Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Do we really need a “hackathon”?

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The City of Vancouver is holding an event to “Decode Congestion“.

They say

“We believe that the combination of data, technology, and talented Vancouver residents can create solutions that optimize street use for an efficient, safe, and reliable transportation network.”

I am not convinced that this is actually necessary. I think we know how to deal with congestion. The problem is that the straightforward, already well demonstrated, policy approach has been studiously avoided.

In part it is because we use the word “congestion” to suggest that this is somehow just a technical issue and that cities can be decongested by some formula or other. Cities work by concentrating people into a relatively compact space. Instantly, our planning process states that is somehow an evil – “overcrowding”. And that the real issue is that it just takes too long to get anywhere.

Look at the way cities have evolved over time and the pattern that emerges is remarkably consistent – and that things don’t really start to fall apart until the advent of the motor vehicle. Even then things get sorted out, until it becomes some kind of desirable objective that every household has at least one car and uses it for most trips. At that point things get really messed up. And the problem is not just that it takes 30 minutes to get 6.7 kilometres – but that anyone has the expectation that they can do that at the same time as everyone else, each in an SOV. It’s even worse when the SOV is an SUV.

Analysing our issues of urbanity – making a place that is worth living in – as though the only problem worth examining is where to park and how many lanes of freeway you need is why we have problems. Congestion is not a sensible way to summarize that. But the answers to that particular conundrum are simple geometry. Go read Human Transit to find out more. The tl:dr is that famous picture which has many versions now that all say the same thing

We can move many more people through the same width of roadway/right of way if we use space efficient modes. Walking is the most important but distance that can be travelled is limited – so bikes (and things like bikes) and public transit are essential. Cars aren’t. Very few vehicle trips really need a vehicle. And places that take this stuff seriously have been demonstrating how to do that for years. Copenhagen and Amsterdam come top of mind. And they did the math long before everybody had a computer in their pocket.

Getting rid of on street parking, giving buses priority over all other traffic, giving people on bicycles a safe, protected pathway – and allowing anyone on foot to move safely through the area – solves most of the people moving issues.

For cities that have been car dependent for fifty years or more the real problem isn’t congestion – it is sprawl. Low density development that demands automobility. To connect to those places you need higher speed trains – all day, every day not just weekday peak hour peak direction.

Then when you have done that (bought a lot more buses, given them exclusive bus lanes, completed your sidewalk and bikeway networks, built safe intersections and crosswalks) you will also need to deal with goods movement. By that time, the last mile vans will have been replaced by cargo bikes and things will already be a lot simpler. Most large scale freight movement in urban areas will have to be rescheduled to times when there is capacity available. Monopolising rail corridors for freight movement in daytime may be highly profitable but it is also sociopathic.

I do not see any of this as a data problem or requiring any new technology at all. Bicycles and electric trams were all over cities before the end of the nineteenth century. It was just the “success” of the automotive industry (“If it’s good for General Motors, it’s good for the USA” was a flat lie) at dominating the debate.

Then we can get on with placemaking, which generally translates as replacing soulless suburbs with interesting urbanity – AKA mixed land use. Which greatly reduces trip length – but can’t be done nearly as fast as reorganising urban streets.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 18, 2019 at 4:50 pm

The Bicycle Diaries: Episode 14

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Yesterday we got the bikes tuned up by Velofix (they come to you, which makes things very convenient) and the old, sprung front fork was put back on to replace the solid one I needed to accomodate the electric wheel. I never heard back from the guy who bought the other one, so I do not know if he got it to work. I will be taking all the bits I have left now to the zero waste facility (as the recycling centre has been renamed). – Postscript: one of the annoyances with the wheel was how the battery got wedged into its slot and was difficult to remove. “Impossible” I have been saying but today the staff at the Zero Waste site insisted I separate wheel and battery to put them into different places. It came out easily!

Since there is only one way out of here that does not require a steep hill climb, we decided to put the bikes on the rack of the car. We had heard that there was quite a bit of activity at Iona Beach on Monday – herons and eagles aplenty. That was not to be the case today, unfortunately. And while there were aircraft landing as we rode out along the jetty beside the sewage pipe, by the time we got to the end there was a distinct lull.

Doing this in bright sunlight with a camera that uses a screen (as opposed to a view finder) is not as easy as you might think.

Since we were last at the airport, the extension to the Mall at the eastern end has popped up like a mushroom after rain and traffic over the bridge at 3pm is already heavy before that opens. It was also backing up from Marine Drive as a dump truck and trailer had stalled at the traffic lights in the left turn lane to Milton Street. Since this was not immediately apparent to approaching traffic, there were people still trying to queue jump into the turn lane even though it was blocked and cars were having a hard time regaining the left through lane to get around the truck. The signals were not producing any left turn green arrow phases either.  I think we spent longer in the ensuing traffic jam than we did on the bike ride.

Next up will be a return to the Richmond Dike, and then probably a trip round Boundary Bay.

Here are some views from the end of the pipe, looking north towards UBC and Howe Sound. I have used the Mac’s photo editor to take out some of the hazy smoke.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2019 at 5:05 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling, Traffic

What Vancouver Streets will look like

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A powerpoint presentation by Dale Bracewell (Manager of Transportation Planning, City of Vancouver) via Twitter

Three sample slides

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Download the complete presentation

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2018 at 2:38 pm

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.

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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

UPDATE

Here are a couple of modern roundabouts at UBC

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This one is in Abbotsford and is part of the Highway #1/Highway #10 interchange (232 St at 72 Ave)

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Yale Road and Evans Road in Chilliwack – again just off Highway #1

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Highway #9 at Yale Road not far from Bridal Falls

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and another just over the 49th parallel in Skagit

SR 20 and Miller/Gibralter roads roundabout

WSDoT photo SR2) and Miller/Gibraltar

Same thing but overhead

SR 20 and Miller/Gibralter roads roundabout

 

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