Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for July 2006

Bus drivers being assaulted almost every other day

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Bus drivers being assaulted almost every other day
Houlahan said he doesn’t expect to see cameras on buses for at least a year.

This story – or one very like it – appears regularly. On a day when the Sun can afford over half a page to Mrs Harper’s dresses, it must be a “slow news day”.

The figures on assaults are inflated by adding in verbal assaults – cameras would be of little help here. But if the physical assaults are a real problem, cameras should have been installed a long time ago, and should now be an urgent priority.

After a series of very serious assaults on its drivers, Bonny’s was the first taxi company in the region to install cameras. The other taxi companies spent a long time arguing about who should pay for the cameras, fearing that the company that did not spend the money would have some kind of commercial advantage. Nonsense, of course. Customers really appreciate feeling safer in the cab.

Translink could easily put in cameras: the Skytrain system is one of the most surveilled areas in the region, and no one has an expectation of privacy on public transport. Trouble is that system is useless as evidence in many cases as the video tape is rewound every hour. A modern system of electronic image storage is planned for some time in the future.

Cameras were put on school buses many years ago in many places, to help curb unruly passenger behaviour. The camera boxes were not necessarily loaded – a bit like UK’s “gatsos” (fixed location speed cameras) – but they still worked as a deterrent.

These days small surveillance cameras are readily available and very cheap. They could be on all the time – or activated by a strategically placed switch, under the driver’s heel for example. Not hard to do. Not expensive. Not when compared to the costs of paying drivers who must take sick leave. Or Translink’s WCB premiums.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2006 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Transportation

Richmond Review:”Translink cash troubles are no surprise”

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Richmond Review

When TransLink came into being, it also collected all the dead wood from B.C. Transit and public transport planning continues in its 1950s mode. There was no hint of modern transit practice in the great towers in Burnaby.” (Letters July 29)

Malcolm Johnston – the name I couldn’t recall. I cannot help thinking that this statement may be actionable. I suppose, since I had been with BCT for a couple of years that I was some of that “dead wood”.

I wonder what his qualifications are? Do you think he has a Masters degree from one of the better English universities? Much experience in other cities planning transportation of all kinds? Come to that who are the other members of this Light Rail Committee? Who elected him their spokesman?

The province built SkyTrain (both lines), and is building the Canada Line. Not Translink, not BC Transit. Special project offices were set up and transit planners kept busy doing other things. The Evergreen Line is not even started so how he can claim that it is like SkyTrain I do not know. It is certainly not planned to be grade separated, or driverless, or run by Linear Induction Motors. So why is it not LRT?

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2006 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Transportation

CP 2816 and train Pitt Meadows BC: July 29, 2006

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CP 2816 and train Pitt Meadows BC 2006_0729, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

A special promoting Breakfast for Learning picking up speed as it leaves Coquitlam for Agassiz and beyond.

I was very impressed by the affable security provided by CP staff and CP police. Some of the rail fans were less impressive. Those parked by the road ready for the fast getaway to chase off down Highway 7 – a busy suburban street not a freeway – to beat it to the next photo op. Or the youth with the scanner tuned to CP dispatchers who made completely misleading announcements that could have lead to tragedy. And the strange people who have to stand in front of the loco to have their picture taken with it!

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2006 at 7:21 pm

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Yaks threaten China’s ‘miracle’ train line

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Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Yaks threaten China’s ‘miracle’ train line
Crossing the rugged Qinghai plateau and climbing to 5,072 metres (16,640ft) above sea level, the $4.2bn (£2.3bn) railway was hailed by president Hu Jintao as an engineering miracle for the world. But it was always likely to be harder to maintain than to build.

It was the price that caught my eye. Frankly, compared to the cost of the Canada line, it looks like a bargain to me – but then if you are the Chinese government you are probably not faced with the sort of cost structure this P3 is going to land us with for the duration of its contract.  And, we don’t have to worry about permafrost or Yaks. Though on Sea Island I hope they have a really good contingency plan for rising sea levels and liquefying soils.

“Harder to maintain than build” is probably true of every railway ever built.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 28, 2006 at 6:58 pm

Vancouver Celebration of Light 2006

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Vancouver Celebration of Light 2006, originally uploaded by nonstopdesign.

We can hear it but not see it. One time, we got an invitation to a rooftop at Granville and 16th – not ideal but close enough.

What we need is a friend with a condo overlooking English Bay, but this Flickr user’s contribution is a nice consolation. 400,000 people in a confined space and seemingly very little done to get the crowds home quickly afterwards discourages me from attending.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 28, 2006 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Observer | UK News | Anti-heroin project transforms towns

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The Observer | UK News | Anti-heroin project transforms towns
A remarkable drugs project has transformed one of the regions worst affected by heroin addiction

One of the most intractable problems in this region is that of drugs – especially in the downtown east side. The so called “four pillars” program does not seem to be very effective, and there are countless references every week – if not every day – to the impact of open drug dealing and property crime on downtown. Often the spin is that this will drive away tourism and damage our chances of maximising the return on the winter Olympics in 2010. As if damaging the local community and destroying the lives of many local people is not incentive enough. Well, not enough to do anything that might actually work, but would also offend US right wingers.

The solution that has worked in Worksop is treating addiction as a health issue, not a crime issue. Just like prohibition against alcohol – which did not work and had to be abandoned – the “just say no”, lock’em up, spend more on prisons, approach has also been a dismal failure.

Britain has just as rocky a public health system as we do – although private sector provision is more widespread, and the two track approach acknowledged and not officially denied as it is here.

Of course, just because it has been shown to work elsewhere is almost a guarantee that it won’t be adopted here any time soon. “Not invented here” or “we need a made in Canada solution” is one of the most frequently advanced excuses for inactivity. And just because it works on heroin does not address the problems of crystal meth, or crack or whatever.

I think we should give it try. Do you think that Stephen Harper or Gordon Campbell might agree? Probably not. But Sam Sullivan just might.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 23, 2006 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Tories are starting to clear their clutter of inheritance

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Guardian Unlimited | Columnists |

Virgin’s east coast route, profitable under British Rail, runs on a subsidy of £400m a year, half what the whole of BR cost in 1989.

The only thing I found to nit pick. Virgin runs the West Coast mainline. The East Coast is run by GNER, a subsidiary of James Sherwood’s Sea Containers, and makes a significant profit.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2006 at 11:36 pm

Financial crisis looms at TransLink

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Financial crisis looms at TransLink

“Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said Vancouver has dozens of traffic lanes connecting it to other municipalities while Surrey has just five — over the Port Mann Bridge — and they are seriously congested.”

Let’s be charitable and assume that he was misreported – because, if not, this is so inaccurate that it makes my eyes water.

As it happens I crossed in and out of Surrey twice yesterday and did not use the Port Mann Bridge at all. The Patullo and Alex Fraser at mid-day worked fine. Of course, the Alex Fraser is technically in North Delta. Doesn’t Surrey have really easy access to Delta – and Langley come to that? Not to mention the US border crossings. And we know that Surrey does not recognise the existence of White Rock. Or, seemingly, the Albion ferry.
For the story as a whole, I am afraid it is exactly as one would expect. The only remarkable thing is that it has taken so long for Translink to admit that its current trajectory is unsustainable. It was always based on a lot more coming from senior governments – especially Canada – and new sources of revenue. Bridge tolls are a regular red herring, but that’s because of the political difficulty of congestion charges, which work by pricing off marginal road users. And, as noted here before, the lack of a credible transit alternative for most of those priced off the road network.

The other thing wrong with bridge tolls is the huge east west movement along the Burrard peninsula which does not cross any bridges, and would remain unaffected by this measure. And, of course, Translink does not control crossings to the North Shore, or all the others on the provincial highway system

Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2006 at 11:11 pm

“Richmond: My kind of paradise”

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Another Vancouver Sun piece. What bugs me about it – though I agree a lot with what Marilyn Baker writes in it – is the end, which degenerates into the usual “after me, no more” mantra, which I have heard and read so often since I got here. When we used to live in Saanich the formula most often used was “chop up the ferry landings”.

There is no doubt that people who have lived here for a while mostly moved here. Even ‘long term’ residents will be mostly first or second generation residents. And of course, given the rapid rate of change, it is not now like it was when they got here. But then nowhere ever stays exactly the same for very long. It’s either growing or declining. How many urban areas can be preserved in aspic? I once toyed with the idea of buying a house in Harrow which had been little changed since its construction in the early 1930’s. I would wear a period suit and shirt (with a celluloid detachable collar) and give people conducted tours. Maybe apply for a GLC grant to fund the preservation. The idea did not last long. A few years later I visited William Lyons Mackenzie’s home in Toronto and discovered something very like the house in which I was born – and which my parents spent most of my childhood modernising.

I did write a contribution to Gordon Price’s Price Tags about change in my neighbourhood, which was mostly stimulated by the lack of an effective tree by-law. The city has one now, though it remains controversial. What allowed for the rapid rate of change around here was Richmond deciding that densities could be increased along bus routes. (There was also the idea that back lanes would cut down the number of direct accesses onto arterial streets. The rules on back lanes got changed too.) The biggest shortcoming of Richmond’s bus network (and there are many of those) is lack of frequency. Frankly, given the nature of our network – and the need in future to have to change not only route but mode too – I have my doubts about the feasibility of the strategy. But generally speaking there is actually a lot of capacity on most of Richmond’s roads, and only a few places where there is peak hour congestion. Around High Schools at 8 am and 3 pm being the most notable exceptions. And trying to get onto any of the river crossings off the island at evening peak.

Richmond will grow, and seems likely to exceed its LRSP target – as the article points out – sooner rather than later. I think we can accommodate this growth, and the best tool we have to limit its sprawl is the ALR. Sadly, that may not be as effective in future. But those people will need frequent, reliable bus services that take them where they need to go, without more than one transfer. The actual speed of the bus is actually less important than the overall journey time. If you calculate the impedance caused by parking and walking on overall trip times, the car is not nearly as attractive as it seems. But even where bus service has been dramatically improved (UBC for example) the main impact has been to reduce car sharing. The real deterrent to using UBC buses is now over crowding.

Community shuttles were supposed to make suburban buses more user friendly. The original concept had small vehicles, going down residential streets (not just arterials) and diverting to pick up and set down, at least in the off peak. As presently operated, they are just small buses replacing large ones, and thus doing very little to attract new riders. They do however release large buses for the routes experiencing crush loads thanks to UPass.

The Canada Line will actually make commuting into Vancouver worse. Instead of the direct buses (put back quickly after complaints when the 98 B-Line debuted) to downtown, a mode change will be required. And this will be doubly inconvenient since it requires coping with grade separation. As has been noticed, the stations mostly only have escalators going up (a fault in most Skytrain stations). But they will all be located along No. 3 Road. And generally not near residential development, despite the number of towers now sprouting on either side of the glide path into YVR. And the ride will not be much quicker since Vancouver got the number of stations increased, ensuring plenty of dwell time as people fight to get on and off the trains.

But the big growth in travel in this part of the region is people who live in Vancouver and work in Richmond. And the workplaces (with the exception of YVR) are remote from the line, and are ill served by buses now, and for the foreseeable future.

I keep reflecting on the alternative future we could have had, if we had kept a surface LRT with proper community shuttles and (dare I say it) park and ride lots at major stations. But Richmond is now ripping up the track, where it has not already been built over.

What really worries me is that I start to sound like a one track mind like Malcolm Johnson.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 17, 2006 at 9:21 pm

“The Economist” on Vancouver

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A piece by Miro Certenig in today’s Vancouver Sun quotes The Economist on Vancouver, quite extensively.

That drove me to The Economist website – fortunately today is one of those days where, if you watch an advert you can access the “premium content” for free. It turns out that Certenig’s article is longer than the original. Since he manages to quote most of it I will give you the full paragraph on transport.

Critics claim the authorities have been slow to respond to the city’s growth. Only now are suburban railways being built. Opponents worry that a C$3 billion road-building plan by the provincial government threatens to reverse Vancouver’s relative success in containing sprawl, and funnel thousands more cars into the city.

Read the whole article.

A couple of things strike me about this. The magazine is right about what opponents worry about, and the emphasis should be not the flood of traffic into the City of Vancouver but the inevitable increase in car oriented growth in the outer suburbs. Surrey and Coquitlam already show us what that will look like, and with the rest of the Gateway program, and the Golden Ears bridge, Langley and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows will go the same way. It’s actually quite hard to give credit to Vancouver for containing sprawl. The density of the City as a whole is actually quite low by North American standards, and outside of downtown, attempts at increasing density are rare. The opposition to the use of the Arbutus corridor for light rail was mostly about fears of the residential density that would follow – and, of course, that it would be occupied by the great unwashed.

“Suburban railways” seems to refer to the Canada line – since the Evergreen Line has now been put off, due to lack of funds. But of course we all know that there are in fact suburban railways, because that’s how we got suburbs in the first place. One in Richmond is being ripped up right now to be converted into a road. The line out through the Fraser Valley still carries freight, and plans to put interurbans back on those tracks never seem to get very far.

The province has set aside $3bn for the road expansion but will not pony up for its share of the Evergreen Line. I wonder if one of the reasons is that if it opened as the same time as the Canada Line we would have a really good case study to compare the effects of grade separated ALRT versus conventional LRT. While Translink trumpets about its growth in ridership they very carefully avoid mentioning anything about mode share, which has hardly changed. Translink also states that its support for Gateway is conditional upon the use of congestion charging – but if there is no reasonable alternative to driving in the suburbs, don’t expect much mode shift from that either.

The lesson that the London congestion charge success teaches is that most of the car (and truck) traffic did not need to be in Central London in the first place. The decline in road traffic in central London is due to people diverting to other routes for their through journeys: the routes through the centre may look shorter on a map, but were usually longer in terms of trip time. Most people who need to get to central London get there by train – and, thanks to Ken Livingstone’s emphasis on improving the bus system – get around by transit while they are there.

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Written by Stephen Rees

July 17, 2006 at 7:13 pm