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

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

A Guest Post by Professor Patrick Condon

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To appear in the Tyee

Dear Surrey Mayor McCallum.

Congratulations on your recent return to the mayor’s office in my favorite city, Surrey BC. I read where you are wasting no time to capitalize on the mandate granted you (by the 41 percent of the 33 percent of eligible voters that voted you in) to throw out 10 years of transit planning by former and current officials throughout the region. You have successfully trashed their plan for a 10 km surface light rail serving your Gildford and Newton Town Centers in favour of a 4 km Expo line extension to – Fleetwood?

I know you said during the election that you could build Skytrain all the way to Langley City Centre down the Fraser HIghway for the same money as the light rail plan, but sadly Translink and the Mayor’s Council dont agree. They say that since Skytrain costs twice as much per km as surface light rail, the 1.65 billion already allocated will only get you through Green Timbers Park (not a lot of riders there!) to Fleetwood (I bet the owners of the Fleetwood Park strip mall are overjoyed!).

Premier Horgan and PM Trudeau have already said they are still happy to fund the original plan but will not give you one dime extra for the switch to SKytrain. Worse still, the Mayors Council just voted to make you pay back the 56 million already spent on the light rail proposal, which ironically is about the same cost as the Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library, project you scrapped for lack of funds. Wow. That’s what i call a pretty bad day for sure.

But fear not, I can help. What if I told you that there is a way to serve Scot Road, West Surrey, North Delta, Newton Town Center, Cloverdale and Langley City Centre by rail for way less than the cost of the 4 km “FLeetwood Skytrain Express” (as some wags are calling it).

Wait, it gets better! What if I told you that you could also be a hero to the folks in Abbotsford and Chilliwack by extending the line all the way out to serve them too, still for the same money!

Wait! It gets better still! After all that there would still be enough to put a tram line down King George Highway to Newton Town Centre andover to Guildford so you won’t have to pay back that 65 million!

Interested? Here’s how.

For 75 years BC Electric served the locations listed above along a track that is still in use. It’s the old BC Electric Interurban Line. It turns out that the line was never sold, only leased, to CP rail. The conditions of the lease call for the return of the line to the Province if ever passenger rail service were to restart.

Better still, the lease also stipulates that if the frequency of rail service is such that the rail must be double tracked, CP must pay the costs! What can be better than a free double track ROW?

What about vehicles? Well you could run catenary lines on the route for an electric train, but they cost a ton.

Fortunately there is a simpler and far cheaper solution. Alstom Corporation , a global transit company that now supplies transit vehicles to Ottawa and Toronto, just launched a hydrogen powered transit vehicle that can be had for less than the cost of a handful of skytrain cars. And here is maybe the best part. Hydrogen fuel is manufactured right at the BC Hydro facility in Surrey . So the project supports the growth of local green jobs for Surrey too!

The concerns you have voiced about LRT vehicles getting slowed down in traffic and adding to congestion (which are misplaced I would argue, but admittedly strongly felt by some) go away with this plan since the track is in its own ROW for the whole distance with very few at grade crossings. And at grade crossings can be controlled by crossing gates (as is done for hundreds of commuter rail and tram/train systems in North America) or by simply slowing down the train to obey signals as they do in Portland OR. for the MAX Line tram/train.

More good news. This plan has already been studied. The engineering and business case was developed not too long ago in the “Proposal for Rail for the Valley” by Leewood Projects of Surrey UK (yet another Surrey tie in!). They estimated that it would cost around .6 billion for track, vehicles, stations and catenary for a commuter rail tram/train system of over 90 km! A tiny fraction of the cost per km of SKytrain and a 100 year transportation solution for the entire South of Fraser urban region.

That study was conducted in 2010 so it will cost more now. But the study assumed catenary infrastructure not needed if you use hydrogen power and track reconstruction which may not be a cost borne by you (as mentioned above) so who knows, costs could be less.

Worst case, let’s say the cost is a cool billion. You still have $600 million left to play with. And if you want to get the other mayors off your back you could strip the bells and whistles out of the light rail proposal you hate (but the Board of Trade desperately wants) and do a Portland Oregon style tram to Guildford and Newton for less than 60 million per km.

Or maybe you can mollify the other mayors, the board of trade, and your local environmentalists with a hydrogen powered bus rapid transit to Newton and Guildford for even less.

In short, you have many ways to make Surrey the centre of a thriving metropolitan “South of Fraser Kingdom” rather than the dead end of the Vancouver Skytrain line (and get yourself out of what looks like a tight spot politically). Now that you have successfully blown up the whole regional transit plan I am sure you can see the benefits of grabbing this fantastic life preserver, and give Surrey and the whole South of Fraser region the futuristic transit it deserves.

Your humble servant and Surrey booster
Professor Patrick M. Condon.Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 11.30.47 AM

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2018 at 11:34 am

The urban mobility revolution | Peter Ladner

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 15, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

Regional Transportation Strategy

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This graphic came to me via Twitter. I think it needs to be seen in a larger format

Mayors Council strategy

Written by Stephen Rees

December 13, 2018 at 10:26 am

Posted in Transportation

Crowdfundraising: A new type of bus shelter

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NEWS-Nov20-Treecanopy_1

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

We need physical separation

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I have been on Twitter this morning and there is a picture of a mother and daughter riding their bikes on the sidewalk.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 1.44.24 PM

Seeing that reminded me of the pictures that I had taken outside the place we were staying at in Chicago’s Loop district (downtown). The bike lane is a bit better in Chicago than North Van but it is still just paint. And as the three pictures show a lot of green paint does no more to deter cars from entering the lane than that thin white line with the occasional bike logo. Anyone riding a bike down East Washington St would have to swerve around those parked cars putting them in line for a potential collision with moving vehicles.

If you look closely at the two left hand images you can see in the previous block a big bus shelter outside the bike lane providing excellent separation.  For the 60 feet length of a bus anyway.

For more see “Walkable City Rules” (see previous post) Part XII Build Your Bike Network especially Rules 58 and 59. Best practices are outlined in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. 

By the way if you like those cars on green bikelane pictures, follow Streetsblog New York (@StreetsblogNYC) on Twitter for more.

StreetsblogNYC

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 8, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Posted in bicycles, Transportation

Tagged with

Book Review: Walkable City Rules

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101 Steps to Making Better Places by Jeff Speck

Published by Island Press ISBN 978 1 61091 898 5 Paperback

Walkable City Rules

I was really delighted to get an actual book, as opposed to an ebook. And this one really ought to be on the desk of every city planner, urbanist and advocate. It was a genuine pleasure to open it, and get about halfway through and see so many things that this blog had been getting right for so long. Speck is writing for an American audience – and even cites Vancouver as a good example for transit provision. Which tells you much about how dreadful most US transit systems are, rather than how good ours is. As I am sure you are all tired of reading now, I do not think we ought to spend much time patting ourselves on the back, but rather taking a serious look at how other places – most of which are not on this continent – do things. And of course it is nice to see Rule 20 “Create a  twenty year land use and transportation plan …” illustrated with a graphic of the Translink 2040 Transit Network Vision for the North Shore. And of course Jarret Walker’s “Human Transit” gets much of the credit for best practices.

It was not until we got to the nitty gritty of street design and especially parking that I saw a parting of the ways, but that is, I think, because most of my experience of these issues was gained in London. And some time ago at that. So there are some departures here from what I have been writing about roundabouts, on street parking and four way stops  that need to be reconsidered. But that is because what Speck is writing about is how to make the urban areas of most of the USA better in the 21st century. Which is a different kettle of fish to what we did to improve parking enforcement in Central London in the 1980s.

What I did notice was that I kept looking up from what I was reading this afternoon and quoting it to my partner. Because a lot of it is highly quotable and some of it counterintuitive. Which is what you would expect.

I was also very impressed with the Press Release that accompanied the invitation to request a review copy. I went back to that to find out the price of the book as it is not on the cover: or on the release either! (Actually $30 cover $24 for a Kindle version and you could also pick up “Walkable City” if you haven’t got that – which you should – for $8.40 Kindle,  $16 cover for paperback. I got these prices from amazon.com – I probably should have used amazon.ca but in any event I would much rather you bought a hard copy from a real Book Shop. Because.) But all this quote is simply lifted from the PR blurb, which I heartily endorse.

I’m sure you know planner and designer Jeff Speck, who has become a go-to resource on making cities more livable, sustainable, and walkable since the publication of Walkable City, but if you don’t, I wanted to put his his follow-up book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, on your radar. It has just been published and answers the question: how do we actually make cities walkable?

With this book, Speck delivers an actionable guide on walkability that details the practical steps needed to usher in an era of renewed street life. Bolstered with examples from cities around the US, he lays out 101 rules for remaking cities. Some of his top ten rules include:

  1. Don’t Mistake Uber for Transit: Support public transportation in the face of ride-hailing.
  2. Cut the Extra Lanes: When lanes are not needed for traffic, all they do is cause speeding.
  3. Expand the Fire Chief ’s Mandate: Shift the focus from response time to public safety.
  4. Use Roundabouts with Discretion: They are extremely safe; they’re just not all that urban. — kind of feel like DC needs this one
  5. Remove Centerlines on Neighborhood Streets: When a street loses its centerline, speeds drop approximately 7 mph.
  6. Bag the Beg Buttons and Countdown Clocks: Pedestrians shouldn’t have to ask for a light.
  7. Don’t Let Terrorists Design Your City: The anti-terror landscape is a bad investment.
  8. Dream Big: Great cities still need great visions

Other rules relate to tactical urbanism, congestion pricing, parking, transit, street design, cycling, and others. Jeff has filled it with proven strategies for success and promises these rules can bring the most effective city-planning practices to bear in communities.

If that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing I can write will move you, so you go back to your Hummer and read the Sun instead.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Transportation