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

Archive for the ‘cars’ Category

Port Mann Tolls

with 10 comments

The mainstream media is full of the reduction in tolls announced by the Minister of Transport yesterday. Laila Yuile, on Huffington Post, sees it as bait and switch – a blatant and possibly fruitless attempt to get back lost BC Liberal votes. But her opening paragraph really gave me pause

The Port Mann Bridge project has been steeped in controversy from its humble beginnings as an economically prudent plan to twin the existing bridge at a cost of $1.5 billion to what we’ve ended up with today: a completely new bridge and highway project totaling $3.3 billion financed through tolls.

First it was never, ever “economically prudent”. It was based on misdirection – that somehow the traffic jam of cars every day was threatening the competitiveness of the Port of Vancouver. The truckers were always front and centre of this argument. This fiction was fairly easy to dismiss. Most of the tonnage moving through the port is bulk commodities that come in by rail – and pipeline (of course but lets not get distracted). The container imports also move by rail – except for those destined for distribution facilities which tend to be located on cheap land at some distance from the port terminals.

What the intention was – always – was to widen the freeway from the Vancouver boundary to the Abbotsford boundary. The Port Mann bridge was never a standalone project. It might have been defensible if it had simply been a removal of a bottleneck to free up short distance movements between Surrey and Coquitlam (which is what most of the traffic over the bridge does in reality). But all that is planned is to replace a small bottleneck with a bigger bottle. The number of lanes on the bridge was always less than those leading on to it – and that will still be the case afterwards. There will just be more of both.

The Gateway made the idea of freeway expansion palatable because it was wrapped up in rhetoric about economic growth and increased competitiveness. The reality was different.

Kevin Falcon on the widest bridge in the world

Kevin Falcon was a developer before he became a politician. There has always been a strong lobby against the regional plan which was seen as restricting what developers could do south of the Fraser. In fact, it made very little difference, as Doug McCallum ably demonstrated when Mayor of Surrey – and Chair of Translink. He easily duplicated the spread of big box retail along Highway 99 to replicate what was already in place in Whatcom County along I5. Junction “improvements” on both Highways 1 and 99 were funded  by deals with developers on what had been land reserved for highway expansion adjacent to the intersections. And the sprawl of supposedly “affordable” housing (“drive till you qualify”) continued unabated. Kevin ran for election using funds raised at breakfasts attended by the real estate community who he encouraged to “get on board”. The highway expansion would enable them to build more of what they has always built and they knew they could sell. What made them really nervous was talk of transit and transit oriented development – for they were unfamiliar with both. Rail for the Valley was pretty much a hopeless case. Not that it could not have been done physically or financially – just that it was a hard sell to the money men. The people who fund the BC Liberals and pick their preferred candidates.

Laila again

To those of us who travel the bridge, it had been clear for years something needed to be done to address the gridlock on both ends. Public transportation south of the Fraser is horrific during the week and nearly non-existent in some areas on the weekend, making vehicles mandatory for most.

At least she declares her interest. We know that the only effective way to address “gridlock” is to reduce peak demand for single occupant vehicle travel. In the short term the only way to do that is to price car use, and increase transit supply. In the longer term, denser and more mixed land use – served by walkable and bikeable routes – is the way to break the linkage between growth and sprawl. Again, really attractive transit has to be part of the mix. The provision of billions of dollars of provincial funding for highway expansion – and the new bridge – is one of the reasons why there is a crisis in funding for transit. It does look like there will be a rapid bus service of some sort when the new Port Mann opens but the only way that can be funded is by cutting service elsewhere.

There are options – there always are – always were. Just most of them get rejected. The BC Liberals kept dancing around insisting that there had to be more local funding – mostly because they always wanted to tap into property tax some more. And the insistence on looking for more efficiencies was always a good distraction. As was fare evasion: actually only 4% of riders have no ticket and the revenue loss is less than that. But somehow much money and attention can be thrown at that “problem” – but nothing to deal with overcrowding other than diversion of existing resources. And the idea of increasing transit service were it is currently inadequate or non-existent  just does not get onto the radar because the places that already have good transit want more.

I can understand Laila’s anger – and her choice of target. It is just all too short term. I do not expect the BC Liberals to win – as the latest polls confirm. The problem is that afterwards it is going to be very hard to reverse the land use changes already in train as a result of the decision to widen the freeway. The type of development we are seeing – and will see – is not going to be sustainable, transit oriented or readily convertible. Land uses in Coquitlam and Vancouver will change a bit once the Evergreen and the UBC lines open – but not by nearly enough to shift the region’s mode split by very much. South of the Fraser is car country now – and still will be – and all of the emphasis is going to have to be how to make those cars less of a problem. So expect a lot more attention on car sharing, alt fuels and electric vehicles – none of which individually has much impact and even collectively is little more than a band aid. The systemic problem of car dependance  will remain even if we can overcome some of our fondest held beliefs – like car ownership and not sharing rides (not getting into cars with strangers) and the need to limit access to the public transport market.

The tolls – which after a year will go back up to $3 a crossing – will have some impact on restraining demand for car trips between Surrey and Coquitlam. They might even get better at pricing strategies than they have so far on the Golden Ears, which has plenty of underused capacity at peak periods. But it will have no impact at all on car use on the rest of the Highway. There will be no toll for a trip between Vancouver and Burnaby, New Westmister or Coquitlam. No-one will pay a toll between Surrey and Langley. And there will be a lot of lane space that will quickly fill up – even if some people will be making longer (but perceived to be “faster”) trips to use that new space. Yes, car use in the region has declined a bit – but mostly in places where there is an alternative. Along Highway 1 – until it fills up again – car use will grow. And that means a lot more traffic on the local road network that feeds the freeway. And more pressure from neighbourhoods to spend money on frustrating the through traffic, rather than spending money on better alternatives for local trips.

Laila is, I think, right in that this obvious tactic will misfire. But that is not the real issue. How do we now persuade people that it is worth spending more money on a transit system that is so blatantly organized to favour part of the region at the expense of the rest?

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

ICBC Consultation: Calculating premiums

with 5 comments

The following is a message that was posted this morning to the trans-action and HUB mailing lists. I am copying it to this blog in case there are readers in BC who are not members of those lists, and who have yet to comment to ICBC.

I did not complete the on line form, I sent them an email

There ought to be a way to link the number of kilometres driven to the amount of the basic insurance premium.

ICBC commissioned research from Todd Littman several years ago which showed that distance based insurance is practical, possible and would be much fairer than the current system.
It could be introduced on a voluntary basis initially. Actuarially, there is a strong correlation between distance driven and the risk of a crash.
ICBC has been unresponsive to this proposal for too long.
There is a comprehensive technical report available at  http://www.vtpi.org/dbvi_com.pdf

_________________________________________

From Tannis Braithwaite

Tomorrow is the deadline to give input on ICBC’s proposal to restructure how it calculates insurance premiums.  Please go to http://www.publicengagement.icbc.com/index.html and tell them that you think driving violations should be considered in the calculation of insurance premiums.

More explanation of the ICBC proposal is below:

_________________________________________

ICBC is proposing to change the way it calculates insurance premiums.  Anyone can make a submission on-line at: http://www.publicengagement.icbc.com/index.html  The deadline is June 22, 2012.
The proposed change is intended to be revenue neutral, and to better align premium with risk in individual cases.  Structurally, it’s a switch from “vehicle-based” insurance to “driver-based” insurance.  Under the current “vehicle-based” system crash history follows the insured vehicle.  So, for example, if “A” crashes “B’s” car, the crash is recorded against “B’s” insurance.  If “A” has had a bunch of crashes in one vehicle and then insures a second vehicle, the second vehicle is insured at a rate reflecting zero crashes.  Under a driver-based system, “A’s” crash history would follow “A”.  In either system, vehicles/drivers are only penalized for “at fault” crashes, which ICBC defines as having been at least 25% at fault in a collision.
Statistically, if you crash your car, you are much more likely to have a second crash within the next year than is someone who didn’t have the first crash.  Insurance premiums go up after a crash, not because the insurance company is trying to recover past losses, but because you are more likely to cost them again in the subsequent policy year.
Factors that predict your crash risk
ICBC is prohibited from considering age, sex, race or any other prohibited ground of discrimination in determining crash risk.  The factors they do/propose to use for determining premiums in the new system are:
Driving experience – the likelihood of having a crash decreases dramatically with each year of driving experience for the first 5 years, continues to decrease a fair bit over each of the next five years, and continues to decreases a little bit for each additional year of experience….forever.  The current system recognizes the number of years of crash-free driving, but doesn’t recognize that a person with more years of driving experience is less likely to crash than a person with an equivalent crash history but fewer years of driving experience.  According to ICBC, experience isn’t just a stand-in for age.  Even if you don’t start driving until you are older, you are more likely to have a crash in the first several years of driving than you are with more years of experience.  ICBC proposes to recognize years of driving experience, not just years of crash-free driving experience.  ICBC wants feedback on how often premiums should be adjusted to reflect driving experience.
Number of past crashes – The more crashes you have had in the past and the more recently you’ve had them, the more crashes you are likely to have in the future.  It takes 15 years for the statistical effect of a single crash to wear off completely.  So, for example, someone who had a single crash 9 years ago is still 15% more likely to have a second crash in the current policy year than is someone who has never had a crash.  The current system recognizes the effect of a previous crash for only 3 years.  ICBC proposes to extend the number of years that a crash will continue to count in calculating your insurance premium to up to 15 years.  They want feedback on how long you think crash history should count for.  ICBC is also considering a system that also weights more recent crashes more heavily than crashes that occurred longer ago, which is in keeping with statistical risk.  But, ICBC thinks this might be too hard for people to understand(!??)  Surely it’s not.
No more free crashes: ICBC currently has a policy of giving drivers one “free” crash after 12 years of crash-free driving.  A person with a very long term crash-free record can have up to 3 crashes in quick succession with no impact on premium.  There is no good rationale underlying this policy.  Statistically, if you have a single crash, you are 40% more likely to have a second crash in the policy year than someone who didn’t have the first crash, and this is true even if you’ve previously had a long period of crash-free driving.  ICBC proposes either getting rid of the free-crash policy or offering an opt-out option in exchange for a premium reduction.  And, of course, there’s really no such thing as a “free” crash, since the $$ have to come from somewhere.  Failing to penalize a driver for having a crash means penalizing drivers that don’t have crashes.
Other Driver crashes: About 20% of crashes are by drivers other than the registered owner/principal driver of the at-fault vehicle.  Under the current system, the vehicle owner pays the increased premiums regardless of whether they were driving at the time of the crash.  Under a driver-based system, the crash would follow the driver rather than the vehicle.  The problem for ICBC is that not all crash-causing drivers have an insured vehicle, so they need to work out how to collect from uninsured drivers who crash.  Three options that have been proposed to deal with this problem are: spread the cost of the uninsured driver across all insured drivers, continue charging the cost against the vehicle owner, or send a bill for $500 to the crash causer and then try to collect.  Personally, I think ICBC can come up with something better, like maybe true driver based insurance where you have to be insured to drive.  Just not sure how this would be enforced.  Also, most “other driver” crashes are by members of the same household, e.g., child driving parent’s car, so this may affect the best options for enforcement.
Driving Violations: Driving violations are a strong statistical indicator of crash risk.  ICBC tried to introduce driving violations into its assessment of crash risk a couple of years ago, but was prohibited from doing so by the Provincial government (call it, the leading edge of the tsunami of political interference in regulated utilities that we’ve seen lately).  Now, they are trying again, but this time proposing to limit consideration of driving violations to the most serious ones, such as, impaired driving and street racing.  Again, there is no reason for basing crash risk on only the most serious driving violations.  Statistically, every driving violation correlates with higher crash risk, and there is no reason why lower risk drivers should be subsidizing higher risk drivers.    This is especially true when you consider how many un-ticketed driving violations occur and the police focus on the most egregious ones.  Also, it seems to me that including all driving violations in the assessment of crash risk is a good way to provide drivers with an incentive to follow the rules of the road.  ICBC just needs to spin this issue better next time, and they really need to hear that the public supports the use of driving violations in calculating insurance premiums.
Some things that came up in discussion
  • Giving credit for higher levels of driver training, similar to discounts that can be obtained on fleet insurance for organizations implementing safe driver programs
  • Relationship between distance driven and crash-risk. Proposal for distance-based insurance and better availability of alternative types of insurance such as temporary or occasional coverage.
  • The system doesn’t include any impact to premiums based on the severity of the crash.  There must be correlations or indicators of severe crash risk, such as high risk driving violations, or past crash history that help to predict the risk of a severe crash.
  • Insurance brokers don’t want the system to be too complicated to explain to people, or to take too much risk in people not understanding or not being told the right thing.
  • BC has a very low % of uninsured drivers compared to other jurisdictions.  We need to consider whether there is a tipping point where high risk drivers just stop insuring their vehicles in large numbers.
  • It’s good to have incentives that prevent owners from loaning their vehicles to high risk drivers (re other driver crashes).
  • Driving records are at the heart of driver-based insurance and all violations should be considered, though not weighted equally.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 21, 2012 at 10:45 am

Thoughts about Paris

with 6 comments

I returned to Vancouver last Thursday: the jet lag has now relented, and my brain seems less fogged. We were there for nearly the whole month of May, which was probably not the best choice, since France has no less than four public holidays in May.

While we were there we did not drive at all. There was really no need for that. We bought a Navigo Decouverte card, and loaded it with a month’s unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2 – roughly the same as the 20 arrondissements of the city out to the peripherique. Now I am going to surprise my readers by telling you that our system is actually somewhat better than theirs in one respect. If you have a zone 1 ticket or pass here, and need to make an odd trip out to Surrey, you can buy an “addfare”. There is no such equivalent there. So for a trip out to La Defense (the major office centre, with lots of challenging architecture and lots of public art) which is in zone 3, we had to buy a whole new ticket. It was actually cheaper to buy an all day unlimited Mobilis ticket (€8.55) than a round trip ticket (€10) and we made the most of it by riding all three of the tram lines – most of which are outside the City.

La Defense dominates the skyline

La Defense dominates the skyline over the Bois de Boulogne

The Navigo pass is a smart card with a photo – but you have to write your name on it too. They are very keen on that, though quite how it improves security I cannot say. We made a point of not carrying anything with us like passport or a driving licence which we did not actually need, simply because of the risk of loss to pickpockets. They are a plague of the system – and have been for many years. We saw a successful arrest of small gang, but the general view is one of cynicism that the legal process does little to deter what is a very profitable activity. Pickpockets can easily afford a ticket. Fare checks were apparent – we saw several in the time we were there both on buses and the metro, and each time there were people being given penalty notices.  I also learned, from reading a notice in a bus shelter, that there is a free transfer from bus to bus or bus to tram provided that you did not pay a cash fare to the operator, but cancelled a pre-purchased ticket on board. There is no transfer to or from the metro. I suppose this encourages use of Navigo for people who need to get a bus to access the metro. It is a proximity card, which means its use is quicker than the magnetic stripe Mobilis – or any current Translink media (other than the “flash pass”) although I saw a lot of people getting frustrated when the faregate refused to open when an entire purse was dumped on a reader.

Navigo is also useful to facilitate use of Velib. There is a daily membership charge, and while the first half an hour of the rental is still “free” after that the Euros start clicking up, so you do have to allow the system access to your credit card. I think it is bit odd that you cannot charge the day membership to Navigo as it is not much different to a metro or bus ride, but of course Velib is a City thing and fares are a regional issue (STIF – the Ile de France agency). So far, and so familiar.

No bikes

No bikes

Those holidays – and a spell of warm weather also revealed the shortcomings of Velib – quite apart from the tendency of users to wreck bikes which remain available for rent even though unrideable. More than once planned trips had to change due to the complete absence of bikes – or the complete inability of the system to take back bikes we were finished with, but could not find an open post to lock them back into. I must also report in all fairness that many Parisians do wear bike helmets – though few of them seemed to be Velib users.

Followers of my flickr stream will also be familiar now with the progress being made to extend T3, the tramway that runs along the Boulevards des Marechaux. These are the broad streets that are named after generals that were built over former city defences on the south and east sides of the city. There is, in fact, a disused railway line that they could have used, but they preferred on street running using an exclusive right of way on the median, which is often grassed.

Grassed track in boulevard median

T3 under construction: grassed track in boulevard median

There has been a lot of progress in providing bike lanes and bus lanes. I like the bike lanes that run counterflow on one way streets, and also those that are protected from moving traffic by the line of parked cars. I am less happy with the painted bike lanes on sidewalks at major intersections – though there is no argument that these are much safer than fighting motor vehicles on rond points, where priority is simply to those who risk most. We were witness to a number of altercations between bus drivers and white vans at such locations. Bus lanes do not provide a universal panacea to congestion. My partner developed a strong preference for the bus over the metro (you see more of the city that way) but even her loyalty was challenged by some remarkably extended travel times in what looked to me like grid lock – even though Paris streets are not in a grid! We walked a lot too – and found that Paris is, in many senses, quite a small place. The Bois de Boulogne to the Trocadero is about 20 minutes, even at the flaneur’s pace I adopt.

Exterior new train Line 5

Exterior new train Line 5

Interior Line 5

Interior Line 5

Paris has lots of transit, and is building more. Metro extension is being planned for Line 14 and Line 1 is being converted to driverless operation. Some of the oldest rolling stock is also being replaced with trains that have interconnections between cars (like the Canada Line) which ought to do more to relieve overcrowding. People still seem to prefer to stand near the doors rather than between the seats, which makes them more vulnerable to pickpockets and leads to extended dwell times at stations as people try to get on and off. Much more emphasis seems to be placed on improving commuting to and within the suburbs – with trams, tram trains (line 4) RER and the Transilien services. We made a few excursions on SNCF, and were very impressed by speed, punctuality and reliability of these services. Of course, in this part of the world passenger rail is almost completely neglected by comparison.

Nowhere gets it right all the time, and there is no monopoly on truth. No one transit system answers every need. But the balance between cars and other modes is different there than here, and is closer to what is needed now, and will be even more important in future. Paris does need to get tougher on cars, I think. They have some experiments with street closures. For instance around the canal St Martin at weekends. But that is still exceptional. For much of the day traffic in Paris is slow moving: parked cars and deliveries are a huge unresolved issue. After hours, parking still seems to be a free for all. While car drivers do seem to respect the need to leave garage entrances clear, pedestrian crossings and street corners are seen as perfect opportunities to park, once the traffic wardens have ended their shift.  There is also an extraordinary ability to get into spaces that no Canadian would even attempt.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Car Trouble – And How to Fix It

with 6 comments

Hat tip to Ron Richings who circulated this to the trans-action Google group

For more photos of successful urban places that have removed cars, go to the flickr group I created “Places without cars

Written by Stephen Rees

February 14, 2012 at 8:02 am

Modo’s Electric Vehicle

with 3 comments

I recently posted a Press Release from Modo about their new electric vehicle acquisition – a Nissan Leaf. I did not write much and I used their picture. Today I was pleased to go for a ride in the car and take some pictures of my own. I was going to change the original post but maybe a photo gallery with comments is a better way to go.

Nissan Leaf rear

I found the car in the parking lot north of City Hall. Modo has a row of reserved parking spaces here along the 10th Avenue side, but the EV charging station is roughly in the middle of the lot. Modo also organizes the City’s own car sharing program.

Mitsubishi MIEV

The City chose a Mitsubishi iMIEV for its program. I think if I had been parking this car, I would have backed into the stall, just to make the cable shorter and reduce the tripping hazard. In fact, if you have a choice, backing into a stall is always a better way to park, as most collisions in parking its occur due to people backing out.

EV sign

$1 an hour including juice seems a good deal to me.

Unlike the Modo stalls, anyone who has a plug in vehicle could use the station. And it is probably worth noting here that at 2pm on a Friday afternoon a lot of the Modo spaces were empty. (It may not be be strictly relevant but while I was there I saw a postie in uniform take a CAR2GO – which shows that Canada Post is perhaps a lot smarter than many people give them credit for.)

Leaf charge port in hood

The choice of the City Hall lot was based in part on Modo’s knowledge of their existing car use from it. The average length of trip is 14km. The Leaf we used was fully charged with a range of 140+ km available, so the probability of running out of juice for most users should not be an issue.

Charge Point

On my flickr stream I have been collecting images of EV charging stations. This one seems neat enough to me

Charge Point display detail

Modo members will find their charge card tucked into the driver’s sun shade. (By the way, if you are a Modo member and you have to refill the tank of an IC car, the cost of fuel (and a car wash) is reimbursed.)

Leaf being charged

You can see the empty line of reserved Modo parking spots behind the car.

The red Leaf with some red leaves

I was not a Modo member when I wrote this so I had to be content with the passenger, not the driver’s, seat. My impression is that this is a very comfortable, easy to drive and quiet vehicle. Electric cars can have quite startling performance simply because an electric motor has a great deal more low end torque than any IC motor. Since we were driving in mid afternoon city traffic, there was no speed or acceleration trial. The car does include a central display, which when I was in it either had the rear view camera (when backing up, which also included a parking guide) and when in forward motion a GPS real time map.

One of the great advantages of car share membership is the wide range of vehicles available. Not only do you not need to own a car, but you can get a vehicle that meets the needs of the trip. Car coop members make far fewer trips by car than car owners – because they do not have the perverse incentive that ownership provides (“I have spent all that money, I might as well get some use out of the thing”). You can have a coop membership and not feel that you have wasted money if you decide that its a nice day for a bike ride, or that transit would be more convenient for some trips. For that reason Modo concentrates on the City – high population density and frequent transit is a good mix for the coop. They are not trying to encourage car use, but recognizing that for some trips in our metropolis a car is the best choice. But it has to be a real choice, not one forced by circumstances.

Modo is trying to get into the suburbs. They would dearly love to have a car at Brighouse Station, for instance. Trouble is that most of the land devoted to parking in the centre of Richmond is private land. Indeed, as I have often lamented here, you are forced by the rules of the parking lots to take your car with you when you leave. You must not park in one place and then walk to complete several errands. That is one of the main reasons why traffic on Number 3 Road is always dreadful. Most of those drivers are making very short trips.

Modo also is getting more and more approaches from developers, who like to provide car coop memberships out of the condo fees and thus reduce the number of parking spaces they have to supply. Quite how we could retrofit existing condos, by getting strata councils to adopt a car coop space as part of the amenities – the same way they provide swimming pools and recreation rooms – presents an interesting challenge. But some of those spaces thus released could be chain link fenced bike compounds.

Car sharing is already good for the environment, due to the reduction of car trips. Making those trips zero emissions (and in BC most of our power comes from existing hydro) is a worthwhile bonus. And coop members get to try a EV before most people – geeky transportation bloggers excepted.

For what its worth, of the OEM EVs I have been in, the Leaf is by far the nicest. The Chevy Volt is not all electric – and it will be a long time before we see any hydrogen fuel cell cars here. Plug in – for hybrids or all electric – does seem to be the best choice for now. Trouble is at present there are only ten Leafs in Canada. Lucky Modo members, then.

UPDATE December 4, 2013

There is a blog post by another modo member on her experience of driving this car

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Modo’s First Electric Vehicle

with 2 comments

Modo, the car co-op, has added an all electric car to its fleet, and sent me the following press release. As it happens, I am not a member of that co-op, nor have they offered me the chance to drive the car. So I have very little to add to what appears below. Except to say that  for people who need to pick up and return a car near City Hall, I would be very interested to learn about their impressions of this car.

VANCOUVER, Nov. 1, 2011 /CNW/ – In a region where sustainability is an important measure of livability, Modo The Car Co-op has added its first fully electric vehicle (EV) to its fleet, a first for carsharing in Western Canada.

The not-for-profit carsharing organization was eager to offer an EV to its members once it could confirm that a parking spot with charging infrastructure would be available.

The City of Vancouver stepped up and offered Modo a spot with EV charging capacity at a City-owned EasyPark parking lot (453 West 10th Ave., north of City Hall) where an EV public charging pilot is currently underway.

Carsharing fits into the City’s Greenest City goals: every carsharing vehicle removes between 4 and 30 vehicles from the road, depending on the study. And an electricity-fuelled vehicle shared by many people further reduces the climate impact from driving cars.

Modo is grateful to have such strong collaboration with the City of Vancouver towards carsharing. “The City has been supportive from the start,” says Douglas Dunn, Modo’s Fleet + Operations Manager. “From offering advice on different EV models to providing the parking spot for our first EV, staff at the City have shown how committed they are to achieving their Greenest City targets.”

The EV, a 2012 Nissan LEAF, is now available to be booked by all Modo members.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Are we reaching ‘peak car’?

with 5 comments

The Globe and Mail looks at some data, and talks to some people, most of whom I have a lot of time for. I think the US data cited is pretty clear that they reached peak car some time ago. It has also been happening here

Australian researcher Jeff Kenworthy has found that driving in the nation’s [Canada] five largest cities, combined, declined by 1.7 per cent per capita from 1995 to 2006.

I suspect that when the 2011 data becomes available that trend will be seen to have accelerated. It is a great pity that much of the data we really need was suppressed by this government’s decision to cancel the 10% “long form” data which included journey to work.

We can argue about the reasons – because understanding that is important if we are to deal with the future properly. Enita Elashs’ assertion “it’s not just a product of high unemployment or skyrocketing fuel prices, as the pattern began to show up years before the 2008 financial crisis” is especially silly. For most people, real incomes have been in steady decline, for the last twenty years. Taxes on the wealthy have been greatly reduced, and jobs have been exported to the extent that manufacturing is now unusual in North American cities – and many European ones too. That is why it is not just Wall Street that is being occupied and it is not just Greece that might go bust soon. The events of 2008 were simply the peak of a steadily growing crisis. At one time, it was possible for families to have one income, reasonable accommodation, a decent standard of living and the justified expectation that if dreadful things happened to them (ill health, injury, unemployment) there was indeed a social safety net. All that has now gone, household income no longer keeps pace with inflation and, while income tax has been reduced, many inescapable fees and charges are now imposed, most with little or no recognition of ability to pay.  At the same time consumption taxes have increased significantly. People cannot afford to live as they once did.

Small wonder, then, that people have had to cut back on those things that they can do without. And driving is turning out to be one of them. People have become very creative at reducing the need for trips, and many things are changing in our society that require people to travel. I no longer go to the bank, or the video store – and the cinema visit is also much less frequent than in my youth. We are also seeing some change in the way that space is arranged – not nearly enough yet, and it is not happening anything like fast enough but places like Vancouver are showing that it is possible to have a good life and not own a car. As my last posting showed, there is a growing movement of people who are finding that being carless is a key to increasing happiness – and they are positively evangelical about it.

I am much less convinced that we have hit “the Marchetti Wall – the psychological barrier against spending more than about an hour getting to work or coming home.” For many places, housing affordability (or rather the lack of it) means some people are going to travel for longer than an hour, and not all of them find that a chore. In other cities (not this metropolitan area of course) it is possible to have a comfortable, long distance commute. And that commute time can be relaxing, or useful (catching up on reading or even working) as the commuter chooses. Not those forced to drive themselves, of course, though many seem to be trying and are reluctant to give it up – as the depressing data on texting and cell phone use attests. But many railway companies historically made significant profits by developing long distance commuter markets. The provision of club cars on the Long Island railway, for instance. Or the Pullman cars that served kippers for breakfast to commuters from Brighton to London. Every time BR brought in a new electrification scheme, the speed of travel increased and the commute distance increased with it. Partly that was due to the policy then of “decanting” population from Greater London – which has only been reversed in recent years with the redevelopment of what had once been the docks and the arsenal.

I have the suspicion (but no data at all) that the children of the boomers (Generation Y) were also the first to actively learn to dislike car travel, because they were strapped into car seats as infants, forced to ride in the back and often with nothing to see. Quite unlike the view you get from the front of a double decker bus, for instance. There were strapped in for the daily commute to school too – not allowed to walk or ride their bikes, due to fear of strangers. No wonder they don’t like cars much to begin with, and then find the whole process of learning to drive really stressful because of the genuine dangers and increasing road rage and intolerance of other drivers. They get their freedom when they get a transit pass or a bike, or get away to college. But they cannot afford a car and their student fees (which have increased exponentially). It is hard enough to balance the coursework and the need to work to earn some income part time, without shelling out most of it to the oil companies and car finance sharks.

the threat of separating people from their wheels (or taxing their fuel use) has long been one of the green movement’s biggest stumbling blocks

But also one of the most necessary things that has to happen if we are to have any kind of future at all on this planet. People do not like the truth, and prefer the more convenient lies that have been spun their way by the elites. That is not going to work indefinitely – and indeed seems to be ending now. Most people now accept that global warming is real and that human use of fossil fuels is responsible for much of it: and those that choose not to believe that are being shown to be deluded or deliberately misled. More entrepreneurs are realizing that sticking to old methods is not going to bring increasing rewards. The big three US based auto makers were the ones needing the bailouts – and all have significantly changed their model mix as a result.

The really innovative companies are those who are looking at not just smaller or more efficient cars, but ways to provide mobility and access to goods and services that do not require car ownership. Because once an individual finds out that it is not necessary to own a car, they find all kinds of other ways to spend what is a larger disposable income. It still includes a lot of travel, but travel that is actually enjoyable. When cars were new on the the market, “going for a drive” was one of their main uses: and people like Robert Moses built parkways to encourage that. It is that element which has been greatly reduced and could feasibly be eliminated.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm

On Broadway

with 16 comments

SFU City Programme “Designing Broadway” Monday, May 30, 7 – 9 pm, SFU at Harbour Centre

Broadway, extending across almost the entire city, is not only an important street for walking, living, shopping and work but is also one of Vancouver’s busiest transit corridors.  How can we make it better?

Allan Jacobs, former Director of City Planning for San Francisco and author of Great Streets, and Elizabeth Macdonald, Professor of Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley, will speak to best practices in street design and provide advice on the design of Broadway and how it could be a ‘Really Good’ Street, if not a ‘Great Street.’

In his introduction Gordon Price mentioned that the evening was sponsored by the City of Vancouver, in the same way that they had sponsored the recent presentation on the viaducts

I have quoted the SFU blurb above since the two introductory speakers were not on the programme. The value of these contributions is, I think, debatable but the effect was that they both took up time that would normally have been available for discussion. By 9pm I had to leave – and a lot of people decided to go before that.  So I did not get all the discussion points

City Engineer Peter Judd
Spoke about the City’s Transportation plan update. The original targets of the last plan were said to be optimistic but they were exceeded early on. Both jobs and population in the City are trending up, but both automobile use and miles driven are trending down. These trends are due to land use changes. Transportation planning has to be done in the context of land use, transit and economic  development. We live in a time of change. “Today’s kids” have a different set of values fort hem transportation is not all about owning a car. The City is now consulting about what the vision of the future should be – talkvancouver.com

Broadway is the second highest concentration of jobs in the region. There is a distinct change in the nature of the street at Arbutus divide. East of Arbutus traffic flows are heavier – 30,000 at Cambie  (Knight is 40,000)  six lanes wide – and Broadway is also the only continuous truck route north of 41st. There is heavy transit use 100,000 passengers per day which is similar to the Canada Line and double the Millennium Line. He also noted that the  expectations of Canada Line use were quickly exceeded. There is a significant amount of demand for transit that cannot currently be expressed due to capacity constraints of the system. Eats of Arbutus it is a long way to cross the street and there are only limited opportunities for amenities such as public art or street seating.

West of Arbutus, Broadway is very different. There are awnings over the sidewalk  and it is seen to be a place to have your business. There are the same number of transit trips but only  20 to 25,000 vehicle trips per day.

In recent years the number of cars entering the city declined 5% (downtown 20%). In the past 15 years of growth has been accommodated on walk, bike and cycle, and New York is similar. We have been able to support a rate of economic growth that could not otherwise have been accommodated by automobile.

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver

Heading West On Broadway In Vancouver by Arlene Gee on flickr

On Central Broadway the mode split is more similar to the rest of the region. 21% of trips are on transit but improvements to transit are the most essential as there are currently more than 2,000 pass-ups at peak hour. If we had the same mode split on Broadway as downtown the automobile volumes would fall. It would then be entirely doable to have parking on street, with bus bulges, sidewalk widening and all the rest. Rapid Transit would make that possible – and make it a better street.

Lance Berelowitz – is currently working for the City as a consultant to update policies for the Central Broadway area. He read from the City’s Terms of Reference for his work and it mentions Great Street, a vibrant public realm, and community consultation later this year. the study has a 30 year horizon and a policy decision is expected in 2012.

Broadway is both extraordinary and very vexing. It is unique: it is the only continuous east west route across the City and into Burnaby (where it is called Lougheed Highway) and is wider at 99′ than most arterials (not the 66′ typical of Vancouver). It is the  pre-eminent east west corridor, with significant buildings along it and its intersections with all the north south routes are important nodes. The opportunity of rapid transit of some kind is that it will “take the heat off an over-subscribed piece of real estate”. What Broadway might look like with rapid transit is currently what Translink is studying. “If you get rapid transit underground, you no longer need the B Line.” Therefore it is possible to re-engineer the street to attract more people, and better buildings. Public realm is underwhelming. Its lack of attraction stems from the absence of street trees. The linden trees in Kitsilano west of MacDonald, saved by public protest shows that substantial trees can survive on Broadway . The built form is spotty at best. The buildings are  old and tired and many are only 1 or 2 stories high. This is simply not high enough relative to the great width of the street.

Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth McDonald – Cityworks

On Broadway – a possible future Great Street

We can take more lessons from you than you can learn from us – you are doing so well.  “They talk about Great Streets but they never give any damn dimensions.” We measure streets: for instance  – how far is it between doorways? On Queen Street in Toronto they are 16′ apart. We also count people as well as cars.

Broadway is many streets over its length – but it is not a great walking street. Ultimately we believe it will be the main street of the city.

Central Broadway  [I need to point out here that he mainly showed many pictures, and it will take me some time to research and find illustrations. He relied heavily on people seeing what he was talking about rather than explaining it.]

There are some common physical and designable characteristics of great streets. The first is that they are places where people to walk with some leisure –  a street in Rome, Queen St TO, Robson St, Davie St were all given as examples. On Strøget in Copenhagen they counted a pedestrian flow of 16 people per metre per minute. The greatest flow is found on Avenida Florida in Buenos Aires at  24 – which is probably the maximum. They noted also that people were strolling back and forth – they were not necessarily travelling through the street, but enjoying it.

“Be cautious about standards – I challenge them all the time”

The best streets are comfortable: he showed a picture of a street in San Francisco where the wind [vortex] created by tall buildings blew people over. We need physical comfort – shade when its hot, sun when its cool – and that is the role of [deciduous] trees.

Autumn On Broadway, 2005

Autumn On Broadway, 2005 by Kurrs on flickr

The best streets are defined by a sense of place, they have boundaries. The ancients understood this and had a rule that the building height had to be at least half the width of the street. He showed Brooklyn brownstones at 4 storeys which do that. “If the buildings don’t do it, trees can.”

Transparency – the ability to see and know by sight what it is behind is what gives definition to the street, and creates a feeling of safety. You don’t get it with the Nieman Marcus store in San Francisco [picture of blank wall] whereas Macy’s on Union Square invites you in. Glass doesn’t always do it – black glass creates Darth Vader buildings:[you think] “nothing good can be happening in there!” But he also showed a narrow alley in Venice with high walls on both sides where trees and branches were visible over the top of the walls – this also creates a sense of comfort, knowing that there is a garden there

Buildings that are complementary – not all the same. Princes St Edinburgh

Quality and maintenance – a control on fly bill posters, clean windows,

Qualities that engage the eyes – cornices “ins and outs” – which creates shadow lines that attract the eyes – the eyes have to move

Trees give you the greatest bang for the buck. Ideally at  15 -35 ft spacing – and come to the corners – do not be deterred by the claimed need for clear sight lines for car drivers at corners

  • many buildings rather than few
  • marked beginnings and endings
  • places along the way – he illustrated this with a small square that the people took over – “mini parks” often no more than one or two parking spots taken over
  • density
  • special design features – fountains in Nuremberg

Elizabeth MacDonald spoke about Balanced Streets

Balance is needed between

  • different types of movement
  • movement and in place
  • hardscape and greenscape

There are many competing interests: success is when no-one gets everything but everyone gets a lot,  and the public realm serves all interests.

We can get balance between modes at either the street level or at a city-wide level. Not all streets need be the same but no streets should be sacrificed to fast movement. Some streets should be for transit, bikes or walking

She illustrated this by showing the various Amsterdam transport networks.  One example was the IJBurg “linear tramway district”. They chose not to give vehicles priority.

Portland OR is well balanced downtown because all the streets have a narrow right of way with short blocks that limit streets. they have also introduced curbless shared streets – Teachers Park

She showed a Paris shopping street with mixed traffic where pedestrians outnumber cars. There are movable bollards that only residents and local businesses can open – and they drive at walking pace.

Textures are used in Copenhagen to define car, pedestrian and bike areas. “Everybody young and old rides bikes because they feel so safe”
The new cycle track on Hornby Street achieves the dame thing with hardscape. There are a few aesthetic issues but it is a great idea and safer than an on- street bike lane.

San Francisco is  reducing lane widths, and removing parking and turning pavement into parks. They have created street parks in former parking places. Because they were deemed temporary they were easy to do:  then they become permanent as people show they like them and use them.
In The Castro there are curved streetcar tracks through a park taken from the street – the curve limits the speed of the streetcars in any event.
They have made a number of commercial streets better with the use of narrow medians with planting

Portland green streets – stormwater runoff issue – vegetative swales

Comprehensive rebalancing – SF Better Streets plan – common framework –

Rebalancing big streets

International Blvd Oakland CA 100′ row – 72′ roadway – but is also the neighbourhood shopping street
Fruitvale BART station – moved surface parking to create transit village – traffic calming – new plaza – centre median – pedestrian refuge and slows down traffic but appropriate for neighborhood

Octavia Blvd SF – removal of freeway at Market Street – Hayes Valley –
133′ wide – rebuild frontage – in some places lots less than 15′ deep – could be student housing or other temporary things. Narrow side access roads with a mountable curb to meet the demands of the fire department. A pedestrian realm created in the median
Park at end of street – Patricia’s Green – named after a local activist on freeway removal

Pacific Blvd Vancouver – a key policy in the city Transportation plan was to keep current capacity: that meant that on Pacific the City engineers identified excess roadway. There were to be three different lengths: two outer parts with “one-sided multiway boulevards” and a central area where 122′ of asphalt was replaced by two 25′ roadways, a parking lane “flex zone” and central median with trees. There was also to be a bus lane and 16′ side access roads to keep speeds down. [I was there recently and simply did not recognize any of these features – so I have changed the tense of what I wrote.She must have been talking about what they proposed not what was built.]

Broadway

busy broadway

Busy Broadway by Boris Mann on flickr

In its current state its is “snaggle tooth, haphazard, trees don’t add up to anything, too narrow sidewalks”. It is a bad pedestrian realm overall but some bus stops have been made better with wider sidewalks due to greater set backs of the buildings.

“It can’t be everything”

Discussion

[Question inaudible] Tomorrow there will be a design charette with city staff

Pedestrian realm should incorporate porous surfaces to deal better with surface water issues

Q: Viable street trees

A: There are lots of ways – importance of not letting the budget be cut

Q: Broadway bike route is on 10th – transit is the key – if we don’t have direction on [the type of] Rapid Transit [surface or underground] we can’t do design

A: Agreed – we will look at both alternatives – going underground frees up the right of way for other uses – and it gets people excited about the possibilities

Q:  Why don’t we build cheap housing for students at UBC to reduce need for travel?

[Celia Brauer hit the nail on the head with that one. It is the land use at UBC that’s screwed up – lots of housing but only at market prices and hardly any for students. There was, of course, no response]

Q:  Bikes – helmet rule – Copenhagen and Amsterdam don’t need them.

A – depends on speed of moving vehicles but at 25mph it becomes lethal – it depends on the degree of separation of bikes from cars

Q: very concerned about seniors in wheelchairs, scooters

A concerned about paving and curb cuts

————————

There was further discussion after 9pm – hopefully some of those who stayed might fill that in as comments. Gordon Price was asking about trucks as I left.

My reaction was that while we looked at a lot of places that have either been well designed or managed to develop as civilised places (i.e. they kept the cars under control and allowed people to use the pubic realm) there was not much that emerged about what could or should happen on Broadway, simply because the rapid transit question remains unresolved.

While writing this I learned that the Evergreen Line has been put off once again. And, of course, that is the first priority for rapid transit in this region. Vancouver is quite right to point out how bad things are on Broadway. The problem that I see is that it is much worse everywhere else in the region, and we are currently busy pointing fingers between levels of government. Having totally hobbled municipal government, the province has the chutzpah to blame them for every delay. And all the talk about new sources of revenue seems to be just that. Talk, not action.

The last time I heard talk of Great Streets here, the context was No 3 Road. There, the overhead ALRT guideway seems to guarantee failure. Though the height limit on buildings doesn’t help. It is still a place I avoid as much as possible. Something I learned when I came to Richmond, and has yet to be disproved. You certainly do not see anyone walking at some leisure there!

Broadway, Vancouver

Broadway, Vancouver by Sarah@Liverpool on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

May 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

Victoria firm develops renewable fuel

with one comment

The Times Colonist has a story about alt fuels this morning – their headline adds ” with fraction of the emissions from gasoline”. Apparently it comes from renewable sources – but what exactly is not specified – and can be mixed with regular fuel and used in current engines without modification. So since they mention renewables that presumably means less net greenhouse gas emissions than a fossil fuel, which a Good Thing. And the route they have chosen to go avoids the major pitfalls of most alt fuels which require either modified engines or different fuel dispensing systems – and, frequently, both.

Much will depend on price of course – and the, so far, mysterious source. There are many other toiling in this field  – algae being popular and a better choice than grains otherwise used as food. Fortunately gasoline is going to continue to get more expensive – as the market is betting that way now too even though there are no actual shortages at present. So that means that even the big oil companies are starting to look around for ways to make what they have go further and last longer.

But – yes there is always a but – the problem of the car is not just what you put in its tank. Indeed, I begin to think that is the least of our immediate concerns, since car dependency has brought so much misery in its wake. We were persuaded to drive everywhere and told this was the ultimate freedom only to find we had lost most of the other choices in the process, and become sick, lost many to collisions and seen the places where we live transformed into parking lots. The real choice now is we either ween ourselves off the automobile by creating walkable places – or we continue to pursue the impossible dream that we have never realized in the last sixty or more years.

Alt fuels like this one may not actually help very much – because they allow us to continue with the illusion that auto mobility can be made sustainable. Yet it is clear that in places that have tried to make it possible to drive everywhere end up choking themselves on traffic.

We know that when people have a choice, they will begin to turn away from cars and auto oriented places. Indeed some say that is already observable with the success of downtown Vancouver. The new urbanists are showing that there can be a wider variety of placemaking – it does not have to be high rises around subway stations. Though we always knew that worked because every major world city already had that  – though many took a while before they realized that mixed land use in their central places was a Really Good Idea too. The cities that had the sense to hold to streetcars – or to put them back – found success too. As did the places that developed bike lanes and concentrated on pedestrian safety and places to people watch. Not exactly a complicated paradigm to get ahold of – but one which entrenched commercial interests are still doing their best to resist.

Suburbs are a challenge – but were commonplace long before widespread car ownership. Retrofits now underway across the US are starting to show  what can work commercially as well as offer hope for a more sustainable future.

For the record I want to re-iterate that while I know that we need to develop transit – and actually I think the more types of transit (local shuttles, bus, rapid bus, lrt, metro, commuter rail) the better – there will still be cars. New models of operation like car sharing and car pooling are developing – and there have been a few false starts. The velib/bixi model works with bikes – if someone picks up the tab for our bad behaviour – and will probably work better with car share schemes – I look forward to learning more about that next week. We already know that people who belong to car coops use transit and ride bikes more than those who own vehicles. That may say more about the demographic and location of early adopters. Car sharing is not yet main stream – and seems to be stuck in the city centres where there are plenty of other options already and any car use should be curtailed, if we are to avoid living in a place that works like Granville Island. It has train tracks but no trains. And the nearest transit service is nowhere near where people want to be.

Granville Island

switch

At the very least, the suburban American malls (like Bellingham) that put the bus stop at the building entrance – and not way out beyond the limits of the parking lot  – show they know what has to be done.

WTA 844 Bellingham WA 2008_1003

Vancouver, New Westminster, the City of North Vancouver  seem to be determined to say “no more” to the car – they simply do not have the space. Surrey obviously wants to do something different now to what is has been doing and poor old Coquitlam and Port Moody have been desperate to get on the bandwagon but are stuck waiting for SkyTrain. Meanwhile highway #1 is being widened and the SFPR is taking over the bog and the farmland – protest today. I doubt the elite will even notice. Everywhere else is car oriented now and has little hope of anything more than marginal change when radical action is needed.

We do not live in a society that embraces planning. We like to think that somehow the market sorts out optimum solutions. Nonsense of course, but one which still seems to attract the voters. We have been social engineering for years – and mostly for the benefit of a few large corporations, who did their best to persuade us that this was also good for us – even though it was always manifest that it was anything but. And I do not expect any of our governments to get any better at picking winners – or even make much effort when there is so much else to distract us. The present fleet of cars will be around for at least another twenty years – and the current short terms supply problems from Japan will doubtless be sorted out and provide a short window of opportunity for other, less skilled auto makers and sellers. The turnover rate for our built environment is even slower. I know it seems to be rapid but that is an illusion. We just tend to notice the new bits more.

So two cheers for Novaera. And hope that a few more pols will notice how many people are looking for REAL change – and have not been voting very much recently.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Congestion Pricing

with 8 comments

From Streetfilms

 

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2011 at 9:42 am