Streetfilms: Timing Streets for Cyclists, Pedestrians, and Everyone Else

From the new San Francisco branch of Streetfilms, Janel Sterbentz takes a look at one of the city’s main bicycle routes — Valencia Street — and asks how it would function if signals were timed to give cyclists the "Green Wave" instead of cars. Cyclists would get a smoother ride and feel less compelled to roll through red lights. Pedestrians would benefit from slower vehicle speeds and more predictable cyclist behavior. As for transit vehicles, Janel reports, average travel times for trams and buses have improved on Amsterdam streets with a cyclist green wave. Even motorists, it turns out, should be rooting this on:

While naysayers may object that this will increase traffic
congestion, it is more than reasonable to counter that real-time
traffic conditions on Valencia Street have already slowed to a general
range of 8 to 20 mph. It makes logical sense that retiming traffic
signals for actual traffic speeds would increase traffic flow, reduce
idling, and minimize stop-and-go movements, thus decreasing pollution.

Portland, Oregon has already realized this and implemented a citywide traffic signal optimization project,
which saves motorists over 1,750,000 gallons of gas and 15,460 tons of
CO2 each year. It cost $533,000, which was paid for by the Climate Trust of Oregon carbon offset program. In downtown Portland nearly every street is timed for 12 mph, making these streets de facto Green Waves.

Despite data from its own models that suggest drivers on Valencia Street would reap similar efficiencies from slower signal timing, the San Francisco MTA refuses to fund a pilot study. In New York, we could see cyclist green waves bringing a more civilized pace to numerous avenues that currently function as speedways, but let’s get specific. Tell us which New York City corridors are outright begging for bike-centric signal timing.

  • Streetsman

    “Tell us which New York City corridors are outright begging for bike-centric signal timing.”

    Well for starters any protected bike path such as 9th Avenue or Grand Street. Also would be great for crosstown pairs such as Prince/Bleecker, 9th/10th Streets, or Dean/Bergen in Brooklyn.

  • I have noticed that the Warren Street bike lane has a perfect ~10 MPH “green wave,” from West Street to City Hall Park. That makes it one of my favorite routes to travel!

  • Rhywun

    What’s the effect on pedestrians with this idea? I’ve noticed that on any Avenue in NYC, the lights are timed almost exactly so that I have to wait at every cross street. Maybe the slower timed speed needs to be an integer multiple of the average person’s walking speed…?

  • J

    1) Hudson St/8th Ave from Spring St to 120th. This is one of the longest stretches of bike lanes in the city. The whole route could be timed to let northbound cyclists go 10-12 mph.

    2) Broadway, from 42nd – 14th St. One way southbound, with little other traffic. The lanes work well, except you hit traffic signals all the time.

    3) 5th Ave, from 23rd to Washington Square Park. Decent, buffered lane, but you hit lights all the time. Cabs tear through this stretch, since the signals are timed for speed.

  • 1st ave, 2nd ave, 3 ave, Lexington ave, Madison ave, park ave, 4th ave, 5th ave… if its in Manhattan and have the letters “ave” after it, it could probably benefit from this treatment.

  • A great point, but we don’t even need to make this argument in the Valencia St case. After they cancel the 26-Valencia bus, there will be no transit vehicles on Valencia street.

  • Oops, that was in response to this:

    “As for transit vehicles, Janel reports, average travel times for trams and buses have improved on Amsterdam streets with a cyclist green wave.”

  • I don’t get it. How can you time a *two-way* street for any particular speed? One-way streets, sure. But two-way?

  • Unit

    One way to adopt a “green wave” along a two-way street is to time the signals for the peak commute direction – inbound in the morning, outbound in the evening.

  • Also would be great for crosstown pairs such as Prince/Bleecker, 9th/10th Streets, or Dean/Bergen in Brooklyn.

    When CB2 gave DOT the “green light” for the Prince/Bleecker network, we specifically asked for study as to the implementation of green waves. Given that the plan was accepted as a compromise in place of a desired Houston St. bike facility, a green wave was intended to mitigate the negative aspects of the Prince/Bleecker route (specifically, that it was not a direct through-route, as Houston would have been, and the green wave would lessen the ped/bike conflicts by offering fewer red lights to cyclists, so there would be less red-light running).

    Informally, DOT suggested that there was some possibility that stretches could see green waves installed. A formal letter was sent in late fall/early winter asking for an update, but I’m not aware of a response from the agency. I’ll see what I can turn up.