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

Archive for November 2018

Book Review: Trains Buses and People

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An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit by Christof Spieler

Published by Island Press October 2018  ISBN 978-1-61091-903-6 Paperback Full color 290 Photos 185 illustrations 248 pages Price US $40.00

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This review will be mainly of interest to my US readers. While there are some references made in the book to how other places do things, this book is concerned with how transit is provided in the US and how to do it better. In the same way that “Walkable City Rules” spells out how to improve car oriented cities – which is most of them – this book identifies what needs to be done to make transit more useful. Given this morning’s events here – where the Mayors’ Council voted to suspend work on the Surrey LRT and start on the process to switch priorities to SkyTrain to Langley – his thoughts on modes are very relevant.

“…mode is not the most important aspect of transit. What riders care about most is where transit goes, how fast it is and how reliable it is. It is better to think of modes as tools … one mode or another may be a better fit in terms of capacity, cost or capability”

It is also significant, I think, that he lives and works in Houston, Texas and takes light rail for most of his journeys. It is frequent – every 6 minutes – and has its own right of way with signal priority at intersections. So he gets pretty much the same sort of on board experience as someone who rides SkyTrain here – but without the need to use an escalator or elevator. He probably has a much better chance of getting a seat. For me that is another essential but then I am very nearly as old as Prince Charles.

” most importantly … it goes to the right places” so it can be used for a wide variety of trip purposes not just the journey to work. Far too many US railroads with passenger service take Commuter Rail far too literally – and West Coast Express is one of the prime examples of how useless it is for anything other than the weekday commute to downtown.

Fortunately not only is there a really good book, with lots of information, there is also a web site.   And that will do much more for you than reading any review.

This is a reference document which you will want to keep handy. It is also something that is worth just idly skimming – for places you know or those you might want to visit. And yes there is a list of best and worst – you can learn from both. Toronto does get a couple of mentions. Vancouver none at all. Neither does Montreal rate a mention. I hope that one day Mr Spieler comes here. I would be happy to show him around.

I would also say that I would disagree with him about speed. The actual pace of the mode over the ground is much less important than how long the overall journey takes, and how convenient it is. If there is a lot of stair climbing and hanging around in grim surroundings, the fact that you get onto a fast train eventually is less than adequate compensation. The Canada Line is downright slow – but it is still better than the #15 bus for almost any trip. And if you want to avoid the traffic congestion that often impacts the bridges to the airport, more reliable than driving, on most trips. In my most recent travels the impact of a two hour wait for a METRA train from Naperville to Union was far more significant than the fact that it never seemed to get much faster than 30 mph, and stopped even more frequently than the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare airport. And the walk from the end of the train to the taxi was a significant issue too.

METRA 194

And when we got home we felt that is was worth splashing out on a cab rather than struggle with our bags on and off a train and a bus – and then a drag through the streets. Had we not been so encumbered then the transit ride would probably been a comparable time but considerably cheaper. You note that fare doesn’t even get mentioned in “what riders care about”.

I would recommend this volume for everyone who likes maps and data, and is interested in US transit. I would also like to see something that does like for like comparison with cities around the world. We used to like to compare Metro Vancouver to Zurich – and Phoenix – just because they were comparable but very different indeed.  I know that I am going to find myself thumbing through it quite a lot. It is a lovely production.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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We need physical separation

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I have been on Twitter this morning and there is a picture of a mother and daughter riding their bikes on the sidewalk.

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Seeing that reminded me of the pictures that I had taken outside the place we were staying at in Chicago’s Loop district (downtown). The bike lane is a bit better in Chicago than North Van but it is still just paint. And as the three pictures show a lot of green paint does no more to deter cars from entering the lane than that thin white line with the occasional bike logo. Anyone riding a bike down East Washington St would have to swerve around those parked cars putting them in line for a potential collision with moving vehicles.

If you look closely at the two left hand images you can see in the previous block a big bus shelter outside the bike lane providing excellent separation.  For the 60 feet length of a bus anyway.

For more see “Walkable City Rules” (see previous post) Part XII Build Your Bike Network especially Rules 58 and 59. Best practices are outlined in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 8, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Posted in bicycles, Transportation

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Book Review: Walkable City Rules

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101 Steps to Making Better Places by Jeff Speck

Published by Island Press ISBN 978 1 61091 898 5 Paperback

Walkable City Rules

I was really delighted to get an actual book, as opposed to an ebook. And this one really ought to be on the desk of every city planner, urbanist and advocate. It was a genuine pleasure to open it, and get about halfway through and see so many things that this blog had been getting right for so long. Speck is writing for an American audience – and even cites Vancouver as a good example for transit provision. Which tells you much about how dreadful most US transit systems are, rather than how good ours is. As I am sure you are all tired of reading now, I do not think we ought to spend much time patting ourselves on the back, but rather taking a serious look at how other places – most of which are not on this continent – do things. And of course it is nice to see Rule 20 “Create a  twenty year land use and transportation plan …” illustrated with a graphic of the Translink 2040 Transit Network Vision for the North Shore. And of course Jarret Walker’s “Human Transit” gets much of the credit for best practices.

It was not until we got to the nitty gritty of street design and especially parking that I saw a parting of the ways, but that is, I think, because most of my experience of these issues was gained in London. And some time ago at that. So there are some departures here from what I have been writing about roundabouts, on street parking and four way stops  that need to be reconsidered. But that is because what Speck is writing about is how to make the urban areas of most of the USA better in the 21st century. Which is a different kettle of fish to what we did to improve parking enforcement in Central London in the 1980s.

What I did notice was that I kept looking up from what I was reading this afternoon and quoting it to my partner. Because a lot of it is highly quotable and some of it counterintuitive. Which is what you would expect.

I was also very impressed with the Press Release that accompanied the invitation to request a review copy. I went back to that to find out the price of the book as it is not on the cover: or on the release either! (Actually $30 cover $24 for a Kindle version and you could also pick up “Walkable City” if you haven’t got that – which you should – for $8.40 Kindle,  $16 cover for paperback. I got these prices from amazon.com – I probably should have used amazon.ca but in any event I would much rather you bought a hard copy from a real Book Shop. Because.) But all this quote is simply lifted from the PR blurb, which I heartily endorse.

I’m sure you know planner and designer Jeff Speck, who has become a go-to resource on making cities more livable, sustainable, and walkable since the publication of Walkable City, but if you don’t, I wanted to put his his follow-up book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, on your radar. It has just been published and answers the question: how do we actually make cities walkable?

With this book, Speck delivers an actionable guide on walkability that details the practical steps needed to usher in an era of renewed street life. Bolstered with examples from cities around the US, he lays out 101 rules for remaking cities. Some of his top ten rules include:

  1. Don’t Mistake Uber for Transit: Support public transportation in the face of ride-hailing.
  2. Cut the Extra Lanes: When lanes are not needed for traffic, all they do is cause speeding.
  3. Expand the Fire Chief ’s Mandate: Shift the focus from response time to public safety.
  4. Use Roundabouts with Discretion: They are extremely safe; they’re just not all that urban. — kind of feel like DC needs this one
  5. Remove Centerlines on Neighborhood Streets: When a street loses its centerline, speeds drop approximately 7 mph.
  6. Bag the Beg Buttons and Countdown Clocks: Pedestrians shouldn’t have to ask for a light.
  7. Don’t Let Terrorists Design Your City: The anti-terror landscape is a bad investment.
  8. Dream Big: Great cities still need great visions

Other rules relate to tactical urbanism, congestion pricing, parking, transit, street design, cycling, and others. Jeff has filled it with proven strategies for success and promises these rules can bring the most effective city-planning practices to bear in communities.

If that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing I can write will move you, so you go back to your Hummer and read the Sun instead.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

Book Review: “Reimagining Our Tomorrows”

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Making Sure Your Future Doesn’t Suck

by Joe Tankersley

Published by Unique Visions Inc ISBN 978 1 7326281 2 0  US$10.99 paperback

“Futurist Joe Tankersley explores a world where technology is used for good and we have the resources to build communities that care.”

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I have been doing quite a few book reviews lately but they have not really been particularly relevant to the purpose of this blog. So they have been appearing on my other blog which deals with anything outside of the scope of “Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves.” This blog reaches a wider audience that includes people interested in planning and urbanism, as well as the direction in which we are moving thanks to rapid technological change and the need to change where we get our energy from.

It is also necessary for all of us to take some time out from the terrible news we see every day. Terrible isn’t just the appalling toll of deaths and injuries on our transportation system and our seeming inability – or unwillingness – to take that seriously. Or the choices we still seem to be making at the ballot box that produce very little real change. Or the bleak prospects facing Ontario, the US and the UK thanks to their short sightedness. We need a source of hope. And hopefully some direction. This book is not really intended for me. I cannot claim to be “an experienced changemaker trying to keep up with the pace of disruption”. But I do hope that some of you reading this are “doers and dreamers anxious to ensure our best days are still ahead of us”. And I would not have started writing this blog in the first place if I did not think that we need to change direction and that there are already lots of examples of places that seem to be managing better than we are.

Tankersley used to work for Disney. And he learned a lot there about the value of storytelling and of how to think positively about the future. It doesn’t matter much if he is “right”. What matters is that he offers an alternative view to the “present trends will continue” narrative that seems to dominate our main stream media and professional planners. It is not inevitable that we will remain wedded to fossil fuels, and internal combustion engine cars. It is also not necessary that we keep on doing what we always have done and expecting a better outcome.

Reading this book was not effortful. That seems to me to be a Good Start. It also doesn’t stir in me the need to argue. (Unlike what happens whenever I post something to Twitter or Facebook  and get blow back from people I neither know or indeed want to.) Just one small quibble if I may, which I hope gets picked up in the next edition.

the village wasn’t self-reliant when it came to just seafood [the rest of the paragraph is about growing vegetables]

p131 ‘Reimagining sustainability’

What he meant was that the village wasn’t just self-reliant for seafood, it was also better than that for growing food in general and (by the way) energy production.

And the quibble is simply a matter of word sequence affecting meaning. It probably made sense to him when he said it – but on the page the sense is reversed.

I think that is about the only thing I felt the need to quote.

The book also has two pages of book references, and a page of online links – followed by the “Help Me Spread Optimistic Futures” page – from which I learned that the book is self published (linked above) and there is a Facebook page.

I hope that at least some of you will find something inspiring in these pages. The idea of finding new uses for McMansions and suburban malls is indeed not just encouraging but spot on, and something our planners need to embrace wholeheartedly. There is even a paean for a future design of cargobike which I know will appeal to some of you.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2018 at 3:02 pm