Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 2006

Two bikes

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Two bikes

Walking on the dyke on Labour Day, I saw a Harley. The illegal-anywhere-but-BC helmet dangling from the handlebars catches my eye now, but at the time I was still musing about the way bikes were displayed in Gastown Gastown bikeson Saturday. I could get shots of the cars easily enough, but the bikes were parked to save space not for display.

And then just as I press the shutter, in a moment of happy serendipity, a push bike and trailer occupies the background. Neat shot. But not planned.

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September 5, 2006 at 12:01 pm

McClaren Buggy Steveston BC 2006_0904

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McClaren Buggy Steveston BC 2006_0904, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

I saw an umbrella stroller today at the No 2 Road Pier. I could not find its owner, but it looks in very good shape to me.

From somewhere deep in the recesses of my cranium the words “Maclaren buggy” popped up – so I tried a Google and got this

and a Reith Lecture

Twenty years ago, getting around with young children was a great deal more awkward than today. The basic *McLaren* *buggy* was the height of technology then. Child car seats were cumbersome, often requiring professional fixing. Look at the cleverness and choice of today’s equivalents!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 4, 2006 at 2:20 pm

TransLink studies ‘smart card’ fare systems

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TransLink studies ‘smart card’ fare systems

Another “no news” story put out by Translink ahead of one of their staff reports. Smart cards have been studied at Translink for as long as it has been in existence. We don’t have them have them because the market for them here is too small to be financially viable. Small transactions are of no interest to the banking system, and cost merchants a fortune. For example, Dairy Queen (where my son works) charges an additional 25c flat fee for Interac transactions. Many other merchants refuse debit cards for amounts under a specific limit, reflecting the transaction cost.

Since I started looking at the issues of small cash payments, back in London in the eighties – first for parking meters, then for the Underground – matters have changed a little, but economies of scale still have to be present to make the considerable up front investment in kit worthwhile. Hong Kong and London both have Oyster systems, which have been very successful, but they are orders of magnitude bigger in number of transactions than Vancouver. Experiments such as VISA cash have been small and have not developed into full blown systems. Parking can now be paid for by cell phones, and this kind of convergence may betoken the future. Other types of card – such as the Starbucks card – are more about retaining customer “loyalty” than reducing costs.

The other big issue is the complexity of Vancouver’s fare structure, which has grown incrementally with the years and is now so byzantine as to require a purpose designed software suite for the bus farebox as to be prohibitively expensive to change. And it can only be done by Cubic, the original contractor, since they own the source code. And, yes, it can have a Cubic smart card reader added to it , but only to their spec. And the Electronic Fare Box (EFB) cannot talk to all the other electronic systems on the bus such as the destination display, communications systems and so on – which requires several separate log ins by the operator.

To be fair, Translink did pay someone on staff for several years to work on the “architecture” of ITS – to no useful output that I can recall.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2006 at 8:14 am

New Liege Thalys (High Speed Train) Station

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A lovely piece of flash animated architectural renderings of the new station, with a nice soundtrack of Cesar Franck’s music. Highly recommended.

But it does raise a few questions – the most obvious being where do the trains get their power from? The Overhead Line Electrification (OLE) is omitted – presumably because such fussy detail would spoil the pretty pictures. Just as the streets have no furniture, or painted lines.

First, the positive. It is very encouraging that Europe is investing in high speed rail, and this station looks like a significant architectural contribution to Liege. It is not a city I have ever visited, but clearly urban planning on this scale is something that is done very much better there than here. Compare and contrast the cheap and nasty SkyTrain Expo Line (done twenty years ago and extended a couple of times in equally prosaic style) and the slightly better (but not much) Millenium Line. The Canada Line looks like it will be cutting corners too, and certainly there is absolutely no consideration of how it is going to fit in let alone enhance the centre of Richmond the way this station does. Yeah, yeah, I know this is intercity, SkyTrain is transit, but the same principles of enhancing the urban fabric apply.

The negative. Do they really think that those sheets of water are the best use of the station forecourt? Surely this should be a piazza for sitting and watching the world go by, preferably with the opportunity to do that over a cup of coffee or a Belgian beer. Trappiste for preference. I suppose there are no vandals in Belgium. Fountains were used in Trafalgar Square deliberately to reduce the size of the crowds who could gather and disturb the peace. Jumping in them has become a feature of many drunken revels.

The bus stop looks like an afterthought – tucked away at the side, while cars have the ability to sweep up and drop off at those magnificent stairs. I see elevator housings on all the platforms so presumably those with mobility issues will have a tunnel to access them.

What happens in those buildings I wonder? Maybe I should explore the web page a bit more and read the proposals. But really, the architects do seem to consider the awe they want to generate (just like Washington DC is supposed to do) rather than how this will actually work.

The station roof is a clear homage to traditional major stations from the age of steam, when huge enclosed spaces were need to allow space for the smoke and steam to clear. And it is far better than the train sheds built in recent years in the UK (Birmingham New Street – which is even now going to be replaced after a remarkably short life – or Euston). The US seems to ignore long distance passenger trains as much as possible, though some of the refurbishments of major city centre terminals have drawn praise.

Unlike Ottawa where they moved the trains to the edge of town, and converted the old station to a rather scruffy meeting space for civil servants. The whole point of a station is to be at the centre, within walking distance of offices, hotels, monuments, facilities. That way high speed trains will attract people away from both cars and planes. Internal airlines in France are now largely a thing of the past, thanks to TGV, and bode well for a sustainable future for France. So Union Station in Toronto is at least in the right place. Vancouver seems half hearted. Waterfront is a good building serving commuters, but Amtrak and VIA are banished to one of the most run down and seedy parts of town – alongside the Greyhound buses who used to have their own station in front of the Sandman.

Of course Government is at the heart of all of this. SNCB is a nationalised industry which means that profit is not the only consideration. Belgium has its political issues – of which only the language one seems to get to the outside world – but it would seem that the City fathers seem to be able to get something of value from their national government. That’s something of a novelty item here, and usually wasted on sideshows like the Olympics and the aforementioned Expo.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2006 at 5:12 pm