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

Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Crowdfundraising: A new type of bus shelter

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I am posting this story as the result of a request from UBC’s Public Engagement: Campus and Community Planning. It has already been picked up by Daily Hive and I don’t feel much need to copy and paste their content. However if the idea of a green roofed bus shelter that mimics forest tree canopy is intriguing to you I suggest you look at the project webpage at UBC . There is a useful video which neatly summarizes the proposal.

We regularly get to enjoy the benefits that humans experience by walking under the tree canopy – most often at Pacific Spirit Park and most recently out at Harrison Mills. I am not sure that a bus shelter offers the same scale of benefits – and I am also not sure that the people working on this project have taken into account the somewhat anomalous situation of bus shelters at UBC compared to the rest of the region. Being street furniture, bus shelters are the domain of the municipality, except for off street locations like bus loops, transit exchanges and some SkyTrain stations. The municipalities do not actually provide the shelters but contract this out to advertising companies (in the City of Vancouver it is presently J.C.Decaux) who make their revenue from the advertising panels. The target market is not bus passengers, or even pedestrians but the people driving past, and that is what determines the likelihood that a stop will get a shelter. Plus of course the availability of enough space. On many city streets, such shelter as might be available is often the canopy of the building at the back of the sidewalk.

Harbour Centre

This is also the case by the way for benches at stops: they seem to appeal a lot to realtors.

We've got a new bench

Of course now that Vancouver is declaring its intentions to become Greenest maybe they will be keen to do a different kind of deal rather than getting their share of the ad revenue – or perhaps the Mark II bus shelter will incorporate a solar panel and lighted ads in the walls that appear to be missing from the current design (the current contract runs until 2022). From the rendering supplied by UBC at the top of the post it looks like they do not understand that shelter is also needed from wind – and wind driven precipitation.

The green roof would be a distinct improvement over the current glass roof of the most common Vancouver bus shelters

No shade here

But in other cities like Edmonton shelter at the busiest stops offers much more than a roof

ETS Bus Stop 100 Street

Looks like all this one needs is its own wind turbine!

POSTSCRIPT
I was in Beyond Bread getting a loaf and as I came out realised what a great bus stop this was. Once again no actual shelter but there is a bench and a canopy on the building. Of course if you wanted to you could wait for your bus inside the cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same time. Just keep that Transit app open to be warned of the bus’s imminent arrival – when Translink gets their GPS API working again!

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2018 at 11:33 am

The Surrey Decision

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The Mayor’s Council has decided to support the choice of the electors in Surrey who want SkyTrain over LRT. I am not going to get into why that might be, since they are mostly new Mayors (good) and I have no doubt that the strongest instinct for human beings in group situations is don’t be the awkward, difficult critic. Try and find some consensus, or if you prefer, don’t block their favourite project this time as next time they will block yours.

The difference between SkyTrain and LRT is not the technology. The whole point about the Plan was that it was a real effort to try to match transit technology to the desired land use. There was actually a diagram I saw, not so long ago, that showed how buildout of Surrey LRT would see service on all of the major arterials. This would have facilitated building four to six storey apartments over commercial at street level all along the main roads while a mixture of “missing middle” would fill the bits in between. The Light Rail trains would have priority signals at intersections and exclusive right of way – so not streetcars. This produces journey times door-to-door comparable to grade separated – but without the escalators. Stations on LRT are cheap, and can be relatively close to each other. While the train is loading/unloading, the traffic crosses in front of it.

SkyTrain’s main selling point for electors (boomers: older white males) is that they don’t get in the way of the cars. Because the trains are small, and automated, you can build elevated structures (much cheaper than tunnels) along the highway alignments – see Millennium Line, Evergreen Line. Stations are more widely spaced than LRT. That is because to get people up to the platform you have to offer a faster ride for longer distances. Basically SkyTrain endorses sprawl: it makes longer distance commutes tolerable because the train is faster.  The Canada Line, by the way, is not SkyTrain and it isn’t fast. It’s just not as slow as the jammed up traffic on the surface.

SkyTrain does not have a driver. That means instead of running long trains with long gaps between them (like Edmonton) you can run short trains at shorter intervals, like the Millennium Line, as the cost is the same, but the service level much more attractive. Stations are expensive as they have to have elevators and some escalators. Ideally lots of entrances and exits to make transfers convenient (something the Canada Line deliberately ignored to keep the initial capital cost down) as the punters don’t like to have to cross two six laners just to catch their connecting bus which stops far side of the traffic signals and won’t wait for you.

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The development pattern produced by SkyTrain is now most clearly visible at Brentwood. The Lougheed Highway and Willingdon are both wide stroads with fast traffic. The station is surrounded on three sides by high rises. This does not look like a Walkable City. Yes, it is indeed Transit Oriented Development. But it is not at human scale. I used to think that the views made possible by living high up, would compensate for the inconvenience of waiting for the elevator (no one walks up to the 40th floor). But if all you can see out of your windows are the serried windows of the high rise across the street …

That is what the region has now endorsed for Surrey. The population and the overall density won’t be much different, but the point density at transit stations will be very different. But that allows the bits in between to stay something like they are now for longer. So not only do you not have to wait for a streetcar to finish loading, but you can also stay in your present accommodation.  No wonder it appeals to the sort of people who will vote for Doug McCallum.

POSTSCRIPT

Hours after I first posted this opinion piece some new analysis came to my attention from the Georgia Straight 

Written by Stuart Parker it is worth your time

…why Surrey could choose an LRT without sufficient public buy-in for the project and then have that project defeated by a candidate claiming that he could fund a $3-billion asset using $1.6 billion of other people’s money that they had set aside for a different project.

Who is Stuart Parker? “Stuart Parker teaches international studies and history at Simon Fraser University. He ran for Surrey council in 2018 as a member of Proudly Surrey.”

Note also there is a comment by Frank Bucholtz under the article which endorses it.

Towers at Marine Drive Station

High rise towers at Marine Drive Canada Line station

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 16, 2018 at 8:25 am

Book Review: Trains Buses and People

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An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit by Christof Spieler

Published by Island Press October 2018  ISBN 978-1-61091-903-6 Paperback Full color 290 Photos 185 illustrations 248 pages Price US $40.00

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This review will be mainly of interest to my US readers. While there are some references made in the book to how other places do things, this book is concerned with how transit is provided in the US and how to do it better. In the same way that “Walkable City Rules” spells out how to improve car oriented cities – which is most of them – this book identifies what needs to be done to make transit more useful. Given this morning’s events here – where the Mayors’ Council voted to suspend work on the Surrey LRT and start on the process to switch priorities to SkyTrain to Langley – his thoughts on modes are very relevant.

“…mode is not the most important aspect of transit. What riders care about most is where transit goes, how fast it is and how reliable it is. It is better to think of modes as tools … one mode or another may be a better fit in terms of capacity, cost or capability”

It is also significant, I think, that he lives and works in Houston, Texas and takes light rail for most of his journeys. It is frequent – every 6 minutes – and has its own right of way with signal priority at intersections. So he gets pretty much the same sort of on board experience as someone who rides SkyTrain here – but without the need to use an escalator or elevator. He probably has a much better chance of getting a seat. For me that is another essential but then I am very nearly as old as Prince Charles.

” most importantly … it goes to the right places” so it can be used for a wide variety of trip purposes not just the journey to work. Far too many US railroads with passenger service take Commuter Rail far too literally – and West Coast Express is one of the prime examples of how useless it is for anything other than the weekday commute to downtown.

Fortunately not only is there a really good book, with lots of information, there is also a web site.   And that will do much more for you than reading any review.

This is a reference document which you will want to keep handy. It is also something that is worth just idly skimming – for places you know or those you might want to visit. And yes there is a list of best and worst – you can learn from both. Toronto does get a couple of mentions. Vancouver none at all. Neither does Montreal rate a mention. I hope that one day Mr Spieler comes here. I would be happy to show him around.

I would also say that I would disagree with him about speed. The actual pace of the mode over the ground is much less important than how long the overall journey takes, and how convenient it is. If there is a lot of stair climbing and hanging around in grim surroundings, the fact that you get onto a fast train eventually is less than adequate compensation. The Canada Line is downright slow – but it is still better than the #15 bus for almost any trip. And if you want to avoid the traffic congestion that often impacts the bridges to the airport, more reliable than driving, on most trips. In my most recent travels the impact of a two hour wait for a METRA train from Naperville to Union was far more significant than the fact that it never seemed to get much faster than 30 mph, and stopped even more frequently than the CTA Blue Line to O’Hare airport. And the walk from the end of the train to the taxi was a significant issue too.

METRA 194

And when we got home we felt that is was worth splashing out on a cab rather than struggle with our bags on and off a train and a bus – and then a drag through the streets. Had we not been so encumbered then the transit ride would probably been a comparable time but considerably cheaper. You note that fare doesn’t even get mentioned in “what riders care about”.

I would recommend this volume for everyone who likes maps and data, and is interested in US transit. I would also like to see something that does like for like comparison with cities around the world. We used to like to compare Metro Vancouver to Zurich – and Phoenix – just because they were comparable but very different indeed.  I know that I am going to find myself thumbing through it quite a lot. It is a lovely production.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 15, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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ProVancouver party proposes flat fare and other transit discounts across Lower Mainland

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Faregates at King Edward

The title is that of an article in the Georgia Straight

The ProVancouver Party is one of several new entities that have popped up due to the upcoming city election all of which claim to be non-partisan (just like the flailing NPA) and different from the status quo.

The main difference is simply in the level of understanding of how local government in Vancouver works (or is supposed to) between those who have some experience and those with none at all. Many of the new candidates seriously think that their naivete is a qualification rather than a liability.

I am not going to bother with analysing any of these half baked proposals. I am simply going to point out that getting elected to Vancouver City council does not enable anyone to introduce any of these ideas. As the Straight points out these are regional measures, which means that they have to appeal to most of the other municipalities outside of the City of Vancouver. The only commonality among these municipalities is their utter contempt for Vancouver and all it stands for. For one thing they are all convinced that Vancouver benefits far more from transit than they do. Even when Burnaby has far more SkyTrain service than any other municipality. And if your identifier is ProVancouver, you are already setting yourself up for an argument. West Vancouver still thinks it would be better off if it left Translink altogether – though even they have to concede that it is really difficult to find any acceptable piece of land within West Vancouver that could be used as a bus storage and maintenance facility.  Places like Anmore and Belcarra even think that people from other municipalities should not be allowed park or even drive on their roads.   Especially in summer.

The key word that ProVancouver has latched onto is “affordable”.  Which you might think would translate into some kind of means tested subsidy for transit fares. But as usual in all such woolly thinking, the term itself is not defined – but has something to do with “families” even though most people now live in rather different households than the traditional Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids. What we do know from our experience with the referendum is people in general believe a lot of nonsense about Translink and think they pay quite enough in taxes to provide much better service than they currently get. And that second belief is equally strongly held everywhere – even in the best served parts of the region. If you are not going to collect enough at the farebox, then it has to come from somewhere else, and any proposal is always going to be met with the angry riposte “How are you going to pay for that?” (without waiting for the answer before stamping off).

One of the great weaknesses of the upcoming ballot is that it is going to be filled with a lot of names: most of them will be unfamiliar. And whoever gets elected is going to have spend a lot of time and effort getting up to speed on procedures, rules and regulations. To some extent that does mean the potential for more influence from the professionals who have mostly been doing this stuff as a full time career for many years. But sadly they will be fully occupied trying to persuade the newly elected councillors that they have to both listen and read attentively. There is no evidence at all that ProVancouver has the slightest intention of doing that before insisting that they are now in charge: heaven help us all if that is the case.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Consultations on the BLine for 41st and the Greenway

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Thanks to Rick Jelfs of Transport Action BC for the heads up on two sets of consultations going on at present. This illustration comes from the City of Vancouver’s PDF of the Arbutus Greenway in its expected final form with a streetcar!

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  • TransLink is asking for public input on four new B-Line routes – 41st Ave (UBC – Joyce Stn);  Fraser Hwy (Surrey Central – Langley); Lougheed Hwy (Coquitlam Central – Maple Ridge); Marine Drive (Dundarave – Phibbs Exchange). The 41st Ave. proposal includes the return of local trolley coach service along 41st Ave. More information at https://www.translink.ca/bline.
  • Vancouver has a “proposed design concept” for the Arbutus Greenway at http://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/arbutus-greenway.aspx

I must admit I was a bit sceptical of the 41st Avenue B-Line until I saw what was actually proposed – which involves a considerable change to the current #41 – which would be cut back to Crown and would use trolleybuses – which is something that I have been pushing whenever anyone would listen for many years.

2149 Training on 41st at Cambie

Trolleybuses aren’t used on the 41 right now, but the wires on 41st are used for training and relocating trolleys. Probably much less now that Oakridge OMC has been sold.

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The current generation of hybrid Novabus, has a final electric drive – but no poles even though 600v is within easy reach.

Xcelsior bendy on 41st at Arbutus

The articulated buses used on the 43 and 49 that will be on the B Line

BYD Battery Bus

The short lived experiment with loaned battery buses from China (BYD). Another trial of different battery buses was recently announced. They will be able to charge along the route (100 Marine Drive) but again not using trolleypoles.  All those pictures were taken by me along West 41st Avenue.

I am of course also pleased to see a cross North Shore B Line running through both West and North Vancouver. I was involved with the first groundbreaking bus service to cut through the iron curtain that used to separate transit on that side of the water. There is even talk of combining City and District in North Van which at that time was unthinkable! But I digress. Even if you can’t manage the open houses you can still do the surveys.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

Patullo Bridge Replacement

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Improving safety and creating jobs

Province of BC picture on flickr

Premier Horgan announced today that the province is going to take over the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised, but on reflection I think Horgan’s announcement of the removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges left him nowhere else to go. The only way that Translink could have built the bridge is through the previous government’s preferred method of user pay through a P3 agreement.

The Pattullo Bridge replacement project will be delivered solely by the Province. The project includes a new Pattullo Bridge that will be located upstream of the existing one, network connections in Surrey and New Westminster, and the removal of the existing bridge. The new Pattullo Bridge will be owned, operated and maintained by the Government of British Columbia.

That seems to me to be the clearest possible repudiation. I wonder if it also presages other possible changes in future. There was very little logic in the choices of the infrastructure downloaded from the province – other than avoiding anticipated future expenditures. The Knight Street Bridge carries a provincial highway (Highway 91) but needed urgent attention to improve its seismic stability.  The Westham Island Bridge is a purely local affair within Delta and doesn’t even rate a mention as part of the Major Road Network. The Annacis Island bridge does connect Delta and New Westminster, but is also not on the MRN, carries the Southern Railway of BC, and remained a provincial responsibility. And then there’s the Lion’s Gate bridge which also remained provincial. There were no provincial highways within the City of Vancouver to be downloaded, but a rationale for payments from the MRN was one of the ways that George Puil persuaded his colleagues on council to sign up for Translink.

Of course it is a reasonable way to proceed with the aged and decrepit bridge, but I do wonder what it says about the only regional, multimodal transportation authority. I always felt that the MRN was a way to redirect funds from transit to road building. That was also the case with the Golden Ears, which was never really needed, as Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were outside of the Growth Concentration Area. Though arguably the decision to introduce West Coast Express through those communities was a stimulus to suburban sprawl. The use of Translink funds to the now defunct bridge tolling company was indeed detrimental to transit: it diverted funds to shareholders that ought to have been spent on transit operations and maintenance.

I have also seen more than once the argument that “balanced” transportation is not what it is needed in urban areas. We need to address decades of underfunding and neglect that motordom has inflicted on transit, walking and cycling infrastructure.

Let it be noted that separated and protected walking and cycling paths are promised for both sides of the new bridge which will only have four general purpose traffic lanes. Good.

This announcement does make things easier for the Mayors’ Council to arrive at an agreement on future transit expansion in the region, since they no longer have to carry their share of the $1.377-billion bridge. But there still exists a significant gap between what the province and federal governments have committed for transit expansion and what has to be funded from local sources. And that won’t be coming from bridge tolls.

POSTSCRIPT

The Executive Director of TransLink Mayors’ Council Mike Buda tweeted the following Point of Clarification: the transfer of Pattullo Bridge ownership to the province will not affect the $70M regional funding gap since the 10-Year Vision assumed toll revenue to pay for it.

AND NOW (February 18)
Rob Shaw in the Vancouver Sun sheds some light on what’s next

Postmedia reporter Jennifer Saltman reported last week the Horgan administration and mayors are close to a deal on phase 2 of the 10-year transit plan, which would include the Broadway subway line and rapid transit to Surrey. Horgan has already increased the province’s share from 33 per cent to 40 per cent. The federal government is in for 40 per cent. That left TransLink with a $60 million to $70 million annual shortfall to fund.

Here, too, the Horgan government is riding to the rescue. It is negotiating to give TransLink approval of one or more new funding sources — including possibly the carbon tax, gas tax or a vehicle levy — to cover up to $40 million of that shortfall. There’s also an idea floating around that the province could take over the Golden Ears Bridge, freeing up TransLink from its $40 million a year in bridge debt repayment that it could then funnel towards its share of phase 2.

The rest of TransLink’s funding gap could be paid with relatively small increases to property taxes or transit fares. A good deal if the mayors can get it, especially during a municipal election year. All this, the Pattullo, and potentially more, courtesy of the Horgan government.

I am also going to add this thread of tweets from Bowinn Ma – who you should follow on Twitter too!

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I have to say that this is the best Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink I have ever come across!

Artist rendering of bike and pedestrian lanes on the new Pattullo Bridge

A picture recently added by the Ministry to their flickr photostream

Artist rendering of bike and pedestrian lanes on the new Pattullo Bridge

A NEW Pattullo Bridge, located upstream from the existing bridge has been announced. The bridge will be four-lanes wide with walking and cycling lanes, separated from traffic, on both sides. Construction is scheduled to start summer 2019 and open to traffic in 2023.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 16, 2018 at 11:11 am

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