Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 20th, 2011

B.C. drinking-driving deaths cut in half

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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

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Seattle Viaducts

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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

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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