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

Archive for October 2010

Your neighborhood & Your Health

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UPDATED November 1, 2010

The Health & Community Design Collaborative held a workshop at the Richmond Cultural Centre today. It was supposed to start at 9am. I got there on time. But it started late – of course – and, as seems to be typical of the City of Richmond, only one microphone could be made to work and no-one could make out anything that was being projected. My guess would be that they simply did not have the right projector for the size of room. Given that everyone seemed to be dependent on powerpoint, this did not make for good presentations. There was no break in a three hour meeting. And despite being called a “workshop” and sitting around tables – so most people had to crane to see or hear – there were no participatory activities. We sat and listened. Mostly. I sat at a table with City of Richmond parks department staff and they spent most of the time on their Blackberries.

Perhaps this was because there really wasn’t much that was new to listen to – for them or me. Now I must start by praising the existence of an ad hoc committee with such a broad range of representation. Once upon a time I tried to organize meetings between the health authority planners and Translink. That was because the way we ran HandyDART had effectively turned it into a delivery service of their patients to increasingly centralized program delivery points. I just wanted to know where they intended to put the next ones, so we could do some planning for the necessary service changes. I failed to meet a single regional health authority planner, but I did meet many health authority service providers who wanted to bitch about HandyDART service delivery – or lack of it.

Things seemed to have changed in part due to a federal initiative – though no-one from the federal government was present. They did have handouts at the side of the room and from them I now know that there is a Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s Coalitions Linking Action and Science for prevention (CLASP). And I have solemnly copied their spelling and punctuation. They have developed tools for free download. And you can get a quarterly update on their work and resources by email from amiro (at)

Even though they started late and had a long program we were required to sit through three sets of introductory remarks which I transcribed but said nothing of value prior to Larry Frank’s talk. Now again though I made notes it did seem to me to be very much the same stuff that I heard at the recent streetcar seminar. I did this time get my hands on an Executive Summary of “Neighbourhood Design, Travel and Health in Metro Vancouver: Using a Walkability Index” .

UPDATE Vancouver Walkability and Health Exec Summary Oct 2010 (pdf file)

Ellen Dunham-Jones is visiting Vancouver this week and is speaking at a number of venues but apparently they are all booked out. She did say: “I will learn more from this visit than you can learn from me” – which may be false modesty, or perhaps simply reflects the fact that not only have we done a bit better at walkable communities here than most US cities, but we also have not had the collapse of commercial real estate that they have experienced. She talked about dead malls and dead big box stores and how suburban office parks and similar places are being retrofitted to be more like real places. Some of the examples were taken from here – including Surrey City Centre and Big Tom’s SFU campus on top of the Surrey Centre mall.  Apparently SFU are also going to do something of the sort in suburban Vancouver where they are turning a former strip mall into an art school.

I did pick up a key phrase that I am sure I am going to be able to use in future: “underperforming asphalt”. Suburban shopping centres overbuilt their parking lots to be ready for the rush on Black Friday (the day after their Thanksgiving when Christmas shopping starts and all the shops finally get into the black.)   And while she gave a lot of evidence on what has been working in the US, and why the demographics of suburbia have changed and point to the need for a very different future. (She did not mention peak oil, but did talk about the need to reduce dependance on “foreign oil – I did not get the chance to ask her if that included Canadian oil.) I really did not hear very much about walkability or health – or indeed what is going to have to happen to large swathes of single family homes on the cul de sacs across Canada where to get to anything within a 1km crow fly radius you have to walk at least 2 kms. It’s all very well to say that the next generation doesn’t want to live there, but there was not one suggestion that I heard about how it could be changed.

If there is demand, I could transcribe my notes – when I have more time – and look up links to dead malls but for now if you are interested I suggest you start at

Suzanne Carter Huffman gave an express tour of the City of Richmond’s City Centre Plan. I learned that each of the four Canada Line stations are now seen as the centre of an “urban village” – plus of course the one yet to come at Sexsmith. Another urban village is also going to pop up next to the Oval where there is no transit at all. There was much about waterfront – and the apparent problem of the dyke. Not that it is too low and will offer no protection against the inevitable sea level rise associated with global warming but rather that it does not allow for a river view from ground level.   She also managed to talk about the city centre without once referring to the private ownership of all the parking lots – which generates an inordinate number of short driving trips. I have dealt with that here more than once. Dave Semple talked extempore about Richmond’s parks and dykes. About the only relevant point was his observation that the one metre wide tarmac paths which Richmond has built around all its neighbourhood parks are too narrow and should be two meters wide. He did not say when they thought they might achieve that. And he also hopes that kids exploring Richmond will have plenty of opportunities to get dirty.

When I get invited to a “workshop” I expect to be involved in some activity – not just listening. I also expect to hear – and hopefully discuss – practical things that are going to be tried out to improve our current situation. I heard a lot about why we need to act, but not what needs to be done here. I did hear about some design features, but none in any context that I felt applicable here. It may have been that other participants got more from it than I did – after all I do not pretend to be an urban designer. But I will never know since there was no opportunity for any discussion. There was not even a coffee break. When you go to a thing like this and there is a long line up for the men’s washroom, then you know that there is somehting wrong with the arrangements.

I am pleased that Translink is talking to the Health Authorities – and that Metro is involved. I suspect that it is as yet early days and that they have not very much developed they can talk about. I hope that, as they get their act together, subsequent workshops will be more practical. Maybe the odd design charrette might be a better idea. But for now I regret that I can only report that we are not very far along the road to doubling the market share of transit, walking and biking from 25% (where they say we are today) to the 50% they think they will have by 2040.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Posted in health, placemaking, walking

Translink’s Surrey consultation

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This morning I attended a meeting with Translink – I think the first time they have invited me (personally) to anything in six years. They want to get the word out on line about their current consultation exercise and to do that they also invited Raul Pacheco, Rebecca Bollwit, Karen Quinn Fung and Carrie Saxifrage from the Vancouver Observer .

Curiously, someone organised a kids event today downtown. The Canada Line at 07:30 is already crowded: adding an additional load of 12 year olds – who also seemed to be highly caffeinated – made for an interesting ride.

The process, we learned, is already under way with the first workshop last night in Langley. Apparently 60 people came out and sat through a 3 hour process – open house, presentation and break out into tables – that simply looks at the scope of the possible projects to be evaluated. Translink does not want people to make a choice yet. They simply want confirmation that the range of routes and technologies is reasonable. They also think that people need to be educated about the differences between bus, BRT, LRT and what they now call “Rail Rapid Transit” but we know as SkyTrain. Or, as Malcolm would have it, mini-metro.

My first reaction is that getting 60 people out to a hotel in Langley to talk about transit is a considerable achievement. I shows how much has changed in the last fifteen years. That was the first time I had to run an open house in Langley for what was then BC Transit (I think). We mostly talked among ourselves then. I think in the course of three hours perhaps half a dozen people looked in – none stayed longer than 5 minutes. There is a great appetite now for transit in the South of the Fraser area that there was not then. To some extent promises of SkyTrain – and interest around the interurban – have played their part. As has a growing awareness that business is not going to be as usual in the future.

Of course regular readers of this blog will need no education on these topics. And have probably already been to the Translink web page to check out the information on line. Basically what they have are a variety of “hub and spoke” routes for higher quality transit and a range of four transit technologies. Oddly, “best bus” is illustrated with a #9 trolleybus – which fails to meet my definition of rapid transit. The illustration of BRT was also notably not a BLine – not even the former #98 (short length of) exclusive right of way on No 3 Road. There is also an “underlay” on the maps of bus routes – I think (but someone will doubtless correct me) the planned “frequent bus network”. I am not of the opinion that 15 minutes headway is necessarily the same thing as “frequent”  – but if it were clock face it might allow for what Translink wants – a service you do not need a schedule for. It does not show that these routes do not really form a grid – as they do in Vancouver  – but wander around looking for passengers to haul to a hub. Indeed, even “best bus” does not mean a grid service. So in terms of meeting the “many to many” origin/destination pattern of Surrey, no-one is suggesting Vancouver quality of service for Surrey.

The routes they are evaluating did not come out of thin air but previous exercises, notably the South of Fraser Transit Plan. So no surprises there. Do not look for any details like ridership or cost. Those, together with capacity data and environmental impacts will all be available “early 2011” when Translink presents its multiple account evaluation. That is when you get to state your preference. All they want to know now is have they got enough route and technology choices.

They are doing a concurrent study of the Broadway corridor and expect both to be ready for route and technology choice around the same time. That will then give them a chance to ask about priorities. They think they can also credibly ask if both should happen at once. I don’t.

I was a bit reluctant, I will admit, to go to this meeting, but it was nice to be asked. I am not sure that there is a great deal of value in the exercise, since the final choice of which route is chosen, and the technology will be made – as usual – by the Premier. Whoever that happens to be at the time. And, of course, Gordon Campbell is on record recently stating to UBCM that it will be SkyTrain extension to Langley. In reality of course, he may not still be premier by then. And even if he is, I would not believe that he can deliver both rapid transit to UBC and Langley at the same time. They said they would deliver the Evergreen Line and the Canada Line simultaneously too – and didn’t. But the folks at Translink – all new since my days – are fresh and full of enthusiasm, and happy to listen. So do go to a meeting near you if you have three hours with nothing better to do. Just don’t expect that it will make a lot of difference to the outcome. Whoever is in power in Victoria next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 15, 2010 at 10:34 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

Federal government extends Amtrak train for another year

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Breaking news from the Vancouver Sun

It is only a reprieve – not an admission that the Border Services Agency is doing anything wrong.

I imagine that in a little less than a year from now, I will be revisiting this story.

This will give time to Amtrak and the hotel association to analyze the business and see if there is enough volume to continue the service.

There is enough volume to continue the service: it is unlikely that there will be enough volume to enable Amtrak to shell out $800,000 a year for additional border service fees.  That is what the argument is about. There is a significant benefit simply in terms of the amount that gets spent here by people using the train to visit Vancouver. There is also a significant benefit in having a train that allows Canadians to have an alternative to flying or driving. The second train is the one that leaves here in the morning and is thus more appealing to people here than the one that leaves in the afternoon.

Of course, in enlightened countries, getting people out of cars and planes and on to trains instead is recognized as good public policy. Vic Toews has not the slightest idea what the words “good public policy” mean.



Written by Stephen Rees

October 14, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

Essential Reading

You probably have seen something about these items already. But just in case you do not lurk on email lists, or follow me on Buzz, here are a couple of recent articles you need to read. I am not going to try to put my own thoughts or responses into blog format – yet, if at all. And I have also disabled comments and ping backs. But because of the way I am posting this, they also go out on facebook and twitter. My hope is that they will go further that way too – retweets and “likes” and so on.

It goes against our nature; but the left has to start asserting its own values

The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns

George Monbiot in the Guardian a couple of days ago

This quote really resonated with me

Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information that confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

As someone who has devoted much of his adult life to rational cost-benefit analysis, I wish I had known that sooner. Perhaps I would have done better to take psychology at university rather than politics and economics.

Seven Rules for Right Here, BC’s Lower Mainland

The author of ‘Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities’ adapts his formula to fit BC’s most populous region. Last in a series.

By Patrick M. Condon, Today,



Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm

A case for free transit in the downtown core

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Other cities do it–why can’t we?

Vancouver Courier

Bizarrely this opinion piece is actually field under “news” – and it is not attributed apart from an email address for “tos”

The idea has been around for a while – you will find earlier refutations on this blog too.

But the simple question that appears under the headline is easy to answer.

Even if this were a good idea (I don’t think it is) we cannot afford it. The US cities that have free transit are much smaller than us, and the ones that have free transit just in the core have a better supply of transit and more resources available to them. They use free transit to fill up empty buses, and often have financial support from the downtown businesses who need this service to compete with suburban malls that have lots of free parking. Free transit essentially distributes shoppers – and others – to a greater range of parking lots. Because even in less successful downtowns parking is problematic, because space is at a premium.

In Vancouver we do not have enough transit supply. We haven’t had enough for many years because the province controls how much is spent on transit in BC. Since transit is not a popular subject in “the heartlands” – where public  money spent in Vancouver is greatly resented – there is more political capital at provincial election times at railing at transit “wastefulness” (something Shirley Bond was falling back on prior to the current fuss) than doing the right thing. We have already given huge incentives to some post secondary students to use transit – and will be extending to the  rest shortly – also due to provincial decision-making. The result has been overcrowding and pass-ups. We simply do not need to promote more transit use in downtown Vancouver because we cannot carry all the people who want to use it now.

Translink is cash strapped – not just for capital projects like the Evergreen Line – but also the daily operating and maintenance of the existing system. The Mayors were dissuaded from cutting service to balance the books, but Vancouver showed during the Olympics that more transit – and less space for cars – would work well if continued. We lost that impetus – a great shame – due to financial imperatives.

“Tos” thinks that the province could divert the $317m a year that is now used to subsidize the oil and gas business. Shame there is no source cited for that figure – I would love to use that argument myself. They won’t, of course. Promotion of oil and gas has been the centrepiece of the economic program of this government – as well as the hideously expensive and wrongly directed Gateway Program. He is right that if we want to do something about greenhouse gas the money could be better spent – but, aside from the token carbon tax, I see no evidence of that. Rather the contrary in fact.

The other thing that “tos” doesn’t notice is that we have a very different distribution of people in our downtown. Vancouver’s downtown is quite different to Seattle’s or Portland’s. Indeed many US cities send their planners here to see how we’ve done it. The vast clusters of residential towers – many in owner occupation and most highly desirable residences – are being copied elsewhere now. We lost a lot of employment in our downtown core too – and that employment did not go to the regional centres but was dispersed to suburban office parks. That is a huge problem for transit. Such places are difficult to serve – and many aren’t. If we put free transit into the downtown core the greatest beneficiaries would be the people who can now afford to live there. This is not like the “inner city” problems that plague other places – except of course the Downtown Eastside.

If someone is going to throw $317m at transit in BC, the best thing would be to use that fund more service in places where there is currently excess demand. Then to start providing transit to places that have supportive local density – the dense “nodes” of townhouses and multiple family developments – that dot the landscape in places that are otherwise remote from journey destinations like workplaces and post secondary education – the sort of trips that transit is good at. Surrey and Langley would both gain a lot of service from that. What has always been found in the transit business is that you win more new users by improving service than anything else. If you cut – or remove fares – there is a short-term bump as people try to get on. But they quickly lose interest when they find that the bus is not going to stop for them. Or they are uncomfortably crammed in if they can get on.

When you ask people who drive why they do not use transit, they don’t mention fares as the deterrent. It’s speed and convenience they talk about. And you cannot provide that if you have no funds.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with

More on Translink funding

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Jeff Nagel keeps plugging away at the Translink funding issue. Now he is talking to Lucy – erm – make that Shirley Bond

The premier last month agreed to wide-ranging talks to find innovative new ways to finance TransLink.

The mayors now say they’re taken by surprise that only property tax increases are proposed to cover the Evergreen Line.

Bond, however, accuses the mayors of playing politics on the issue, adding she “finds it hard to believe” they genuinely misunderstood the province’s intent and thought a full consultation on new sources could happen before Christmas.

“Once again the mayors are positioning themselves in a very combative way and that’s disappointing,” Bond said.

She said it was made “very clear to the mayors” that a TransLink funding supplement for the Evergreen Line would be before them for a vote by December using existing sources and that a search for new ways to fund more priority projects would be a longer process.

“I am absolutely happy to have a discussion about additional tools,” she said. “But we can’t do that in a thoughtful way before December.”

Why not? Because of the fear that the feds will take their contribution to the Evergreen Line off the table if no agreement is reached before then. That is not what Bond says – or Nagel in this piece. But otherwise the notion that “everything is on the table” – except the Evergreen Line apparently – only starts after the new year was not – so far as I can recall made clear anywhere in the province’s statements.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean … said the province could still save money on the Evergreen Line by switching the project back to cheaper light rail technology, rather than SkyTrain.

Well they could but they won’t. Though the “business case” that Jarvis cites seems a bit less than clear to me. But what he really means is that it is not open to debate – and once again that is because the feds bought in, and might use that sort of scope change as an excuse to back out. The Tories in Ottawa like buying military hardware and new prisons: they are not really that keen on something as mundane as decent urban transit.

UPDATE  Wednesday  October 13

Mayors push for gas tax, not property tax to pay for Metro Vancouver transit projects

Vancouver Sun

Written by Stephen Rees

October 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Posted in transit

That Lucy Moment

with 25 comments

Gordon Price predicted it last week – but I doubt even he expected it this quickly.

Jeff Nagel is reporting that

municipal reps were told Thursday property taxes are the only source that will be on the table when a vote on an [transit] expansion comes in December.

Not just transit either – they are also expected to cough property tax to pay for the North Fraser Perimeter Road!

An average $600,000 home that now pays $220 a year in property tax to TransLink would pay an extra $31 a year to raise $412 million towards the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line and another $53.2 million for the phase one of the North Fraser Perimeter Road, which would extend United Boulevard.

I am a bit unclear on where the “reps” (whoever they are) might have heard this and who from. But it seems that MoU was – in the premier’s mind anyway – not about everything being on the table right now but in future negotiations about the UBCM promise of SkyTrain to Langley.

So once again, the Mayors have been suckered. Lucy always says when she holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick – usually when the NFL season is about to open – that she will not whip it away as she does every year. This year will be different. So Charlie Brown takes a run kicks – and she whips the ball away and he falls over spectacularly. Which is what has happened now with Translink funding once again. So now we do the head count on the Mayor’s Council and see who really thinks the province will impose a solution if they don’t vote for this one – which, presumably, might be even worse

Meggs said there’s also frustration the province has forced TransLink to embark on costly projects, such as a $180-million smart cards and faregates that many cities doubt will ever pay for itself through reduced fare evasion.

Several mayors say the province has signaled it will impose a solution on Metro cities if they don’t voluntarily vote to provide funding for the Evergreen Line.

I had to put the top para in there as well, since I know I have been saying this ever since it was imposed by Kevin Falcon – I had not heard anyone at Translink admit that yet.

UPDATE  here is Translink’s summary of the options courtesy of a tweet from Ken Hardie

I apologise to Jeff Nagel for an incorrect atrribution which is now sorted out. It would appear that all of this became apparent to the Mayors when they were briefed by Translink staff. Which means to me that the provincial politicians are even more gutless than I thought and that Translink is now clearly a provincial and not a regional agency. Basically the arrangements we have now have even less local input than the old Vancouver Regional Transit Commission – but a similarly uncomfortable relationship that the creation of the GVTA was supposed to correct.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Avoiding urban sprawl could reduce pollution, boost economy

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How do stories like this get noticed? After all, they are not actually saying anything new. In this case I heard about it from a daily alert put out by the Sightline Institute to a story in the Vancouver Sun. From another outfit called “Postmedia News” who essentially copied out a press release from Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow (QUEST). The sub editor at the Sun of course had to distance his organisation from the report’s conclusion by the simple device of using a colon and the word report at the end of the headline.   Note too the careful use of “could” not “will”. Should that not realistically read “even more sprawl”? And, being old media, they do not provide links like I have in this paragraph so you can go read the report and find out more about the organisation in their own words.

To make it news they have Mike Harcourt to quote. And they make the point early on that they are “a coalition of industry and government stakeholders” – not some bunch of environmentalists.

The study demonstrates that it is possible to save money, create jobs, grow the economy and reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously through integrated community energy solutions.

Note that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the last benefit to be mentioned – saving money and creating jobs are both more important than survival. The elite are having a hard time coping with the reality that “business as usual” really is to blame for climate change – which is now very obviously having really serious deleterious effects. For a long while they have tried to convey the idea that human beings may or may not have been responsible for the increase of GHG in our atmosphere – and that there was probably not very much we could do about it. Or, if there was, it would somehow require everyone to see a reduction in their standard of living. Which is not really what they care about so much as a possible decline in the profitability of corporate enterprises.

Marc Jaccard, of course, has long been associated with the school of thought that said there is more to be gained by engaging business than confronting them. The classic problem for the green movement has always been how far do we go to affect change? The battle between the realists and the fundamentalists. Indeed Quest does include environmentalists

As a network of citizens from the energy industry, environmental groups, governments, academia and consulting communities, we believe an integrated, community-based approach is the best way to address energy end-use and reduce green house gas emissions.

Or, in other words, these are not the people who are chaining themselves to coal fired power stations. Which, as even Al Gore recognized, is a justifiable and understandable response to a problem that industry on the whole would rather we ignore.

many of these policies and actions can be enacted effectively and independently by local (municipal) governments, provided that they are empowered to do so.  This allows our communities to make a substantial contribution to GHG emission and energy use reductions, even in the absence of significant federal action.”

Which is a message that has been around for a while. That was what I was telling municipalities across BC as Chair of what was then called the BC Energy Aware Committee but is now the Community Energy Association – another coalition of the energy industry, the BC government and UBCM. Not that we did not then do good work – nor that that CEA does not do useful things now. And I will be teaching the same stuff to Sustainable Building Advisers this month.

My point is that while Jaccard’s study shows that if Toronto, Winnipeg, Dawson Creek and Fort McMurray would reduce greenhouse gas emissions if they followed his advice, does that actually make enough difference? In this region, the Premier of BC has decided that even though he claims to be a proponent of the need to reduce ghg emissions – and introduced a carbon tax to show leadership in that field – he has done nothing to examine what the impacts of the current freeway expansion will do to land use. He and his minions say that growth here will happen anyway – as though transportation infrastructure provision does not shape growth. Which they also promote when it suits them – for example when talking about the need for more transit  – as Campbell was last week at UBCM.

Campbell is not unpopular because he is widening Highway 1, building a new wider Port Mann Bridge and a new South Fraser Perimeter Road (that sounds so much better than “freeway” don’t you think?). He is not even unpopular because of the carbon tax. He is unpopular because of the HST – or rather, in his view, the way it was introduced. And it is only his unpopularity that concerns him.

He knew when he introduced the HST that he was taking a risk. He simply got his risk assessment wrong. That is pretty much the same metric he used on his transport policy. He knew was taking a risk but that there were economic and political paybacks from his choice. His friends and allies would benefit personally, and his party would too.

I am not arguing about anything in Jaccard’s report. The man knows whereof he speaks – and energy was always worth saving if you used the right evaluation techniques. I just don’t think that the people who make decisions about land use – developers, business in general and the local politicians they effectively control – are ready to abandon “business as usual”. And the politicians at all levels who aid and abet them have plenty of experience and political savvy – and seem to be able to persuade enough of the voters when that is needed, that they are a “safe pair of hands”.

Of course they are not. We know that. We have seen how business behaves when it is not regulated effectively – is behaving in many energy and related fields now. We know they are highly influential – GM fought off energy efficiency for many years. And when that strategy proved disastrous in the market place, government did not even let them go bust. The market – if it were working as the invisible hand – would have delivered salutary judgement. Of course, as a limited liability company, individuals at the corporate senior levels would not have suffered very much. Shareholders who know what they are doing have diversified portfolios to absorb such risks. The people who would have paid are those who always pay: the workers who would lose their jobs and pensions, the customers stuck with worthless warranties, the communities left to pick up the pieces – as they are now already in places like Detroit. The vultures would descend on the carcase – and would leave behind the mess. And to some extent we would have been a bit better off. The widespread failures of the companies that installed far too much fibre optic cable being the reason we now have such cheap long distance telephone calls.

Actually, there is really a “hidden hand” – and it is not the market, or collective wisdom of any kind. It is physics. The world will actually survive. We won’t. If we keep on going the way we are, our civilization will collapse just as surely as so many others have done. The process will be painful for us, but quite a short term phenomenon in geological terms. Life on the planet will adjust too. A lot of other species won’t make it – but then they aren’t now. We are doing a pretty good job of that already – have been for years. We have not changed our policies though. Or our minds about the primacy of the economy and the need to get re-elected.

That is what the buzz word “sustainability” really means. Survival of our species with not too much collateral damage.

There are those who doubt that the amount of change that is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a point where there is not run away global warming can be accomplished now in time to avert catastrophe. They argue we have to come up with better ways of coping with the impacts which are now inevitable and, in the meantime, do something really drastic to cut consumption of fossil fuels. They point out that simply changing technologies uses resources too – and it is not just fossil fuel that is going to suffer from supply shortages. There are plenty of other natural resources we are exploiting and wasting – and many other consequences becoming apparent of our rather casual attitudes to waste disposal. This is the other shoe – as though the ones that have dropped up to now weren’t loud enough. Economic growth cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet.

The Green Party of BC – who I ran for at the last election and of whom I am still the land use and transportation spokesperson – has espoused stability rather than growth as its objective. There is a conference in town this week on that very subject. I ought, I suppose, to be going. I know they wanted me to. But my own personal conviction is that we in North America do have to cut our consumption. Two years of recession has done wonders for reducing energy use in the US.

I do not think we can persuade the Indians or the Chinese to abandon their chosen paths of economic growth – and they simply point to the huge disparity of our consumptions of resources per capita to support our lifestyle as good enough reason for them to press on. Actually, they are both aware of our mistakes – and their own – but at least they seem to be doing something. Like the Chinese effort to build transit in their cities and high speed rail between them. The Green Party in BC (and in Canada for that matter) has a tough time, thanks to our electoral system – which the people of BC have decided will not change.  But we still shy away from saying things that would make us unelectable. Since you cannot do anything from the sidelines except hope that the people who do get elected will steal your policies. I cannot see any other party wanting to steal “no growth” let alone economic contraction.

I happen to think that we could have a very much better outcome than no growth. But it simply does not get measured in GDP: so yes, the things we pay for in cash would decline but then there are so many other things that we need and don’t get which don’t cost money.  We spend so much time now rushing around trying to get enough money to support an unsustainable lifestyle it is making us sick – and yes, shortens our lives. We have lost the very things that we ought to be valuing that have no price.

Canada in general, and this bit of it in particular, also has to cope with inevitable increases in our population.   More people will want to come here – not least because of the impacts of the climate change that we cannot now stop. The effects we are seeing now are not due to our fossil fuel burning today but of two centuries of steadily increasing emissions. We have passed quite a few tipping points, and the way things look Canada is going to have to absorb a lot of climate refugees. A lot of people are going to see Winnipeg as a much nicer place than where they live now – indeed, many already do. And Vancouver even more so. As long as we get on with raising the dykes, maybe Richmond as well. We need to take that sort of growth very seriously indeed. It is not just a philosophical or diplomatic problem. They are coming. Where will they go and how will they live?

Right now, thanks to the things we are currently building, and the decisions already made, they will go to the places where they can be absorbed. There will also be quite a bit of shifting around within the region too. Especially of the people who dislike the impacts of more people and who see their efforts to preserve their local area as it is now fail. As has been said many times here, population growth is going to happen: the question is how do we accommodate that.The Gateway Program pretended to be about transport but it is not. It is about land use. The hope was always that land that was then relatively cheap would rise dramatically in price as its accessibility was increased. Governments chose to ignore that this was actually illusory when done by “business as usual”. Since congestion due to induced traffic is inevitable as long as there is no effective control over road use.

The Gateway also means that greenhouse gas production will rise more than if we had built rapid transit and transit oriented development instead. Even the government’s own – stilted, conservative – predictions acknowledged that. The politicians of course continued to say that reducing congestion would reduce emissions when even their own data said something else.  So what can QUEST and Dr Jaccard achieve with this report? Not very much I suspect.   Toronto has at least committed to start catching up on transit provision. Though they still do not have a sustainable funding package for the TTC  to operate their bits of it. And there has already been plenty of sprawl in what is now rather awkwardly known as GTHA. Fort McMurray I think is past praying for. Until we get different governments in Edmonton and Ottawa.

Yes local governments here, like the City of Vancouver, must still try harder – and many are. But while our media shifts rightwards – and we still think that we need business like political leaders – it is going to being small amounts of mitigation that we will see, not prevention. Palliative care at best. Lets hope they make a better job of that than they have done with the threats that they actually acknowledge.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2010 at 11:52 am

Streetcars – op ed

with 27 comments

Streetcars if necessary – but not necessarily streetcars.

Now that I have had time to think about the conference – what we heard and what I spent so much time laboriously transcribing – I am going to give you the benefit of my opinions. I do not expect any agreement. We all have our own opinions and expectations. But there is quite a lot that came out of that meeting that I think needs a response, and we also need to think much more constructively about how we advance the cause of sustainable communities in this region. Because the one thing where Patrick Condon and I are in complete accord – and Chris de Marco for that matter – is that we have to be concerned about the place we are trying to make, and the choice of transit equipment is only part of the puzzle.

I am going to start with Dale Bracewell’s assertion that the City does not want to see streetcars in Kerrisdale. My gut reaction to that was that he was wrong – but it has taken me some time to process that into a coherent critique. There is indeed good transit service there already (by Translink’s standards) – trolleybuses on Arbutus and diesel buses (running under energized but unused trolley wire) on 41st Avenue. If there is a need for increased transit supply, it ought to be straightforward to upgrade those services. If Translink was adequately funded then obviously the first thing to do is increase service frequency. We can argue in other places about which area gets service increase first, but clearly the routes where there are pass-ups now get first attention. That includes increasing frequency on parallel routes. I have been passed up on 41st by the early morning #43 to UBC and I doubt that is an isolated experience. The way to go on 41st is to put on trolleybuses – which do not get to UBC but short turn to boost local service – and thus free up existing capacity to UBC.


My second recommendation flows from that. On all routes where there is crowding and a need for longer distance travel, there should be a B line type, limited stop service overlaying the local bus. Obviously that cannot be a trolleybus: they can’t overtake (something that operators apparently need to be reminded about by painting the poles yellow, a recent innovation here). For people trying to get around the region, in the absence of good long haul services,  B Line works quite well. Artics if needed, and hybrid would be a good choice. And to avoid the need for people to have schedules, put on a clock face service where it cannot be so frequent that you never have to wait long for a bus. While the real time info display is good, much better is a service that comes at 11, 31 and 51 minutes past the hour in a reliable fashion. All day and every day. With strengthening at peaks when necessary.  You can paint that on the bus stop cheaply – you do not need an electronic display.

My third recommendation is then that bus services in Vancouver need more priority in mixed traffic. This cannot be created by adding lanes – there is no room. But there is a very good argument that says we should be reducing capacity for car traffic. Lon LaClair was highly self congratulatory  on the recent stats, but I think he and his colleagues have not done nearly enough. If you are willing to take out parking lanes for bikes, why not for buses? Why are you willing to put in a streetcar downtown but not make the most of the transit capacity we now have, by making bus services more reliable? I am not in favour of putting a lot money into any kind of transit if all that happens is it spends most of its time stuck in traffic, with bunching and pass-ups. I would suggest that Translink – once it has money to increase transit supply – refuse to do so until the city – every city not just Vancouver – gives buses a distinct advantage over the single occupant car. There are lots of ways to do this, but the one I like most is the Copenhagen commitment – a small increment of moving and parking capacity is taken from SOVs every year – for the long term. Vancouver actually needs to live up that stated priority sequence (walk, bike, bus first) – and the other municipalities have to buy into that too.  And they do not get another nickel spent on transit in their area until they start delivering bus lanes, bus signal priority and cutting on-street parking on bus routes. And reducing their own minimum parking requirements for development: they should be adopting maximum parking requirements and be doing deals with developers for  bike lockers and showers in workplaces, car co-op parking spots and memberships in condos, cut through walk access to arterials in the dendritic pattern suburbs and so on. And the other thing that goes with that is much better street furniture in general and especially at bus stops – shelters, benches etc – in return for which Translink delivers better passenger information. Not just a little bit of Main Street as a demo project but the whole system – again allocating resources first to places which show they are serious abut playing their part.

And note too that I include walk and bike in all this – they are the essential feeders to transit but also the canary in the coal mine that shows if the city is working properly. I ignore people who complain that the bike lanes are empty when its raining. What I do notice is that the city came to life for two weeks last February – and that we are rapidly letting that progress slip through our fingers. Putting back the parking on Granville Island – something I heard at the meeting which made my heart sink – being just one example.  But in the longer term we need to have a place where human powered transportation is the norm not the exception. And for a sustainable, vital city we need spaces between the buildings where people want to linger, where they are encouraged to loiter. And to achieve that we have to recognize that through movement needs to be accommodated in other ways. When San Francisco took down its elevated freeways, traffic movement actually improved. The same thing happened in New York when bits of Broadway were closed. These are important lessons.

So to return to Kerrisdale, does a streetcar on the old CP (and prior to that BCER Interurban) tracks actually make much improvement over the #16 trolleybus? No, not really. But that does not mean we abandon the idea of re-opening that line for passenger service. “Corridors” or rights of way through a city are difficult to provide once they have developed and matured. So you cannot let any of them go unused – and you should never, ever build over them. You have to take a good hard look at your future needs – and if you cannot do something grand at first, at least keep it going at some level. I am a bit reluctant to advocate rails to trails since rails are hardly ever put back – but the current state of the line is a disgrace.

CP signs Arbutus at 33rd 2006_0417

The “No Trespassing” signs are – thankfully – cheerfully ignored. And you do see lots of people walking and cycling. Sometimes not easily. But in this case, the route was ignored for rapid transit in favour of a tunnel under Cambie. Pointless now to revisit that decision but we can note that the obsession with P3s at any price meant that the Canada Line is going to be exceedingly expensive to expand. It might be cheaper – it will certainly have a better rate of return – that after the third cars have been inserted and the 2 minute headway on the combined part of the route reached  then Arbutus will have to be looked at. So keep it available for the future, but in all seriousness look at buying some modern trams and hooking that into the Olympic Line. NOW.  You can do that now quite cheaply – you do not have to wait until armageddon hits. Yes the creme de la creme will whine, but that does not mean they get to make the decisions for the rest of us. And the service on those tracks is NOT a streetcar. It is more like bringing back the interurban. Because if it stops infrequently (like the B Lines) and gets signal pre-emption at crossings (something trains always get but buses seldom if ever do) than travel times are attractive. And you can put on services to Richmond and New Westminster on existing tracks. Which can be augmented incrementally. You do not have to go to build out from day 1 – you design the system to allow for graceful expansion.   What they call “scalability” in software.

Which brings me nicely to thing we didn’t talk about nearly enough on Wednesday but ought to have done. The next million people who are going to come to this region are going to be living mostly south of the Fraser. While I appreciate Chris de Marco’s pitch for putting them on the Burrard Peninsula the only way we can do that is to increase density. That isn’t going to be easy, and I appreciate Patrick’s notion that “mid rise” density along arterials (for which zoning is already in place) is going to be an easier sell than high rises at stations – and is actually a “better” solution. I would like to think that Chris is right and that the new regional strategy will be followed (especially where industrial land is concerned). But experience has not been good – and what we still really need is a regional land use (and transportation) planning authority with teeth. And we have a sub-region SoF which is freeway dependant now and that is being strengthened. Once again, we cannot afford to let existing rights of way go under utilized. The former interurban line is needed now – and so are the mainline railways.We only use a small part of the CP mainline and not much of the CN and BNSF for passenger trains. No, these tracks are far from ideal in many respects, and the CP deal with West Coast Express is not a model to follow. But we still need to do something far sighted with these assets.

The Premier is quite wrong to say that we will extend SkyTrain to Langley. That is the wrong technology – and it costs a fortune. We have made that mistake more than once too often. Translink cannot afford to build it and keep a bus system going. And without a bus system at the sort of densities we see in much of Langley and Surrey, SkyTrain will not work. BUT there are places in those cities now which have comparable densities to Vancouver and which might even become walkable, with a bit of imagination and good community consultation. A few design charrettes no doubt. But those people are going to have to be persuaded that the transit that is going to be provided will be a whole order of magnitude improvement over what is there today and comparable to what is now in Vancouver, New Westminster and Burnaby. BRT is going to be part of the mix – just because you can do that quicker than any rails – but once again has to have priority over SOVs. Passenger trains on existing freight railways – something GO Transit has been doing for years on busier lines – also have to happen. I do not think that anywhere outside of North America accepts the concept of “commuter rail” (one way peak hours only service). Even here train bus is run to provide something off peak even if not counter peak (though why not when the bus has to dead head anyway beats me.) GO Transit runs a lot of buses too.  And, as Chris noted with respect to Melbourne, just having good railways does not control sprawl – in fact, the suburban train services created it and facilitate it.

So to turn to land use again, what worries me more than anything is the ease with which our urban containment boundary is being nibbled away. The ALR is disappearing before our eyes. The green zone is going to be the next target. The purpose of the Sea to Sky widening had nothing whatever to do with the Olympics but everything to do with blasting a hole in the Squamish Lillooet regional growth strategy. It will not be enough to finally get around to providing a viable alternative to car use. We also have to get down to some real land use control. Part of that is providing municipalities with a new source of revenue. Much of the pressure that developers can exert comes from the desperate need for money to provide municipal facilities and services. Just as the private sector is now dictating what we get in terms of health care: the donors put in the MRI machines, but the Health Authority cuts staffing to run them. As long as City Hall is on the pockets of the developers, the broader public interest is not going to be well served. The profit of a few overrules the needs of the many. Which is also why I do not think it should matter if there are private sector developers who want to fund streetcars. I really do not care how much they are willing to spend. I want to be able to look at projects and proposals with Mike Shiffer’s MAE framework. Which I will bet Mr Campbell had never even heard of let alone used for his decision making on rapid transit.

The truth in this region is that projects are picked on political criteria – and any analysis done is to shine up a decision that has already been reached. Any public consultation is window dressing. I think that MUST change. Without a credible process, no-one is going to believe that we are serious about sustainability or any other fine policy objective. I also do not think that what has worked in some US cities is a good model for Vancouver and its hinterland. We simply do not have the same frameworks and support systems as they do. It should be a source of shame in Canada that US cities can now do better than we do in providing affordable and socially necessary housing. (Not that they do that very well either, but it’s still more than we do, which is now nearly nothing.)

When you look at what I am talking about here, it becomes clear that the choice of transit technology is not actually all that difficult. Its really a technical issue of horses for courses. There are some real hurdles but they are political and administrative, and they are rooted in the need to change from business as usual. If we continue to think that we need more businesslike decision making, then we should not be surprised when only profit matters. Business is not allowed to think much beyond its bottom line as it has a duty of care, not to the community, but to its shareholders. We also have some pretty shabby politics here. Low turn out at the polls. Short term thinking. Spin not truth. Sound bites not careful, objective analysis.

And the last point is the possibly the hardest in terms of the conference, but actually quite straightforward if you think regionally. Vancouver is doing pretty well. Compared to the rest of the region its need for improved transit does not, in my reckoning, put it at the head of the queue. It is already mostly built out. The downtown streetcar never seemed to make a lot of sense to me – and it still doesn’t. Of course it would be nice – but the development of Coal Harbour and False Creek is mostly complete. And this year we seemed to manage without the DHR (the nearest thing we have to the proposal – even though as I keep on repeating it isn’t a streetcar). The stats are pointing in the right direction. Vancouver could do better – and if I had to fight the entrenched motordom of this city, I would draw a deep breath before proposing bus lanes and signal priority too. But most of the rest of the region and the outlying exurbia beyond it is going to hell in handbasket. We are repeating all the mistakes made in the 1950s, but with slightly better mpg stats.  And one or two streetcars here or there makes no difference to that at all. I don’t think Vancouver does get any rail rapid transit along Broadway for a while. It can do a lot for itself with good traffic management (for instance, regulating traffic by using value of time instead of vehicle flow) and must get on with that until we can free up some good funding for transit for the region in general. The Evergreen Line, the SFU cable car and passenger services on as many of the existing railways that we can all come to the top of my priority list. And lots more transit everywhere. I actually do not care what sort of wheels it has under it. It has to be frequent, comfortable and easy to use for everybody: and it goes first when the lights change. The car drivers can sit and watch as the bus/tram/train whizzes by.

Now, when we have got transit figured out, we are going to have to deal with much tougher questions.  Decent housing for all at affordable prices. Protection of our natural resources. Good urban design standards. Better health through prevention. Representative and responsible government. Real democracy. Some future for the human race on this planet. Some future, come to that, for life as we know it – all species seem to be at risk from our nasty habits, not just us.

But that is all beyond the scope of this particular op ed.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 3, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with

Streetcars: The Missing Link – Part 2

with 7 comments

This post follows on from the immediately preceding one. The presentation by Gordon Price is covered there

Vancouver’s historical development around streetcars and future growth implications

Michael J. Shiffer (Vice-President, Planning Strategy & Technology, TransLink) examined the development of mass transit modes and how they fit together. Streetcars are part of a family of modes and it is important to understand where they fit.

Steel wheels and steel rails were added early on in the life of the horse bus, since they needed only one horse and not two. This was an important cost saving measure. In other places, like Winnipeg, wheels were replaced in winter with skates. After electrification, sppeds and distances could both be increased, which saw the growth of the Interurban systems which used cars that were heavier and faster than streetcars [and owed  their design philosophy to railway passenger cars, not horse buses]. Streetcars that operated in a mixed traffic environment were unreliable, so elevated lines were built to avoid the congestion and, later, subways. But all, interurban, els and subways worked as a network in conjunction with streetcars.

While much attention is paid to the National City Lines conspiracy there were other issues that lead to the decline of the streetcar. One was the municipal regulators who maintained the standard nickel fare long past the time when that was reasonable. The private companies could not afford to maintain their systems, let alone upgrade them to meet increasing demand. Both track and power systems needed to be replaced [and exceedingly heavy use during the second world war accelerated the deterioration rate].

While pphpd can be used to separate the roles of the various modes there is no clear delineation and considerable overlap between them. A broader range of criteria is needed to distinguish between them

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) 2-3,000 pphpd: surface – [usually bus lanes but can be own right of way: some have guideways and are essentially rubber tired trains]

Light Rail Transit (LRT) 6-10,000 pphpd – a “little bit faster” than bus [due to better acceleration] in a “broad variety of environments” illustrated by Dublin (“very like a streetcar”) and Melbourne “trams” in the centre of the street

Streetcar is essentially the low end of the LRT usually using lighter vehicles, often these days with the track in the curb lane, not the centre

Rail Rapid Transit (RRT) [formerly widely known as ALRT or Advanced Rapid Transit] SkyTrain and the Canada Line – “almost always segregated, can be automated, high frequency  10-25,000 pphpd  [automated i.e. driverless systems have to be segregated: SkyTrain also must be segregated too due to its use of linear induction motors]

Regional Rail Transit/Commuter Rail 2 to 8,000 pphpd  [I think this reflects a very limited view. So called “heavy rail” systems include operations like the London Underground, the Paris RER  and the extensive suburban rail systems of many major cities around the world including New York and Chicago. Many of these systems offer all day, every day, bidirectional, frequent services to a wide hinterland. At at much greater capacities than 8,000 pphpd]

Mr Shiffer went on to state that Translink uses an alternatives analysis that uses multiple criteria (MAE) . They are currently in Phase 1 of such an MAE for the UBC line, with the second phase starting next year. They will also conduct an MAE including a range of technologies and alignments for Surrey. The Strategic Network also calls for upgrades to the Expo Line and the construction of the Evergreen Line.

Christina DeMarco (Division Manager, Regional Development, Metro Vancouver) made the point – which I inserted above in the interests of clarity – about the impact of the nickel fare and lack of investment on streetcars. She also made the point that the interurban also carried freight trains at night, when there was less need for passenger service. [Many an urban legend revolves around the need to get the milk train home in the early hours]

She wanted to redirect attention away from the transport technology to the critical question: What sort of place do we want to build? There are she said three basic questions

  1. What problem are we trying to solve?
  2. What sort of land use do we want?
  3. What are the costs and benefits of each option?

She showed a regional map based on the 2006 census information on journeys to work. She said that transportation is not an end in itself but  – quoting a precursor to the LRSP – “as a means to a better city” . She had worked on the City of Vancouver Transportation Plan which started with the need to protect neighbourhoods from traffic. Solutions are [nearly always] combinations. For instance the UPass was not just a low price transit ticket but also better transit service, reductions in the supply of parking and an increase in parking prices.

Melbourne was another city which has a very extensive electric train system, with trams in the centre but a severe problem of needing stronger containment of sprawl.  While this region may appear to have done better the LRSP failed to get jobs into the right places. 50% of the job growth in the last 15 years went to places that are hard to serve with transit. 40% of the expected growth between now and 2041 will be south of the Fraser. But 35% goes to the Burrard peninsula. She showed one of the working maps of how this growth needs to be related to transit but said “You won’t find a map like this in the new regional strategy” because the necessary corridors will be locally determined. An essential feature will be the protection of industrial land from office and retail developments (I wondered then if that closing remark was prompted by our conversation before the start of the proceedings).

Q & A

I did not make notes on the first question about curb lanes and the road centre – but obviously pedestrian safety is the reason for preferring the curb, especially if there are no refuges at the streetcar stops.

Allan Herbert raised the potential of the new MoU – but Gordon Price had a great response: yes, it might be alright, but we have to watch out for the “Lucy effect”. The province can whip that ball away at the last second, just like it has before. In response to comments about maximizing the sale of land and the distance people are willing to walk to transit he responded  “it shouldn’t be either/or it should be and and” Land use has to accommodate the car as well as transit so that people can make choices. This was followed by a comment that while the value of bus service had been underestimated it was also necessary to notice the inadequacy of most bus stops – just a pole in the sidewalk, no bench, no shelter and no information.

MIVB 3050 in service on the Olympic Line

Session 2: The Olympic Line Experience
Steve Hall (General Manager, Western Canada, Bombardier Transportation) introduced the session by saying that it was one of the best projects he had experienced, although it was complex and challenging. “We’re local people like you”. The discussion has often been in terms of absolutes – but there is more to the story. It is not about either/or

Dale Bracewell (Director, Olympic Transportation Branch, City of Vancouver)

“We think the streetcar is a missing link. But we don’t think streetcars have a place in Kerrisdale”.

Vancouver faced a real challenge – there was going to be 30% more demand for trips on a system with reduced road capacity due to Olympic constraints. Granville Island reduced parking.  It was decided early on that the Olympic Line would be free to maximise use and it would be available 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for 60 days. [He showed historic pictures which ignored streetcars in Vancouver and showed only the Interurban] We need high quality transit to support density downtown and it has to be fully integrated into the regional system – it is the last leg of a regional trip. Streetcars have a longer life and a lower operating cost than buses. Fleet utilisation [is better ?] They attract people out of cars and attract visitors. They are better than a bus but slower than LRT.

Streetcar Renaissance (link is to pdf file)

Vancouver has determined that 100% operating cost recovery is possible on its three lines of proposed downtown streetcars. Stanley Park and Granville Island are the two anchors for visitors, then Coal Harbour, Gastown and Chinatown. The transit strategy is not one mode for everything but we have made all our decisions to date at the top end of the scale – SkyTrain, West Coast Express and the Canada Line. The next one will be Broadway – but we have to do both Broadway and the downtown streetcar.

Former Milan 1859 passes 1062

The F line in San Francisco uses heritage streetcars and carries 20,000 passengers per day along 8 km of track (2004). Streetcars are not competitors of local buses. Costs are of the order of $10 to 15m per km, and it will cost around $90m to build a line from Granville Island to Science World. We had an engineering consultant look at the Historic Railway (an old industrial freight line acquired from the CP for $8m) and were told that it would cost at least $2m to keep the DHR going safely. The Olympic Line cost the city a total of $8.5m for the section between Cambie Street (Olympic Village Canada Line station) and Granville Island. This included design, construction and operations (Granville Island contributed another $0.5m).

I asked him to provide some explanation of these costs – which was not really answered. They have now 1.8km of new track, plus a passing loop with new overhead and substation. He said that at a cost of around $4m per kilometre this was “way less than the $10-15m per km that is usually quoted for streetcars – and it can be used indefinitely”.

[As I pointed out at the time, it is NOT a streetcar line. It is still a railway – and one built to exceptionally high standards. Nothing lasts indefinitely.]

Silas Archambault was a post graduate student at the School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia who conducted a user survey as part of his master’s degree work. The survey administered 455 questionnaires in periods taken over the 60 day opdrational period and spread over different times of day and days of the week. It was not proportionate to ridership. Only one questionnaire could be completed during one end to end trip. I was unable to record all the data he presented but i noted that 82% of those questioned live in Greater Vancouver and that many people used the service for utilitarian purposes, 40% were going to work or school at peak periods. He estimated that 27,000 car trips were avoided and 20,277kg of CO2 emissions were avoided.

The address after lunch was by David Goldberg, Communications Director for Transportation for America and Smart Growth America, on the “Resurgence in U.S. Streetcar Systems” – I did not make notes of this session.

Session 3: Urban Design, Modal Integration – Lessons from Other Places
Lawrence D. Frank

A transit trip is an interrupted walk. We understand the connection between physical activity and health. Urban planning originally was intended to make cities healthier places. We also know that transportation shapes land use, and that people make travel choices based on their time [budget]. It takes 350 calories to cycle 10 miles, or walk 3.5 miles – or move an automobile 100 feet.

Municipal remuneration should be tied to performance – we need to have a reward system that produces the sort of results we want to see.   The idea of the 20 minute neighbourhood [adopted by Portland – everything one needs for daily life should be within 20 minutes walk from home] has been successful in showing there is unmet demand for walkable places since the prices have made them  unaffordable for many.

Land Use  –>  Physical Activity  –> BMI —> Chronic Disease

Transportation  –> Travel behaviour –> Vehicle Emissions –> GHG/CO2 AQ –> Respiratory function

Quite simply driving makes you fat. Adult onset diabetes due to lack of physical activity is now a major problem.

Walkable places require a range of transportation investments. We also need before and after studies so that we can demonstrate the causality of these relationships. One possibility he would like to see from the MoU is a vehicle levy that varies with respect to emissions

All of his work can be accessed at

Patrick M. Condon (Professor and James Taylor Chair in Landscape Architect and Liveable Environments, University of British Columbia) provided a summary of his work that has been extensively covered on this blog – for instance the cost of a tunnel to UBC under Broadway would be enough to recreate the Vancouver streetcar system – as well as completing it as needed for complete coverage today plus the recreation of the North Vancouver system. Similarly, the cost of the freeway widening (PM/H1) would provide complete coverage for the populated parts of Surrey and Langley. He also stressed that he was interested in sustainable communities. [You can also find a useful summary of these ideas – with maps – on the Human Transit blog.]

Lon LaClaire Strategic Transportation Planning Engineer, City of Vancouver

The prioritization of modes set out in the City of Vancouver has been accomplished. Cycling increased 180% between 1994 and 2004. Walking increased 44% in the same period. Transit use is up by 50% (1999-2009) at the same time as gas sales have fallen 7% and the number of vehicle trips fell 10% (1995-2005) There has been no growth of the number of vehicles in the city despite population growth.

The number of walk trips is a function of land use so the credit there goes to the planning department. The probability of cycling is based on comfort and perceptions of safety so there credit is due to engineering. The 10 decline in vehicles entering Vancouver is the result of a combination of factors, but note that while ridership on transit has increased by 50%, the mode share has only shifted from 11% to 13%. This is because there are more people and more trips being made. On the transit system demand exceeds capacity: 2,000 people per hour are left at stops by transit on Broadway at peak hours. We carry more people on our SkyTrain than San Francisco does on BART.

Session 4  Town Hall

Bob Ransford facilitated this session

The meeting opened with Colleen Nystedt pointing out the impediment that lack of money for transit poses and wondering how “amenity transfers” might be used to get the private sector to pay for new infrastructure. [Currently developers offer to build things like schools and community centres in return for concessions on planning requirements like density caps or parking provision.]

Patrick Condon observed that streetcars provide “gravitational pull along corridors to transform unlovely places into magnets for investment. In Surrey we could see 3 to 4 storey buildings along Scott Road and King George Highway. As we heard at lunch time, streetcars have provided 110 to 1 investment ratios. [I did not make notes during  the presentation by David Goldberg Communications Director for Transportation for America and Smart Growth America, on the “resurgence in U.S. Streetcar Systems” – but he said that in the cases he cited developers has invested over 100 times the cost of the streetcar in new and refurbished buildings.]

Mike Shiffer said that different modes have different impacts and that the “amount of lift” [increase in property value] is a function of the amount of service. [In other words you get more out of regional transit service than local]

Jack Collins pointed out the importance of city parking requirements and how changing those helped pay for the Sunnyvale LRT in California.

Dale Bracewell pointed to the contribution the city made to preserving the right of way through the Olympic Village for a future streetcar track. While this was not a cash contribution its value is significant.

Chris de Marco said that land use comes first – we can determine how different the fabric of the city is. The present “rich fabric” of streets in Vancouver is due to good bus service. In comparison, the SF BART does not have a supportive bus network. We do not need to have stations surrounded by high rises [because people can still get where they need to go.]

Patrick Condon said that we already have enough permitted density zoned along the arterial corridors. The question is how do we finance that development? he also noted that the price of land goes down when “dcl goes down” [sorry that is what my notes say – what is dcl – how does this work?]

Mike Shiffer said that the catchment [of a transit service] depends on service [quantity] – but Translink has to both shape and serve development.

Larry Frank said that he though developers could do more, and that we should implement regional tax base sharinf and the transfer of development rights for instance from the ALR.

A questioner raised the issue of social equity. He said that rail is used to attract “choice” riders but that has displaced the provision of better service to those dependant on transit – those who do not have a choice.

In the US [someone replied] the TIF increment pays for subsidized housing. [perhaps someone can explain that in a comment – I am not sure we can do this here]

Lon LaClair asked who we are trying to attract to transit when we cannot cope with current demand. Capacity is a function of the length of the vehicle and the amount of right of way.  “Let’s make sure we can build that capacity.”

Chris de Marco observed that in present technical studies of transit we do not include social equity ” and we ought to!”

Patrick Condon asserted that “equity is what streetcars are all about”. he felt that the carefully controlled release of additional housing supply into the city advantages certain developers. The development permit process reinforces [keeping prices high]. He said he agreed with Sam Sullivan who suggested that we “flood the market with new housing” [to bring prices down].

Larry Frank said that we should use the proceeds of congestion pricing and carbon taxes to subsidize housing at rapid transit stations and along streetcar lines.

Richard Campbell said that the MoU is a huge  opportunity. We need ambitious plans for all kinds of transit. Do not underestimate people’s willingness to pay for value. The drinking driving laws have been changed and are increasing the demand for SkyTrain to run all night. People now welcome the opportunity to use transit when they need it.

The “drive until you can afford the mortgage payment advice” still holds true. Why have location efficient mortgages not caught on?

Larry Frank put this down to institutional inertia, but said there is local interest. CMHC do not recognize the impact of transport cost.

Michael Geller said that at SFU they have a “UPass for residents” equivalent to a three zone monthly pass for $28. An incentive like this could work to help sell the condos at false Creek South.

Allan Herbert claimed that he had found five international investors willing to invest in streetcars in Vancouver at least one of which was unconcerned about the risk of not making any money. [I am just reporting what he said, not commenting on its credibility] “Vancouver is a great product.”

At that point I am going to stop transcribing my notes. I hope this makes more sense to you than it does to me right now. Comments – of course – are open.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm