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

Archive for May 31st, 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