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

Archive for August 2008

On the Street: Clear Sailing

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A New York Times feature – images and commentary by Bill Cunningham of the closure of Park Avenue to cars. This was a one day opportunity for people to take over the street – and they did, on bikes, segways, shopping carts, skateboards. Even walking!

The impact of this kind of official action is, I think, a lot more hopeful than demonstrations like the regular Critical Mass rides. It does not have the aggressive attitude for one thing. And there is some ability for people to plan their own routes to get around the closed road. At the same time it does demonstrate what cities can become if we get serious about reducing the impact of cars.

One criticism voiced in the piece is that some merchants complained they lost business. But Park Avenue really does not depend on cars for access – simply because for much of the time the traffic just clogs up the road, and there are very limited opportunities for parking. Most people in Manhattan do not drive to get there. They come in by train, subway or ferry. Or they live there. The majority of vehicles you see ont he streets of Manhattan are taxis or delivery vehicles. And the cross streets were all open so anyone who needed to could get within a block of their desired destination.

34th Street

34th Street

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2008 at 10:34 am

“Vancouver … has very mediocre cycling facilities,” Gil Penalosa

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Hat tip to Richard Campbell who keeps the trans-action list up to date with stuff like this.

I was sad that I missed Penalosa’s presentation at the SFU Harbour Centre lecture hall last week (August 20). But he has voiced what I have often thought but largely kept to myself. I had not thought of his criterion

“Anytime we [create] a facility for pedestrians or
cyclists, always keep this in mind: Would you send an eight-year-old
and an 80-year-old there?” Penalosa says. “If you would, it’s
safe enough. If you would not, it’s not safe enough.”

But it sounds like a pretty good yard stick to me.

I also wonder if sometimes the reason we get the facilities we do is due to pressure from the bike lobby – who tend to be “kamikaze cyclists” too. I was amzed when I first came to BC that cyclists were allowed to use the hard shoulder of what to me looked like a motorway (Highway #17 through Saanich). I used to use the Ridgeway bike route in Vancouver – which is nearly all shared with traffic – a lot of it very agressive traffic using the route to get around arterial congestion. The short  section though a small park was a blessed relief. As with Richmond after a while I started planning my own route through less busy streets and paths. Lanes, I quickly discovered, were not a good idea.

Many cycling advoactes seem to work from the principle that since bikes are traffic then they have the right to go anywhere cars do. I am not at all sure that this rights based approach is wise, nor does it seem likely to get our cycle use near European standards. We also seem to have educated an entire generation that bikes are traffic – since the angriest motorists are those who expect cyclists to obey every rule as though they were in cars – which obviously cannot work.

Riding a bike in Paris without a helmet – or even cycle clips – was a revelation as drivers of cars, trucks and busses all accepted that the cyclist has a right to be there but also needs some allowance and great tolerance. This attitude also seems to extend to pedestrians – to the extent that many simply walk across when their light is green, without looking first – a suicidal thing to do in Greater Vancouver.

The other thing that I have said many times is that becuase Vancouver has been told (mostly by Americans) that we are doing well, we assume we are perfect. And that is very far from the truth. We also seem to be stuck with a “not invented here” attitude to most suggestions of how things could be improved. Which I can only hope changes as the boomers get replaced by new blood as they start to retire.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 30, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Posted in cycling, Road safety

Zoom Airlines Goes Bust

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Zoom Airlines B767-300ER

Zoom Airlines B767-300ER

I saw this story on the CBC this evening and no doubt it will be all over the press in the morning. As usual passengers were given no warning as creditors slapped court orders onto planes.

I travelled by Zoom for the first – and only – time this year, when I went to London and back from Paris. They were very cheap compared to Air Canada and generally similar in terms of service quality, although the planes seemed a bit shabby and the interiors worn. I did wonder about their viability – I have been writing here for some time about the effect of rising fuel costs on airtlines – so I loaded up on flight insurance before we left. As usual the tv news managed to find some tearful people who were trying hard to make other arrangements, and finding the price of last minute ticket purchases to get home very expensive. It is not as if this was an unfamilar story – any  more than the Gulf Coast being the target of hurricanes, but as usual many are unprepared.

There will be other similar stories in the coming months. More airlines will go to the wall. Demand for air travel has also started to decline, as the economy begins to adjust to the new reality. But I wonder how long it will take for the boosters – the people who back Gateway and airport expansions – to wake up?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 28, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Air Travel

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Death leads to call for physically separated cycling network

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SURREY – The recent tragic death of a cyclist in Surrey has city council candidate Paul Hillsdon leading the call for safe cycling facilities across the city. The cyclist, in his 50’s, was hit from behind by a Honda Accord in Newton, and was pronounced dead at the scene. One of Hillsdon’s main platform pillars is sustainable transportation and his vision for cycling is bold – putting safety of the rider first and foremost.

“On average, bikes travel 15 km/h, while cars and trucks go 60 km/h +. Why these two forms of transportation are designated one and the same is beyond absurd,” said Hillsdon. “Surrey has, at best, bike lanes on some roads, and a thin white line of paint is not, and was not in this case, safe to cycle on. If a cycling route is not safe enough for a child or a senior to ride, then it is not safe.”
Hillsdon’s vision calls for a three pronged cycling network across Surrey. Neighbourhood roads would be traffic calmed with bike lanes, recreational greenways would meander through parks and natural spaces, while all major arterial streets would feature physically separated bike paths. Physical separation could be achieved through relatively cheap means such as bollards, cement blocks, or even small plant-filled boulevards.
“People should not have to fear for their lives on a bicycle. Over 1/3 of all citizens in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam use bikes as their main form of transport and it’s because the main travel routes are physically separated from the roadway and cars. It’s not rocket science!”
“If we want to get people out of their cars and onto bicycles, we need a safe network and this will only be achieved be showing leadership in the region and building physically separated bike routes along major arterials in Surrey. Cyclists like myself will not stand idly by while cars kill us for choosing a healthy, and environmentally friendly, mode of transport.”

Written by Stephen Rees

August 28, 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in cycling

We must protest Highway to Hell

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Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Courier

Nothing you have not already read here, but this is a neat summary. And, as he says, while they still do not have federal sign off, it seems very unlikely that the civil servants at Health Canada and Environment Canada who raised some very important questions will get any backing from their political masters. Stephen Harper seems to regard the melting of the polar ice cap as simply an opportunity to drill for more oil. The fact that this may also lead to military confrontation with the Russians is probably a bonus from his perspective.

Protest all you like, it will not stop the Gateway. I happen to think that a legal challenge might. Despite the lax nature of the gutted legislation, even the most cursory glance through the documents submitted for the EA shows that there was no due diligence. The gaps and errors are glaring. The whole process was a sham. The government owes the people a duty of care and it is quite clear that narrow vested interest has overridden the public good. And I think it would not be too hard to get a judge to agree and get a writ requiring that they do the job properly. But it would, of course, be expensive. The law is open to everyone, just like the Ritz Hotel.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 28, 2008 at 10:45 am

Posted in Gateway

Time for action not studies

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The Province

An announcement of yet another study into transit for the South of the Fraser has been greeted with an unusually stongly worded response from an Asper newspaper. The study will look at lots of things, apparently, and include the use of the old interurban line but it is not going to report before the election.

You would be right in thinking that this is not sitting well with advocates for Rail of the Valley. Becuase commissioning a study is the easiest way to put off a decision. It gives the impression of activity when in fact nothing changes. Except in this case it looks like the Minister of Transport is acting with indecent haste to get his favourite highway project moving even though he does not yet have the necessary approvals in place or a P3 partner, come to that. Because Kevin Falcon would much prefer to see much more highway oriented development than a change in direction.

There actually is no reason at all for not proceeding now with a demonstration project. This would not be difficult to do – or much more expensive than the consultants. The difficulty for the government of course is that they could not control the outcome. Becuase even if their favoured consultants do surprise them by admitting that there is a case for rail for the valley. it is easy to bury reports – after all, that has been done more than once on this issue. On the other hand if people show that they will actually use a trial project it is much harder to kill the idea.

This government is no longer popular. Unfortunately, the crunch issue seems to be the carbon tax.  And the big pay rise for senior civil servants. Although Campbell’s personal rating is low, so is that of Carol James. And when reporting a province wide poll, no attention is paid to local issues. I think it is probably fair to assume that most people south of the Fraser still think that twinning the Port Mann is a good idea – in just the same way that so many Americans are convinced against all the evidence that drilling in hitherto protected areas will help reduce gas prices. But in both cases, the response ought to be – why are we so unwilling to improve the choice that people have? Yes we are currently car dependent – in both the US and South of the Fraser. So of course we are concerned about traffic congestion and gas prices. Those both have immediate impact on individuals and how they think. But people are also well aware that they have been consistently lied to. That there never was any real doubt about global warming – just a campaign of misinformation funded by the oil companies. They will also recall that building the Alex Fraser Bridge did not cure congestion for very long.

At the polls South of the Fraser next year some other issues will surface – that may not reflect widely outside the region but will certainly affect some formerly safe Liberal seats. Delta will not soon forget the TFN treaty, the power lines and the SFPR. North Surrey will also still be smarting, and places like Bolivar Heights will be a warning to those who live along Highway 1. But also the people who have been asking for improved transit for years will still be wondering why, once again, the City of Vancouver’s West Side seems to get favoured treatment (the UBC tube train) and the lack of basic transit service in Surrey, Langley and elsewhere is once again put on the back burner – even with threats of service cuts if Translink does not get to dip into their pockets again.

There is going to be a rally in Chilliwack on September 13. I hope to see some of you there. And prior to that a letter to the editor campaign – see, and click on “Rail For The Valley Campaign” to find instructions and newspaper email addresses.

UPDATE Friday 29 August

Nathan Pachal and Joe Zaccaria talk to the Langley Advance

Written by Stephen Rees

August 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Light Rail, Railway, transit

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The yield to the right concept

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Not politics, but traffic regulation. And one of my hoby horses. A letter appears in the ITE Journal this month that is worth repeating here as it introduces information that I was not previously aware of. The author is Kenneth Todd, and while I do not have his permission to reproduce it I think he will be pleased that this idea is promulgated.

The yield to the right concept originated in France. Charles-Marie Gariel, a professor of physics at the School of Highways and Bridges, proposed it in 1896 as a rule when two cyclcists arrived at an intersection at the same time (source: Gariel, Charles Marie. “De la Règle à adopter en cas de Rencentre sur deux Routes qui se croisent” Revue Mensuelle du Touring-club de France July 1896 pp. 246-247) The rationale was that the cyclist on the left had no need to stop or slow down too much when yielding to the one on the right. Gariel only considered the conflict between two cyclists, not three or four.

Paris, France adopted the rule in 1910 for intersections where two roads of equal width met, and another rule gave drivers on wide roads priority over those on narrower ones. The League of Nation’s International Convention relative to Motor Traffic adopted the rule in 1926, as did the US Uniform Vehicle Code. It remains valid in all US states and by international convention in all countries where traffic drives on the right side of the road.

As William Phelps Eno, the American “father of traffic control,” and others pointed out in the 1920’s, the rule paralyzed traffic when drivers entered an intersection from all directions and obstructed others from leaving. (sources: Eno, William Phelps Simplification of Highway Traffic Saugatuck CT USA Eno Foundation 1929 p.15   McClintock, Miller Street Traffic Control New York NY USA: McGraw Hill 1925 pp 126-127  Lefferts, E B “Giving Man on Left Right of Way” National Safety News December 1922 p40) The rule is rarely in force today, but it shows that early law-makers lacked the most elementary understanding of the intersection problem. Reversing the rule so that the driver on the right gives way to the one on the left would make an intersection function like a mini-roundabout and avoid the installation of countless traffic signals.

The problem is that the ITE Journal is not read outside of the profession – you have to be a Member to get hold of it. I doubt that it is in many public libraries. So I am taking this bold step of doing more than a brief quotation in the hopes that this idea will spread.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Traffic

Tagged with , ,

Vancouver’s walkability — a sign of good health

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Dan Burden, Special to the Sun

(Dan Burden’s Great Pacific Northwest Tour on Town Making begins in Seattle on Aug. 28 and arrives in Vancouver Aug. 30 for a two-day amble.)

Dan Burden is senior urban designer with Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin and founder of Walkable Communities Inc.

In terms of walkability, the Vancouver region is strides ahead of other North American regions.

I am glad that is what he thinks. It is nice to know that we are doing something right. But I am surprised at his use of the word “region” as the only examples he quotes are in the City of Vancouver – False Creek and West Broadway. These two locations are hardly representative of the City let alone the region. They are the exceptions, not the rule.

So what creates a walkable place? Walkability is a composite of accessibility, health and place. It includes an abundance of sidewalks, trails and crossings. But it is much more than that. It is the presence of buildings, large and small, providing “eyes” for well-located retail, parks, schools, civic spaces.

All of which I endorse, but feel forced to point out that this does not describe most of this region. “Abundance of sidewalks” is hard when most residents refuse to pay for them outside their single family homes. Larger developments usually get the sidewalks squeezed out of them by the municipality, but they are hardly part of a connected up network of safe routes. Pedestrians always prefer straight lines – as any “informal trail” on flat land will testify. But most walking paths meander. Nice for recreation, not good for personal transportation – and downright dangerous in some cases. For example the bit of the BC Parkway through Central Park in Burnaby, which was designed as a rhododendron walk and is now used by speedy cyclists (the parallel Interurban right of way is broad and straight – and unpaved).

The suburbs are not designed for walking. They are designed to deter through car traffic. People do walk in them – mostly on the road. Sometimes there is a shortcut between the houses to enable one to get out of the subdivision to the arterial roads (all wide and fast and horrible to walk next to) where the buses run. When they have a service, which is by no means universal.  But lots of luck getting a new direct path out of existing home owners, who can only see security and privacy issues that threaten their interests.

The great challenge we face in making our region sustainable is making the suburbs into walkable areas. That will not be easy or cheap. And we have hardly scratched the surface

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in Urban Planning, walking

Free ferries raise ire of users

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Nanaimo Daily News

“Freshwater ferries” inland in BC are all offered without charge. People who live on the Gulf Islands think their ferries should be treated in the same way. There is the usual argument about BC Ferries being part of the provincial highway system – which I think is a normative not a descriptive statement. It is certianly not historically accurate. If anything they were part of the national railway network (service to Vancouver Island being a condition of BC joining Canada).

What is somewhat surprising is that the Albion Ferry is also included in this discussion, as that is no longer a provincial service but was downloaded to Translink.  So far as I am aware there is no specific funding for the ferry but was covered by the transfer of gas tax points in the same way that downloaded roads and bridges were. The story also fails to mention that the days of the free ferry from Surrey to Maple Meadows are numbered. It is to be replaced by the – tolled – Golden Ears Bridge. Most people using the ferry said they would be happy to pay a toll to avoid the long waits for the ferry and get a shorter journey time.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2008 at 10:42 am

Posted in Transportation

2,865 bikes recovered from world’s most prolific cycle thief

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The Guardian

It is not often Canadian stories get noticed in the UK. But the Guardian has caught on to a story that has had the Toronto bike community talking for some time.

As with most theft, in order for there to be a market for stolen goods there needs to be a “fence” – and people who will buy things at prices well below their market value without asking questions about where they came from. In this case it sounds like there was a stake out. But I seem to recall that there has also been talk of using bait bikes in the same way that bait cars are used to catch car thieves.

The story also seems to lend credence to the idea that bike theft is organised and endemic. It is not just an opportunistic crime but a professional activity that needs to be taken seriously by law enforcement.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 10:20 pm