Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘trams

Edinburgh tram project may yield less network for more money

with 10 comments

The Guardian has a story to-day about the latest developments in the saga of the Edinburgh trams. The project is already late and over budget but abandoning  now would cost more than a partial completion.

Workmen on the Edinburgh tram project. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Workmen on the Edinburgh tram project. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

What attracted my attention was the picture accompanying the story which shows the construction site – which looks even more horrendous than Cambie Street at its worst. There is also a link within the Guardian’s story to the 35 page Council Report, for those who want chapter and verse. This, it seems to me, would be a very good example that could be copied by our local media, which so often only provide links within their own web empire but not to external sources.

Every case is unique and different, of course. But Edinburgh is going to get cited by opponents of trams (or streetcars or whatever you want to call them) so even the proponents of this technology need to be aware of what went wrong there. And also, of course, what lessons that has for future projects in other places.

UPDATE September 14, 2011

The Scottish government has now stepped in and taken over the project


Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2011 at 11:41 am

Posted in Light Rail, transit

Tagged with ,

Vancouver says goodbye to Olympic streetcar

with 26 comments

STIB3050 with the removal truck

"They're coming to take me away!" Brussels tram visiting Vancouver passes the truck that will transport it on the first leg of its homeward journey

I spent an hour or so yesterday on the Olympic Line, despite the drizzle and gloom, to say goodbye myself. The Globe and Mail has an article today that says the Mayor is not enthusiastic about promoting the downtown streetcar.

“I am open minded but we have to be pragmatic here and work with our transportation partners,” Mr. Robertson said

and I must say I agree with him. Suzanne Anton tries to  make the case for a City only P3, but that seems to me – and other commentators – unrealistic. Not that I am against streetcars – for Vancouver or other parts of the region. Just that when the Evergreen Line is the priority and the Province looks likely to step in and force some new local funding formula on the region, I cannot see the City’s taxpayers being supportive of this scheme.

The G&M does not mention the Downtown Historic Railway at all, which I think is a pity, since that will be operating with the old Interurban cars once again, and will have benefitted financially from the Olympic Line. Bombardier made a significant donation reflecting the number of volunteer hours that TRAMS members operated the Brussels cars.

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

Bombardier's cheque for $22,550 to TRAMS

While only the section between Granville Island and Cambie Street was upgraded, I hope we will see service restored as far as Science World before too long. Of course, this service won’t be free, or included in any Translink ticket, but it will still be an asset to the City, its visitors and residents. In Britain, community railways are showing how there can be alternative ways of providing services that are not necessarily commercial (the only ones that a P3 ought to be considered for). There are also many preserved railways in the UK, some of which now also provide regular community services as well as what we call “fan trips”.  It may be too much to hope that brand new low floor trams can be financed here for such a service, but San Francisco runs a very successful tourist oriented line using refurbished streetcars. And there are plenty of examples of heritage streetcar lines elsewhere. No one expects these things to make money!

$8.5 million was a great deal of money to spend on a short length of track, and one of the justifications used by the Vancouver engineers was that the line had to be upgraded for safety reasons in any event, and would still be useful for many years for the Heritage cars, even if nothing else happened. And, of course, the Starbucks building still blocks the route that used to connect this line to the Arbutus line – or the tentative extension to Vanier Park shown on the TRAMS map.   Of course, if the same metric is applied to the rest of the previous route to Science World, the probability of seeing any service that far also shrinks very quickly.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes

with 19 comments

Professor Patrick M. Condon is the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments at the University of British Columbia. He has recently produced (in conjuction with Kari Dow) a paper which examines the sustainability of our public transport choices. In this region we have chosen grade separated rapid transit which is designed to favour faster longer distance commuting. Many people who understand this business have been dubious about the wisdom of this choice, and the main point of that argument was the very high initial capital cost. However, there are other factors that need to be considered too. The most important is the effect on greenhouse gas emissions but also the longer term cost efficiency. “Long term capital, operating, maintenance and replacement costs need to be considered and evaluated to find the most efficient transportation mode.” His department has been working on the Sustainability by Design initiative, and that has provided the sustainability principles used in this paper.

Rather than summarize the paper I will simply provide the link to a pdf file you can download but I have copied from it the conclusions

Based on the three sustainability criteria, reducing trip length, greenhouse
gas reduction, and lifecycle cost, trams represent the best investment. This
investment is entirely dependent, however, on a long term commitment to
balancing jobs and housing and a gradual reduction in the per capita demand
for daily transportation of any kind. If most trips in the region are short then
the rationale for investment in trams is overwhelming. If all trips are long
then the rationale for the very expensive Skytrain system may still hold sway.
Currently our region is at a tipping point between the two. Decisions made
now about which mode to invest in could precipitate very different land use
consequences, consequences lasting for decades. These arguments apply to
every North American metropolitan area. All are struggling with these same
questions. This bulletin does not provide a definitive answer to which path to
take, but attempts to illuminate the significance of the choice. This generation of
citizens and decision makers will determine, by its choices, what the Vancouver
region, presently home for two million residents, will be like when it contains
four million. Hopefully it will be much more sustainable than it is now. How we
spend the billions proposed for investment in transit this decade will likely be

Cost is not the only concern of course. There are a number of other factors that will come into play. Sadly, in this region, we have taken the vierw that as 80% of the trips are made by car, that this “majority” should determine how the rest of us live. Grade separation is not about producing the best transit system for transit users but rather the one that has least impact on car drivers. Other cities long ago decided that cars in and of themselves were the problem. In urban areas the desire to drive imposes huge externalities on the community. People who bring tons of metal with them everywhere they go make huge demands on space -both for moving and parking. The vehicles currently are somewhat better than they once were in terms of local air pollution, but there are so many of them that they still produce air which is not healthy to breathe. They also keep their occupants safer but have a dramatic effect on unprotected humans, and the rate of deaths and injuries would not be acceptable in any other mode of transportation. Mostly, cars defeat the way cities have always worked to bring people together in an environment where all kinds of formal and informal interactions occur. Vibrant city centres have been created in many places where cars have been kept out completely – or at the every least significantly constrained. European cities that tried grade separation for their trams – putting them in tunnels in preparationm for later metro conversion – quickly reversed that policy. Trams now stay on the streets, which are closed to other vehicle traffic, and the economy and sociability of the city centre blossoms.

The reason that I opposed the Canada Line was that it would bring more car traffic to Cambie Street in Vancouver and along No 3 Road in Richmond. The landscape effect of the overhead right of way is also a visual blight on No 3 Road and the damage of cut and cover construction on Cambie Village is well documented. We seem to be about to make the same mistake along Broadway – although as before the province is promising to use bored tube not cut and cover. Why anyone would believe them when they broke the same promise before I do not know. I do know that Broadway could accomodate a lot more people moving capacity than it does now. Good design would make it both safer and pleasanter for residents, shoppers and people who just like to be around other people.  Patrick has already demonstrated that the proposed budget for the Broadway tube would pay foir the re-establishment of the Vancouvber streetcar system – and more. Of course some car moving and parking capacity would be lost – but in my view that is a positive not a neagtive outcome. There are much better things that can be achieved in our public realm than the ability to drive fast and park easily.

I am very pleased that he has allowed me to give you all a sneak peak at his paper before its formal publication. I suggest you not only download it but save it somewhere on your computer for ease of reference. It is going to be very useful I think.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2008 at 9:42 am

Posted in Economics, transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with