Stephen Rees's blog

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

Monday mega-post

with 21 comments

I spent much of the weekend at the Northern Voice blogging conference – and, being contrary, did not take the netbook or the MacBook with me. All around me people who were at the front of the line to get a seat in a session were busy. Listening perhaps with one ear to the presentation, but mostly doing other things – tweeting, live blogging (though perhaps not as much as in previous years) but also I saw Gmail and even people building web sites. I thought it was a good idea to take notes in a paper format – using a ball point pen in a real notebook  (which also meant I didn’t need to spend any time looking for a power outlet). But a lot has been happening, and I wanted to draw attention to some of the stories in my inbox this morning piled up from the weekend. If you follow the same listserves I do, some of this may be repetitive of that.

On trans-action the long running debate of rapid transit versus streetcars, that has long occupied the commenters on this blog, continues. This evening I am going to be at the launch of Patrick Condon’s new book and there is also some overlap, now apparent, with the recent controversy here on environmental justice. Richard Campbell posted all of “In Praise of Fast Transit” – so I won’t, but it is worth noting the overlap.

From this perspective, it’s difficult to understand University of British Columbia Professor Patrick Condon’s recent call for slow transit in his home town, Vancouver.

“This perspective” being American, and based on their “suburban dispersion of the poor” – or if you are poor and live in New York you have to live in places like Queens because the better connected areas are not affordable. Now to some extent that might also hold true here – but is not, I think, quite so definitive. People here tend to follow the “drive until you can afford to buy” rule too, but there are other ways of achieving affordable living, often starting with the decision not to own a car – or maybe only having one car in the household. The change of land use around Joyce Colingwood being a good example – and one that is, sadly, all too rare. With the exception of West Coast Express, we did not go for “expensive commuter rail options” – unlike Greater Toronto. And there I used to have to listen to TTC executives spout “no concessions for fat cats from Oakville”  whenever the topic of fare integration got raised. Actually, the people on the GO train I boarded every day had also been forced out to suburbs like Malvern, where the TTC was often the only option for most of the remaining lower paid jobs in the industrial areas as free trade hit. Park and ride was about the GO’s only saving grace.  But that is, I think, exceptional in Canadian experience, and in Greater Vancouver we had intended at least to provide people with a grater range of choices. Not that we succeeded, due to the calamitous decisions that drove industry out of Vancouver into the suburban fringe and usually to the freeway exits, instead of the “regional town centres”. Most Metro planners concede that “office parks” were never part of the LRSP. And putting UBC at the end of the peninsular, and SFU on the top of a mountain, and then declining to provide anything like enough of the sort of accommodations that students need was even more contrary.

Patrick has his own riposte on Human Transit. And it is worth reading. But the point I want to make to readers here – and especially those who spend so much time commenting – it is not the transit technology that we ought to focus upon. It is about the sort of place we want to live in. Obviously in a long established huge urban area like the New York megalopolis, much retrofitting needs to be done – and it obviously ought to be more concerned about everyone – and not just the well to do – than it was in Robert Moses’ heyday. But in this region we have to weigh also in the balance where growth is going to happen next – we can expect another million people in the next twenty years or so. And also where we have been spending most up to now and how little difference there has been in mode choices as a result.

I think the speed question can also be reframed in that speed of itself imposes higher costs on society – firstly because a fast trip burns more energy per passenger kilometre than a slower one, but also – in personal transport – carries with it a higher risk of more serious casualties. Add to that, the extent to which personal transport is tied to fossil fuel use, the inevitable environmental degradation – of which a large chunk is the sprawl it continues to generate. Clearly the debate should be more about transit versus freeways – especially the extent to which recent decisions can still be reversed – than about trams versus SkyTrain. For the ‘burbs the prospects of “rail for the valley” seem to me to be diminishing, not improving. I hope I am wrong about that, but for now Translink cannot even find a way to pay for the much needed Evergreen Line – so the whole “what kind of transit do we need on Broadway” seems to me to be pointless. Whatever Translink concludes in its current round of planning is irrelevant. Translink cannot afford ANY expansion. Anything that does get built will be decided by the province (and the availability of federal funding) not what Translink and its consultees might prefer. If anything at all.

In the Globe and Mail, Frances Bula reports on an important shift in priorities at the City of Vancouver. No longer just “no more roadspace for cars” – the rule in recent years – but now less space for cars.

Urban-planning research has found that roads typically account for about 35 per cent of a city’s total land area.

The days when cars had free rein in that era are long over. Planners and city politicians look at which stream of locomotion should get priority and where.

They are also looking closely at how much room cars take. They require 140 square metres when they’re travelling, 37 square metres when they’re parked. And, Ms. Reimer said, one recent calculation she heard was that there are four parking spots for every one of the 1.5 million cars in the region.

“If you could figure out a more efficient use of allocating all this pavement, you could do all kinds of things,” she said.

One thing that we could do is take space from cars (1.3 people per vehicle on average, or 1,300 people per hour per direction per lane) and give it to transit. That gives an order of magnitude increase in people carrying capacity – as Gordon Campbell acknowledges. Even the very limited, down to fixed price budget, Canada Line can carry as much as five lanes of freeway each way  – or ten lanes of Broadway. But you can also do that with surface transit. And don’t bother with the issues of should be  it be steel wheels or rubber tires. It doesn’t matter. What matters is any exclusive lane transit option is far cheaper to build than a subway – and it gets in the way of the cars! Slowing cars down is a worthwhile target as part of the strategic objective of making a city better for people. Less space for moving cars – and parked cars too in the longer term once there is adequate transit – means more space for tables and chairs as well. It is not that streets are just for moving the maximum number of vehicles through as quickly as possible: streets are the public realm. Streets are where we live. Lively streets have lots of people – and they are not moving very fast – or often at all. Yes we need to get about – but that is only part of what cities need to be workable, and pleasant at the same time. Not that you will read that In Bula’s piece.

You also have to make it possible – or even attractive – to get across the street. Especially at intersections. Even more importantly where stupid transit planners have neglected to put in enough entrances to the subway (i.e. nearly every Canada Line station). Once again, please note that your nice new train might be “fast” (and could have been faster had it not had to stick to the bends in the road around Queen E park) but it is the overall door to door journey time relative to the car that matters in mode choice. And access time, in any simulation, is always twice the value of  in vehicle time. Washington DC is bringing back the Barnes’ Dance. I have mentioned that here before too. This is a better name for it than the “pedestrian scramble” which I think has all the wrong connotations as it makes me think of eggs and their fragility.  The important thing being that all vehicles face all way red signal – and no sneaking around the corner either! The current practice of giving turning movements priority at signalized intersections and making pedestrians wait ever longer also sends all the wrong messages. The priority in Vancouver’s plans has been (for many years) pedestrians first, then cyclists, then transit, then, finally, motorized vehicles. But that is still not seen on most streets.

The Staten Island Ferry

In news of transit in other cities, New York saw a nasty incident on the Staten Island Ferry,  which is being blamed on the high tech Voith Schneider Propeller. I didn’t get a ride on what is truly the world’s best harbour cruise (beats SeaBus and anything in Hong Kong becuase it is free) because we spent so much time in line for the Liberty ferry.  Maybe just as well. Seattle is looking at alternatives to its aging fleet of trolleybuses with the likely crunch issue being hill climbing ability. We ought really to have looked at trolleybuses for SFU, North Van and New Westminster. Or, as my trips last weekend reminded me, extending the #41’s wires to UBC. Actually my personal desire is to see poles put on some of the new hybrid buses, so they could use the wires where they are currently installed but little used . A bit of roof stiffening and some extra power control technology might be more cost effective than more kilometres of the world’s longest extension cord. And less wirescape. Note how nice this street looks without all the cables commonly seen on so many arterials in this region. Not just trolleybus wires either!


And finally, the SFPR P3 contract was awarded on Friday. Laila Yuile has all the ghastly details. (Hat tip to Eric Doherty for the link.) As it happens London has got rid of its appallingly bad P3 deal on the tube. Interestingly, under the aegis of a conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.

Johnson was quoted by newspapers as saying the deal freed London Underground and private contractors from “the perverse pressures of the Byzantine PPP structure.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of transport workers’ union RMT, said the buyout was a “recognition on a massive scale that transport privatization does not work” and said RMT would continue to campaign for the renationalisation of Britain’s rail network.

Piccadilly Line Barons Court  20051201

Written by Stephen Rees

May 10, 2010 at 11:38 am

21 Responses

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  1. Canada Line line-ups during the Olympics looked to be of similar length – but weren’t 2 hours long (i.e. just filing through, as opposed to “security checks”).
    I suppose that’s part of the door to door travel time.

    Ron C.

    May 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

  2. Regarding the questions at Laila Yuile’s website about the members of the Fraser Transportation Group, here’s the press release from Grupo ACS:

    Iridium is the bidding arm of Grupo ACS.

    Ron C.

    May 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm

  3. The single entrance to Skytrain stations makes for a better landmark and a better opportunity to create good public space than multiple entrances would. It makes it easier to find the station. It makes it easier to meet someone at a station. The entrance can be a good place to set up a stall, to watch people, etc. But it is being done better in Montreal, which mostly has single entrances outside downtown, than it is here.

    A regional rail system in the valley is an opportunity to shape communities there. The stations would become focal points, places to build TODs, places that people go through every day. The car will continue to shape (or not shape) new building in the valley at least until there is a reason for people to travel through the nodes that a regional or light rail system would provide in its stations.

    There are many problems with these types of systems, and we should be careful that they do what we want them to do. They need to run frequently all day to be become the centres of their communities. They need to support land use objectives.


    May 10, 2010 at 8:31 pm

  4. Mike

    I am talking about specific underground stations. 41st Oakridge and Broadway City Hall. In the case of the former, I approached from the north east – had to cross 41st and Cambie (wait for the light each time) and then had to cross underneath the tracks to get to my train downtown. This adds significantly to access time and is frustrating to see the train you want leave without you. A simple staircase on the north east corner of the intersection – as is common in, say, the New York subway or the London Underground would work better for passengers.

    Similarly when heading back to Richmond from the north west side of the Cambie Broadway intersection – where the #99 B Line drops off – also requires two road crossings which could be obviated by a simple staircase on the corner by that bus stop.

    Passenger convenience matters most. Door to door trip time is more important than in vehicle speed. Other considerations you raise make for interesting debate among urban designers – and accountants trying to reduce the cost of stations – but do not impress those travelling!

    Stephen Rees

    May 10, 2010 at 9:21 pm

  5. “I think the speed question can also be reframed in that speed of itself imposes higher costs on society”

    speed could come at some cost, but it provides some benefits too: among them easier access to health care, education, labour market…

    You mention UBC and SFU, and casual answer to speed advocate: “student should live on the campus”.

    This has a “GHG: cost, first we need to built lot of housing sitting empty 2 month years, instead to have student staying at their parents place or living in empty nester home…so not sure it is better than provide good transportation alternative

    this has also a social cost to segregate population by age, social condition, (at eventually the tax payer cost in addition of it)…

    In a previous post, it was mention of “inter-cultural” society”: this mix is possible if people can access to their specific cultural resource in reasonable time. If not people will tend to stick geographically close to them, ending to form an ethnic ghetto. that could be not necessarily the society we want.

    I certainly agree that we should not focus on a technology, but what about this book with a chapter titled “Restore the Streetcar City”…

    reading this nostalgia driven chapter where the transit system is celebrated as a speculative tool for land development rather than a mobility tool to improve people life let me deeply concerned that some people could so naively advocate for such an approach. May be it is to please the corporate interest like the one of century group or “the real estate foundation of BC” having financed this “chapter 2” writing…


    May 10, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  6. Even the stacked station at King Edward is frustrating for those with strollers, bikes or wheelchairs. The elevator from the surface building only goes to the underground concourse. Passengers then have to switch to another elevator to reach the second platform.

    Clearly that was done to minimize the size of the surface building and thus minimize the cost of construction. Now ProTransBC is trying to attract the general public to go downstairs at King Edward to shop. While that certainly could improve the viability of the business located there, it creates needless passenger congestion in the highest traffic part of the station and puts non-transit passengers near a fare paid zone.

    If there were plans to include businesses inside the station, the surface building should have been big enough to accommodate them. A shop that’s visible from the street attracts far more customers and is more appealing than one hidden underground. Then the fare paid zone could have started at street level making it possible to service the entire station with a single elevator.

    The layout is much worse at both Oakridge and Langara where reaching the second platform involves one elevator from street to concourse, a second elevator to the hallway under the tracks and a third elevator back up to the platform. Whoever said that shallow cut and cover construction improves accessibility never saw stations like these.

    All those unnecessary elevators and escalators are going to take their toll in maintenance costs. Outages on the Expo line are common and many of those stations only have one elevator and one escalator. Oakridge and Langara will eventually have triple the number of shut downs for maintenance that the Expo line has making already inconvenient stations a real nightmare for anyone whose health or cargo (shopping bags, cart, stroller, bike, etc.) requires them to use an elevator.

    After 4 years of commuting on the Expo line external forces have pushed me onto the Canada Line and I’m not impressed. The stations are generally cramped, inconvenient and really bland. The windows on the trains yield little more than blank concrete walls for scenery and the screeching around QE park is almost as annoying as hearing the totally unnecessary “this train is for waterfront” announcement over and over again.


    May 11, 2010 at 12:13 am

  7. WRT Oakridge station, IIRC a station entrance is planned for the north side of 41st, pending redevelopment of the site.

    “… there will be knockout panels at the concourse level to provide for future below-grade connections to Oakridge Centre or to the north side of West 41st Avenue for transit transfers.

    …there is one below grade and its future connection will be determined in the Oakridge planning exercise regarding the mall expansion, and a second which would service transit transfers to the north side of West 41st Avenue. This connection will not occur until the properties are developed. As well, depending on other development opportunities, a third connection to the east could also be incorporated.”

    I would imagine that Broadway City Hall would have planned future access to the north side (IIRC @ crossroads, but i can’t find the link), especially as it already has been designed to interface with the future m-line extension.

    “Passenger convenience matters most. Door to door trip time is more important than in vehicle speed.”

    IMO a major component of door-to-door trip time is train frequency, which is a major plus of the automated canada-line.


    May 11, 2010 at 12:28 am

  8. Voony

    Speed turns out to be self defeating when it comes to the car based system. We have only so many hours in the day. When a new facility opens people use it to drive further at faster speeds, and then complain when congestion forces speed back down again as it always does.

    Students need more housing choices. Putting post secondary institutions on large campuses in remote locations is really bad planning – just as office “parks” (or campuses as some like to be called) are. Mixed use of land is a much better urban solution in my view. Large blocks of single uses generates more vehicle trips no matter how dense they are.

    I will be writing more about Partick Condon’s book but it is much more than just Chapter 2!

    Stephen Rees

    May 11, 2010 at 7:52 am

  9. […] to Vancouver streets [CBC] Tall ships to return to Richmond in 2011 [CBC] Cycle Rant [Price Tags] Monday mega-post [Stephen Rees's blog] INTERNATIONAL Cheney’s Wrong, Jacobs Was Right, and Cameras Do Work […]

    re:place Magazine

    May 11, 2010 at 9:15 am

  10. Many of the access issues with the Canada Line arose from the adoption very questionable design “principles” long before inTransit ever even existed.

    A lot of this was due to “security issues”, not cost. The planners involved believed it was a good idea to avoid so-called “octopus” stations with multiple entrances and instead force all passengers to enter at one point. This led to having two elevators instead of one, the lack of entrances on the east side of Cambie, etc.

    Unfortunately, instead of pushing to ensure the system was as good as it could be, many people choose to continue to fight the project long after it became apparent that it was going to be built.


    May 11, 2010 at 9:36 am

  11. @ Richard,

    true that. This happened to the Toronto’s St Clair Streetcar ROW improvements to the point of farce.

    Click to access Transit_City_Impleme.pdf

    “Though well intended, these procedures led to a
    Ministerial order to step back and pay special attention to the objections of a group of
    individuals, the majority of whom were diametrically opposed to the very basic concept of
    an exclusive transit right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue.

    The Ontario Minister of the Environment was simply far too accommodating of matters raised by those opposed to the project, matters that, with some degree of resolve, should have been addressed directly. As a result, inordinate attention and resources were devoted to dealing with individuals whose main interest was to ensure that the project
    would not proceed. Extension of the public debate in this manner really meant that ‘closure’ of the consultation process was never really achieved. Lack of closure plagued the entire implementation process.

    Anyone experienced in community consultation regarding public works, of course, recognizes that conflicts almost always arise between those charged with ‘getting something done’ and those who want to ensure that ‘nothing is done’.”


    May 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm

  12. There is no point debating the mistakes made in planning the stations. Whoever did it had they reasons..and likely couldn’t afford to visit Toronto and Montreal.
    But even there, as in towns with a much older transit system, stations get eventually tweaked and redone, other exits added etc. It is more than likely that the are around many stations, like Oakridge, will see a lot of higher multi-use buildings on all corners..and then there will be access from all corners too.
    I am more concerned by the short platforms as extending them will be another herculean chore..

    Red frog

    May 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

  13. I tried to engage the Canada Line project team in design conversations, but they really weren’t interested in hearing from the public on topics their “experts” had already decided.


    May 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

  14. Agreed that alot of the design limitations likely resulted from cost savings. Cambie & 41st and Cambie & Broadway are the busiest stations and therefore the ones that come to mind.

    However, there is some future expansion possible –

    As Mezzanine has mentioned, the ticket hall of Oakridge station has a knockout panel on its north side to link to the NW corner of the intersection. Not sure if there is a knock-out panel to the SE corner of the intersection (which would mitigate the underpass) – but that office complex on the SE corner should be on the City’s modern heritage roster – it’s probably the last remaining example of moving vertical louvres in the city after the other ones were removed from the Robson Street side of the old VPL).

    Likewise, the Broadway City Hall station has a knock-out panel on the west end of the Mezzanine to link north and/or south to either or both of the Millennium Line west extension (under 10th Ave.?) and/or space already allocated in the Crossroads complex for an entrance on the NW corner of the intersection. That space is currently occupied by a retail store, but is eventually slated to become an entrance when and if funding for an underground tunnel is found.

    The obvious short term solution regarding bus connections is to relocate the bus stops so that passengers only make one crossing to access the station.

    Also factor in that the City does not like underground passages – it prefers activity on the street.

    I agree that Oakridge should have been a mezzanine station (like Broadway City Hall – rather than an underpass station – like Dundas Station and and maybe Queen Station on the Yonge Line (also cut and cover) in Toornto). Langara has less passenger volumes, so it’s not as big of an issue there.

    At least we don’t have a stacked tunnel at Oakridge and at Lanara as was originally planned. That would have permanently prevented access from the non-platform side of the street. i.e. King Edward will never, ever have an entrance on the east side of Cambie (because a passage cannot fit over top and it is too deep to put one under the stacked tunnel).

    WRT the separated stacks of elevator banks – it’s not for space savings – it’s to prevent circumvention of the fare gates when they are installed. You can’t have an elevator shaft directly from the street to the platform – the passenger will have to pass through a fare gate on the ticketing level then proceed to the platform.


    May 11, 2010 at 2:23 pm

  15. I suppose the other problem with a direct elevator to the platform (i.e. if you installed a dediacted tciket machine and fare gate at the elevator) is that if it becomes too convenient, able-bodied passengers may use it too frequently, displacing the intended users (i.e. it would be crammed with 10 passengers each trip and a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to fit in).


    May 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

  16. Sort of an aside – Vnacouver Magazine has an article on downsizing from houses to condos – one woman profiled moved from Delta to downtown Vancouver (to walk to work) – and then her job changed and now she’s counter-commuting back to Delta each day from downtown Vancouver. Just an example of how difficult it is for people to live close to their work (let alone multiple people under one roof).


    May 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm

  17. Ah yes a station designed not to move people efficiently, but to prevent from from doing so because at some point in the future a mostly debunked tool for keeping undesirables out might be installed. Yeah that makes just about as much sense as spending well over two billion dollars on a miniature railroad under a low demand street.

    I swear that some day I’m going to do the Condon thing and draw what should have been done and what still makes sense despite blowing billions on automated metro. The map of his that I’ve seen was based on the old Vancouver streetcar system as it existed in 1920 and not the city of 1980 or 2010.


    May 11, 2010 at 3:30 pm

  18. Thanks for the link Ron. My dad was a reverse commuter for almost 30 years.


    May 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm

  19. To David,
    While the stations on the Canada Line definately leave a lot to be desired (it’s probably the most annoying line to ride I’ve ever used, much more so than the original skytrain lines), switching to an all streetcar system doesn’t really work. It will mean transit that doesn’t move any faster, or come any more reliably than what we have now, for a much larger price than what we have now. It’s not rapid transit at all.

    You might want to read what Jarrid at has to say on that topic before committing to that plan:

    As much as I love surface transit, and love the idea of dedicated bus lanes for trolleybuses, or even streetcars where they’re appropriate, they are not a replacement for rapid transit, whether that rapid transit happens to be surface or grade-separated metro.

    As for station entrances, of course there should be more, but if I remember correctly they never actually consulted on any of those issues. I would be inclined to trust David when he says he tried and nobody really paid any attention. The stations are just plain ugly most of the time (with the exception of Waterfront or some of the above ground ones)


    May 11, 2010 at 11:52 pm

  20. Also, I forgot to say in the first post, but I like the trolley wires. I love the tangible connection to transit they provide (much like streetcar tracks), I love the sound of the clicking, and it just makes it feel like more of a “real city,” whatever that means. I guess it’s also because I grew up with them.

    I personally am not too trusting of those trolley buses that operate both as trolley buses and as diesels or hybrids. I’ve heard from other cities that there have been plenty of problems with them, and I understand Seattle used them for a while, then abandoned them because of it. I also don’t see the long-term savings of buying more complex buses and technology when we can just use the basic trolley bus and expand the wires.


    May 11, 2010 at 11:56 pm

  21. I agree with Tessa. If anything, I see rapid transit to UBC as a social justice issue. Remember, the full title of Yonah’s article was “In Praise of Fast Transit, Vital to Spreading Equality of Access in Large Metros”.

    Looking at a trip demographics study by TREK, 37% of students live in east van, DT, burnaby and new west. and interestingly, more UBC commuters live in surrey/langely than they do in the tricities, which I would attribute to skytrain.

    Click to access UBCV%202009%20Transportation%20Survey%2025%20Feb%2010.pdf

    page 7


    May 12, 2010 at 8:45 am

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