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

Archive for June 9th, 2008

confuse drivers to cut crashes

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Irish Times

Dublin is going to try the system that Hans Monderman started in Drachten (Netherlands) and has also been used successfully, I am pleased to note, in Kensington High Street in London.

“Without any signs, traffic will automatically slow down and there will be fewer accidents because drivers will take more care,” he said confidently.

“The environment is what controls speed, not signs or rules. It’s psychological. Signs like ‘slow’, ‘stop’ and ‘yield’ are often not seen by drivers. If you take the signs and kerb lines away, and say ‘go figure it out yourselves’, you’re creating uncertainty – and that’s safer.”

Evidence from abroad, rather surprisingly, supports Mr Henry’s novel proposal. Five years ago, the Dutch town of Drachten removed signs and traffic lights as part of a “naked streets” experiment – and accident figures plummeted as drivers became more cautious.

The idea of “going Dutch” was taken up by Daniel Moylan, deputy leader of the Tory-controlled London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Mr Moylan said it was “about re-civilising the city, to the benefit of all people who use the roads. We want to stop this top-down system of signs and signals to keep drivers and other road users apart, and give everyone back a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.”

And that’s what was done in Kensington High Street three years ago.

Following the removal of pedestrian crossings and guard rails – those sheep-pen railings so favoured by traffic engineers to keep pedestrians corralled – accidents have been cut by 44 per cent, compared to 17 per cent for London as a whole.

Urban spring

I do not know if any of my colleagues from ITE read this blog – or indeed if any Canadian traffic engineers ever pay attention to what happens in Europe. I think it is about time we tried this out here. There are far too many signs and signals. Too much traffic, moving far too quickly, in most of the region. And noit nearly enough enforcement of the vast multiplicity of rules and regulations. So lets see somewhere that makes drivers think twice before they step on the gas.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Road safety

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£3 billion sweetner lies at heart of Manchester congestion charge plan

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Manchester looks like becoming the second city in Britain to introduce congestion charging, though there are some significant differences.

The deal has been cleverly designed by Government to ensure that local politicians of all parties must risk their political necks by approving it. Seven of the ten local authorities in Manchester have to vote in favour of the deal for it to go ahead. Once they have accepted it, they will not then be able to claim that it was forced upon them.

It may sound like the councils are being bribed into charging drivers up to £5 a day, but they will be wary of making this accusation themselves because he who accepts a bribe is just as guilty as he who offers it.

The Manchester charging scheme — masterminded by Lewis Atter, a director of KPMG accountants and former head of the Treasury’s transport team — will be a bolder experiment that the London congestion charge, because a much greater proportion of the city’s citizens will have to pay. About 20 per cent of drivers will cross one or both of the two charging cordons each day; in London, fewer than 5 per cent of drivers pay the £8 congestion charge.

Unlike the London scheme, which was rushed in during Ken Livingstone’s first term as mayor, Manchester will have five years to get used to the idea. The city will also see public transport steadily improving over that time because virtually all the £3billion will be invested before charging begins in 2013.

Lewis Atter is not a name once heard you easily forget, but as a young recruit to the Department of Transport (as it was then) back in the mid eighties, this young man really impressed me. I was an Economic Adviser in Economics Local Transport and he was supposedly working for me. He was clearly very bright and needed no managing at all. In fact the best thing I did was to let him get on with it and show us what he was capable of. I am pleased to note that my assessment of him then has been shown to be correct. And he has porbably made much more than I have in the intervening period!

It is of course very unusual to see the public transport system improved by such a huge increment – and obviously is essential if congestion charging is going to work. It stands in stark contrast to the way we are tackling similar issues here. No congestion charges are planned, but two major river crossings are going to be tolled. Then, some time in the far distant future, transit might be improved.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Sullivan-Ladner feud damages NPA’s image

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Miro Cernetig analyses the fallout from last night’s selection of Peter Ladner as the mayoral candidate on the NPA. “Vancouver’s natural governing party” has been suffering from arrogance for far too long, and a lot of people had been hoping that Carole Taylor would run as an Independent “she thinks party politics at city hall are silly and a waste of time”.

Membership in the NPA is now around 4,000 while Vision, the new centre left party that broke with COPE, has 13,000. Ladner says that the voters want change, but he has been so careful to be a good NPA soldier, that he really now needs to distinguish himself from the administration that he has spent the last few years supporting. A difficult, but not impossible task.

The important thing strategically is for the broad left to ensure that their own doctrinal differences do not get in the way of presenting a united front in the face of what seems to be disarray and resentment – and a big gap between the sitting NPA councillors (as well as the party bigwigs) and their supporters. And maybe the issues that have got the neighbourhood groups annoyed – EcoDensity and the Burrard Bridge being the two that I have spent most time on – will now fade away and be replaced by some sensible and responsive city planning. I also suspect that there are a lot of small businesses who felt betrayed by the treatment of the Cambie Street merchants and thought that Sam and his well connected masters should have done a lot more to put pressure on Gordon (former Mayor himself) and Dobell (the Campbell’s consiglierie and former City Manager) to compensate them for the Canada Line mess. For while the NPA might like to think itself “non-partisan” it is, of course, the old fashioned conservative right wing junta that thinks it runs BC and Vancouver, and is entitled to do so indefinitely. But by ignoring some of its core constituency it has risked the support of the voters.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Posted in politics

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SNC-Lavalin wins contract

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SNC-Lavalin has been awarded a $649,000 contract to design a buses-only lane on Highway 99 in Richmond.

The engineering contract is for the design of a lane from Westminster Highway to Bridgeport Road. Design is to be completed by this fall and the bus lane is expected to open in fall 2009.

The bus lane is intended to free northbound bus-riding commuters from traffic jams in other lanes as they make their way to Bridgeport Station on the rapid transit Canada Line, which is to open in the fall of 2009.

Just a small piece in the Sun – and that is all of it. Basically it is about restriping Highway #99 and probably moving some of the centre barrier. The right of way has room. This is actually a queue jumper needed because the Oak Street Bridge has only two lanes and the insertion of traffic from the Shell and Bridgeport Road on ramps tends to bottle up the freeway. There are, of course, no ramp meters, and the third lane north from the tunnel ends at Westminster Highway.

I am in favour of bus lane queue jumpers. This has been needed for a long time – and would have helped north bound buses trying to get on to Oak Street Bridge. But those buses are being cut back. A few minutes saved here and improved reliability will offset a little the additional penalty of the mode transfer at Bridgeport Station. But not be enough, I think, to retain every bus rider who owns a car and will now think once again of the comfort of a one seat ride into Vancouver instead of having to get off the bus, get up to the station and then try to squeeze in to a crowded train to stand the rest of the way into town.

But the important point is that this contract is being awarded by the Ministry of Transportation. Who refuse to even consider a similar solution to the problem of congestion on Highway #1 leading on to the Port Mann Bridge westbound. Because a queue jumper there would work equally well. And could get buses across that Bridge at a much lower cost than building a whole new bridge to duplicate the existing one. But of course, if they did that, it would call into question the entire strategy of freeway expansion. And the manifest falsehood that it is not possible to run buses across the Port Mann because of “14 hours of congestion”.

UPDATE June 9 In the print edition of the Richmond Review there is an interview with me by Matthew Hoekstra. I would have liked to link to it but the BC Local News web page does not have it.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 8:47 am

Posted in transit

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Drip, drip: the sound of water and money down the drain

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Carey Doberstein presents the case for water metering.

Basically the case is made that making consumers pay for the extra $50m that water meters will cost is worthwhile as it will save uncounted costs in expanding infrastructure to meet demand.

I would find that argument more convincing if something was also added about how much water the system itself wastes, but it is true that infrastructure investments tend to be at least an order of magnitude greater than the cost of water meters. It is certainly more compelling than the suggestion that we need to conserve water here because there are shortages of water elsewhere. I am also less than happy with the idea that consumers have to pay more for water to stop them using it so that it can be sold by private sector companies that stand to make vast profits out of what is (or should be) a commonly held resource. It is our water and does not belong to the bottlers or the power exporters – or some future bulk water shippers.

There is also a need to ensure that if we are obliged to pay for metered water from the mains we be allowed to use water in ways that are more efficient, which are currently prohibited by building codes and other municipal policies and regulations. So the reuse of grey water and the collection of rainwater – as well as the use of systems that allow rain water to percolate back into the soil rather than flush municipal sewers and storm drains would be necessary too. Indeed, one of the features of good design that was common to every charrette that I have been to has related to water treatment – which is as important to smart growth as walkability.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in regional government, Urban Planning, water

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