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

Archive for August 23rd, 2008

Line land could be lucrative

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Richmond News

Investing in real estate within 500 metres of three of Richmond’s new Canada Line stations could spark a cash bonanza.

A report released this week by real estate experts Landcor Data Corporation predicts it might take a few years for property values to increase substantially.

Of course. Not really news though is it. In fact that is why the Canada Line was done ahead of the Evergreen Line – it met a political objective that had very little to do with the Olympics or the need for better transportation in the region as a whole. In just the same way that the “Gateway” has almost nothing to do with our need for port facilities or the need to serve what we do have better but rather to provide Mr falcon’s friends and supporters with more lucrative real estate deals.

The study is based on the change in values along the Expo line since 1986. And what is not said (but should have been) is how successfully the NIMBYs have prevented any change in their neighborhoods around  many stations in  Vancouver – and even some elsewhere.  A huge investment in improving mobility and potentially increasing transportation choice produced much less than it could have. Because, as the report observes,

Another vital component to the property boom is the people who’ll live in the housing near the stations, said Don Campbell, of Real Estate Investment Network.

“It will work if the people are earning lower than the median income,” he added.

“They are the people that tend to use transit more.

“It’s been shown across North America that areas with higher incomes tend not to use transit anyway.”

There is a fear among some Richmond residents that the Canada Line will bring social ills like increased crime. Their apprehension is based on the stigma attached to certain areas around Skytrain stations.

Now the stigma is actually the product of careful news management. Any crime is reported in terms of its proximity to SkyTrain. No link to SkyTrain is actually needed, and, as far as I know, the use of SkyTrain to transport stolen property is not widely noted. I have not seen many unboxed tvs on the train, for example. Indeed, I have been stopped by police who felt I must be a potential housebreaker just because I was driving an older minivan.

And one of the reasons that property prices closer to SkyTrain are that better off people are willing to buy them. They appreciate ease of movement as much as anyone else, and are often quite pleased to be able to get rid of one of their cars at least.  Note the qualifier “in North America” – which is in itself telling, and also ignores the experience of cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington and San Francisco where gentrification followed rapid transit – and local governments mandated a percentage of affordable housing as a precondition to development.

And , of course, one of the things Vancouver planners like to point out is that we are not like the rest of North America. We do not have freeways, apparently.

It would be very much better policy if some of the value created by transit could be retain by the public sector to help pay for the provision of more and better services. But of course the developers are very reluctant to share their unearned profits with anyone. And governmnet got out of low cost housing provision years ago, and shows no sign of returning except for minor showcase activity for SROs in the DTES prior to 2010 – which has actually lost lots of low income housing as a result.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Finally, some sanity in mass transit

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Montreal Gazette

A transit agency has decided to introduce a bus service with toilets, wifi and air conditioning. And there has been an outcry from other transit agencies and the unions about how inequitable this is.

The Gazette sees this as an excuse to get into the need for competition – between transit agencies. Piffle. The competition is from the private car which offers a level of service quality that no transit service can match. The car is always there when you need it. It takes you from where you are now to where you want to be. It is comfortable and can be customised to meet even the most unusual requirements. You set the temperature, sound system, put what you like in the cup holders and the CD. You can even smoke!

I had to sit through a lot of this the other week when I had to listen to a rant from the Bus Riders’ Union about how wrong it was to try to win over “the choice rider”. The only people who matter, according to the BRU are people of colour (presumably the idea that some can be wealthy and brown has never occurred to them) and single mothers on welfare. The same kind of mentality affects a segment of the general public. One PNE I had to play host aboard a new series of buses just bought for the soon to be introduced #98 B Line. Somehow my insistence on service quality had actually survived and these buses had cloth seats. No one would believe me that the type of cloth would be easier to clean and hardier in service than hard shiny plastic. (I was appalled to see that BC Transit had specified plastic “park bench” type seating for the former Hannover LRT car.)

The key to improving the transportation mess in this region is to get the transit mode share from around 11% where is has been for the last ten years up to 17 to 20%. And that means getting those willing to change out of their cars. NOTE not all of them. Just enough to double transit mode share. That means 80% are still going to be in cars. This is called realism – and it is only the first step. But we do have to finally make a serious effort to achieve that.

West Coast Express is a favourite target – for transit lovers and haters alike. Because it is seen to be “elitist” and expensive, and can be said to have contributed to the growth of longer distance commuting. But what it really represents is an acknowledgment that, since we are seemingly incapable of producing housing that is both desirable and affordable close to workplaces, long distance commuting is not going to disappear if we ignore it.

What puts people off transit is the long wait at the bus stop (or station) – often in conditions of discomfort and uncertainty. Even if you can get the schedule information, that is of no use of the bus is missing or ran early – both far too frequent occurrences. When you get on board, can you get a seat? (In Vancouver at peak periods probably not) Will it have adequate leg room? (No if the bus is yellow, seems to be Translink’s answer.)  And all this gets repeated with every transfer – with the added joy of watching your connection disappear into the distance as your bus has you locked inside while it waits at the traffic lights “for safety reasons”.

Almost anything that can be done to make buses more comfortable, reliable and convenient will help. I think one of the more significantly innovations made in this part of the world are the shuttle buses put on by Microsoft to help its employers get from the bus exchange to their building on the Redmond campus. I do not see any equivalent services in this region.

The Canada Line has repeated the mistake made by Edmonton thirty years ago – grade separated stations with only one escalator – and that usually going up. It cannot be of any surprise at all to learn that many stations have effectively no escalator service at all at any one time due to breakdowns and the need for maintenance. This tells you that the designers of the Canada Line do not use transit themselves – or can only see the command “get the initial capital cost as low as possible”. In other words they are irredeemably stupid.

So hats off to the bright people at the MTA, and let us all hope that someone at Translink can learn something from another city.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Posted in transit

Port Mann Congestion Claim Questioned

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The Straight

Kevin Purton of Surrey Environmental Partners has photographic evidence that Kevin Falcon’s claim of “14 hours a day of congestion” is far from the truth.  Seven hours would be closer to what most people would concede as “congestion”. But is seems that anything less than the posted speed can be considered “congested” according to Garland Chow of UBC’s Centre for Transportation Studies.


Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2008 at 12:03 pm