Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 4th, 2008

Chicago could be a toddlin’ town again

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The Economist provides a useful summary of the disaster of transit in Chicago. I put a link to it here since we need every so often to know that however bad our system might be there is always someone who is worse off than you. The Economist calls it “ineptitude” but all the players will think they are being rational. That’s the problem with democracy. It requires the elected representatives to think more broadly than their own local interest, and the short term rewards of being selfish. That is what is meant by “responsible” government. Not just thinking about how to I get re-elected, but what is best for all of us in the longer term, even if I have to take some flack from people who have less public spirit.

I do not think that Chicago is going to decide that the way to solve this problem is to have the state governor appoint the whole of the CTA board – and dictate to them how to pay for the system by making state funding conditional upon following his prescriptions for fares and taxes. I suspect that eventually a deal will be done – and I must admit that sometimes when you forecast a “doomsday” it actually has to happen for people to take it seriously. Unfortunately American politicians have been playing variations on brinkmanship for many years and it has become part of the culture. And in other cities in the US this kind of crisis has seen private sector solutions – often extra-legal ones – pop up quite quickly, as one person’s crisis is another’s opportunity. But I am glad we can watch this from a distance as I suspect this “learning opportunity” will be very uncomfortable for some for a while yet.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 4, 2008 at 10:20 am

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Cameras to nab illegal parkers in S.F. bus lanes

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San Francisco Chronicle

This is something we need to use here. I am very much in favour of camera enforced traffic regulations. I think the abolition of photo radar here was a simple vote grabbing device – and why this does not get the same opprobrium as a “cash grab” I do not know.  Its easy to be popular – it is harder to do the right thing and much more important for our well being.

Bus lanes are much easier to enforce than HOV lanes. As far as I am concerned, HOV lanes here have been a thinly disguised way of expanding highway capacity. The only exception being Barnet/Hastings. In London the bus lanes have red tarmac (once the exclusive privilege of the Royal Family – the Mall being the only street in Londion formerly paved that way). This cuts out the “I didn’t know it was a bus lane ” defence.  It is also very obvious what is a bus (they are huge and red) and what is not. And they don’t just go after parkers – they go after all lane violations.

The other thing that happened in Central London was the congestion charge which produced a revenue stream which has been largely devoted to increasing bus service – because the trains were already full. So getting a more frequent and reliable bus service increased transit capacity quickly.

For a very long time the traffic engineers in Vancouver have been concerned mainly with vehicle movement, though I detect through conversations with those that I know personally this is changing. What needs to happen is complete replacement of the “vehicles per hour” units used in traffic calculations with “people per hour” – or, even better, the value of time (which allows for freight too).  On a city street with controlled intersections 1,000 vph per lane is about all you can achieve – which translates to 1,300 people at current average occupancies. A bus like a B Line can carry 100 people (a bit of rounding up there to make the sums easy – that’s a full standing crush load. So getting a combined bus service at 13 artics per hour is not too unusual – and on streets with many frequent bus services can be easily exceeded. Quiet simply, a lane of street is a rare and valuable commodity, and allowing all and sundry to use it as they wish is something we can no longer afford.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Traffic, transit

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