Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 3rd, 2009

Regional Transportation Commissioner Reports on TransLink’s 2010 Ten-Year Plan

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I must admit that it had slipped my mind that Martin Crilly, who is the Ferry Commissioner, was also appointed Translink Commissioner as well. That is until Jim Goddard of News 1130 called me and asked for comments on Martin’s latest report. Of course, I had not read even the press release (not being aware of it) let alone the report itself.

While the Commissioner refers to himself as a regulator, his role is in reality somewhat limited, but he does get to rule on fare increases – so the key point in this report is that when he reviewed the Ten Year Plan “approval is warranted for only the first of TransLink’s four proposed fare increases” – but that is just a preliminary finding.



Well, that’s alright then. The Commissioner is not the one who makes that decision. The provincial government has set things up so the Mayors carry the can, even though the legislation is what creates the real problem.That, and the lack of support from senior governments for operating costs.

The proposed cuts, drastic indeed if made today, would be much less so if TransLink had not, over the last several years, expanded service and invested in capital projects that it knew to be unaffordable under its existing funding constraints. These investments were made with the hope and expectation that senior governments would agree to bear a large portion of the operating costs, which they have not done.

Indeed, the lack of operating support is not unusual in Canada – or North America come to that. Most transit systems have seen a huge increase in demand in recent years, but have had to respond by raising fares and cutting services, simply because they have not have revenue sources adequate to meet the operational cost of the service. Senior levels of government have made significant contributions to capital projects, but no operational support at all. Indeed one of the interesting observations in the report is that if Translink adopts the “Drastic Cuts” approach, then it has to forgo some of its expected federal funding, as it could not operate the new capital equipment without increases in operating revenue.

There is very little new or surprising in the report. But since the “findings rely on an examination of vastly more data and analyses than have been publicly released” I did look carefully for new information. Perhaps the only thing that surprised me was

There is now available capacity—that is empty seats—on much, but not all, of the bus network which can accommodate future growth in ridership.

Really? I suppose that is because the people who experience pass-ups and overcrowding are the ones we hear from. There are always empty seats at some times of day and some directions of course, but overall my understanding is that capacity has not been available where it is needed at peak periods. Perhaps Translink should release some of this data.

It is not just that Translink invested in capital projects of course: it did not have much choice in some – the Canada Line obviously is the biggest one  but also the upgrades to bridges which had been long neglected when in provincial care. And then there is the Golden Ears Bridge, which we are now subsidizing and will be for some time to come. Which was not actually a major priority except that it was one of the few things that could be paid for – eventually – from new tolls. But the point is that it did not chose the best value for money projects in terms of those that would increase the share of trips. As I have often said, ridership increase means nothing if population is increasing. It is the share of the trips that matters. It was supposed to be 17% by now but remains at 11% or thereabouts. Martin Crilly places some of the blame for this on the municipalities, for their planning and but also for the lack of “some form of road pricing (notably on highways in the hands of the Province) and a region-wide, coordinated policy for tighter management of parking (belonging to the municipalities).”

So it hardly surprising, or indeed newsworthy, that an independent, objective view is that we need better co-ordination of transportation and land use, more co-operation between the various levels of government and a sensible way of allocating a scarce resource (road space at peak periods). I just have no expectation at all that any of that is going to happen – or indeed that the byzantine structure we currently have in this region is capable of responding to independent and objective advice. But I am glad that it is being said.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Cars vs Cyclists

with 9 comments

This post is prompted by two articles on the vexed issue of cars and cyclists trying to co-exist on the same roadway.

The first is in and makes the point – unhelpfully – by stating the obvious “When cars and cyclists clash, cars always win”. The car is bigger, heavier and its driver is much better protected than the cyclist. So in a collision the cyclist gets hurt worse. That doesn’t mean the car “wins” – nor does might make right. While there are some drivers who hate cyclists and think they should not be on the road, there are even more drivers who care about other people, and cyclists themselves – who would rather have a safer place to be than most of our roads as presently designed and used.

Some of the citycaucus piece describes first hand experience – in Toronto but that hardly matters since most places in North America are the same in this respect – but also refers to the Michael Bryant incident. And concludes

If any good is to come from the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard it’s that Toronto will get serious about cycling safety.

I think that is unlikely. That is because Bryant is now asserting his innocence, and as CBC tv last night pointed out, it is all about how the PR people handle the incident – not the incident itself. For if the cyclist can be seen as an aggressive attacker and Bryant merely trying to defend himself, then the incident takes on a whole different meaning. As that comment I linked to above by Kelly McParland says, bike lanes had nothing to do with it.

Which brings me to the second article from Seattle which reiterates a point I have made more than once here. Sharrows are a sham solution for bike lanes. They do not actually mean anything or change anything.

Perhaps the ultimate word on sharrows comes from the City of Seattle’s own website, which today answers the question “What do sharrows mean for motorists and bicyclists?” with this damning bit of faint praise: “Motorists: Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows… Bicyclists: Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows.”

Exactly the point — so why waste the paint?

The reason the paint is there is because it is cheap and easy to do – and gives the appearance of doing something. It enables the city to claim that it has increased cycling facilities when it reality it has done nothing of the sort. In fact it is like most paint on the roads – and the signs and other clutter that engineers have been adding steadily over the years. They are almost completely ineffective in achieving their stated objectives as, over time, everyone simply becomes less aware of them. Even the one line that people do pay attention to – the one that shows the middle of the road and what side you are supposed to be on – gets ignored as soon as there is an obstruction that people want to get around.  Indeed that is where the whole idea of “naked streets” comes from.

If we are going to continue to allow cars to dominate our lives – and our urban spaces – then separate bike routes are really an essential component simply because of the reality that road space that is not shared is not safe for cyclists – or pedestrians for that matter. But that also accepts the notion that cars now have the greatest share of the trips and therefore must be given the greatest share of the space. It is this shift from the descriptive to the normative that is the error. The situation that we now find ourselves is not only not one that should be continued it is also one that is not desirable either. It suited car makers – and other corporate concerns that make money out of car use – to convince us that having and using cars would make us happy, that it would produce a growing economy and improve general well being. But any objective assessment of what near universal car ownership has brought us throws a much different light on what still appears to be conventional  wisdom. Even if we only look at the casualty rates of collisions and ignore all the other social and environmental impacts.

Yes I want to see much safer streets for all users. But I also want to see the spaces in between the buildings used effectively for  a much wider range of activities – and not just for moving some people through as quickly as possible. We have accepted the argument that speed is good – and thus higher speeds better – uncritically for far too long.  Since cars are not going to vanish overnight, and there will be many people striving to come up with better cars that are safer and have lower environmental impacts, we need to come up with strategies that civilize car drivers – that is make them more aware of their impacts on the rest of us. And that does not mean painted symbols on roads, or bigger stop signs. It means drivers having to accept that in a crowded place they need to give way every so often to other road users.

For far too long we have tried to keep the roads free for fast moving traffic. That has not worked, and now we need to do something different. There is no one size fits all solution and we should be very wary of anyone who proposes seemingly simple solutions  to complex problems. Just like building freeways does not solve traffic congestion, building bikeways does not eliminate all conflicts between vulnerable and protected road users. We need a better understanding of how people interact – and the shared street experiments provide a lot of useful data – but also a more determined approach that sees streets as part of a complex urban ecology. Better design will be part of it, but so will better behaviour. And we will also need to wary of adapting the physical structure of places to take account of the exceptional circumstances when one or two individuals behave very badly indeed.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 3, 2009 at 10:14 am