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Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

Olympic Legacy

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There is a longish piece in the Guardian today about what is expected to be the legacy of the Olympics on East London.  The title cites Newham and the Carpenters estate. In fact the article ranges further than that – discussing Tower Hamlets and Hackney as well. My interest is because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Newham – though somewhat to the east of the area in question in what for much of that time was East Ham. My family moved out of the area soon after I left for university, and I have not been back for more than very brief visits since. Even so I accept that if anywhere needs regeneration it is the area around Stratford, which used to be mostly railway facilities and a network of declining industries known as the Bow Back Rivers. It is also true that the man who ran the locks on the canal used to answer the phone by announcing “Bow Locks”.

Now the summer Olympics is a much bigger deal than the winter Olympics, and in London it is all on one site not split as it was here. But the immediate similarity struck me – the victims in our case being the unfortunate residents of a BC Housing estate on the edge of the Olympic site in Queen Elizabeth Park. That site was cleared – though BC politicians were vehement in their denials that the removal of the tenants was anything to do with the Olympics. And the expected development has still not yet happened.

The other Olympic legacies here are the Sea to Sky Highway – which lead to a variety of residential developments in and near Squamish based on the newer shorter commute times by car to Vancouver – and the Canada Line, and lots of high rise residential towers in Richmond, with again much displacement of waterside industry. Not to mention the Olympic Village in Vancouver, which at long last seems to be getting going as a community with its own grocery store opening last week.

The other influence on my thinking is this recent article from Spacing Vancouver about Tom Slater the “unabashedly subjective” gentrification researcher.

in the opening chapter of his upcoming book Fighting Gentrification, he realized that “a different picture of gentrification emerges if one takes the trouble to talk to those who do not stand to profit from the rising costs of land and real estate.”

So he made himself a promise. “I felt that I had a civic duty to be critical in the work that I was doing, and to present a story that captured the predicament of the people living at the bottom of the class structure. So that became, if you like, my mission,” Slater said.

And if you read what the residents of the Carpenters Estate are saying, it reads very much like what his interviewee says in that article – or what the residents of Little Mountain have been saying.

The Little Mountain Site

 “I think that the Olympics has lost me my home.” She has lived on the Carpenters for 40 years and is disinclined to depart quietly. “I think they’re gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody be able to force you out of your home? A home that’s got nothing wrong with it, that’s standing solid? I do not want to go.”

There is also some very relevant stuff about what people want – and it isn’t high rises

She [London’s outgoing Olympic legacy chief, Margaret Ford] gathered intelligence for the masterplan on “mystery shopping” excursions – chatting to people in cafes and the old Stratford shopping centre. “They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it’s not bloody rocket science.”

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2012 at 11:42 am

Posted in housing, Olympics, placemaking

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What’s up with the Viaducts?

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Panel discussion SFU City Program April 7, 2011

There were at least half a dozen bloggers there last night. Once I get this finished, I am going to see how many of them have got their pieces up. Alexandria Mitchell was there but hasn’t blogged since February: Eric Doherty was there but is busy with other things: Paul Hillsdon too: Voony: OK I claim bragging rights for first to post!

UPDATE  April 14

In the interests of completeness – Vancouver Public Space Network now has a post which provides links to Blah City which I could not find, has no account of the meeting but does have a picture of the High Line, and Voony who says “I will blog on the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaduct, to eventually provide a “dissident” voice to the opinion expressed [by Stephen Rees or VPSN], but as a preliminary, I have gathered  data  I will eventually rely on to support my opinion” . VPSN also identifies Michael Geller, who was indeed sitting behind me, but seems silent on this issue so far. The Tyee was present too.

The panel was composed of five people, three of whom provided facts, and two opinions only. I regret that due to a late start and people talking for too long, I was unable to stay for the discussion session, so hopefully some of those who did stay will be able to fill in that gap in the comments section.

Peter Judd,  City of Vancouver Director of Engineering started his presentation with a review of the removal of the freeway in Cheonggycheon, Seoul, SouthKorea. That rehearsed material that was presented last week at the City Program by Dr Wang. I was not able to attend  that talk but will post a link to it here (in due course – SFU is a bit slow in getting its videos on line). The 14 lane freeway was a source of pollution and economic stagnation. Its removal resulted in a slight worsening of local traffic (+1.3%) but a 30% increase in property values. Congestion in the city as a whole went down, as did crime and – perhaps most surprisingly – local temperature, which fell two degrees C.

He then went through the history of the viaducts. The original Georgia Viaduct was built in 1915 to separate the traffic from the railway tracks: grade separation of railways and roads still makes sense. In the 1950s and 60s there were several downtown freeway proposals – but most never attracted funds except for the first section which replaced the Georgia Viaduct and built the Dunsmuir Viaduct. This removed the area known as Horgan’s Alley, a predominantly black neighborhood.

In 1985 a third viaduct was added for SkyTrain. This interweaves with the other viaducts, making removal possible (since SkyTrain carries many more people than roads) but also limits the options.

During the Olympics the viaducts were closed as a security measure – together with Expo and Pacific Boulevards. Together with Olympic lanes on other streets, there was considerable loss of capacity, with resulting congestion on Main, Hastings and Pender but in general the people showed both resiliency and adaptability. Overall the Olympic measures were a success.

Trends 1996 – 2011

  • Population downtown +75%
  • Trips downtown +15%
  • Vehicles entering downtown – 25%

It has to be acknowledged that much of this was due to land use changes which meant people could work and live in the same area. Putting housing near to workplaces makes eminent sense as people can walk to work.

Little W12th Street

The High Line at Little W12th Street New York my photo

There have been a number of relevant projects in recent years – he cited The Big Dig in Boston [a tunnel which diverted traffic] the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco [which fell down in an earthquake and was not replaced] the New York High Line [a redundant freight railway viaduct which is being converted into a linear park] and discussions continue about Alaska Way in Seattle and the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

Peter Witt SF Muni 1893 rear

The Embarcadero in San Francisco - there was once an elevated freeway here - my photo

The City of Vancouver has commissioned a study to look at traffic impacts as well as soil and structural issues. Mr Judd stressed “I am not a Transportation Planner”. His experience is that city engineers have always overstated the negative impacts of projects [that reduce traffic capacity] and underestimated the intelligence of the residents. He also noted that values are changing – there are growing concerns about both the climate and health impacts of car use. We should not trivialize the impact of traffic compared to the inconvenience that will be imposed on some individuals’ trip making. Transportation serves the city – not the other way round.

We should “develop a compelling vision of what we want the city to be – and don’t let the tail wag the dog.”

Dave Turner of Halcrow consulting engineers stressed that he was not a modeller but a Traffic Engineer and is skeptical of models since so much depends on the assumptions built into them. His work to assess the traffic impacts of removing the viaducts assumes that present policies continue. Increasing costs of parking, fuel or the introduction of road pricing would significantly reduce traffic demand, and Transportation Demand Management could also be used to change people’s behaviour. Halcrow looked at current activity in the area, future activity and three “most viable” options for removal.


360,000 people enter the downtown from the east every day. Only 46% of them are in cars. 42% are on transit, 12% cycle or walk. 24,000 are on Georgia and 19,000 on Dunsmuir: 130,000 are eastbound and the viaducts are the most heavily used of the routes. Inbound in the am peak, Dusmuir is near capacity – mainly due to the signalized junctions after the viaduct. There is some spare capacity on the other routes. A lot of the traffic is local and very little goes through downtown and over the Lion’s Gate bridge. 44% comes from the City of Vancouver, 22% from Burnaby and 12% from the North East Sector.

110,000 travel on rail transit every weekday, plus 11,000 on West Coast Express and 34,000 on buses – a total of 15o,000 from the east.

The capacity of Pender is nearly completely utilized at present: there is some capacity available on Hastings and both SkyTrain and WCE could carry more (though in that case it assumes that people would be willing to stand on what is currently an “all seated”, premium service). Walking and cycling are higher outside of the am peak and include a recreational element [note that he said nothing about the purpose of those driving trips]. Dunsmuir is an important link for cyclists with its segregated lane: most of those trips are within a 5km radius.

Trucks make up 500 vehicles on Dunsmuir and the same number east bound on Georgia: these are nearly all light trucks on local deliveries. The viaducts are designated truck routes.


Population and employment is expected to grow by 8% in downtown over the next ten years – slower than Vancouver as a whole at 15%. Both the Evergreen Line and a proposed Raid Bus on Hastings are expected to increase transit use: overall travel demand will grow by around 10% nearly all of which will occur on transit. Traffic demand on the viaducts is not expected to change. [Note that the model forecasts traffic volumes as a function of population and employment.]


Mark II SkyTrain 329/330

A forest of supports - Quebec at Expo - my photo

The viaducts and Skytrain interweave and are at different elevations which limits the options. They have identified three which are viable

20% reduction

Both viaducts terminated at Main Street: new ramps are constructed and a new surface route built to link Main to Prior. A new entrance ramp would also be built for pedestrians and cyclists. This could be done in five years,and has little impact on traffic. “It could be done easily, but does it achieve much?” Some drivers will be diverted but there would not be much impact on mode share.

50% reduction

The Georgia Viduct would be removed and Dunsmuir made two way. The segregated cycle path would be retained. This has more impact as 2 traffic lanes are lost [i.e. 2,000 vehicles per hour at most] so drivers divert to Hastings, Pender, Pacific and Expo. Journey times increase and transit is slowed. This will mean more transit passengers will transfer from bus to SkyTrain but again there will not be much mode shift onto transit. This option could be done within ten years.

100% reduction

Both viaducts would be taken down with cul de sacs to serve properties at the ends of both Georgia and Dunsmuir. The segregated cycle route would be lost, there would be significant impact on traffic and bus routes. Expo would be the most impacted. However, there would still be no large impact on mode share and the proposal may need some additional policies to promote transit use.

He stressed that the model is limited and he felt that in reality more people would change their behaviour.

Bernie Magnam, Chief Economist of the Board of Trade presented the results of a survey they had commissioned from Mustel on the impact of the Olympics on transportation in Vancouver. [The report he showed from Mustel appears not to be on the BOT web page. There is a pdf is of the IBM report presentation.] This survey was commisisoned after an on line survey mounted by IBM showed some skews in sampling.

87% of respondents had either a good, very good or excellent experience – and 43% changed the way they travelled. Of those one quarter continued with the change after the Olympics. About 46% reverted because they felt there was no need to continue. 41% of respondents changed only the route they drove.  24% used the increased level of transit service.

Prior                      During              Post

Car                       71%                        48%                   66%

Transit               46%                        68%                   50%

Walk (500m+) 41%                        46%                    43%

He commented that the increase in transit was a “carrot not a stick” which he felt worked better at persuasion.

Most “wants” identified by an open question were more frequent transit sergice and lower cost of travel. One significant benefit to users was the combination of transit into the event ticket: this was felt to be influential in the way that the queues were managed and was thought worth retaining at other events such as Canucks games.

Two thirds of drivers indicated that they were interested in viable alternatives (which experience with the Canada Line seems to endorse) and is roughly similar across all groups by age, gender and area – though he also noted that at present there is no transit acoss the Port Mann Bridge which he felt reduced the viability of transit for those south of the Fraser. He also commented that it was hard to load an exercise bike just bought from CostCo onto a bus. [But of course it is quite easy to ride a bike home from a local bike shop – and you will probably use it more often than an exercise bike – which will soon only be used as a clothes horse.]

Larry Beasley former City Planner “I have no facts – only opinions”. Up until a few years ago this conversation was not possible with city engineers. This change in attitude is fundamental. It is also not true in most other places – like Abu Dhabi where he now consults. The viaducts are a tiny part of an auto oriented system that “we didn’t get to build”. The viaducts are very convenient routes, but is that the very best use that can be made of that land? The use of the viaducts is going down, and they represent liabilities – they separate areas and activities. They do not integrate activities the way that conventional boulevards do. They cut of Gastown and Chinatown from the water [meaning False Creek]. They sprawl over a vast amount of land which is our most valuable commodity.

He wanted to credit Councillor Jeff Meggs for promoting the idea, and quoted Jaime Lerner: “Every city has to have a design”.

It was, he said, time to design our city – the eastern part of the  downtown core. Growth will have to be accommodated here to relieve pressure on Chinatown and the downtown eastside. In future downtown will spread as far as Clark Drive. It will extend from Waterfront to Mount Pleasant, with False Creek as its centre. “A continuous web of urban activity from Stanley Park to Clark”

The viaducts are at the centre of things. Their replacement with boulevards will distribute traffic, but also the development of mixed uses will take people out of the commuter trip. They will allow the protection of heritage areas, provide jobs and revitalize cultural activities. It will reenergize the development sector which is now stalled since nearly all the available land downtown has been developed.

It will be essential to look at both pedestrian and transit linkages – and should include funiculars and stairs. he also liked the idea of pieces of viaduct left as a greenway. It should be seen that there are 100s of acres available around Pacific and Expo Boulevards to be developed, and a new community could be built “around the old train station” [presumably he means Pacific Central on Terminal]

The new downtown of the future will be on False Creek flats. We should create a new urban design vision for the metropolitan core. “Get on front of this opportunity.”

He had two recommendations for the City

  1. make the decision to take down the viaducts now
  2. convene an urban design competition to bring in big ideas from everywhere

He finished by quoting Ray Spaxman: cities should not happen by accident – we should create a city by design.

Big Thom architect noted that he and Larry were the only people who did not have a slide show. He started by pointing out that other places where he works are not willing to be guinea pigs for urban theorists. Vancouver has to be the showcase of ideas for the rest of the world.

Politicians can only be as good as we are. “You are the people who care – and the politicians need to hear from you”. We also need to hear from the professors at UBC and SFU. “You are supposed to be the brain centres – where are you on the casino?” He sensed that there is a tidal change – even the casino is not a “done deal”. When times are hard  leaders emerge. Currently we are in a post Olympic hangover. Unlike Expo when we planned for what would happen afterwards, we were in such a hurry to get the games we did not think about what happens next.

He rattled off some figures very quickly speaking about “4m square feet of density” on 9.9 acres of land and “$400m of public benefits”. “There is no such thing as a free lunch so we need to show what we can do” [my understanding is that he was calculating extempore on what the usual development bonuses would make possible]

“How can you plan a city when you do ot have a long range planning department? The long range planner lost his job and now teaches at UBC.”

Put the pressure on its an election year.


I did make one contribution to the discussion before I had to leave. This rehashes what is in the earlier blog post about the constraints of our transportation model.

I also want now to reiterate what I know I have referred to many times. We have known for many years that traffic is not analogous to water – which if not accommodated, floods. It is more like a gas which can be compressed. Over time traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Just as road building induces new trip making, so reducing road capacity encourages the search for alternatives to trips. A meta-study of the “Traffic Impact of Highway Capacity Reductions” was published in February of 1998 ISBN 1 899650 10 5 copyright of London Transport and  the Department of the Environment and the Regions – authors: Cairns, Hass-Klau and Goodwin. This looked at 50 events where road capacity was lost.

“We conclude that measures which reduce or reallocate road capacity when well designed and favoured by strong reasons of policy need not automatically be rejected for fear that they must inevitably cause unacceptable congestion.”

That conclusion apparently did not reach North America – or the former traffic engineers of Vancouver and other cities of this region that I had to deal with. It is also worded in such a way that it doesn’t make for a good sound bite.

Last night I realised I would not get time to talk like this so I said that if we had an earthquake – as they had in San Francisco – we would deal with the loss of the viaducts as quickly as they had. I have no patience at all with options that delay the inevitable. Experience shows that  the fear mongers are wrong – and, I suspect, that they have been doing the same things about traffic as the tobacco lobby and the climate change deniers. The viaducts MUST come down – completely and quickly. The impact will be felt – and could be readily alleviated if we had a regional transportation agency that was allowed to do its job properly i.e. serve the people of this region.

The Olympics were a good lesson – but one that was quickly hidden. Transit was not just returned to where it was before – and it is being reduced further. The City of Vancouver does seem to have coped quite well with bike lanes on Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir. It will cope with the loss of the viaducts – and much of great benefit can replace them.

I do not think that the viaducts are worth preserving: the example of the High Line is not, in my view, an appropriate one here. And last year I visited both the High Line and the Embarcadero – that’s where the pictures are from – and my view is that we are more like SF than NY. But let us see what the proposed design competition produces. I am not an urban designer. But I do know now as a certainty that the area will be better without these concrete viaducts, and there is very little to be said for retaining even small parts of them. Dammit they are ugly!

Written by Stephen Rees

April 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm

2010 Games transportation measures: Passing phase or here to stay?

I am posting the following at the request of Jan Pezarro. I wasn’t here, so I cannot reply but I hope those that were here will respond.

During the 2010 Winter Games Metro Vancouver participated in a social experiment on an unprecedented scale. For 17 days hundreds of thousands of local residents and businesses changed their travel behaviour with the objective of reducing traffic congestion. The result was visibly noticeable. What can we learn from the experience?

Researchers from the IBM Institute for Business Value worked in collaboration with the Vancouver Board of Trade Regional Transportation Taskforce to develop a survey to explore the reactions to, and impact of, the full range of transportation measures implemented during the 17-day 2010 Winter Games period.

Members of the public and regional businesses are invited to complete the short questionnaire available on-line at before July 31, 2010.

Topics covered in the survey include reactions to and use of pedestrian-only roads, Olympic lanes, travel-time restrictions, changed access to roads for trucks, road closures, removal of street parking, relaxation of by-laws [i.e. noise], expanded transit services, additional park & ride facilities, increased quality and availability of information about choices and traffic, staggered office hours, telecommuting, expanded cycling facilities and expanded delivery hours for commercial goods.

Please go to and complete the survey today. Takes about 6 – 8 minutes to complete.


PS – please forward this to other people in your network. We hope to hear from as wide a range of local residents and businesses as possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Olympics

Vancouver says goodbye to Olympic streetcar

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STIB3050 with the removal truck

"They're coming to take me away!" Brussels tram visiting Vancouver passes the truck that will transport it on the first leg of its homeward journey

I spent an hour or so yesterday on the Olympic Line, despite the drizzle and gloom, to say goodbye myself. The Globe and Mail has an article today that says the Mayor is not enthusiastic about promoting the downtown streetcar.

“I am open minded but we have to be pragmatic here and work with our transportation partners,” Mr. Robertson said

and I must say I agree with him. Suzanne Anton tries to  make the case for a City only P3, but that seems to me – and other commentators – unrealistic. Not that I am against streetcars – for Vancouver or other parts of the region. Just that when the Evergreen Line is the priority and the Province looks likely to step in and force some new local funding formula on the region, I cannot see the City’s taxpayers being supportive of this scheme.

The G&M does not mention the Downtown Historic Railway at all, which I think is a pity, since that will be operating with the old Interurban cars once again, and will have benefitted financially from the Olympic Line. Bombardier made a significant donation reflecting the number of volunteer hours that TRAMS members operated the Brussels cars.

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

While only the section between Granville Island and Cambie Street was upgraded, I hope we will see service restored as far as Science World before too long. Of course, this service won’t be free, or included in any Translink ticket, but it will still be an asset to the City, its visitors and residents. In Britain, community railways are showing how there can be alternative ways of providing services that are not necessarily commercial (the only ones that a P3 ought to be considered for). There are also many preserved railways in the UK, some of which now also provide regular community services as well as what we call “fan trips”.  It may be too much to hope that brand new low floor trams can be financed here for such a service, but San Francisco runs a very successful tourist oriented line using refurbished streetcars. And there are plenty of examples of heritage streetcar lines elsewhere. No one expects these things to make money!

$8.5 million was a great deal of money to spend on a short length of track, and one of the justifications used by the Vancouver engineers was that the line had to be upgraded for safety reasons in any event, and would still be useful for many years for the Heritage cars, even if nothing else happened. And, of course, the Starbucks building still blocks the route that used to connect this line to the Arbutus line – or the tentative extension to Vanier Park shown on the TRAMS map.   Of course, if the same metric is applied to the rest of the previous route to Science World, the probability of seeing any service that far also shrinks very quickly.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

B.C. taxpayers to pay millions for 2010 Olympic Games ‘volunteers’

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Miro Cernetig in the Vancouver Sun

It’s August. There is not much news. And not much to comment about, for newspapers – or bloggers. The rain is of course a welcome relief, but not really worth a lot of column inches.

Miro does his best to whip up a froth of outrage over the way that once again Olympic spending is coming out of our pockets, and predictably the commenters under the story note that if civil servants can be released on full pay for months at a time then their jobs cannot be all that necessary. It does say a lot about this government’s priorities that in the same week that they cut discretionary funding (lottery proceeds) to libraries and arts groups, that a two week sports festival get yet more attention and money. Especially since the Olympics have been one of the things that major corporations had been elbowing each other out of the way in their rush to get their media exposure and advertising benefits (“the rings! the rings!”). Of course businesses now are mostly too busy trying to survive – and few are expected to second staff to fill the lack of real volunteers.

What moved me to write was the sloppiness of Cernetig’s analysis.

When the government quietly posted its call for 250 volunteers a few days ago, it got triple the number of applications.

The cost of this to the taxpayer isn’t being released. But it’s not hard to figure out.

An average civil servant makes about $50,000 a year. So, assuming 1,400 government employees sign up for Olympic duty, the secondments would cost at least $7 million a month. Assuming an average of four months on the Olympic roster and you reach a cost of about $28 million.

But is it “average civil servants” they want?

The sort of highly skilled people the Olympics are calling for are at the higher pay grade and they are often unionized employees. You can bet there will be scads of overtime to go around.

If they are to be highly skilled and “higher pay grade” (whatever that means) aren’t they more likely to be management? And thus exempt – both from union membership and overtime? And what happened to all those people who really did volunteer? Did those numbers start to decline? I seem to recall that the Olympic organisers were pretty choosy about who they selected from those who put themselves forward with no expectation of pay but probably hoped for a close up views of events and the chance to rub shoulders with the famous athletes.

In the strange world we now occupy, none of the real issues facing us are getting dealt with in any effective way. But huge amounts of effort are going to propping up failed corporations, failed policies and politicians who get elected by telling people only what they think people should hear. There are academics who study what happens when civilizations collapse. And there seem to be some common features – especially the behaviour of elites. And this is more than just facile parallels to the “bread and circuses” of the Roman Empire that Olympic critics are fond of pointing to. It really does seem that our elected leaders care more about their own hold on power  than what they are doing with it – other than, of course, enriching themselves.  For the last twenty years we have known about the connection between fossil fuel use and climate. The idea of peak oil is similarly well established – as well as the other limits to growth. Yet we have continued to be obsessed with doing everything possible to expand consumption and ignore the consequences. We continue to find reasons to fight each other and spend more and more on ever more destructive wars. The number of species continues to decline – mostly because we devastate landscapes – burning down forests, blowing the tops of mountains, dragging huge trawl nets along the sea bed and discarding much of the catch, poisoning our rivers and wrecking soil fertility. You can even Choose Your Own Apocalypse

That site is about the collapse of America – but the rest of the world is no more secure. And neither the BC government or the government of Canada is doing anything significant – other than messing around in the hopes that the economy will pick up again soon and business as usual can return and enough people can be persuaded to vote conservative (note the small “c “please) next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 10, 2009 at 7:51 am

Posted in Olympics, politics

2010 organizers unveil massive Olympic transportation plans

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This of course is all over the media and will be the big story on the evening news. You can get the gory details from the Sun, or the National Post, or the CBC.

My instant reaction is that a lot of this should have been happening anyway. Much of the program ought to have been part of changing our region into one that can cope with a real emergency – climate change – and not just for a two week sports festival. The increase in transit and WCE service is of course welcome – as is the opening of the “Olympic Lanes” to buses. This shows that at least the communications wallahs have twigged how terrible the idea of lanes for the privileged few would have looked.

And of course I like the idea of street closures

What I would hope would happen afterwards is that we would see some of this new found enthusiams for the people moving ability of transit translated into a daily experience for the rest of us. But that, of course, is not going to happen if we make the mistake of re-electing a Liberal government.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Olympics, transit

Vancouver gets OK to borrow to finish Olympic Athletes’ Village

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What this CBC story fails to deal with (and I expect the print media will follow suit tomorrow) is the substance of the “marathon debate”. No I did not stay up all night to watch it (though I did stay up all night for unconnected reasons). But I did watch the early bits of it on Cable 118.

The CBC has a brief quote from Carol James. But says nothing at all about the speeches that were made by the Opposition during the debate. I thought Maureen Karagianis was good – because she went after “Done Deal” Falcon as well as the hopelessly inept Minister of Finance. He, of course, was featured by many speakers including the Honourable Member for Coquitlam Maillardville – who held up the Auditor General’s report on Olympic spending and ridiculed the Finance Minister’s response that it was simply a “what is classified as Olympic Spending”. Of course we all know it was never going to be just $600m. What is fatuous is this government’s continued insistence that that figure still holds true. It never did – and thanks to the first shoe dropping now – never will.

There was, of course, no choice. Since we are stuck with the Olympics and the athletes are coming they have to be accomodated. And maybe the price of condos will recover. Note that no-one now seriously thinks of using the Olympics as a way to get public housing built. Although Whistler is is uing its village to at least make some afffordable housing availabelt ot hose on its waiting list.   The only things I have seen recently here seem to be focussed on short term emergency measures for the homeless – containers, wooden huts – even tents. The only concern has been with money – not housing need. The only risk worth discussing is the prospect that yaxes may increase – not that many human beings are forced to live in third world consitions in “the most livable city in the world”.

Of course the BC government did its level best to ensure that there was as little debate as they could get away with. Holding the debate on a Saturday to ensure that there would be no possibility of anyone actually answering questions (an arcne procedural rule does not permit Question Time on a Saturday).  And behaving with typical discourtesy during the debate – and for some reason concentrating their jibes and heckles at female members.  And none of the – very proper, quite appropriate – concerns raised by the Opposition were or will be answered.

I just hope people remeber this when it comes to them voting in a few months time.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Olympics, politics

Tagged with

Vancouver Olympic Village likely won’t be the only shock

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Charlie Smith on the Georgia Straight’s politics blog this morning (isn’t having a Twitter feed wonderful?) speculates on a number of Olympics related budget items which are also not performing as planned. He cites the Vancouver Convention Centre (the broadcasting centre for the games) the Sea to Sky Highway (which will not be quite the real estate boon Kack Poole hoped for) but mostly the Canada Line.

Urban-affairs writer Jane Jacobs once described the Canada Line as a “pork barrel” and “black hole” that will consume limited transit funds.

The Canada Line will result in rerouting of the bus system.

This will shock merchants on north-south streets such as Fraser, Oak, and Granville when they learn that they no longer have people using the bus to reach their stores.

Some might even cite this and ask for a break on property taxes.

But the biggest risk of all is if the Canada Line fails to attract more than 100,000 riders per day.

It will be a difficult challenge, given the cost of transit in this region and the percentage of households in Richmond that own cars.

If the line doesn’t generate sufficient ridership, TransLink will have to provide a whopping operating subsidy to the private operator.

How will that be financed? Probably by cutting back on bus service and jacking up fares.

Well he may be right about the impact on retailers but that is going to be hard to determine. Retail is in trouble already – everywhere – becuase of the recession. So the additonal impact of losing north south bus service is going to be hard to determine. The retailers that I had to deal with when the Richmond Rapid Bus proposal was working its way through public consultations were decidely unimpressed with buses and refused to accept then that people who ride the bus might have money to spend. Their main concerns then were about parking – and the visibility of their store fronts to passing motorists. That was one of the main reasons that the architect designed new bus shelters had to be all glass. And while I am not privy to the bus plans post Canada Line I would expect that there will be some service. After all there has been a long running campaign to try to get trolley buses reinstated on Cambie – so there is obviously going to be some local bus service on the these north-south routes. Probably much les frequent than they are now.

The threat of service cuts and fare hikes is already on the table due to major financing concerns. Either the region’s Mayors agree to a new source of funding for Translink or those cuts will be implemented in order to balance the books. And that happens whether or not the Canada Line hits its magic number of projected riders.

Actually my prediction right now is that the big shock may be the P3 financing for the Port Mann Twinning and Highway 1 expansion. Which, of course, is not Olympic related. BCTV last night passed along a story it had picked up from Project Finance Magazine – which is only available by subscription on line.  They are reporting that the deal that was supposed to have been signed by now  hasn’t been. The January 8 deadline has passed but there are still expectations that it will close by early February. Or not if market rumours about the banks’ credit retraints and doubts about the debt pricing structure are true. The deal is hideously complicated and discussed in language only understood by those with much financial expertise. Which in itself raises my eyebrows, since that has often the technique used in the past to get dubious deals through without too much scrutiny. Of course, with recent revelations about Ponzi schemes, everyone is being a lot more careful these days. Which translates to yet more risk transfer – back to the taxpayer, of course, who is always left holding the bag, just as is now happening with the athlete’s village.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

Warning sounded over Olympic bus plan

with 8 comments

Jeff Nagel continues to do a good job keeping an eye on Translink. But the continued barrage of complaint from Jim Houlahan about the shortage of buses does not get any clearer. The union leader continues to talk about  “the less than 1,100 standard buses in TransLink’s fleet” as though the artics, community shuttle and express buses don’t count. 1,400 vehicles is the actual number though, as I have said before, I think we need to talk about FEU (forty foor equivalent units) just as they do with containers.

What is significant is that Salt Lake City added 1,000 buses for the 2002 winter Olympics. Translink plans to have 180 extra – mainly by keeping old clunkers running for longer. That is not actually a very good way of ensuring reliable service. The US solution  was to call for spare capacity from other cities that see heavier peak loads in the summer than the winter and could thus afford to lend equipment and crews for the two week sports festival. Just working from first principles it seems that we will be 800 buses down on Salt Lake games. And the fact that we have SkyTrain and the Canada Line will be small comfort at many of the Olympic sites. The nearest Canada Line station to the speed skating  Oval is about a mile away. And the Pacific Coliseum is similarly not served by rapid transit.

TransLink spokesperson Judy Rudin said the Olympic plan is still subject to review.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. …

There are no plans to lease extra buses to bolster the transit system just for the period of the Games.

I think this is short sighted.

Recently the speed skating Oval was opened in Richmond. Extra buses were added to two routes in Richmond (#401 and #407) as parking was going to be at a premium at the uncompleted facility. Trouble is neither of those two routes actually serves the facility – the nearest stop is actually not very far way, but it is also far from a straightforward walk. Nobody used the extra buses.

If transit is to be an attractive, useful alternative to driving then Translink has to get much better at understanding how to make routes easy  and convenient to use. The biggest block to transit use in this region is lack of service frequency and the planners at CMBC and Translink are both way out of line on what they feel is a “frequent” service. It does not mean ‘more buses than we had last year’. It means that people do not get passed up at stops – and do not have to wait for interminable periods of time due to chronic unreliability. It is not just how many buses you have, but how you use them and how much priority the bus gets in congested traffic. In my travels recently I have been been frequently struck by how easy it is to use buses elsewhere – and how frustrating it is to be stuck at a bus stop here not having the slightest idea of when – or if – the next bus will arrive. And while I am at it why not have a look at this bus driver’s blog which is where I got the graph which compares the percentage of service at ten minute or better headways here and the other two largest Canadian cities.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2009 at 11:42 am

Posted in Olympics, transit

Streetcar of Sam’s desire on track

with 25 comments

Vancouver Sun

I am beginning to get a real dislike of the subs at the Sun. Anyway, the idea is to borrow a couple of Brussels streetcars from Bombardier and refurbish the old CP track along South False Creek currently used by TRAMS to run their heritage interurban cars at weekends. The cost is $8.5m for a 60 day demonstration. And of course the spiffy new track and passing loop will be there for the continued operation of the old cars afterwards and one day, maybe, could be part of the City’s downtown streetcar line, which has been on their wish list since long before Sam took over.

Bombardier Flexity in Frankfurt

Bombardier Flexity in Frankfurt

For 1.8 km for Granville Island to Olympic Village Canada Line station that is a very expensive project. No doubt Malcolm will chip in with comparative details of other places that manage to do things cheaper. The tracks were, of course, never part of Vancouver’s streetcar or interurban systems – and are currently prevented by a city approved Starbucks from linking up to the Arbutus line (which is still in place on the whole). That may or may not have been a strategic decision on their part but, once the Canada Line got under way, they did speculate on local streetcars for Arbutus. Just not at the price CP wanted for the right of way. Apparently the creme de la creme would quite like a tram of their own to ride on as long as those oiks from Richmond did not get to ride through their exclusive neighborhood.

Anyway this is one of the few Olympic projects I am in favour of, and I will stay in town for long enough to snap some pics of it once they get it going.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2008 at 10:30 am