Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for April 6th, 2008

Jaime Lerner

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The link above takes you to a 15 minute talk by Jaime Lerner – who most of us know because of the Curitiba busway. But what he demonstrates in 15 minutes is that he is a lot more than a bus man.

With maverick flair and a strategist’s disdain for accepted wisdom, Jaime Lerner re-invented urban space in his native Curitiba, Brazil. Along the way he managed to revolutionize bus transit, awaken green consciousness in a populace accustomed to litter and blight, and change the way city planners and bureaucrats world-wide conceive what’s possible within the tangled structure of the metropolitan landscape.

From building opera houses with wire to mapping the connection between the automobile and your mother-in-law, Jaime Lerner delights in discovering eccentric solutions to vexing urban problems. In the process he has transformed the face of cities worldwide. Read full bio »

It is probably of no interest to anyone else but the way I found this talk was because someone who calls himself Cap’n Transit posted a comment about the Amtrak train that beat out the plane. And before I allow new posters I check them out, to defeat the spammers and trolls. And in this case I think I struck gold.

I’m not against cars. But your city doesn’t have to be oriented toward them. A car is like your mother-in-law. You want to have a good relationship with her, but you can’t let her conduct your life. If the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law, you are in trouble.

Jaime Lerner

By the way, he is not the greatest advocate of public consultation. He created the city’s first pedestrian street in 72 hours – and before the merchants had read about it in their morning papers.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

Even Amtrak can beat the plane

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Railway Age

March 25, 2008

Regular readers will be aware of the support this blog gives to High Speed Trains, which are showing the world over a new way to travel in greater comfort and style, and often faster than air travel. The best thing for me though is that while planes are once of the worst CO2 emitters, train travel is one of the least offensive in terms of carbon emissions.

Now I was very surprised indeed to learn from Transport 2000 that even Amtrak, not noted for either its speed or reliability, is now beating the airlines

Harrisburg-New York air service ending, attributed in part to Amtrak

Nonstop air service between Harrisburg, Pa., and New York City will cease April 6, an apparent victim of fuel prices, airport congestion, and Amtrak.

Colgan Air, a subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines Corp., began the short-distance service last September. Colgan has not commented on its decision to end service.

But a spokesman for Harrisburg International Airport said Colgan load factors for flights between the two cities averaged 25% to 30%, below Colgan’s targeted 40% threshold. The spokesman noted that, due to frequent flight delays, Amtrak service linking the two cities was time competitive and less costly.

Amtrak, in conjunction with Pennsylvania, recently increased service on the Keystone Corridor, linking Harrisburg and Philadelphia, after upgrading infrastructure between the two cities. It also extended the service onto its Northeast Corridor to provide more direct service between Harrisburg and New York.

The North East Corridor is one of the few places in North America that has long distance, electric passenger trains. And service by Amtrak on the NEC is quite unlike most of the intercity services they provide elsewhere.

Missing from the story is any mention of airport security. But that in itself these days is a major source of delays and inconvenience . It does show that you do not have to be very much better – just give people a viable option. What most commentators also neglect to mention when it comes to North American air versus passenger rail is how much public investment has been made in airports, and many communities see airport building as way of capturing more business, rather than making money out of airport operations.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 11:57 am

Posted in Railway, Transportation

TransLink board cautioned on risks of secrecy

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Jeff Nagel, BC Local News

A longish piece, but worth reading and apposite, given what I have already posted today. Kevin Falcon’s imposed structure on Translink was always going to be a bit awkward to handle. Because the only reason it was created was that Kevin did not like a decision the previous Board had taken some time to consider. They were not too keen on the Canada Line and had some very real questions to ask. I would like to be able to write that they had their doubts about the Gateway too, but if they did we did not hear about it. And what we have now is more like the Port and the Airport which were formerly federal institutions and are now supposed to be local but are completely unaccountable, and operate more like companies than public authorities. Except there are not even the equivalent of shareholder’s meetings.

Jeff has been using the FOI process to get hold of the sort of stuff that the previous board used to put on its web page. Now the previous board did not go out of their way to make it easy to find stuff. There were pdf files of board reports, and they were filed by the date of the meeting. And I could never find anything I wanted by using search engines – but usually somebody knew which day the relevant meeting had been held. Of course, minutes of meetings and decisions were somewhere else, but there was a “Board in brief” that was not the official minutes but was reliable and accurate. And of course the old Board wasn’t directly elected so I am not claiming it was adequate – but it was better than what we have now.

But the point Jeff is making is that this Board is not listening to its own staff. And what must also be remembered was that this Board was not selected for its expertise in transportation, or planning, or public accountability.

The FOI request generated 223 pages of material from the January and February board meetings.

Most of the reports would have been routinely released by the former TransLink board of mayors and councillors, who had counselled continued openness.

The information obtained details numerous decisions made secretly in recent weeks but shielded from public view – including the recent adoption of a whistleblower policy that sets rules for TransLink employees who report misconduct.

Much of the material has been blanked out and it is often impossible to tell what recommendations were made or actions taken.

What is thoroughly unsatisfactory about all this is the inevitable conclusion that since they are hiding, there must be stuff they do not want us to see. Why not? It is not as if this stuff has huge privacy or security concerns. The old Board used to meet in camera, when it had to. It also used to have premeetings, that were not official but “briefings”. So did the old Vancouver Regional Transit Commission. There were no public records of those meetings either.

The instinct of most officials is to keep things quiet and keep their heads down and avoid scrutiny as much as possible. It is not hard to find politicians who get caught up in that ethos. It is profoundly unhealthy. It is not about trying to embarrass people, or make them look any sillier than they are. It is about understanding how our money is being spent. It is about accountability and process. We deserve to kept informed and consulted. We elect governments – they are not appointed by kings or dictators. They serve at the will of the people, who can remove them if they fail to perform.

This is an important principle that has been lost sight of in the rush for efficiency and business like decision making. But public authorities – ports, airports, ferries, transit, road builders and maintainers – are not just about the bottom line, like most companies. They deal with huge issues of public significance, and most of them are more important than the financial rate of return on capital employed, which is all most PLCs care about.

Oh and one other thing before I forget – who are these “whistle blowers”? I never met one in the seven years I worked there. I was aware of people who had been got rid off , who every so often popped in public and pointed out some of the sillier things they were aware of, but they were generally ignored as eccentrics with a personal axe to grind. I do know that the people I worked for were terrified about some things that I knew about would become public. When I was terminated I was made to sign a contract which comprehensively prevented me from talking about anything, with all kinds of dire consequences. It seems that it was standard boiler plate and not specially created for me. But I have never had to keep quiet about stupid decisions because they were plain for all to see. I have never repeated gossip, and I kept no private records, so I do not need to behave like Deep Throat.

But I suspect that if this Board keeps going in this direction there will be people who will find it necessary to give unattributable information to people who can get it out. Or even publish it themselves. Many secretive organisations have found anonymous bloggers in their midst in recent years. I hope so anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 10:35 am

Golden Ears Bridge is halfway done

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This was a prominent story on last night’s Global TV news too. Kevin Falcon making sure that he emphasized his role as an observer and allowing Dale Parker to field the questions about tolls. Falcon also made a song and dance about pedestrians and cyclists but I doubt you will see many people struggling across a long, high level bridge on a daily basis.

“It’s a question of catching up . . . to make sure that British Columbia, and the Lower Mainland in particular, [has] the infrastructure it needs and deserves, so that we can go forward recognizing the population is going to grow by a million people in the next 25 years.”

The infrastructure it needs and deserves is transit not highways. The LRSP and Transport 2021 did not identify the Albion Ferry as being the highest priority for replacement. Nor was suburb to suburb car commuting seen as the greatest need. Yet this bridge is going to encourage many more trips between Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows on one side to Langley and Surrey on the other. And I confidently expect more car oriented development on both sides as a result. Falcon keeps saying there is not enough population to justify transit – but apparently there is enough, or going to be enough, to justify a massive bridge.

By the way the height of the bridge is also worth noting. The air draft under the span was insisted on by the federal government – to maintain the navigability of the river. This is the same government that also refuses to allow dredging in the same reach because it would interfere with fish habitat. Of course any vessel with a need for a high air draft will also need more water under its keel. But no one ever accused the feds of consistency or logic in their decision making.

The reason the Golden Ears Bridge came to the top of the list of capital projects after the province’s refusal to collect the vehicle levy was that it could be financed by tolls. Not that is was needed – or even very important. It was just important to be seen to be doing something. No other merits in terms of the region’s future pattern of development – or even of its transportation system – were ever considered. The ferry needed to be replaced, because of the number of sailing waits at peak periods and the lack of space for a new ferry landing. The south dock of the Albion Ferry being on First Nation’s territory. A larger ferry and a different crossing were never examined, once the willingness of (free) ferry users to pay $2.85 to avoid a long wait was established.

Golden Ears Bridge construction

Photo by Doug Murray

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 7:57 am

Busway outcry leaves transit scrambling

with 3 comments

Victoria Times Colonist

A couple of things here for the residents of Metro Vancouver to envy. First they still have effective control over their transit system – it is the Mayors who sit on the Regional Transit Commission who will make the decisions, and they will have to face the electorate. Secondly, there is still effective public consultation. Most of the article is about how the Commission and staff need more time to consider what they heard. Here of course what consultation does take place is perfunctory and there is no evidence that anything anyone says is heard let alone acted upon.

[Saanich Mayor Frank] Leonard said he is in favour of bus rapid transit, light-rail rapid transit, reducing car traffic and getting people into other options than their cars, but he concedes those are motherhood issues. “The high-level stuff is straightforward, it’s the details [that are the issue],” he said. “And I don’t know if holding open houses and workshops will ever lead to [business owners] coming out in favour of the project.”

But perhaps if they heard about places where reducing car traffic has actually helped retailers and increased their takings they might agree to a trial. All over the world city centres have watched as retail trade has been sucked out to the suburban shopping centres, malls and big boxes. And the most effective response has been to reduce or even eliminate through traffic from shopping streets. This creates a much nicer environment for shoppers, who tend to spend more time and visit more shops when they do not have to deal with lots of vehicle traffic, which makes crossing the street time consuming and makes the place noisy and smelly. Of course I am talking about urban places mostly outside of North America. In most of the US, conventional town centres (“downtown”) have been allowed to die, much to the Walton family’s enrichment.

does have Blanshard Street to take the through traffic. Government Street is traffic calmed but remains open to cars. Business owners fears are real to them, but they protest too much. What is needed is better access and a better environment for all. Not lots of cars and on street parking

Written by Stephen Rees

April 6, 2008 at 7:18 am