Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 7th, 2009

Passenger rail rights at risk: Langley Mayor

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The Tyee’s Hook blog has some very important news for those of us concerned to about bringing passenger rail service back to the former interurban line along the valley.

An agreement that protects passenger rail rights in the Fraser Valley is set to expire this summer and Langley Township Mayor, Rick Green is calling for its urgent renewal.

The Master Agreement is between BC Hydro, who owns the right of way, and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), whom bought the tracks and the right to run trains along them.

Green says the agreement’s renewal is critical because it guarantees the province, operating through BC Hydro, the right to run passenger service through the Pratt-Livingston Corridor, a stretch of the former interurban line between Surrey and Langley.

The problem starts with the fact that this agreement was apparently a secret. Quite why that would be I am not sure. Most of the interurban is quiet – with one or two freight trains a week. But the middle bit through Langley is critical to getting frequent, long freight trains to and from the BC Rail line to Roberts Bank. In the long run, if passenger service is to be frequent as well then some re-configuration of the tracks will be needed. But for right now, as everyone seems to be saying, we need to keep the options open. But after the election ….

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Burrard Bridge bike lanes doomed to failure

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Miro Cerentig’s column in the Sun is almost entirely wrong in its forecast. He says that since the previous experiment failed this one will too, and he claims that a computer model run proves it. No it doesn’t. A skilled model user can make a model produce almost any result. That is because nearly everything about a model can be “calibrated”. Essentially it is a spread sheet and users can change not only the values in the cells but also the algorithms too.  

Firstly, the capacity of the “link” (the bridge) is not nearly as important as the signal settings at the light controlled intersections (“nodes”) at each end of the Bridge. Currently the three lane each way configuration gives drivers the illusion of a length of free flowing traffic. The bridge is much longer than street sections between lights – and there is no parking or turning activity. Cars on the bridge move very quickly  – and much faster than the posted speed. Then they have to stop and wait at the light. That is what determines how much moves across the bridge – not the number of general purpose traffic lanes. 

Secondly, in any urban environment, people moving ability is much more important than vehicle moving ability. Copenhagen recognized this 40 years ago and has been reducing car capacity steadily ever since. Even New York City now recognizes this is the only way to make Times Square usable – and is going to close several blocks of Broadway to do it.  

Vancouver has always been behind the times. We have people like Charles Gauthier to thank for that. He is the spokesperson for the Downtown Business Association – and he is stuck in the 1950s mindset that car traffic is essential to vibrant cities. He seems to be unaware of the commercial success of car free streets here and elsewhere. He is still determined that drivers matter more than anyone else. Quite why we would want people to bring two tons of equipment with them everywhere they go is not clear. What is clear is that what makes cities work and traffic flow are antithetical.

Any reduction in car lanes will create similar traffic jams and play havoc with the city’s traffic flow.

Twaddle. Traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. There is an equilibrium of congestion as the trip rate and trip length both can vary depending on available capacity – and the availability of non-car travel opportunities. Car trips into downtown Vancouver can be reduced by making walking, transit and cycling more attractive. Indeed that is what the city’s and the region’s plans have said for decades and only the dinosaur DVBIA seems not to grasp this simple concept.

…reducing car lanes on the bridge will cause gridlock, forcing automobiles and buses to idle, creating more, not less, greenhouse-gas emissions.

Again, more twaddle. Gridlock is not a stable condition. People do not add themselves to traffic when they know they cannot move – they do something else. Gridlock is caused when impatient drivers enter an intersection when their exit is not clear. Traffic management techniques to deter such behaviour are old hat. Yes, it still happens sometimes – and eventually a cop has to intervene to sort out the mess. Collisions and other incidents also stall traffic – but it gets moving again after a while.

The other inescapable fact worth noting is there’s also no cycling crisis that needs solving. In fact, bicycling traffic on the Burrard Bridge has actually plateaued, as the city’s own report notes: “Growth of cycling and walking on the Burrard Bridge, which increased 30-40 per cent between 1996 and 2001, appears to have plateaued in recent years.”

That’s a pre-determined outcome of not doing anything. The Burrard Bridge is not safe or pleasant for cycling or walking – and that deters both. In the rest of the city there has been a steady increase in both as new routes for both have been opened up. Because the car drivers have won every round of the Burrard Bridge battle so far, the walkers and cyclists have been deterred. That’s not what we should continue to do. That is no way to make the place livable. That was never what was intended either. Stopping the downtown freeway was just the start. We knew then that we did not want a city destroyed by the “need” to serve cars. That was the right decision then. We now need to take the next step and steadily reclaim the urban core for people – not cars. And the Burrard Bridge is the line drawn in the sand by the car drivers. They will lose – if not now then eventually – as cars are not sustainable in cities. Even if every one of them was zero emission I would take that position. They simply take up far too much space which is then sterilised and cannot be used for much better purposes – like sitting around and watching the world go by. Which, it turns out, is one of humanity’s favourite activities and a key to “urbanity”. Just read some Jan Gehl.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2009 at 10:50 am