Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘subway

Politics hijacks transit planning yet again

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Having looked at Glasgow for a comparison on Compass, here’s another very instructive comparison, a bit closer to home. This op-ed piece appears in the Toronto Sun and is by R. Michael Warren who is a “former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager and Canada Post CEO”. He was present when the decision was made to buy “the province’s untested “Intermediate Capacity Transit System” (ICTS)” which we know as SkyTrain.

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The parallels between us and them are obvious. The tussle between city and suburbs, the choice of technology – it’s all exactly the same

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been on the wrong side of this issue longer than anyone. “Stopping the war on cars” to him means putting rapid transit below ground or making it grade-separated. Out of the way of cars.

It seems to me that an endorsement by Rob Ford should be enough to deter anyone. But Vision Vancouver wants a subway under Broadway. And for very similar reasons. What is even more striking is the way that the link has been made in local planning for Grandview – where towers were suddenly added to the plan, much to the surprise and dismay of those who had been consulted. And one suggestion has been this is necessary to show that Vancouver is committed to increasing density (in the form of high rise towers) at subway stations. The quid pro quo being that if the City wants rapid transit then there has to be supporting denser land use. No repeat of what happened along the Expo Line – with no development happening at all at Broadway, Namaimo or 29th Avenue stations. By the way exactly the same effect was seen along the second subway in Toronto. The Bloor-Danforth line cannot be seen as clusters of towers around stations the way the Yonge line can be.

It is also worth re-iterating that the idea that a subway can be inserted underneath an existing street without interfering with it is foolish. Sure cut and cover subways and surface light rail create disturbance all along the street, but subway stations are significant objects at major intersections and have to have connections to the surface. And despite the nonsense that was peddled by the Canada Line constructors, entrances are needed at all street corners, not just one of them. If only to handle transfers to other transit effectively.

But also if you build very expensive subways, and you want fast services, there are going to be fewer stations – and most development is going to have to occur within a short walk of the station entrance. Do not think you can do that without upsetting the neighbours. Or you can have enough new development without increasing building heights significantly.

To make the headline a bit clearer, politics is always going to decide how public money is spent on major infrastructure projects. There is no way this can decided simply by technical considerations. These are not engineering  decisions. They are planning decisions. They are about place making. We have already plenty of experience of what happens to places when decision making is based on engineering standards. It is absolutely right that both politicians and communities get involved. The important thing is that the final outcome is not decided on short term political advantage.

The Scarborough RT was supposed to have been extended north and then east from Scarborough Town Centre to serve a new area of affordable housing known as Malvern. But the route, protected from development, ran though a neighbourhood that got built before the line did. When the TTC got ready to start building the local politicians listened to the protests of the neighbours who did not want trains running past the end of their backyards. Malvern, by the way, is now one of the greatest concentrations of visible minorities in Toronto – and one of the poorer and most troublesome areas for crime and social problems. Which cannot be blamed on SkyTrain!

What the headline means is that politicians tend to make decisions based on what is best for their party, or will be most popular with current voters. Politicians who act with an eye to the long term future are much rarer. But the decision to build the Canada Line underground beneath Cambie was based on those kinds  of calculation. Or rather, the decision to refuse to consider light rail – either along the existing CP right of way in the Arbutus corridor or along the “heritage boulevard” of Cambie Street – was all about placating the existing voters, not about accommodating the people who were going to move to the Vancouver region.  Or looking at something like “the best benefit-for-cost solution”.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 28, 2013 at 10:48 am

An Alternative to the Broadway Subway

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At the request of its leader, Adam Fitch

Saturday May 4 at 10am a Jane’s Walk (on bicycles!) to look at CPR RoW/16th Avenue for LRT

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Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

Why a 24 hour SkyTrain service is not a Good Idea

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I was at a social function recently, where I was introduced as a transit expert. The person I was introduced to was adamant that SkyTrain ought to operate twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He claimed that is what happened on other transit systems (though he could not name any). He was supported by a musician who pointed out that bars stay open later than the transit system, and getting those people home without them needing to drive was an important safety concern.

I did try to explain why nighttime was important for maintenance – and the need for a safe working environment – but I could tell they were not convinced. SkyTrain is, of course, driverless though I suppose half speed trains under manual control might be better than nothing (not that I went into that detail then.)

About the only system I am aware of that operates round the clock is the New York subway.

Railway Age reports that they are finding that closing overnight for maintenance has some very important benefits

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority says its new FASTRACKmaintenance strategy has produced “unprecedented productivity gains.” Under that strategy, while lines are closed overnight for track maintenance, a first for a 108-year-old subway system that has taken pride in running its trains 24/7. The initial deployment of FASTRACK forces was completed on the Lexington Avenue Line over the weekend.

“It was clear from the first night that in terms of productivity and efficiency, FASTRACK is a major improvement in the way we perform subway maintenance and a perfect example of what can be accomplished when labor and management work as a team to improve the system,” said NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast. “I consider this effort a success and it could not have come about without the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of Transit workers who worked on the tracks, tunnels, and in the stations.”

For four consecutive weeknights, three work trains supported nearly 70 workcrews in the stations along the line segment as well as the tunnels and into the Joralemon Tube that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan.

“Jobs that would usually take weeks or months to complete were accomplished in days because, for the first time, maintenance workers were allowed to perform their tasks without the interruption of passenger trains rolling through a massive work area that stretched from Grand Central-42nd Street to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,” said MTA. “During the four-night period, more than 300 vital tasks were completed—from rail replacement to roadbed cleaning to the scraping and painting of ceilings over tracks and platforms.Much of this work had not been performed in several years and some of it could only be done in the absence of trains over an extended period of time.”

While Skytrain is closed for four and a half hours overnight service is still available by NightBus although service is not frequent or especially widespread. It is however much more reliable than bus service during the day as there is no traffic to compete with for road space. It takes about an hour to get from downtown Vancouver to Richmond Brighouse so it is not especially fast either.  And is not much help if you need to get further south.

Maybe like the less dense suburbs this is a time of day when shared ride might shine?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

City Bus Drivers Say That Fare Beaters Have the Upper Hand in Confrontations

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New York Times

It is with some reluctance that I open up, once again, the can of worms that is fare evasion and transit safety. I would not have done so had not the CBC once sandbagged me on air with an unexpected clip of a New York cop talking about fare evaders as criminals.

Before you comment on this post you are required to click on the the link at the top and read the whole story in the New York times. There are also related links (the NYT understands how to use a web site now: it will take the Aspers years to catch up). It is desperately sad and my deepest sympathy is extended to the family, friends and coworkers of Edwin Thomas, who died trying to do his job.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, acknowledged that while the department’s Transit Bureau has more than 2,000 officers dedicated to the subway system, there are none dedicated to buses except during operations like fare-evasion crackdowns. One such crackdown, which began on Oct. 22, has resulted in 86 arrests and 349 summonses, he said.

That is because there are city police on the streets who can be summoned and get to the scene more quickly.

The point I want to make is that the NY subway system still needs to be subject to “fare evasion crackdowns” even though there are turnstiles at every station. A significant police force is required because the existence of those barriers has not made the NY subway “safe”. There was a lot all over the media yesterday about SkyTrain safety and the gap between public perceptions and reality. And a clip on CBC news of the SkyTrain CEO Doug Kelsey repeating the mantra “perception IS reality”.  Most of media decided that the proposed use of dogs made the story newsworthy. (If you want the full meal deal go to the Buzzer blog – and be sure to read the comments)

All kinds of people evade fares for all sorts of reasons. They are not all hardened criminals, and their reasons for evasion range from indigence to an attitude that fare collection is a “game” they can win at. The right wing here likes to cite New York as an example for us to follow. The examples of zero tolerance and the “broken window” strategy are cited approvingly. Yet there are on average 89 assaults on New York bus drivers a year. Edwin Thomas did not seem to get much benefit from these policies. I am far from convinced that they would change much here.

I also remain skeptical that introducing dogs will do much good either. There are plenty of people here who are extremely uncomfortable around dogs, both for cultural reasons and, even more sadly, bitter experience. There are far too many regimes that use police dogs to intimidate the populace in general. Not that I think Translink wants to do that – but (as Kelsey seems to be aware) some people may perceive it that way.

But as always my theme is that barriers on SkyTrain will not do what their proponents claim. They will be an immense waste of money and a continuing drain on the system. Money that could be spent on better transit service, which gets more people on the system. Which is what makes people feel safe. But is also what we need to make this region more livable.

UPDATED Dec 5

Written by Stephen Rees

December 3, 2008 at 11:48 am