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

Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category

Another Idea for Granville Island

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Credit for this idea goes to Connor Murphy – who posted to Twitter in a thread – and provided this illustration.

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Imagine a timber clad boardwalk that threads its way through over and under the existing bridge, sloped sections for accessibility and opening sections for boats. It could act as a driver for change and growth on Granville Island

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I think this is an idea that has merit. My first concern is how steep the ramp would be and what impact that could have on accessibility. And I also think that this is the sort of thing that could be done on a trial basis. I would support it, as long as it did not mean that the idea of elevators to the existing bridge deck to connect to new bus stops was not abandoned as no longer needed. I would also expect opposition from the little ferry operators!

There is also the non-trivial issue of raw materials going to the readymixed concrete plant on large barges.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 7, 2017 at 7:03 pm

History strikes again

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bike path 30s

After the Greater London Council was abolished (1985), I managed to secure new employment with the Department of Transport. I went through a competitive recruitment process and was appointed an Economic Adviser (Grade 7) and my first assignment was to the Traffic Policy Branch. I think a lot of that was due to the fact that in the run up to abolition there had been a hard hitting campaign which was pointing out some of the lacunae in the government’s assessment of the task in front of it. For instance the GLC had one man who wrote all the traffic orders for the metropolitan area. After abolition, it looked like there would have to be 32 – one in each borough. Not exactly the great boost to efficiency that was predicted. I also happen to think that someone had a sense of humour since the Under Secretary I reported to at Traffic Policy was called Neville Rees.

Most of my time as the economist of the unit was to try and make some sense out the mess that had become of parking in the capital. The politicians, of course, insisted that it was simply a matter of the market producing the optimum solution. There was no market where the hidden hand could work its magic. There had to be policy and there had to be regulation, but mostly there had to effective enforcement – that had collapsed under the weight of indifference to traffic policing at Scotland Yard.

This is a good story but it will have to wait, because now we turn to what was going on in a quiet corner of the office. There were two engineers who were trying to improve the dreadful numbers of collisions involving cyclists. The cycling lobby was pushing hard for the government to promote cycling. The policy at the time was to resist any promotion at all, since the more people who cycled, the worse the casualty statistics. The engineers were coming up with real, hard engineering solutions. Finding safe routes, better separation and better sight lines at intersections. Their mantra was to make cycling safer – and every time they did more people started to use their bikes. And just to make this perfectly clear, their remit was national, not just London. Two engineers, tiny budget for a small number of carefully selected projects. No actual program to promote anything.

My father had been an avid cyclist. Back in the 1930’s car ownership was low, public transport was plentiful and cheap, but young people used cycles – especially for recreation, sport and commuting. When my Dad was evacuated out to Egham with the Public Control Department of the LCC (1939) , he rode his cycle back to Manor Park every weekend. He could do that because when the great network of road improvements was built – mainly as a way to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression – cycle paths were always added to these new roads. For instance the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue and the East Ham ByPass all come to mind.

When the cycling engineers and I talked about what they were trying to do, I mentioned this history to them. They were pretty dismissive. So imagine my surprise when I came across this article in the Atlas Obscura.  I knew these roads and had tried to use some of them in my own youth. By the late 1960s much of them were being used by residents along these roads to park their cars.

In the years that followed the construction of the cycleways, though, cars became the predominant form of transportation, and the bike lanes fell out of use. Even the Ministry of Transport forgot that it had built them. “Within 40 years, it had been lost in their own department that they were doing this,” says Reid. He read the ministry’s minutes going through the 1960s and found records of ministers saying that they’d never built anything like a bike highway before.

So once again, just like bringing back the trams, or re-opening the railway lines closed by Dr Beeching, Britain is now rediscovering what it lost in the rush to motordom. They could have done it thirty years earlier.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

Arbutus Greenway 2017

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Sunshine – and everyone (it seemed) was out on the greenway this morning. Though the pictures don’t show that.

Newly installed bench

There are to be benches at regular intervals: this is Maple Crescent around 29th Avenue

End of the line

The Greenway ends in one of those no-places – with no connections, or even signs to indicate onward connection. This is Milton Street at Rand Avenue. Note that the Greenway doesn’t appear on Google maps – even as a disused railway.

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Arbutus Greenway

This is the reverse angle looking back up the Greenway. The dashed lines indicate where the blacktop will be removed and replaced by a “landscaped” divider.

The bike ride is great – but will definitely get better as more separation between pedestrians and cyclists is established. Right now people tend to just keep to the right even where signs and paint on the path indicate otherwise. The biggest issue is the street crossings – especially on the busier streets like 41st Avenue and Marine Drive. The old train signals are still place – and what signage there is suggests that cyclists behave like pedestrians. 41st at the Boulevards has long been a vehicle only type of intersection with corrals and blockages to pedestrian desire lines. Much work is long overdue here – and the Greenway is going to increase that pressure.

But even so it was nice to be out on the bikes again – and enjoying the long sections of gravity assistance!

Written by Stephen Rees

March 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

A Route Planner to Facilitate and Promote Cycling in Metro Vancouver

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Now isn’t that a title to stir your heart?

As I am sure most of you know, while I am a cyclist – sometimes – I am a fairly cautious one. That is because I am a fat old man with a dicky ticker. Where I live there are steep hills in three of the four cardinal compass points. We live in a bowl – and Valley Drive is the only flat way out. It is uphill from here to Kerrisdale or Shaughnessy and even Kits requires tackling a short but killer grind up Nanton to the new Greenway. So the idea of a tool that takes topography into account as one of the keys to route choice had an instant appeal to me.

I came across it due to a new twitter account called Vancouver Studies run by my old friend Raul Pacheco-Vega. “This account tweets scholarly studies about the city of Vancouver (BC, Canada).”

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So that link took me to the academic publisher Elsevier who, of course, charge an arm and a leg to read research articles – but at least the Abstract provided a link to the program itself. I thought.

With increasing fuel costs, greater awareness of greenhouse gas emissions and increasing obesity levels, cycling is promoted as a health promoting and sustainable transport mode. We developed a cycling route planner (http://cyclevancouver.ubc.ca) for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to facilitate cycling amongst the general public and to facilitate new route location by transportation planners. The geographical information system-based planner incorporates variables that influence choices to travel by bicycle (e.g., distance, elevation gain, safety, route features, air pollution and links to transit) in selecting the preferred routing. Using a familiar and user-friendly Google Maps interface, the planner allows individuals to seek optimized cycling routes throughout the region based on their own preferences. In addition to the incorporation of multiple user preferences in route selection, the planner is unique amongst cycling route planners in its use of topology to minimize data storage redundancy, its reliance on node/vertex index tables to increase efficiency of the route selection process, and the use of web services and asynchronous technologies for quick data delivery. Use of this tool can help promote bicycle travel as a form of active transportation and help lower greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutant emissions by reducing car trips.

I have disabled the link in the quote because that site no longer responds. But Topophilo will give you both the sad story of why this useful tool is no longer available and what else is around to help you.

Cycle Vancouver Is Now Offline

October 31st, 2014

CycleVancouver, Metro Vancouver’s cycling trip planner, has been taken offline because it is no longer receiving funding to be maintained and hosted.

Other useful resources that may be helpful in planning your route are:

and then it also says

The original Cycle Vancouver code has been posted to GitHub for reference.

Which might be good news if we can come up with a rescue plan. Doesn’t this seem to be a Good Idea for crowdfunding? Or maybe support from the City – or even Metro? Isn’t Translink supposed to be into this alternative mode stuff too?

Of course being dead for three years may mean all of this has been tried before – but now the Mayors have come up with some funding for Translink, and even the feds seem interested in less carbon intensive ways of getting around (which wasn’t the case back in 2014) shouldn’t we be trying to resuscitate the patient?

UPDATE Sunday January 8

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and because that link won’t work in an image

AFTERWORD May 16, 2017

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Bike share comes to Vancouver

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It has been a very long time in gestation, with at least one false start, but today was the first day of operation of Mobi, Vancouver’s bike share system. Ever since I used Velib (seen above), the system in Paris, I have been waiting for one to start here. I have also used systems in New York and Denver.

Mobi

 

This is the station on Bute at Robson: two parking  meters have been suspended until the end of the year to accommodate the station. Presumably, this is to allow for some assessment of need and the potential exists for the station to moved and the meters restored.

Mobi

Because we are in BC every bike rider has to have a helmet – and you can see how they are currently padlocked to the bike. In other places where helmets are mandatory, bike shares have been unsuccessful. Vancouver hopes this time it will be different. Of course our brain dead provincial government could not conceive of the possibility that its helmet law is based on falsehoods, and refuses to reconsider it in the light of current knowledge and, yes, data.

The current offer is for an unlimited number of rides for a year – and there is a discounted price for early adopters that ends at the end of July. It is not an offer that I feel inclined to accept. Nor does my partner. As I mentioned I have tried other systems, and none of them required a significant upfront investment from the user. Usually a credit card was necessary as a deposit in case of an unreturned bike, but the ride itself was cheap or even free. There were significant sponsorships on all of the bike share systems that I have seen. Barclays Bank had their name all over the bikes in London: even so everyone calls them Boris Bikes. Here the city has made the up front investment –  and I do understand that experience elsewhere has shown that bike shares that actually work reliably do not come cheap. Whatever the model was in Rome, for instance, that didn’t work.

The home zone does not extend south of 16th on Arbutus, so it doesn’t actually get close enough to me. A bit like Modo, whose nearest car to my front door is in Kerrisdale. So that’s another mobility aid that is out of my reach.

I also know that there has been significant lobbying by the established bike rental operators that Mobi not cut into their business, and the current pricing structure is clearly a real deterrent to use by visitors. Which is a shame, I think, but I can understand how the people who rent out bikes feel.

So I will watch what happens with a sense of detached interest. And will watch for the comments of the readers to see if they like the deal better than we do!

POSTSCRIPT a set of recent tweets

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Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm

North America’s Best Kept (Cycling) Secret

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Photo © by Chris Bruntlett on Flickr

“…when it comes to building bike culture, North American cities tend to use their (chiefly ineffectual) neighbours as a yard stick, rather than measure themselves against far braver European cities like Paris, Seville, and Barcelona. Sadly, their myriad successes are seen as unattainable; their urban areas far more willing and able to embrace change. Quebec, meanwhile – with its own cultural heritage, identity, and language – is simply too “foreign” to figure into the daily consciousness of this continent, and somehow ends up lumped in with the rest of Europe.

Three years later, all of that is changing,.. people [are waking] up to what is undoubtedly North America’s cycling capital. Montréal now regularly tops lists of the most bicycle-friendly cities on the continent, and is often named one of the top twenty cycling cities on the planet. Their secret is (slowly) getting out; their compelling story is being told, and it is inspiring romantics, such as myself, to demand better than the half-baked policies, poorly-connected facilities, and dismal, single-digit mode shares officials and advocates have accepted for far too long.”

Chris Bruntlett does something very clever. He has been taking photographs of people cycling in smart clothes “cycle chic” – he may not have invented the term but that’s how it came to my attention. I tried to do something similar while in Italy: it is not as easy as it sounds. I was was going to write about what they do for cyclists in Rome and Florence  – but that all came out too negative. Cycling is, of course, forbidden in Venice.

Quebec City has long been on our bucket list. Montréal I once visited for work purposes back in the early nineties: I was not impressed then. Obviously I need to go again now.

Is that a popup bistro?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

Posted in bicycles, cycling, Transportation

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Roma

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This is the third, and final, instalment on my trip to Italy. And, as is common to blogs, it’s backwards, in that Rome is where our trip began.

On the way from the gate where we got off the plane, to the baggage carousel, there were all kinds of the usual retail opportunities that airports offer, and, indeed, depend upon. One of them was for the mobile phone company TIM, that internet research had shown to offer the best value for what I wanted. I bought a SIM card for my smart phone. It cost me 30€ ($46.87) of which about half was prepaid for calls, and the rest for 2G of high speed data (and unlimited low speed thereafter) and unlimited texts for the month. I think. The clerk’s English was barely adequate and all the documentation is, of course, is Italian. I was given documents to sign, and I though I was saying I did NOT want adverts by text. But it was the reverse. I got a daily barrage of incomprehensible offers by text from TIM the whole month. But now I was not dependent on wifi, and could access the internet anywhere. My phone also has Word Lens that is supposed to translate signs and stuff, and was almost entirely useless. I needed something to translate the translations. More than once I was glad of the data link to access Google Maps and sort out not just where we were but what direction we ought to head off in. It also meant that when I booked our trip to Venice, all I had to do was show the conductor on the trains the automated text message the FS system had sent me.

We were picked up from the airport by prior arrangement, and the journey into Rome was one of the scariest experiences I have had in a motor vehicle short of actually being in a collision. Afterwards we solemnly abandoned any thought of renting a car in Italy.

Roman parking

This is on the street where we rented an apartment. This car is not pulling out of a side street. It is parked. It is not unusual to see cars parked on the corner. They more usually park at an angle. The corner is usually the only place where there is a space to park. As pedestrians, we found that we were always taking what in a Canadian context would be very risky activity. If you wait at the curb, cars do not stop. You have to step into the traffic to show you are serious about crossing. Even then, motorcycles and scooters will simply weave around you as you cross. Fortunately many roads are narrow and often parked up on both sides. Most urban areas have one way streets, which result in much faster speeds.

Tiber embankment

Testaccio used to be part of the ancient Roman port facilities. It was redeveloped at the end of the 19th century as an industrial area with workers’ housing, and hosted the city’s slaughterhouse.

The river was prone to flooding, and the embankment process greatly reduced access to the waterside. Look at the height of the embankment and imagine that imposed on the Richmond dykes: or the waterfronts of Vancouver. Rome had to face floods every spring as it is surrounded by mountains – as we are. The rich lived on the hills: the ghetto regularly got flooded. That changed at the end of the nineteenth century for them. I suspect that it will have to change for us too, and in much shorter order than we are currently contemplating.

Riparian cycle track

Trastevere, on the other side of the Tiber, has this two way cycle and pedestrian trail. I was lucky to be able to catch a cyclist actually using it. The Lonely Planet Guide has this to say about cycling “The centre of Rome doesn’t lend itself to cycling: there are steep hills, treacherous cobbled roads and the traffic is terrible.”

City Bikesharing

We saw several of these stations, but never any bikes. The only information I can find on line is entirely negative. There were no bikes in 2011 either. Lonely Planet does not mention bikesharing.

Ancient Rome is still in the centre of the City and most is unrestored ruins. This is the Forum – a view taken from Il Vittoriano. What is very noticeable about this view of the Eternal City is the amount of tree canopy, and the absence of modern high rise buildings.

Centro Storico

Pedestrian street

There is a connected network of these streets across the Centro Storico.

Pop up road closure

I would like to see greater use of these barriers to car use in more cities. Robson St might be a suitable candidate, with trolleybus activation of barriers/signals.

Protected two way bike lane, Testaccio

Our neighbourhood had seen some traffic calming with this protected bike lane, and bumpouts for pedestrian crossings. Though you will note the pedestrian taking the more direct, diagonal route across the intersection. I did not actually see anyone use the bike lane, but I admire the vertical stanchions along the curb to prevent any danger of dooring.

There are many famous public spaces in Rome. Below is Piazza Navona – which was at that time the subject of some dispute between the authorities and the artists who rely on the tourists for their living.

Piazza Navona

Others are very impressive spaces, but seem to serve very little actual purpose. Or perhaps had one once that has now been lost.

The view from Pincio Hill

This is Piazza del Popolo, once the site of public executions. At least they managed to keep it clear of traffic unlike the similar Place de la Concorde in Paris.

We did use the two line underground Metro. There is a third line now under construction, but progress is slow possibly due to the huge haul of archaeological material uncovered whenever you dig anywhere in Rome. It was reliable in some of the worst traffic disruptions, but not actually pleasant to use due to the crowding and the persistent presence of piano accordion players – some very young children. Begging – and demanding money with menaces at railway stations – is a real problem. We prefer surface travel, but one trip on Tram Number 3 from Piramide (near our apartment) to the Modern Art Gallery at the other end of the line took all morning! Trams do have some exclusive rights of way – but they often have to share them with buses and taxis and seem to have no ability to affect traffic signals.

7029 with bow collector

There are two “albums” on flickr of public transport in general and trams in particular. Rome used to have an extensive tram network, but unlike other cities never abandoned it completely and has upgraded some lines in recent years with modern low floor articulated cars and reserved rights of way. Route 8 through Trastevere is one the better efforts. Our local service, route 3B along Marmorata, was curtailed during our stay due to track maintenance.  We did best by choosing some of the designated express bus routes, which simply stop less often than regular services, rather like the B Line. Bus stops in Rome have very detailed information on them about services – but rarely have real time information. And the sale of bus maps is a commercial activity, not a public service. In the event of service disruptions, having a smart phone was no help as no information was available in English.

We did a lot of walking in Rome. There are lots of parks – Villa Borghese for instance, which is no longer an actual villa just its gardens. And we were next to one of the nicer neighbourhoods, Aventino, sort of a Roman Shaughnessy. So we saw a lot of a relatively small area, and not very much of the rest of the city, apart from one trip out of town to Ostia Antica (fantastic) – and on a our return an overnight stay in Fiumicino, which is not really worth visiting if it were not for the airport. The biggest issue was the tourists. Many more people are travelling these days, especially those from Eastern Europe who were once forbidden to travel but can now afford to do so. They all want to go to the same places, so the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Mouth of Truth are beseiged all day. Rome of course still attracts pilgrims. If you are not one of those avoid the Vatican on Thursday mornings when the Pope addresses the faithful in St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum on Mondays when it is one of the few sites that is open. And if you have the guide book and it promises you “secrets” you can bet your life every other tourist has the same guidebook in their own language and is headed the same way. How else to explain the line up to peek through the keyhole of a locked door on a monastery – to get as glimpse of the dome of St Peters, more easily seen from a park a few metres away?

They all read the same guide books

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm