Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘land use’ Category

The Link Between Obesity, Transportation and Land Use

with 6 comments

There was a story tonight on the CBC TV news Vancouver at 6. It is about an important shift in the advice given to doctors. “The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care released recommendations for family physicians …on prevention of weight gain and treatment of overweight and obesity.” The emphasis is shifting from treatment – which mostly does not work – to prevention, which might. As is now the practice, after the news story from back east, Andrew Chang sat down with a local expert to talk about this some more. She was a doctor from Children’s Hospital and it was all about what we teach our children to help them keep the slim figure they have in their adolescence. It wasn’t until right at the end of the interview when she used the word “environment”, and it was left mostly unexamined. But without doubt it was the most important word in the discussion.

The shift in obesity statistics for the Canadian population occurred at the same time as it did for the American and a bit later for the UK. People have become less physically active partly due to their jobs changing – but mainly due to their commuting. Most of us used to stand to do our jobs, which usually involved some muscular exertion. And we either walked or biked to work. These days we are much more sedentary both at work and at home. And we tend to drive between the two. At the same time, we have stopped cooking for ourselves and rely heavily on processed food or prepared food from commercial outlets. This was not mentioned at all and is a bit of distraction, but basically when you do your own food prep you are much more likely to control salt and sugar. Processed food contains all kinds of preservatives and flavour enhancers to prolong shelf life – and long distance shipping. When you eat out, or buy a pizza, there’s a lot of fat and carbs on your plate.

It is not at all coincidental that the people who are now getting involved in long term planning for transportation and land use are Medical Officers of Health. They were largely absent during my career as a regional planner and transportation economist but in recent years they have noticed that people who live in walkable (and bikeable) neighbourhoods have lower levels of adult onset diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Also known as “metabolic syndrome” even though it has nothing to do with metabolism and everything to do with living in suburban sprawl and driving to do anything at all.

You will not hear anything about this from Jordan Bateman or the No lobby in general. They are the people who have no intention of changing anything. They want a ground oriented house with a two car garage, in a residential area far distant from any other land use apart from schools and churches. Jordan Bateman was a Councillor in Langley. This is still his constituency. The people who listened to the “drive until you qualify” mantra. They shop once a week, spend much of their time taking their children to and from school or after school activities and will tell you they have to drive. They cannot conceive of using a bus or a bike to live like they do. And as they age their weight increases steadily and inexorably.

The Yes campaign is driven by the concept of increasing transportation choice. That phrase was key to the Livable Region Strategy, written by Gordon Campbell, and intended to guide the pattern of development in Greater Vancouver. You cannot have a Protected Green Zone and a Compact Region with Complete Communities unless you Increase Transportation Choice. Wendell Cox does not understand this. Neither do Christy Clark, Todd Stone or Kevin Falcon. The two solitudes in Greater Vancouver are the people who live in the parts of the region where they can reasonably decide for themselves which mode to use for their trips – and switch between them at will – and those who can only drive for every purpose imaginable. The second group see nothing odd at all about driving to the dog park. Or driving to the gym or community centre to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. If you suggested to them that they walk or ride a bike for any other purpose than recreation, they would tell you “it isn’t safe”. And they would be right. We equate safety with belts and airbags in cars, designed to have crash resistant crumple zones. They demand everyone wear helmets – on the ice, down the hill, on the bike. Fear of head injury – actually not that frequent in adults especially once you have deducted car crashes – vastly outweighs fear of the diseases that kill most people. All of which can be traced to weight gain in adulthood. And the study that was used to justify BC’s compulsory helmet law has since been repudiated by its own authors.

The biggest challenge we face – after climate change – is the increasing cost of healthcare. Actually if we had sensible economists advising politicians, that would also be manageable, but we have built our own box to get locked into by insisting on tax cuts as the policy nostrum for every problem. As the baby boomers – people my age – retire and continue to live long after any generation that preceded them, the cost of taking care of them will balloon. Correction, is ballooning. Since we now live in nuclear, rather than extended, families that cost is borne by the public health system, not the daughters and granddaughters of the former wage earner.

I think the healthcare benefits of increasing our ability to walk, bike and take transit – every transit trip involves more walking than any driving trip – vastly outweigh the terrible burden of an extra 0.5% sales tax. If we still believed in cost-benefit analysis (nobody has paid me to do one of those in the last twenty years) then we could show that the costs of paying the tax for more transit would be more than made up in the savings in healthcare costs alone.

Of course, just increasing existing bus service frequencies will not be enough on their own. Just as we really cannot expect to see any reduction in congestion from the sales tax funded expansion alone. We need to do something radical about mixed use developments, increasing density, safe routes to school and all the rest. Just as we will need some fiscal sticks – fees and charges that change behaviour – as well as increased capacity and attractiveness of alternatives to driving. But making Vancouver and its suburbs better places to live features nowhere in the No campaign. Even sensible people like Laila Yuile have been caught up in the fallacy that somehow not paying more taxes will produce better run institutions.

Anyone who talks about transit – or transportation – as though it were a free standing issue is spouting nonsense. Transportation and land use are two sides of the same coin. The best transportation plan is a land use plan. Better land use is measured by the reduction achieved in motorised trips over business as usual. Not only that but Charles Marohn and his Strong Towns movement have shown that this form of development is actually financially more responsible and actually sustainable – in the sense that we can afford to pay for it. Which is quite clearly impossible in motordom with its freeways and  sprawling single use subdivisions.

When I ran for the provincial legislature for the Green Party, I started every speech with what I thought was an unarguable truism. We know that capitalism and communism have both failed. Neither paid the slightest bit of attention to the environment or the limits to growth. While the Liberals (federal) and NDP pay lip service to these truths, their policies are still based on economic growth and more jobs. I think it is equally obvious that we cannot continue a pattern of urban growth predicated on increased car use. It also seems to me that enough people agree or have been forced by economic realities (read huge student loans and no prospects of full time permanent employment) that car use is actually declining. But our provincial politicians are still stuck on increasing the extraction of fossil fuels – and other limited natural resources – while widening highways and building ever bigger bridges.

The anger you can hear from the No campaign is the refusal to accept the necessity of change. No-one in their right minds should be proposing dedicated taxes – or a new imposition of yet more regressive taxation. But on the Yes side, we have no choice. If we want to see transit expansion  – more bike routes, safer walking, more HandyDART for the aging population – more CHOICE in transportation – this is the only way we can do this right now. Not our doing, but those who set the rules for this thing. She Who Must Be Obeyed. She who never thinks of a plebiscite for the Massey Bridge or dualling some more highways in the heartlands. I do not think that an increase in sales tax is a Good idea at all. It is simply the easiest of the available options. No one is now talking about road use pricing. More gas tax or more carbon tax would work quite well as the price of oil is falling but we don’t get that chance either. I do know that I could more easily deal with an open house  on the sales tax increase than those I had to face back when we were proposing a vehicle levy.

I also know that the No side will not deal with any of these issues as they are not in the solutions business. They have a coalition of the unwilling. It is a diverse and motley band and includes a lot of people who think of themselves as progressive and find the whole process repulsive. It has been imposed on us by someone who thinks she can control the outcome. The Yes side is similarly heterogeneous, but what unites us is the desire to prove her wrong. We do not want the future she imagines. We don’t want this plebiscite or this sales tax either, but it is the only game in town, and it has to be won if motordom and sprawl are to be defeated. And if our waistlines are to start shrinking and our health to improve.

More on this topic can be seen on PriceTags with all sorts of references and sources

Choosing the happy city

with 6 comments



There is a storify based on the #happycity hashtag,which now features many more pictures thanks to the recent Twitter upgrade

At SFU Woodward’s on Wednesday March 26, 2014 the third in the Translink series.

Choosing the Happy City
Charles Montgomery

There were many empty seats even though SFU had “oversold”. If you reserve a seat at one of these events and then find you cannot attend, please remove your reservation as soon as you can. There were people who would have liked to be there. But at least there was also a live stream and the event will be added to the Youtube site in due course.

The introduction was made by one of Fraser Health’s public health officers. Happiness is fundamental to health. We need a system that promotes physical activity. Urban form and transportation determine how people choose to move around, and also affordability of housing and access to green space. People who live in the suburbs of Vancouver walk more than other places. We must improve and maintain choices especially for non urban places. She made the point that some policies which seek to deter car use can adversely affect the mobility of people who live in places where there is no other choice but to drive for many trip purposes. There is an inequity in adopting such deterrents before there are adequate choices fro everyone.

Charles Montgomery started his presentation with two “exercises” – the first to identify  Translink staff “the institution we love to hate”. He invited audience members to hug a member of Translink staff if they were near them. The second related to two images of dorms at Harvard University. One was a traditional building, the other a somewhat forbidding modern block. Most people indicated they preferred the traditional building, as did newly arrived students. But a study showed that there was no difference in the happiness of the students after three years. Many factors determine happiness not just the design of the buildings but social environment within them is important.

The idea of idea of increasing happiness is not new. Early economists called it maximizing utility. However often  “we get it wrong.I think pursuit of happiness is a good thing. We can measure it. … More pleasure than pain, healthy, in control, meaning, security but strong social connection underlies all of these. Both the GDP and creativity in a city depends on opportunities for social interaction. He showed a three dimensional graph of space time prisms, which showed the people who are more dispersed find it harder to connect. They spend much less time in the spaces and times when they can meet others. The edge of the urban agglomerations are the least likely to be socially active. If you live in the exurbs you do not have the time, energy or willingness to join things or even vote.

The shortness of the the commute time is the best indicator of satisfaction. “How we move is how we feel”, and even only five minutes of walking or cycling improves mood and regularly moving under our own power also  improves health. Equally driving a nice car on an open road also improves our mood. The trouble is that open roads are rare – and impossible to find at commute times. Driving even a nice car in a congested city is like piloting a fighter jet in terms of the stress experienced. People rate the experience of using transit lowest of all mostly due to the loss of control and that the trips on transit tend to be the longest.

In Greater Vancouver 40% of all trips could be done in 20 minute bike ride. In cities the design of the built environment determines both our behaviour and our bodies. If we build infrastructure for cycling – making it safer – more people will cycle. People will walk 800m to shop in a good urban environment but less than 200m in the typical suburban big box centre. The huge parking lots are a deterrent to walking even short distances.

He cited Larry Frank’s work in Atlanta showing maps of destinations available within a 10 minute walk of home. While there are many in the traditional city centre in the suburbs there are none. It is not surprising then that people who live in the suburbs on average have 10 pounds more in weight

Status interventions

– Equity
Having  low social status is bad for health. When transit viewed as a “hand out for the undeserving” – he used the notorious ads in the Georgia Strait some years ago for a GM car dealer which had a bus with the words “creeps & weirdos” as the destination sign – it is unsurprising that it is difficult to persuade people to change modes. Enrique Penalosa redesigned the city of Bogota and it was all about equity. He cancelled a new freeway but built the Transmilenio BRT based on the Curitiba example.

 – Freedom
This is represented by our having mastery of our movement. In one experiment they used skin conductance cuffs on people  in a mockup of a subway car. Even though this was staged at a party, as the space available to the group in the car became more restricted so their stress levels rose. He showed a picture of the Navigo card in Paris which is much more than a transit ticket. It also gives access to Velib bike sharing – and (he claimed) car sharing (which if so is a change since I was in Paris). “It also gets you cookies” But mostly it gives people the freedom to live with less stuff. they do not need to own a car or a bike [and can get around without worrying about either being stolen]

He then showed picture of the land the province has recently put up for sale in Coquitlam. This “swathe of Burke Mountain will not be well connected”. But families can save $10k a year by not owning a car. He cited Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” We are rightly fearful of house fires and build new suburbs to allow access to big fire trucks, with wide roads and sweeping curves – like a race track.  Streets aren’t safe enough for kids to play on – but we somehow think that we have made them “safer” and the areas they serve. There was a notorious experiment on children with Oreos. They could take one immediately or wait awhile and then get two. He says that the problems we require that we slow down and consider their complexity.

The challenge is the cost of congestion, but we attempt to solve it by designing disconnection. He illustrated this with a picture of the new Port Mann Bridge construction and remarked that we only realized that the new bridge was not needed until after it opened. All the traffic and people that now use it could have been accommodated if the old bridge had been tolled and a rapid bus service along Highway #1 introduced. [This was actually something that the Livable Region Coalition pointed out at the time, by the way. No-one believed us.]

“We did it before” He showed a slide of the Livable Region plan from the 1970s. And he also showed the “Leap Ahead” transit plan which its authors (Nathan Pachel and Paul Hillsdon) estimated would cost $6.5 bn but could be paid for with a $0.05 sales tax.

Referendum = fast brain disaster

“The best thing to do is cancel the referendum.” However since that is unlikely  we can save ourselves by adopting the recommendations that Roger Sherman used to win the second Denver referendum. Their program was called “Fast tracks” It was a clear plan and fully costed designed to appeal to the core values of the voters. Most of them drive so it has to show how improving transit improves life for drivers

It is not enough to present a clear picture – it has to have a champion, preferably a celebrity and since Brad Pitt is unlikely to be available he suggested Diane Watts

Bring it back to happiness

Working together is good for us build more resilient community


The first question pointed out that the Leap Ahead plan did not seem to have much for the North Shore

“Now is not the time” to determine the details – though it does have a fast bus, and I suggested adding another SeaBus

The second noted that he used an illustration of Disneyland. Expectation of good time in built form

Tests in Disneyland show that architecture that speaks to us is good for well being

Technology in design of transportation

Vehicle sharing systems, driverless cars, use of Car2Go in East Vancouver shows that is a bedroom community. there are plenty of cars there overnight but none during the day. We have to have more activity in our residential areas – this is not a technology problem.

Eric Doherty pointed out that he had not mentioned climate change

“While it feels good to do the right thing but not everybody agrees on what that is. Trying to convince people to think like us does not work”. Gateway sucks did not work – it did nothing to convince people who had to drive that there was any concern over their needs.

How do we overcome this mindset of entitlement?

Golden (referring to the first presentation in this series) got all the players in the room and respecting others point of view. sophisticated comm??

Q from twitter on codes

Self reports on happiness higher in small towns

Rural areas

Everybody can benefit from a village

Codes for rural community Gordon Price commented  “The City is not shaped by market forces”

Nathan Woods (Unifor)  said: We need $3m and Brad Pitt. How do we get that?

Developers stand to benefit – they have the resources. The Surrey BoT strongly supports transit

Can you supply examples of success of postwar planning

Lewis Mumford
False Creek
New Urbanists
Seaside FL

Lean urbanism

Forest Hills Gardens NY (GP again)

Is a dense urban environment enough?

Towers are as bad for lack of trust as exurbs
Just pushing us together is not enough
“Lazy tower style in Vancouver”
Town houses, courtyards, green space

Example of Copenhagen – can we transfer that here?

The answer would be Long and complex. But in one word-  Experiment – just line Janette Sadik Kahn did with bike lanes in New York

Gordon Price pointed out how really emotional the fight over bike lanes here had become

Change is very difficult. Regarded as intrusive

One action for individuals?

Started out as a journalist feeling I had no right. We can all change a bit of the city. Those of us who live here have the right to change where we live

What has surprised you in the reactions since the book came out

Jarret Walker told me that on these examples its not the planners who are the problem. “We know that.  You have to convince the politicians … and the people.”
Try not to scare people

Someone from modo talked about Share Vancouver and its implication for resilience, during disasters for instance

Life changed in New York with Sandy. How can we create that sense of urgency?

Experiment Granville St what are we learning?

The questioner felt that all the changes we have seen have been controlled by the business community

Times Sq occurred with support from the BIA – who have benefitted as rents are now going up. The police closure of Granville St at weekends was a response to violence. It gave more space for people to move around and thus reduced conflicts

Councillor Susan Chappelle from Squamish said that they were trying to get  a regional transportation dialogue going – they are outside the Translink area with a small transit system provide by BC Transit.  They remain “disengaged”. The immense changes he talked about are not translated into budget of small town. In the current situation “Words are used, with no change happening.” Squamish is left disconnected

The measures are the same for reducing GHG and increasing happiness. Should we encourage commuting [between Squmish and Vancouver]? The industrial zoning is out of date.

Can design offset crime?  Social justice?

Some people assert “None of this is going to work until we overthrow the 1%” But his work shows that the way we design cities has an immediate impact. It’s an equity issue. Many people complain that they can’t afford to live here but then they oppose the density increase essential [to get reduced housing/transportation combination cost reduced]

Some who was arranging a summit of cultural planners pointed out how hard it was to get a large meeting to places which did not have good connections. Change the way transit works to support the summit

BC Transit should take cue from TransLink interagency approach We can crowd source all kinds of stuff

btw People actually talk on the #20 bus

Big issue is transit funding. A city has found solution?

Richmond is the only place where car ownership has fallen – obviously a response to the Canada Line
See the example of the Los Angeles referendum which was not just about transit – it paid for everything with something for everyone


This was by far the best presentation in the series so far, in large part because it was not read from a script. He was speaking to the slides he was showing but clearly enjoyed interacting with the audience. It was indeed a performance – and a good one at that. On the other hand there did not seem to be a great deal that was new or remarkable in the content. Working in this field for forty years means that I have actually witnessed exactly the same set of prescriptions proffered for a what at the time seemed like different problems – congestion, growth, inequity, sustainability, bad air quality, global warming. And now happiness – or its absence.

I have got into a lot of trouble for stating unequivocally “transit sucks” to transit management. They of course would rather boast of their accomplishments, how well they do under difficult circumstances, and how resistant politicians are to pleas for more money. But the fact remains that despite increasing expenditures, the overall transit mode share is very difficult to change. We know what the solutions are – we always have done – but we seem reluctant to embrace the changes necessary. And he is probably right that we have an elite stuck in fast brain mode whenever they deal with these situations. He actually cited Kevin Falcon – more than once – and it seems to me he is right. The Jordon Batemans of course simply play to that preference. It is a lot easier than actually thinking clearly (slowly) and then acting.



“Beefing Up Population Density Won’t Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions”

with 4 comments

I have put the headline in quotation marks as it does not reflect  my opinion – nor does it seem to be based on a very reliable way of forecasting policy outcomes. The headline comes from Atlantic Cities but the research itself is published in Environmental Science and Technology. The title there is “Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density” (citation shown at foot of this article). And of course you and I do not have the right credentials to actually read this on line unless you are willing to pay a very hefty fee. But at least Berkeley provides a longer item than Atlantic Cities does and this is where their quotes are lifted from

As you will note, other readers have already taken exception to the conclusions that are quoted by Atlantic Cities, so I am not alone at being troubled by the attention getting headline. Because it does not seem to be adequately supported. I also am troubled since I have been advocating and teaching the exact opposite for many years now. First as part of the Community Energy Planning activities of the BC Energy Aware Committee – now the Community Energy Association – and latterly as part of a program for  people wanting to become Sustainable Building Advisors under the the LEED program, sponsored by the Canada Green Building Council. The thrust of my message has been – and still is – the putting up the greenest building possible is not going to achieve emission reductions if you put it in the wrong place and everyone has to drive to get there. Sure the building itself may perform flawlessly but the trips the building’s activities generate will more than make up for the energy savings achieved over more conventional technologies.

Denser urban areas do indeed perform far better – in terms of energy consumption and hence reduce greenhouse gas emissions – than less dense ones, and that is exactly what the maps that accompany the article show.

carbon denver

This just happens to be Denver – and you can also see the smaller city of Colorado Springs off to the left (west) which shows the same doughnut ring pattern of carbon emissions. And they do observe “large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas.” But that may just be that in the US (and the data they use only comes from there) the larger metro areas have proportionately more suburbs.

People who live in denser urban areas do not need to make as many trips by single occupant motor vehicles as those who live in less dense areas. People who work in city locations are much less likely to have drive during their work hours than those in suburban office parks. If you can get what you need within a short walk then you are less likely to need to drive. In places like downtown Vancouver, the vehicle most likely to be used for most trips is the electric elevator. Moreover building technologies and simple physics favour denser areas notably when the designers are thinking holistically. Community energy systems are more efficient than individual systems. The village on False Creek, for instance, gets some of the heat for its buildings from the sewers. Many buildings in city centres need more cooling than heating, so careful siting and interconnectedness produces a better overall outcome than locating them at greater distances where this is not efficient in economic or energy terms.

But there are also all sorts of other benefits from greater densities. Indeed density in and of itself may not be the answer. Better density – the right kind of density – is almost always going to have better results no matter what metric you use. We happen to be concerned in this case with reducing greenhouse gas emissions but exactly the same responses work if you are looking to create a happier human environment, or one that preserves land for food production or recreation, or reducing traffic congestion, or cutting public expenditures. The arguments made by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns are almost entirely financial.

Actually I think what is really at play here is Atlantic Cities looking for a headline rather than better understanding. What the researchers are actually saying is that there is no one size fits all solution and that increasing density does not of itself produce the best outcomes. But it is also clear that continuing with business as usual, widening freeways and building new ones, refusing to invest in transit, sticking with strategies that favour “drive until you qualify” suburbs and so on is a recipe for disaster. And increasing density is often going to be a significant part of the solution.


Christopher Jones *† and Daniel M. Kammen *†‡§
†Energy and Resources Group, ‡Goldman School of Public Policy, and §Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, United States
Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/es4034364
Publication Date (Web): December 13, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society
*Phone: (510) 643-5048. E-mail:, *Address: Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050. Phone: (510) 642-1640. Fax: (510) 642-1085. E-mail:

Own Your City

with 7 comments

This was actually my first visit to the SFU Woodwards campus: tribute was paid to Warren Gill – this was the third lecture in his honour – and he was credited with the initiative to establish SFU in downtown and in Surrey.

Attendees were encouraged to tweet using the #sfucity hashtag. I have produced a storify from them. Credit should also go to SFU for providing free wifi access. Thank you.

Jennifer Keesmaat
Chief Planner and Executive Director
City of Toronto

At SFU Woodwards
December 6

Cities are our greatest hope and our greatest risk. Vancouver and Toronto (where the mode share for transit is 23.3% for the journey to work is comparable to ours when using the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) rather than the city.

She has identified critical success factors that are going to be necessary for securing a different future to business as usual.

Canadian cities are suburban, auto oriented. We are not as rich we thought we were. WE have a number of perverse subsidies that have led to suburban sprawl. We need to increase density to increase the utilisation of existing infrastructure. Areas that don’t change will be left behind. The legacy we are leaving our children can be seen in the weather. Echo boomers want something different whether the city changes or not.

Illustration of city suburbs “expensive mistakes”. [For an instructive comparison see also the recent SFU lecture by Charles Marohn on “Strong Towns” which is one I missed but the video has now been posted on the Stroad to Boulevard tumblr.]

In the city of the future everything will be within short distance, which means less commuting and more time for everything else.  Is this vision what our suburbs might become? We continue to build suburbs. Consensus on how to change eludes us.

Three Critical Success Factors

1 the need to believe in a better future
She used the frequently cited prescience of the builders of the Bloor viaduct, which had the ability to accommodate the subway under the roadway 48 years before the subway opened. [As a transportation economist I have a somewhat different view of overbuilt infrastructure]
“I don’t get the baby platforms of the Canada Line” [I agree with her there]
Leaders don’t use polling to determine direction

2 the need to cultivate deep understanding about drivers for change
Clear coherent vision for the future essential for consensus. Walkable neighbourhood is better term than ecodensity
Learning and respect – fundamental to democracy

3 the need to engage to build broad and deep constituencies for city building

Chief planner round table
Our urban fabric
Resilient city
Next generation suburbs

Planners in Public Spaces

Partnered with LEGO

Transportation Planning
Feeling Congested?
The future is about moving less
Whiteboard video

One imaginative giveaway was used for on platform TTC surveys and other locations giving respondents free pack of tissues with the feeling congested? web site address on them.

80% of those polled after this exercise now agree with new funding sources for transit

[Saw this today in the National Post “I don’t much care where the money comes from, just tax me however you see fit and build, for God’s sake.”]

Belief understanding and engagement

Individual action ..every time you make a choice
Collective action .. Finding ways to shape political decision making



q Do City staff follow the advice of living where they work?

a City of TO is actually very weak at walking the talk for staff. Divisions working together on Complete Streets initiative building internal consensus. Water

q  What Provincial and Federal policies are needed?

a  Social housing … Regent park … Impossible for muni tax base to support affordable housing. Transit funding reward for density.

q Transit

a  Compare the NY subway to TTC and Canada line. Capacity!!

q Affordable housing

a  Mid rise stick construction lower price point

q How to frame conversation with professionals

a Not everything worked … you have to take risks
Look at what worked best practices as reference

Right now took it in house with councillors to ward level workshops

TO has not been as ambitious as other cities to get great buildings ( “Despite the talk, it’s now clear Keesmaat has succumbed to the same timidity that has kept Toronto from achieving the greatness it so badly wants.”  Christopher Hume Toronto Star)

Canadian cities do pretty well
Building is not the lynch pin
Great urbanism is about the neighbourhood not the building. [She said that we visit New York to see Greenwich Village or Soho not just the iconic buildings. Don’t say that to the people who run the Empire State Building, or Rockefeller Centre, or the Lincoln Centre. Or am I alone in being an architectural tourist?]
Profound mistakes with heritage

“I’m very concerned with the implication that sexy buildings define a city. I don’t have stars in my eyes about starchitects.”

Gehry thinks that only two buildings in Toronto are worth preserving

q Cities to watch?

a Washington DC currently mid rise but now looking at variances for high rises
Portland OR they did it in the seventies. They stuck w the plan
New York resilience legacy of Blomberg
Removing cycling lanes “Other people do dumb things too!”
Vancouver West End plan
Old Montreal “architects with a gentle touch”

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Road pricing: What’s not to love

with 5 comments

The title is taken from Gordon Price’s blog post and op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today.  He used a question mark, so this post tries to address the question. Yesterday the Sun had another op-ed on the same topic – equally positive – by Michael Goldberg (you may recall I quoted a lot from him at the “Moving the Future” meeting). I won’t link to that since it’s behind the paywall, but I am sure you can find it if you want to. And on Friday I am invited to another meeting where road pricing is going to be debated.

I am not just being contrarian. I have been in favour of moving towards road pricing ever since I read Gabriel Roth’s “Paying for Roads” back in the mid 1960s. I have written about it on this blog often enough. My impression is that there is a movement afoot to persuade us that we will get a say in future road pricing in the referendum. Frankly, I doubt it. And if we do I also doubt that it will win. Gordon does a good job of explaining why it is unpopular in general – but I think that there are some very specific reasons why it will not fly here, now. And that is what I am concerned about.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

Road pricing is fine in theory, but very difficult to do in practice. Parallels with other places that use cordons to impose congestion charges on central areas (London, Singapore, various Scandinavian cities) fall down very quickly when you compare our geography to theirs. Our commute pattern in not dominated by travel from the suburbs to one central area. Suburb to suburb travel is much more important. We cannot do a simple cordon price system here.

The province appears to be willing to reconsider its tolling policy which means that prices could be applied to existing roads at some future date once it has decided what that policy is going to be. But it will almost certainly be a province wide policy, not one designed to be optimal for this region. That is going to create a whole new set of problems we cannot yet determine, since the new policy is still in vitro. But you can already see that since some roads are provincial, some municipal and some get funding from Translink’s Major Road Network it is going to take a fair bit of negotiation to sort out which roads it will be applied to and how.

The next huge issue is what will happen on the other roads. As Gordon’s other recent blog post about Portugal shows, when you toll the major roads, a lot of traffic shifts to the minor roads.

In London, when the congestion charge was introduced, it was recognized that there would be a shift from driving to public transport. And that would be a problem as the railway systems were already at capacity at peak periods, and it takes a great deal of time to build new railway capacity (though they are doing that too). So the only quick way to add capacity was to increase the bus system. The problem was that the buses were caught up in the congestion themselves. So it would not be enough to just add more buses. The service would have to become both more reliable and faster – to attract passengers and cut costs. So at the same time as the congestion charge zone was being set up, so too were lots of new exclusive bus lanes.

In Metro Vancouver there are very few examples of bus lanes. Most are simply queue jumpers – and many are also open to “high occupancy vehicles” (even where “high occupancy” means only two or more people). On the busiest bus routes, there are parking restrictions but at peak periods only. While there have been short lived examples of bus priority measures (on the old #98 B Line for instance) most have now been removed. Municipalities could – at any time – have demonstrated a commitment to better bus services by their traffic management policies. None have down so in any significant fashion.

If we are to switch to road pricing it cannot happen until we have resolved the issue of how the trips deterred by the tolls can continue to be accomplished. That means significant transit expansion has to be ready to go before the toll collectors are turned on. That means more buses, more operators, more operating and maintenance centres. There is no spare capacity in the present transit system. It has been managed out as part of coping with increased demand without increased funding. There will be some additional trains when the Evergreen Line opens but none are being bought for the rest of the (overcrowded) SkyTrain system. The Canada Line presents its own set of capacity restraints that have been expounded here often enough.

There has been an opportunity to switch on a road pricing like system for some time. Not one that is sensitive to routes or times of day, but would have reduced car use significantly. I refer to distance based car insurance. With mandatory provincially provided car insurance we could have had this years ago. Instead the province has used ICBC as a way of collecting more for general revenues.

Today the province also announced increased hydro rates – for the next five years. This is to help pay for the disastrous policies of privatization, “run of the river” schemes ( sorry that link is paywalled) and settling a legal dispute with  California.

At the same time provincial policies at BC Transit are being shown to have been very badly thought out. Hydrogen buses in Whistler – introduced for the Olympics fuelled from hydrogen trucked from Quebec – are found to be too expensive. There is never funding for dull, boring everyday transit service, but there’s always a ribbon cutting opportunity – and plenty of PR pizzazz for daft ideas like the hydrogen highway – which still doesn’t exist.

In BC – as in the rest of North America – real disposable incomes have been largely static. Reductions in taxes have been matched – and in some cases more than matched – by hikes in fees for services which used to be paid from taxes. 1% of the population has done very well indeed. Most of the rest does not feel better off. Household debt is at record levels. Raising hydro rates will make people feel worse off, especially those who have no way to increase their incomes and who have very little ability to reduce their use of power. We’ve had all the free light bulbs we can use and many of us cannot afford a new fridge.

There is going to be a referendum on increasing the amount we pay for transit. That will come from a combination of sources since that is the way the system is set up now, and there is no current ability to change that. The new revenue stream is need to play catch up to currently constrained demand.

None of the articles I referred to have dealt with inequality – or land use. We know that land use takes a long time to change, but we also know that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.  If we change the way we pay for roads, people will have to reconsider their location decisions. Many will feel stressed by this – there are few more traumatic events in life than moving. But they made their present decisions in a system that closely controlled how much they were allowed to spend on housing but ignored how much they would have to spend on travel. “Drive until you qualify” is actually a terrible strategy – for a two income family especially – but it was what most people did. Change those rules and expect howls of outrage. People on the lower end of the income scale are much more vulnerable to changes of this kind – and more numerous. That matters in systems where votes matter. Like referenda.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

That new bridge

with 34 comments

I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”

60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.

The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.

It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.

The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief  that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.

Artic unloads at Bridgeport

As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.

What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.

I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.

Trains like this one serve the region beyond the Ile de France, and provide fast direct services for longer distances. The much faster TGV serves the intercity market.

It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.

New Jersey Transit provides statewide services to the suburbs and exurbs of the New York region

Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.

Managing Growth: Integrating Land Use and Transportation Planning

with 2 comments

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Community Breakfast at BCIT downtown Wednesday June 12 at 7:30am

I went along to this outreach event. The link above should also eventually link to the presentations as these are made available some time after the meeting – look at the top left of the screen that opens for “Previous Presentations”. They also had their own hashtag so I have a storify link too, which includes some  pictures of the slides.

Before I get into the detailed transcription of my notes, I want to make a couple of observations while they are fresh in my mind.

The meeting was chaired by Derek Corrigan, who is both Mayor of Burnaby and Chair of the Metro Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee. He made introductory remarks, and then ran the Q&A session after the presentations, interjecting whenever he felt the spirit move. I seriously think he constitutes a strong case for considering term limits for municipal politicians. While there is clearly value in having elder statesmen, and people with extensive experience, there are now a number of these Mayors-for-Life. Rather like Hazel McCallion of Mississauga they become characters, and gather electability over time so that they effectively can no longer be challenged. This gives them an air of invincibility – and  a distinct lack of humility. For instance, when someone, actually from the North Shore where no-one supposes rail transit is even a remote likelihood, raised a question about Translink’s current inability to make commitments to greater transit expansion, he responded  by going on an editorial about how buses are more efficient and effective than rail, and people in the room should not think of Transit Oriented Development as being dependent on rail – which he said was unaffordable. Now that is in some senses true, but is really easy to say when you are Mayor of a City that has two SkyTrain lines and no need of more any time soon.  He also intervened when someone was discussing community reluctance to embrace development and increases in density with observations about the importance of making commitments that developers can rely on. The important point to him was consistency so that no developer should think that “someone else is going to get a better deal”. That seemed to me to be tone deaf to the question which was about communities, not developers.

Peter Ladner also raised a very pertinent question about Christy Clark’s determination to hold a referendum on transit funding – which could well make the whole process of planning in this fashion pointless. He asked the panel members if they intended to campaign for the referendum – and again Corrigan intervened. Pretending to be humorous, I got the distinct impression he was issuing a warning to staff to not get involved in politics. He also said – with heavy irony – that all the Mayors were really keen on promoting tax increases to pay for transit.

The general tenor of the presentations was educational. It was a bit like attending an academic planning seminar – except of course this was actually about the future of this region – and what it could be. Although, if Corrigan and Ladner are right, might well fall short. All the transportation planning that was discussed was about walking, cycling and transit, and dealing with a more limited role for cars in the  future. But the newly re-elected provincial government seems to be on an entirely different track.

Lee-Ann Garnett, Senior Regional Planner, Metro Vancouver

Her presentation was about the tools that Metro use to manage growth and in particular Frequent Transit Development Areas (FTDA) . She showed how the 1m population growth in the next 30 years is to be distributed across the region by municipality. The biggest changes are to be South of the Fraser – mostly in Surrey. The Regional Growth Strategy has been adopted  by all of them, and each gets some growth. That growth will be shaped by a combination of the Urban Containment Boundary, Urban Centres and FTDAs. At the top of the hierarchy of centres is the Metro Core (downtown Vancouver) Surrey Metro Centre (no longer to be referred to as Whalley) seven regional city centres and 17 municipal town centres.  Only 40% of the population growth will be in those centres: the current concern is about where the rest will go.

The municipalities are now in the process of producing their Regional Context Statements (due in July) which show how their Official Community Plans and zoning will accommodate this growth. There are already a number of FTDAs including the Cambie Corridor in Vancouver (in response to the Canada Line) around the Evergreen Line stations in Coquitlam and Port Moody as well as a proposed FTDA at UBC. The municipalities are urged to “think regionally” and across boundaries. [The significance of this became apparent when Surrey discussed development in its north west sector which abuts Delta – which was shown as blank space on their map. At least it did not have the annotation ‘here be dragons’.]

The objective is to prioritize areas for development – where it goes first. She said that “the market is on board” and supports TOD for jobs and housing. The risks include the possibility that there are too many centres, that adding FTDAs will spread growth too thinly and that FTDAs on the edge of the region present issues of their own.

Andrew Curran, Manager, Strategy, Strategic Planning & Policy, Translink

[Much of what he said has already been covered here but is repeated for convenience of reference] Translink is currently updating Transport 2040 with more emphasis on co-ordinating land use development with transportation investment decision making.

Transportation shapes land use: Marchetti’s Constant – humans have long had a 1 hour travel time budget in their day. He illustrated what this means – the “one hour wide city” as a series of circles overlaid  on the map: the walking city = downtown Vancouver: the streetcar city = City of Vancouver: the auto city = Metro Vancouver. He also showed how the use of single occupant vehicles increases at each scale. In the future “cars will have a role but we have no room for every trip to be by car”. T2040 aimed for a 50/50 split between the walk/bike/transit mode on the one side and car on the other. He then very quickly went through the “Primer on the Key Concepts of Transit Oriented Communities“, noting that transit orientation is really about walking and cycling -which determine transit accessibility. The Frequent Transit Network (FTN) are the routes which run at 15 minute frequency – or better – all day, seven days a week. He said on these routes “you don’t need to rely on the schedule” [which suggests to me that the rest of humanity must have a great deal more patience than I do].

Land use shapes transit: He quoted Jarret Walker’s principle of routing “Be On The Way” – which he illustrated with the Expo Line and the Liveable Region Plan of 1976. While a six Ds [destination, distance, design density, diversity, demand] matter a metastudy by Ewing and Cervero showed a relatively weak direct relationship between travel and density – which in reality acts as a proxy for the other five Ds. “Don’t get too hung up on density, but don’t put it in the wrong place.” He showed an iterative dialogue between a land use planner and a transportation planner developed by Jarret Walker for his book Human Transit.   He also pointed for the need for transit to have bidirectional demand along a route, rather than the typical unbalanced “everyone goes downtown in the morning” route. By being more efficient, transit can provide more service for the same cost. He showed examples of recent transit plans for North Vancouver based on FTDAs, the pan for Main Street in Vancouver and also for Newton in Surrey.

He recognized the need for certainty to guide developers but acknowledged the need greater funding. Nevertheless he felt there was still a need for agreements between all parties to assure appropriate zoning. There is no requirement for municipalities to promote FTDAs but he felt they would recognize the value of partnerships.

Don Luymes, Manager of Community Planning, City of Surrey

Surrey is moving from the auto-oriented suburban development pattern of its growth until now, towards Transit Oriented Development (TOD). There are three key strategies

  1. Reinforce centres along corridors
  2. Define new centres on those corridors
  3. Identify future corridors as planning areas

This was being driven by health concerns, geography and the need reduce the impact of energy cost increases. The idea is to wean Surrey off auto-dependancy. Around SkyTrain stations density is being increased from 3.5 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to 7.5.

(“A density measure expressing the ratio between a building’s total floor area and its site coverage. To calculate F.A.R., the gross square footage of a building is divided by the total area of its lot. F.A.R. conveys a sense of the bulk or mass of a structure, and is useful in measuring non-residential and mixed-use density.” source: Lincoln Institute) In other town centres like Guildford and Newton this was at a lower scale, moving from 1.5 previously to 2.5 FAR now. The calculation is made over the gross site area to encourage developers to relinquish part of the site to the road allowance needed for a finer grain street grid. Cloverdale is not slated for much development as it is not on the FTN.

Subcentres for midrise developments within 400 to 800m of transit, not in exitsing centres. So far four have been identified.

  1. Scott Road SkyTrain station is “a no-brainer” as a new centre
  2. Between Guildford and Surrey Centre  on 104 Ave
  3. Along 152 St at 88 Ave and Fraser Highway
  4. Clayton
  5. Fleetwood West

No higher density will be permitted in Bridgeview to protect the existing community

Within these centres Surrey will encourage mixed use, pedestrain connections to transit, increase FASR on gross site area and relax parking requirements on developers – although there could be interim requirements until transit can be provided.

He then indicated on the map where there are candidate areas for future corridors.

  1. Will the market respond? See undeveloped sites in Surrey City Centre
  2. Timing of transit delivery – already have some dense neighborhoods without transit

His final slide illustrated three levels of transit – BRT, LRT and SkyTrain – but he must have run out of time to discuss this.

Q & A

1. There was no discussion of industry – which usually has a density well below that needed for transit

LAG – our focus on residential and commercial development in centres protects industrial land. The limited pool of funding for transit precludes provision for low density industrial areas

AC – it is very expensive to serve industrial areas. We do provide basic mobility (infrequent service) but there is interest in industrial intensification to provide more employment intensive areas. the key thing is to protect industrial land

2. There is going to be push back from the community to increased density. Are there better practices for communications?

DL – It is difficult to get the community engaged at this level of planning. More interest in immediate impact on neighbourhood. We have a well developed community planning process but there are different levels of interest in different areas

DC – Certainty and consistency [for developers]. Make sure that no-one else gets a better deal (see my introductory note)

3. There is no mention of food in your strategy. There is Metro Food Policy document but if you allow a small loss of ALR every year in 30 years most of it is gone. Have you considered rising ocean levels and the increases in cost of transporting food over long distances?

LAG – We have five goals – and I could have talked all morning Our policy protects food growing areas, we are also trying to make agriculture more viable and looking at local food strategies

DC – our prime concern is to protect the ALR

3. Housing for families in town centres? and minimum level of transit provision outside centres to provide an alternative to car use

DL – Our policies provide for a mix of housing types that includes three bedroom apartments as well as “skirt” of townhouses around centres. There are family areas adjacent to centres where we are stabilizing the community and providing “relative affordability”.

AC – Services in low density communities means that they need to be located along the FTN if they are to get good transit service.  We are working to improve South of Fraser networks using the 6d score and wouldlike to develop  more but the fudnign and resources are not there now. When there is a limited amount of money it has to go to higher demand areas.

4. Planning for a future village centre in the District of North Vancouver does have community support, but we have no confidence that Translink will deliver the service that is essential to support the development

AC – In the conversation about funding everyone wants everything but no-one wants to pay for it. We hope we will get new funding tools – but that is part of a larger conversation

DC – fixed rail is very expensive, buses are cheaper – improvements to the bus system are efficient and effective (see my notes above)

5. Access to transit: drawing neat circles on a map does not address the reality of cul de sacs in suburbs. Access is typlcially much longer than a straight line

DL – auto oriented streets frustrate direct access. We need new street connections and our density calculations allow the developer to benefit from the density otherwise “lost” to streets – they can “pile density on the rest of the site”. Pedestrian only links from street end bulbs have not been successful. It can be challenging to get new links without establishing a right of way.

DC – See Patrick Condon’s study that show how building new roads increases pedestrian access [can someone provide me with a citation for that please]

6. Bike Share?

in the absence of anyone from the City of Vancouver AC replied on the issue of helmets as slowing implementation

7 Car sharing and ride sharing can provide intermediate capacity where ransit not viable

DL – we have entered into agreements with developers to provide car sharing in return for less parking provision. In farther flung areas this can prove more challenging

Is car sharing included in the package?

AC – Translink has an Open Data policy and will share data more than just transit data now provided on Google apps through the API

8 Commercial development within mixed use can be very expensive to do. In the same way that we support non-market housing can we support commercial development?

LAG – We have only looked at office development on a large scale

AC – Los Angeles County has a program for supporting commercial development at transit exchanges

DL – Legislation forbids that here: local government is not able to support commercial developments financially. Subsidy is not allowed

9 Are you setting aside money for separated bike tracks to improve safety? There is no room for bike lanes on North Vancouver roads

AC – it is an engineering challenge on existing streets and there is growing consensus on the need for separate facilities. We will cost share at 50% with municipalities but there is only $3m a year

DL – there is going to be a two-way separated bike path along King George Boulevard. We will fund all of it if needs be.

10 (Peter Ladner) All of these plans crash on the reef of the referendum. Are you going to take an active role?

AC  – It’s early days yet, and the province has already given direction to the Mayor’s Council to develop a strategy [which is what they are doing]

DL – the pressures that give rise to the strategy are not going to go away. We will figure it out

LAG – It depends on the Metro Board

11. Are you going to change the zoning of corner lots to recognize that they have greater development potential?

LAG – established question actually directed at the City of Vancouver


Written by Stephen Rees

June 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Return of the blogger: Stakeholder Forum – Translink

with 10 comments

It has been twenty one days since I last posted on this blog. A lot has happened in the intervening period, some of which I might well have reported or commented on. But I was otherwise occupied. I have sold my townhouse in Richmond, and after disposing of a lot of my possessions, and relocating others, am now a full time resident of Vancouver. And hopefully will now find more time to write here, as there should be a declining demand on my time from domestic duties.

This morning I attended a Stakeholder Forum organized by Translink as the start of the next steps towards “confirming our vision for the long-term and map out the near-term steps needed to get us there” (their words, not mine). It was held at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the range of “stakeholders” present was quite wide – it included the cyclists, the truckers, the unions and quite a lot of municipal people as well as NGOs like the Fraser Basin Council. Many familiar faces – but nearly as many empty seats.

Ian Jarvis opened with a summary how well Translink has done, doubling transit ridership in the last ten years, securing $3bn in senior government funding and surviving a series of reviews which showed that it is well managed. But “we can’t save our way to growth”. One million more people are coming to this region by 2040 – and they will want to get around a system which is already straining its capacity. There are funding sources but they are all at the maximum they can be – and the fuel tax (one of the more significant sources) revenue is declining. We need to have a “new conversation” about how we shape growth in the region and protect the quality of life here. This stakeholder review is just the start. There will be “broader engagement” in the fall. The purpose of this meeting was to “pin down the strategies”.

Bob Paddon

Transport 2040 will remain in place but some things need to change. Much of the subsequent presentations concentrated on what these changes would be. Unfortunately, that assumed a high level of familiarity of what was already there. It is perhaps unfortunate wording but Goal 1 of the current plan is

Goal 1 Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are aggressively reduced, in support of federal, provincial and regional targets.”

Both federal and provincial governments maintain lip service to reducing emissions but both are actively promoting export of carbon fuels. While in this region, transportation is a significant slice of our own ghg emissions, they pale into insignificance when compared to the volumes of fossil fuels that both federal and provincial governments and their agencies propose to move through this region.

The region has two metro centres (Vancouver and Surrey) seven city centres and many town centres. The movement pattern (as shown by the 2011 Trip Diary Survey) is between these centres and is not simply centred upon commuting to downtown Vancouver. The economy of the region is also dependent upon goods movement – and, he implied, mostly by trucks.

The intention is still to increase sustainable transportation choice. The Regional Health Authorities have been engaged in the process (which is a considerable departure from past practice, and very welcome). The vision and goals remain similar, and there was a lot of investment in the last ten years and “I would like to believe that those days will return.”

Currently trips by walk, cycle and transit are 27% of the total (compared to 19% in 1985) and should be 50% by 2045. [Transportation 2040

Goal 2 Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling. ]

All trips, 6m in 2013, will rise to 9m by 2045

73% of trips by auto now 4.4m

50% of trips by auto in 2045 is also 4.4m – no change

That is because transit, walk and cycle together will rise from 27% (1.6m) to 50% (4.4m)

Our focus now will be outcome driven. Integrated (the automobile will always be part of the pattern, as will trucks) co-ordinated, resilient and affordable (value for money, performance driven). The new strategic approach will be to manage (improve utilization by pricing) invest ($5bn just to maintain a state of good repair plus up to $18bn if all the desired projects are built) and partner. The choice of how to do this will be based on what can be achieved not by adopting a particular technology [I take this to refer to SkyTrain] We will not follow the pattern of “build it and they will come” but rather ensuring that land use changes to support the new transit lines.

At this point questions and comments were invited:

Martin Crilly – the former Translink Commissioner but now a private citizen – pointed to the legislated requirement for a Plan by August 1. Bob Paddon responded that they could simply adopt  Transportation 2040 as the new plan, but they would prefer to adopt the visions, goals and strategies of 2045 by August 1 and then proceed with an implementation plan.

Bob Wilds of the Gateway Council asked about the role of Ministry [who were not present]. Doug Hall (an ADM at MoTI)  is co-chair with Bob Paddon of the key Steering Committee, and provincial staff are working on the plan.

Louise Yako of the BC Trucking Association pointed out that one of Translink’s problems is that is has responsibility but no authority, to which Paddon replied “We are having that dialogue and governance changes will occur.”

Bill Susak of the City of Coquitlam said that Translink should add advocacy to its aims. Ian Jarvis replied that Translink supports the regional growth strategy. “The vision is not ours, it is what the region comes up with.”

Dr John Carsley, Vancouver Coastal Health urged “aggressive advocacy” – “this is a pressing health issue” – obesity and diabetes. [In fact this is something for stakeholders to do.] He also remarked: “Who is the doctor who prescribes your equanimity tablets?”

Tamim Raad took over the rest of the presentation

He opened by talking about the “new reality” – the revenue challenges would remain for the foreseeable future: 2008 marked a structural shift, and Translink now has to do more with less. The reference to Partners is significant – municipalities in particular, with the emphasis on land use, to establish that land will be in place to support the investments. His presentation concentrated on what is different in the present plan to T2040 – and he said that a draft list of strategies and actions will be made available “in the next few weeks”.

1 Manage: In 2045 the car will still be dominant but now the car is too often the only available choice. “Pricing is the key to efficient choice”  Translink now has a 100% accessible bus fleet and “we do have some spare capacity” This could be utilised by shifting demand from the peak time and peak direction. For instance the development of employment in Surrey Town Centre will provide a useful back load  for SkyTrain. They also need to introduce priority lanes for buses and trucks [my notes indicate my surprise at hearing that]

Pricing for fairness and revenue: we expect to pay more if we consume more, or at peak times. For example, the City of Vancouver does a good job of pricing curbside parking which reduces traffic circling, looking for a space. [Actually other cities like San Francisco do better, but we’ll let that pass.] Transit does have user pay, but it only covers half the cost. There is a societal benefit from transit use – it frees road space for others – and all users [of the transportation system] benefit from the transit subsidy. The decision to remove the midday off peak discount (to increase revenue and reduce complexity) has had an effect on demand and was not the most efficient choice as it shifted more trips into the peak period, raising costs and overcrowding. The fare zone system’s coarseness often seems unfair (for example the two zone fare for SeaBus) and there is a lot of opportunity for a finer grain system made possible by the Compass smartcard technology.

Driving is priced indirectly, and we need to shift  from general revenues to user pay. This is not a new concept. Metro and the Mayors’ Council have both endorsed it. The present policy of tolls only on new bridges, and just to pay for the facility, seems unfair and is not optimal for system utilization. At the same time, road pricing is not a panacea for revenue.

At this point reaction was called for, so I got to express my concern that somehow protecting the environment seemed to have slipped into fourth place – behind concerns for the economy, efficiency and health. I pointed out that environmental concerns ought to be a more significant driver – especially if Vancouver is to become a major route through which carbon is exported to the rest of the world.  Richard Campbell (BC Cycling Coalition) and Lon Leclair (City of Vancouver) both spoke of the need for the plan to include more detail “its a hard sell at this high level” – the details will help individuals work out how it will affect them. People need to see solutions. Los Angeles has recently approved a 1% sales tax increase to invest $300bn over 30 years – and would have passed that for a ten year implementation but for the requirement of a two-thirds majority which was very narrowly missed. “The power of lines on a map”

Tamim responded that we have actually completed most of what was proposed in Transport 2021 – in terms of investments – but road pricing was supposed to have been implemented by 2006.

Someone whose name I did not hear from HUB stated that pricing was not the best way to get people to use active transportation. She felt that the role of education was a more appropriate approach to change lifestyles.

2 Invest Strategically

After the coffee break Tamim returned. T2040 identified the need for significant and early rate of progress and identified a need for an additional $1bn for the regional share of projects. In fact the search for savings only produced $35m, about half the target. He said “there is a sense that we have more limited means”. TOD is really about walking and cycling – and the number of cyclists in the region now is roughly equal to those who use the Millennium and Expo lines: the amount invested on each mode is very different.

Transit: 1. meet basic mobility and access needs across the region i.e,. commit to transit in low ridership areas, since these are the capillaries of the network but they will set clear minimum thresholds for ridership (plus grandfathered established services, on which people rely) But communicate a clear set of criteria so that there are no surprises.

2. Have high levels or good future prospects of demand for new services which will be prioritized by the objectives – supply in the right places at the right times “We will not be driving empty buses around” Translink must have confidence that future levels of demand will rise over time and the demand management is in place.

Roads – autos are not the only user of this mode, there are are also walkers, cyclists and trucks. Too little investment in roads can stifle growth. Too much road capacity is NOT an antidote to congestion, in fcat building more roads can make matters worse. We will provide access but not promote dispersal. There will be no more vehicle trips overall by 2045 than there are now. There will be three programs 1. Local access – a finer grain network in urban centres  2. Safety – reconfiguration of intersections can reduce crashes  3. Goods movement – selected links to improve travel time for goods without increasing general purpose traffic.

A representative from UBC asked if a cap on all car trips is actually realistic – he saw a disconnect between aspiration and the proposals

Stu Ramsay of the City of Burnaby said that while he appreciated the idea of supporting local access and providing a finer grid in town centres this was “not Translink’s role hitherto”. Tamim responded that Translink has always been willing to provide support especially around rapid transit stations

Don Buchanan of the City of Surrey said he welcomed the opportunity to exoand the dialogue. The biggest opportunity to leverage change is through walkway and bikeway networks. Funding for that would get a lot more trips shifted from cars than in the last 20 years.

Marion Town of the Fraser Basin Council thought that influencing behaviour would require Translink to be more “nimble”  in the way that information is collected and used.

Katherine Mohoruk of Coquitlam observed that much of the population growth was going to be in the South of the Fraser and the Eastern communities. “We have an excellent system on the Burrard Peninsula” but not in the areas where most of the growth was going to occur. It is critically important to build the roads to complete the grid, and provide transit, in these areas

Tanya Paz (a consultant) said that Translink had an ambitious goal and 2.2 was an effective way to get there but “you will need down escalators on Sktrain”. The system must be both multimodal and seamless. She noted that the province was not here  but we need legislation to reduce speeds in urban areas as well as changes to the Passenger Transportation Act to encourage real time ride and car sharing. “There is an app for that.”

Peter Ladner asked about the provincial conditions for Translink to be able to collect charges on the lift in value that occurs due to transit investment. He asked if that required Translink to invest in land acquisition. Tamim responded that value capture did not require ownership and that benefitting area taxes are within the current legislation.

3.  Partnering 

Funding must be stable, sufficient, appropriate and influence travel choices. There is a real need for new funding – not just road pricing. Land use must support walking and cycling and we should be making decisions about land use around stations before the line is built. There has to be a written commitment [from municipalities]

On economic development, being an advocate for change is not “within our mandate” but ” we need to know what the econmic objectives are.

Martin Crilly pointed out the need for political endorsement

Rob Woods of CUPE (speaking for the other unions present) noted the need to “keep trips safe and secure” and noted that “there was not a lot of talk about retaining employees” although Translink trains people who then get lured away to other employers. “Keep Canadian, buy Canadian, keep jobs local”

Paul Lee of the City of Surrey found it difficult to make the judgement “when the trade-offs are not made apparent – more content would help”

A representative from MVT made the point that Burnaby had used Travel$mart to educate users – but we also need to educate the whole community. For instance there was little value in encouraging users to make appointments later in the day than 9am (to increase the probability of getting a trip) when doctors close their offices between 11 and 1 for lunch. If we provided services throughout the day, then better use could be made of existing capacity.



We live in desperate times – and we need desperate measures. This forum was not the one to make observations about federal or provincial priorities – but the last twenty years have been dominated by the Gateway. Decisions about international freight transportation – the port, the airport, railways – and the need for treaties with First Nations (The Tswawassen was the first urban treaty) blew a hole through regional transportation and land use plans. Massive expansion  of the freeways and loss of agricultural land were wholly contrary to the LRSP – but went through the system with hardly a ripple. We have lost huge tracts of prime food growing land to be covered in concrete for storing empty containers, when climate change is destroying the capacity of California to continue to provide our food.

As it happens, very little of our regional economy is about making stuff anymore, there is a fair amount of distribution, but not much manufacturing. Trucks are not nearly as important in freight transport as trains and ships, both of which are largely a federal jurisdiction – a fine distinction which is destroying our ability to be sustainable – or even to have any kind of effective voice in determining our own future.

Three billion dollars has been spent on a freeway at the same time as car use has started declining.

We passed 400ppm CO2 in our atmosphere at the same time as we became more car dependant – when transportation is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gas in this region.

This plan is going to be more modest and “realistic” than the last one. It is no longer  “Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling”. It is now half. And no doubt consultations with stakeholders like the truckers, and big business, will whittle that down further. Both provincial and federal ruling parties are indebted to big business, and it is corporate interests who really call the shots, not “stakeholders”.

Translink has been cut off at the knees by a previous BC Liberal Minister of Transport. Why would they now admit that they were wrong? Do we really expect them to allow road pricing to replace their current model of tolls for new build only? And won’t their attention be focussed on Prince Rupert and the Peace  and all that lovely LNG?

Unfortunately, Translink made the very bad choice of showing that they were right. They are well run, there are no magic buckets of savings to pay for new services, despite what Christy knew for a certainty. And the one thing that is absolutely unforgivable is to be right and in disagreement with our Premier at the same time. The BC Liberals were willing to say anything before the election, but now they are back, and with more seats in the leg. Don’t hold your breath waiting for all that new funding for transit in the lower mainland. Not a priority, sorry.

I would have liked to have given a précis of the talk by David Miller former Mayor of Toronto over lunch. But I was too busy eating to make notes. I really hope that Translink did not pay for him to come all that way just for an hour’s talk. Even though it was highly entertaining. And it is not as if they have done so much better than us in recent years, after all.

What’s with abandoned Gas Stations?

with one comment

I have often wondered why there are so many abandoned gas stations – and why so little ever seems to happen to them. This is not something outside my experience but is completely beyond my understanding. Until now. Patrick Johnstone does this sort of thing for a living – and he writes well. So take yourself over to NWimby and learn something. Warning: this is only part one – there is more to follow.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism

with 6 comments

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.


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

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


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.


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.