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Archive for November 10th, 2010

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