Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘traffic forecasting

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

Can We Count On Toll Revenue Forecasts?

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Clark Williams Derry on Sightline Daily (a really useful resource that I recommend you subscribe to if you don’t already)  has a very useful series on declining traffic. No 37 in that series picks up a story from the Orange County Register which he headlines “Southern California toll road debacle raises questions for the Northwest”.

The reason for this contribution to the discussion is that he apparently thinks that the states of Washington and Oregon are all that makes up the North West – and we in BC actually have a slightly different reason for caring. So read what he says first and then come back, because while what he says is all well and good for them, our very peculiar P3 system  – and the even weirder Port Mann set up – makes this a much more immediate concern. We have an election this spring and here is further reason to change our provincial government, if we didn’t have reason enough already.

Here’s the pictures

San-Joaquin-275x275 Foothills-275x262

The conclusion drawn from this data

The toll route is generally free-flowing, but drivers prefer parallel, toll-free alternatives, even if they’re clogged with traffic.

That is very important  but entirely consistent with what we have seen on the Golden Ears Bridge.

The traffic forecasts for the Southern California roads were made by the same consulting firm—CDM Smith, formerly Wilbur Smith—that performed the investment-grade bond study for Washington’s SR-520. And that firm was recently contracted for similar study on the Columbia River Crossing connecting Portland, OR with Vancouver, WA. CDM Smith has a good reputation—but that didn’t protect them from producing projections that went badly awry.

Now this is where we part company with “The North West”. Our projections are done by a different company, but while I have not looked in detail how either forecast was done it does not matter. As Jeff Tumlin pointed out, four step transportation models are no better than tarot cards at forecasting anyway. Or, as Clive Rock who looked after traffic forecasting at the GVRD and Translink liked to say, “You can’t steer the ship by staring at the wake”. They do this with personal finance too – past performance is no guarantee of future performance – is the caveat entered in every prospectus. But that is way all traffic forecasts are still done.

We do not fund transportation expansion by raising bonds the way they do in the States. Equally, we do not transfer risk to the private sector the way they have done in Australia. This got them some very large bits of infrastructure for free when the contractor operators (DBMO = design build maintain operate) went bust. The people who owned the companies’ shares and debts caught a cold, but the public sector was not on the hook. Here, if a DBMO gets the forecasts wrong, the risk is transferred to the tax payers. So we are now picking up the lost revenue on the Golden Ears. As we will on the Port Mann – which is no longer a P3 as no-one was daft enough to want to lend that turkey money, and the government was forced to admit that public sector borrowing was cheaper than private sector borrowing. As it always is, when the taxpayers can be expected to back the debt.

So we can now add the Port Mann “widest bridge in the world” to the long list of public sector projects that were supposedly safe in BC Liberal hands but have proved to be financially disastrous. BC Hydro was doing very well – until it had to subsidize run of the river private sector projects. BC Rail actually had been making money but was sold to CN (the “lease” idea is simply spin) for much less than it was worth. BC Ferries thought they could raise fares without worrying too much about price elasticity. PAVCO had to replace the roof – and never thought it needed a business case – which was just as well as there is no business model where that kind of investment makes any sense financially. Even well run stadia are subsidized – usually on the argument that it brings free spending punters to the area. Even casino operators now recognize that this mostly just cannibalizes other enterprises. The tv adverts currently running which talk about the economic models of unspecified other places assert that somehow BC has a different model. Actually, this is just another lie. Public sector spending and the running up of the debt of the public sector has been out of control CORRECTION A reference here to the Auditor General has been removed due to this tweet from the CBC “Christy Clark asks AG John Doyle to stay on 2 more years”

Please understand that I have no problem at all with using the public sector to stimulate the economy when that is required. Trying to balance the budget was what caused the Great Depression of the 1930s – and all of FDRs programs only mitigated that slightly. It was only the huge public spending of the second world war that got America working again. It was only the Marshall Program that resurrected Europe – and the reason the UK fell so far behind was that it was not covered by that plan and had to pay back all the dollars it had borrowed before trying to start repairing the damage. BUT that does not mean I support public sector spending on any and all projects. Indeed, as an economist working in or for the public sector for all of my career, reviewing forecasts and critically examining “business cases” (then called cost benefit analysis, which looked a bit further than just profits for banks) project selection was always the most important task to get right. What project – and where – and how its done, were all looked at carefully and objectively. Only when I came to BC did I come upon a system which said, in effect, the current political party has a bee in its bonnet about some idea or other, and your job is to make this idea look good. Actually that is not fair . As a consultant, I found that it was also the practice of at least two banana republics and one religious hegemony. Just substitute that words “current political party” with whatever they called their leaders at the time.

But what we have now – and what the US has had and to some extent still does – is a right wing party that says it will balance the budget, control spending and reduce the debt, but actually does exactly the opposite. And does that not because stimulating the economy and providing growth will make the population as a whole better off (“the rising tide floats all boats”) but simply to funnel ever larger sums from the public coffers to their friends and supporters – mostly corporations who owe no loyalty to any jurisdiction they operate in.

No we cannot count on toll revenue forecasts, but the corporations can indeed count on tax revenues collected for them by a compliant government.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2013 at 9:53 am