Stephen Rees's blog

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

Expected commuter crush on SkyTrain didn’t happen

with 9 comments

Vancouver Sun

When I first heard this story yesterday evening on the CBC tv news my initial reaction was that the system wide ban on cyclists on SkyTrain was an over reaction. But reading further in this story and reflecting on the CBC vox pops it seems that drivers in this region are indeed very reluctant to give up their cars and not a few professed ignorance to the closure of the Patullo.

Meanwhile, commuters crossing the Fraser River Tuesday morning faced long delays as the Pattullo Bridge remains closed.

The Port Mann Bridge was backed up to 200th St. in Langley at 7:30 a.m. because of the extra traffic load.

There were also long delays on the Alex Fraser Bridge and George Massey Tunnel because of the fire that forced the closure of the Pattullo Bridge on Sunday.

But again it was the roads leading up to these crossings that saw the worst congestion. It is the back up from the intersections  that represents the “storage capacity” of the system.

Unsurprisingly there was also a press statement from Get Paving BC – their solution to every problem is to call for more roads and bridges. And Jordan Bateman honestly thinks that having additional capacity beyond current demand would actually be useful in providing some kind of safety margin in the event of  closures in the future. Which of course is utter nonsense unless we build a few new bridges but keep them closed – and only open them when an incident forces the closure of another crossing. I cannot see that as being popular or affordable – or even defensible. The pressure to open more bridges is understandable but utterly misguided, because traffic expands to fill the space available.

What Monday demonstrated was that it takes time for the message to sink in. Everyone thinks that some one else will adjust so they don’t have to. The recognition that one’s own preferred routine has to be disrupted comes slowly because it is not palatable. And often once you have committed to a route – especially a controlled access freeway there is not much in the way of alternative immediately available. Recently Steveston Highway – where I live – was closed ddue to powerlines being down – and I happened to be one of the drivers diverted by that. The long and circutouis route via Dyke Road was only familiar to me becuase that is one I use when I want to go for a bike ride with no particular destination in mind.  And that is much shorter because on a bike I can use the Horseshoe Slough trail. If I had known that the highway was going to be closed I would have planned accordingly but a uniformed police officer tells you “you can go left or left” there is nothing else you can do.

I suspect that on Monday those that did know said to themselves “how bad can it be?” and then found out. The coming days will show how adaptable we are.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in Transportation

9 Responses

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  1. In defense of motorists, in many parts of Metro Vancouver transit is just not there or not practical. I now live in Coquitlam (a 5 min. walk from a SkyTrain station). Once, after walking from my home eastwards to Mundy Park, I decided to wait for a bus to go back to either Lougheed or Braid stations. I waited and took me longer than by walking. It isn’t practical for most suburbanites to use transit, even in an emergency, the more so if both the home and the workplace aren’t by major transit routes.

    Red frog

    January 21, 2009 at 1:59 pm

  2. A friend of mine lives in Coquitlam and travels a lot for work. His biggest complaint is that there is no freeway from Coquitlam to YVR. “What kind of back-asswards city is this” and so on.

    My question is, if your job requires you to travel a lot, and you need easy and quick access to YVR, why did you CHOOSE to live in Coquitlam?

    The answer is that he likes living there.

    So, he has obviously set his own priorities and needs to shut up and live with them.

    Priority 1 for him: Cul-de-Sac livin’!


    January 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  3. p.s. didn’t mean for that last comment to sound mean – more sarcastic.


    January 21, 2009 at 3:10 pm

  4. There is a freeway – that route (Highway #91) just requires him to drive through New Westminster first

    Stephen Rees

    January 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

  5. The repairs will be completed within 2 weeks – they developed a way to use an old Canada Line bridge to repair the gap.

    Ron C.

    January 21, 2009 at 4:08 pm

  6. Shane, Your friend may have moved to Coquitlam for the reason I moved from Vancouver to Coquitlam: because it was the cheapest area I could afford (while- in my case- being able to go to work downtown by rapid transit). One of my colleagues owned a studio in Metrotown. After his second child was born all he could afford was an older home in Surrey. Quite a few people have to live farther and farther away but rapid transit doesn’t follow. I tried to explain to Falcon that the reason Europeans, Japanese etc. (Eastern USA)have rapid transit and lots of commuter train lines is because these were built BEFORE housing. It is the rail lines that brought housing, not the other way around! Of course he wasn’t convinced at all.

    Red frog

    January 21, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  7. The LRSP is based on “growth-shaping” – that’s why the Millennium Line was built where it was – and condo towers have followed in Burnaby (but not Vancouver). This follows the precedent of streetcar lines “opening up” uninhabited areas for new housing.
    The current problem is that you have a lot of “naysayers” who criticize a line because of low ridership in the growth phase and because politicians are averse to negative press and critics, they would rather fill a “need” so as to reduce the negative impact you’d get with a low ridership line.
    It’s the classic chicken or the egg argument.
    i.e. WRT the Evergreen Line – the northeast sector is building denser communities on the assumption that rapid transit is forthcoming – but even now, there are people that say that there isn’t enough ridership to “justify” a line. The fact that you need to “justify” it (or formulate a business case) is what is preventing the “growth-shaping” aspect of rapid transit from leading its expansion.

    Ron C.

    January 22, 2009 at 12:51 pm

  8. Transit needs to both serve and shape. There are areas today where demand exceeds the capacity of the roads. Building there makes sense because ridership will begin strong and only grow stronger. Building along inexpensive rights of way in the expectation that development will follow should also happen before the rights of way disappear and development chooses other locations.

    Early Vancouver had streetcars and the interurban long before the population filled them. Like so many lines that now make up the London Underground, rail was laid across farm land and through recently felled forests by men who saw the potential to buy cheap land, provide transportation and then sell the land at a hefty profit. This economic engine drove virtually all passenger rail development between 1850 and 1950. The same thinking clearly shaped the Millennium Line.

    Of course that line still managed to put a few stations in really weird locations: VCC-Clark where a steep hill prevents connection to the #22 bus, Sperling where highway development and park land completely isolates it, and Sapperton that appears to have been put in the most awkward spot they could find.

    I recently re-read the business case for using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line. What a load of crap. Ridership numbers for LRT were half that for ALRT despite having more stations and having those stations in more accessible locations. People take transit when it’s convenient so the LRT numbers should have been at least equal. Widely spaced stations hidden along rail lines only generate ridership when you force existing bus passengers to get off there. As for capacity, LRT can easily manage 10000 per hour. Cost wise the study claimed that LRT would have to be tunneled across roads it was already running along. I’d say the entire thing was intentionally skewed to make SkyTrain look cost effective when it isn’t and to recommend a solution that wouldn’t threaten any road space. The car lobby certainly has our politicians by the short curly hairs.


    January 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm

  9. Thank you David for a very good post!

    Red frog

    January 24, 2009 at 1:30 am

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