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

Archive for June 19th, 2013

Translink enters the fray

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I am not sure that I have quite captured the spirit or intensity required, but it sure as heck beats “draft strategic framework for consultation” as a headline, which is the name of  the document that Translink releases today. This is actually being written “under embargo”. Which is a first for me. And I did have to twit Translink’s PR people about their somewhat casual use of the term “exclusive”. This is not a scoop – others have it too. As I said to them it’s like virginity – it’s a simple binary proposition. Like “unique”. Nothing can be “very unique”: it either is or it isn’t. And this isn’t exclusive nor should it be.

It should also be no surprise, given what you have read here about Translink’s Stakeholder Forum at the Wosk Centre, or the Sustainability Community Breakfast by Metro. What I heard from Bob Paddon, in our telephone conversation late on Tuesday afternoon, is the message that Translink intends to campaign vigorously on the funding referendum. It is not going to be the case that they will simply let the chips fall where they may, or rely on supporters to make the case.

The provincial government knows that it badly misread the public mood over the HST. But now hopes to cash in on the anti-tax sentiment, which it thinks it saw reflected in its re-election. This is, I hasten to add, my opinion now.  But Bob did make clear his determination to use the information that Translink has at its command to make the case for funding a significant increase in transportation spending in this region. It will take an additional $5bn over the next 30 years just to maintain a state of good repair. But on top of that a list of projects costing a further $23bn has been identified.

There’s going to be 1m people coming here in the next 30 years. We have no control over that. They are coming, and we cannot stop them, and we are not going to try. How we accommodate them is critical. “If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we are not going to make it.” That is a direct quote from Mr Paddon. The vision has not changed from 40 years ago. The goals have not changed. What Translink has identified is the need to make sure that in 25 to 30 years time half the trips made in this region are by walking, cycling or transit. We simply cannot accommodate the number of people we are expecting if most of them use their single occupant vehicles. Not if we want to protect the Green Zone. Not if we expect to be able to grow more of our own food. Not if we want to have a region that is habitable.

We have actually done a reasonable job of building compact and complete communities. We are no longer living in bedroom communities where you have to commute to downtown Vancouver to work. We really do have a multi-centric region, which is what we set out to create. But at the same time as we invested hugely in transit – the Millennium Line, the Canada Line and now (at long last) the Evergreen Line – we failed to do anything significant about Transportation Demand Management. That is a tool box of programs – incentives and disincentives – to change behaviour: to influence mode choice. Carrots were popular, sticks abhorrent. By now, having invested significantly in both roads and transit (“balance” always being a key buzzword) there were supposed to be tolls on every water crossing. Since Transport 2021 was published in 1993 we have been talking about TDM but not doing very much about it.

The real change now is not just that Translink intends to invest early and significantly in increased additional capacity, but that they intend to do something about transportation pricing. That means road pricing and transit pricing. We have been discussing tolls as a revenue collection measure, but much more importantly it is a behaviour management strategy. As we have seen with tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, when faced with a toll a significant number of people will switch to transit, even if it is the #555 – which is just a bus which runs non-stop from Langley to Braid Station, and is not at all what people imagined when the provincial Minister of Transportation promised that there would be rapid transit over the new Port Mann Bridge on the day it opened. Transit pricing needs to be more selective too: not the coarse three zone system and all day M-F vs everything else we have now. Fare by distance and real peak/off-peak differentials

If the referendum does not endorse a new source of funding for Translink, then what? Do we have to go back and revise the targets? Do you want to start considering what a region without this plan looks like?

One of the things that has to change in future is what happens when a major investment is made in transit. While there are good examples – “great examples” is what Paddon said – there are also places where transit investment was made and nothing changed. Take a look again at this video, released this week, with the time lapse trip down the Expo Line.

Sure you see huge changes at Joyce, Metrotown, Edmonds and New Westminster. But what about Commercial & Broadway, 29th Avenue, Nanaimo? Or come to that 22nd St in New Westminster: a major transit hub in a quiet neighbourhood, and not trace of TOD as far as the eye can see.   “We expect to see significant density at every SkyTrain station. The developers are fighting block by block along Cambie right now.” (And see Frank Ducote as a guest poster on Frances Bula’s blog as an example of the opposition they face.)

The investments we make in publicly provided infrastructure have to perform at their optimal level. That speaks to the need for partnerships with municipalities (and, by the way, has nothing whatever to do with the “Hong Kong model” that people keep telling me about). These are the TDMAs that were referenced by Metro as the places where new growth is intended to go. Not bedroom communities with really good access to freeways.

Despite absorbing another million people there will be no increase in car travel. It will be possible for goods and services to be delivered efficiently but we will have compact and complete communities, that protect the Green Zone (LRSP) and we will reduce our CO2 emissions and improve our health. We do have a choice about the way our region grows and we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can live the way we want to.

Translink will be advocating the need for more and better transportation infrastructure, for more buses, and more cycling facilities. For a safer and more welcoming environment for pedestrians. For places that we will want to stop in and enjoy and not just rush through as quickly as possible. They will be using the information they have collected through their surveys to show that people want a different set of choices than the ones they had in the past.

Bob Paddon also takes some comfort from the discussions he had with transit executives he met recently at the TRB meeting. They faced referenda as well. And 70% of places that had transit questions on the ballot at the last US general election won. Places like the Puget Sound , which now has funding for another $18bn to invest for the next  20 to 30 years. We can indeed make choices which reflect the way that we are already changing.

Here for your edification is the pdf file 2013.06.14 RTS draft strategic framework for consultation

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2013 at 9:00 am

Posted in Transportation