Stephen Rees's blog

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

Weekend reading

with 10 comments

Southbound train

Frances Bula does a comparison of the Canada Line to the Central Link in Seattle in the Globe and Mail. Its a bit short on the basic math and geometry and heavy on the personal/cultural stuff, but worth a look nonetheless. The Central Link is not low cost light rail either – except for the surface running bit in the middle – so the comparison is really between the kind of city it serves – and the key question of drivers vs driverless. So a change from the usual tram vs Skytrain debate. I think what is needed is a quick reference chart with the basic data – but I am not sure I have the time or energy to compile it.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Don Cayo in the Sun does a thing on why we don’t use ferries here as much as they do in Sydney – another one of those things that came up at the Jarrett Walker SFU talk. Otherwise I do not see why he is trotting this out now: its not as if Translink is actually proposing to do any more ferries any longer. And he also gets the number of SeBuses wrong. They ordered a third one in time for the Olympics – not because they intend to run three from now on but because they are going to take one out – almost certainly for scrap since it is unlikely to fit anywhere else.

Translink's Proposals for Commuting by Water

I think this graphic comes from the 2003 study – which only looked at the Burrard Inlet. There is no mention of the other crossings that have been suggested – such as the passenger and bike ferry over the top of the Deas Island tunnel that GVRD Parks were once keen on.

To his credit, Cayo does look at the basic math and geometry

While it’s true that, depending on the route, the travel distance may be shorter, fuel consumption per passenger mile — and therefore greenhouse gas production — is much higher. This drives operating costs way higher than land-based travel.

But fuel costs are usually not a great concern for transit: 80% of operating costs are labour costs. And fuel consumption varies hugely by size of vessel and hence load. In the case of freight, water transport is much more energy efficient per tonne  kilometre  than other modes but only because it is so slow and is confined to very large bulk loads – sand, gravel and woodchips are some of the most significant internal cargoes on this region’s waterways. Also log tows – one of the few places I have seen this practice. Passengers usually need to be moved more swiftly but of course the False Creek ferries do a magnificent job and are not subsidized at all. They even pay HST!

Passing ferriesCyquabus II

And finally a very necessary read from the Guardian, earlier this week.

‘Environmentalism’ can never address climate change. The shape of modern US environmentalism isn’t fit to tackle the scale and scope of climate change, argues David Roberts

I do not know why they left that US qualifier in there: its a global problem, though obviously without the US doing something effective, the rest of the world’s efforts may always be inadequate.

Environmental issues take a very specific shape.

The thing is, that shape doesn’t fit climate change. Climate change — or rather, the larger problem of which climate change is a symptom — isn’t like the issues that American environmentalism evolved to address. The solutions that American environmental politics are capable of producing are not commensurate with the scale and scope of the challenge climate change represents. A clear understanding of that challenge renders comically absurd the notion that it can or should be the province of a niche progressive interest group. It’s just too big for that.

Worth reading but also worth thinking about what that also means in other countries like Canada. Are we to be hobbled by our current governments’ attitudes? Federally – we think oil revenue from Alberta is more important than anything – and we can use US inaction as an excuse for our own “we must be integrated with the US economy” means we do less than nothing. Provincially we will do a buck and wing with carbon tax and cap and trade but stay with business as usual for the largest emitters oil, gas, transportation.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm

10 Responses

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  1. […] A Little History [Price Tags] Weekend reading [Stephen Rees's […]

    re:place Magazine

    August 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

  2. It’s just an aside, but one thing that jumps out at me on that map is that “Maplewood” appears to be located not where the ship channel or conservation area are located but up above the Superstore on Mount Seymour Parkway.

    Maybe (with apologies to Steve Munro) they planned on using Swan Boats on the Seymour River?

    Bill Kinkaid

    August 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

  3. And I can just imagine the local reaction if they tried to put a ferry terminal (even passengers only) and a bus loop anywhere near Kits Point or Jericho.

    Bill Kinkaid

    August 16, 2010 at 7:13 am

  4. I have always called the Seattle Link LRT a hybrid light rail/metro and it is owes this distinction because large portions of the line run in tunnel or on elevated guideways.

    The light rail group that was supporting LRT development walked from the project some years ago because of expensive over engineering. Seattle’s hybrid light rail/metro also was designed with much influence from BC.

    Unlike Vancouver, the transit people had to contend with the monorail lobby, which makes Vancouver’s LRT/SkyTrain debate pale by comparison. The LINK LRT had to look ‘glitzy’ when compared to the monorail project to catch the voters imagination for getting funds.

    What Seattle has is a very over built hybrid transit system that will not come close in attracting the ridership that would justify the investment in construction; even the real supporters of the scheme have confided in me that it is grossly overbuilt for what it does.

    Unlike Vancouver too, there was no massive cascade of buses and bus customers) on to the metro and the meager ridership on the Link are people new to transit.

    Three items come to mind with Seattle hybrid system:

    1) The construction & operating costs for LINK are upfront and easy to access, with the taxpayer knowing how much the entire project costs, unlike the RAV/Canada Line.

    2) The amount of new ridership (those attracted to the new service) on both lines are probably the same. Please remember, the Canada Lines ridership has its foundation built on the many bus routes cascaded onto the metro.

    3) Because Seattle’s LRT is a hybrid transit system, it has reinforced this American nonsense that a streetcar or tram is different than light rail, as LRT is seen as sort of cheap ‘metro’ system. A very costly mistake as it is being repeated on the East side of Lake Union.

    D. M. Johnston

    August 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

  5. While you guys were discussing the article I was briefly in Portland and Seattle, both on the way to and from the amazing Crater Lake, and HAD to use these 2 towns’ transit systems..again

    Much as I prefer trams/LRT to SkyTrain it is fair to say that both Seattle and Vancouver did the best they could with their geography. The transit tunnel in Seattle was not built for the LRT but was already originally opened in 1990 and was retroffited for the LRT.

    I do get a kick every time seeing how smoothly the buses and the LRT use the same tunnel, same platforms.

    The “at ground sections” in Seattle, between the Stadiums and the start of the elevated ramp could be protected by pleasant looking fences—some sections are– and rail crossing gates…(Even SkyTrain runs at, or very near, grade in a few fenced sections by the way)

    My visits last year and this year were too short to be meaningful but whenever I used them a steady stream of people went on and off.. and this was outside rush hours.

    There hasn’t been too many accident on the at grade route..though there was a spectacular one 2 weeks ago when a small truck driver “forgot” to notice the flashing lights, made an illegal left turn and was dragged then squeezed between the LRT and a low fence. His injuries were mostly to his pride and the LRT wasn’t too damaged. Ironically delegates to a Seattle transit convention were stuck for a couple of hours..until buses could be put in service.

    The comment in the Globe article that SkyTrain is cheaper to run as there are no drivers conveniently forget that all transit systems use way more drivers for buses than for metros (with or without drivers) and that there are lots of other staff besides drivers (how many police and other staff do we see in a day on platforms and in the trains?) so the savings of a driverless system aren’t that huge for the whole system.

    I am not too crazy with the Seattle LRT vehicles..compared to both the newest ones used in Seattle and the much better looking ones in Europe. They look cramped and the floor level changes are unpleasant. What I did like (I was there last year already) are the hooks for hanging bikes near a door.

    re ferries: other places use them–not just in Australia but also in Berlin, Helsinki, Stockholm I think (to suburbs). Venice vaporetti (they are big and run along the Grand Canal) and traghetti (they are gondolas and run across the Grand Canal. Passengers are supposed to stand, not sit) could be called ferries..
    They are, in many cities, part of that city transit system, even if operated by private companies.

    Red frog

    August 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

  6. Calgary is proof that a system that employs drivers can cost less to operate than a driverless system.

    Worrying about the cost of a few extra drivers to maintain reasonable frequency in the evening looks downright silly when you realize that saving $1 billion in construction costs covers the salaries of those drivers for the next thousand years!


    August 17, 2010 at 11:24 am

  7. Just a note that the Seattle transit tunnel WAS built for LRT. It had to be retrofitted because they didn’t install insulators under the original rails (and the track bed may have had to be raised or lowered). So the originally installed rails were jackhammered out and new insulated rails installed.


    August 17, 2010 at 1:35 pm

  8. “Just a note that the Seattle transit tunnel WAS built for LRT”
    How ois it then that this tunnel was opened in 1990s (I saw it a couple of years later) when no one was talking about LRT yet in Seattle, not even in Europe. Strasbourg tram (opened to the public in 1994) was the first LRT running in a city center that caught the imagination of both transit experts and average people.

    Here is a report from 2001 about the Seattle transit tunnel and the concern that some experts had if it was shared by buses and LRT..
    from this report, about the original tunnel:
    “..On June 7, 2001 Seattle consulting firm Integrated Transport Research, Inc. began work as requested by the King County Council Transportation Committee on assembling and analyzing information that bears on the future use of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel by Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail.
    The Tunnel is owned by King County, and lies along an undersurface right-of-way owned by City of Seattle.

    Constructed in the second half of the 1980s, the Tunnel is often cited as a model for modern bus operation. It has been operated since 1990 as a facility for convenient and congestion-free access for a custom-manufactured fleet of 236 dual-powered (diesel and electric) Metro buses made by Breda. Metro and the City of Seattle originally designed the 1.3 mile-long tunnel as a way to speed “regional” transit services through downtown Seattle.
    The Tunnel lets buses on 25 regional express routes – producing about a quarter of the rush hour bus traffic in downtown Seattle – move two to three times faster1 than those on surface streets…”

    Red frog

    August 18, 2010 at 10:54 am

  9. Two notes:

    The operating costs for Seattle’s LRT also included debt servicing for the 40(?) year bonds and as we know, TransLink never calculates debt servicing.

    And the tram/bus tunnel did have rails for future light rail, built from monies from the wonderful world of US ‘Earmarks’. Simply explained, if Seattle was to get federal money for the bus tunnel, they had to lay rail.

    When the tunnel was completed, the taxpayer was going ga-ga over monorail and Seattle was on its way of having a network of monorails, until……they ran into a little problem of the monorail lobby not disclosing the real cost of monorail by excluding debt servicing charges! Voters rejected monorail by a very small margin.

    D. M. Johnston

    August 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm

  10. D. M. Johnston

    Thanks for your explanation.. now I understand..

    Red frog

    August 19, 2010 at 1:04 am

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