Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Freeways Without Futures

Free transit motion to be debated by Vancouver city councillors

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The headline is taken from a CBC News story and the motion will be debated tomorrow. It also provides a link to the motion as a pdf file. The motion asks Council to support the All on Board  campaign. Apparently there is going to be a “research report containing evidence” – but that is not ready yet. You might think that it would be a Good Idea to have had that ready in time for the discussion. Because there is remarkably little evidence on offer so far either in the motion’s “Whereas” section or the campaign website. Other than some people think it might be a Good Idea and other places have already tried it.

What needs to be considered is how much revenue is going to be lost from this proposal and how it might be replaced. The motion suggests that the Provincial Government will be approached for more funding. Presumably, the Province will also have to consider if this is something that needs to be applied province wide. If not, then you can expect the attention to switch to property taxes as that is about the only source that the municipalities can access. I would certainly expect that someone will actually do the necessary policy analysis, which, of course, is entirely absent so far. This would include some assessment of the costs to increase transit supply at peak periods – and also at times when young people are not in school and can be expected to be enjoying their new found freedom to ride transit as often and as far as they can go. I would also expect questions to be asked like why does this demographic get pushed to the front of the line when others – the aged, the disabled, the desperately poor adult population –  fail to get anything like such generous treatment?

I accept that for low income families even reduced fares for children can be inadequate to be affordable for many trips. At one time people who had transit passes could take their spouse and children with them at weekends for no extra charge. I forget now when that concession was withdrawn, but I would be willing to bet that cost was a concern.

It is true that giving children free rides will increase ridership – though the campaign has not made any forecast of that. Nor have they considered what other ways might also increase ridership and their comparative effectiveness. What we do know, and what is not mentioned anywhere in these materials, is how increasing service frequency and improving reliability (through traffic management measures) can offer much higher rates of return at lower levels of cost, and can be better targeted. For just as there are families that can’t afford transit, there are plenty for whom the fare is not the deterrent that inconvenience, unreliability and inadequate service undoubtedly are. Transit takes you from where you are not to a point at some distance from where you want to be. And for a lot of the trip will expect you to stand, or be crowded with others, or left at a bus stop wondering how long your wait will be. People who have invested heavily in a vehicle, and its insurance (which does not vary by distance driven) have a vested interest in getting as much use out of that expense as possible. And despite traffic congestion and the hassle of finding parking still get a better travel experience than transit riders for most trips. The car is at your convenience and takes you all the way without a transfer!

I do think that the province ought to be increasing what it spends on transit, I just think we need to be a bit more considered about how that money is spent. I also think that transit should not be considered as a social service or a redistributive device. If people are poor then giving them more money is far better than giving them scrip for approved expenditures. Free transit passes are as prescriptive as food stamps and both can be a stigma. Giving free rides to children whose parents are wealthy may not actually reduce car use all that much, if at all and is palpably wasteful.

And anyway, why are we focussed on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles? Might it be something to do with concerns about their safety?

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Freeways Without Futures

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This Press Release from the Congress for New Urbanism landed in my email inbox yesterday. And despite the specification that the list was limited to US urban highways, I was pleased to see that the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto made the top 10.  (By the way I have now discovered, thanks to one of his tweets, that Brent Toderian helped select them.)

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The Gardiner has been a candidate for removal for as long as I have been in Canada – since 1988 – and they are still arguing about it.

No mention of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts which are also still standing as I write. I did do a quick Google search to see if I could determine their status. If I recall correctly the City is still consulting the neighbourhood. And, of course, no-one has actually accepted that the City’s projections were based on the false premise that traffic would continue at present levels just differently distributed, so of course the neighbours are really worried about the impact on their streets. In reality traffic will quickly adjust – in the same way that it has for the calming of Point Grey Road and the closure of lanes on the Burrard Bridge. As we have seen everywhere that urban highways have been removed, traffic contracts or evaporates or disappears – whichever is your preferred term.

We do not actually need to “serve roughly the same number of cars”. We can confidently expect that the people who currently are making these trips will adjust their travel patterns, and that there will be fewer car trips in future. And there is plenty of evidence to support that assertion.

CNU Releases 2014’s Freeways Without Futures Report 

Today, CNU released its biennial Top 10 list of “Freeways Without Futures”, selecting the U.S. urban highways most in need of being removed. Across the country, there is a growing realization that highways do not fit in an urban context, and that there are solutions like at-grade boulevards that can serve roughly the same number of cars while creating walkable, livable communities. These transformations can even save taxpayers billions of dollars in highway construction and maintenance, while simultaneously bringing economic revitalization to cities.

The “Freeways Without Futures” list recognizes the urban highways CNU believes are, in 2014, doing significant damage to their cities and are seriously in need of replacement with more people-friendly options. More importantly, this list recognizes the grassroots advocates, city officials and others who are working locally to redefine their urban environment. The CNU top 10 prospects for highway removals in 2014 are (in no particular order):

  • New Orleans, LA – Claiborne Expressway
  • Buffalo, NY – The Skyway and Route 5
  • Syracuse, NY – Interstate 81
  • Toronto, Ontario – Gardiner Expressway
  • Rochester, NY – Inner Loop
  • St. Louis, MO – Interstate 70
  • San Francisco, CA – Interstate 280
  • Detroit, MI – Interstate 375
  • Long Beach, CA – Terminal Island Freeway
  • Hartford, CT – Aetna Viaduct
This list is by no means definitive – many more removal campaigns deserve to be internationally recognized for their scope and their resolve. Five additional campaigns are noted in the full report, as well as detail on the progress of each of these highway removal battles.
 

“There is a real window of opportunity right now for highway removal projects,” explains CNU President John Norquist. “Many of the freeways built in the 1950 and 60s have reached the end of their design lives, and millions of dollars will either go to maintaining these blight-creating behemoths or to creating infrastructure that will improve, rather than destroy, communities.”

CNU received nominations from more than 100 cities, which were evaluated on criteria that included:

  • Age of freeway. Most of the freeways on the ‘teardown list’ are at the end of their lifespans and will need to be rebuilt at great cost, if the highways are to be maintained. Reconstruction of these aging highways would cost significantly more than replacing the road with a boulevard.
  • Cost versus short-term mobility improvement. Often the freeway rebuild option, while costing several millions dollars more than a surface street alternative, will only lead to a few minutes off driving times or even a return to the same level of congestion a couple years out.
  • Development potential. Often including a waterfront location. All of the freeways have blighted surrounding neighborhoods and depressed property values. When the freeways are removed, the revival can start. Often a new boulevard acts as a key improvement that helps improve access to the area.
  • Improved access. Limited-access freeways often disrupt the city street grid, reducing access to adjacent neighborhoods and overall mobility, including transit, traffic, bike, and pedestrian flow.
  • Timeliness. Most of the nominees are under study now by state Departments of Transportation, often for new ramps, costly repairs or full rebuilding.
  • Local support. The best candidates for removals have strong local supporters, including civic activists or key elected officials, who understand that the lands within the freeway corridor can be transformed into community-wide assets.

About the Congress for the New Urbanism

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting regions, cities and towns built around walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.  Learn more>>

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2014 at 8:35 am