Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 2013

Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism

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Jeffrey Tumlin at SFU City Program

Eight simple, free transport solutions for healthier, wealthier cities

This talk was made possible financially by a contribution from Translink. The blog post was updated on February 15 to include two videos, one of the talk and one of the Q&A session.

It is worth stating out the outset that Tumlin sees Vancouver as the future for the rest of North America. The talk he gave was clearly one designed for the average American city. He stated that he felt he was “visiting the future” by what has been done in the City of Vancouver. The problem for most places is that they bought into the lie that having a car will bring you more and better sex. “Where have you been told lies?” And, how can we use their methods against them.

The first series of slides illustrated the startling growth of obesity by state in the last thirty years. The Centers for Disease Control have data that shows how this problem has grown

The animated map below shows the history of United States obesity prevalence from 1985 through 2010. Unfortunately the way WordPress has imported this graphic has lost the animation but it is well worth following the link above to see the trend.

map26

Americans are no longer able to have a significant amount of walking in the daily lives. This is due to civic policies – the rules, metrics and performance standards – that make it illegal to build anything but auto oriented suburbs.The statistics for traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents show that sprawl = death.

“Road rage is a clinical condition”. When you observe a crowded sidewalk you notice that pedestrians do not run into each other. We learned a large number of essential social signals in order to hunt in packs. In cars these social signals are blocked and the brain chemistry shuts down social behaviour, because instead of co-operating the way pedestrians do, the fight or flight instincts have been triggered [by andrenaline]. Traffic is literally driving us crazy and leading to permanent changes in the brain. We are less able to think, to predict the consequences of aggression and therefore become more antisocial. Tea Party membership is positively correlated to the absence of sidewalks.

Policy ought to recognize the limitations of humanity and what makes us happy. That translates in urbanity to the sidewalk suburbs of two to three story buildings. The suburbs we built in the 1920s and ’30s were leafy, walkable and auto optional. We have to increase the number of walkers and cyclists, not just build things for the “hard core lifer crowd”. See D Appleyard “Liveable Streets” [the link goes to Amazon, but this book is very expensive – look in your local library first].

The speed and volume of traffic on residential streets determines who you know and how well you know them. If the traffic is fast and heavy, there will be far fewer people who you are likely to give your keys to, for use in emergencies. Social cohesion and participation in democracy increases when residential streets have less and slower traffic, making it safe and easy to cross the street.

There is a direct casual relationship between mental health and outdoor exercise. Oxytocin “the cuddle chemical” that is released during breast feeding and orgasm is also released by human eye contact and outdoor exercise. It is different to dopamine, endorphins and morphines as it lasts longer.

So now we have has established that driving makes us  fat and angry, while walking and cycling makes us happy and sociable, what can we do?

1 Measure What Matters

We need to “measure transportation success in a less stupid way.” Transportation is not an end in itself but allows other things to happen – and it is those activities that we need to facilitate – the benefits come from accessibility not mobility. Movement of itself doesn’t serve a purpose. Instead of measuring Level of Service on  shopping streets we should look at retail sales per square foot. We are obsessed by congestion, which means currently we aim to reduce vehicle delay when what we should be looking at is quality of service. A busy shopping street (he cited Market St in San Francisco but Robson Street would be our best case) looks “bad” from the point of view of the traffic engineer (LoS F) but successful to the economist – lots of people spending money.

Make walking a pleasure for all types of people at all times of day.

2 Make traffic analysis smart

[Four step transportation] “Models are no better than tarot cards at predicting the future.” Traffic forecasting is much better seen as a branch of economics than of engineering. What we see all around us are the unintended consequences of model based planning. Making it easier to drive makes it difficult to do anything else. The “solutions” (more road) create the problem they predicted.

We should fix the four step model as it fails to incorporate  induced and latent demand. We also need to better understand how land use affects travel – not simply import data from observations of trip generation made in Florida in the 1970s.

Fortunately, only small changes in traffic demand are need to release it from congestion. You will frequently hear people saying “You can’t expect everyone to take transit”   but you do not need to. All you need to do is persuade 10% to change mode – and you can persuade 10% of the people to do anything!

3 The best transportation plan is a good land use plan.

4 Adopt the right street design manual

Much of current traffic engineering practice comes from rural highways. Wider roads, better sight lines wider turns accommodate driver error – but this only improves safety in rural areas. In urban areas instead of speeding traffic, drivers must be made to slow down and pay attention. Do not give them a false sense of security. And there is now plenty of data that shows what people predict (“you’re gonna kill people”) doesn’t happen. see nacto.org

5 Plant trees

But note that the costs cannot accrue to the traffic department but the property owners along the street if the trees are to be cared for properly

6 Price it right

Congestion pricing in Stockholm

“Poor people place a high value on their time”. The price elasticity of demand means that it is actually very easy to get enough [vehicle] trips off the road to produce free flow. The right price is always the lowest price that equates demand with supply.

7 Manage parking

Read Donald Shoup “The High Cost of Free Parking” (free pdf).

In urban centres, 30% of the traffic is looking for a parking spot.

The price for parking has to vary by location and time of day – popular places at peak times must cost more. The target price is that which produces enough free spaces to reduce driving. The reason for charging for parking is not to raise money. Invest the parking revenues in making the place better – give it to the Downtown Improvement Association!

Unbundle and share parking, and separate the cost of parking from the cost of other things. Don’t force people to buy more parking than they need and create “park once districts” – rearrange the land use to facilitate walking. So for a series of trips drivers can pay, park and leave the car but visit several different types of activity (work, school, play, shopping).

8 Create a better vision of the future

We are still trying to live in the future that GM displayed in Futurama. Disneyland is an orgy of transportation. The imagineers have yet to come up with a new vision of the city of the future. We are still stuck with the Jetsons.

The new vision has to be based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

1 Walking is a pleasure for everyone, everywhere, all the time

2 Cycling is comfortable for people of all ages – that means separated cycle facilities

3 The needs of daily life are a walk away

4 Transit is fast, frequent, reliable and – above all – dignified.

Everyone knows and loves their neighbourhood whereas the big region is impersonal. We need a sense of belonging. Food and energy are local and precious, and social networks are fostered.

“On a bus I can use my smart phone. I can’t do that while driving”

“Young people move to cities to get laid.”

Flirtation is actually more valuable than the activity it is aimed at getting. Informal lingering and eye contact is what makes this possible. We should apply the same factors that retailers do in the shops to the pubic realm. Beauty is ubiquitous. The brain is hard wired to appreciate beauty [insert slide of Brockton Point view of downtown]

He also has a [very expensive] book Sustainable Transportation Planning

Q & A

Use of malls to encourage walking by seniors in poor weather?  – fantastic

Use fruit trees in urban areas? – city concerns are fallen fruit mess and risk of slipping

Can’t we just use nostalgia instead of a powerful vision of the future? – no humans crave novelty, nostalgia is not enough

Buildings without Parking? – The cities fear that someone will park in front of someone else’s building, and impose minimum parking standards that are excessive. There is an over provision of space = huge subsidy to motordom. Abolish the minimum parking standards. Impose very low maximum parking standards but provide shared cars everywhere.

How do we address the concerns of the Fire Chief? – respectfully. Emergency response time matters but we need to focus on net public safety. There are more ways than one to cut response times, including more stations, smaller trucks, traffic signal priority, grid of streets to provide more routes to the fire. Over professionalism is a widespread issue and we all need to care more about what matters to other people

“I saw you” ads seem always to refer to transit. Can we capitalize on that?  – Leave it to the French. look at Strasbourg trams – no wraps, low windows. In the US there is a prevailing attitude that transit is the mode of last resort. Transit is like the dole – you have to be made to suffer to use it.

“Dignify transit” How do you do that on a bus? – provide a comparable level of investment as you would for rail. Very hard for financially strapped transit agencies faced with the “Sophie’s choice” between better buses or more service. There is now a program of providing basic mobility for those who have no choice. To move beyond that we have to ensure that the benefits of better transit accrue to the system provider not the adjacent land owners. Benefit capture pays for more transit [and creates a beneficent spiral]

To make bus transit more comfortable you need more transit priority measures – bus stop bump outs, bus lanes, signal priority

Zurich – all surface transit since local funding requirements meant that subway building was not feasible. Streets are narrow – treasured ancient urban fabric – so very little road space allowed for cars despite extremely wealthy population 80% of whom use transit simply because it is more convenient than the car – no hassle of parking.

Orange Line BRT in LA exceeds all ridership forecasts because there are no forced transfers. And service quality offers “basic level of dignity”.

Boulder CO has very high rates of transit use – all bus service, all low density development – very high service standards

REACTION

None of this should be of any surprise to readers of this blog. I have been saying the same things here – and for many years previously. I just have not had the fortune to be able to say it with such charm and charisma – and often with less supporting data.

For instance, when BC Transit (as it was then) was designing what became the 98 B-Line Glen Leicester (then head of planning) insisted on the forced transfer from local service (“It’s just like SkyTrain”) despite the very convincing data from the Ottawa transitway that this was the wrong thing to do. The service had to be redesigned three months after it started.

I have been banging on about Richmond’s use of private parking provision in the town centre for years. And only the “hard core lifer crowd” would think Richmond’s cycle network was adequate. The dyke is for recreation not transportation. Only No 3 Road has separation – and that is far from satisfactory.

I felt, when listening to him talk about parking, or pricing, as though I was hearing myself. The good news is that he does it so well that more people listen.

The talk was oversubscribed – and there was a wait list for seats. But even so there were plenty of empty seats when the talk started and no-one moved to the front. Please, if you reserve a seat, but realize you won’t be going, cancel your reservation so someone else can go.

ASIDE

I am now aware of some Car2Go issues – and for two of them, users can do something. Do not leave the car open but keep the key with you. Seems obvious, may just be absent mindedness, but is truly annoying. Just like the lady who takes the car2go to her gym, parks the car in a private locked underground garage (gym members have access, the public doesn’t) and ends the rental. This saves her money but makes the system show it as “available” when it isn’t. She also has her ride home guaranteed.

It was that thing about not unreserving your seat for a City Program talk that reminded me.

Don’t be thoughtless – or selfish.

And while we were waiting for the #16 on Granville St I used my smart phone to find the nearest Car2Go. By the time it had done that, the bus came. This may be more useful than real time next bus information.

Street Films

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In case you didn’t hear NEW for 2013: now all Streetfilms available for FREE download via Vimeo! vimeo.com/streetfilms GRAB & GO ADVOCATE!!!

Written by Stephen Rees

January 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with ,

Time to bring back photo radar?

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I was on CKNW’s Bill Good show this morning. It was all remarkably positive. Everyone accepted that speed limits are widely ignored, though there was a range of opinion on what could (or should) be done about it. Bill is on record as an opponent of the previous method used for photo radar – the green vans, parked sometimes in places were they were less than prominent, and where revenue collection was going to be better, even if safety was not really an issue. Most people connected the speed and safety issue – so that message seems to have got across. What is needed now is some better understanding of what can be done.

The first point I want to make is the lack of relevant, recent data. Go to the  Traffic Collision Statistics page of the ICBC web site and you will see a series of reports – but none more recent than 2007. Obviously ICBC has statistics more recent than that: for instance this CBC story today looks at the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the the new laws on cell phone use while driving. “Numbers from ICBC show fatal crashes involving distracted driving dropped by about 20 per cent in 2011” – but where are those numbers? I can’t find them. Anymore than I can find any data that looks specifically at this region, rather than the province as a whole. We cannot have a sensible discussion about any issue when the agency responsible keeps all the recent data hidden away, and only produces pr messages devoid of real information. Is speeding increasing? Have the rates stayed the same in recent years as driving declined?

There does not seem to be the same sort of push back against red light cameras as there was against photo radar. Yet the role of “ignoring a traffic control device” in collisions is less than a third of speed.

We also know that police presence does affect compliance. The trouble is that there cannot be a marked police car at every hot spot every time – nor is it always safe to have police officers trying to pull over speeders. As Bill pointed out, there are real problems policing bridges and places like the Stanley Park causeway. That is why I am an advocate of average speed cameras. These use the same technology as traffic surveys – and toll collection – number plate recognition and matching. Cameras are already mounted on the overhead gantries – so the process of determining who gets across the bridge far too quickly is pretty easy to implement. And there can be prominent signs informing drivers that their speed is being measured.

The other issue that got identified is driving too fast for conditions. That is something where “posted speed” is not relevant. If the road is slippery, or visibility is reduced, posted speed is not safe  – and is already illegal. “Driving too fast for conditions” can get you a ticket. There are some places where the speed limit varies by conditions  and such a system would certainly be worth considering for our freeways and bridges.

UPDATES

1. But none of this would have helped on the Port Mann Bridge last week (which is what prompted the discussion in the first place).

2. “Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants to take another look at photo radar cameras as a way to trim enforcement costs in an era of frozen police budgets.” CBC

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

What the Census Dotmap tells us about Metro Vancouver

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Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 4.00.42 PM

I copied this map from Brandon Martin Anderson‘s website. “This is a map of every person counted by the  2011 Canadian census” in Metro Vancouver. He states “I wanted an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies like city boundaries, arterial roads, state lines, &c.” Actually I found it pretty easy to pick out the border between Canada and the US (his map covers both) and the very obvious proxy that gets left is the census tract – since the placement of the dot that represent each person is necessarily random within that space.

It is a truism that transit is all about density, and this map for me tells us a lot about our region. I am sure someone else with the right electronic chops can merge in a transit map – preferably one that has a Human Transit feel to it – where thickness of the line represents service frequency. For now I think I will just state the glaringly obvious. The neglect of Surrey by our transit system cannot be justified by claiming that city’s density is inadequate to support frequent transit service. Secondly while you cannot see Highway #1 on the map south of the Fraser it is pretty obvious where it is through Burnaby.

It is also worthwhile to take a look at the zoom function, pick out your neighbourhood and look at its density. I was quite surprised by the (relatively) high density of Richmond at No 4 Road and Steveston Highway north east corner. (The Shell Road corridor and McNair high school both stand out clearly) And certainly stand in stark contrast to the low density of Shaughnessy and Arbutus Village in Vancouver. Note too how Main Street divides a low density West Side from a high density East Side. Considering the city does not have wards, this is quite a remarkable political achievement. Notice also how the midtown Broadway corridor and Kits are much darker than the surrounding areas.

I only saw this map for the first time this afternoon – but I think it does indeed spark some ideas worth discussing

Written by Stephen Rees

January 6, 2013 at 4:35 pm