Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Drive Time

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I was staggered by the subtitle of this New Yorker essay by Ian Frazier “The surprising pleasures of driving in New York“. It seemed to me unlikely but the claim he makes – that starting with the “improvements” made by Robert Moses “the city has remade itself to favor cars” seems to be borne out by what I read. I have been driven in New York – by taxis and black cars – and the experience has been generally unremarkable. Especially as the flight times for planes leaving New York for Vancouver tend to be very early. But he also describes a multi-car pile-up in a passage that started giving me flashbacks.

Of course I have also ridden the crosstown bus – and the bike share. From what I read on Twitter from @StreetsblogNYC (a walking biking transit advocacy) I am lucky not to have had to deal with NYPD.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 5.10.54 PM

But my intention was mostly to direct you to read the article – and I will throw in a few photos from my flickr stream for good measure. All are locations mentioned in the article

Williamsburg Bridge

The Williamsburg Bridge

Tram mid span
Dramatic angle

59th St – Ed Koch – Queensborough Bridge

FDR Drive

FDR Drive

Brooklyn Bridge roadway

Brooklyn Bridge

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2017 at 5:29 pm

Posted in cars, Traffic, Transportation

Tagged with ,

Place Without Cars

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24th August 2017

This picture was submitted to a Flickr group I created called Places Without Cars. It is without doubt the picture that I have been most pleased to see in the submissions. Fortunately the user (who goes by the sobriquet “Cheesyfeet” but still requires attribution) has a Creative Commons license on this picture.

He says:

“Bank Junction, right in the middle of the City of London.

This is on my long cycle home and you’ll notice no cars. Bank Junction is buses and cycles only, mon-fri, 7am to 7pm and it’s ace!”

He also uses Strava and provides a link which identifies him and the route he uses. Like me he is an Essex lad!

This picture was taken by Dave A Flett in the 1970’s in roughly the same spot – actually the street to the left in the original picture

London in the 1970's

(I am just posting a link, not taking a copy of the image)

City of London

Of this image the poster, Leonard Bentley, says

An early 1920s scene at the Bank in the City of London, a seemingly bemused elderly lady in a place she should not have been. The Bank junction is still one of the busiest in central London, traffic comes at you from all directions.

The Royal Exchange, City of London

By Paul Murray in 2014

Heart of the City of London

By Swire Chin in 2007

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 2.58.51 PM From The Telegraph in the 1950s – and how I remember it.

By the way in searching for these images I have learned that the closure is an 18 month experiment. I hope it is made permanent!

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Threadneedle Street – in front of the Bank of England – is not labeled on this screencap from Google maps. The top picture was taken from in front of Mansion House looking east.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Celebrating Roundabouts

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Admiral Blvd approaching roundabout

The stuff that turns up in my inbox rarely delights me. This did. Long time readers will know I want to see more roundabouts here. Not Traffic Circles. If you haven’t been following along here’s a bunch of posts on that theme.

Next Thursday afternoon (Nov. 17) the city of Carmel, Indiana will celebrate the opening of its 100th roundabout, giving the city far and away more of these European-style intersections than any other community in the United States.

Increasingly, cities are yanking their traffic lights in favor of European-style roundabouts.  They’re doing it for reasons that range from cost savings and traffic flow to safety and the environment.  As many as four times the number of cars move through a roundabout in the same time as a traffic light, and yet the number of injury-related accidents goes down by an astonishing 80%.  And because cars are not idling in long lines before launching again, each roundabout typically saves thousands of gallons of gasoline per year.

Championing these and other environmentally friendly developments in Carmel has been Jim Brainard, the city’s long-time Republican Mayor.  Labeled by one publication as a “rogue elephant,” Brainard was one of only four Republicans to sit on a large White House task force for climate change.  It’s a position that puts him at odds with many in his party — including, now most notably, the President-elect and his running mate, who of course is also Governor of his state.  The Mayor argues that concern for the environment has historically been a core Republican value.  And he’s supported strongly by his own constituents — overwhelmingly Republican and generally conservative — who last year elected him to his sixth four-year term.

 

Several years and dozens of roundabouts ago, CNN did a piece on Carmel’s roundabouts that you may find interesting.  Also, just a couple months ago the UK-based Roundabout Appreciation Society  named one of Carmel’s roundabouts “Roundabout of the Year,” including it in its annual calendar.

CNN: http://sms8.omniproductions.net/Carmel1/BrainardAndersonCooper340kbps.wmv

The New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/02/realestate/commercial/redevelopment-of-carmel-ind-has-a-european-flair.html?_r=0

On Earth: http://www.onearth.org/magazine/rogue-elephant

USA Today (Cover Story):  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/16/small-towns-think-big/1637047/

The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21538779

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 11, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Traffic, Transportation

Tagged with

Granville Island 2040

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Granville Island

Photo by Alyson Hurt on Flickr 

I went this morning to a workshop called “Getting to and Moving Through Granville Island”. It is part of Granville Island 2040, “a planning initiative that will set out a comprehensive direction and dynamic vision for the island’s future” organised by CMHC and Granville Island. The session, facilitated by Bunt & Associates, collaboratively reviewed current infrastructure, mobility services and travel patterns as well as seeking ideas and opinions on critical transportation elements for the Island’s future. It was a group of about 20 “stakeholders” which included local residents’ associations, City of Vancouver staff, Translink, both of the ferry companies, the local business association, BEST, Modacity and Ocean concrete.

There had been a meeting the previous day dealing with land use, and there will be many more opportunities for people who are interested to get involved. You can even Instagram your idea with the hashtag #GI2040 – which I have already done. But there’s a lot more to this idea that I want to write about.

First of all I think it is very unfortunate that the process separates out transportation and land use, since I am convinced that these must be considered together: they are two sides of the same coin. Secondly the process centres around the vision for what people want to see by in 2040, and then there will be thought about how to achieve that. I think it is immediately apparent that CMHC has its own process for deciding how to replace Emily Carr University when it relocates to False Creek Flats. This long term vision has to assume that it sorted out, and that CMHC has achieved its own objective of seeing increased levels of activity on the Island.

The workshop started with a presentation by Bunt & Associates of some recent transportation data they have collected last month, compared to data collected on the same days in August 2005. I did not take notes, thinking that there might be a handout or perhaps material on the website. So I am forced to summarise the findings without any of the figures in front of me. There has been an increase in the number of people going to the Island, but a drop in the number of cars. The increases come from increased use of the ferries, pedestrians and cycling. They conducted cordon counts between noon and 6pm midweek and a Saturday and a very limited interview survey, to help identify where people came from, how many were in the group and how much they spent. Car occupancy has increased. The Island is now also on the itinerary of the Hop-on/Hop-off service which wasn’t the case ten years ago.

There were some very obvious weaknesses in the data. For instance, transit passengers were only counted at the cordon when they got off the #50 bus. It is my observation that many people walking into Granville Island have come from the bus stops at the southern end of Granville Bridge. While some of that “multi-mode” travel is apparent from the interview survey, it is not like a trip diary. There were also no counts in the evenings, when the use of Granville Island shifts considerably to the theatres and destination restaurants like Bridges and Sandbar.

There were the usual workshop activities of putting sticky notes on maps and talking in breakout groups, and some of the common ground was apparent early on. Reuse of the abandoned Historic Railway to connect to the mostly empty parking lots and Olympic Village station, for instance. By 2040 that may even extend to the tram envisioned for the Arbutus Corridor, and even if that can’t be achieved by then, the Greenway linkage to the Seawall was a favourite too. Currently while pedestrians and bikes have a few options, vehicles have only one, and I am relieved to report that no-one thought there should be more. In fact the traffic count shows that the current four lane access is excessive, and could be replaced by two lanes with the space better utilised by dedicated bike lanes, wider sidewalks and possibly a tram line.

The idea I want to examine in a bit more detail was popular with the transportation people, but might have some resistance from the “Islanders” i.e. the people who work there everyday. But I will get to that later.

Google Earth image

The need for a pedestrian bridge

There is a 50 meter channel between the east end of the island and the separated pedestrian and bike paths of the seawall. There is very little boat traffic into the pocket of False Creek: the main exception being people in kayaks and dragon boats using the docks south of the Community Centre.

My first thought was that the almost useless Canoe Bridge at the other end of False Creek could be relocated.

Canoe Bridge

But it is both too short (only 40 meters) and has that really ugly support in the middle. I also dislike the fact that the entrances onto the bridge are narrower than the middle, which seems to me to be utterly pointless. I also wonder about the flat underside, and whether an arched bridge might be better both operationally – for boats given rising sea levels – and aesthetically. My inspiration is from one of the newest bridges in Venice, Ponte Della Costituzione also known as Calatrava Bridge after its designer.

Ponte Della Costituzione

This is much too big for our location – 80 meter span and up to 17.7 meters wide in places. But you must admit it is very beautiful: in fact it well illustrates my dictum about a lot of architecture – it looks pretty but it doesn’t work very well. It has a lot of steps, some of them very steep, which makes it a barrier to people on bicycles (intentionally) and people with disabilities.

Actually bicycles aren’t permitted anywhere in Venice, but although this bridge might present a challenge, evidently not enough of a challenge, hence the presence of the local plod.

Ponte Della Costituzione

No, I don’t know how often they have to be there, but they did have quite a few folks to talk too while I was there.

The lack of accessibility meant that as an afterthought a suspended gondola was added

Ponte Della Costituzione

and, unsurprisingly, was out of order at the time of our visit. Wikipedia notes “The official budget for the project was €6.7 million, but actual costs have escalated significantly.”

However, I am pretty sure that someone can come up with a better design of a bridge for the 50m gap, and a way of ensuring that it is not a cycle freeway, but a gentle stroll for pedestrians. The reason is not that I am anti-cyclist, merely tired of the constant aggravation of the “shared space” on the seawall, which the City is now dealing with. It is also essential to the mandate of Granville Island 2040 that none of the Island becomes a through route to anywhere. One of the reasons that mixed use and shared space has worked so well here is that the Island is the destination. It is an exercise then in placemaking, not making through movement faster or more convenient. Indeed unlike so many places in Vancouver which now advertise “this site may have an antiloitering device in place” we must come up with lots of ideas to implement loitering devices – things to encourage people to linger. Or as Brent Toderian likes to call them “sticky places”.

There is one such place now at what would become the landing place of the new bridge. Ron Basford Park is one of the few quiet places on the Island, where people who work there seek peace: somewhere to have a picnic lunch or breastfeed their babies. It is the end of the Island and there is a footpath around its perimeter. I think it is quite possible to design the end of the proposed pedestrian bridge to ensure that this peace is preserved. If the bridge is used as way to get people on bicycles on and off the Island more quickly, there will be considerable conflicts at both ends. But Ron Basford park is also home to amphitheatres: there are concerts and all kinds of activities at other times.  So the Granville Island management is going to have to display some pretty nifty consultation expertise here.

Granville Island is a unique place. It seems to defy all reason and logic, but it undeniably is very successful as a destination, and whatever happens will need to preserve as much of the place’s eccentricity as possible. Or even enhance it.

As Dale Bracewell remarked at the end of the session, Granville Island actually needs several transportation plans for different times of day, days of the week and times of the year. In the summer, the Island attracts at least half of its users from the rest of Canada and other countries – people who probably only visit the Island once. In the winter, the Island – and its market in particular – is the place that most people in the vicinity rely on for groceries. As the residents’ association rep pointed out, they are the people who keep the market going in the winter. There will be further traffic counts later on in the year, to measure the different pattern that emerges when tourists are a less significant part of the mix. And, of course, there will need to be some reflection of what happens once the University leaves: there are around a thousand students now, plus staff and support workers.

There were some hints about how the land use will change. The buildings underneath the bridge, currently used as parkades, are likely to be repurposed. The area at the west end of the Island, currently where there is free parking for the Public Market, will likely see reuse that better utilises its location. But all of this depends on getting more viable choices for transit. So the other really important idea is the installation of elevators up to the bridge deck with new bus stops. Sadly, the City is still wedded to the notion of a centre median greenway – which is utterly daft. The reason people walk over the bridge is the view. No-one is going to want to walk a long way across the Island and the creek with no view other than four lanes of fast moving cars!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Southwest Area Transport Plan

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Translink bus in Steveston

Translink bus in Steveston

I had a call today from Graeme Wood who writes for the Richmond News. He wanted to talk about Translink’s Southwest Area Transport Plan. He wanted me to predict what sort of changes people in Richmond might want to see in the transport system in the future. I’m afraid I wasn’t very helpful as it does not seem to me to be very important. First of all because the way to plan for a future system is to do some really good data collection on how they travel right now, and why, and then come up with some realistic proposals on how that could change based on what we know about things like population growth, land use plans and technology changes. Just asking people what they might like is a bit pointless. Secondly holding open houses and inviting people to fill in a web based survey form means you only get the opinions of a self selected (i.e. unrepresentative) group.

But it’s worse than that here now – and here is where I went off on a rant which I somehow doubt will appear in his newspaper, but you never know. They might be desperate to fill the space.

Here’s what the Translink web page has to say

In June 2014 the Mayors’ Council developed the Transportation and Transit Plan which identified investment priorities across the Metro Vancouver region. These priorities identified the need for types of services, but not the specific routes or specific areas that would benefit. An Area Transport Plan will establish a blueprint for the unique transit and transportation needs of the Southwest sub-region. Once funding is available, we will have a solid foundation for implementing the priorities that meet the needs of the community now and in the future.

I have added the emphasis: if you think funding is going to be available, and you live in Delta or Richmond, then you might like to wander along to one of their open houses or fill in the survey. Don’t let me stop you, or the thought that it is very unlikely indeed that much is going to change any time soon. Unless the stupid bridge actually gets built, in which case, forget it and buy a car. And if that is not a practical choice for you then you might have to take Jean Chretien’s advice and consider moving.

There is no funding for more and better transit or very much for walking and cycling – which anyway gets decided by the municipality not Translink. And, given the present ineptitude of our provincial government, that is not going to change any time soon. I think the two immediate, pressing needs for transit would be to restore the annual pass for people with disabilities and – having taken handyDART back in house – make a considerable investment in making door to door trips for people who cannot drive or use conventional transit a daily possibility rather than a very rare treat. The way that a society treats its most vulnerable citizens tells you a lot about what sort of society we are and want to be. The way this segment of our population has been treated in this province is a disgrace. And that has been true for at least the last twenty years to my certain knowledge and actually much longer than that. I think that if there are to be more funds available that ought to be the first priority simply as a matter of social justice. Even Hillary Clinton has recognized that transportation is a civil rights issue.

Whatever detail Translink puts on top of its 2014 Plan matters naught, if it cannot get any more funds to match the needs for an increase in its operations and maintenance budget – let alone the very desirable and lengthy list of transit improvements listed in that plan. The Mayors identified very real problems in the present funding model, not the least of which is the decline in revenues from the gas tax and the pressures of population growth. Of course we are in a stare down over the potential for increases in property tax: don’t expect that to end either.

Already Kirk LaPointe has decided that the Broadway Subway is not going to happen.

Our viability and livability depend on better public transit – not in a decade, but today, because we have waited a decade. Trouble is, the line has taken only one teensy step forward and some significant steps back since it was identified as one of several core projects in the Mayors’ Council report on transportation in 2014.

Yup, he got that right. Oddly he also seems to think that streetcars might be the solution as though they could be implemented faster than the subway. Actually any transit solution is going to be very expensive, very unpopular with at least one loud and influential segment of the population  and will take far too long to implement to satisfy the existing users of the 99 B Line. It is about as likely as the Massey Bridge – or the Port Mann – will see LRT running across it in my lifetime: or along the Arbutus Corridor come to that. While the province always likes to say that their new bridges could carry more transit in the future, that is simply the old “jam tomorrow, never jam today” promise.  There has never been a real intention to implement those plans.

People in Richmond or Delta who go to these open houses and outline the sorts of improvements they would like to see in the bus routes of their area are simply demonstrating the triumph of hope over experience. Good luck with that, folks. Let me know how that works out for you.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

King Edward bike lanes

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This item was inspired by one of Ken Ohrn’s posts on Price Tags. Not that I am complaining, you understand. One must acknowledge that an effort is being made to improve cycling safety here, but at this particular location not much more was needed to produce something that would actually be safe. Designated lanes are better than sharrows – or nothing at all – but a painted line does not really do much to actually separate out two different  modes. A kerb would be better: a boulevard or barrier even more so.

The road is very wide with a large park like central median with mature trees. While the posted speed is the standard 50 km/hr the combination of the median and the broad paved area encourages much faster speeds. I observe that when I or my partner drive at the posted speed, everyone else is moving much faster. Since these improvements were made that has got a bit better at busy periods.

W/b at Valley looking east

This is the intersection of King Edward and Valley. It was formerly one moving traffic lane with parking permitted at the kerb. Paint has been used to designate a bike lane between the parked cars at the curb and the general purpose (GP)  traffic lane. You will also note that only a very short length of the curb lane becomes a right turn lane at the intersection.

If the double white line had been moved towards the curb by a metre then the parked cars would have acted as a buffer between the moving vehicle traffic and the bicycles, and the risk of dooring by a driver reduced. Of course, the risk of dooring by a disembarking passenger would have been greater and the bus stops required a different treatment.

e/b at Valley

The bus stop is on the far side of the intersection (of course) and the bollards have been put in now to stop the parking space being used as a queue jumper. Traffic backs up down the hill from the traffic light at Arbutus Street. You will also observe that there are no cars parked when the picture was taken (mid afternoon, weekday). That is because there is ample off street parking provided within the Arbutus Village development on the right. There is really no need for parking along this side of this part of the avenue. Prior to this work there were essentially two travel lanes – and a bit of a freeway mentality for the car drivers.   The green paint patches are for the driveways at the Village entrances/exits.

Now some will say that additional road width would be needed to allow for a proper protected bike lane. It seems to me that a narrower GP travel lane is already in place but has not done very much to reduce speeds. I suppose old habits die hard. Moreover there is plenty of space available but we do get awfully close to a knee jerk reaction when trees and lawn are threatened. Up at the Arbutus Intersection the paved right turn lane has been extended – simply because the large number of hefty off road pick ups and all wheel drive SUVs had created a longer informal turn lane out of the uncurbed median.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 3.23.31 PMThis is the Google map view

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 4.20.14 PM

Written by Stephen Rees

March 9, 2016 at 3:28 pm

More dross about the viaducts

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I am quite sure that none of what I write on this blog is of any surprise to my regular readers. The purpose of this post is simply to host an important piece of research which clearly has had no impact whatever in this part of the world. Oddly enough I am now able to offer you the complete pdf version of the publication because it has been used to support the case of the removal of the Gardiner East expressway viaduct in Toronto.

The Vancouver Courier has an article by Mike Howell who cites Ian Adam to support the contention that somehow the removal of the viaducts east of downtown will be a disaster and somehow this inevitability has escaped the attention of those currently responsible for traffic management in the area.

Ian Adam, who retired in 2008 as the assistant city engineer of streets and structures, said he believes the loss of the viaducts will create more traffic congestion in Chinatown, Gastown and nearby areas.

“Anybody who thinks you can take down two major viaducts like that, which handles 60,000 people a day and a thousand heavy trucks a day — and not have some impact — they’ve got to be dreaming in Technicolor,” said Adam, who once held the position of what is now called director of transportation. “I would say leave them up. They’re a $100-million asset that’s doing a job.”

This is a common theme with the mainstream media. When the Vancouver Sun reporter Jeff Lee covered the recent SFU City Conversation on the Removal of the Viaducts he made a huge effort to chase down Marguerite Ford, a long retired NPA Councillor who has no faith in traffic engineers. She is convinced that they do not understand how traffic works and that things will get worse, although she says she is not against removing the viaducts.

Both Ian Adam and Marguerite Ford are unaware of the research done in many places where traffic lanes have been reduced, freeways closed, viaducts removed – all around the world – and somehow the traffic adapted. I got interested in this phenomenon when I lived in London and the venerable Albert Bridge had to be closed to vehicular traffic for safety reasons. The traffic simply adapted, congestion did not get worse, and life went on. Phil Goodwin was a colleague of mine at the GLC’s Department of Planning and Transportation and went on to a distinguished academic career. He was interested in how traffic models needed to be adapted to become more realistic. Because they have no way to forecast either induced traffic – trips that appear on the network because of additional capacity (a new freeway or a new bridge) – or disappearing traffic – trips that no longer are made when a network loses capacity.

Here is the abstract

Reallocating roadspace from general traffic, to improve conditions for pedestrians or cyclists or buses or on-street light rail or other high-occupancy vehicles, is often predicted to cause major traffic problems on neighbouring streets. This paper reports on two phases of research, resulting in the examination of over 70 case studies of roadspace reallocation from eleven countries, and the collation of opinions from over 200 transport professionals worldwide. The findings suggest that predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist, and that, given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur, with people making a far wider range of behavioural responses than has traditionally been assumed. Follow-up work has also highlighted the importance of managing how schemes are perceived by the public and reported in the media, with various lessons for avoiding problems. Finally, the findings highlight that well-designed schemes to reallocate roadspace can often contribute to a multiplicity of different policy aims and objectives.

The original citation is Cairns, S; Atkins, S; Goodwin, P; (2002) Disappearing traffic? The story so far. P I CIVIL ENG-MUNIC , 151 (1) 13 – 22.

Here is the full text as a pdf Disappearing traffic the story so far which you can download

Both Adams and Ford appear to believe that the number of trips on a network is absolute. That any change to the network must therefore accommodate all the trips currently being made – and, by extension, any forecast of future trip making. Typically, models used to predict travel have also fallen into the same trap – leading to the never ending cycle of predict and provide which has only ever produced more vehicle trips, and worse congestion. The gravity model treats motor vehicle trips as though they flow like water, and thus have to be accommodated to avoid flooding. In reality traffic behaves more like a gas that expands and contracts to fill the space available.

You also need to bear in mind that the engineers responsible have also observed that traffic into downtown Vancouver has been declining, and the network they are proposing can easily accommodate all of the current trips with some slight delay for cars entering the downtown during the morning peak from the east. Among the “behavioural responses” which will occur, once the viaducts have been removed are trips will be made at different times of day, trips will be combined  – so that more than one errand can be completed in the same journey – trips will divert to other equivalent destinations and some trips will switch modes. There will be a few people who decide to stop driving their single occupant vehicle and try the same trip by walking, cycling or using transit. Many trips in this city are short enough to be accomplished in this way, and most people who try the alternatives will prefer them to driving. This is already apparent here, as elsewhere. Though obviously 70 case studies across eleven countries were not enough to convince some. Though this stuff is also really old: March 2002 publication. There have been many places since then that have followed this advice and found that it worked. We will too. Actually, we have. Point Grey Road and the Burrard Bridge ought to be enough evidence – even if all those protected bike lanes downtown which seem to be working quite well too are not convincing either.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Traffic

Tagged with