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Tools and Tips

The Important Lessons of SunRail


The Important Lessons of SunRail

Renaissance Planning founder and current Executive Director of the joint Pinellas Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Whit Blanton provides a set of important lessons to learn from the SunRail passenger rail system.


TRB Publishes Renaissance Report on Estimating Bicycling and Walking for Planning and Project Development: A Guidebook


TRB Publishes Renaissance Report on Estimating Bicycling and Walking for Planning and Project Development: A Guidebook


Capital Bikeshare rental station near McPherson Square Metro (WMATA) station, downtown Washington, D.C. The Transportation Research Board (TRB) has recently published Renaissance’s NCHRP Report 770: Estimating Bicycling and Walking for Planning and Project Development: A Guidebook.  The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) is a division of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Science, which sponsors peer-reviewed research on critical transportation planning and policy issues. This report represents a major step toward fulfilling a long-standing need for analytic methods that can effectively represent non-motorized transportation modes in the transportation and land use planning process. The guidebook provides a menu of best-practice methods that can be used by practitioners to estimate bicycle and pedestrian demand at various scales (regional, corridor, activity center, or project level) and to accommodate different analytic needs, skills and resources. Rich Kuzmyak of Renaissance was the project manager and principal author of the new guidebook.

The project team, which was led by Renaissance and included several recognized specialists in travel behavior and modelling from private consulting firms and a university. The resultant guidebook provides a menu of tools, including several pre-existing methods with particular value, plus three new tools developed by the NCHRP project team. These include an advanced tour-based mode choice procedure developed in Seattle, a strategically enhanced four-step modelling approach, and an innovative accessibility-based approach that relied almost exclusively on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data and tools. Renaissance was directly responsible for this third tool, through the efforts of Chris Sinclair, Alex Bell, and Nick Lepp, using data for Arlington County obtained from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Each of the new tools relies heavily on accessibility relationships to convey the key elements of the travel setting by jointly considering the prevailing land use along with the capability of the travel networks to provide access to those opportunities.  Through such a structure, it is possible to identify the relative importance of the built environment (density, mix, design) independently of the connecting infrastructure.  Thus, planners can identify the most cost-effective measures (land use and/or transportation) that will impact mode choice, vehicle trips, VMT and congestion.  The tools should offer much needed support for planning smart growth communities, transit and transit-oriented development, and cost-effective non-motorized transportation network improvements.

Renaissance is currently testing application of the GIS accessibility approach in a complex, multi-modal corridor for a state department of transportation. The Department of Transportation (DOT) sees value in the approach for reviewing transportation plans and proposals in relation to local land use plans, project prioritization, and engaging local jurisdictions and other stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process.

TRB is hosting a webinar on this research on August 18th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm, in which Renaissance's Rich Kuzmyak, Alex Bell, along with Mark Bradley (Resource Systems Group, Inc.) and Kara Kockelman (University of Texas at Austin) will be introducing the guidebook and describing some of the methods and models.

To participate in the TRB Webinar, register here!

Click here for the full report!



7 Must-Have Items for the Urban Dweller On-The-Move


7 Must-Have Items for the Urban Dweller On-The-Move


With summer in full swing and mostly beautiful weather all around, many people are trading in their automobiles for other modes of transportation. To assist those of you who may be opting for walking, bicycling, or public transit I have found seven must-have items to accompany you on your trips around town.

For Those on Two Feet

  • Tickle Shoes – These “Super Shoes” invite pedestrians to tickle, wander, wonder, and discovery. Essentially, the point of them is to get you to where you need to go via Google Maps without the hassle of staring down at your smart phone. The shoes work in conjunction with your smart phone to “tickle” one foot at a time so you know whether to turn left or right.
  • Kuchofuku– With a name that translates to “air-conditioned clothing," this clothing line was developed to help Japanese people deal with power shortages and electricity restrictions following the latest major earthquake and tsunami. The clothing has tiny built in fans that can last for around eleven hours on a single charge. I’m sure many Floridians would enjoy this product!
  • Run Bell – Have you ever been running through a crowd wishing there was a way to alert people of your presence to avoid any type of pedestrian collision? Well look no further, the Run Bell is “the runner’s version of the classic bicycle bell.” Not to mention it comes in a classy gold color and resembles a miniature brass knuckle.


For Those on Two Wheels (Or, Maybe More)

  • Foldable Bicycle – Looking for a bicycle that won’t take up too much room in your house or apartment? This foldable bicycle can become as small as a typical umbrella.


  • Uberhood – Speaking of umbrellas, whether you are battling rain or blazing rays of sun, this product will help keep you protected. This umbrella attaches to the front handlebars of a bicycle and can be shut when not in use.

For Those Who Enjoy Relaxing Rather Than Driving Themselves

  • Napper Hood – This product allows anyone taking public transit to go into their own little cocoon and zone out for the duration of their trip. The hood comes with a bit of padding to rest your head on a window and built-in headphones.
  • Rail Reach – While still in the prototype stage, this gadget will please those who may have a bit of a phobia about germs and/or are not so height-advantaged.


–Amanda Douglas, Cities That Work Blog

[For regular news and updates, be sure to follow Renaissance on Twitter @CitiesThatWork]


Clear Communications: Why Simpler Is Always Better

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Clear Communications: Why Simpler Is Always Better


PeopleA few years back I worked a public meeting for a transit project in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. A colleague of mine told a group of residents that the project would improve bus headways in their neighborhood. A confused person interrupted and asked “what is a headway?” Transportation planners use this term everyday, but to the person in the audience, it was a foreign concept. The planner explained that it’s the amount of time between buses arriving at the station. Like the person in the audience, I also sometimes get confused by planner-speak…and I’m trained as a planner! Of course, jargon and complex concepts are found in all professions. But I argue that planners must pay special attention to how they are communicating and understand the implications for poorly constructed messages. In my mind, the reason is simple. We have an ethical responsibility to serve the public interest. But very few residents of the communities we work in are familiar with planning concepts and jargon. We must keep this in mind if we are to serve the public effectively.

I don’t want this to come across as preachy. I struggle mightily to limit my use of jargon and communicate concepts clearly. I guess we all get so used to talking to each other that sometimes we forget to turn off the planner-speak and use plain language. But we must keep this in mind and find ways to be clearer. After all, the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct states that “we shall provide timely, adequate, clear, and accurate information on planning issues to all affected persons and to government decision makers.”

Fortunately there are many resources that can help us get started. About a year ago I came across an article in the New York Times that I found useful. Helen Sword’s piece, titled “Zombie Nouns,” discusses the importance of avoiding nominalizations in writing. Nominalizations are nouns formed from other parts of speech, such as adjectives and verbs, by adding a suffix such as “ity” or “ion.” Planning is filled with these words, like connectivity, visualization, and multimodalism. The author calls these words “zombie nouns” because they suck the life out of writing and put people to sleep. See her opinion piece here:

This brings me to a few pointers I like to keep as I write for the public:

  • As Sword recommends, use active verbs instead of nominalizations when possible. For example, “connecting streets” will probably resonate better with a planning newcomer than “better connectivity.”
  • Avoid needless text. Use the fewest words necessary to communicate an idea to the audience.
  • Of course, many planning concepts are complex and it can be difficult to explain them with text alone. This is where storytelling and visual graphics are useful. Storytelling might take the form of an anecdote that illustrates a concept. Meanwhile, visuals can include picture, diagrams, maps, charts, and even videos. Infographics combine all of these elements into a concise message that typically fits onto a single page.
  • Finally, I often employ what I call the spouse test. If my non-planner wife Emily understands what I’m saying, then I’m probably on the right track.

We may not always succeed, but keeping your audience in mind and coming up with new ways to communicate ideas clearly will help more people get involved in planning and understand how planning decisions can affect the quality of our communities.

-- Mike Callahan, Cities that Work Blog

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When A Picture Says A Thousand Words


When A Picture Says A Thousand Words


Got Graphics?

Explaining stuff, especially the complicated,  with words alone is not always enough.  A little visual aide sprinkled here and there can help the cause.    Infographics, simply put, are visual representations of information.   There are many forms and styles, and they are everywhere these days.   This post hones in on a few choice planning, design, transportation or other related ones that have come across my radar screen.  This is not a 'best of' list, it was not based on a comprehensive survey or search, nor did we have a rigorous selection criteria. Rather it is a subjective collection of 'notable, and noteworthy' that simply caught and held our attention. I say 'our' attention because this collection is not mine alone.  I polled staff at Renaissance to solicit examples of favorite, or noteworthy infographics.  Jessica Dimmick, Stephen Mainzer, David Stamm, Whit Blanton, and Alana Brasier responded to the call (thanks!).  The collection presented here is what came back in the net that I cast.  I'm going to let the graphics do the talking, and keep my commentary brief.   They are presented randomly, and not in any particular order of preference.   We also invite you to grow this collection by sharing the URL of your favorite notable or noteworthy infographic in this post's comments.

The New Yorker magazine recently published this interactive tool for visualizing median income across various subway lines.  It is simple, clean, and one can lose more than a few minutes clicking and comparing if you are not careful.  The notable thing for me was the differences in income not just by line, but by borough, and Manhattan clearly emerges as the wealthiest.  But go see for yourself.

New Yorker - Inequality and New York's Subways

The website I Am Traffic publishes in its resources a very well done series of infographics that are very effective in illustrating dimensions, issues and points relating to biking, pedestrian and traffic.  The example below illustrates general sizes and width of lanes.  But there's more.  Diversity of bicyclistsExclusion ZonesWhy We Dont Share. Sharrows with ParkingBuffered Bike Lanes with ParkingRight Buffered Bike LanesIf There's Not Enough Space.

I Am Traffic - Vehicles and Lanes

While we are on the bike theme, there are a couple well done educational infographics on biking published by Bike Arlington.  The one below is on common biking myths, and this one (to a PDF) is on hot weather tips.

Bike Arlington Infographic - Myths on getting around by bike

As an infographic this may be a little stretch, it's actually more an art piece.  Nonetheless, it's very smart and worthy of mention (and the map geek in me just had to post it).  This website sells maps of different cities composed of typeface. Check them out.

Typographic Maps - Chicago, DC, etc

Perhaps more infowebsite than infographic, The Transcect Collection, offers a picture catalog that helps understand scales of natural and urban form along the transect that ranges from least developed T1 (natural zone) to most developed T6 (urban core, downtown).  The images in this website are an effective tool in helping people visualize the transect by showing examples from real places.

Transect Collection

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the Louisiana Recovery Authority initiated a Louisiana Speaks regional visioning project.  As part of this effort, a team of consultants led by Urban Design Associates produced a Planning Toolkit.  The screenshot below is the Matrix Illustrated spread on pages 18-19 of this toolkit,which we are placing in this notable and noteworthy collection because it is an effective visualization of both issues and scales, and covers a lot of ground in a two page foldout.

An excerpt matrix from the Lousiana Speaks Planning Toolkit.

This next example is not a planning, design related infographic, but caught our attention nonetheless. It's an illustration of someone's knitting efforts, sales over a period of time and where the sales went.  It's a clever illustration.   The screenshot from Flickr below will take you to higher resolution version of this infographic on their site.

Diagram about Crochet

A blog post on the Sustainable Cities Collective drew my attention to the below "Metrics Framework" infographic that is demonstrating the benefits of various activities associated with urban agriculture.  I like how clean and well-organized it is, very much in a report card (or consumer reports) style of presentation. There is another graphic they did that accompanies this, focusing on Health, Social, Economic and Ecological benefits that is also well done.

Metrics Framework - Benefits and Activities of Urban Agriculture

Finally, this one just made me chuckle.  Dont forget to share your favorites, if you have one, in the comments.

Craiglist, Missed Connections (Human Transit,


--Jason Espie, Cities That Work Blog