Stephen Rees's blog

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

“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

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