Streetcars: Overcoming Politics

Streetcars: Overcoming Politics

For most of us, seeing is believing; therefore, presenting a “working” replication of a high-cost, high-profile, and controversial project can reduce the anxieties of the City’s Engineers, Architects, and Council. Increasing the "Happiness" index can help stabilize the political environment during the project.

Adam Lynch, Cincinnati, United States

The” Happiness” threshold of a municipal agency during the streetcar design phase depends on the following: Keeping as much on-street parking as possible; providing components necessary for a safe and maintainable system with efficient operation; mitigating potential traffic problems near major traffic generators; and preserving a low project. Reaching a high happiness index can help stabilize the political environment - and in this project's case the political environment was volatile with turnover of City leadership.

Often, municipalities are unfamiliar or uneasy about design concepts and strategies associated with streetcars, signalization, specifically pre-emption, priority controls, and queue jumping. During the Cincinnati Streetcar project, a realistic 3D VISSIM micro simulation model was developed to approached and discussed these complicated design topics. For most of us, seeing is believing; therefore, presenting a “working” replication of a high-cost and high-profile project can reduce the anxieties of the city, stakeholders, and the "naysayers" in the public. The City has had public transportation blunders over the years, which lead to high public skepticism over this large City investment.

The City of Cincinnati began conceptual planning on a 3.6 mile “figure-eight” streetcar loop in 2007 to address declining business, urban flight, and lagging competitiveness with other key cities. The City was concerned about the investment cost and projected benefits of a streetcar line and was heavily pressured by local activist groups to abandon this expensive project. To insure the best results and iron out design issues early in the Over-the-Rhine historical district, the City needed a detailed and rock-solid micro simulation model of several critical downtown areas. Using VISSIM and Google Sketch-up, a 3D environment was developed to accurately illustrate the impacts of a streetcar along the selected alignment. Presenting renderings and videos to the City exhibited the streetcar’s interactions with pedestrians, the existing bus-transit system, and on-street parking maneuvers, as well as show impacts in proposed queue-jumping areas.

These graphics easing the City’s concerns. Moreover, the streetcar route traversed around the City’s School for Creative & Performing Arts, a key City asset and area of high pedestrian traffic volumes. A comprehensive 3D environment around the school was generated to replicate the complex afternoon release. Details included school bus loading and parent pickup areas, along with near peak period CBD traffic. As an added benefit to this effort, the City was able to realize the minimal visual impacts of the streetcar in this historic zone.

The use of micro simulation modeling proved to be a valuable tool for design discussions and mitigations of possible traffic problems (vehicle and pedestrian), resulting in design, construction, and operational cost savings. The process of coding the VISSIM model and viewing 3D animations helped the design team identify design improvements in the pre-design phase, recognize potential safety concerns (such as heavily utilized multi-stage pedestrian crossings), optimize stop locations, and reassure the City that their investment would be compatible with the existing historical and cultural environment. Currently, construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar is on going, and the VISSIM model is available to the City to serve as a platform to future special event impact studies, evacuation scenarios, and street closures. Happily the streetcar is currently being constructed with anticipated opening in 2016.

Submitter

Adam Lynch, Cincinnati, United States

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