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

Archive for August 2008

Small steps

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Vancouver Sun

Did you know that some Canadian banks will reduce your interest rate on a mortgage by as much as one per cent if you invest in certified Energy Star appliances, windows, or heating and cooling equipment in your house? That can add up to $2,000 in your pocket. Meanwhile, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation gives qualified homeowners a 10-per-cent green refund on mortgage loan insurance premiums if you buy or build an energy-efficient home, or make energy-saving renovations to existing homes. For more information:

Which, as far as it goes, is a good idea. But it des not go nearly far enough. Why not “location efficient mortages”? Transportation is a very large chunk of most household budgets. If someone can find a home close to work for at least one household member, than the savings of not owning a car are considerable, leaving the occupants more disposable income – just like the energy savings in an energy efficient mortgage. In fact I would hazard a guess that most families spend more on transportation than they do on electricity and heating fuel.

There is also a major social benefit too. It is more likely that people who live close to work will be healthier – if they walk or cycle to work. And they make less demand on the transportation system as well.

LEMs have been around for years in the US, and most lenders will notice if you have less outgoings such as no car payments. What is missing is the CMHC who control such things as mortage ratios (housing loan to income). Since they regulate the amount that people can spend on housing, but not on transport, current policies actually promote urban sprawl. And CMHC has been well aware of this for years. It is very much like the situation with ICBC and distance based insurance. Both very good ideas, both well suited to promote TDM and reduce GHG emissions, but in both cases an unresponsive bureaucracy blocks progress and gives very unsatisfactory explanations for their inaction.

And while we are on this tack, we hear a lot about LEED buildings but not nearly enough about LEED ND. It is fine to build energy efficient homes and offices, but if their location requires long commutes any benefit is very quickly eliminated.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 8:52 am

Bicycles on Transit – Contributor to New Mobility

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Jack Becker via the Trans-Action list

This week again provided the pleasure to listen to Gil Peñalosa. (  He is a dynamic speaker on walking and cycling for life providing good insights on the need to move to the new mobility.

During the evening lecture, Gil touched on the point of bicycles on public transit such as buses and rapid transit.  He argued that we should not be wasting our time advocating for taking our bikes on public transit.  He argued for bikes on both ends of transit trips, such as is so evident in Europe.  Whenever I go there, seeing the thousands of bicycles around transportation centres is such an inspiring sight.  It also reminds one of how far behind in sustainable cycling we are in North America, pathetically behind.

He argued that bicycle carrying capacity of buses and rapid transit systems, like SkyTrain here in Vancouver, will not do much to increase cycling mode share, an indicator of cycling traffic volumes.

His argument was focused on people travelling to their place of work using SkyTrain, in our metropolitan area.

So, all those people who want to take their bikes on Caltrain in the San Francisco area should be have two bikes and lockers at both end of their rapid transit trip instead of taking bicycles onboard.  Caltrans is having a demand on train for bikes, which exceeds capacity even with some of their trains accommodating 64 bikes.

As it happened during the week around his lecture, the local Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition was getting media attention, including newspaper, radio and TV, advocating for more bicycle space on SkyTrain and the Canada line, a new underground line being opened next year.  This is in addition to the VACC’s advocacy for secured bike storage spaces at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations.

Two Different Directions

Peñalosa’s lecture was an opportunity to reflect on two different strategies aimed at increasing the use of cycling for transportation in combination with transit.

Bicycles on transit vehicles should be looked at from the concept of the fit to new mobility and the needs of our cities for the next few decades.  Bicycles on transit vehicles should be viewed from the perspective of needs of people for alternate methods of travel to using a car, not just those who travel consistently to fixed place of work with rapid transit along the route.

The full needs of people were not addressed in his argument, just those who had a rapid transit system along their commuting route.  Rapid transit systems tend to be downtown-oriented, at least in Vancouver, while commuting to work and other travel patterns are moving away to more cross-metro trips.

His argument did not include the greater context of the fit of bikes on transit vehicles for people whose travel patterns to work changes regularly, whose travel pattern includes buses instead of rapid transit, who want exercise as part of going to work, of shopping, of commuting for other reasons, including meeting attendance, of local, regional, and extended touring, of recreational cycling, and of the effect of weather and of darkness and generally options to cycling both ways to their destinations.  The argument did not reflect on the enabling factors which a back-up transportation system provides to potential cyclists should a mechanical or personal body breakdown happen on route.

In Vancouver, cyclists are complaining that TransLink is not moving to three-bike racks for buses.  For some select bus routes such as the ones to the ferry docks, they are calling for much more capacity than that.  For a period when there was a ban on bikes being carried by the newly-arrived New Flyer buses after darkness fell due to the supplier not supplying buses which met the contract, cyclists’ complained as their commutes safety was compromised.  Lack of safe cycling facilities, bridges with inadequate cycling infrastructure, women cycling alone late at night from work were some of the complaints.  Headlights were improperly located on these buses and did not meet the provincial standard.  Darkness tends to set in Vancouver before homebound commutes during the winter months.

Are bikes on transit the only direction to increase cycling mode share?  Of course not but it does provide a linearity with sporadic trip decision options to cycling not available when a person is tied to some form of bike parking arrangements at two transit stations with two bikes, from unsecure bike racks to bike lockers to bike stations.  Bike share does provide a similarity in trip linearity, providing a bicycle is available and in working order without a three or more block walk to the next bike share station.  Bike on transit is just another flexibility along with bike share and secure, guaranteed bike parking at transit stations.  Each providing its contribution in increasing cycling traffic and in growth of the cycling mode share statistic.  Each will appeal to different people and make a contribution in enticing some of those who were identified in the Cycling in Cities study to move from their cars to cycling combined with transit instead.

Will There Be Space on Board Transit For You?  Or Drive Instead – The Choice

So, when you are not sure that there will be a space for your bike on the bus, on SkyTrain, or at a bike racks at the stations, what are you going to do?  Driving instead seems to be a logical solution.  Data from “Cycling in Cities” study of 2005 and 2006 ( ) seems to indicate that there are about 400,000 people in Metro Vancouver who would consider cycling for transportation, if only the facilities were to their liking, which includes transit.  Now, would it not be nice to attract at least 100,000 of these to using their bicycles or cycling and transit.  To put this in perspective, according to Census Canada 2006, there are about 1 million people living in Metro Vancouver who work.  Enticing these 100,000 people to cycling and transit would increase the cycling mode share by 10%.  Not bad, considering that Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share is currently at 1.7% and has not changed in ten years, except for that blip to 1.9% in 2001 during a four-month transit strike, an indicator of cycling elasticity curve if a transportation condition is changed.

The Capacity Argument

Gil Peñalosa argument was that there was not sufficient capacity for bicycles on buses and SkyTrain to really change the cycling mode share.  With bike capacity fully utilized for buses and SkyTrain and with the VACC proposal for bike cars implemented, Metro Vancouver’s cycling mode share for transportation to work could increase up from the 2006 level of 1.65% to 11%.  If three bike racks on buses were implemented, then this statistic could increase to 13%.  Now, how do you get to this level, have people feel that there would be capacity there for their bicycle, and understand trip alternatives should in the infrequent cases the capacity be used up?  Realistically, it would be a significant move forward to get 50% usage of the potential carrying capacity.

In Vancouver, there are about 1,300 buses operating on the average 11 hours per day in 2006 and increasing.  2008 will see another 90 units added.  The fleet is 100% bike rack equipped except for a few West Coast Express buses.  The bus fleet has capacity to carry about 50,000 bicycles per day.  TransLink does not keep statistics on actual bike rack on buses usage.  Although the racks are not fully utilized, cyclists do experience bus bypass with the racks being full, especially on some routes.  The racks are used under any weather condition and time of day or night, from sunshine, warm days to miserable rainy ones or days with ice on the road.  If the bike rack spaces were fully utilized on each bus for the 11 hour of average daily bus service hour, the cycling mode share for bus riders would be about 9%.

On a radio TV interview last week, Drew Snyder of TransLink, Metro Vancouver and region transit and transportation authority, stated that cyclists with bikes on SkyTrain represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  He did not mention that the traffic volume of cyclists using the SkyTrain was being restricted by TransLink, not by the demand of cyclists for that service.  He failed to mention that bicycle parking at many SkyTrain stations can be as little as 4 to 8 bicycles to maybe 130 bike lockers and a couple of bike racks at King George station.  He failed to mention that SkyTrain stations had signs warning that bicycles locked to the fence and to railing would be removed.  So, where is a cyclist to place a bike when the racks are full?  No other option but to take it on the train.  Then the SkyTrain system is constrained to anywhere from four to eight bicycles per train depending on configuration and restricted hours.  Now, there is only one SkyTrain station left where bicycles cannot be taken on.

Any solution of bicycles on SkyTrain requires more cars as the system is under capacity at rush hours.  Then, there are 49 cars due within the next two years to address the current demand shortfall allowing for more people to convert to using SkyTrain.

Theoretically, the SkyTrain system has capacity for about 10,000 bicycles per day on board the trains based on the average operating hours of SkyTrain cars, two bikes per car, and a turnover of twice per hour.  If each car were fully utilized for each hour of operation, then the cycling mode share with bikes on board for SkyTrain ridership would be about 5%.  According to TransLink, the current bikes on board represent 0.5% of the SkyTrain ridership.  This statistic is sometimes reported as part of Station Access Mode Share.  There is certainly room for growth.  Rush hour constraints take out four hours of peak demand per day in the rush hour direction.  This represents a cycling mode share opportunity loss of 0.5%.

If the VACC proposal for adding a half car to each train were implemented, then the capacity for each train would increase by about 20 bicycles.  This would translate into an opportunity for cycling mode share growth of 9% as a percentage of ridership, a significant number.

Maybe the way to satisfy peoples’ needs for flexibility and choice in combining cycling and transit is to provide all three options – secure bike parking at stations, increased bicycle carrying capacity on transit vehicles, and bike share.

Hans-Jurgen (Jack) E.H. Becker

Director, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition

3303-1033 Marinaside Cr.

Vancouver, B.C., V6Z 3A3


Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in bicycles, transit

Transport Hero Camp

with 2 comments

Every two tears CUTA organizes a Youth Summit and this year it was held in Vancouver at UBC. I was invited to the Transport Hero Camp by Karen Fung. There will be reports of the session on the site wiki and pictures by Roland Tanglao and probably, in due course, Jason Vanderhill and maybe a blog post by David Drucker who were also there. The point about bar camps being that everything is hared electronically. I did not take my camera or notebook as I have found I am not as good at multitasking as I would need to be to make an effective contribution and document the event at the same time.

I was involved with the session on how to make employers as aware of transit as universities have become and I suppose that what I have domne, in the spirit of Bar Camp, is write up what I said there rather than here. After all it is not going to be news to any of you. I found myself in the role of the aged guru, but I was very encouraged by the enthusiasm of all these young people who I hope will make a much more positive impact than we of the boomer generation.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Posted in transit

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The Moral Climate

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Carl Safina Orion Magazine

Bill Henderson posted this article on our response to climate change to the BC Environment Land Watch list.

I must have been half asleep still as I thought the source was The Onion – which is quite a different sort of journal.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2008 at 10:58 am

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

Olympic Lanes

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In today’s print edition of the Globe and Mail, John Furlong is quoted as saying that we will have to have Beijing style “Olympic lanes” to ensure that important people are not inconvenienced in 2010. I tried to find it on the Globe web page without success.

In totalitarian, one party states, this is not a new idea. Moscow used to have special lanes set aside for the apparatchiks in their Zils. Since very few could other afford a car, that really did not have a lot of impact on the broad streets of the Soviet capital. In Beijing, not so long ago, there were serious attempts to curb the enormous number of cyclists who were getting in the way of high officials and their friends. But even the junta now admits that the headlong rush to motorisation cannot be kept in pace with new road construction, and switched quickly and determinedly to rapid transit for the masses, which seems to be working quite well, from what little I have read.

John Furlong needs to be reminded that Canada does not – even now – and will not in 2010 – resemble a single party state where Important People (i.e. Mr Furlong and his friends) get priority treatment at all times and in all places. And absolutely not for a two week winter sports festival – which is no excuse for distorting priorities of any kind, least of all our ability to move around our own region.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Olympics

Students ready for fare fight

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Georgia Straight

As the new term approaches the campaign for UPass for all students heats up again. Their argument is that all students ought to be treated the same. This is a nice principle, but the real world is not a fair place at all.

The deal struck with UBC and SFU was forced through by pressure from the top at Translink over the better advice from staff. The system was already under strain, with not enough capaicty and no way to get much  more quickly, and a distinctly iffy financial prospect. But that was ignored in favour of making a nice big splash. Of course, the fact that the CEO’s daughter was just starting at UBC at the same time is merely coincidental, and it is simply mischievous to suggest that such a well respected public servant could possbibly be influenced by such personal conscerns.

Anyway, the money problem now looks like getting worse and Translink simply cannot afford to subsidise every student in the region. And cvertainly could not cope with another influc of riders. Though int he case of some institutions like VCC, where most of the student already use transit with no financial inducement, there is very little ridership to gain but a lot of revenue to lose.

And it might also be argued that there are many other low income riders who also “deserve” a break,  not that anyone is suggesting that our taxes be used in this way  – other than the BRU that is.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

Edmonton round up

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This week I have been in Edmonton, checking out the new extension to the LRT, which opens next year and also the historic trams on the High Level Bridge and Fort Edmonton Park.

On the left, an old Melbourne streetcar on the high level bridge

On the left, an old Melbourne streetcar on the high level bridge

The LRT is going to be getting some new cars – the first are already on site but carefully tucked away out of sight. The system is proof of payment and there is no proposal to install gates. Stations are also unmanned and I have not seen a single armed police officer checking tickets. Because the system is not automatic train frequency is quite sparse – 10 minute headways, 6 minutes at peaks. Trains are lengthened at peaks to  4 articulated cars, but ridership is reported to be an average of 42,000 a day which is not high by LRT standards. One ticket machine stiffed me out of $2 change for my $7.50 day pass.

Siemens Duwag car 1029

Siemens Duwag car 1029

No trolleybuses are running at present as there is too much construction going on. They are scheduled for withdrawal completely in 2010. One argument is that they are not “clean” as the electricity is generated by coal in Alberta – but of course Calgary runs its LRT on clean wind energy. Diesel buses are similar to Vancouver’s but much quieter due to the use of a Cummins six cylinder diesel – not the Detroit Diesel Series 50 which has 4 big cylinders and a very distinctive howl. The additional service at Stadium for the Eskimoes game was very impressive: one incentive for the operators is not just the overtime but a free ticket to the game.

Edmonton airport is a long way out of town in Leduc, with no public transport link except the privately operated shuttle van service.

I would recommend a visit to Fort Edmonton if you are in the area. The recreation of the historical street scenes is very authentic, and rides of the steam train and streetcar are included in the price of admission. Plan to spend the whole day.

1920 St Fort Edmonton

1920 St Fort Edmonton

And this week there is lots of entertainment in town  due to the  Fringe Festival.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

Posted in Transportation