Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 2011

On Broadway

with 16 comments

SFU City Programme “Designing Broadway” Monday, May 30, 7 – 9 pm, SFU at Harbour Centre

Broadway, extending across almost the entire city, is not only an important street for walking, living, shopping and work but is also one of Vancouver’s busiest transit corridors.  How can we make it better?

Allan Jacobs, former Director of City Planning for San Francisco and author of Great Streets, and Elizabeth Macdonald, Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak to best practices in street design and provide advice on the design of Broadway and how it could be a ‘Really Good’ Street, if not a ‘Great Street.’

In his introduction Gordon Price mentioned that the evening was sponsored by the City of Vancouver, in the same way that they had sponsored the recent presentation on the viaducts

I have quoted the SFU blurb above since the two introductory speakers were not on the programme. The value of these contributions is, I think, debatable but the effect was that they both took up time that would normally have been available for discussion. By 9pm I had to leave – and a lot of people decided to go before that.  So I did not get all the discussion points

City Engineer Peter Judd
Spoke about the City’s Transportation plan update. The original targets of the last plan were said to be optimistic but they were exceeded early on. Both jobs and population in the City are trending up, but both automobile use and miles driven are trending down. These trends are due to land use changes. Transportation planning has to be done in the context of land use, transit and economic  development. We live in a time of change. “Today’s kids” have a different set of values fort hem transportation is not all about owning a car. The City is now consulting about what the vision of the future should be –

Broadway is the second highest concentration of jobs in the region. There is a distinct change in the nature of the street at Arbutus divide. East of Arbutus traffic flows are heavier – 30,000 at Cambie  (Knight is 40,000)  six lanes wide – and Broadway is also the only continuous truck route north of 41st. There is heavy transit use 100,000 passengers per day which is similar to the Canada Line and double the Millennium Line. He also noted that the  expectations of Canada Line use were quickly exceeded. There is a significant amount of demand for transit that cannot currently be expressed due to capacity constraints of the system. Eats of Arbutus it is a long way to cross the street and there are only limited opportunities for amenities such as public art or street seating.

West of Arbutus, Broadway is very different. There are awnings over the sidewalk  and it is seen to be a place to have your business. There are the same number of transit trips but only  20 to 25,000 vehicle trips per day.

In recent years the number of cars entering the city declined 5% (downtown 20%). In the past 15 years of growth has been accommodated on walk, bike and cycle, and New York is similar. We have been able to support a rate of economic growth that could not otherwise have been accommodated by automobile.

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver by Arlene Gee on flickr

On Central Broadway the mode split is more similar to the rest of the region. 21% of trips are on transit but improvements to transit are the most essential as there are currently more than 2,000 pass-ups at peak hour. If we had the same mode split on Broadway as downtown the automobile volumes would fall. It would then be entirely doable to have parking on street, with bus bulges, sidewalk widening and all the rest. Rapid Transit would make that possible – and make it a better street.

Lance Berelowitz – is currently working for the City as a consultant to update policies for the Central Broadway area. He read from the City’s Terms of Reference for his work and it mentions Great Street, a vibrant public realm, and community consultation later this year. the study has a 30 year horizon and a policy decision is expected in 2012.

Broadway is both extraordinary and very vexing. It is unique: it is the only continuous east west route across the City and into Burnaby (where it is called Lougheed Highway) and is wider at 99′ than most arterials (not the 66′ typical of Vancouver). It is the  pre-eminent east west corridor, with significant buildings along it and its intersections with all the north south routes are important nodes. The opportunity of rapid transit of some kind is that it will “take the heat off an over-subscribed piece of real estate”. What Broadway might look like with rapid transit is currently what Translink is studying. “If you get rapid transit underground, you no longer need the B Line.” Therefore it is possible to re-engineer the street to attract more people, and better buildings. Public realm is underwhelming. Its lack of attraction stems from the absence of street trees. The linden trees in Kitsilano west of MacDonald, saved by public protest shows that substantial trees can survive on Broadway . The built form is spotty at best. The buildings are  old and tired and many are only 1 or 2 stories high. This is simply not high enough relative to the great width of the street.

Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth McDonald – Cityworks

On Broadway – a possible future Great Street

We can take more lessons from you than you can learn from us – you are doing so well.  “They talk about Great Streets but they never give any damn dimensions.” We measure streets: for instance  – how far is it between doorways? On Queen Street in Toronto they are 16′ apart. We also count people as well as cars.

Broadway is many streets over its length – but it is not a great walking street. Ultimately we believe it will be the main street of the city.

Central Broadway  [I need to point out here that he mainly showed many pictures, and it will take me some time to research and find illustrations. He relied heavily on people seeing what he was talking about rather than explaining it.]

There are some common physical and designable characteristics of great streets. The first is that they are places where people to walk with some leisure –  a street in Rome, Queen St TO, Robson St, Davie St were all given as examples. On Strøget in Copenhagen they counted a pedestrian flow of 16 people per metre per minute. The greatest flow is found on Avenida Florida in Buenos Aires at  24 – which is probably the maximum. They noted also that people were strolling back and forth – they were not necessarily travelling through the street, but enjoying it.

“Be cautious about standards – I challenge them all the time”

The best streets are comfortable: he showed a picture of a street in San Francisco where the wind [vortex] created by tall buildings blew people over. We need physical comfort – shade when its hot, sun when its cool – and that is the role of [deciduous] trees.

Autumn On Broadway, 2005

Autumn On Broadway, 2005 by Kurrs on flickr

The best streets are defined by a sense of place, they have boundaries. The ancients understood this and had a rule that the building height had to be at least half the width of the street. He showed Brooklyn brownstones at 4 storeys which do that. “If the buildings don’t do it, trees can.”

Transparency – the ability to see and know by sight what it is behind is what gives definition to the street, and creates a feeling of safety. You don’t get it with the Nieman Marcus store in San Francisco [picture of blank wall] whereas Macy’s on Union Square invites you in. Glass doesn’t always do it – black glass creates Darth Vader buildings:[you think] “nothing good can be happening in there!” But he also showed a narrow alley in Venice with high walls on both sides where trees and branches were visible over the top of the walls – this also creates a sense of comfort, knowing that there is a garden there

Buildings that are complementary – not all the same. Princes St Edinburgh

Quality and maintenance – a control on fly bill posters, clean windows,

Qualities that engage the eyes – cornices “ins and outs” – which creates shadow lines that attract the eyes – the eyes have to move

Trees give you the greatest bang for the buck. Ideally at  15 -35 ft spacing – and come to the corners – do not be deterred by the claimed need for clear sight lines for car drivers at corners

  • many buildings rather than few
  • marked beginnings and endings
  • places along the way – he illustrated this with a small square that the people took over – “mini parks” often no more than one or two parking spots taken over
  • density
  • special design features – fountains in Nuremberg

Elizabeth MacDonald spoke about Balanced Streets

Balance is needed between

  • different types of movement
  • movement and in place
  • hardscape and greenscape

There are many competing interests: success is when no-one gets everything but everyone gets a lot,  and the public realm serves all interests.

We can get balance between modes at either the street level or at a city-wide level. Not all streets need be the same but no streets should be sacrificed to fast movement. Some streets should be for transit, bikes or walking

She illustrated this by showing the various Amsterdam transport networks.  One example was the IJBurg “linear tramway district”. They chose not to give vehicles priority.

Portland OR is well balanced downtown because all the streets have a narrow right of way with short blocks that limit streets. they have also introduced curbless shared streets – Teachers Park

She showed a Paris shopping street with mixed traffic where pedestrians outnumber cars. There are movable bollards that only residents and local businesses can open – and they drive at walking pace.

Textures are used in Copenhagen to define car, pedestrian and bike areas. “Everybody young and old rides bikes because they feel so safe”
The new cycle track on Hornby Street achieves the dame thing with hardscape. There are a few aesthetic issues but it is a great idea and safer than an on- street bike lane.

San Francisco is  reducing lane widths, and removing parking and turning pavement into parks. They have created street parks in former parking places. Because they were deemed temporary they were easy to do:  then they become permanent as people show they like them and use them.
In The Castro there are curved streetcar tracks through a park taken from the street – the curve limits the speed of the streetcars in any event.
They have made a number of commercial streets better with the use of narrow medians with planting

Portland green streets – stormwater runoff issue – vegetative swales

Comprehensive rebalancing – SF Better Streets plan – common framework –

Rebalancing big streets

International Blvd Oakland CA 100′ row – 72′ roadway – but is also the neighbourhood shopping street
Fruitvale BART station – moved surface parking to create transit village – traffic calming – new plaza – centre median – pedestrian refuge and slows down traffic but appropriate for neighborhood

Octavia Blvd SF – removal of freeway at Market Street – Hayes Valley –
133′ wide – rebuild frontage – in some places lots less than 15′ deep – could be student housing or other temporary things. Narrow side access roads with a mountable curb to meet the demands of the fire department. A pedestrian realm created in the median
Park at end of street – Patricia’s Green – named after a local activist on freeway removal

Pacific Blvd Vancouver – a key policy in the city Transportation plan was to keep current capacity: that meant that on Pacific the City engineers identified excess roadway. There were to be three different lengths: two outer parts with “one-sided multiway boulevards” and a central area where 122′ of asphalt was replaced by two 25′ roadways, a parking lane “flex zone” and central median with trees. There was also to be a bus lane and 16′ side access roads to keep speeds down. [I was there recently and simply did not recognize any of these features – so I have changed the tense of what I wrote.She must have been talking about what they proposed not what was built.]


busy broadway

Busy Broadway by Boris Mann on flickr

In its current state its is “snaggle tooth, haphazard, trees don’t add up to anything, too narrow sidewalks”. It is a bad pedestrian realm overall but some bus stops have been made better with wider sidewalks due to greater set backs of the buildings.

“It can’t be everything”


[Question inaudible] Tomorrow there will be a design charette with city staff

Pedestrian realm should incorporate porous surfaces to deal better with surface water issues

Q: Viable street trees

A: There are lots of ways – importance of not letting the budget be cut

Q: Broadway bike route is on 10th – transit is the key – if we don’t have direction on [the type of] Rapid Transit [surface or underground] we can’t do design

A: Agreed – we will look at both alternatives – going underground frees up the right of way for other uses – and it gets people excited about the possibilities

Q:  Why don’t we build cheap housing for students at UBC to reduce need for travel?

[Celia Brauer hit the nail on the head with that one. It is the land use at UBC that’s screwed up – lots of housing but only at market prices and hardly any for students. There was, of course, no response]

Q:  Bikes – helmet rule – Copenhagen and Amsterdam don’t need them.

A – depends on speed of moving vehicles but at 25mph it becomes lethal – it depends on the degree of separation of bikes from cars

Q: very concerned about seniors in wheelchairs, scooters

A concerned about paving and curb cuts


There was further discussion after 9pm – hopefully some of those who stayed might fill that in as comments. Gordon Price was asking about trucks as I left.

My reaction was that while we looked at a lot of places that have either been well designed or managed to develop as civilised places (i.e. they kept the cars under control and allowed people to use the pubic realm) there was not much that emerged about what could or should happen on Broadway, simply because the rapid transit question remains unresolved.

While writing this I learned that the Evergreen Line has been put off once again. And, of course, that is the first priority for rapid transit in this region. Vancouver is quite right to point out how bad things are on Broadway. The problem that I see is that it is much worse everywhere else in the region, and we are currently busy pointing fingers between levels of government. Having totally hobbled municipal government, the province has the chutzpah to blame them for every delay. And all the talk about new sources of revenue seems to be just that. Talk, not action.

The last time I heard talk of Great Streets here, the context was No 3 Road. There, the overhead ALRT guideway seems to guarantee failure. Though the height limit on buildings doesn’t help. It is still a place I avoid as much as possible. Something I learned when I came to Richmond, and has yet to be disproved. You certainly do not see anyone walking at some leisure there!

Broadway, Vancouver

Broadway, Vancouver by Sarah@Liverpool on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

The lack of joined up thinking

with 9 comments

Two stories in today’s Sun struck me as being “bloggable” in the sense that they clearly meet the criteria of its stated purpose. The issue for me has been what to say about them that is worth saying – given that they are really not new or different, and only require me to repeat things that I have written here before, many many times.

Both illustrate what happens when we deal with transportation as though it were an end in itself. Both result from “silo” thinking. They are caused by the way we govern ourselves and the institutional arrangements we have. How people get to become decision makers – and what those decisions do to us.

The first is Ken Hardie threatening to cancel U-Pass.  An empty threat, of course. Ken himself can’t do that: indeed, it would be very difficult for Translink to do that, though they might indeed find themselves in that position. Fare evasion would not be the only reason, but could be cited as a contributory factor. Ken says that the selling of UPasses on Craig’s list is threatening the viability of the program. Now you do understand, don’t you, that Ken is the spokesperson – the chosen communicator. Indeed, that is where his expertise lies. Not in transportation or economics, but in presenting organizations to the public in the best possible light. The sort of person who suscribes to the idea that perception is reality. Though in fairness I have to say that is was his former boss Bob Paddon who tried to persuade me of that, not Ken himself.

And the rising losses, he warned, could put the program in jeopardy because if it’s not sustainable, TransLink will consider shutting it down.

Ah, so now we are in the murky area where we do not have direct  reported speech – and that is what the headline writer (not Kelly Sinoski) mangled.

UPass never was “sustainable” – and could not have been from the outset. For a long time, the staff who examined the idea of the UPass told the senior management – “The Executive” – that Vancouver was not like King County, which had introduced UPass for Washington state university. Metro there had spare capacity it could utilize. BC Transit in Victoria found something similar. In this region UBC is out at the end of a peninsula and SFU is on the top of a mountain. And neither university has nearly enough student accommodation on campus, and no way to fund more. The pressure on the transit provider was to help solve the universities’ problems – and those of the students forced to commute great distances by the lack of affordable accommodation. As a policy analyst I pointed out that students were no different to large numbers of other people who were also commuting due to the Vancouver housing affordability issue, and I could not make a plausible case for their needs to be given priority over other, arguably more deserving groups – the working poor for instance, or single mothers trying to get off welfare , or people with disabilities.

It may have been significant that when the UPass was finally approved Translink’s CEO had a daughter who was going to UBC. It may also have been significant that the planner who presented the case used the “revenue neutral” formula. He said that the deal would not reduce the amount of money coming in to the system. He said nothing about cost – the money going out of the system – or capacity – the ability of the system to adapt to changing demand patterns. “Sustainability” was not an idea mentioned in the context of Upass.  I know that since it was such a hot button word for me. The communicators had gotten ahold of it. Indeed some time before I was trying to convince provincial government environment ministry communicators not to talk about “sustainable transportation” since it was not a meaningful concept. Sure it would help the environment if fewer students drove and more used transit – but since many students car pooled that was not exactly clear cut. And anyway, no one was willing to pick up the tab. It seemed to me that any decision had to be based on a cost benefit analysis in policy terms and a cost effectiveness analysis for operational reasons. UPass was not subject to either of those tests. “Revenue neutral” was a catch phrase, usable in sound bites. Not good policy but easy communicability.

If we were really interested in sustainability we would question the location decisions that give rise to so much motorised transportation demand. And we would also wonder about setting up higher education establishments that think only of research and teaching but not accommodation.  At one time the most important person in any college was the bursar – not the vice-chancellor. Once universities were made more business like – and made to get their funding from corporations – they lost the ability both to govern themselves sensibly and to meet the needs of society as a whole.

UPass has been very successful in getting transit ridership increased quickly. Unfortunately, the transit system has not been able to cope with that. Prior to UPass, it was already straining capacity – and having difficulty justifying to the region as a whole how that capacity was distributed. Because in places where ridership was low because service was poor – and even pockets of dense development were single use and widely spaced – it was hard to justify levels of taxation equal to those in areas where service was better (I cannot use the word “good”).  But that toothpaste is out of the tube now. Cancelling UPass would have much larger consequences than not starting it in the first place. And as long as Translink has funding problems to solve, fare evasion is always going to command more attention than it might reasonably merit on a cost benefit or a cost effectiveness basis. Just look at the figures. Actually on second thought look at the absence of the really important figures: no total revenue, no revenue  from UPass, no percentages. Just large numbers waved around without context. It’s all spin, no substance. $15 million sounds a lot – it would make a nice lottery win, for instance. But in the context of the transit budget? Or of Translink’s revenue as a whole?  Or in terms of what Translink needs in terms of operating funding over and above fare revenue to meet the needs of a growing region that wants to become more sustainable?

Which brings me to Jerry Dobrovolny, the City of Vancouver’s Director of Transportation who is starting a public consultation process for the long-range transportation plan for 2040.

The city hopes to shape its latest plan with feedback from the public, who can give suggestions at 11 town hall meetings, 50 stakeholder events and through a city website,, between now and July 15. A second phase of the plan will start early next year.

Interestingly the link the Sun provides (but not as a working, clickable link like the one above) takes you to two such processes – but we will stick to transportation for now. I will go back to the housing one later, since it raises similar issues of governmental “silos”.

What is being suggested is quite remarkable for a Transportation Director and really refreshing to hear, as I have reported before

Dobrovolny envisions a city of dense, compact communities around transit hubs, with HOV and bus lanes on major arterial routes so it’s “not a hardship but a joy” to get out of the car.

It has never been unusual to hear Vancouver planners to talk like that, but to hear it from the engineer is progress indeed. I will pass on the HOV for now and just press for bus lanes. Since the city cannot possibly afford to widen any of its arterial streets and avenues, bus lanes can only be made available by taking road space from cars. (Or, whisper it quietly, those wide, treed  boulevards.) Dobrovolny could have been doing this for some time – and indeed has been doing exactly that for bicycle lanes. Again, I suspect that this has more to do with who is the Mayor and what his priorities are. In terms of mode share – especially at the regional scale of movement – I happen to believe that bus lanes would benefit more people than bike lanes, especially in a city that has a tight grid of streets and lots of marked cycle routes off the arterial roadways. But I concede that bike lanes in the city centre were an important political fight to win.

To entice more walkers, the city would consider wider sidewalks on busy downtown streets like Granville and Georgia to reduce congestion and pedestrian “traffic jams” and ensure they’re covered with awnings to protect people from the rain. More lighting and way-signing would help pedestrians find their way around town.

Public spaces with chairs, benches and tables for major events would draw more walkers and cyclists, he added, while traffic calming on neighbourhood streets and separated cycle lanes would make cycling more comfortable for the 60 per cent of people, like seniors and children, afraid to ride in traffic.

“Tables and chairs” is pure Jan Gehl, via Janette Sadik-Kahn. I am sad that Jerry cannot bring himself to espouse the very necessary commitment to gradual but steady reduction in car use as a policy objective, but maybe that is just a red rag we do not need to wave right now. If we can get this and the following we are going to be going the right way

And those who can’t give up the car would have the option of car-sharing, pay-as-you-drive insurance and low-carbon vehicles.

And those of course are largely outside the City’s jurisdiction, but as we saw at the Car2Go launch they are being supportive.

But when it comes to transit, the city’s hands are somewhat tied,

More than “somewhat”. In a regional transit system, giving more to those who already have most is politically difficult. We do not have a regionally run system  – indeed I doubt we ever did – but it is hard to see how Christy Clark is going to resolve this one. The carbon tax was another of those “revenue neutral” sales jobs – just like the HST. She seems to be making a dog’s breakfast of both right now. Jerry does a good soft shoe shuffle here.

Christy Clark is not about sustainability any more than Gordon Campbell was. I frankly doubt her credibility on the HST business and it may even be her downfall. If she can pull it off, expect a fall general election. But also do not expect vast amount of capital flowing to major transit projects from the carbon tax. That is a small slow trickle – but might be useful to prop up operating funding for transit across the province. It would mean less would be going to tax cuts of course, but she is showing that she is far less dogmatic in that area. Even Kevin Falcon now professes the need to do things differently (though I doubt he would have had he won the leadership).

Making Vancouver – City or Metro – better able to cope with a world which is reducing is anthropogenic carbon emissions and adapting to the consequences of those already emitted – ought to be item one on the agenda of all the levels of government involved. Since most of us live in cities and all of us depend on what cities provide.  ICBC is a provincially directed corporation  that could go for pay-as-you-drive but has not, yet. “Can’t give up the car” is a function of housing and highways – and right now I do not see Canada getting back into public provision of housing (except in very limited special cases) and no sign at the provincial level of abandonment of their disastrous highway expansion projects.

Red streetcar

Seattle Streetcar - my photo

The City must do what it can – and I would like to suggest that among those things could be providing a downtown streetcar. Both Seattle and Portland found ways to do that outside of their regional transit systems. Because it was a City priority, but not a regional priority. And it was more to do with encouraging compact urban development in both of those cities  than with current transportation demand. Our needs are a bit different – and we already have the compact development along much of the route.

Much of what must be achieved in this region requires senior governments to start to grapple effectively with issues that up to now they have muffed. Or they could (even more unlikely) stop treating municipal government so badly.  Taxinequities is a powerpoint slide show that Gaetan Royer, the City Manager of Port Moody has put together. I saw it at the Green Party of BC AGM, and applauded it loudly.

POSTSCRIPT  May 26, 2011 2:50pm

The Richmond Review is now reporting that Craig’s List has been removing the adverts for UPasses – after a request from the “Transit Police” and adds

Hardie said TransLink has not considered cancelling the U-Pass program over the pass reselling problem.

May 27, 2011 3:13pm

And I am not the only blogger looking at this issue: Darren Barefoot takes a closer look at Translink’s creative UPass math

Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

Express bus corridors increasingly popular transit option

with 5 comments

The Globe and Mail gets on the BRT. Mostly, being Toronto’s national newspaper, it’s about what is happening at the centre of the known universe. But the longish article is quite a good summary of the whys and wherefores of BRT. It is relevant to us here because Translink is now in consultation mode for transit expansion in Surrey that will include this mode as well as LRT and SkyTrain

BRT Rending Surrey Rapid Transit

Translink's rendering of Bus Rapid Transit on 104 Avenue and 144 Street. A better image of this type of bus is shown at the end of this article

A couple of things that I think need to be pointed out. As the second paragraph makes clear we are only looking at this mode because it seems to be cheap. Cities are indeed “cash strapped” – but they need not be, and that is only a reflection of some very short sighted and deeply regressive taxation policies that seem to have taken over western society in general. There is still plenty of tax payer’s money available for things our present political leadership deems worthwhile, like fighter jets, or massive prisons. BRT should save money on upfront costs of equipment and infrastructure, but much depends on the degree of separation required. Ottawa spent a fortune on a grade separated right of way – but cheaped out in downtown, where buses were forced back into mixed traffic with entirely predictable impacts on service speeds and reliability.They also operated buses on conventional streets to do collection and delivery in the suburbs to give a one seat ride and no forced transfers – which tended to compensate for that.

But the capacity restraint of BRT hits at quite a low threshold. “As the demand starts to grow and you start to need buses more frequently, then the labour costs of BRT grow really quickly.” (Jeff Casello, an associate professor of transportation at the University of Waterloo.)

Bus Rapid Transit in Ottawa

Bus Rapid Transit in Ottawa by Ottawa Bus Gallery on flickr. On May 18th 2010, an incident caused this backlog to build up on the busway

Ottawa started looking at LRT some years ago: “the city plans to replace some portions of its BRT with an underground light-rail line to serve the downtown core”.

In Vancouver, in 2006, a decision was made to replace the highly successful, five-year-old bus corridor in Richmond with LRT, in order to have greater capacity.

Translink R8076 D60LF on 98 B Line Richmond BC 2007_0708

98 B Line on No 3 Road in Richmond July, 2007 - my photo

“Highly successful” seems to me to be debatable. It was chosen originally by an NDP government in Victoria and there was more than a little political spite involved. The former government had been planning LRT for Richmond – which is where the Vancouver commitment to the Cambie Heritage Boulevard came from. The NPA did not want surface running LRT. Glen Clark was happy to commit a very limited sum ($25m if my memory serves) to a bus service since Richmond would NOT get rail as long as he had anything to do with it. I will confess I did not hear him say that in person – but those at BC Transit in charge were given very definite marching orders. In the process of negotiation with City of Vancouver engineers, BRT was soon whittled down to a bus that did not stop as frequently as regular buses but would allow Vancouver passengers to board. (At that time, suburban buses sped past Vancouver stops as they were limited to suburban riders.) Only in Richmond was there any exclusive right of way and that was limited to a very short section of No 3 Road – which was supposed to be convertible to light rail in the future. When it was launched as the 98 BLine the overloading with passengers travelling to and from Marpole avoiding their slow trolleybus service – and the Richmond passengers lost to the forced transfer – meant that “express buses” came back very soon afterwards.

As for capacity on the Canada Line (which I find it hard to think of as LRT) I have exhausted that subject in other posts.

There are as many kinds of BRT as there are LRT – and a very wide variety of experiences to draw upon. Much depends on local circumstances and conventions. Not too many places, outside of South America, have double articulated high floor buses on exclusive rights of way with pre-payment at raised stations (Curitiba). The nearest we have to BRT now is the 99 B Line and that is overwhelmed when UBC is in session and gets little in the way of bus priority anywhere.

Bogota Transmileno BRT

Bogota Transmileno BRT photo by "Dear Edward" on flickr

It seems to me that the critical indicator that the Globe does not mention is relative speed. Relative, that is, to cars. As long as people can drive and park then the overall journey time door to door is likely to be faster and more convenient in a single occupant vehicle than most types of transit. That is because the car takes you almost door to door, whereas transit takes you from somewhere where you are not to where you do not really want to be. Now when the car driver faces congestion and a lack of parking spaces then transit starts to look attractive. Given the access and egress inconvenience of transit (i.e. walk time to and from the station at each end) anything that can be done to improve in vehicle time compared to driving is going to produce benefits in transit share of the market. But in Vancouver, the most that has been done with bus is to improve bus in vehicle time to be about the same as the car just by stopping less frequently. Though in the City of Vancouver even that gets reduced due to the City’s insistence on frequent stops for the B line. By giving transit its own right of way, the transit vehicle (bus, tram or train) moves faster than the car. That is all the “rapid” that is needed – and in some cases of short trips, the passion we have for grade separation means that access times – getting up or down to the platform – offsets the speed advantage. One of the great things about surface rapid transit is that access times are minimized – and the right of way can be taken from car/sov street capacity. I say “can be” only because in North America in general – and in Greater Vancouver in particular – it usually isn’t. Bus lanes or HOV lanes are usually added not subtracted from GP capacity.

The great lesson from Copenhagen – which I also never tire of repeating- is that space for cars must be steadily reduced over time. We can never ever keep up with the demand for car trips by adding capacity. It is pointless trying. When subways replaced streetcars on Yonge Street in Toronto, traffic downtown increased. Traffic expands to fill the space available.

It is this that matters – not what sort of wheels the transit has. As long as we use BRT or LRT to try and accommodate insatiable demand for car trips, then we are doomed to exist in uncivilized places. Once we start thinking of cities as places for people – not their cars – then we start making progress.

RTC's MAX BRT line

MAX BRT line that serves downtown Las Vegas out to Nellis AFB. Photo by Erik Weber on flickr

Postscript: see also The Transport Politic “The Silly Argument Over BRT and Rail”

Written by Stephen Rees

May 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Tagged with

B.C. drinking-driving deaths cut in half

with 10 comments

The CBC reports today:  “Deaths from impaired driving in B.C. have been cut in half since new drinking-driving regulations took effect last fall”
This is very good news indeed. The coverage of the new regulations at the time they were brought in, and subsequently, seem to be negative. There was a lot of uncertainty about how much you could drink safely – so most people, it was suggested, stopped going out and restaurants were hit hard. There was, it was conceded, the impact of the HST might also have had something to do with that. The campaigners at Mothers Against Drunk Driving have shown how effective a pressure group can be – and ought to be pleased with these results.

On the same day George Monbiot deals with the related UK story of photo-radar – or “speed cameras” as they are called there.

The experiment is over and the results are in. In April, Thames Valley police switched Oxfordshire’s speed cameras back on. They had been off for eight months, as a result of the government’s decision to cut the road safety grant. Then the police began assessing the damage. In the 31 days before the cameras were switched off (July 2010), the machines caught 2,286 speeding motorists. In the 30 days after they were switched back on, they caught 5,917.

In the eight months without cameras, there were 18 deaths on the roads in Oxfordshire, compared with 12 in the same period in the previous year. This was the first time in four years that the number of deaths on the county’s roads had risen. Serious injuries rose from 160 to 179.

When Gordon Campbell was first elected he cancelled the highly unpopular photo radar program here. That was a bit different to the UK system which uses fixed cameras: in BC there were vans parked at the side of the road, and while in theory they could go anywhere in practice they showed up at sites which – according to the critics – produced the most revenue. Those opposed to photo radar here and there have always concentrated on the “cash grab” argument. Which, as Monbiot points out, has been consistently disproved – but the facts that don’t suit the opponents

 journalists and others have promulgated a powerful and dangerous myth: that speed cameras are useless, and exist only to tax the public.

We now have a new premier who has promised change. I would like to suggest that rather than attacking ICBC (which has been providing good value car insurance, and profits, and has pioneered road safety features like modern roundabouts) she turn her attention to speeding and the toll that has on road users. For speed and collision severity are not just strongly correlated, we also understand the physics of collisions. The greater the speed, the greater the energy that has to be absorbed in a  collision, and the greater the damage to people who are not inside steel cages.

On drinking and  driving “… there are 23 people in British Columbia that are alive today because of the new policies and new penalties,” Penner said in Victoria late Thursday.” I wonder what the story would be if the same attention were paid to excess speed. I think that speeding is an offence that occurs far more often than drink driving – because nearly everybody seems to do it most of the time. And nearly all of it goes undetected, simply because we do not have anything like the resources to deal with it. I find the method of enforcement of our drink driving law oppressive: everyone passing a road check gets stopped and questioned. There is no presumption of innocence and now much less “due process” but we seem to have accepted that the saving of lives justifies this intrusion on our right to go about our business without interference until suspicion falls on us. Unlike speeding, there is no lobby that actually suggests that drink driving should be encouraged – though there are plenty of people who have – they say – taken an economic hit due to stricter laws and tighter enforcement. But most drivers believe that they are better than average, and that the design speed of roads (and, of course cars) is much higher than the posted speed. Indeed, on the Sea to Sky Highway – and the Patullo Bridge, come to that – it was not that the road was inherently dangerous, but that drivers refused to obey the posted speed limit no matter what the conditions.

My suspicion is that if we used the current red light cameras to photograph speeders as well – something they can easily do – we would see a significant change in behaviour. Most obvious the current belief that “green means go, yellow means go faster”. Fixed cameras at the highest collision sites would be the next step – and average speed cameras on sections of road that have no intersections – bridges would be my first choice. The Oak Street bridge has a posted speed of 60 km/hr. Most drivers treat it as part of the freeway (it isn’t) and excess speed across it is common. Indeed, once released from the line up prior to 70th and Oak, the green light southbound there seems to be seen as a starting gun. Average speed cameras do not use radar: we use similar equipment here all the time to measure flows through intersections by comparing license plates on vehicles entering and leaving an intersection. The same technology using two cameras at a known distance apart and synchronized to the same time produces incontrovertible evidence that the vehicle covered it at excessive speed. The only argument, of course, is who was driving it at the time.

The latest data from ICBC is 2007 “The number and rate of deaths in speed-related collisions has fluctuated over the RSV 2010 period with no clear trend in more recent years. However, the increasing trend observed from 1999 to 2002 has not continued.” I cannot help but feel that trend might have had something to do with the ending of photo radar.

My reading of that is that 160 people died in collisions “involving speed” . In that same year alcohol was the cause of 120 deaths. It seems to me that there is a greater case for effective speed enforcement on this statistic alone. Although maybe I should talk to Vicky Gabereau about why the statistics page at the ICBC website seems to be so far out of date.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with ,

Seattle Viaducts

with one comment

Yesler WayConditionUrban Wasteland - parking is all it's fit forGloom and doomFormer Waterfront Streetcar TrackMotorcycle parking
Alaskan WayThe barrier effect

Seattle Viaducts, a set on Flickr.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer this morning released the first images of what the waterfront could look like once this monstrosity has been taken down.

The fact that most of the currently abandoned Waterfront Streetcar remains intact and useable is a sign of hope. In fact, if this track were doubled and modern streetcars or light rail were used, the number of people that it could move would be double that of each level of the viaduct.

LRT ≥ 20,000 people per hour per direction
4 lanes of expressway = 9,000 pphpd (2,000 vehicle per lane per hour at average 1.25 occupancy).

The proposal of course does not include that. Indeed, the current idea is to build a tunnel to replace the viaduct. If you take a look at the Google satellite view below, it is clear that there is in fact a great deal of available space – but most of it is taken up now by roadways and parking. Vehicles are great space wasters. In San Francisco, along the Embarcadero, removing the freeway actually increased vehicle capacity – and the new F line streetcar tracks added even more people moving ability.

Seattle Viaduct Google Satellite View

Seattle Viaduct Google Satellite View

I am relieved to see that the Seattle idea is mainly about Waterfront open space. Unfortunately, the current example of the Lake Union waterfront (which does incorporate a street car) does not fill me with hope.

The South Lake Union Trolley and the park

The South Lake Union Trolley and the park - my photo


Corner, whose most recent, high-profile project is lower Manhattan’s popular High Line elevated park, said ultimately a successful, post-viaduct waterfront would have to accommodate many disparate  groups.

so perhaps my fears are ungrounded.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

Posted in Transportation

Translink abandons United Boulevard Extension

with 4 comments

In my email inbox this morning was good news from New Westminster Environmental Partners’ Andrew Feltham

… tonight [Thursday May 19, 2011] TransLink announced that they could not find agreement on how to build the United Boulevard Extension (UBE) through New Westminster and they will not be recommending to the Councils of New Westminster and Coquitlam that they can proceed with this project. The planners have been asked “to put their pencils down”. Further it was pointed out that the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR) through New Westminster is not a priority as declared by the Mayor’s council which directs TransLink. (This was not news, but reiterated that there was never a priority to do anything about the rest of the road system in the City even if the UBE was built).

I would like to say that TransLink, their consultants and staff carried out the most detailed series of consultations that I have ever participated in and it seems that, in the end, they did listen to the community. Further the community deserves a lot of credit for coming together and articulating the issues and making TransLink aware that the projects they favoured would not solve the traffic issues they sought to address.

From a sustainable transportation perspective it is perhaps encouraging to note that many have recognized that its not easy, if not impossible, to solve traffic congestion problems in New Westminster by simply building more roads. The issue is not finished. The traffic problems still exist at Braid and Brunette, as well as air quality and rat running problems in Sapperton. The industrial area is still overrun with traffic, making the busineses there less viable. We do need to keep talking about solutions to these issues, but at least we now have the opportunity to start to talk about other ways to allow people and goods to move through our community without destroying the quality of life, or simply making things worse. The City can now move forward with its Master Transportation Plan to establish a vision how transportation in our City should evolve, meeting both local and regional needs. I hope everyone will be part of this process and to explore the variety of options which have been implemented around the world to deal with transportation congestion in urban areas.

Let’s make this our “Vancouver moment” and create the change in transportation thinking which is so needed in our City and region.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the community workshops, and wrote letters or emails to TransLink, the City, and the local papers.


The foregoing paragraphs have been lightly edited for clarity.

I would add that it has long been recognized that building roads in urban areas can never solve traffic problems. Induced traffic always results in continuing congestion. Only reducing road capacity and our reliance on personal automobiles has ever lead to traffic reduction and less congestion.  This as true in New Westminster as any other urban area. It is perhaps unfortunate that Translink does not recognize this truth and continues to pursue road network expansion projects such as the proposed 6 lane Patullo Bridge. On the other hand at least they backed down: unlike the province which continues with its destructive South Fraser Perimeter Road and threatens to issue injunctions against those who try to draw attention to its folly.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

Book Review: Railway Maps of the World

with 2 comments

There is a web page for this book but it does not appear to be working properly.

The author, Mark Ovenden and the publisher, Viking Books both have more information on their web pages. He also has a blog. Naturally.

I was offered – and requested – a review copy, and it is one that I will not just keep but consult. My first reaction on opening it was that I would need a magnifying glass. The hardback book is 11¼” x 9¾” – which is sizeable if not exactly coffee table size. In fact I was pleased initially since I have too many such books – most on railway topics – and the bookcase will clearly not accommodate another. The shelf is sagging as it is. And some of these maps seem likely to exist online as they are the current passenger system maps. For every country in the world that has a passenger service. It is the historic ones that interest me most, and I think that most were originally designed as large posters. Being a convenient size means the book is easier to handle and reasonably priced. Though as usual we Canadians are charged a higher price than those people a little to the south. (US $35  Canada $40.50) You probably have your own views on cross border shopping so I am not going to open up that here.

I am also going to ask for his other books if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas. I will start with “Transit Maps of the World” and wait a bit longer for “Paris Underground”. Unless, of course, someone wants to send me review copies of those too.

To give you some idea of the sort of material that is available here is his flyer (from his blog page)

Even at the size on this page, the amount of information and the way it is conveyed is striking. It is not just the maps either. There are lots of illustrations and well conveyed ideas in text too. Since he had to cover the whole world in this project, some places get a bit less than I would like, but sometimes his choices are uncanny. For instance he has the line diagram put out by the LMS railway when they took over the London Tilbury and Southend line. That includes the links that were then in place so that through trains could run from the Circle Line to Southend! As a small boy I thought that was a splendid idea. Once the underground was electrified that sort of thing became rarer and ceased altogether by the time of nationalisation.

I think everyone who has any interest at all in the subject matter of this blog will find much to absorb them. There is quite a lot about how the railways shaped development – both urban and rural. Specific attention is paid to areas such as the Canadian prairies and Los Angeles. But I am equally sure that many people will be tracing rides they have taken and would one day like to take. The decline of railways in places like Canada, the US and Argentina (mind you they did go a bit overboard originally) is strongly contrasted to what is happening in Japan, China and other more forward thinking nations. Sad, of course, are the countries not mentioned simply because they do not have any passenger trains at all.

You should buy this book if you are at all interested in railways, or how transportation affects the way we live or if you are interested in design and cartography. Actually I think everyone gets caught up in maps – being “put on the map” is still a concern (almost as much as the indication “you are here’) but undoubtedly important is the way that maps deceive us – sometimes intentionally. In fact many railway maps were produced to persuade the traveller to take one route in preference to others (crossing from Dunkerque to Tilbury was a lot longer than Calais to Dover, for example, but don’t expect the marketing department to tell you that).

“Metro Maps of The World” was published in November 2003 and sold out its first run in a matter of weeks. In September 2005 Mark moved to France to focus on his next book about the Paris Metro. Meantime his original publication was picked up by a Dutch Publisher (‘Metrokaarten van der wereld” 2006) and also by Penguin in the USA. The American version, “Transit Maps of The World” was published October 2007. Media coverage was phenomenal and led to unexpectedly high sales, and a Top 100 ranking in the Amazon Sales Charts where it is still often the number one best-selling book in it’s category (Mass Transit)!

I suspect that this book will equal that performance, so it might be a good idea not to wait around too long if you want to get your hands on a copy. And (before you ask) no, this is one book that I am not going to lend anyone!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

“External transit review needed”

with 5 comments

The Times Colonist has an opinion piece with the above title. It starts with an interesting revelation

Buses in the region have the ability to extend green lights at 21 intersections, improving travel for thousands of people. Transponders have been bought, installed and tested.

But almost two years after they were announced, they’re not being used. The City of Victoria has apparently not made the necessary changes and B.C. Transit has not succeeded in pressing for action.

That’s a disservice to travellers and a waste of money. The devices were forecast to reduce fuel costs by more than $1.5 million a year. Those savings have been foregone.

Actually it may or may not be a waste of money. It depends on what happens to the rest of the traffic: it might be argued that while the transit system might save some fuel all those vehicles idling longer at the light waste more.

Of course, it is not money we should be looking at on its own but the “generalized cost” – mostly the value of time but you could also look at externalities like pollution too. Then what matters is not the vehicles but how many people they are carrying. If the bus is empty (for instance going to “Not in Service” as so many seem to) and there are lots of carpools and vanpools then again the City that controls the traffic signals might be right. I doubt it, but it is a consideration.

The opinion piece then gets into the Light Rail proposal – and the need for a vote on it – even though it would be “non-binding”. And thus a complete waste of time.

The linkage it seems to me is tenuous at best. Yes, the lack of signal priority for transit is a concern, but don’t blame BC Transit for that. Blame the municipal politicians. In fact the very same people on the “seven-member Victoria Regional Transit Commission is appointed by the provincial government from the ranks of local councillors and mayors”.  As the Colonist notes that has limited powers – but obviously if the mayors and councillors of Victoria thought transit was important, they would issue direction to their engineers. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they care more about the votes – and money – from their local supporters than they do about transit – or even environmental justice. Poor people use transit: rich people drive (a simplification but broadly correct) so current policies that favour car drivers are regressive. Just like sales tax.

The Capital District is not alone, of course. The shameful neglect of transit priority is common in BC – in fact is arguably worse in this region. There are bits and pieces – mostly grudging. One of the oddest is the new bus lane on (provincial) Highway #99 – which has been almost finished for months, but is still not open. What is that all about?

The unfinished bus lane

The unfinished bus lane - my photo

Who might do a “transit review” anyway – and “external” does not mean “independent”. I cannot say that the ones the Colonist cites – of Translink and BC Ferries – inspire confidence. It may indeed be that once again transit governance needs to be revisited. But it is not the structure that causes the problem. It is the political direction of the provincial government – and the strong small c conservative bias of local governments – that results in transit being given short shrift. Because as we have heard so often spending on transit is a subsidy but spending on roads is an investment. And you simply do not see Very Important People like Mayors and Councillors riding the bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Faster trains for Western Washington

with 5 comments

Amtrak Cascades at King Street Station Seattle

Amtrak Cascades at King Street Station Seattle yesterday - my photo

The Olympian this morning provides some more detail on what the stimulus funds from the federal government will mean for the Amtrak Cascades service.

It’s known as high-speed rail money, but don’t picture bullet trains zipping by at 200 mph. That’s what’s in the works for San Francisco and Los Angeles, at a cost of more than $40 billion. But here, none of the stimulus spending will move the Evergreen State any closer to true high-speed rail.

Instead, the money is aimed at making sure trains run on time.

Riding on the Cascades line through Western Washington, Amtrak passengers share the tracks with freight shipments. …

In 2010, trains were on time fewer than 7 out of every 10 times on the Amtrak Cascades line through western Washington. The department’s goal is to be on time 88 percent of the time, …

None of this money can be spent in Canada, of course. My recent experience of this service is that speeds north of the Peace Arch are noticeably slower. The Cascades does not presume to be a high-speed train – although the Talgo train sets it uses were designed – like the Canadian “Light Rapid Comfortable” trains of the same era – to provide more rapid progress through existing track. The locomotives have no such pretensions, but are simply freight locos with additional generating capacity for “hotel power”.

Service between Vancouver and the border has no intermediate stops but thereafter the stops are quite frequent. It is essentially a regional, stopping train  as opposed to an inter-city express. Despite passengers clearing customs in Vancouver before boarding, there is a stop at the Peace Arch. Why that cannot be eliminated, I do not understand. There is no such requirement northbound, but there is around 45 minutes of delay between the trains’ arrival at Pacific Central and the last passengers getting through the Border Service Agency’s inspection.

They aim “to reduce travel time between Seattle and Portland by at least 10 minutes” but that is on what is currently a three and half hour ride. Or over eight hours from here. I cannot see that changing the attractiveness of the choice compared to flying or even driving. The train is a better experience, in my opinion, than either, but the long delay on arrival back home, late at night really does take some of the shine off the overall impression. The train is comfortable, you can get up and walk around. The washrooms are clean and roomy – there is an oversized accessible washroom in at least one coach car – and there is a buffet/dining car which caters for the economy minded. One great advantage of a faster speed would be more civilised arrival and departure times: 6:40am for the train from Vancouver to Portland, and 10:50pm arrival are both somewhat extreme, I think.

I think that – based on what works in other countries – there is a much larger market potential for a true express intercity service in this corridor, with fewer stops, upgraded at seat service at least in business class, and less intrusive border formalities conducted while the train is moving. Of course if we really believed in free trade and all that entails we would eliminate border formalities entirely but that is not on anyone’s radar. And even if the Americans are willing to spend a lot to improve reliability, if speeds stay where they are now and the Canadian side remains the same, do not expect much in the way of modal shift from road or air. Which is pretty disappointing in terms of what rail offers in its ability to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and congestion on the freeway and at airports.

Amtrak Cascades coach interior

Amtrak Cascades coach interior - my photo

Written by Stephen Rees

May 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

Bicycle Diaries episode six: Seattle

with 3 comments

Alaskan WayAlaskan WayInterbayInterbayInterbayChittenden Locks
Bascule Railway BridgeOne way street with opposing bike laneThe Red Door, FreemontLake Union at Westlake

Seattle Bike Ride 2011-05-13, a set on Flickr.

We rented bikes from The Bicycle Repair Shop on Alaskan Way – simply the first place we came to as we walked from Pioneer Square. We had considered a ferry ride as it was such a nice day, but apparently the islands have hillier rides than the mainland. We were given a copy of the Seattle Bicycling Guide Map which is very impressive. We never spent much time consulting it as each time we got it out a local cyclist would stop and offer helpful advice. The route along the waterfront is of course flat and easy – but with plenty of pedestrians, who have priority. They seem to retain that even when the bike path and the pedestrian path split at the Sculpture Park.

Bike path by the Sculpture Park

Bike path by the Sculpture Park - my photo

Great views across Puget Sound, and also lots of railway activity. Sadly the waterfront streetcar no longer runs although the track, wiring and stations are all still place.

By the Terminal 91 cruise ship piers we headed inland through the InterBay Industrial area. Here we hit the first incline – a steep overpass over which some wit has posted “Gravity is only a theory”. By now it was getting hot and windy at the same time. We also had to climb around the Magnolia Area before a brief but very steep and welcome drop to the Chittenden Locks. This is really the scenic highlight and cycling is not permitted – you must get off and walk.

The ride back into town took us along the Ship Canal but not waterside. The old railway tracks are not just in place but still in use and we were warned repeatedly of the hazard they present particularly under the Ballard Bridge – which was raised to let a paddle steamer through.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Red Door in Fremont which had an excellent IPA – but at 8.7% alcohol we decided one would have to be enough. Over the Freemont Bridge and then back along Lake Union – actually through the parking lots of the dense waterfront development with scarcely a glimpse of water. But an easier ride I think that the hills on Dexter.

After that it was just a matter of getting through downtown and back to Alaskan Way. Good signage and road markings made that deceptively easy – as we ended up using an elevator in the cruise ship teminal to get back to water level.

The Bicycle Repair Shop does not sell bikes. It does do repairs – of course – and its rental fleet covers a wide variety of types. All are new and well maintained. They also supply the helmet (mandatory in Seattle) and a hefty lock. I would recommend getting your own water bottle filled before you start.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Posted in bicycles, Transportation

Tagged with