Stephen Rees's blog

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

Buses: you can’t do that here!

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This is a screenshot of my tweetdeck right now.

Increasing bus service has worked in Seattle and Auckland but could not possibly work in West Vancouver. Of course, they might change their minds tonight, in which case this post will vanish.

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So I looked her up on Twitter and found this tweet which, at 09:13 on Tuesday April 16 seems to be her most recent one

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But some people will prefer this version “West Van says no to B-Line past Park Royal” North Shore News 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 15, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Transportation

Opinion: It’s time to give the West Coast Express the big expansion it deserves

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West Coast Express (BCVX) 906

The long title comes from an article published yesterday in the Daily Hive written by Ian Ius. He has had a brainwave which had me wondering why no-one seems to have proposed this before – as far as I know. The short version is that while WCE would be hard to expand along the Burrard Inlet, it would be possible to run an all day, every day, service from Coquitlam out to the Valley with the Evergreen Line providing connections to the rest of the system. It is worth your time to click on that link and read the whole thing.

I thought at first I would not have much to add, and I apologise if you have read some of this from me before. I make no claims to originality here.

I have always advocated a better transit link between Surrey City Centre and Coquitlam Centre. Yes you can do that by SkyTrain now, but with two transfers and an indirect route. I think a better service could be provided by a nonstop direct bus on Highways 1 and 7 over the Port Mann Bridge. The new low floor express buses would do nicely.


Photo by UltraBuizel 10 on flickr Creative Commons Licensed

The other thought that occurs to me is that there is a very good example of the integration of heavy rail passenger service with freight in Chicago where the Metra Services run on several Class 1 railroad lines. The most intensive freight plus Metra route is the BNSF “Race Track” out to Aurora Illinois from Union Station. This has multiple tracks and a very advanced signalling system. Sadly, Metra service on Sundays is only once every two hours, but there are plenty of freight trains that pass in that time.


There is also a commuter rail system the serves the Montreal metropolitan region, some of it electrified. I have yet to experience that. Which, by the way, is also the case with West Coast Express. Not that I haven’t tried, but I just couldn’t come up with a way to make it work when I was travelling out to Abbotsford for evening meetings.


Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2019 at 11:30 am

Oakridge Development

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Walking through the mall this morning I passed this illustration of what the new mall development will look like. I then crossed the 41st Ave and Cambie Street intersection to take a photo from the diagonally opposite corner for comparison purposes. You will note that the rendering adopts a much higher viewpoint than street level.

fullsizeoutput_292bfullsizeoutput_292aThe rendering also eliminates the overhead wires for the 41st Avenue trolleybus.

Preparatory work for the development is already underway, hence the traffic control officer and the bollards in the street.

If you also follow me on flickr you will already have seen the following photos there. The exhibit is still open in the mall as part of the marketing effort for the condos.

Oakridge Exhibit

Oakridge Exhibit

Oakridge Exhibit

Note the brewing vessels top centre.

Oakridge Exhibit

The view below shows the proposed brewpub

Oakridge Exhibit

This will not be like the usual mall food court. No franchisees allowed. Guest chefs from all over will be showing off their skills here.

Oakridge Exhibit

This is a sample of the Green Walls that will be a feature of the new buildings.

Oakridge Exhibit

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Transit Line Usage

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Translink usage diagram

This diagram was created by Mark Pope who posted it to the Facebook group Expo Line Memes for TransLink Oriented Teens (ELMTOT). He has given me permission to use it here and he has also provided links to the original data and his spreadsheet.

This is a very good way to understand how the transit system works, and changes one’s perception of the relative importance of the lines. I think the thing that surprised me the most was the difference between the 99 B-Line and the Millennium Line – and also how ridership quickly tapers off on the west side of Vancouver.

West Coast Express is not shown but had 2.3 million boardings in 2017 compared to 105m on the combined Expo and Millennium Lines.

I am not going to close comments, but I think it would be a good idea, if there are any questions, to ask them on the Facebook group rather than here.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Transportation

Equinox Full Moon Spring

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We are really lucky right now that the spell of dry weather is also accompanied by clear skies. We simply miss out on a lot of widely publicised astronomical events due to cloud cover. Not this week.

Sakura - blossom

The warmth has also started the blossom/pollen season
Sakura - blossom

Kits Beach spring break panorama

This stitched panorama is huge: it is worth clicking on the image to see it at the original size. It being spring break there were quite a few people out at Kits Beach.

Large seal

And the seals at Jericho




Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Posted in photography

Not another award!

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The Daily Hive reports “Vancouver has been ranked as the second best city for public transit in Canada.”

While some residents (particularly transit users) may be surprised, the new ranking comes from Redfin, a tech-powered real estate brokerage.

You have to do a bit of digging but by following the links you do finally get the methodology of the transit score

“The value of a route is defined as the service level (frequency per week) multiplied by the mode weight (heavy/light rail is weighted 2X, ferry/cable car/other are 1.5X, and bus is 1X) multiplied by a distance penalty.”

So basically they use the schedule to determine frequency. Not actual performance.

Note too that even if you had a bus system that had exclusive right of way, or signal priority and lots of bus lanes, it would still score less than rail – no matter if that is grade separated or in mixed traffic. That’s how “modern streetcars” get such a good press, I guess. Just pay no attention to video shot from a bus in Boston whipping past congested traffic. Or to Jarrett Walker who is adamant that the choice of steel or rubber wheels is not really significant.

For the actual experience of using two of Translink’s “high frequency” routes – see the previous post.

The reason I groan at these awards is the effect they can have on Management. Far too often they did not want to hear anything that sounded like criticism – or the need for improvement. What they wanted staff to be were cheer leaders. “We’re Number 1” (in a contest that was no contest at all) was their mantra. I think there has been some change in recent years.

While I’m reposting video from Twitter take a look at this one from Brent Toderian. This is a modern light rail system in Nice, France crossing the Place Massena – and using its batteries. Elsewhere in the city it raises its pantograph to collect power, but what struck me about this delightful urban space is the total absence of overhead wires. While the trolleybuses we now have here can operate on their batteries, it is not an everyday occurrence because the bus is then much slower, has a short range and requires someone to lower and raise each pole individually. So to divert the  #14,  #16 and #17 during Millennium Line extension construction under Broadway new wire is now being strung along 12th Avenue.

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Diagram from Translink via the Facebook group ELMTOT

Hopefully the next batch of electric buses that get bought for Translink will have better off wire capabilities.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Report: Transit agencies need new data sources to reverse ridership decline

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The headline is taken from an article in SmartCitiesDive about a report by KPMG (which you can get as a PDF if you want) but the TL:DR version is

“By analyzing three cities — Denver, Houston and San Diego — KPMG found access to transit stops is not the problem. Instead, the report says “current fixed-route bus service has not kept up with consumer preferences or been responsive to shifts in value of time perceptions.”

Yes transit decline is a problem in US cities. Except that Seattle has done pretty well – by expanding its bus services.

More and better data is always a good idea – but in this case I am not convinced. Transit ridership here is doing better, mostly because Translink seems to have got over its funding difficulties. But that doesn’t mean we are really tackling  the fundamental problem – which is usually summarized as “transit sucks”. It takes us from where we aren’t to where we don’t really want to be, stopping frequently on the way.

Just as an example here is a trip that I have had to make by transit in recent history

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Straightforwardly transit nearly door to door – short walk each end – via the #16 and the #9 – both reasonably frequent trolleybus routes. These are the predicted travel times: the actual time of my recent trips was usually longer: 45 to 54 minutes. Because of the transfer I have stood at bus stops for at least 10 minutes – often longer. One day I managed to hit the operator changeover twice – so I was sitting on buses while the new operator went through all the necessary steps of setting mirrors, seat, log-in to multiple systems. During the journey there was the usual delay while encumbered passengers with luggage, strollers and powered wheelchairs negotiated getting on and off. Since these are such common experiences, I wonder that Google does not factor them into the predicted travel time. Getting on the #9 headed out to UBC yesterday afternoon, the operator told us to get on by the centre door as it would take someone extra time to get off (an unheard of procedure). The bus was so crowded I could not actually see why that might have been.

Here are the comparisons for driving, walking and cycling for the same trip

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Note that in this case Oak Street traffic is bad – at the time I did that query it was snowing.

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Walking is more direct and not a great deal different to transit in travel time. Though that crossing of Granville Street midblock can be a scary experience.


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So cycling that way would be faster than the Greenway: I have no idea what bike parking is like at VGH – but coming back would be slower due to the change in elevation.

I think that it would be possible for transit to be improved in general simply by operating more frequent services, but also by making transit more reliable through well known traffic management techniques, to shift priorities away from moving and parking cars to more efficient modes. This is also known locally as political suicide. Actually I might withdraw that if the West Vancouver B Line gets approved. But as long as the car is one third of the trip time of transit, which would most people choose?  And do we actually need to hire KPMG to keep telling us that?


1     These maps came from Google. There is now academic research on how these time estimates compare to Uber data.

2     I recommend getting the Transit app for your phone. The latest version showed me that if I got the Canada Line from downtown and transferred to the #25 at King Ed I would get home much faster than waiting for the #16 (no transfer).

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Transportation