May 25, 2012, 11am
We are pleased to announce that ABMB Engineers, Inc. has joined Stantec, a professional consulting services firm ranked on Engineering News-Record’s 2011 ranking of the top 500 design firms. ABMB‘s outstanding reputation as a leader in transportation, traffic and infrastructure engineering projects, combined with Stantec’s global expertise and breadth of experience, creates a promising future. By uniting the employees of ABMB with Stantec, we will have access to added expertise in multiple disciplines and depth of resources to deliver an unparalleled level of service in a rapidly evolving industry.
We will take advantage of our combined strengths to maintain and grow our local presence by fully integrating the staff of ABMB with Stantec. Our drive for excellence and commitment to client dedication will continue to inspire our service. You will see the same familiar faces, and we will continue to conduct business in a manner you are accustomed to and appreciate. Our success has always been measured by client satisfaction. We believe this strengthens our commitment to provide the highest level of service to our clients. We are excited to move forward with you as we join the Stantec team.
See our announcement here: /f/ABMB_Web Announcement_Close.pdf
ABMB has been contracted to perform a Stage 0 Study for possible improvements to Government Street in Baton Rouge. Government is a notoroiously troublesome corridor in Mid-City.
Traffic consultants are once again studying whether Government Street needs to go on a diet.
Spurred by safety concerns and the ongoing sense that the street’s traffic moves too fast for its urban setting, the Metropolitan Planning Organization has hired ABMB Engineers to look at whether a so-called “road diet” would work. Specifically, the firm is studying two options: Each would reduce the four-lane street to one lane in each direction and give a third lane back for wider sidewalks, bike lanes or on-street parking. But one option would have a center turn lane and the other a raised median with roundabouts at the major intersections.
A roundabout replaces a traffic signal and slows down cars but keeps them moving as they merge in and out of the circle from all four directions.
The thought of reducing the number of lanes on Government has always been considered a bit of a pipe dream, even by those who want to see it happen. Like many cities, Baton Rouge is obsessed with traffic congestion and has a penchant for widening its roads, not narrowing them.
A similar inquiry several years ago died on the vine, but this time is different in two key ways, said ABMB’s Laurence Lambert. The previous study was conducted soon after Hurricane Katrina and the traffic counts were affected by the swell in population, which made a road diet look less feasible. Also, that study did not take safety into account, and this one will at the request of the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The state classifies Government as an “abnormal” road, meaning it has twice the accident rate of the average four-lane undivided street in the state, said April Renard, of DOTD’s highway safety division.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Government has both local traffic — cars traveling several blocks from one of the dozens of neighborhood streets to a local grocery store or dry cleaner — and traffic that essentially treats the road like a highway.
As Dennis Hargroder, one of the owners of Government’s Circa 1857 has pointed out, the two center lanes already function as turn lanes. Cars are routinely stopped dead in the street as others change lanes quickly to avoid slowing down. Add in the natural human tendency to speed up at yellow lights, and the results are T-bones, side swipes, right angles and rear enders.
“It feels like a slalom course driving down Government Street,” Lambert told a group of traffic engineers earlier this month. “It’s a tough road to drive.”
Then there are pedestrians — residents from the surrounding neighborhoods patronizing Government’s merchants — who are forced to wait until all four lanes are clear, or pause in the middle of the road to wait for cars to speed by.
It is exactly the wrong way to design a street, said Dan Burden, a “professional pedestrian” brought to Baton Rouge by the Center for Planning Excellence about 10 days ago for a workshop, presentation and walking tour of Government Street
with public and private sector traffic engineers. But it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.
Burden is the executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute in Fort Townsend, Wash., but he
spends most of the year traveling around the country. A former statewide bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation, he now evangelizes about the importance of streets that do more than move cars and he helps cities reconfigure poorly designed, hazardous roads to encourage driving, biking, walking and economic development.
Burden called it “ludicrous” that a busy urban corridor like Government Street has a posted speed limit of 40 miles per
hour. He’d shoot for a target speed — the speed cars actually drive — of 20 or 25 miles per hour.
"Forty is just off the charts,” he said. “You’ve got to get away from that.”
Burden is a big fan of roundabouts, and thinks they would work well along Government, particularly with “redundant systems” like North and Florida boulevards running parallel to it. He suggested one roundabout every quarter-mile on Government, but said a good way to start would be with a couple in a demonstration project on the right section — one with receptive businesses, strong neighborhoods, historic buildings.
Burden flopped a metal tape measure out into the street to check the width of Government’s 10-foot lanes, and asked Lambert what the prior study’s counts had found for Government’s heaviest sections.
Twenty-three thousand, Lambert replied.
“With the right tools,” Burden said, “23 works beautifully.”
Burden said Route 25A in Smithtown, N.Y., is in the planning stages of a road diet with roundabouts, and it has 33,000 cars on it per day. Carmel, Ind., which is trying to get to zero accidents on a particular road, is doing it with a 40,000- to 50,000-car intersection.
Asked about the intuitive complaint that road diets slow down traffic, Burden grinned and replied, “That’s the point.”
The key with roundabouts, he said, is that traffic keeps moving. A properly placed and designed roundabout can move 30 percent more cars, loading them from all four directions, compared to only two at a time with a traditional intersection.
Roundabouts also cut personal injury by 90 percent, he said, “civilizing” motorists by slowing them down on approach, giving everyone more reaction time. That is in contrast with a signalized intersection, where motorists often speed up to make the yellow light as other cars and pedestrians prepare to move into their path.
And road diets, whether they include roundabouts or not, give space back to the streetscape for trees, bike lanes, wider
sidewalks or on-street parking.
While Burden said typical signalized intersections and roundabouts are similar in cost, Lambert said that upfront, roundabouts are more expensive but they cost less to maintain over the long term.
Burden showed slide after slide of how fewer lanes, narrower streets, different paving surfaces, landscaping and roundabouts have been used successfully in cities in Florida, California, British Columbia, Alabama and New York.
The days of simply widening roads, he said, are over. It’s just a matter of which cities figure it out and which ones don’t.
“If you plan cities for cars, you get traffic,” he said, noting that even with an estimated 20 percent increase in capacity over the next 15 years, traffic congestion is expected to triple nationwide.
For Burden, the new challenge for cities is building the next economy — the economy of place. Connected, complete streets that serve more than just cars allow “villages” to develop, with neighborhood residents moving out onto and engaging their streets, feeding existing businesses and attracting new ones.
He said people want cities to be places of exchange, not just commerce, but of ideas. They want to spend less time in their cars and more time on their feet, engaging with other people.
By creating a strong and unique sense of place, cities attract more in-fill development and population density increases. Transit upgrades become more feasible and, over time, property values increase and the tax base grows.
“Streets are the magic that make it all happen,” Burden said.
Earlier that day, Burden had looked and laughed ruefully at a banner advertisement for some condominiums on Government Street. All of its photographs showed people enjoying themselves inside its gates and walls.
“This is a great place to live if you stay inside your condo,” he said of its implicit message.
Walking back to Baton Rouge Community College a few minutes later, Lambert said Magazine Street in New Orleans — a street often invoked by Midcity’s business owners and residents when brainstorming about how they want Government Street to look — proves a two-lane road can be a vibrant commercial corridor.
Soon after, group members sat in a circle in the BRCC meeting room to air their impressions.
Marie Walsh, of the Louisiana Transportation Research Center, said she doesn’t want to have to move to live in a walkable neighborhood.
Bicycling-advocate Mark Martin said it seems crazy that people see sidewalks as a potential legal liability, so people are forced to walk and bike on dangerous streets.
Jeanne George, of AARP, lamented it’s almost impossible to simply cross Perkins Road where she lives.
Lori Pilley, of the Midcity Redevelopment Alliance, said she loves the idea of embracing Government Street as a gateway
But there was doubt that the state will ever find funding for drastic change on Government, which is a state road. Burden rejected worrying about cost.
“That’s the wrong question,” he said, noting the cost of not making these changes is too great. “If you’re worried about the money, you are doomed.”
He said cities should be focusing on road projects that add value to land and property.
“We need to spend money to make money from here on out,” he said. “If we only build streets as a conduit to move traffic, we’re going to fail.”
Lambert said ABMB started its study about six weeks ago and has already gathered the safety data. It is waiting on turning movement count data from the city to complete the capacity analysis. The contract was for one year, Lambert said, but it could be wrapped up sooner. He said ABMB won’t be making a recommendation, but will pass along the information and the state will respond however it sees fit.
DOTD’s Dan Magri told the group that if a road diet and roundabouts prove to be the right approach, it will still be a tough sell to a public conditioned to think that streets should only get wider and move cars faster.
“Marketing is the biggest problem,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest issues around the state.”
They could talk to Ron Whittaker, a retired state trooper and former commander at Troop L now working as a consultant to DOTD’s highway safety section.
Whittaker told the group that traffic on Airport Drive near his Hammond home got so bad it was almost unbearable. He was so thrilled one day to hear DOTD was going to do something about it that he drove to Baton Rouge for a meeting. It was there he heard the state was going to put in a roundabout.
“I thought it was one of the craziest things I’d ever heard,” he said, recalling he actually left the meeting early in disgust. Whittaker said he was shocked to find the long line at the intersection has almost evaporated, and cars roll steadily through.
“Now, they’ve put (a roundabout) by my house and I’m one of their biggest proponents. I couldn’t have been more wrong,” he explained after the meeting. “It’s like a Thermos: It’s magic. I don’t know how it works, but it does.”
ABMB's Laurence Lambert participated in this event and is quoted in this article. Laurence, and the ABMB Traffic Team, have studied improvements for Government at several levels over the years...
A “professional pedestrian” invited to Baton Rouge to survey Government Street said Thursday that the city should consider roundabouts for several of the busy corridor’s intersections and possibly reducing it from four lanes to two traffic lanes and a center turn lane.
Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, told planners and traffic engineers participating in a walking tour that cities need to make changes to high-speed, pedestrian-unfriendly streets like Government to create “villages” in which businesses and surrounding neighborhoods can thrive.
Roundabouts, he said, are safer than traffic signals because the circular intersections slow down traffic and give everyone more time to react. They accommodate 30 percent more traffic and reduce personal injuries by 90 percent, he said.
Laurence Lambert, of ABMB Engineers Inc., noted the tendency of cars to quickly switch lanes to get around those that have stopped to make left turns.
“It feels like a slalom course driving down Government Street,” he said. “It’s a tough road to drive.”
Standing at the entrance to the Vieux Carre Condominiums, Burden pointed to a banner advertising the comforts of the development, all of them within the property’s boundaries.
“This is a great place to live if you stay inside your condo,” he said of the banner’s implicit message.
Burden’s organization is based in Washington, but he said he only spends about 10 days a year at home. The rest of the time he is traveling, consulting and surveying communities that are trying to move from automobile-centric streets to “complete streets” that accommodate pedestrians, bicycles and transit as well.
Standing at the new intersection at Government Street and South Foster Drive, Burden said he counted 24 things wrong with it, though that may not be as bad as it sounds. He said anything under 10 and you’re doing it right. He said his favorite intersection in America — at Connecticut and K streets in Washington, D.C. — has eight things wrong with it.
The “walk” signal for pedestrians at Government and South Foster, for example, doesn’t light up automatically, and studies have shown almost half of people crossing a street won’t push a button to activate the signal. There are driveways too close to the intersection and no medians to serve as safe havens for pedestrians who only get halfway across.
What the new intersection has done right is the so-called pork chop island — named for how it looks from above — that lets pedestrians get across the right turn lane for traffic and arrive safely on another median before crossing the main lanes.
Also, the traffic lights are on mast arms, no longer on wires strung diagonally over the intersections, which would put the motorists’ gaze in the wrong place. A nice addition, Burden said, would be lights on poles on the right side of the road, which makes drivers look where pedestrians are going to be.
The group watched as a woman wearing a T-shirt bearing the name and number of New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston tried to cross Government near Mouton Street.
“She’s going to have to wait a long time,” Burden said, noting that without a median, she needs to wait for all four lanes to be clear at once, or as close to four as she can get. “It’s still a risky thing to be doing, and she’s doing it.”
The group noted that between the street and the sidewalk stood not one, but two utility poles sticking out of the ground, with only the newer one actually connected to the power lines.
“You want the motorists to hit two items instead of just one,” Burden joked.
Standing near the parking lot of Albertson’s, Burden pointed out the handful of trees in the parking lot weren’t really making much of a difference. He pointed out that the city sets the rules for developers to follow, and can always insist on a higher standard.
“Who’s to blame for the fact that there wasn’t enough space for them to thrive?” he asked.
Burden said Davis, Calif., requires 15 percent of the total area of a similar site — including the footprint of the building — to be set aside for trees.
Paul Waidhas, an urban planner who came in from New Orleans, said he’s driven along Government Street many times but had never engaged it as a pedestrian.
“It’s a completely different perspective,” he said.
LADOTD plans to install J-turns, which would add two dedicated lanes along the median for drivers to use to turn onto La. 1, an intersection that has caused many crashes, some fatal, for years.
The state will seek bids later this month for a construction project to redesign the intersection of La. Highway 1 and Sugar Plantation Parkway in Addis.
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development spokesman Brendan Rush tells The Advocate the state plans to install J-turns, which would add two dedicated lanes along the median for drivers to use to turn onto La. 1.
The idea, he said, is to improve safety and traffic flow at the intersection by giving more length of road to drivers planning to head north or south.
But many residents of nearby Sugar Mill Plantation are opposed to the J-turn plan. Some of them have promised to fight DOTD until the state relents and installs a traffic signal.
Sugar Mill Plantation resident Josh Hinton, 28, is one of the lead voices in the movement to have a traffic light installed.
Hinton said he was involved in a wreck in 2009 when he turned left into the subdivision from the La. 1 northbound lanes.
Late last year, Elise Jean Boudreaux, 68, and her mother, Thelma Bizette, 87, died from injuries they received in a wreck at the intersection.
In April, Ann Hope Browne, 54, the sister of LSU football coach Les Miles, died in a traffic accident at the intersection when she attempted to merge onto La. 1.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have been in wrecks I’ve seen in the five years I’ve lived in Sugar Mill,” Hinton said. “There are too many decisions to make, and people are kind of forced into making bad decisions with the volume of traffic we have.”
Hinton said it’s difficult for drivers who are turning right out of the development onto La. 1 southbound to see oncoming traffic when there is a vehicle in the right turn lane, turning into the subdivision.
The J-turn plan will only further complicate a driver’s decision making, he said, because drivers turning right onto La. 1 will have only a few hundred feet to merge into the J-turn lane, turn slightly to the left, come to a stop and then merge onto La. 1 northbound.
“We’re going to fight this thing. With the J-turns, we’re looking at December before something gets done when we could put in a red light in two weeks,” he said. “DOTD doesn’t know the final plan for the subdivision. You’re going to spend all that money on J-turns and then put in a traffic light later when enough people move in. Let’s spend the money now. You’ve got to be smart with taxpayer money.”
DOTD officials estimate that it would cost $500,000 to install a traffic signal while the J-turn project is expected to cost between $500,000 and $1 million.
Bert Moore, a traffic operations engineer with DOTD, added that J-turns will cut out some of the riskier decisions people currently have to make.
“You won’t have to look to the left and have to worry about what someone’s doing in the median, then getting to the median and worrying about people coming off of La. 1 or the service road,” he said.
The state's infrastructure has not been adequately maintained and is below average in most areas, according to a report released today by the Louisiana Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
BATON ROUGE -- The state's infrastructure has not been adequately maintained and is below average in most areas, according to a report released today by the Louisiana Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The report, in the form of a report card in nine areas of infrastructure, shows the state scored above average in two: dams, where it got a grade of B minus, and in solid waste systems, where it received a grade of C plus.
Former Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Kam Movassaghi, who is the executive director of the "2012 Report Card for Louisiana Infrastructure," said the rest of the grades were below average. The report card gave roads in the state a grade of D, bridges a D plus, levees a C minus, aviation a C, ports a C minus, drinking water systems a D plus and wastewater systems a C minus.
"If your child ... brought this report card home, what would you do?" asked Movassaghi, now the president of an engineering firm and a professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. "This is something we should not be proud of."
He said the report card is based on the work of about 50 engineers poring through technical reports, budgets, inspection records, maintenance schedules and other documents for the past 18 months. The engineering societies in 24 other states have issued similar report cards, he said.
Movassaghi said the report will be circulated among state lawmakers and state officials to see if more money can be allocated to infrastructure needs.
He pointed out that 16 cents of the 20-cent state gasoline tax that helps finance road and other infrastructure needs has not been increased since 1984, despite spiraling costs of construction.
Movassaghi said now is the time to start talking about the state's poor infrastructure in the hopes more can be raised for it.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has promised not to raise taxes, and the newly-elected Legislature is expected to take its cue from him and also oppose tax increases.
A new report card will be issued in five years, Movassaghi said.
State transportation department spokesman Dustin Annison said the agency "focuses our funding to improve major (highway) corridors, reduce traffic congestion and improve road quality in Louisiana. There are many ongoing projects still under construction which will help to improve our rating in subsequent reports when they are finished."
He said that since Jindal has been in office, the state has invested "more than $4.1 billion in Louisiana's infrastructure, an unprecedented amount" and reduced the backlog of projects from about $14 billion worth to about $12.6 billion.