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

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There are several stories that are worthy of attention today – but I am not sure that I have enough to add to any of them to justify an entire blog post.

Let’s start with taxis. I thought I had dealt with this topic extensively but when I checked the taxi category there are only seven posts, six of them in 2008 and one earlier. Maybe I just ran out of anything to say – as the term taxi pops up quite a bit in more recent posts, but not as the main  issue. The Dependant Magazine has a good investigative piece on the Vancouver taxi business but to my surprise I found it was dated June 1. I only learned of it today from Spacing Vancouver. It is important news in one sense since the Vancouver tax drivers are getting restive. There is a shortage of taxis here – that simple fact has been long established and generally accepted – and that clearly works to the advantage of those who own licenses, as they have a huge rarity value. In my earlier pieces I suggested that one way to rectify this is to move to a system which controls by quality not quantity – as London does. Anyone can become a taxi driver – provided that they can pass a test on their knowledge of London’s streets. (The vehicle you can use is also tightly controlled.) Plan to set aside two years of your life riding a motorcycle around central London if you feel like trying that. The conclusion of this article is that new technologies – mainly smart phones – and convergence of with car and ride sharing will deal a death blow to the taxi industry within five years. I doubt it – as the regulator here (The Passenger Transport Board) is well established, completely captive to the needs of the industry and unlikely to depart quickly or quietly.

The fact that other cities may see changes faster than we do should not surprise us – as the current fuss about bike sharing demonstrates. They think that helmet rentals through vending machines will solve the issue. We will see. I dislike the helmet, think the current legislation is based on misinformation and should be repealed – but I still bought a new one and will continue to wear it as long as the law requires. I doubt others will be so law abiding.

First time this bike has been out this year

It came as no surprise to me that research now backs up the opinions I formed that traffic circles don’t work and unmarked streets are safer for cyclists than sharrows. But the reason I think that circles don’t work is not “confusion about who goes first”. It is simply based on contempt for the rules that do exist. Where modern roundabouts have been installed in BC they do work – as long as the signage and road markings follow the standards. But small traffic circles based on ‘give way to the right’ are simply ignored. The number of times you see drivers making left turns by going the wrong way round the circle is clear evidence that they know what to do – they just cannot be bothered to comply. A bit like speed limits where enforcement is so lax and unpredictable that it is almost completely ineffective, and on most major arterials most of the time, the speed limit is ignored by almost every motorized vehicle – including, of course, marked police cars.

Yonah Freemark has a good summary of the French commitment to tramways in The Next American City – but if you read this blog and  the comments by Red Frog and Voony you will know all that already.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm

10 Responses

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  1. I rode a bike to high school and UBC for 11 consecutive years without a helmet. Much of the ride didn’t require sharing the road with motorists, a fact I was always grateful for. There were a few near misses over the years when I did use shared roadways. Luckily I had a traditional road bike with narrow curved handlebars, referred to as a 10-speed in those days, and was adept at riding within an inch of the curb.

    I had one collision, with another cyclist, that was caused by unaware and/or arrogant teenage pedestrians on a marked bike path. I recall the the collision very clearly, but it gets fuzzy after that. I found myself laying on the ground and don’t know if I hit my head or not. I think I was wearing a knit toque that would have softened any impact. I made plans to buy and wear a helmet, but never got around to it. Within a few months I snapped a rear axel in a pothole and stopped cycling. I always meant to fix the bike, but the combination of walking, taking the bus and getting the occasional ride meant that I didn’t need to.

    I’d like to be able to cycle with my kids before they get too old and decide that being seen with their dad is uncool. I’ve taken the first step. I finally bought a helmet.

    David Walker

    June 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm

  2. The current media reports regarding “traffic circle” safety issues are very misleading. The study in question can be viewed here: From what I can glean, the cited safety issues are for “roundabouts”, which are the larger “yield to the traffic on your left” circles designed to accommodate all vehicle types. They are NOT for the smaller “traffic circles” (the ones with the “yield to the traffic on your right” rule) which are used in residential areas and are designed to accommodate smaller vehicles only.

    Unfortunately the media is reporting that this is a “traffic circle” issue and not a “roundabout” issue, and that may be because a sizable portion of the populace doesn’t seem to understand what the two terms actually mean.

    My own personal sense as a cyclist is that the smaller traffic circles are a safety benefit because it forces vehicular traffic to slow down, and that gives everyone more time to see each other and take evasive action. That’s not true in roundabouts where vehicles try to, and often can, maintain high speeds.

    Sean Nelson

    June 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

  3. Actually, I’ve just discovered that there’s a UBC press release with the headline “Traffic circles and ‘sharrows’ create danger for cyclists”:

    This is doubtless the source of the media reports, so I guess we really can’t blame them…

    Sean Nelson

    June 29, 2012 at 10:26 am

  4. You are right, there is confusion between traffic circles and roundabouts – and the engineering community here seems to do its best to maintain that. There is, for instance a roundabout at Water Mania” where the City of Richmond has installed a Yield sign on the roundabout! In other words traffic in the circle is supposed to yield to traffic entering. Which is precisely what is wrong with traffic circles.

    The small circles in the City of Vancouver are designed to slow traffic and do help cyclists – but only if motorists do not simply regard them as a challenge to their vehicle’s handling system. Large modern roundabouts can be problematic for both cyclists and pedestrians – and (in the UK) when traffic demands become excessive often have traffic lights installed on them! Nevertheless roundabouts reduce both collisions and collision severities when compared to cross roads.

    Stephen Rees

    June 29, 2012 at 10:49 am

  5. “I dislike the helmet, think the current legislation is based on misinformation and should be repealed – but I still bought a new one and will continue to wear it as long as the law requires.”

    When a law is bad because it is based on misinformation, and do more harm than good (what is typically what the helmet law does). it is a civic duty to disobey to it (French learn this way during the second world war…)

    On the traffic circle vs roundabout…yes both when large are a trouble for both cyclist and pedestrian because it increase the distance to travel into the intersection….

    One way to mitigate it, is not only to put a cycle track on the outside edge of the circle, but to put it far enough of the outside edge, to allow the motorized traffic to leave the circle before having to yield to the bike/pedestrian. another thing is to allow the kike to use the circle in the both direction at a time…

    For the record, the traffic circle is considered as a french invention (by Henard)…and at the time (circa 1900), it was to avoid severe injuries to the horses, basically avoid side collision (angle in the 90degree, horse can’t anticipate due to reduced vision by blinder…).

    British “invented” the round-about…which has virtually replaced all the traffic circle in France but Place de l’Etoile Paris, is still a traffic circle … not by nationalistic pride, but because no traffic engineer dared to change this marvelous of traffic efficiency that no-one understand how it can work…and still it does:


    June 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm

  6. Most of the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese do not wear helmets yet we don’t hear about huge numbers of deaths or accidents. Some Euro countries mandate that children under 15 wear helmets but there is no Europe wide legislation for adults yet as there is no consensus.
    In Japan, if a parent carry very young children on a bike (one in front, one in back)..the children must wear a helmet, but the parent doesn’t have too.

    The big problem in Vancouver, as I see it, is that far too many cyclists want to drive for a long distance at fast speed–and with special clothes, not to mention special fancy bikes. The Europeans, and even the Japanese that ride bikes in crowded metropolis like downtown Osaka and Tokyo, ride basic bikes (that are often unisex, with a V shape bar and 3/ 4 speeds max), while wearing fancy city clothes, an open umbrella etc. for a relatively SHORT DISTANCE.
    For a trip ACROSS town they use rapid transit.
    But then we don’t have rapid transit across the whole of Metro Vancouver..

    I was in Eugene (OR) last week and was amazed by the number of cyclists. Lots of bike lanes, though few, if any, are separated by dividers. Unlike in Vancouver they have LOTS of free parking on major shopping streets (3 hrs free parking) and NO PARKING along downtown streets that link to freeways etc. (the businesses on these streets have a private parking on the business lot).

    Downtown City indoor parking are free on weekends and holidays, 75 cents per hour during the week.(often the first 2 hrs are free).

    They have a rapid bus systems (EMX) that has its own lanes downtown then run on a grassy divider outside downtown. Wheelchairs enter the articulated bus by the SECOND door in the front unit and the single door in the trailer. Their ramps (on all the doors) are 1/2 the length of the ones on the B lines here. The WHOLE bus lean on one side to bring the short ramps level to the sidewalk.

    There are doors on BOTH sides of the buses. Announcements in both American and Spanish give the stop name and on which side the doors will open.

    Bikes are loaded by the back door and stored INSIDE the bus, to a maximum of 3.
    I didn’t dare take photos inside…

    I got a day pass for 3 $. Free for seniors living in Oregon.

    Of course there are many people that believe rapid transit in Eugene is a good idea that should be implemented in 20 years…as there aren’t enough riders now…(what comes first the chicken o r??)

    Red frog

    June 30, 2012 at 1:28 am

  7. Voony: “no-one understand how it can work” – actually Hans Monderman explained how it works. Place de l’Etoile has no road signs or road markings – so drivers have to make eye contact. Moreover, as you can see from the video “priorite a droite” is the rule of the road which most people – not all – obey. Moreover, there is a tunnel that removes the pedestrians crossing to the centre, and another tunnel that removes car traffic on the Av Champs-Elysees – Charles de Gaulle link. And tourists tell each other – “stay away from Etoile if you’re driving” just as visitors to Washington DC are instructed to avoid Dupont Circle.

    Note to the careful placement of the ped crossings: the line up of traffic waiting to proceed actually blocks the adjacent traffic trying to enter the circle – allowing some traffic to circulate at the centre.

    As a cyclist in Paris, I pushed the bike on the sidewalk at rondpoints: not just safer but a shorter route in many cases.

    Stephen Rees

    June 30, 2012 at 11:46 am

  8. About mandatory helmets… I will keep wearing my helmet when I’m driving a car (rarely), and continue until the helmet law is repealed. And a helmet for the passenger too! We should give all politicos “driving helmets”

    As I understand, traffic circles eliminate the need to stop for cyclists. Designed correctly, cars slow to at least 15 kph while people on bikes can keep going full speed. Roundabouts, like the one at UBC, or Yaletown, or Golden Ears Bridge, are traffic traps for cyclists and must be avoided (unless the cyclist is making a right turn.) Though traps for cyclists, they are a great traffic calming tool (Hans Monderman also put neighborhood items like toy bikes in the middle of roads to slow drivers.)


    June 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

  9. Kind of a late addition but…
    Have a look at this blog about biking in Amsterdam…no helmets of course… by golly they sure are messy when parking bikes! nothing like the precise rows of bikes in Japan (not to mention the automated machines that park bikes in an underground parking

    Do have a look at the background of some of the Amsterdam photos…notice how they park cars near a canal..with just a hint of a railing that couldn’t stop a car …

    In Bordeaux they now have a special fare for people over 14 years and under 28 (adults fares start at 28 years old versus 26 in other towns) that allow them to use transit and city bikes for 7 consecutive days for 12,20€.
    For 17€ per month (on a yearly subscription) plus 15€ once a year they can city transit and city bikes.

    An Adult transit pass by the way cost 33€ per month on a yearly subscription or 40,50€ per month if bought only now and again.
    In Lyon, a town the size of Metro Vancouver, where they have subways, it is 52,60 € per month…

    Wonder what prices TransLink will come up with.. …

    Red frog

    July 12, 2012 at 11:59 pm

  10. Red frog

    July 13, 2012 at 12:01 am

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