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

Archive for November 2010

Canada Line fails to stand up to snow

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I would like to say that I am surprised – but I am not. News 1130 reports

The big problem was on the bridge that runs over the Fraser from Richmond-Brighouse to the Marine Drive station. Chan says they ran trains all night hoping to prevent stoppages like this morning’s, but it was something that was unexpected.

Really? He did not do that “wrong kind of snow” thing that they still talk about in Britain. But given that the Canada does NOT have a LIM rail – which is the weak link on SkyTrain when it comes to snow and ice – I am a bit nonplussed by the “unexpected” bit. The forecast was spot on. And it was not the first snow this year either.

Now I will confess I was less than prepared myself. I do have a snow shovel. It lives in the shed most of the year, and I did not get it out last night, prior to the snow. I was relying on that “it will turn to rain by lunchtime” bit of the forecast which so far (3pm) has yet to materialise. So to get to the snow shovel I had to put on my wellies and traipse through four inches of the stuff! It’s not exactly arctic out there either.

No doubt further details will emerge later. It will either be blowing snow in the switches – something of a regular feature when I commuted by GO train from Union Station in Toronto.  It usually led to delays rather than outright cancellations – or more likely conductor rail problems. A bit like the issues Translink has with the new trolleys.

British Rail – and London Transport – used to keep a fleet of retired trains equipped with brooms and deicing fluid to run when snow was about. ProTrans does have track maintenance machines that can run under their own power  – they had one out at the airport on that pocket track between the end of the line and Sea Island Centre a few days ago.

I cannot help but feel that at the base of the issue as usual is the penny pinching attitude of the P3 which puts all the emphasis on profit at the expense of customer service.

And as it happens I need to get to the airport tonight. Maybe I’ll take a cab instead. Like the pizza guys they seem to be able to keep running in all weathers

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Posted in transit

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St Mungo Cannery site

St Mungo Cannery site - photo by Stephen Rees

Burns Bog Conservation Society is non-profit environmental organization working to conserve and protect Burns Bog, a globally-unique ecological wonder in Delta, British Columbia.

For Immediate Release:


Wednesday, November 24, 2010 – Delta, B.C. – The Burns Bog Conservation Society announced today that it has delivered a statement of claim to Federal court office. The Society claims that the Federal Government has violated the conservation covenant to protect Burns Bog.

“The construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road will have a significant impact to the health and well being of residents, plants and animals alike,” said Eliza Olson, President, Burns Bog Conservation Society. “Our Governments have failed to conduct a thorough and credible analysis of the environmental impact of paving a highway through Burns Bog, over valuable farmland, and along the Fraser River.”

The freeway will cause irreparable harm to critical habitats of the Fraser delta including the bog, farmland, and the forests and wetlands located in Surrey and North Delta. As such, Burns Bog Conservation Society, with a grant from West Coast Environmental Law, has hired Vancouver lawyer Jay Straith to advocate on their behalf.

“The governments have failed to honour their commitment to protect Burns Bog under a Conservation Covenant and Management Plan signed by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia,  Metro Vancouver, and the Corporation of Delta,” said lawyer Jay Straith. “They must be held accountable for their actions and negligence.”

Further, the Federal Government has violated public trust, and ignored their fiduciary duty to protect the environment, by carrying out the development of the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The development contravenes the laws outlined in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Federal Species at Risk Act in the following ways:

  • Fails to ensure that the Federal Environmental Assessment of the South Fraser Perimeter Road was considered in a careful and precautionary manner, to avoid adverse environmental effects
  • Fails to disclose the use of Federal lands for the purpose of enabling the project to be carried out
  • Fails to protect endangered species such as the Pacific Water Shrew
  • Fails to meet the legal requirement of assessing the overall cumulative effects of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, in combination with related Gateway Projects such as the Delta Port expansion and Golden Ears Bridge.

It’s not too late for our governments to do the right thing.


For more information, please contact:

Eliza Olson

President of the Burns Bog Conservation Society


info (at)

Alex Fraser Bridge

The SFPR will run along the south bank of the Fraser. The St Mungo cannery site is below the south pier. - Stephen Rees photo

Written by Stephen Rees

November 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Gateway

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“Shadow tolls” and related issues

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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

When Lewis Carroll wrote that he was joking. But the world has changed – and in one where Henry Kissinger can get the Nobel Peace Prize political satire has become next to impossible.

Laila Yuile has been tracking this issue for a while and it has now been picked up by Mark Hume in the Golbe and Mail

Under the deal, the government pays a set amount when certain traffic levels are reached, but the payments fall as traffic numbers climb.

“Basically, let’s say the traffic today is 10,000 per week … then we get X-amount per vehicle … and then … [at] 12,000 to 15,000 vehicles, you get a lower amount per vehicle. And then above a certain band, let’s say 15,000 vehicles, we get nothing,” he said.

So even if you do call it a shadow toll, it’s a shadow that fades away as vehicle use increases?

“Exactly. Yeah. I guess to me the strict term ‘shadow toll’ would imply that if there’s 100,000 vehicles using the road, then we get paid for 100,000 vehicles. That’s not the case in Sea to Sky,” said Mr. Hahn.

Peter Milburn, deputy minister of Transportation, said “shadow toll” is not a term he would use. But he acknowledges the private consortium will get incentive payments of about $75-million over 25 years depending on safety performance targets and vehicle use.

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ….

Tolls are not popular. This is not surprising, for we have become used to the idea of using the roads for “free”. We pay for them of course, but through means which bear no relation at all to our use of them. That means that we overuse them – as with most things that are not controlled by price at the point of use. This results in queuing – or “line ups” if you speak only “American”. We distribute a scarce resource – road space at peak travel times – in the same way that the former Soviet Union distributed nearly everything. With the same result. People who have time to spare get in the line up and wait, while those who don’t but would be willing pay to jump the queue are forced to wait with them. Now that the private sector operates most airlines, the complexity of fares is amazing, but it is designed to be as effective as possible at extracting the maximum “consumer surplus”. Once the plane has taken off, any empty seats are a dead loss. The same applies to cruise ship cabins once the vessel has left the dock. So pricing up to that moment is very variable. Some airlines used to offer payments to passengers that were oversold to free up seats (but I have not heard that recently). Others now sell off upgrades at cut prices when they want to fill the seats at the front of the aircraft. And in the month before the cruise ship sails, there are all kinds of deals available to those willing to be flexible about where and when they take their vacation.

The problem with the shadow toll is that the signals are not getting through to the market that matters. There is a signal to the contractor – who gets more money if, for example, a repair is expedited to re-open blocked lanes. But there is no signal at all to road users. Indeed in the case of the Sea to Sky the BC government made sure that there would be no train service that might attract people out of their cars.

But BC Rail was not sold. Oh no, the same government that denies it sets shadow tolls also denies that CN “bought” BC Rail. They just leased it. For 999 years. So it’s the same usage: “sold” is a “strict term” which is not applied to what happened to a publicly owned corporation that was actually performing very well and managing to operate passenger services too.

The sale of BC Rail (for that is still what I am going to call it) is, of course not the only reason why the voters of BC lost faith in the Premier. As Iain Hunter points out. He joins the growing band of mainstream media commentators who have decided that they can now start doing their jobs properly, as Campbell is going to step down. Rafe Mair calls this “hypocrisy“. He’s right, of course, just wrong to be surprised. But then we have “been down so long it looks like up

To the present administration there is no doubt at all that they will say anything to hang on to power. They do not necessarily mean it – or mean to stick to what they say later. All kinds of praise was heaped on Gordon Campbell for his leadership in imposing a carbon tax. None of those commentators seemed to notice then the expansion of coal, oil and gas extraction taking place at the same time. I ran for the Greens at the last provincial election: not once did I hear any of the Liberals talk about the HST at any of the all candidates meetings. Not that they actually ever said anything of much significance. They certainly never addressed any policy issue in a substantive way in those forums.

I am in favour of road pricing, but not as way to pay for roads. Experience shows that drivers do respond to price signals – hence the success of HOT lanes. We need to ration urban road space sensibly – not so that we can build more but so we can use what we have efficiently. We also need to at long last start to get serious about how we make the alternatives to driving more attractive. We have to do that even if we do not bite the bullet on road pricing – because the way we pay for our private transportation means we have a huge incentive to make the most of that upfront investment. About the only people who are getting close to the right price signal about car use are members of car sharing schemes.

I think incentives to contractors do make sense – but P3s in general don’t. They are basically a device to drive down the wages (and other benefits) paid to the people who provide public services, and divert public funds into corporate profits. Making companies profitable is not, in my opinion, a necessary function of government. Markets can be made to work – but they need oversight and regulation to keep them honest and efficient – and to take care of issues where things we value but have no price are under threat. Things like clean air, clean water, safe food, biodiversity and planet that will support future generations of human beings (and other life forms) in reasonable comfort. And community. We should value that – it is essential to humans – but we have not found a way to attach a dollar value to it.

The problem in BC is not that we cannot trust Gordon Campbell. (In fact, just assume that if his lips are moving, he’s lying: that’s a pretty safe assumption.) We can no longer trust government to do what governments are supposed to do, because they have become too much like the corporations who pay for the elections of our political leaders. That’s all of them. Carol James is assiduous in her wooing of the same constituency: she thinks that to get elected she has to move the NDP to the “centre”. The same route that was advocated (disastrously) by Blair and Brown in Britain – and Rafe Mair here, by the way. Both the NDP and the so called “BC Liberal Party” want to represent the corporate agenda – the agenda espoused by the elite. The one that says there has to be less government – except when it comes to defence or “law ‘n’ order” (both being highly profitable). The one that says there must be economic growth – despite the fact that it is clear as can be that exponential growth cannot continue on a finite planet. The one that still spouts the “trickle down” theory – which has been totally disproved. The one that opposes government subsidies – except for those that directly feed into the pockets of the big corporations.

In that context it seems to me to be a minor issue that the Sea to Sky may or may not have a “shadow toll”. I think that it does, but it does not alarm me at all that the present government denies it. They also say that the expansion of the freeway will solve traffic congestion, that the Gateway programme is essential to the health of BC and that using property tax to pay for transit is a good wheeze. I could sit here typing out a longer list of wrong headed policies in every portfolio. I think you get the point.

After I finished writing this, I went back to reading other things and came across the video below. I learned early on in my campaigning against the SFPR that you should never, ever try to speak at a meeting after Corky Evans. We do not share the same background, or the same party political platform. But he is a great speaker and I think this is well worth your time

Written by Stephen Rees

November 22, 2010 at 11:59 am

Posted in politics, Transportation

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Forum on the future of Sustainable Transportation, for New Westminster and the entire region

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New Westminster Environmental Partners held their AGM at Douglas College last night  (November 9, 2010). The meeting was preceded by a forum on the future of Sustainable Transportation, for New Westminster and the entire region. Speaking were Jerry Dobrovolny, the Director of Transportation for the  City of Vancouver (a New Westminster resident and former councillor), Joe Zaccaria of South Fraser OnTrax and  Jonathan Cote,  a City Councillor in New Westminster.

Jerry Dobrovolny opened with two presentations “How the Olympics and Separated Bike Lanes are helping Vancouver become the Greenest City in the world by 2020”

Separated bike lanes in downtown are being built on Hornby and have opened on Dunsmuir. this is not a new idea but has been around since the 1997 Transportation Plan identified cycling as a top priority.  Key city and regional initiatives recently have included a dedicated bike and pedestrian addition to the Canada Line bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser, the Central Valley Greenway, bike racks on all Translink buses and the Carrall St greenway. A key City policy was to not increase the capacity of the road system to accommodate the growth of population. These policies have been followed by several councils and parties, so they are not ideologically driven or partisan.

Vancouver is a growing city

  • Population  +27%  1999 – 2008
  • trips 23% 1995- 2005
  • 180% increase  in cycling
  • 44% in walking
  • Transit +20% (pre Canada Line ) 1994-2004
  • 10% decline in cars coming into the city 1995-2005
  • by 2009 the increase in transit ridership was 50% over 1995
  • prospect of  growth continues with a 23% increase in population expected between 2006 -41 and an increase in jobs

The Downtown cycle lanes trial project was the physically separate lanes on Burrard Bridge. Dunsmuir Viaduct was closed during Olympics so the lanes there were put in during the closure than the rest of the street followed as far as Hornby. When that street is completed there will be a separate pathway through downtown connecting the seawall to Stanley Park to a major connection into downtown.

More than 75% of all trips to Hornby are were made by walking, bicycle and transit before the trial started (city survey Aug/Sep 2010). An increase in active transportation means healthier citizens – cycling for half an hour a day increases life expectancy one to two years. Currently the highest mode split is in the 5km range of downtown, where 12 to 14% of trips to work are by bike. In downtown it’s mostly by walking. When cycling participation doubles, the  injury risk falls by a disproportionate amount.

He illustrated the trends in other cities and said that separated bike lanes are now “best practice”

“Riding a bicycle should not require bravery” Roger Geller Portland Office of Transportation. While 33% of people say that there is “no way no how” they would cycle,  60% say they are “interested but concerned”. The objective is thus in lowering the barrier to cycling by building facilities to make people feel safer. A UBC Cycling in Cities study March 2007 identified what people want. The City had provided over 400 lane kms of facilities but most are not separate.  The Burrard Bridge trial worked: cycling up 26%, with 1m riders in less than a year. Dunsmuir has seen a 400% in riders on two months: not all of these are new trips, a lot shifted from other routes. Pedestrians and business owners appreciate the greening of the street.

Dunsmuir bike lane at Granville

The separation is provided by a combination of planted barriers, car parking and bike parking: loading and drop off areas have different treatment with access to all driveways maintained, key right turn movements maintained with right turn lanes with a dedicated signal where space permits.

Dunsmuir mid-street bike racks

While 158 on street parking spaces were lost on Hornby, 162 spaces have been added on Seymour and Howe as a result of the reopening of Granville Street to buses. There are 10,000 space off street within one block of Hornby, and most people already walk two blocks to their parking space. The design of the street has been evolved through consultation and the use of a web page.

Less than 1% of total road space in Vancouver is dedicated to bicycles, which have a 4% mode share. The city spends $125m on transportation of which only $4m was on downtown separated lanes.

The Olympic Transportation Plan

(A copy of the presentation used is available at the City Web site as a pdf file). The Olympics were seen as a test of what it would be like a decade from now. VANOC brought in a bus fleet as big as Translink’s. Though it was a partnership it is important to note that each partner was pursuing different goals.  We did not say “Don’t come downtown” – we just said “Come, enjoy yourselves but not in your car”.

While there was increased travel demand, there was reduced road capacity as  streets closed due to security concerns. The Olympic was not expected to provide a huge lift in demand and was expected to be mostly later in the day, after the 8am peak but even so the roads would be at over 85% capacity for most of the day. The forecast for 2010 was  25% drive, 54% transit, 21% walk – bike – other (extrapolated trend from 1996 – 2007). We never saw any data collection and post mortems from previous games – only anecdotal information was provided by other olympic cities.

Vancouver conducted a downtown screenline survey and saw a 44% increase in trips (much bigger than model!)

before 407,000 during  584,000

Trips on sustainable modes more than doubled – 61% share on sustainable modes while single occupant vehicle use declined by 41% and transit share was 51%. Walking & Cycling across the False Creek bridges increased from 5,000 trips per day to over 20,000 trips per day. Vehicular people moving capacity was maintained with 20% less road space, partly due to the fact that transit buses were allowed in the special Olympic Lanes for the first time. 80% of spectators used walk, transit or cycle to get to events and the Olympic Line streetcar saw ½ m riders on 60 days.

The Olympics proved we can move to sustainable modes.

South of the Fraser

Much of the content of Joe Zaccaria presentation is on the  South Fraser OnTrax web page.  On Trax recognizes that while they use pictures of trains in their presentations, it may be a bus for a while. “We engage, we don’t protest,  we listen to reason and encourage solutions. We think that we need to engage the community. It is not about stopping development.”

In the issues summary he acknowledged the transit deficit, but stressed that “it is not about getting to Vancouver.  There is now more than 1 job per resident in the Township of Langley, and more than 80% of trips start and end South of the Fraser. We don’t have rail, and there is an aging population. There has been a disconnect between the regional strategy and what has been built. While we built around roads we lack “complete roads” (i.e. roads with pedestrian, transit and cycling facilities) and the is no program of  alternatives to roads for goods movement.

The solutions ON Trax sees as practical include integrated  land use and transportation planning, and LRT connecting Abbotsford – Langley and Surrey. He said that Chilliwack is “not really interested in transit”. On Trax is “open to alignment” [i.e. they are not convinced that the former interurban is the best solution] their objectives being safety and serving the areas of greatest concern. the line has to be economically viable and should be similar to the Portland MAX line with local feeder services.

They therefore support more community shuttles 15/15/7 (15 minute frequency for 15 hours a day 7 days a week). They think that the municipalities will build complete communities with complete roadways to provide opportunities for walking and cycling. They also see Light Rail as a development tool.

The South of Fraser sub region has a  population of 1m now, and that will rise to 3m by 2031.

[NOTE: I may have not transcribed what Joe said accurately – as I cannot type at the speed of speech. Jeff Nagel has pointed out in an email to me

“Metro Vancouver’s projections in the RGS (pg 66 appendix A) show 835,000 from Delta through the Langleys now, rising to 1.4 m by 2041. … Metro Vancouver population projected to be only 3.13 m in 2031 and 3.4m in 2041”
It is also possible that Joe was including the FVRD as well as Metro in his idea of what constitutes “South of the Fraser”]

Only 20% of trips “head over the bridge”. 30% of the population have no cars. He said that there will be increasing truck demand (citing the Gateway forecast)

Destinations in Abbotsford are not on the interurban right of way – nor are the proposed developments. [He was citing the Abbotsford committee reported here at the time] The interurban right of way “Will it still work for us?” While the line is still intact and working for frieght he felt that it did not meet passengers needs and cited the Abbotsford “horseshoe concept”.

When looking at Surrey, without the ALR land it is more dense than Burnaby. [i.e. development densities in Surrey are more than adequate to support transit]  Langley City has an ambitious master plan “Prarie Station” transit hub and a 200th streetcar line . Langley  township has 65% of population 76k within reach of that line now, with 184k by “build out”. They already have high density zoning in place for up to 20 storey buildings.

He then showed a comparison of cost for LRT vs SkyTrain with the “what could $2.8bn buy” from the Patrick Condon study.He also observed that the Translink Surrey Rapid Transit Study is out for public consultation

More information on the nonprofit society can be found at

Jonathan Cote – Sustainable Transportation

The issue needs to be looked at regionally: it is driven by the imperatives of climate change and peak oil.  He noted that the perceived conflict between transportation infrastructure vs urban form was simply a “chicken or egg” issue [serve or shape] It cannot be one or the other because neither can change overnight: therefore we  cannot wait for one to be finished first before we begin the other.

The design of cities will have huge impact. There are three issues

  1. street design
  2. mixed use
  3. density

[Older parts of the region have] an interconnected [grid] vs the dendritic pattern of [post war development]. The dendritic pattern discourages transit and walking. Even master planned communities have only one way in.

Mixed use is not a new concept but the planning mentality has been auto dependent – and we need to get back to [traditional patterns] The segregation of land uses was driven by environmental concerns but the  places were we shop or work are no longer incongruent with residential use.

There is a strong correlation of transit use with density but many public hearings show that density is still a sensitive issue. We need to show that density can take a variety of forms and housing choices. Liveability needs to be included (many early high density housing developments forgot that) but it needs to be in the right place. High density, car dependent development is the worst of both worlds.

5 7 10

  • 5 minutes is the  average walk trip
  • at 7 minutes transit frequency you don’t need a schedule
  • 10 units per acre is the minimum to support frequent transit service

Many single family Vancouver neighbourhoods are 20 units/acre. He referred to a  CATO institute study which concluded that it would be cheaper to buy a car than provide transit in the US. He said that this simply illustrates the mistakes made when they planned their cities.

He showed a “Translink fantasy map” of a possible 2050 system (which is actually pretty much what we have now with a few additions in Vancouver (UBC, Kits and Arbutus lines), and the Evergreen Line). However there is a funding gap and the federal and provincial governments need to play a more active role. Municipalities are being asked to raise an extra $300m per year. Property tax is not appropriate: for one thing,  it won’t impact mode choice. A vehicle levy, gas tax or road pricing are all possibilities. While a vehicle levy or a gas tax would be steps in the right direction, serious work needs to be done on road pricing which is done now in a haphazard way – just tolls on new bridges. To affect mode share we need road pricing that varies by route and time of day. He said that this “has been successfully implemented in many cities across the world”.

Q & A

Q –  About people in wheelchairs on transit – “what’s the plan to make that better?”

a – Joe Zaccaria – Translink has increased the bus fleet with low floor buses. That is  not a cure all. We advocate light rail and BRT level boarding.

supplementary q  – “My chair is two inches too wide for the buses” [Note: the questioner was using a powered scooter, not a wheelchair. These are not designed to be used within buses but for on street use. This has been a long standing, unresolved issue as there is no regulation of dimensions for scooters, but they have never been accepted on buses and many cause problems on other transit modes too.]

Jerry Dobrovolny – The Main Street showcase program included bus bulges which brought the stop out into the travel lane.

q – Upass BC program – We are building a generation that’s transit reliant, what is the strategy to engage the transit generation? Catherine Cooper’s research shows that students will become transit users for life. What are the municipal strategies to support that?

Jonathan Cote – UPass more successful than anyone anticipated. The opportunity of that first transit ride experience has to be good. We need to have funding for adequate service. We won’t convert anyone to transit if the service is poor.

Jerry Dobrovolny:  Keeping up with the demand created by UPass is a problem. UBC has reduced the volume of cars and parking on campus but the challenge for TransLink is on the Broadway corridor which currently carries more people on buses than most US LRT systems. We also now have lower car ownership due to car shares etc

q – buses accelerate and brake too fast – install equipment to make ride smoother

Jerry Dobrovolny: The challenge for the bus operator is to stay on schedule

Jonathan Cote – I was an ICBC claims adjuster. Translink carries a vulnerable and aging population. The technology is far more likely to cause fall and injury due to braking. It is a big issue that is not easy to address.

Joe Zaccaria – To help keep to schedule  bus prioritization should be used to facilitate transit

Jerry Dobrovolny: we use signal priority now, but on grid system who goes first? We have full buses in both directions. We are adding conditional priority for buses that are running late.

q – how much effort goes into reducing the number of trips per person? Can that 5 minute walk become ten minutes?

Jerry Dobrovolny:– Transportation Demand Management: the best solution is to reduce the distances for trips through better land use planning – complete communities – do it all close to home. As [fuel] price goes up we see change in behaviour. As gas prices go up – people drove less and they used transit more – hit Translink with a double whammy. Trip chaining.

Joe Zaccaria – Bangkok vs Singapore – smart card road pricing – plus “aggressive rapid transit” and high car prices

Jonathan Cote – we need to start with the  younger generation: get them walking to school – not being driven

q – [Voony] my experience of transit is that suburban transit between Richmond and New Westminster on the  #410 bus at 7 minutes frequency is better than the RER suburban trains in the Paris region (30 minutes peak, 60 minutes off peak)  or the Hong Kong New Territorries. I do not understand why we keep saying our suburban transit is not good enough. It’s not frequency that is the problem, it’s lack of predictability. We need easier schedules to be able to memorize them and keep the bus on schedule, that is all. What is your position?

Joe Zaccaria – GPS bus stop real time – [he then attempted to explain Translink policies on buses] Over time the transit system is addressing that and question is [lack of] funding

Jonathan Cote– make it something intuitive – make it easy to understand



I must admit I was disappointed with the evening. We heard four “canned” presentations, with limited applicability to the advertised topic. The format also assumed that the panel were “experts” and the audience simply in need of information. I would have much preferred a livelier discussion, and I rather expected to hear at least something about the expected impact on New Westminster of the proposed replacement of the Patullo Bridge and the North Fraser Perimeter Road. It might also have been a good idea to allow for a more wide ranging discussion on what is really needed in New Westminster, where I regard the steepness of the hills as a severe constraint on both walking and cycling.

It did not help that the panellists all seemed to be defending the status quo and suggesting that we are generally on track and doing the right things – if only the senior levels of government would pay more for transit.

I did not stay for the formalities of the AGM, or the expected opportunity to talk to the panelists informally. Perhaps it got better. But my advice to NWEP is that they should take away the projector, microphone  and raised platform and use a format that actually facilitates dialogue and thoughtful expression. Of course, it is not possible to edit out people who ask questions – like the wheelchair and UPass – which address issues that are mostly of concern to a limited audience and not the region or city in general.

“Sustainable Transportation” is in reality a meaningless expression. We know that we have to reduce car dependency – and that land use is the key to that in the longer term and better transit and provision for walk and cycle trips essential. That is not really a debate any more. What we really needed to hear was why this has now become not just something nice and healthy to do but of desperate urgency.

Vancouver had the right objectives in 1997 – but nothing much changed for the next ten years or so. We had a Livable Region Strategy in 1995, but it was undermined by the “business as usual” interests. NWEP members do not need to be convinced of the need to become more sustainable – but they do need to think about why we have not done better up until now and what needs to happen to increase the pace of change. Fundamentally, in New Westminster especially, there is a need to protest – otherwise there is going to be a lot more car traffic thanks to wider roads and bridges. Traffic expands to fill the space available: Translink and the Province are currently determined to expand that space in the city. That is going to be a huge problem.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Metro Vancouver mayors offered two transit options, and a choice of how to pay

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This piece by Don Cayo appeared on the Vancouver Sun’s web site about an hour ago. It looks like the Translink Board  is getting the most out of the little room to manoeuvre the province has left it. Both the Evergreen Line and the North Fraser Perimeter Road funds will be lost if the Mayors do not agree to raise new revenues. They don’t like the idea of raising property tax, and there really isn’t time to design a vehicle levy properly – but there is enough cash on hand to allow for a year’s breathing space. The Mayors could approve a plan to build both projects – and expand bus service significantly –  and pay for that from current reserves. That gives them a year to talk to the province and come up with something better than the options they have now. If the worst comes to the worst and no agreement is possible, property tax would have to go up in 2011. The plan is set out in a letter and a backgrounder.

I am not going to predict what they Mayors will do, but I think people here can comment – and vote. I have to got to the NWEP meeting tonight – and blog that tomorrow. But after that maybe there will be more to say.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Posted in transit

Vancouver to crack down on parking tickets

with 10 comments

CBC News report that reminds me, once again, that life simply keeps on repeating itself. Some of you may be familiar with this part of my history: I have probably written about it here before too. But this issue keeps cropping up – and has been resolved elsewhere. And ought probably not to be an issue here. One of the things that can happen here is that your licence plate sticker can be withheld at renewal time if you have outstanding parking tickets. So there must be something I am not understanding.

Councillor Geoff Meggs says the city is owed around $8 million in uncollected fines because so many tickets are tied up in court, where the wait can be as long as 2½ years.

We had the same problem in London in the mid 1980s. In fact, the problem got so bad that people realized that they did not have to pay their parking tickets – because the courts were so bunged up that no penalty was actually going to happen. Indeed, it seems to me to be entirely likely that by the time a parking ticket does come to court either the officer’s memory can be challenged (“Do you really recall every ticket you issued over two years ago?”) or the case gets tossed due to unreasonable delay. Or, as has happened to me when I really, really wanted to challenge a parking ticket I knew was illegal, the officer simply fails to appear.

Over 10 percent of parking violators account for nearly 40 percent of all fines, according to city staff.

Actually I thought the rule for this kind of thing was the old 80/20 rule. The point being that it is the minority who are “scofflaws” who threaten to bring down the system when their numbers move over that line. The City of Denver came up with the solution first – hence the name “the Denver boot” or wheel-clamp. When a vehicle had more than ten unpaid parking tickets outstanding an enforcement officer would clamp it to render it immovable until the fines were paid. The system then relied on developments in IT which now would look humorous.   These days something like an iPad – or even an iPhone would make the whole thing very slick indeed.

We (the UK Department of Transport) wanted to try this out in Central London. The old GLC had been abolished and the civil servants were keen to show how effective they could be. Trouble was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley, was none too keen on the data collection aspect. “We will get hammered by the civil liberties crowd.” So we tried the “Yes, Minister” trick of suggesting something else so extreme we thought he would reluctantly agree to our original proposal as preferable. “We can’t clamp someone just for one offence, like overstaying a meter, Minister.”

“Why not?”

So that’s what we did. In fact what we clamped was any offence – because as soon as the clamping team’s van appeared all the offenders scarpered sharpish. We even had to persuade the unclampers not to be too efficient, in order to maximize the deterrent  effect of the clamped car. Only Lamborghinis were exempt: we could never get a clamp to fit on them. Parking enforcement in Central London was transformed very speedily.

Now all I am suggesting here is what old Nick would not allow us to do. The licence plate number is simply entered into a machine now to issue a ticket. That machine can either have a memory chip with the current top offenders licence plate numbers in it – or it can look up a web page to check if this vehicle has more than ten tickets issued already. If yes it not only gets the ticket, it gets clamped too.

Of course drivers will hate it. That is because they have been caught – finally. There will be all kinds of noise and complaints – just as there were with photo radar for speeders. We should never have caved to that pressure, nor should we now.

And since this government thinks that it is worth spending millions to try and catch fare evaders on SkyTrain, they really have no excuse for not taking action against scofflaws who park illegally and seem to be getting way with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Posted in parking

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