Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Broadway

Election Impact on Transportation

with 12 comments

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.16.55 PM

I got a call this morning from Global BC, inviting my opinions for their live cable news show which only goes to Shaw customers. So if you have some other way of getting tv, this will help fill the gap. Gordon Price was in the same coat closet sized “studio” ready to follow me, for another show and the same subject. While he was talking to me I heard the feed from Burnaby in my earpiece, where Keith Baldrey was playing down the likelihood of a Broadway Subway. He said that Christy Clark has no interest at all in funding a project for a constituency that had rejected her but would probably be very willing to help Surrey get LRT. Oddly, Gordon was pointing out almost simultaneously that former Mayor Diane Watts would be able to do some of the heavy lifting for the same project in Ottawa. So no wonder Linda Hepner seems so confident that she can deliver an LRT for Surrey by 2018.

What I had to say was that she seems to be implementing Plan B – what do we do if the referendum fails? – before Plan A had even been tried. Plan A requires agreement on the question – still to be decided – on how to fund the project list decided by the Mayors before the election. In order for any package to be acceptable there has to be something for everyone. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if one project was seen to take precedence, that would be the death knell for any funding proposal that did not deliver for the rest of the region. The Mayors, under the guidance Greg Moore, re-elected Mayor of Port Coquitlam, have been acting very collegially up to now. Translink is not just a transit agency, so there would be some road projects for the parts of the region where transit cannot be a significant contributor for some time. And no-one was being allowed to play the “me first” card.

Actually, given the political cynicism  realism I was hearing from Baldrey and Price, perhaps this explains why Kirk LaPointe was so confident that he could deliver transit for Broadway better than Gregor Robertson. Peter Armstrong – who paid for much of the NPA campaign – must have given him some reason for believing that he would be favoured by the federal Conservatives (who featured so prominently in the revived NPA organization apparently) – and maybe even the province too.

It is very sad indeed that we cannot talk about how will build a sustainable region and meet the challenges of a world that will be sending us more people – whether we have plans to accommodate them or not. How we move to higher densities without upsetting existing residents, how more people can give up using their cars for every trip as things become more accessible and walkable, how transit becomes one of several better options than driving a single occupant car that is owned – not shared. How we have a region wide conversation on what needs to be done, and how we pay for that, in a way that satisfies a whole range of wants and needs across communities.

Worse, that is seems to be really easy to get funding for a major upgrade to a freeway interchange in North Vancouver when there seems to be no possibility of relieving overcrowding on the #99 B-Line. No doubt the new highway bridge between Richmond and Delta will still get precedence in provincial priorities. Once the Evergreen Line is finished there will be the usual protracted process before the next transit project starts moving and, as we saw with the Canada Line, perhaps expecting more than one major project at a time is over optimistic. The province also has to find a great deal of money for BC Ferries, since it seemed very easy to make a decision on the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route really quickly – without any clear source of additional financing for the identified structural upgrades its continuation demands.

If the fix is really in for Surrey, who is going to find the local contribution? Assume that the feds and province pick up a third each, can Surrey cover the rest alone? Is it likely that the other Mayors will vote for a package that gives the major capital spending preference to Surrey? And if not, and Surrey does find a way to that – a P3 is always a possibility – do Surrey transit riders and taxpayers pick up that tab? Who operates Surrey LRT and will it have the same fare system – or do the rest of us have to pay more for that?

No I couldn’t cover all of that in the time allotted to me. I spent longer getting down there and back than I did talking. But these ideas and the questions they raise seem worth discussion below.

The subway versus LRT debate on Broadway

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In yesterday’s blog post I said that I did not want to open up this debate again, but then Patrick Condon published an opinion piece in the Tyee called “Why Is TransLink’s Price for Light Rail Triple What Other Cities Pay?” The key to his argument is in this table, which for ease of reference I have lifted entire

The article explains how they made these figures as “fair and comparable as possible” but is strangely reticent on the source of the data: it simply says “publicly available documents” and there are no links, nor a list of sources. I sent an email to Patrick requesting that first thing this morning: he has not yet replied.

Actually if you have spent any time at all on this issue you will know that the internet is awash with comparisons of this kind (Google has 17.4 million results). I am going to suggest that you go to just one – which is I think a better source than most simply because I used to work for them. The UK Department of Transport is actually now quite keen on Light Rail – but it is still a wholly objective source of information. “Green Light for Light Rail” is a downloadable pdf – and it has up to date comparisons of existing UK systems. But what it also has is a sobering chapter entitled “Cost Structure of the Light Rail Industry”

Comparisons between the capital costs of light rail projects are difficult to make because no two schemes currently in operation in England are directly comparable. They all have different characteristics.

And then there is a very useful list of “cost drivers” which explains why the capital costs can be so different, even for comparable projects – there is a longish list of things that need to be taken into consideration such as moving utilities

Light rail routes that run on highways are often deemed to require the diversion of utilities apparatus (water, gas, telephone) which is usually placed in roads and pavements. This has often been a significant part of the cost of a scheme. Space along the highway is often limited which can make this work expensive. There is also a high risk that during the initial phases of the design some of the utilities are not located, especially in central, older parts of cities, leading to additional and more costly work when they are subsequently located during construction.

There is a notable absence in the list of projects – it does not talk about Edinburgh.

It does have this neat graphic which deals with comparing the UK’s civil engineering costs to the rest of Europe

It would have been nice if they felt the need to compare the UK to North America – but there is a very useful section about what can be done to control costs. The point I make in the comments underneath Patrick Condon’s article is a bit different

But just looking at costs – and trying to minimize them – is not a good way to plan a transit system. You have to look at the benefits too – and there are always judgements that are going to be made, even when a dollar price can be placed on both costs and benefits. Much of the City Engineer’s argument in favour of a subway right through to UBC can be summed up as “it keeps it out of the way of the traffic”. For him that justifies a great deal of additional expense. I am not sure I agree but equally there are going to be arguments over how to value the speed of the journey for users and how much it is worth spending to reduce or avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. (Cllr Geoff Megs has a summary of the case that was made on his blog.)

To make the point about cost minimization a bit clearer, look at the Canada Line. It was built down to a price, not up to a standard. It is therefore less safe than it could be. There are no platform edge doors, which are standard for new automatic train operated subways elsewhere. It is inconvenient with only one entrance for each station, forcing passengers into crossing the road on the surface which is also a safety concern. It is not going to be big enough if Vancouver actually achieves its 2040 goals: the platforms in the stations just cannot accommodate much longer trains.

Because I do not know where Patrick got his data from, nor what each project cost includes – or does not include – I cannot really add much more to answer his question “why so much more” other than point to both the Bloomberg and DTp material. It’s not just us.

But the DTP does make the point “In general however, there is no doubt that the construction costs for light rail should be significantly less than building new heavy rail lines”. And surface light rail ought to be significantly cheaper than either cut and cover or bored tube tunnelling. But then Patrick has also argued elsewhere that there are very good urban design reasons why you would rather have transit on the surface than underground. And those might well be worth concentrating on, rather than getting into the arcana of comparative costing of transportation projects in different places. It is the kind of place we want Vancouver to become that ought to be the deciding factor, not simply the price tag.

And don’t forget that it was the City of Vancouver Engineering Department that managed to deliver two kilometres of mostly single track railway, used by trams for two months at a capital cost of $8.5 million for two kilometres.

Before I go I also want to recommend a couple of articles How is Besançon Building a Tramway at €16 million/kilometer? (~CAN$21m/km) and a Railway Gazette article on the same project.

UPDATE Kansas City – a postal ballot of residents of downtown has approved a two mile $100m streetcar project – or $31m per km

Further UPDATE 19 December 2012

The blog “Pedestrian Observations” has a list of subway – and other rail projects – which shows how different US and UK costs are to the rest of the world. It is worth noting the author’s introductory paragraph

This is a placeholder post, in which I’m just going to summarize the costs of projects in the US and the rest of the world. I will focus on subway tunnels, but also put some above-ground rail for comparison. No average is included – all I’m doing at this stage is eyeballing numbers. As far as possible, numbers are inflated or deflated from the midpoint of construction to 2010, and exclude rolling stock. The PPP exchange rate is €1 = $1.25, $1 = ¥100. For now, only dense infill subways are included.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2012 at 5:55 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 –

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.]


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”


[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

What’s happening on Broadway?

with 50 comments

That’s West Broadway in Vancouver BC, just to be clear.

For background I suggest you look at the Georgia Straight.  Here’s the relevant bit – with a link that works too

Monday (January 18), TransLink is hosting a stakeholder meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. on a proposed rapid-transit line to UBC. It will take place at the Plaza 500 Hotel at 500 West 12th Avenue.

The group Businesses and Residents for Sustainable Transit Alternatives claims that the Broadway Corridor has already been selected with no public input.

BARSTA says it’s not against transit, but prefers an affordable, low-impact, cost-effective, and community-accessible system rather than a SkyTrain-style project.

BARSTA favours a $360-million European-style, at-grade train, which would provide more stops along Broadway than a $2-billion subway.

“It is important that our community comes out in force and expresses our concerns in relation to Translink and above all the SKYTRAIN Technology option that Translink is pushing,” BARSTA stated in a widely distributed e-mail. “Our community organization is very concerned on the lack of honest and open discussions between Translink’s key decision makers, local politicians and provincial politicians.”

Related article: Patrick Condon highlights cost of Broadway transit

I did not go to that meeting, and as far as I can I have stood back from the ensuing debate – part of which is running full tilt on the discussion board at the Skyscraper page forum – and spills over into the comments section of this blog on a regular basis, despite my efforts to widen the discussion beyond the choice of skytrain versus trams (AKA streetcars or LRT). And, of course, I think Patrick’s recent book on Sustainable Communities is well worth reading.

I am not sure that there is much value in rehearsing how Skytrain got chosen for the Expo Line, the Millennium Line and how something similar but not the same got chosen for the Canada Line. Those choices were made and we are now stuck with them and their consequences. I think there are lessons to be learned about what that did – and did not do – for our communities and our region. Since one of the best definitions of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. But it was not the only decision, and other things have happened too, which are equally – or possibly – even more important.

The reasons why I did not go to the Translink meeting are significant. The first one is that whatever Translink concludes from its studies does not matter. The transit agency for Greater Vancouver has never made these decisions. They are made by the province because they are the level of government that has the financial ability to execute such an undertaking. BC Transit didn’t and Translink doesn’t. In the case of the Canada Line, the province forced the Translink Board to keep on voting on the issue until it came up with the “right” decision – and then got rid of the Board so it did not have to go through that process again.

Secondly, Translink could not do anything even it wanted to. Currently it has cancelled its Ten Year (growth) Plan and is in “stand still” mode. If the Plan was still in place, then the Evergreen Line would be the first priority. The province is still saying that it (EL) will go ahead, but I am not convinced. It certainly ought to go ahead and there is enough provincial and federal funding (apparently) to build something – just not the government favoured SkyTrain extension. There is still some planning work going ahead, but every rapid transit project that has been built in this region – including the #98 B-Line (formerly known as Richmond Rapid Bus) – was run by a project office separate from the transit agency of the day.

Thirdly, Translink is not listening. You can tell that by the way the process is structured. If community input really was important, then the debate about what and where and when really would be open. BARSTA is convinced it isn’t. And the fact that Gordon Campbell has made it clear that he wants a bored tube all the way to UBC under Broadway – and that he has no intention of stepping down as premier – means that his current Minister of Transportation has already been given her marching orders. Personally, I believe them to be “mark time” right now until the dust has settled a bit from the 2008 financial crash. That would make sense if they really were serious about a P3 for every project. Right now it is next to impossible to get a new P3 up and running using private sector capital – and lot of existing projects are looking dicey or are proceeding using government debt – which is cheaper anyway.

Translink employs planners – and has a new VP of planning imported from Chicago, who is a Good Egg. Indeed, so are they all. But what they are doing is busy work. It may even produce a very well written and illustrated plan. And it will look good. So do they all. I have a few myself. They could be bound into a combined volume of Projects that Might Have Been. Another fascinating academic exercise no doubt, but not much use on Broadway.

I am going to be speaking to BARSTA next month (Please Note: this is an update on the original post). I will get ten minutes to talk about why they don’t need to get too worried just yet. Others – including Patrick Condon – will talk about what ought to be happening. I happen to think that in a ten minute period I will be lucky to get out very much of what needs to be said, simply because all these problems are complex and particular. There is no one size fits all solution – no magic bullet – no simple idea that can be easily stated and absorbed. So, if you wish to read further I am going to use this space to get into that in more detail that I will probably be able to manage next month. After all, Patrick can refer people to his book – which is already published – and I could point people to this blog and expect them to root around and find the relevant bits on their own. But having tried that myself yesterday on bike routes, I do not think that is wise.

Clearly my starting position is going to be as stated in the opening paragraphs. Translink is all smoke and mirrors, pay attention to the Premier. He has his hands full right now, and I do not see that crowding on the 99 B-Line is the most significant problem he has to deal with.  The big transport issues are the Gateway and how to pay for it. H1PM and SFPR are both expensive and in their early phases. He is determined that they keep going. The big financial issue – and the current hot potato – is the HST and its expected stimulating economic effect. If he is right and it is fiscally neutral, I do not see much room for Keynesian stimulation. Indeed, shifting once again to regressive taxes on expenditure against reductions in progressive income taxes means that more money leaves the province. Poor people with extra cash tend to spend here: rich people spend – an invest – all over the place and insist that the workings of the free market require them to do so.  Health and education are also big problem areas where people are convinced that the government is not spending enough. We seem to have ridden out the recession better than the US but arguably not as well as the rest of Canada despite our reserves of fossil fuels and willingness to increase their exploitation.  Campbell also wants to look Green – but doesn’t to most people who understand what that term means. Hydro and salmon are the hot buttons there – not transit or transportation.  He is unpopular, but wants to stay on. I wonder how much he is looking at Point Grey – usually a very safe seat indeed – and thinking about how the UBC tube will play out in his own constituency.

Even though there has been a financial crisis – which is still not over – a lot of people are still employed and putting money into pension funds. So all that money needs to be invested in something safe. That used to be real estate. That got badly mucked up by the mortgage backed securities and derivatives scandal, but that effect seems to be largely confined to the US. Not only is the residential sector here newly bouyant, but people are still looking for commercial/industrial developments to invest in. And those investors are now worried about peak oil, and the impact of the latest offshore spill, so developments that feature energy savings and environmental kudos are getting more attention. At one time, you could not get Wall Street to look at anything that was not one of the seven standard types of development  (Leinberger) but now mixed use and new urbanism and LEED-ND seem like better bets.

One issue along Broadway is that if the big outside investors are calling the shots still, more nodes are likely to get built, because big institutions like big chunky projects. It is simply more efficient to deal with one large loan application than many. But if there is to be a pattern of more dispersed incremental growth, then there is much more opportunity for local input – both as investors and stakeholders. One real issue is the preference of public institutions for “economies of scale” too. It is not just national retailers who like big stores – so do health care providers and educational administrators. This also drives up the “need” for motorized travel. It is is not just the aging population that increases the need for HandyDART, it is also that more of the health care system is no longer available locally. Both UBC and SFU have opened their doors downtown: but neither seems to be able to fund more student accommodation on campus – which I would argue is one of the main drivers of demand for the need for more transit. That and UPass. To some extent the province is behind that too – since they were the authors of policies around tuition fees and funding for research which forced universities to become more market oriented, and not just in their use of land. And they have also promised UPass to all post secondary students.

Growth in this region is going to continue for some time to come. We are still expecting another million people to come here in the next twenty years. They have to go somewhere, and the present regional plan says pretty much what the LRSP said about that, but now with added words like “sustainability” and “affordability”. We do argue a lot in this region, but mostly it is about details not principles. We like the clean air, clean water and green space. We are not keen on density, but we are beginning to show that there are enough people here who will embrace the notion of not living in a detached house with three bedrooms and a large yard that other kinds of habitation are desirable and marketable.

Those same people are also showing that given the right environment they will walk and cycle more and drive less.  This is signifiant since we really do not have any great success in getting a greater market share for transit – something that I have been saying on this blog repeatedly.  There are parts of the region, and some journey purposes, where transit is doing better than others, but overall transit share is stagnant.  This suggests that we need to revisit how we assess mode choice. And that brings me to the other news story today.

What changed in Vancouver in recent months was the perception held by ordinary people of what streetcars or trams looked like – and felt like to use.

Bombardier Wins Award for the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar

The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) recognizes Bombardier’s achievement for 60-day streetcar demonstration project in Vancouver, Canada

Berlin, May 18, 2010 – At the CUTA 2010 Annual Conference held in Ottawa, Canada, Bombardier Transportation received an award for the Olympic Line in the category “Exceptional Performance and Outstanding Achievement” under CUTA’s National Transit Corporate Recognition Award Program.

The National Transit Corporate Recognition Awards are designed to highlight successes and achievements at the organizational level of CUTA’s member transit systems, business or bgovernment agencies. The award recipients were selected by a national committee of transit professionals.

Bombardier Transportation and the City of Vancouver, co-sponsors of the 1.8-kilometre Olympic Line, provided free passenger service between January 21 and March 21, 2010.

The two 100% low-floor BOMBARDIER FLEXITY streetcars, operated by Bombardier, carried over 550,000 passengers, and made over 13,000 one-way trips with zero equipment failures, zero station delays and zero injuries.

Raymond Bachant, President, Bombardier Transportation North America, said: “The success of the Olympic Line attests to the extraordinary response to streetcars by commuters in Metro Vancouver. We are gratified by CUTA’s recognition and appreciate its active role to build support for sustainable public transit.” He added, “As communities face growing congestion, light rail can offer a cost-effective option with a positive impact on the urban environment.”

The Olympic Line demonstration project also won a Sustainability Star from the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which acknowledged a product or service representing a new solution to local and global sustainability challenges.

I am pleased for them – but understand that trams are not a “new solution” – they have been around for years and we ignored them. They have been repackaged – and instead of being seen just as a transportation mode, they are now seen as part of a way of reclaiming the city from the car. The reason grade separated rapid transit was chosen was that it kept the transit system out of the way of the cars. European cities that put their streetcars underground into “pre-metro” systems found that traffic got worse and city centres did not prosper. So they stopped doing that – and made the streets in city centers car free. Trams got the street space instead – as did walking and cycling. And, most importantly, so did people who were not trying to get through but wanted to stay put. Sitting and people watching turned out to be the most popular thing to do. (Jan Gehl. Janette Sadik Khan) By the way, when Toronto replaced streetcars on Yonge and Bloor Streets with subways, traffic volumes increased – traffic expands to fill the space available.

It is also important to understand that the City does NOT think that it needs trams on Broadway. They wanted to show what a downtown streetcar would look like. That project has never been a regional priority. Equally, the City does not do much for transit. The #99 B-Line was introduced without any hoopla – all it did was introduce an express service on top of the local #9. The buses did not stop so often. Even then the City of Vancouver made sure it stopped much more frequently than the transit planners wanted. There was no transit priority for the new bus service – and still isn’t. A peak hours only nonstop UBC-Broadway/Commercial overlay was also short lived – and now extra capacity runs on several parallel routes to boost direct service to UBC. By transit priority I mean exclusive bus lanes – and the ability to extend green phases at signals for approaching buses. Both of these could be quickly implemented if the City thought they were necessary.

Regional transportation is all about getting people through places on their way to somewhere else. I have done consultations on rapid transit on Broadway, and one thing I know from that process is that locals do not want people from elsewhere rushing through their neighbourhood. And it really doesn’t matter what mode gets chosen to do that. They don’t like cars whizzing though, they don’t like rapid buses, they don’t want SkyTrain outside their bedroom windows or commuter rail along the backyard fence. They also do not want the disruption of tunnelling and do not believe any longer that bored tube is a solution to all those ills either.

Now that may seem like an insoluble conundrum, until you start to take the single occupant cars out of the picture. I expect the merchants along Broadway to defend parking along the curb. But the use of that lane for stationary vehicles is actually not very helpful. For one thing, the act of parking and unparking stops movement in the centre lane too. So street capacity of the two lane plus parking each way road is nothing like the theoretical 2,000 vphpd (vehicles per hour per direction) or the 2,600 pphpd (people per our per direction). That is why traffic engineers now say they can get more capacity out of a narrower road than a wider one (Dan Burden). Actually I have always thought that it was the shop keepers and their employees who used those spaces most – but I concede from my experience at 8:30 this morning that is not the case on West Broadway. The shops were open but the parking spaces were empty – even on the side streets. My experience in London was also that people do stop and pop into a shop even if there was supposed to be No Parking, on the bet that most times they would get away with it before the traffic warden came along. A lot of those fences at the curb were put up to stop parkers more than channel pedestrians.

People who stop – as opposed to people who are trying to get through – are what makes a street like West Broadway work. Streets are more important than simple traffic arteries. It is, as Jan Gehl, says the space between the buildings that matters. We have to make that a space where people want to be. If we reduce the space devoted to parking and moving cars, we have more space to move people – and more space for people who have no desire to move much for a while. What that means is that the car becomes relatively less attractive as a mode of transport. We currently focus on making car use as easy and convenient as possible and then wonder why people don’t want to use transit. It is not enough to “punish car users” (as their proponents love to say). What we do is follow the example of all those many places that have found ways to work without cars. Or with many fewer cars.

There are some common elements. Public parking off street is a common one: private parking which is controlled by the retailer is a disaster. It generates many very short motorized trips, and is the reason why No 3 Road – or most of Richmond’s central area – does not work well. The City of Victoria recognizes this and has parkades. So does Kansas City!  Some parking on some streets for special purposes may also be a good idea – but that has to be worked out locally, not prescribed. Taking a lane from cars and giving it to transit exclusively increases the number of people that can be moved. The numbers get too much attention, and the arguments rage over technologies, but the important point is that transit becomes relatively more attractive with respect to the car. (By the way 10,000 pphpd is not hard to do with conventional surface transit.) The car is always available whenever you want it, and goes almost exactly where and when you want it to. Transit can’t do that. But it can do much better than it does here now, and we can quite safely take some of the advantage away from the car user. After all, we don’t need to achieve very much in the way of shift from one mode to the other – and nothing like 100%! We now have around 11% overall, and wanted to get to 17% before now. That still seems to me to be doable. We just have to stop building freeways, and start getting smarter about street use and transit investment. We also have to recognize that many car trips are for short distances and quite trivial reasons – but mostly because of really bad land use decisions – like single purpose zoning. And very low density development.

The transit trip has several elements – at least two walks, some wait time and possibly a transfer or two. Each one of those will have a “penalty” value to in-vehicle time. Just looking at in-vehicle speeds is grossly misleading. We need to assess the whole trip and measure it the way the user perceives it. The good news is that transportation models have been doing that for many years. You just have to have good data to feed them. We have not had that here. We also need to understand that we are not just dealing with a transportation problem  but a livability or sustainability problem. So just looking at ridership is misleading. Moreover, on the Broadway corridor, we already have significant transit use, so simply switching people from buses to trams or trains gets you very little – though you do win some car users just from that change alone.UPass and increasing parking charges at UBC also won some car users to transit. Simply relying on transit technology choice to do the heavy lifting is expensive  – and counterproductive if all you do is just generate more motorized trips. There has to be a co-ordinated approach. “Balanced transport planning” is not just continuing to spend as much as we do now on roads but adding a bit more for transit. It means a long term commitment to reducing the space in the city devoted to moving and parking cars, at the same time as  making all other choices of movement and non-movement more attractive. That does not have to be about speed: it should also be about comfort, safety, convenience and indeed the pleasure of the experience. Just imagine that. Transit as fun. Which was what the Olympic Line achieved and what Disney does every day for all sorts of modes.

But along Broadway we also need to be talking about what sort of place the people who live and work there now want it to be. It will not stay the same no matter what choice is made. Change is the only constant. It is the direction of that change that is important, and change in land use and density has to be part of the discussion. And not just as way of paying for more transit infrastructure. Most of West Broadway is already zoned for four storey buildings. That ought to be a lot more acceptable to the locals than high rises clustered around rapid transit stops at one mile intervals.

The other important consideration is how wide the sidewalks need to be: currently parking serves the function of providing a barrier between pedestrians and moving traffic. But the area in front of the buildings can serve many purposes, mostly to do with allowing people to linger. The biggest change introduced on New York’s Broadway was the number of movable tables and chairs put into what had once been traffic lanes. Originally they were simply “protected” by barrels and paint. More recently it has been concrete planters – and boulders.

The regional transportation answer is going to be lot less than optimum – simply because regional transportation is not the only and far from the most important concern. There has to be a trade off between the need to move people around the region and the need for people to have reasonable places to do everything else. Vancouver rejected freeways through downtown for very good reasons. Unfortunately, there are some types of transit system that share some of the freeways unfortunate impacts – overshadowing, separating and deafening communities. A lot of cities got rid of their elevated trains for those reasons. Similarly not everyone thinks that riding in a hole in the ground is the best way to get around. Maybe if the people who want to drive everywhere were told they had to pay for tunnels they might think harder about their choices? Tunnelling is expensive. And if we stick to existing rights of way and subsurface cut and cover very disruptive. Even bored tube has to have some structures on or near the surface.

But there are, fortunately, plenty of places where the use of surface but separate transit does work very well. And we will not copy them slavishly but be inspired by them to do better – and do things which celebrate the place where we live and the sort of people we want to be.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm