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

Archive for April 9th, 2013

Light rail touted as cure for city’s congestion

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The city in question is actually Copenhagen. Which is why it piqued my interest. You mean Copenhagen has a congestion problem? I thought they were the model we were supposed to be following. It has all those bicycles – and the space between the buildings is dealt with properly. People can not only walk they can also sit outside if they want to. But they still have congestion?

Partly the answer is of course they do because congestion is not so much a problem  as evidence of success. Detroit does not have congestion any more. Moreover, in a flourishing city, traffic expands to fill the space available and congestion occurs at the times when most people want to travel. That is why traffic engineers and transport economists spend so much effort on peak hours and the journey to work. Indeed if congestion is just the banal observation that it takes longer to drive when everyone else does than when the roads are empty, it is a pretty pointless pursuit trying to “cure” it at all. Something Todd Littman has dealt with far more effectively than I could.

There is no magic bullet, but there is a set of approaches which can be adapted to the needs and geography of places – which are all different. No single solution or technology solves every problem – and not all “problems” are going to be completely resolved. We can, however, aim for better solutions and compromises which dissatisfy everybody to the least extent possible.

So what this article identifies is a set of schemes to serve areas which do not have the sort of public transport mode share as the rest of the city region. In fact it is the same problem we have. Copenhagen has a metro and all day, every day, bidirectional passenger rail services. I have to use that awkward phrase in case any of my readers still think “commuter rail” exists outside of a few North American cities. The reason they get 25% of the trips made by the population living near stations on trains is that there is a service all day and every day – and it goes to more than one destination.

Actually that in itself is a significant figure. What do you think they do for the other 75% of the trips? Yes bikes will take care of some of it, as will walking but most will be in cars. And these light rail lines are proposed for the areas that only get a 5% mode share for transit – just like most of our region.

I think it is also significant that the entire article has not a single money figure in it anywhere. If you tried to write a newspaper piece about transit here, someone is bound to ask “How much is this going to cost?” and “Who is going to pay for that?” (which actually means “not me!”) What it does stress is the importance of the network – and of selecting the ” best value corridors that the city ought to prioritise” – which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “political opposition and questionable profitability could derail these and other proposed light rail lines” – is that Copenhagen or Surrey vs Vancouver? Except here no-one would use the words “profitability” and “transit” in the same sentence.

It also points out the silliness of thinking in terms of some future point when the present set of schemes have all been realized as an end state. It isn’t, and never will be, because there is always going to be more to do. The important thing is chose the right direction to go in. That was something we had done once – the Livable Region Strategy – which was not perfect by any means but did make the priorities clear. And then the provincial government simply ignored it and went on doing what it has always done – built more and bigger freeways. If those resources had been devoted to transit network expansion, we would be looking at a different set of problems – but we would not have solved them all. Let alone “cured congestion”. But then we weren’t trying to. We were just aiming at “increased transportation choice” – which was expressed as a target transit mode share at various dates into the future. Except that the mode share target was always 17% of all trips and the years just kept being put off into the future.

I understand that the Mayors and the Minster are now sitting down and trying to come up with some funding proposal for Translink. Presumably something that she can flourish on the eve of election day. Yawn.

“When free enterprisers have something worth fighting for, we win,” Christy Clark last night

“Win” meaning “win elections”. Free enterprise has also brought us ocean gyres full of plastic waste, global warming trending well beyond 2°C, unaffordable housing and persistent homelessness, the crash of 2008 … the list is endless. When they “win” everybody else loses.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 9, 2013 at 10:37 am