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

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Upper Levels Highway Study

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Corridor study launched for Upper Levels Highway
Upper Levels Highway BC MOTI photo from flickr Creative Commons license

Bowinn Ma isn’t interested in ad hoc highway expansion. So she has commissioned a study.

“Under the scope of the work, Parsons will assess how the highway is doing under current volumes as well as project demand up to 2050, including what local government priorities are and how a potential expansion of the B.C. Ferries terminal at Horseshoe Bay would funnel more cars onto the road.”

“Transportation systems have to be treated as systems. It’s important that we have these long-term plans in place if we actually want to start to address the problem.”

Well yes having a long term plan is a good start – but only if you stick to the plan. And a transportation plan by itself is actually counter productive. There has to be a land use plan as well and that has to fit into a broader regional perspective. If anyone has been reading this blog over the years knows, we used to do regional plans like this at one time – and then the BC Liberals got elected – and re-elected – over 16 years and those plans were simply ignored.

Developers like Jack Poole got a lot more attention than people who had been talking about what “increasing transportation choice” might mean. And while SkyTrain was expanded – a bit – much more got spent on moving congestion around. The North Shore has a railway – but it was essentially given away to CN. It might have served as both a connector to the rest of the region over the Second Narrows Bridge and improving travel options up Howe Sound to the interior. The needs of the Olympics at Whistler would have been more than adequately met – but that got sidelined when the developers insisted that this was an opportunity to increase car commuting into Metro from places like Squamish – directly in contradiction to the long term strategic plans of both regions. The idea had been to limit sprawl and reduce car dependency but that did not suit the paymasters of the BC Liberals.

Since Bowinn Ma does not believe in that policy she will have to do more than just have a highway study

“Most studies have shown adding new lanes for general traffic use only invites more people to drive, quickly negating the expensive project’s sought-after improvements, a concept known as induced demand, Ma said.”

I would not say “most” – I think it is all – or at least every one with any credibility. But it is not enough to talk about other modes – you also have to talk about what creates the demand for trips – and that is land use. Because North American planners are still stuck on separating out land uses and resisting mixed uses – and are wedded to zoning – trips are much longer than they need to be. You are simply not allowed to live over the shop in most of the region – which is the way urban humanity has always lived right up until the invention of the internal combustion engine. And a few decades after that when cars were viewed with skepticism. The attitudes of the vociferous in Ambleside show that there is going to be an uphill struggle to change attitudes about what sort of land use changes are essential to reduce motorised travel demand. And the topography of the North Shore is also going to be an issue. Note that Ms Ma bought herself an ebike. I trust it was one that will provide power when starting from rest on an incline. Because that gets defined as a motor vehicle by our legislation.

And if we are changing legislation, lets get rid of mandatory adult cycle helmets while we are about it – and provide lots more protected, separated bike lanes, which actually provide some real safety results.

By the way, it is worth comparing the Ministry’s picture (above) with that used by the North Shore News.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2019 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Transportation, Urban Planning

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Arbutus Station

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Translink has released its first “preliminary conceptual design” of what the proposed station on the Broadway Subway is going to look like. They put it on the BC Ministry of Transport flickr stream which makes it easy to display here.

Arbutus Station looking northwest

“Arbutus Station looking northwest

Artist’s rendering of preliminary conceptual Broadway Subway Project station design. Final streetscape and potential development will be subject to the City of Vancouver’s Broadway Plan. Learn more: engage.gov.bc.ca/broadwaysubway/stations/

Arbutus Station looking southeast
Looking South East from 8th Avenue

My bet would be that there will be some additional use of the “air rights” above the station. Either with a building – equivalent to what happened at King Edward on the Canada Line. Or perhaps it will stay like this and square footage will be added to something in the vicinity.

This is what the same corner of Broadway and Arbutus looks like now

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_rees/45184182172/

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2019 at 8:45 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation, Vancouver

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A Picture of Progress

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I have been following the Washington State Department of Transportation on Flickr for quite a while. They are a remarkably progressive organisation and their photographers have captured some amazing images. But this evening they excelled themselves.

I am not going to comment I am just going to post the picture and their text.

Before and After photo of the I-5 and SR 16 interchange
Before and After photo of the I-5 and SR 16 interchange

“It’s easy to forget what the I-5/SR 16 interchange looked like before efforts began to widen the interchange. We found two photos that really show the comparison. The historic Nalley Valley interchange first opened to traffic in 1971. At the time, the average daily traffic volumes for both directions of SR 16 were 40,000 vehicles. Fast forward to 2018, and that number has tripled.”

And because I did not know where this is, here is a map

I5 SR16 Intersection Tacoma

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Transportation

What I have been reading

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A useful list from the Guardian “Ten common myths about bike lanes – and why they’re wrong” which uses mostly UK data. And it is about a month old, but I only saw it today. For local readers, the switch of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association from anti-bike lane to pro, simply based on the business data of the members should be proof enough. It was thought that the loss of parking would hurt retailers, but it turns out that the people who ride bikes have more disposable income than those who spend a lot on owning and using a car.

Also from the Guardian – from their Cities section – is a useful explanation of how people use public spaces, based on research in New York City by SWA Group – in a gallery with useful commentary on the left hand side.

You can read “Our Renewable Future” by Richard Henberg and David Fridley on line. It was published a couple of years ago and if you haven’t had a chance to look at it you should.

New Trains from Bombardier for London Overground

“SERVICES over London Overground’s Gospel Oak – Barking line are now exclusively operated by four-car class 710 Aventra EMUs after the legacy two-car DMUs were phased out. One month free travel will be offered between August 31 and October 1 as compensation for the late delivery of the new fleet.” from the International Railway Journal

This used to be mainly a freight line transferring trains from the docks at Tilbury to the rest of the country, in between which ran one of the few peripheral passenger services around London (as opposed to to and from the centre). In recent years these services have been greatly improved by taking them into the regional service provider rather than the national railway which had tended to neglect them. Even though I lived in East Ham for 18 years or so, there was never really much need for us to use this line, but as a train enthusiast I found reasons to, later on.

I quite like the way that people who were inconvenienced by the switch now get compensated. This is common in Europe – but almost unheard of here. Apparently Canada is going to make airlines do something similar. Of course no compensation is ever considered for those stuck by the Greyhound withdrawal – or the appalling unreliability of VIA rail.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Unexpected impacts of climate change

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Talking this morning to a company that imports stuff from Europe. It is currently very late arriving here. Originally it was destined for the port of Montreal, but there have been strikes there, so the container was diverted. It was now to be delivered by ship into Vancouver via the Panama Canal. But for the first time in its history there has been a three month drought, and the canal is short of water. To get containers through in smaller vessels, they have to be transhipped in Cartagena. The port of Montreal is currently unable to handle ships due to flooding and the consequent shortage of railcars.

POSTSCRIPT
Maybe I should be more incredulous. Here is a recent picture of a container train leaving the Port of Montreal May 6, 2019 – with plenty of space for a second container on every car!
CN 9547

Photo Credit: Michael Berry on Flickr

In the other direction, a container full of door furniture (“knobs and knockers”) destined for a new development in Vancouver was lost at sea when a ship from China was hit by an unprecedented  cyclone.

This is going to be the new normal, and will require some rethinking of the trade patterns that have developed in recent years. While there might be comparative advantages in labour cost, the perils of shipping may make manufacturing at at home rather than abroad a more attractive proposition.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Transportation

“Why did everyone else get bus deregulation and London did not?”

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The quote comes from an article in the Observer yesterday.

I wrote a letter to the Editor today:  it does appear. I thought readers here might also like to know the answer.

Because Professor Christopher Foster of the London School of Economics wrote a paper describing the impact of competition between bus companies in London in the 1920s and 30s which lead to the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board. Traffic congestion has always been bad, especially in Central London, but the behaviour of bus drivers trying to beat each other to the bus stops to scoop up as many fares as possible had become downright dangerous. Mrs Thatcher clearly took a narrow view, and decided that this was a risk she was not prepared to take – in London. Chaos did indeed hit most of Britain’s larger cities after bus deregulation.

By the way, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Railways was more effective with his advice on the privatisation of the railways. He told her that people would be killed. He was also right, but that did not happen on Thatcher’s watch but later under John Major who was notably less intelligent.

I went looking for a suitable picture and found one of the “Chocolate Express” which was accompanied by some useful text. So instead of using a copyright image I am sending you to that page.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2019 at 11:17 am

Posted in Transportation

The Free Transit Illusion

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One of the reasons that I blog much less these days, is that I got bored with myself. Every time I sat down to write it seemed that what I was writing, I had written before. Even when I was writing that it was repetitive, I kept on. Yet the illusions that beset us continue to be repeated. As if those notions had not already been disproven, repeatedly.

It is a truism, but it takes more energy to refute a falsehood than to repeat. Conservatives rely on this. Almost everything they assert turns out to be untrue. Yet the policies they endorse continue to operate despite their obvious failures. Wealth has never trickled down. Holding down wages has not created more jobs. Making drugs illegal has not reduced their use at all. Increasing spending on the military has not made us safer. Prisons do nothing to reduce crime. Corporal punishment is not effective at improving children’s behaviour.

The left also endorses fatuous policies, ones shown time and again to be ineffective. Mostly deciding to adopt the policies of previous, conservative governments. The BC NDP is doing now exactly what the BC Liberals endorse: Site C, highway widening, cutting down old growth forests, expanding LNG.

Just as we know what we should be doing – reducing ghg emissions being the most important – what we actually do barely scratches the surface and mostly we continue with business as usual.

There is a problem of poverty. Just as providing homes turns out to be the only effective solution to homelessness, so providing money is the only way to relieve poverty. The first thing new Premier Ford did was cancel the Guaranteed Income pilot project – just in case it proved that point once again.

Here we have once again fallen into to happy illusion that in order to deal with poverty – and the fact that some people have a hard time paying their transit fares – we should make transit free. The latest developments here have been an endorsement by Victoria City Council – and now by Kai Nagata of Dogwood who uses Jason Kenney’s swearing in as a hook for a piece about what to do when Kenney “turns off the taps”. Kenney, now sworn in, says he won’t – yet.

It is not surprising that in support of this proposal a number of easily disprovable assertions are made

“Zero-fare public transport is the norm in many cities across Europe. ”

Actually very few cities – Dunkirk (France), Tallinn (Estonia) and apparently two dozen other French urban areas – though only Aubagne is named and analyzed. Luxembourg is going to try it nationally, though it is a very small country and has made its own economy successful by being a well known haven for tax evasion.

There is a list at https://freepublictransport.info/city/ but it is not reliable. Calgary, for example, is shown on that list, but its own webpage provides a list of fares – free only applies to a downtown section, not the whole system, and pets. Frankly, I am not about to spend any more time checking the veracity of ALL of the rest of the assertions but Winnipeg isn’t a free system either. Bizarrely England is listed as fare free – that may just be a formatting error or a reference to the Old Age concession of a free bus pass. This is of limited value since it does not apply to other modes – trains – and in the deregulated market where local government has been deliberately starved of funds there is little to no socially essential service outside of the dense urban area. The country bus is largely a fond memory. The lack of revenue for the operators (little to no subsidy from local government, no income from pass users) means there is no incentive to increase service.

By the way, Seattle used to have a free fare zone downtown, but dropped it. It is one of the few transit systems in the US that reported increased use last year.

There is a wikipedia article (see below) but it lacks references (though the bit I quote has a source).

The notion that appeals to Dogwood is the mistaken belief that free fares will get people out of their cars and onto transit, and that this will reduce congestion and thus fuel consumption. Nagata simply asserts this belief. The evidence does not support it. The inescapable rule is that traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Congestion exists because there is more demand that can be accomodated. Congestion tends to be worst at peak periods – journeys to and from work or education – and on some routes on public holidays – the road to the ferries from Tsawwassen on the Easter weekend being a most recent case. Generally people adapt to predictable congestion but just as a few will try car sharing, or leaving really early, others will drive when it seems “not so bad”. And there is a sort of equilibrium. Like most human compromises one which leaves everybody equally dissatisfied. We know that adding lanes to freeways just increases the amount of traffic, just as removing a freeway usually reduces congestion. The only thing that we know works is to price road use – when it is free it is over consumed – and provide more and better transit service that, as far as possible, uses its own right of way to avoid the congestion. You have to do both. Oddly, pricing roads, even though successful, is much less tried than free transit fares, which mostly isn’t.

From Wikipedia

Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:[7]

  • An increase in vandalism, resulting in increased costs for security and vehicle-maintenance
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls unless additional funding was provided
  • An increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, although farebox-related arguments were eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect unless additional vehicles are added)
  • Declines in schedule adherence

This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of “problem riders”, zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some ‘premium’ riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author’s conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.[7]

[7] Perone, Jennifer S. (October 2002). “Advantages and Disadvantages of Fare-Free Transit Policy” (PDF)NCTR Report Number: NCTR-473-133, BC137-38. Retrieved 1 November 2012.

So if free transit does not attract drivers, who does it attract? Here it will be the homeless – kicked out of shelters during the day and looking for somewhere warm and dry. And for people to panhandle. The transit police will not be able to cope as without the need for proof of payment, removal will be at best temporary – even if they do manage to persuade the most offensive to leave. It will be gangs of kids. It will be people with nothing better to do than go for a ride somewhere – anywhere. Yes free transit increases the number of people on transit – just not the ones that you wanted to leave their cars behind.

The other reason that people do not leave their cars for transit is simply the inconvenience and relative slowness of transit (all those bus stops) compared to driving. Even for relatively short trips in denser parts of the region, car is still the preferred mode. It is not until there is a clear transit advantage for some trips do people switch in significant numbers. Clearly the expansion of the SkyTrain has worked well. In the parts of the region where additional road space is next to impossible, car trips are being curtailed. Where there is a better alternative, it does get used. More people are also choosing to walk or ride a bicycle – and the option to not own a car, but use ones that are available (Modo, car2go et al) – reduces the need to own a car, and thus try to maximise the return on capital investment. (“It’s sitting in the driveway, I might as well get some use out of it.”) The recent record boost in transit use, and the growing mode share for bikes and walking in Vancouver has nothing to do with transit fares, but everything to do with comparative advantage. And protected bike lanes – not white lines or sharrows.

Nagata also makes the fundamental error of assuming that governments (federal and provincial) will fund free transit. So far, the only thing that they have been willing to do is fund capital projects – preferably expansions – and usually with ribbon cutting opportunities and naming rights (The Canada Line for instance). What has always been lacking is adequate funding for operations and maintenance. Canada, on the whole, has done a much better job than the US. The shameful condition of the New York subway being one of the most glaring examples. Government also likes to play at innovation – which has given rise to several expensive, and usually short lived, experiments like the Whistler hydrogen buses. Instead of doing the essential dull, repetitive non-newsworthy state of good repair and high reliability transit cannot do without. Much of the innovations have not actually been necessary, but one thing that did come out of the imposed electronic fare collection system was essential data on how the system is used. In earlier times, Greater Vancouver saw a complete neglect of data collection as a result of foolish cost cutting. At least some of the newer and improved services now being provided is from a better understanding of when and where people are travelling – despite the lack of tap off on buses.  Again, a free fare system loses all that information.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2019 at 11:01 am

Posted in fares, transit, Transportation

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