Stephen Rees's blog

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

BC Transit gets a rough ride

with 8 comments

Victoria Times Colonist

I got a strong sense of deja vu as I read this news item. BC Transit wants to put bus lanes on Douglas Street in downtown Victoria. The shopkeepers are not happy. It is like a rerun of Richmond RapidBus (it became the more prosaic 98 B-line) all over again. “Say No to Granville Highway” had very little truth, but it had a huge impact.

As with the merchants of Cambie Street – and those on Broadway worried about the new tube – and no doubt people impacted by the other proposals – they have a valid point. What needs to happen is that we – or rather – the people responsible for implementing these projects – need to take this into account. If a highway impacts an endangered species – say a rare variety of dace – then mitigation measures are built to protect or replace its habitat. Well, that is what is supposed to happen anyway. With the Highway #1 expansion in Coquitlam, Kevin Falcon has just decided to ignore its existence. The dace is as doomed as the red legged frogs at Eagleridge Bluffs. But anyway, the process we have for the natural ecology is to try and protect it. What the system does not recognise is that there is an urban ecology as well. That a thriving community needs to be able to function, and that happens when there is extensive interaction within a small area. Density in and of itself is not enough. Services – economic activity – depend on accessibility and proximity.

And what I am talking about here is not just planning for buses, and using a fewer trees in tubs to make it look a bit less grim than most transit exchanges. But integrated planning that starts with understanding what is going on in your city in great detail. And just showing them some pictures and talking about U turns is not enough. You have to understand why they are worried if you are going to satisfy their needs. Part of this is accepting responsibility for your mistakes. Because we are human and our understanding is always partial, mistakes always happen. The trick is to learn from them and not make them disasters by pretending it’s not your fault. In the case of Cambie Street, compensation is long overdue. But the methodology adopted ensured that compensation was not allowed for. Instead of correcting that mistake, Jane Bird and Kevin Falcon made it much worse, by treating the rightly aggrieved business people with contempt. And thus making the job of future transit expansions even harder.

The worst sin of governments with secure majorities is arrogance. It led to the downfall of Glen Clark, and looks like it is going to lead to the downfall of Gordon Campbell. Because he cannot admit that his government has made and is making mistakes. And that is unforgivable.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2008 at 8:43 am

8 Responses

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  1. “If a highway impacts an endangered species – say a rare variety of dace – then mitigation measures are built to protect or replace its habitat. Well, that is what is supposed to hapen anyway. With the Highway #1 expansion in Coquitlam, Kevin Falcon has just decided to ignore its existence.”

    Stephen, I have to admit you’ve stumped me here. What is a “dace”? Is that a small fish or bird? Do you have a link to something on the EAO site where the future, or lack thereof, of the dace is discussed? I have a recollection of seeing it mentioned there, but the details are foggy.

    It leads me to a second point. The City of Burnaby has stated that the previouis Hwy 1 widening for the HOV lane led to some drainage and water quality problems, I think around Deer Lake for example. And some increased noise levels, too. They have stated that these existing impacts from the previous expansion require mitigation along with any additional impacts from PMH1. But I have yet to see any statement from them about what the needed mitigation measures are or their costs. It’s not as if they already have some environmental consultant’s report to submit and say, this is what we already need and it would cost us $x million and you, British Columbia, should be picking up this cost.

    Budd Campbell

    January 25, 2008 at 9:11 am

  2. I was in Victoria in November, and I can totally see why the merchants don’t want that to happen. I think it’s a stupid decision (hence why I wrote the post about the stupid decision making processes in our transit authorities!)

    Great post Stephen.


    January 25, 2008 at 10:42 am

  3. Because googling for Dace took all of 0.11 seconds: Wikipedia and Canada’s Species at Risk Act. And for clarity, it’s a fish.


    January 25, 2008 at 11:18 am

  4. You can find cans of “fried Dace” in any Chinese grocery.

    Ron C.

    January 25, 2008 at 2:57 pm

  5. “Where the Nooksack dace Lives
    In British Columbia, the Nooksack dace is found in three small streams that feed into the Nooksack River in lower Fraser Valley around Abbotsford, Aldergrove and Clearbrook.”

    Chris, this is from the Species at Risk link. I thought that the PMH1 road widening only went as far as Langley, I am not clear on how it impacts the three streams identiifed. Is there a paper on the EAO website which would answer this question?

    Budd Campbell

    January 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm

  6. Victoria could learn from the revitalization of Vancouver’s Main Street corridor a couple of years ago that focussed on buses. The most effective element in this initiative, funded jointly by the feds, TransLink and the City for a very reasonable total of $6 milion that covered Main all the way from the inlet to the river, was the lowly curb bulge.

    In essence, the pedestrian refuge at most bus stops was extended 2 metres into the road allowance to occupy a limited portion of the parking lane. The same treatment occurred at many crosswalks adjacent to bus stops, some of which are at mid-block locations (some cross streets are at staggered). All new crosswalks near bus stops have new pedestrian and bicyclist-activated signals.

    In effect, the bump-outs act like small urban plazas (though could use more ornamentation), and at mid-block crossings have enabled merchants to display their wares and restaurants to acommodate more outdoor seating. They are also safer for pedestrians by lessening the curb-to-curb length of a crosswalk by 4 metres. This is the stuff that adds life to the street. Though I sat on a committee for this project, I was not aware of any merchant resistance even though there was a nominal loss of curb parking.

    From a transit perspective, more buses arrive at the stops on time because there is bus priority signal technology at some key interections, and because the few seconds saved at every stop by not having to pull back into traffic ends up saving up to 20 minutes a shift. The buses block the outside travel lane for 10-20 seconds while loading / unloading, therein mildly inconveniencing car drivers. I considered it a sign of the times that, though this fact was acknowledged, it wasn’t a dealbreaker even to the traffic engineers.

    This example to me seems like a reasonable treatment with the advent of rapid bus for Victoria’s Douglas Street and possibly for Vancouver’s Granville Street again. I would also suggest that with better funding and a higher urban design committment to pedestrians, it would be a way to introduce high-efficiency multiple-unit streetcars (preferably the highly attractive low-floor variety such as in Strasbourg) to our urban fabric, especially if land use planning played in harmony with transit expenditures. Streetcars are able to deliver service and ride quality that people appreciate as well as fewer emissions and greater longevity.

    I would, however, make the distinction between neighbourhood streetcars and regional rapid transit. The former, while compatible with street activity (and doesn’t necessarily require separation), is slower. The latter is by nature faster and works best when there is room for its own corridor, or is grade separated, albeit more expensive.


    January 28, 2008 at 12:00 pm

  7. Yes Main Street was once of the real successes of the Urban Transportation Showcase Program: kudos to Tamim Raad.

    I would not be so prescriptive about light rail. One of its great advantages is adaptability to circumstances. For example, in Manchester and Croydon, it replaced heavy rail on existing tracks for part of the route but also has on street running for the city centre. One major disadvantage of grade separation is increased access time, which makes it less useful for short trips. Surface operation is not only cheaper, it is easier to use and gets in the way of the cars which, in my view, is exactly the point!

    I was going to doubt the possibility of Rapid Bus on Granville as it would abstract traffic from the Canada Line. But since there is no provision to lengthen trains – and longer platforms at underground stations are going to be very pricey indeed – there will be a day when lack of capacity on the Canada Line may force a review of Rapid Bus. Though I find Oak Street works well for my #488.

    Stephen Rees

    January 28, 2008 at 12:17 pm

  8. Stephen, I have no problem with light rail displacing car traffic. Bring it on! But I have immense problems with it being a hazard to pedestrians. I admit to speaking with a bias since a cousin was struck and killed as a pedestrian in Calgary by one of their C-Trains in the mid-nineties. In fact, two dozen people were killed there in the 1990-99 period in perfectly preventable accidents at crossings and exposed sections. This does make a somewhat indelible impression on an urban designer, and helps explain why I try to make a clear distinction between neighbourhood trams and regional rapid transit lines.

    It’s my view that using the term “light rail” as a generalized panecea for our transportation woes is the more prescriptive notion. I think it depends greatly on the specific circumstances at various locations.

    The Broadway corridor, for example, possesses 25 intersections in the dense Main / Kingsway – Arbutus section, and 17 more in the medium dense segment to Alma St. I counted 18 signalized intersections from Main to Arbutus (about 75%), and they are heavily used all day by pedestrians and cyclists to cross Broadway. Though some will contend it is an extreme challenge to squeeze LRT tracks and stations into the 30m road allowance without having to dynamite 20 storey buildings and maintain some semblence of a sidewalk system to boot, I would contend that placing high-capacity rail over so many pedestrian crossings is a tragedy waiting to happen. I challenge those who disagree to stand at Broadway and Willow (the likely location for a VGH station) with a 30m measuring tape and actually try to outline a station with chalk. Granted, it’s safer to attempt this exercise on a computer using a scaled VanMap or Google Earth image.

    This and the fact we’re stuck with SkyTrain technology on the Millennium Line is why I have no problem with the ML being extended to UBC in a subway on Broadway. I only hope they design it to meet future capacity (100m station platforms), for this is the second most dense Central Business District outside of downtown, and UBC is the largest employer outside of the provincial government, and too many of them curently drive their cars to work.

    On the other hand, given less density, wider corridors, a dedicated right-of-way (preferably in a separated median) and crossings confined to key intersections and stations, light rail works admireably. The UBC Design Centre for Sustainability held a design charette on the proposed Evergreen Line and did a great job fitting it in the fairly narrow St Johns corridor as well as making the Barnet Highway industrial corridor down to a human scale (see

    King George Highway is about 35m wide at Surrey Centre and doesn’t narrow down to 30m until you’re way south of Bear Creek Park. This corridor is also a prime candidate for light rail and the density is very slim indeed.


    January 28, 2008 at 4:45 pm

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