Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for December 2006

Un Tramway Nommé Désir: Streetcars Make a Comeback in Paris – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News

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Un Tramway Nommé Désir: Streetcars Make a Comeback in Paris – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News

I don’t normally read Der Spiegel. This article was brough to my attention by the Semiahmoo Planning Group on the Liveable Region Coalition listserve. There some nice (though small) pictures to go with the article too. I hope this story gets picked up around here as trams on Broadway (and other major streets) are becoming something of leitmotif of mine.

Here is the official website and if you look in the comments section, Ron has provided some useful links for English speakers.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Mayor Sullivan’s Big Ambitions

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News ::

“Introduce closed circuit television cameras to deter public disorder and support our police in the capturing of individuals breaking the law.”

It will not do anything for the first as experience in the UK has shown, but if they manage to actually store the video and get someone to look at all of it, it can help with catching people after offences have been committed. But, to give one early and eerie example, cctv was not enough to save James Bulger.

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December 21, 2006 at 10:20 am

Posted in politics

Pimp Your Ride

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Life ::

This is one of those ideas that has to get going sometime. I can still recall reading the research, conducted many years ago in suburban London, by someone who noticed that most of the cars parked on his street never moved. Car ownership vastly exceeds car use, and most cars spend most of their time parked. But then car ownership has a lot more to it than just acquiring the convenience of mobility. Cars are like our houses. They denote status. They are possessions that we use to identify ourselves and our values. And I am not just talking about the sort of people who customise their cars – or those who spend far more than the car is worth is keeping it not only running but in far better condition than when they bought it.

And the interior of the car says a lot about us too. As so many thieves have learned, possessions spend a lot of time in cars too.

Car sharing is a great idea from a transportation perspective. And so was the idea that people should be able to stop and pick up people waiting at bus stops so they can utilise some of the empty seats that drive past the long queues. But then reality kicks in. You want to use my car? You want me to get into your car? Once you can come up with the safety and security assurances, then both ideas can take off. But they are no small hurdles to overcome

Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2006 at 10:15 am

Concentrated solar power could provide the world’s entire electricity needs

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How mirrors can light up the world
Scientists say the global energy crisis can be solved by using the desert sun

Ashley Seager
Monday November 27, 2006

This story I missed despite my regular reading of The Guardian, and it was brought to my attention by the David Suzuki Foundation‘s Climate Clips.

CSP technology is not new. There has been a plant in the Mojave desert in California for the past 15 years. Others are being built in Nevada, southern Spain and Australia. There are different forms of CSP but all share in common the use of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a pipe or vessel containing some sort of gas or liquid that heats up to around 400C (752F) and is used to power conventional steam turbines.

The mirrors are very large and create shaded areas underneath which can be used for horticulture irrigated by desalinated water generated by the plants. The cold water that can also be produced for air conditioning means there are three benefits. “It is this triple use of the energy which really boost the overall energy efficiency of these kinds of plants up to 80% to 90%,” says Dr Knies.

This form of solar power is also attractive because the hot liquid can be stored in large vessels which can keep the turbines running for hours after the sun has gone down, avoiding the problems association with other forms of solar power.

The cost of the elctricity is estimated to be around $50 per barrel oil equivalent – and this price would fall as mass production introduces economies of scale. But if you can also use the other benefits the cost gets competitive with natural gas generation.

It seems to me that the claim about meeting all electricty needs does not even need to be made. There must be plenty of places around the world where this sort of power generation would be welcome now. Las Vegas and Phoenix – maybe even Oliver – spring to mind immediately.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Posted in energy

To all my readers

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2006 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sorry… Not in Service

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Sorry… Not in Service
Why Vancouver is waiting longer than ever for public transit details
Posted on Dec 14 2006

According to TransLink officials, the number of buses running on Broadway is already at full capacity, and adding any more would only increase congestion and delays. While Anton says TransLink needs to expand the Millennium Line further West and bring in a streetcar service downtown, the city’s top priority now is to build a rapid-transit line along the East-West Broadway corridor.

But when and how TransLink will ever be able to afford that remains a mystery. After approving the $1.9 billion Canada Line in 2004, TransLink’s next priority is the $970 million Evergreen rapid-transit line to Coquitlam. However, TransLink is still $400 million short of being able to start building that project, with no funding sources in sight. With only 12 per cent of Vancouver commuters using public transportation, compared to over 20 per cent in Toronto and Montreal, public-transit advocates say it’s time for the provincial and federal governments to step in and start filling the funding gaps.

“The demand is there, it’s just we don’t have the supply; and the reason for that is the historical lack of funding from senior governments,” says Deming Smith, manager of policy and communications with Better Environment Sound Transportation (BEST), a Vancouver-based non-profit organization.

Yes, but it’s not just that, is it? Others like to blame the emphasis on expensive rapid transit. SkyTrain and now the Canada Line are very expensive but do tend to attract senior government funding. Buses just don’t seem to get their attention. (Of course the same amount of money spent on surface LRT would have gone a lot further and helped to reduce traffic but that tram has gone.)

But I still think that UPass is to the cause of the sudden bloom in demand and I think that was entirely predictable. And the planners must take a lot of responsibility for the “revenue neutral” policy that ignored the impact on costs and capacity. The UPass deal should have included funding for additional buses and the new pass should not have been introduced until the essential additional bus capacity was provided. Boosting ridership on system already creaking under its peak load was simply irresponsible.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Transportation

Transit ridership and service figures unclear

with 2 comments Vancouver

“Lies, damn lies and statistics”

Or, in the case of Translink a vivid imagination. At one time it was thought that the new electronic farebox would at long last bring some reality to the business of estimating ridership. But then the operations people got worried about the delay to service while everyone swiped their tickets and passes, so passes remained “flash media”. Automatic counters are now being deployed on new buses. There are counts and survey of course, but the problem with a count is that you have no idea how that relates to individual journeys – many people are probably counted several times. So you get this issue of “boardings” and “trips”. Then there are fare audits, which attempt to establish the extent of fare cheating, but then if someone is dishonest enough to ride without a ticket they are unlikely to be truthful when asked about their origin and destination.

Sample surveys and trip diaries try to make up the data gap, by tracking individuals who report all their journeys in some detail. 5,000 such diaries are collected every five years as part of the regional travel survey. That is enough to be statistically significant at the regional level, and allows for some “calibration” of the model together with cordon or screen line counts. But it is a very small sample – 0.04% of trips – compared to the 4% of trips that get counted in the Toronto Travel Survey.

Back in the bad old days of Glen Clark, a head count reduction was demanded of what was then BC Transit. It was realised that cutting operators or maintenance staff would be catastrophic, but the loss of “checkers” (the people who conducted passenger counts) would not have an immediate effect on service. And then there was always the use of market research firms who could do focus groups and questionnaires and the like.

But the good thing about this sort of data is that you don’t have to be bound by it. There’s plenty of room for interpretation and “professional judgement”. For example, the first two years of data from the farebox were simply ignored by the planners, because they were so different from what the estimates had been telling them for so long. And then there was the auditor, who did not understand that the estimates of fraud were based on calculations made from the total fare revenue divided by the “average fare”, which in itself was based on an estimate of ridership which included a set percentage for fraudulent travel.

The people who think that everyone rides Skytrain for free are mistaken. Most people get to the station by bus, and have a transfer or a pass. That’s why they don’t buy a ticket from the machines. But bus operators do not enforce the fare system – it’s too dangerous and not worth risking a faceful of knuckles (or worse) for an expired transfer. Most people are basically honest, and passes allow so many trips that they are a real bargain, so the decline of the cash fare is actually part of the plan. Counting coins is expensive, but Translink is much cheaper than the banks if you need to buy lots of rolls of coins.

UPDATE Based on information provided by the comment below this post has been revised

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Transportation

Don’t Forget the Country

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Michael Kluckner wants us to honour rural heritage buildings as well as urban ones.

By Charles Campbell

This a long piece but well worth the read. BC is losing its heritage. In cities because of the pace of development, in rural areas because there is no money. Mr Kluckner is going back to Australia having published many books on BC’s vanished heritage. For me it seems a bit odd to refer to buildings that are 150 years at the oldest as ‘heritage’ – but that’s because of where I come from. I am also pleased that the author of this piece recognises the contribution of the National Trust, but it must also be said that “death duty”, as the UK inheritance tax is called, played a large part, as endowments to the NT allowed for a measure of tax relief and allowed people to live in their homes as long as most of the building is opened to the public for at least part of the year.

I also appreciated the parallels between conservation and the urban environment

“I always felt that the worst canard that has ever been foisted on Vancouver is that it will always be Vancouver because it has the beautiful mountains and the view and the harbour.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, the city — particularly the residential parts of the city — didn’t have an understanding of the values that made the place so interesting to live in. And it was the evolved neighbourhoods, the change in the layers of the landscape. I began to paint these things, focusing on things that were completely emotional as opposed to architectural. Dappled sunlight on the side of a building at a particular time of year, the way that the colours were. This is something that I would go back to every year to look at.

“As you clear-cut these neighbourhoods — this analogy of clear-cutting came up because it was so much a part of the environmental movement — it seemed to me that we were in the city at that time, and to a certain degree now in the multi-family [parts of the] city, we were living in something that was as visually interesting as a plantation forest.”

“I tried [as a heritage advocate] to make the connections between the broader issue of sustainability and the environmental movement and heritage preservation, which is about reuse, and about controlling the rate of change, and about having layers in the landscape. The media in general and the broader environmental movement is obsessed with seals and bears and so on, and can’t seem to make the connection between the way people live and the values they have about human-made objects and the richness of the city.

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December 8, 2006 at 8:28 pm

“The Pig That Flew”

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“The Battle to Privatize Canadian National”

Harry Bruce Published by Douglas & McIntyre 1997

I picked this up in our local library. It is all very positive – and it’s idea of success is that the IPO was heavily oversubscribed and the share price rose dramatically once it was traded.

“Privatization insiders would later argue that the five phenomena that made the deal so marketable were: the pending improvement in the regulatory environment [Canada Transportation Act 1996]; the arbitrated labour settlement that took account of the “economic viability” of the railways; the appointment of one of the best boards in Canada; the financial restructuring that included lopping $1.4 billion off the corporation’s debt [largely in return for land]; and the extent to which Tellier, Sabia and their team had already proved they had the drive to bulldoze through a U.S.-style turnaround”

Actually the book shows that it was only a battle against the unions and the media. The former defending some quite extraordinary contract arrangements, the latter simply being highly sceptical. The US railway investors were quite keen, and it makes me wonder why the privatsiation team tried so hard to sell stock once they understood that demand would exceed supply. Arguably the stock was initially underpriced, and the underwriters made out like bandits.

The behaviour of Tellier and his colleagues is reported to have been quite exceptionally unCanadian. People actually losing their tempers! Tsk tsk.

The story now needs to be updated. The continued pressure to cut costs has some people wondering if it has been done at the expense of safety, especially in view of the number of disastrous derailments. The take over of BC Rail showed that CN management really did not understand what a challenge this railway would be to operate and Transport Canada has intervened to limit train lengths and insist that locomotives have dynamic brakes. Too late to save the fish in the Cheakamus River of course.

CN was able to shed most of its social responsibilities – the operation of passenger trains went to VIA many years earlier (though apparently few commentators realised that) as has the need to provide freight service to small communities. Maybe CN think of their responsibility to protect the lives of their crews and the environment has been reduced too?

CN Train Wreck

But at least Canada can point to this privatisation as one that worked out well financially – unlike that of railways in the UK .

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2006 at 10:00 am

St. Clair: Our new midtown highway

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St. Clair: Our new midtown highway

Although the TTC initiated the project ostensibly to improve the reliability of the St. Clair streetcar, the City’s Transportation Department quickly hijacked the scheme to divert criticism and detailed analysis of its real goal, namely to severely rebuild the street into a city highway slashing through the very heart of midtown.

Howard Levine, National Post

Published: Friday, December 01, 2006

Howard is rightly upset. The TTC hung on to streetcars when most cities in Canada, the US and UK were scrapping them. They have been very successful, and have become part of the identity of Toronto. They have even built an extension (the Harbourfront line) and separated streetcars from traffic on Spadina (pictured below), which is a model for other cities to reclaim street space for a wide variety of urban uses.

Streetcars on Spadina

What seems to have gone wrong here is that somehow the planners got sidelined and the engineers took over. A familiar story.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2006 at 8:01 am