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

Archive for July 7th, 2009

Rail reality grows with Hydro’s revelation

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Brian Lewis in the Province keeps up the pressure – and seems optimistic – that Hydro will “continue to protect its historical rights to run passenger-rail service on a section of railway line it sold to CP years ago.” This is based a press release issued by Langley Township Mayor Rick Green quoting a letter from Hydro.

Brian says that Canadian Pacific Ltd., is “the railway-based corporation that many have loved to hate throughout its century-plus history.” But CP is a corporation just like all the rest. That does not make it evil. It is required by its shareholders to make money for them – nothing more and nothing less. No matter what the corporate mission statement may say, or what the PR flacks would like you to believe, once a company becomes a limited liability public concern, its obligations to the shareholders override any other concern.  The great mistake was to treat corporations as though they were “persons” which, of course, they are not. When people (as individuals) behave like corporations they are diagnosed with mental illness. But it is people who control corporations and often the owners are us. Through our savings, pensions funds, mutual funds and so on we own the shares of these corporations. Every so often some group or other – or sometimes just an individual – uses their rights as shareholders to make a fuss at an AGM. Often to very little effect. But in general shareholders are largely passive and content to collect their dividends – and are pleased when the share price rises.

CP does indeed make a fortune out of allowing West Coast Express to use its tracks. But the provincially appointed negotiators made that deal on our behalf. BC Hydro was prescient when it put the provision to keep the right to run passenger services on the tracks from “232nd Street, near Trinity Western University, through the downtown cores of the township and Langley City, then west to Cloverdale.” Especially since they kept those rights for free. CP would not have been built at all if not for the generous support of the Government of Canada in both cash and land grants. But as we have seen with the Arbutus corridor that buys us nothing in terms of transit service.

according to the grapevine, CP is lobbying the Gordon Campbell government to block Hydro’s intention of exercising its legal option of renewing the agreement that will protect public use of the line for another 21 years.

Who do you think Campbell will listen to? His corporate buddies – big business in general is the biggest supporter of the BC Liberals – and Gordo still seems to be in thrall to the notion that somehow largesse to corporations “trickles down” to the rest of us – all evidence to the contrary. Or a few pesky Mayors with a bee in their bonnet about the InterUrban.

CP needs the line to get coal and containers to and from Deltaport – which is the key to the Gateway. Actually the rail movement of freight to and from the port is by far the most important way stuff gets to and from the port – the truckers are a bit of a side show. CP has just signed a new agreement with Teck to carry 17.5 million to 19.5 million tonnes of coal from south east BC to the port in a year long contract, down from 25 million tonnes a year at its  peak.

The BC Liberals are convinced that widening the highway – and promising to extend the SkyTrain to Langley by 2030 – is enough. Use of the interurban right of way is relegated to endless studies – there has never been any significant gesture towards recognizing that light rail will be necessary to the future the valley. Indeed light rail has been perpetually held in abeyance in BC – in Victoria as well as in Vancouver and their environs. Light rail is what other places do.

On the other hand allowing BC Hydro to renew its right costs very little and just keeps the option open. It does not commit the province to actually do anything. CP have managed to live with this arrangement for 25 years and may well be persuaded that they have little to worry about. I suspect much will depend on what is intended for BC Hydro in the future – and who might be the successor to these rights.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Railway

Transit Oriented Development Produces Fewer Auto Trips

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When you think about it is ridiculous that a phrase like that is a headline.  TOD is designed to reduce car use by making possible for people to get around by other means – walking and, of course, transit. But unfortunately it takes governmental systems some time to catch up to ideas like this. Especially when they are surrounded by lobbyists who continually push for more of the same and resist change.

I learned of the research that now shows that TOD in the US has reduced auto trips from the ITE Journal – and of course that esteemed organ is not available to ordinary humans. But fortunately the research was funded by the US government so the full report on which the ITE article was based is available on line as a pdf. “Effects of TOD on Housing,Parking, and Travel” TCRP Report 128 by G B Arrington and Robert Cevero shows that TOD produces about 50% of the car trips produced by conventional development.

ITE regularly publishes trip generation rates for all kinds of land use – and updates them as research becomes available. It is these figures that are used to determine how much transportation infrastructure is going to be required by new development. Or to be more precise, how many parking spaces and how much new road space. This is the key interface between planning transportation and land use in North America. And since the end of WW2 it has been mostly about making more space available for cars. “ITE trip generation rates overestimate automobile trips for TOD housing by approximately 50 per cent”. What that means is that when developers who want to do TOD go to municipalities for their permits, too much parking and roadspace is required – which raises the cost to developers and hence residents. One of the most significant short term effects of TOD – affordability – is lost. In a region like ours, where despite recent price drops affordability is still a major hurdle for many households. (Incidentally another article in the same edition criticizes the ITE trip generation rates: “These rates are limited as they are based almost solely on isolated suburban development with little or no pedestrian, bicycle or transit accessibility for ease of data collection.”)

But the second round effect is even more important. Because there is the additional capacity, other users can fill the new space provided. And, of course, it is not just the developers that we have to be concerned about. “Transit ridership is positively correlated to the extensiveness of the transit system, amount of traffic congestion and higher parking costs. Transit service headways of 10 minutes are ideal to support a transit lifestyle”. In this region “frequent transit service” is 15 minutes – so we are well short of the ideal even if  the current plans can be implemented. Since that is in itself uncertain, it can be anticipated that where there is TOD in this region but inadequate transit (Port Moody for instance) it will underperform. Indeed there is a sneaking suspicion that is the intent of the provincial government, which likes to pose as “green” but very obviously is not at all.

The transit funding is going to be a huge problem – but the highway funding was found easily even though the P3 fell through. That tells you all you need to know about priorities. It also means that the benefits the United States will see from conducting this research and implementing its findings through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  (and the next surface transportation bill) will not be realised in BC – or probably most of Canada. Because we have a federal government that is not engaged in the same kind of process. There is no research based program – and it is not tied to federal funding. Transit projects are tied to the whims of Ministers and short term political advantage, and given the way that votes are distributed in Canada still favour major roads over other transportation projects.

The idiocy of the Gateway was to put freight transport ahead of everything else (trucks account for 8% of the traffic at the most – which happens to be the Port Mann Bridge) even when it looks as though international freight traffic is going to continue to decline for a while and may never recover its former pattern as the world’s economy adapts to new realities. But the effect is that TOD is simply not going to happen in  most of the new build areas of this region, because we have already built, or are in the process of building, much new major road infrastructure, but the future of transit is still very uncertain. And of there is one things that investors hate it is uncertainty.

Smart growth requires smart calculations; impact fees, parking ratios, and road improvements need to account for the likely trip-reduction effects of TOD. Research study results indicate that residential TOD parking ratios can be tightened and fees lowered to reflect the actual transportation performance of TODs. Given that TODs have historically been over-parked, the incorporation of research results into revised parking ratios is an important step toward national recognition of the expected community benefits of TOD.

And there is also this important insight

TOD type is less important than specific location within the region and the quality of connecting transit service

What has happened here in recent years is that transport investment has managed to overcome the intentions of the LRSP while seemingly being coherent with it. You can find lines on maps in the LRSP and point to them and say “there is the SFPR, there is the Golden Ears Bridge” and so on – and people do and have here. But the intention of the LRSP was not to encourage automobile use or build in auto dependency.  But for the majority of the region that is what has been and is being done. And great opportunity to change direction has, it seems, been lost.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2009 at 11:53 am