Stephen Rees's blog

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

Another great student project

with 3 comments

One of my online correspondents recently wrote to me that she hangs out on facebook to absorb the energy and enthusiasm of young people. I have been really impressed by some of the work being done by students, and thanks to the internet, this no longer just languishes in neglected folders, but gets shared. Paul Hillsdon, Ryan Longoz and Erika Rathje are all great examples.

An exercise in cartography (in pdf format) at UBC by Michael Kushnir has recently been completed and is doing the electronic rounds thanks to Richard Campbell (who does not blog but posts compulsively to email lists, thank goodness).

This map neatly illustrates where the density is in relation to railway lines, and tends, in my view, to support the thesis that we can better link to existing dense places by using the mode which actually brought most of them into existence. That is, as opposed to building even more infrastructure for a mode which we know has brought mostly misery and ill health in its wake. For if you are going to cross large areas of no people at all much better that you do it with trains that do not stop than roads which inevitably bring development with them.

The failure of the road system in the 1930s was due to what was then called “ribbon development”. New divided highways built in Britain as part of the unemployment relief efforts were not like the German autobahns (limited access roads). As a result, development sprang up along them, greatly reducing their utility as longer distance routes due to the number of accesses onto them. And covering some prime agricultural land in the process. At that time farming was in a slump due to the use of “Empire Preference” (which meant grain came from Canada, lamb from New Zealand and beef from Australia – and Argentina, which wasn’t in the empire) and the lack of need for horse fodder due to the mechanisation of road transport. A similar pattern afflicts the Fraser and King George Highways here today. Across the US the “defense” interstate highways enabled longer distance commuting and produce the freeway on ramp cluster that has made much of the country into a corporate clone of parking lots, fast food, gas stations and motels – ringed by big box retailers and outlet malls. And was eagerly copied by Doug McCallum in South Surrey.

The idea that you should use government investment as a way to shape growth seems to be anathema to our present provincial government. They even go so far as to claim that widening the freeway will not influence growth – even though they have been promoting development at highway interchanges in this area. They are even better at it than Judge Doom. The map also shows mode share – and how, at present, transit does not meet much need in the exurbs. That is because the distances to be covered are too great to be covered in a reasonable time by a bus that stops at every hole in the hedge. Assuming there is a bus service at all, which usually there isn’t. So speedy rail cars stopping only at centres will encourage transit oriented development there – provided the municipalities zone it properly.

It requires some concerted effort, by all three levels of government to create a framework whereby we will stop doing what we have been – since we know that doesn’t work – and try another approach, which has been demonstrated many times to be effective. And which will serve us all much better in an oil starved future.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2008 at 2:58 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Oh come on Stephen. No link love? 😉

    Paul Hillsdon

    April 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm

  2. Sorry, an oversight now fixed

    Stephen Rees

    April 19, 2008 at 4:27 pm

  3. Would be great to see job density + population density to get a better sense of trip origins and destinations and thus areas with sufficient development intensity to sustain transit.

    Frank Lee

    April 20, 2008 at 4:44 pm


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