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

Archive for May 2007

Gordon Price on Surrey

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Gordon PriceI took a spin out to SFU’s Surrey building last night to hear Gordon Price. I expected him to talk about the future of Surrey, but before he did that he spoke a lot about the history of Vancouver.

He thinks that Surrey won’t, can’t and shouldn’t be like Vancouver. He calls it “urban DNA” and explains the building blocks that put a city together, from the first surveys by the Royal Engineers, to the technology that was available to residents when their cities were first built. The downtown core of Vancouver is a walking city, much like the centre of Portland.

Things like the length of a block face do not change over time. Indeed the persistence of these patterns has been noticeable in every city. In London, the street pattern is still medieval in the City, since the property owners refused to comply with Sir Christopher Wren’s grand design. Outside of the City you can still trace the field patterns that underlie the road network. Much of Paris got ripped up by Hausmann’s boulevards, put in to enable the army to mobilize quickly and make the erection of barricades difficult for citizens who tended to revolt – and still do. But the old neighbourhoods are still there, in between the broad streets.

I got the impression that the rather small audience was surprised to hear some of things Gord had to say.The audience That downtown Vancouver accounts for only 10% of growth in the region in the last thirty years. That this region has been building more multi-family housing than single family since the 1980s. And that Surrey is not a suburb of Vancouver: Surrey residents tend to work in Surrey. Surrey used to have an interurban, and has had plans for compact communities based on its town centres for many years. But under Doug McCallum, its rapid growth was based on the car to provide mobility, which is one reason why transit really doesn’t work very well there. Much of the City was designed to keep buses out. The interurban’s route is still extant but is hardly direct to anywhere.

Drive around Surrey for a while, and you do not notice much in the way of urbanity. Most of the streets are numbered. I find it hard to believe that you can build much community spirit out of a locality designation like “88th at 104th”. Interestingly I noticed that some of the original roads carry historic markers – like Old Yale Road. But many intersections seem to lead only to “Mall Access” as the cross street. Wal-Mart is everywhere it seems.

Surrey, he says, is the child of the ITE Handbook published in1942 which promoted the “efficient, free, rapid flow of traffic”. Surrey is designed to move at 50 to 100 kph. It is not the walking city of downtown Vancouver, or the streetcar city of neighbourhoods like Commercial Drive or Kerrisdale. It is an auto city. And the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge will set that firmly in stone for the forseeable future, for it is only about cars. look at the Gateway and ask yourself “where’s the rest?” Where is there any real commitment to transit, or walking, or any other mode? The ring formed by the twinned Port Mann, Highway #7, upgraded Pitt River Bridge, Golden Ears Bridge and widened Highway #1 will become the “centre of suburbia”.

The Highway Ring

There is another way. In St Paul Minnesota they put it simply. “More natural, more urban, more connected” – and there is no “or” in those statements – it is a package. What people want is a city that is clean, green and safe. Mostly it is about providing choices – both of where you can live and how you move around. It is not about moving traffic faster. In fact all successful cities have congestion – and always have had long before the automobile spread it out so far. The question is not how do you eliminate congestion because you can’t. The question is where will you accommodate it?

There’s a lot more in my notes – it was hard to keep up with Gord in full flow – but you can read more of his stuff in Price Tags and on his blog. He also directed his audience to Larry Frank (on walkable cities) and Patrick Condon (who has just published a new book), both at UBC, a nice inter-collegiate gesture I thought.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2007 at 6:58 pm

Vancouver Magazine Traffic Series

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Three really good articles:

Driving Lessons: Why most of what you think you know about traffic is wrong.

Magic Bus: The only problem with Vancouver’s buses? We need more of them.

The Great Race: Rush hour. Car versus bike. Guess who wins.

I doubt that regular readers of this blog (or Gordon Price’s) will find these surprising. There’s big chunk on the Braes’ paradox for example, and my old chum Clark Lim.

I wish they would reprint these as a flyer to be given out at Vancouver gas stations.


Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2007 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Transportation

Straight Talk | Local impacts of TILMA highlighted

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I have been meaning to get around to TILMA ever since I met some very nice people at the GVRD event in Port Moody who were very concerned about it and gave me some literature. This article reports what the City staff are saying about it, so I would hardly think this alarmist. The point being that this affects every local authority in BC yet there was absolutely no consultation. Why not?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Economics

Anti-Port Mann twinning ad campaign underway

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Langley Times {almost a word for word reprint of the SPEC news release}
June 01 2007

The Vancouver environmental group opposed to twinning the Port Mann Bridge has teamed up with a Langley business to mount an advertising campaign for rapid transit and climate change action.

The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) and CNC Repair and Sales teamed up to, as the ad says, “Do something about climate change.”

The ad launch began on the eve of California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s arrival in B.C. for climate change announcements and meetings with the premier.

“Today marks significant growth in the campaign for better transit in our region,” said SPEC’s executive director Karen Wristen on Wednesday. “ We have heard from the public that a large majority prefer better transit over freeway expansion. I am pleased to say that local businesses are now openly supporting transportation choices for a healthier region.”

SPEC commissioned a B.C.-wide public opinion poll which found that 73 per cent of British Columbians support shifting money from twinning the Port Mann Bridge to improving mass transit to fight climate change.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge we face today but the
direction taken by the province — twinning the Port Mann Bridge — is absurd,” said Jim Leuba, owner of CNC Repair. “Local businesses have a responsibility to help improve their communities. Freeway expansion will only make the Langley area more car dependent and increase greenhouse gas emissions. I support rapid transit expansion and better land use practices to fight climate change.”

Leuba approached SPEC with the advertising idea because he is very concerned that B.C. seems to be ‘going down the same road’ as so many U.S. cities, by increasing road capacity, even though it hasn’t worked to clear congestion.

“I can’t just sit by and watch us make the same mistakes, with the same predictable results for air quality, health and climate change,” said Leuba. “ I had to do something and it seemed to me that the Livable Region Coalition was playing a leading role in educating the public and the government.”

SPEC says the Gateway Program, which includes twinning the Port Mann Bridge and expanding Highway 1 from Langley to Vancouver, will increase on-road greenhouse gas emissions by 31 per cent. The solution proposed by SPEC and the Livable Region Coalition is to develop rapid transit in Surrey, Langley and across the existing Port Mann into Coquitlam; and to buy more passenger cars for SkyTrain. This solution will ease traffic congestion within two years, improve quality of life, promote better land use policies and reduce air pollution including greenhouse gases.

The ads will run in The Times, other newspapers and on News 1130.


Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2007 at 11:42 am

Roundabouts – Part 2

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It turns out that there quite a few roundabouts here. Well Delta, actually. And they seem to work there. I am sure that at least some of the drivers there took their driving test or lessons in Richmond.

The largest one I have found so far is at the eastern end of Annacis Island, near the shared road/rail swing bridge and the massive imported car terminal. It is the full meal deal deal complete with correct signs.

A second group of them (what is the collective noun for roundabouts – a “swirl” maybe?) can be found on a new development at the north end of Ferry Road in Ladner. The aerial image I have linked to shows four in nice detail. This is part of a new, upscale housing development in a golf course. I wonder if the road design is anything to do with the municipality as the roads are all marked “Private Road”.

A number of features struck me. One is the use of ramps to allow cyclists to “escape” just before the intersection onto the sidewalk. Generally speaking, cycling on the sidewalk is illegal.

Admiral Boulevard and Cove Link Road

But note that the pedestrian issue is also dealt with by a marked crossing and curb bulges. So the designer knew what (s)he was about. The general view is an attempt to show the driver’s view of the approach. The only thing I would add would be some pavement markings, though these are not specified in the BC manual. In the UK a yield sign is usually painted on the road immediately before a broad dashed line showing the space occupied by traffic in the roundabout.

Admiral Blvd approaching roundabout

This seems to me to pretty clear what is expected, and the pedestrian crossing is probably in advance of present needs at this location but may be essential when build out is reached so its a good idea to do it now so peole get used to the idea of slowing and stopping. Traffic speeds on roads like this, which have few accesses directly on them as the houses face on to the side streets, can be excessive.

Yield sign with rdbt symbol imposedI am less happy with the use of a sign that combines yield and roundaboutRoundabout advance warning
symbols. It is not specified in the manual, which states that the R1 yield sign preceded by the W17 warning sign is appropriate.

But on the whole a laudable effort. The extent to which landscaping is used can also be very effective at civilizing intersections. Some landscape architects are critical of the “fitted carpet” approach to streetscapes. But in this case the combination of hard elements such as curbs and sidewalk treatments is softened by planting. It is essential that this is maintained, and in Vancouver communities have been enlisted to look after “their” boulevards and traffic islands. A sense of ownership is a condition for good presentation.

Ferry Road and Admiral Boulevard

In this picture the block surface of the inner ring is clearer – though it is there in the others too. I would have continued the centre boulevard up to the intersection and included a pedestrian refuge on it so that the road can be crossed in two safer stages. That might work better, in my view, than the bulged curb. But the latter does act to slow traffic, which is the main objective.

In fact pedestrian refuges should be much more widely used but that will be the subject of another rant.


After I wrote this I thought of another roundabout – which is actually on the provincial highways network at the intersection of Highways 1A and 9 near Agassiz. The picture comes from Yahoo since Google’s mapping is not accurate and their picture not nearly clear enough. And what do you know. The Ministry has a neat site of its own on roundabouts complete with video – from Lacey, in Washington and a flash animation from Waterloo, Maryland. Note as well the illustrations show the pedestrian refuges and the pavement markings I wrote about above.

In fact, ICBC has been promoting roundabouts – including one at the entrance to Stanley Park in Vancouver, King George Highway and 8th Avenue in Surrey, Marine Drive and Nelson Avenue in West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) , Keith Road and Chesterfield Avenue in North Vancouver and many others listed as planned in 2005 but probably now built.

So now my question has to be, why won’t this work in Richmond?

Oh, and just in case the message needs to be emphasised, these sites have been working well here

ICBC results

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2007 at 10:00 am

The Tyee

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I know that regular readers of this blog will know of my affection for this publication.

They have now produced a video, which I originally got by email, and I urge my readers to look at it and send it along to those who may not yet have discovered this source of information.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Posted in alternative news, media

South Fraser Perimeter Road

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The Gateway proposed by the province has a number of projects. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is actually in the Regional Growth Strategy as a “New or Upgraded Goods Movement Connection”. For ease of identification I have highlighted the route in yellow on the map below, which is taken from the LRSP.

LRSP Regional Road and Highway System

The route follows the river from Highway 99 at Deas Tunnel around Burns Bog following the existing River Road through Annieville and into North Surrey. There Surrey has already built a new road from near the entrance to Surrey Fraser Docks alongside the BNSF railway to connect to Scott Road and thus the Patullo Bridge. Thereafter the route follows the CN main line around the Port Mann switching yard.

For a direct connection between Deltaport and Highway #1 most trucks follow a straighter, more southerly route (Highway #10), and indeed that is the signposted truck route. The SFPR is more of a distributor to all the various trucking, port and distribution facilities along the river. Since this line has been on the map since the early 90’s it is not hard for land speculators to pick up sites which are likely to be required for this road. Many would be cheap as they are either agricultural, or sites which are so degraded as to require significant remedial works for any other kind of development.

The communities along the route are not happy. Damien Gillis has produced a new video which documents the impact on North Delta.

Opposition is understandable from those immediately impacted, and is mostly about the lack of openness in a process to determine exactly which pieces of land will be expropriated, and who will get some kind of environmental protection such as sound fences and so on. More disturbing though is the lack of discussion on alternate routes, including one which could save a lot of disruption. Other groups are fundamentally opposed to the idea of yet more roads in the region, and take the view that the Gateway is a strategy which is itself seriously out of date and is only supported by some business interests.

It is hard to see how any road could be just used for goods movement. Inevitably in a congested urban region widening or “improving” existing roads, and building new links will generate more car traffic. There are a lot of trucks on River Road now and I am sure that the residents of Annieville and Sunbury would like to see them go elsewhere, as the road is not only narrow, it is steep and winding, producing a very unpleasant atmosphere in the village of noise and diesel exhaust. As with Eagleridge Bluffs a tunnel would have been preferred by the local community.

As I have written on this blog before, the problem starts with the “Ministry of Highways” – it has had all these plans to build roads sitting in its map chests and just wants to build as many of them as possible. There is never a careful consideration of how best to achieve the project’s aims and objectives, since inevitably that would call into question the lack of examination of alternatives, such as better traffic management, which in the case of every road scheme I have ever looked at professionally is always cheaper and more cost effective than new build. But in the case of the Gateway what is more worrying is that a small group of directly interested parties have first created and then imposed a growth strategy for the region that is not concerned with liveability but solely with moving more freight.

And in case there is some misunderstanding of what constitutes a “special interest” it is those who stand to benefit financially from a project. The Gateway clearly benefits the Ports and Airports. And those are no longer community facilities – they are commercial operations controlled by the industry and their close allies. The other people who clearly benefit are those who have knowledge of where the province is going to be buying up land. In some cases the province will expropriate existing occupiers. This is common (and in the US is known as “eminent domain”) but is based on an objective estimate of fair market value. What is of greater concern is when the province starts buying up land ahead of projects still awaiting formal approval and pays much more than current value, and the people who own that land seem to have acquired it fairly recently and do not appear to have any interest in developing or using the land in question.

Both these groups are pushing the Gateway at the federal and provincial level, and huge sums of taxpayers money are being spent. The politicians at both levels keep trumpeting the economic advantages of Vancouver getting a bigger share of the trade between North America and the Asian Pacific Rim. But what is missing is any evaluation of alternative economic strategies – for example the greater employment growth potential and lower cost of increasing import replacement – or the environmental cost to the ecosystem and the local community of huge increases in truck, ship, aircraft and railway movements, all of which produce both common air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions in large quantities. Being concerned about such issues does not constitute a “special interest” since it is a common interest for society as whole. That is the difference between growing chorus of many groups who are seeking to question the Gateway, and those who seek to denigrate and silence them. Moreover, it is easy to label community groups as NIMBYs, but that simply avoids dealing with their very proper questions, which are not being answered.

The environmental assessment process is limited. It only looks at local, immediate impacts and can be satisfied by proposing mitigation measures. There is no process to determine if these measures are actually put in place, or if they are as effective as the proponent claims. But there is no environmental assessment of government policies or programmes. The government just does not do it, and does not pay any attention to those who do. The consequences are all around us. And it is noticeable that was was once the view of a small minority, is now becoming much more widely accepted – including by some very succesful businesses – by those who see that “business as usual” is no longer a viable long term option.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2007 at 12:59 pm

Tram move to cost $1.3M

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Richmond News

The City of Richmond will spend up to $1.3 million to house a tram that may never run again, according to a plan going to the city’s parks, recreation and culture department tonight.

This is a sorry story. Richmond has not performed well with respect to the Interurban which pretty much created it. Vancouver and Burnaby have done much better. Vancouver certainly benefited from a former head of BC Transit who recklessly spent the crown corporations funds without proper authorisation on restoring a car now on Vancouver’s Heritage line. Burnaby have recently spent a packet on their interurban car. Richmond has a long history of arguments and law suits and the car is still not in running condition.

I got an idea from a story in the Vancouver Courier today (not on their site at the time of writing) which lauds Hatch Mott McDonald for getting the contract to design the expansion of the streetcar lines between Granville Island and Science World.


If the project goes ahead, the single tracks between Granville Island and Science World, where the Downtown Historic Streetcar runs on weekends during the tourist season, would be replaced with double tracks that would accommodate both the new and old streetcars.

Single cars would run down a grass median in the centre of First Avenue with a car and a bicycle lane on either side. Whether the wires that power the electric cars will span First Avenue or run off posts in the centre of the median will be examined in the report HMM will submit to the city by the end of the year.

My suggestion would be that the City of Richmond lend the tram to Vancouver. They hope to borrow some other cars to have some running by 2010. TRAMS have a lot of experienced people, and the technology of electric traction is common to trolleybuses. So 1220 could be running again, as long as we don’t have to wait for Richmond to get its act together. And we might even have some money from our Olympic venture to contribute. The main thing is that the car run, not be a static museum piece. We have lots of nice pictures in our Archives – which cannot be published because no-one knows who the photographers are. They form a very nice exhibit right now. A few artifacts could round that out. A working car on a line that is actually performing a function is a much better memorial to the interurban.

BCER 1222

Richmond should hang its head in shame. It has already allowed housing to be built on part of the right of way. In future years our children will look at the monstrosity on No 3 Road and wonder what on earth we were thinking of. We could have had a real light rail system here again. We chose not to. Incredibly short sighted and as always driven more by penny pinching than common sense.


Tram moving to next stop

By Matthew Hoekstra

City staff will announce next Tuesday the new proposed home for the Steveston tram.

Last October city council abandoned plans to relocate interurban tram #1220 to Britannia Heritage Shipyard, over cost and community concerns that a shipyard wasn’t the right spot for a historic rail car.

Council opted instead to leave it at its current home in a barn in Steveston Park until a new location could be found.

Now, according to city spokesperson Ted Townsend, a new location has been identified. That location will be revealed at the next parks, recreation and culture committee meeting, Tuesday at 4 p.m. at city hall.

And something I had missed in  the Province last Monday from Derek Moscato

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Blatherwick retiring from chief health post (4:25 p.m.)

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Blatherwick retiring from chief health post (4:25 p.m.)

Vancouver Sun

Well he’s earned it but I am going to miss him. There are very few public servants at any level of government here who have such a straightforward approach to getting the truth out there.

He’s been chief medical health officer for Vancouver coastal since 1984.
Since then, Blatherwick has racked up accolades for establishing the largest needle exchange program and first supervised injection site in North America; creating the Pine Street (now Pine Free) Youth Clinic; and campaigning for safer sex at the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
He claims his biggest achievement was reducing the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke.

He … received the Order of Canada in 1994 for his work in public health and an award as a Canadian Health Hero from the Pan American Health Organization in 2002. He was also the recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2007 at 9:04 am

Posted in personal thoughts

Trees v travel: campaigners take on industry over airport expansion

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John Vidal and Dan Milmo
Tuesday May 29, 2007
The Guardian

A public enquiry is going to be held on the expansion of Stansted Airport. This is north east of London and the most recent of London’s major airports. It is one of the cheaper options and is therefore very popular with the budget airlines to Europe.

Campaigners say the government’s 2010 target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% is contradicted by its aviation policy, which is committed to new runways at Heathrow and Stansted if environmental standards are met. “At the heart of this issue is the contradiction between the government’s aviation policy and its climate change policy,” said Brian Ross, of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign.

This does sound familar doesn’t it. Just like the BC government’s declaration of a new climate change policy and its old highways expansion policy. (Actually, MoTH never changes any of its policies or plans when governments change. It has been operating in the same way for years and sees no reason why it should change now. It is the ministry that builds highways, first and foremost. Anything else is a distraction.)

The airport expansion threatens an old growth forest (even rarer in Britain than here) but the novelty the Guardian grabs onto is the potential appearance of a former minister from Greenland – an Inuit.

Aqqaluk Lynge, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and a former minister in the government of Greenland, is also expected to make an appearance during the inquiry to argue against the expansion.

And the potential for the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is one of those eventualities that climate change scientists really worry about. Because once that goes, it seems doubtful if the warming can be reversed. 

Written by Stephen Rees

May 28, 2007 at 5:55 pm