Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 2009

I Witnessed a Contravention

with 7 comments

Yesterday while riding my bike I came across the following scene

Bad Parking 1

The “no parking at any time” sign is clear and incontrovertible. Nearly the whole of Williams Road is laid out like this – three traffic lanes – one in each direction, and a centre bidirectional turn only lane – with a bike lane next to the curb. Parking is not allowed in the bike lane. It is also not allowed on the sidewalk. You can look that up in the Traffic by law.

2.3 No person shall stop or stand a vehicle:
(a) upon a sidewalk,

(h) at a place in contravention of a traffic control device prohibiting stopping;

(A ‘traffic control device’ means a sign)

Bad Parking 3

Once upon a time in my career I was involved with parking policy issues – which included the thorny question of parking enforcement. In Central London in the early eighties, parking regulation enforcement declined as the police insisted that any increase in manpower (we still called it that in those days) go to police officers and not traffic wardens. By 1984 chaos ensued. Even the tickets that were issued were not collected as the courts simply did not have the time to hear cases. Britain’s licensing system was such that it was not possible to refuse someone car insurance for unpaid parking fines. Indeed, the legal system itself regarded “fixed penalty notices” simply as an alternative to court action – they were not actually “fines”in law.  The Transport Road Research Laboratory had looked at the use of the wheel clamp in places like Denver. There, when you had more than ten unpaid tickets, your car was clamped by the authorities, and not released until the fines were paid. An early version of a handheld computer (a Psion I think) was used to track the tickets. This did not appeal to our Minister – who feared a backlash from the civil liberties lobby – but he suggested clamping for any parking infraction. The trial of the clamp was far more successful than anyone predicted.

All law depends on a level of compliance. Most people obey posted signs most of the time. But every so often they will try a “contravention” – and hope they can get away with it. Unfortunately after a while this tends to expand. The more they “get away” with something, the more they will do it. The clamp was the method we used to get back to a tolerable level of compliance. Because you cannot have a warden – or a police officer – everywhere, all the time.

I tried writing to the people whose names appear on the signs. I sent them links to the flickr images. Glen Foreman – one of the two ReMax agents replied

Stephen , thanks for the photo shot. As a fellow cyclist , I can appreciate your concern and took care to neither block the bike nor the pedestrian access. It ain’t pretty but for 2 short hours , I’m just trying to do my job and be a good citizen.
Good biking …
Glen Foreman
RE/MAX Westcoast

Well, I cannot say I agree. But what was really discouraging was the response I got from the Richmond By Law people. Instead of sending them just the “Stephen Rees wants you to see a photo” message that flickr provides I wrote the following

I observed and photographed an incident today where a realtor had parked partially on a sidewalk and partially on a bike lane. The location on the south side of Williams, west of No 2 Road is clearly signed “No Parking at any time”.

There are three images posted of this incident on flickr [which is where I inserted links to all three pictures]

It is also possible to determine from those pages the exact time, date (June 21, 2009 at 14:36:25) and location of the images, and the license plate is clearly readable

BC Collector Plate B13-884

The vehicle was being used as a static advert for an open house, and the advertising is also clearly visible.

That seemed to me to provide enough evidence to stand up in any possible dispute. So I was really frustrated to get this reply

Hello Mr. Rees,

Thank you for your e-mail.

Please note that City of Richmond Parking Enforcement staff are unable to issue parking tickets unless the incident is witnessed first-hand.

However, if you forward you concern to the RCMP, they may be able to pursue the matter further.

Should you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.


Ian Oliver

Community Bylaws
City of Richmond

And I got a very similar response from the RCMP. Apparently you can’t send them email – but you can call them. And if I printed off the whole lot  I could go down to the police station and lodge a formal complaint. It is curious that you can, for instance, take a picture and email it to the CBC evening news and it will be on that day’s broadcast. I have done that quite a bit with weather pictures. You can send email to your MP or the Prime Minister. But not the Mounties.

Glen Foreman was not being a “good citizen”.  He was trying to sell a house using a method that forced cyclists into a traffic lane – and anyone on the sidewalk – with a sight impairment for example – would have been inconvenienced. He could easily have put up signs showing an open house without having to park a car to put the sign on its roof. Indeed he did! And he did contravene more than one bylaw.

When people break the law and there are no consequences, compliance shrinks. It seems to me  that Glen does not acknowledge any wrongdoing or express any remorse. I think he should. Possibly by using social media – like flickr, this blog and twitter – I will create some pressure on him – and his agency – to reconsider this practice. I hope so. After all, the amount of money he makes – since he can afford a collector car Jaguar as well as his work vehicle – a paltry parking ticket will not make much of a dent. Although people do get more enraged by parking tickets than almost any other penalty – and will try to fight them. Indeed I have – and have succeeded – but felt disappointed that the issuing officer did not come to court to fight his side.

And in case you agree with Glen that he was not blocking the bike lane take a look at this. Not that it matters. He was breaking the law. Even if he doesn’t get a ticket, maybe he can get some public discomfort.

Bad Parking 2

Nice Jag. Shame about the driver.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Posted in law enforcement, parking

Tagged with ,

What’s stopping the bamboo bike from shooting into the mainstream?

with one comment

The Guardian

Alright. I will admit it. I came across this story in the Guardian minutes ago and wanted to blog about it – just because I had got to it before Richard Campbell or Ron Richings had told me about it – and all the others on the various list serves they inhabit.

Bamboo Bike

Bamboo Bike

It looks really neat – but what is really interesting is what Matthew Sparkes has to say about it. Bamboo is easy to grow. The technology for making bikes out of it is readily transferrable.

“Even the joints are made of natural hemp.”

No I did not make that up!

It doesn’t have to be a racing bike like this one either. It could be a mountain bike or a heavy duty cargo bike. Even a ‘bent!

You can get them in England – but they are pricey. I just hope that some enterprising soul sets up in business making them here. Does bamboo grow well here?   Well it probably will soon – and we will need to diversify as the climate changes

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Posted in bicycles

Tagged with

“Identity crisis for new BC greenway?”

with 5 comments

BC Local News

I am indebted for the headline and the link to the Sightline Institute who wrote in their daily newsbrief

British Columbia’s new 25-kilometre, $25 million Central Valley Greenway [CVG] that opens Saturday will give walkers, joggers and cyclists a fairly flat route from the Westminster Quay to Vancouver’s False Creek. But the greenway can’t seem to make up its mind whether it’s for commuters or recreational users.

That’s because the minds behind the Greenway wanted to try to do both things. The majority of trips that are made in this region everyday are actually quite short. That includes many vehicle trips that could be easily achieved walking or cycling. The main deterrent – apart from the deep held prejudice “why walk when you can ride” – is that neither is as pleasant or as comfortable as they could be. Mostly because of all those vehicle trips!

We do not do mixed use very well – mostly because we pay far too much attention to those who drive and not nearly enough to those who walk or use their own motive power in other ways.  Pedestrians and other self powered road users are relegated to the edges – not just of the road but to consciousness. Vulnerable road users, after a collision, nearly always have to listen to a driver saying “I didn’t see you.”  We are not yet ready to attempt the “naked streets” approach – which forces drivers to behave like social animals again instead of automata.

The  CVG was an idea that had been around some time. But the decision by some Translink staff to apply for federal funding under the Urban Transportation Showcase Program [UTSP] allowed it to be inserted into a whole bagful of useful ideas that we wanted to test and measure. Other cities that applied for funding did not put in nearly the amount of effort that the GVTA, GVRD and a few municipalities expended to get these funds. The City of Gatineau, Quebec got the same amount of money to enable it to buy hybrid buses. I doubt it took them a multipage document to justify that. But then, as we have seen recently with Toronto’s streetcars, the whole issue of federal funding is one where politics plays a much bigger role than the ostensible grant application processes admit. We used the UTSP to compare and contrast different ways of trying to get people out of their cars and onto other modes. And one way is to provide a route that does not allow cars at all. There are many different recreational trails that have been created in Canada – where bikers and hikers have an uneasy relationship. But usually since it is the bikes that travel much further it gets resolved in favour of the longer distance users. A bit like the roads. A car is to a cyclist a bit like a bike is to a pedestrian – except the “price” is usually a lot lower in a collision.

Basically even if you design a route a designate it for cyclists only it is almost impossible to enforce in a practical sense. A “self enforcing” deign – using hard engineering techniques to separate the two streams is sometimes used but is expensive – and not especially effective either. (Think of the seawall around Stanley Park, for example.) The people who create the most pressure for more cycling facilities are not average road users – or even average cyclists. For a facility to get wide use – and to achieve a change in mode split – it has to appeal to people who own bikes but do not use them very much for their transportation function. And also to people who might consider getting and using a bike, if they could be convinced that it is both safe and easy to use to get around. The cyclist who is determined and experienced and used to fighting through traffic probably has a significant commute distance – and they may well do that in all weathers. They are fit, and tough, and have developed a healthy sense of self preservation. For a policy analyst, this is a significant problem: it is not likely that many people can be persuaded to change themselves to suit the needs of public policy. Indeed this is the whole problem with climate change and carbon emissions. Most people will do something if they can – but not very much if it means turning their lives upside down.

So the Greenway is a compromise – or a series of compromises. And that is a solution that dissatisfies all parties equally. The biggest compromise is money. Building a complete Greenway would have required land acquisition – and that, in this region, is hideously expensive. Much cheaper is to use and adapt existing rights of way. It is illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk – and on many footpaths – but often that is the safest route for a cyclist to take. Crossing roads is also problematic. Signals set up for pedestrians at intersections do not usually meet the needs of cyclists very well – or at all. Some of the Greenway can use existing trails – though one stretch required negotiation of what in England we would call a “bridle path” – nothing to do with weddings – it was used a lot by horseback riders, who like a chiptrail – loose woodchips – not the hard surface preferred by cyclists. Indeed when walking or cycling, I much prefer a smooth paved surface. The worst in both cases as far as I am concerned is the solution preferred by most municipalities – gravel. That has the single advantage of cheapness – but little else to commend it.

When municipalities put in bikeways they tend to think simply of local users. They have no remit to facilitate cross boundary travel. And often the bike routes they do have do not link up very well – again because they are more about recreational use than transport. For instance Richmond’s dykes are a good system of walking and biking trails – around the perimeter of the city. But they are not complete – you cannot get around the north west corner of Lulu Island (Sea Island Way and the industrial area north of Bridgeport). The Knight Street Bridge allows cyclists to use its sidewalks which see little pedestrian use but once off the ramps there are no links at all to designated cycle routes. And so on – I talk about Richmond because I Live here and still try to cycle here – but the same is true of most cities. The CVG crosses boundaries – and follows roughly the same trajectory as the Millennium Line. But unlike the Expo Line  – where the former BCER right of way became the BC Parkway under the tracks – the existing rights of way used by the Millennium Line were either major roads or busy freight railways. Not only that, but a lot of lessons have been learned since the Parkway was put together. And a lot remains to be done on that route to make it usable end to end as well.

The CVG does not exist in isolation. It was supposed to be part of a new approach to transportation and land use planning that sought to change the way we get around. The authority that created it – the GVTA – has been reorganised and anyway was always more about getting the regional municipalities around the table to talk about Major Roads. Walking and cycling were always seen as a minority, specialist interest within the organisation dominated by Engineers. It is planners who think about people – engineers think about vehicles and building things.  “Human factors” tend to be only consulted after the inevitable collisions. But livability should have been – and still must – be the primary concern.

The supposed conflict between “commuters or recreational users” is also more apparent than real. For one thing, they do tend to separate themselves by time of day and days of the week. Though afternoon peak periods in the summer can be an issue.

“It takes what would be basically an uncomfortable, impossible-to-ride route and makes it quite usable,” says Andrew Feltham, the VACC’s New Westminster chair.

Which is about all anyone could ask, I would say. I also hope that over time, and as usage grows, that the route will be improved – there is plenty for scope for that. But unfortunately, in this region, we do not seem to do that very well. For a variety of reasons, the BC Parkway was never well looked after – and although many shortcomings have been identified and are well known not much has changed over the years. Richmond’s network of cycling routes on arterials is not bad – as far as it goes – and that is not nearly enough! But nothing much is happening – the new Canada Line bridge across the North Arm  is the only significant addition.  Part of the reason is that there are several agencies involved and all have to work together. And each of those agencies has other, more pressing priorities. Which is a pity since human survival on this planet beyond this century is going to require some significant behavioural changes – especially in the way that North Americans get around.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

Posted in bicycles, walking

The Great Vancouver vs. Seattle Debate

with 3 comments

As regular readers here will know I get quite a bit of content for this blog out of attending the public lectures put on by the City program at SFU downtown. One event I missed was a debate between Gordon Price, director of that program, and Seattle’s Peter Steinbrueck over the virtues of the two cities – Price arguing for Seattle, Steinbrueck for Seattle. The debates took place twice – once there and once here – and on Crosscut (a Seattle blog) a report of the debate has now appeared.

Knute Berger says that there are reports of the debate on line – but does not provide links. Just the following “Twitter feeds, a webcast and the Seattle Channel” – which I suppose I will have to look up – unless one of the commenters beats me to it. So he does not provide the sort of report that I usually write, but a digest of the pros and cons. So I will leave it at that except for a couple of observations.

Price touted the wonders of Seattle’s hills and having a city that lives in three dimensions. But, as Steinbrueck points out, the flatter Vancouver core is better for walking and biking. It’s an easier city to get around in

It does not seem to me that this point is either important or relevant – or indeed even especially accurate. The Vancouver region has plenty of hills – we even put one of our major universities on top of a mountain, a decision which now looks nearly as bizarre as sticking the other one at the end of a peninsula. In the urban core, people do “live in three dimensions” – the elevators carry more traffic than the buses – and along Broadway (and increasingly other major arterials) people live over the shops and other urban facilities. Hills are an equal challenge for citizens of New Westminster and  North Vancouver. And yes these are part of the city since how else could we make that famous boast about being able to ski and swim in the sea on the same day?

Is Bellevue a suburb like Richmond – or is it part of the City of Seattle? Not that it matters very much either way. I suspect that all city advocates get a bit myopic when it suits them. Gordon Price once remarked to me that he thought the suburbs were anywhere south of 12th Avenue – which is actually truer the more you think about it. Most of Vancouver outside of the core is more like Burnaby or Richmond than Coal Harbour.

Vancouver’s great failure I would say is that it neglected to hang on to employment in the urban core. This is two sides of the same coin. A lot of the new development did not go into existing neighbourhoods but rather into conversions of industrial and commercial areas. That is actually easier for the planners – fewer existing residents to make a fuss – and more profitable for developers – since a big increment is earned from the change in land use. It also meant that some significant environmental clean up of polluted sites got done – False Creek for example.  But the mass transit system was – and still is – designed for the traditional many to few origin- destination pairs, and does not cope nearly as well with the many to many pattern that developed with the office parks and other suburban workplaces that were never part of any plan but emerged due to the Monday night decisions of most municipalities. No wonder it is so hard to get around – we did not plan land use and transportation together. Or rather we assumed that cars (and a bit of road expansion and traffic management) would sort the problems out. And obviously we were wrong.  Of course displaced businesses went to the cheap sites at the edge of town and not the regional town centres – there was no way to stop them – not that anyone was trying very hard.

This, it seems to me, is much more important to the debate than most of the other issues like “architectural risk taking”. But to comprehend the issue you have to expand the discussion to that of the functional urban region – not just the central city. Seattle’s big feature for me is the freeway – both the one on stilts through the centre – and the ring road, which sweeps you into the airport when you want to get out of town to the south. (I5 is actually an off-ramp, not the major route at the last intersection of the ring road.)  And whatever the features of Seattle’s downtown we may choose to praise, the suburban areas of both regions are identical – and indistinguishable from every other suburb/exurb/conurb in North America. Wake up in a hotel room just off the freeway in either and the only way to tell where you are is to check the area code on the room phone – looking out of the window will be no help at all.

And now we seem to be eagerly copying Seattle’s biggest mistake. Or rather the Province of BC has forced that on us. I do not think anyone who understands cities supports that decision.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with

Canada Line to appeal $600,000 in damages awarded maternity shop owner

with 3 comments

Vancouver Sun

Canada Line announced Friday it will appeal the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that awarded $600,000 in damages to maternity shop owner Susan Heyes after her Cambie Street shop suffered losses during construction of the rapid transit project

This is a dreadful waste of public money. And the excuse “Pitfield’s decision has potential ramifications for numerous public-sponsored infrastructure projects” is nonsense. The judgement made it plain that the defendants abused the process. They said they were going to build using bored tube, got consent, and then changed the plan to cut and cover. That is an old dodge known as “bait and switch”. They would never have got the consent of the city or the impacted community if they had known what was to come. And the other bidders should have called foul too, since they had presented their offers based on bored tube as requested.

What the judgement does is make project managers in future much more respectful of the public consultation process. It can no longer be the dog and pony show we have got used to in recent years, but actually has to listen to what people have to say and make sure that everyone understands what is actually going to happen. And then stick to the plan that was presented – not change it to suit some other interest.

What the proponents did on Cambie Street was wrong – and if they did not realize that at the time, they should have done. It is unfortunate that the burden on the penalty falls on the tax payer and the individuals who committed this wrong do not themselves have to pay any penalty. Yes this decision does set a precedent – and other merchants on Cambie Street should benefit from it. It will not impact other projects other than to ensure a proper process – which is what they should have had in the first place.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Toronto’s plea for streetcar funds rejected

with 9 comments

Globe and Mail

New design for Toronto Streetcar

New design for Toronto Streetcar

There is a federal stimulus program available for city infrastructure programs. It was designed for “shovel ready” projects that would be ready to go straight way and could be spent in a couple of years. Obviously, the people who determined these conditions were thinking of the average Canadian city – not its biggest one.

Toronto is ready to replace it current streetcars – which are old, heavy and high floor, with this new design based on what Bombardier has been building for European cities. It would be built in Thunder Bay – which badly needs the work – using a combination of local, provincial and federal funding.

The problem is that there is no program specifically designed for this issue. So Toronto applied for the funds from the available program – and of course got turned down. Now if the federal government Minister had any sense at all he would not have made a  “a profanity-laced critique … for which he apologized the next day.”

He says that it is “not a technicality”. But what he really needs to do is give his head a shake and realise what happens when he turns down what he admits is “a fantastic project”. Obviously it cannot be made to fit the procrustean bed he has made. So he should have quietly gone behind the scenes and talked to his cabinet colleagues about how to make this thing happen.

There are no other cities in Canada that have a streetcar system that needs new cars. So obviously whatever Toronto did could not be made to fit any program. Of course the federal government should have been getting behind major urban transit investments – and somehow money has been found for projects like the Canada Line – which was also, at that time, unique. The current flap is simply political ineptitude. It is essential politically for any minority government of Canada to hold on to the centre – they desperately need to ensure that they get the votes of the people who live in Ontario and Quebec. For a government that is all the time hovering over the abyss of a potential confidence vote  to make this kind of mistake is incredibly silly.

Baird has come up with a “compromise”

Move up construction projects that can be completed in two years and use the savings to pay the federal share of the $1.2-billion streetcar contract.

So it is alright to use federal funds to build new roads but not replace streetcars? Is that any message to send when there is a critical international climate change conference coming up where Canada looks like one of the worst offenders already because of its tar sands?

Like most Canadians, I do not want a summer election – but I would also like to have a federal government that shows it is capable of rational thought.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2009 at 8:04 am

Posted in politics, transit

Tagged with

“Parking restrictions will fail in their aim” Harvey Enchin

with 5 comments

Harvey Enchin is one of those right wing ideologues that the Sun keeps on staff to turn out opinion pieces that try to make sure that nothing ruffles the feathers of the corporate culture. And a leftish City Council is doing that right now by reducing parking requirements in downtown. Now Harvey is not just spouting – he has done some research. Not a lot, and only in those areas that seem to support his preconceived notions. He found a study that suggests that the amount of parking is best left to the developers. After all, no-one knows better that a property developer what makes for a good city. And look it works in Los Angeles!

What he does not say is who paid for that study – and being a newspaper he does not provide a reference but I will – its a pdf version of the paper. It is not original research either but rather uses a small number of local studies to tease out some principles to be applied more widely. And actually it is a bit old (2005) also does not say who commissioned the research, but is clearly a lot more constrained in  its objectives than Harvey is. Not only that but its conclusions seem to be at odds with Harvey’s

Research results show that TOD parking supply and pricing policy seldom are structured to support transit ridership goals.

The problem with Harvey’s analysis is that it assumes that the only things that are worth valuing are expressed in terms of dollars – and that nothing else matters. Those who study cities more objectively long ago concluded that life is much more complex than that, and that cities resemble a living being – or perhaps an ecosystem. Certainly not as simple as say a corporation that manages based on its balance sheet. Furthermore, we have also come to understand that the very narrow business based model does not work very well for corporations either – which is one reason why so many are currently getting bailed out by the taxpayers.

City bureaucrats are working under the misapprehension that making it more difficult to park will force people to use transit.

That is simply not true. The use of the word “force” is, of course, pejorative. What the staff are aiming for is a centre that is less dominated by the people who insist on bring a couple of tonnes of machinery with them everywhere they go. This is simply the old notion that a streetful of cars carries about the same number of people as one bus. Obviously, public transport is a more efficient user of space than automobiles. Street life in a city improves dramatically when pedestrians get priority and cars are restricted. And the sort of city that has successfully demonstrated how to do that is far to be preferred than Los Angeles. Yes that is a value judgement. And it is one that I suspect many people share. Would you like Vancouver to be more like Los Angeles – or Seattle? Certainly our city seems to score much higher than either of those in those “quality of life” comparisons: those are the ones where Vancouver comes near the top and Baghdad or Port au Prince near the bottom. In cities space is at a premium – and there are much better uses for it than storing idle cars.

That does not mean that people in cities should not have access to cars. Just that personal car ownership is not a very efficient model for achieving high levels of mobility and accessibility.  Car co-ops and other mechanisms (for example just increasing the number of taxis) can do that by reducing the amount of time that vehicles spend idle. Indeed, it seems to have escaped Harvey’s attention that savvy developers have long been pushing the City to reduce its onerous parking requirements in order to make their buildings cheaper and more profitable, and some include membership of a car co-op in the price of the condo.

That council should dictate how much parking a builder of a residential or mixed-use development should provide is an exercise of malfeasant social engineering.

Now there’s a word you don’t often see in a family newspaper “malfeasant”. But it is equally “social engineering” to build suburbs like Surrey where transit mode share is still around 4% of all trips simply because car driving was designed into the very fabric of the city and getting around any other way is difficult if not impossible. Robert Moses was as much a social engineer in his attempts to make Manhattan accommodate more cars as any other city planner with loftier intentions – and his malfeasance was stark and a matter of record – and it failed dismally to achieve any of its stated aims.

The hottest market for condos recently has been in the centre of Richmond, where prices have continues to rise in a falling market because of the numbers of people who want to live within walking distance of the Canada Line. One of the most successful efforts at urban regeneration in Vancouver took place in Joyce/Collingwood, where developers built high rises with few parking spots – and again they had to fight City Hall to get that concession –  as they knew the proximity to SkyTrain was a good selling proposition.

I think it is quite reasonable for residents of Vancouver to want better than the average North American city. There is, at present, plenty of parking space in Detroit – it does not seem to have attracted much economic activity. Copenhagen, on the other hand, has steadily reduced the amount of space reserved for cars – both moving and stationary – and it has become a model of an attractive, successful city that many other places are now trying to emulate. Especially places that value things like being able to move safely, to be able to breathe clean air, to have the ability to get some healthy exercise as part of a daily activity – walking to work for instance – that is both free and socially beneficial. Social engineering is not a crime. Forcing people to spend much of their time seated in their cars, getting fat, increasing the rate of heart disease and adult onset diabetes – and at the same time squandering the earth’s resources and heating up the planet in order to fatten the bottom line of car builders and oil refiners seems a much worse malfeasance to me.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2009 at 7:32 am

Posted in parking, Urban Planning