Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 28th, 2007

Mr Rees Takes the Bus

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It has been a while, but since there is an upcoming transit camp, and downtown parking prices are becoming alarming, I decided to buy a book of two zone tickets and try the bus for a change.

Before I get on to that though, I do want to reiterate my complaint that parking pricing in Vancouver is actually perverse. Most commercial parking operators try to maximize the turnover of their spaces. But in Vancouver commuters are given discounted prices, while short term parking off street is penalized. Moreover, many spaces are taken out of the market permanently through long term contracts. For instance, if you try to park at SFU downtown you will find that nearly every space is reserved. What this means is that visitors who come downtown for various reasons are actively discouraged from coming by car, but those who work downtown are given preferential treatment. In terms of generating revenue for downtown businesses this is not a very clever policy. And in terms of making money on scarce off street parking space, very poor business.

Translink has introduced a new travel website – but it simply bumps you back to their strange trip planner when you try to use it to find out about buses. I feel sorry for those unfamiliar with the transit system who rely on this tool. They must have some very odd trip experiences. For instance, it suggested that I take the Community Shuttle to No 3 Road, the 403 southbound to Highway 99 and then a 601 to Vancouver. Which might seem faster by the schedule but is actually quite a high risk scenario. Two transfers means twice the opportunity to miss a connection, which with infrequent routes can be very expensive in terms of time wasted. And these are not timing points, so there is not a very high probability that any operator will wait for you to make the connection. And, by the way, though I specified I wanted to be downtown by 11 , the offerings all had later arrival times. Geographically, the most direct route is 401 to Richmond Centre then the B Line, which is what I did. And B Line being frequent, if I missed the connection that way it did not really matter too much. In fact due to the bus company’s policy of installing far side stops, any connection is longer and more hazardous than it need be since it imposes at least one if not two road crossings, back across the intersection – and where you were probably not let off the bus while you watched your connection sail past.

B Line on NO 3 Road

I had thought that the B Line passenger information system had been taken out – but it was working, and working well. I will have to find out more about that. The buses were running in bunches, of course, with two trying to work “skip stops” but forced by people determined to get off and general traffic to stop everywhere. Anyway, door to door time just over an hour from home to SFU’s Wosk Centre arriving about 11am. Which is both as advertised and really not bad compared to driving. Of course, I should have been better prepared as the stops do not have shelters. My jacket might be adequate for driving, but not for hanging around on street corners in the rain, which you have to do when you take the bus, if only to ensure you do not miss the one you want through running early.

The return trip was much worse. The shelter at Waterfront is completely useless as it has no back or sides. The info system was being very pessimistic, and the promised “next B Line in 20 minutes” turned up in ten. There was, inevitably, a large youth asleep across the courtesy seats at the front – with his feet on the seat. He remained there unchallenged. But as with the morning journey I did get a seat all way. The driver was one of those lead foots who ensure that standing passengers get thrown around due to sudden stops. The transfer at Richmond Centre was over a twenty minute wait – again no shelter and heavy rain, but I eventually got a bit of a doorway and the 401 was on schedule. So the one ahead must have either run early or not at all. Either way the crowding was significant. The bus had no heating working in the passenger area. The windows were fogged and wiping away the condensation did nothing to improve visibility as the exterior was so filthy – probably from salting the previous day due to a rare early snowfall. For a stranger to the area or someone not used to the stopping pattern of a bus route this is not a trivial issue, but I did note that passengers were ready to assist each other. And I even heard the “thank you” call to the operator as they left by the back door – something I have only ever encountered here. Journey time coming back 90 minutes – mostly because of the transfer at Richmond Centre and the low frequency of local buses even at the afternoon peak period.

Overall, what would have been a quick run into Vancouver for a lunch time meeting turned into an all day trek. And this is without anything actually going wrong. Yes it was cheaper – though that Translink journey planner showed that driving a small car (if you don’t put in parking) for that journey is cheaper than the bus. So if you get free parking as a perk of your employment then the chances of you putting up with this level of service is not great.

Why cannot buses be heated in the passenger area? Why is there no requirement to turn on the interior lights for all the time when passengers are on board? (Vancouver bus operators seem to be more sensitive to reflections on the windscreen than any other transit system I have used). Once upon a time, Canadian buses had a warm wall system that pumped hot air between the inner and outer skins – and up through vents in the sills to keep the windows clear of fog.

And I did try that text message service – you send the stop number to 33333 and it texts back the next scheduled buses. It didn’t work. But then if I try to call the traffic station (#730) that doesn’t work either so maybe it is an incompatibility with the Rogers network.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

Canadian Tire big box hearing–the fix was in: Ned Jacobs

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Photo: Ann Grant

The following is a first hand report from last night’s City of Vancouver hearing on the proposal for a new, very large store on Marine Drive by Ned Jacobs, who originally distributed his report to the lrc mailing list.

It is reproduced here by courtesy of the author

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I understand that when the planning staff report on EcoDensity came before Council Tuesday afternoon, “sustainability” and “reducing our eco-footprint,” and “improving neighbourhood centres” were the words on every councillor’s lips. But when night fell on City Hall, councillors belonging to the party known as the Non-Partisan Association underwent a dramatic transformation which would have made Count Dracula and the Wolfman of Paris drool and turn green with envy; for suddenly EcoDuncity and EcoLarceny reigned supreme.

It wasn’t just that every NPA Councillor voted for the rezoning that will result in a 255,000 square foot highway-oriented retail power center sprawled across a site larger than 4 (Canadian) football fields, adjacent to one of the lowest density areas of the city; it was the specious excuses, soaked in greenwash and dizzy with spin. Councillor Suzanne Anton made much of the few hundred car trips a day Canadian Tire’s PR rep had claimed the development would “repatriate” from big box centres in Richmond and Burnaby, completely ignoring the thousands of additional car trips it would have to generate to turn a profit. Peter Ladner focussed on how “unfair” it would be to turn down the rezoning after the applicant indicated they had already spent $20 million on the site and proposal; but he conveniently disregarded the South Fraser Street BIA , whose representative had protested that it would suck business out of their neighbourhood centre. Several Non-Partisans praised Canadian Tire to the skies for agreeing to build to the LEEDS gold standard. It was really just a smart business move as the increased capital costs will almost certainly be paid off in energy savings over time.

Staff were in a somewhat awkward position–tasked to ensure that the application fit within the existing policy guidelines for “large format” (formerly called “highway-oriented”) retail, while at the same time developing “EcoDensity.” At one point, planning director Brent Toderian expressed willingness to examine the application in light of the new sustainability guidelines–if Council wished. But they didn’t wish hard enough; David Cadman’s amendment to that effect was voted down by the Non-Partisans, 5 to 4. One speaker, Richard Campbell, astutely observed that the proposal didn’t even satisfy the old policy which limited retail uses to those inherently unsuited for neighbourhood centres. Originally, the zone was not supposed to include clothing sales, but the Non-Partisans have also chipped that protection away, making the Marine Drive large format retail zone even less consistent with CityPlan or EcoDensity. But for me, the saddest aspect of this dreary business is the missed opportunities: this site and neighbouring parcels–so well situated in regard to transit–have been relegated to a car-oriented single-use monoculture, when they could be put to much more productive use (for more on this see my recent article in The Tyee.

I figured the fix was in several months ago when planning staff mentioned to our delegation of concerned citizens that they felt they couldn’t just return the same application that the previous Council had rejected. So they had improved the proposal with two left turn bays and reduced access from the Ontario Street bikeway. I realized then that Canadian Tire must have been unofficially assured by the Non-Partisans that this time it would pass, and therefore felt no pressure to introduce significant changes. The clincher, though—and it was a shocker even to this jaded observer—was when out of the blue Anton moved an amendment that the area devoted to clothing sales (tenants Mark’s Work Warehouse and Winners) be upped from the 40,000 sq. ft. limit recommended by staff, to 60,000. Her only explanation was that staff hadn’t convinced her that it would hurt business in neighbourhood centres, and that Oakridge shops were always marking up their prices, anyway (very scientific). When another Councillor reminded her that there was a Zellers at Oakridge, and it showed no signs of going upscale, her face turned red and she hung her head, but refused to utter another word to justify the amendment, nor would any other NPA councillor, despite urging from the opposition. A telling point was that Canadian Tire hadn’t even asked (publicly, that is) for the bonus. This amendment passed, of course– by one vote.

Vision’s George Chow had been away on leave when the hearing commenced two weeks ago, and therefore couldn’t vote, allowing Sam Sullivan to conveniently absent himself from the final night of hearings, the debate and the decision. But it sent a clear message to the big business community: EcoDensity will be available when you need it, but if it gets in your way, don’t worry—EcoHypocricy is here to stay.
Ned Jacobs

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Urban Planning