanes of the highway while backed up cars behind it were just driving around it to continue on their journey. A picture of this event was captured, see below.

It made me think that if there were all pedestrians walking, that a fellow human being would stop and assist the person blocked in the middle of the street/sidewalk. Bicyclist too, I would assume, help out a fellow rider. But instead, in a car, we all have enclosed boxes around us that help us ignore our surroundings and other ‘future friends’ who maybe in need of some assistance. 


A helping hand in this type of situation wouldn’t only be generous of time and talent, but it would also help clear the roadway of the traffic slowing down miles of cars upstream. A few minutes helping the jammed car (and scared/frustrated driver) could save hundreds of minutes or more on their commute home! It’s as if the protocol for a ‘citizens arrest’ were applicable for a highway collision here, except it would be called a ‘citizens AAA rescue’. A few blocked lanes, a couple dedicated drivers willing to help, should be able to assist the driver to the side of the road for safety and in an effort to speed up the capacity of the roadway within a matter of a few minutes. The technical details of how drivers would block all lanes, and convince other drivers to hold their horses is still a mystery and safety issue, but solving that would greatly enhance the roadway conditions during a breakdown.

The efficiency of the highway in this situation was greatly reduced to its optimal/maximum throughput, and spending a few minutes to fix the heart of the problem would increase safety and reduce travel time for travelers. It’s soo evolutionary to be like ant’s and just go around the problem, even though it’s causing major delays for everyone behind them.

I want to diverge a bit and continue on the above mentioned thought about cars isolating people and putting them in boxes. A singled passenger in a car creates a little bubble for drivers that distances them from the outside world and fellow travelers. Of all the damage that a car does, I feel this is by far the worst! It’s not necessarily an effect to be seen over night, but rather one that happens over a long period of time. This distancing effect is also prelvant in other areas of our lives. Scary, yes! While convertibles or Limousines, may seem to help the problem, they only provide a drop in the bucket solution to this larger problem at hand. So how do we really take the issue? Here are a few of off-the-cuff ideas to mix things up:

  • ·         Take public transit, Active transportation – Start conversations with people on public transit or on bike trails near you. Meeting ‘future friends’ is perfectly normal after  it’s done a few times.
  • ·         Roll down your windows and wave to people when driving. Smile and startconversations with people at red lights.

Now back to the main issue in this post, transit operations have a slew of dedicated professional monitoring the transit network, and yet vehicles have nothing of the sort to help clear the highways. If a monitoring system (or crowd sourced solution) on the highways could help dispatch a tow truck to a driver in need to help solve a slowdown, the freeways would  operate at a higher capacity and people would be more likely to drive on the same route again tomorrow!

Hopefully we can develop a solution and take action before we pass another stranded car in the middle of the road, or a person needing help on the side of the highway.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All About: Intersections, Part 2 of 2


This is a second part in a two part series to lock down some information about intersections, we go a bit more in depth with traffic signal operations at intersections. This information builds off of part 1 about some of the basic “surface level” knowledge of intersections. In part 2, we attempt to explain more advance signal operations and the future technology that has the potential to completely revolutionize signalized intersections and signal operations as we know it today.

Signal Phases

As mentioned in Part 1, most major intersections in major metropolitan areas, intersection signals are based on a pre-timed setting that allows for variation based on loop detector signals from vehicle arrivals. These pre-timed settings are determined by a traffic engineer (usually with the help of some software) and recorded on signal timing sheets for reference. A semi-actuated or fully actuated intersection would have the following (among a list of other values for signal operation), on signal timing sheets.


·         NEMA Phases
·         Minimum Green
·         Yellow
·         All Red
·         Walk time
·         Cycle length
·         Lag Phases



NEMA Phases – Each direction of traffic is assigned a numbered NEMA phase to organize a signals operation. Through directions are assigned even numbers in a clock wise direction usually with the major street labelled 2 or 6. Left turn movements are oddly numbered in a clock wise direction, with 1 being assigned across the intersection from the through 2 movement. Below is a diagram of a street layout with the NEMA phases labelled.




Minimum Green – The minimum allowed green time for a particular phase. This allows for a minimum clearance for just one vehicle to pass through an intersection. Usually 5-10 seconds for a medium sized intersection
Yellow – The amount of time given to the yellow phase of a light.
All Red – Each intersection has a period of time that has all the signal directions displaying red. After each phase, and a conflicting movement proceeds, the intersection has a “clearing” period to make sure all the yellow light runners have passed through the intersection completely.
Walk Time – The time allocated for pedestrians to cross the street when the pedestrian button is pressed/activated.
Cycle Length – Sum of all the phases green, yellow and all red times to complete one cycle of an intersection. There is usually a schedule for each day of the week and time of day for the cycle length to change accordingly.
Lag Phases – At the start of a cycle, left turn movements (phase 1 and 5) can lead, therefore lagging phases 2 and 6. However, 1 and 5 could also be the lag phases depending on how the signal is set up. The Lag phase information states which phases lag for the cycle.

Signal timing sheets have a whole slew of other information, above is just a sampling of some basic ones to get become familiar with this information.

Traffic Light Synchronization

On streets with multiple intersections in a row, it helps to have the lights coordinatedin such a way to have vehicles approach all green lights at each intersection. Trying to have coordination in all directions is very difficult, but for the larger streets that carry more through traffic, it’s feasible to have these movements coordinated. This keeps traffic flowing along the major arterial streets with minimal stopping, breaking and emissions produced. Synchronizing lights, while costly, is very beneficial to drivers making a trip through a series of the lights along a street segment.



Synchronized traffic intersections will have an offset value on the signal timing charts for the traffic engineers to use when programming the traffic signals. This offset value is the number of seconds it takes for a car traveling from being stopped at one intersection to the subsequent intersection down the road. This travel time allows the cycle length of the two intersections to be offset by a specific amount of time to allow cars to travel between the two intersections without stopping for a red light. Effectively creating a "green wave" for drivers.


Synchronizing lights can become messy very quickly depending on the streets being analyzed. To help, computer software is available to optimize signal timing most efficiently. Synchro is one common traffic software that calculates street signals to have the optimum signal timing values based on the inputted data. Synchro requires the user to input the existing roadway design, geometry, traffic volumes (number of cars), among other data, to have it calculate the most efficient signal timing values, such as cycle length, green times, etc.


 

Collecting data for inputting into Synchro requires vehicle counts to be collected. In it’s current state today, collecting traffic counts is a very time consuming and manually driven process. Because this is a time consuming and expensive process, updating traffic signals for synchronization only occurs once every few years (or more). This creates excess traffic congestion when travel patterns change on arterial streets. Traffic signal coordination does not have to be like this however, it can be an automatic, easy to maintain and provide peak performance to all users. In the next section we look at how this could be a serious possibility.

Smart Signal Technology


At fully-actuated intersections, street embedded wire inductive loops provide a sensor technology to have cars signal their presence in a specific lane. As an example, inductive loops in the left turn lane would signal to the traffic cabinet the left turn signal needs to be cycled through. If the loop does not detect a vehicle, it would skip that phase during the cycle to save time. These inductive loops at intersections however are wired differently then inductive loops on highways, in that they are all pulled together for each movement (not individual lanes) and the computer in the traffic cabinet only detects a vehicle in binary form (vehicle present or not present). Along the side of the intersection is a pull box where all these wires are reduced down to each of their traffic movements (left turn, through, right turn). Any vehicle counts are not obtained, as these sensors only function as dummy “on/off” switches.

In the future, more advanced technology could change this current design of intersections to allow for “smart” data collection to occur automatically every second of the day. By using the loops in the ground to collect vehicle counts, costs can be reduced for the required signal optimization data. Vehicle counts and signal optimization can be done on the fly or every 24 or 48 hours if necessary. This time consuming and high cost operation today will be completely automated down the road.

Of course this all assumes we will still be using human driven cars. With the current advancement from Google of autonomous cars, signalized intersections as we know it today wouldn't be necessary as the vehicles could navigate through a joining of two perpendicular streets by calculating each car's trajectory in advanced. This type of travel would be truly remarkable, of course we probably not even care because we would looking down at a tablet doing a Google search or some other mind stretching task.


To conclude, Intersections have come a long way from a 4 way dirt road junction, however with improved technology and acceptance by cities, intersections can continue to be safer, offer less dwell time and save emissions.



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