Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘UBC

A Route Planner to Facilitate and Promote Cycling in Metro Vancouver

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Now isn’t that a title to stir your heart?

As I am sure most of you know, while I am a cyclist – sometimes – I am a fairly cautious one. That is because I am a fat old man with a dicky ticker. Where I live there are steep hills in three of the four cardinal compass points. We live in a bowl – and Valley Drive is the only flat way out. It is uphill from here to Kerrisdale or Shaughnessy and even Kits requires tackling a short but killer grind up Nanton to the new Greenway. So the idea of a tool that takes topography into account as one of the keys to route choice had an instant appeal to me.

I came across it due to a new twitter account called Vancouver Studies run by my old friend Raul Pacheco-Vega. “This account tweets scholarly studies about the city of Vancouver (BC, Canada).”

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So that link took me to the academic publisher Elsevier who, of course, charge an arm and a leg to read research articles – but at least the Abstract provided a link to the program itself. I thought.

With increasing fuel costs, greater awareness of greenhouse gas emissions and increasing obesity levels, cycling is promoted as a health promoting and sustainable transport mode. We developed a cycling route planner (http://cyclevancouver.ubc.ca) for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to facilitate cycling amongst the general public and to facilitate new route location by transportation planners. The geographical information system-based planner incorporates variables that influence choices to travel by bicycle (e.g., distance, elevation gain, safety, route features, air pollution and links to transit) in selecting the preferred routing. Using a familiar and user-friendly Google Maps interface, the planner allows individuals to seek optimized cycling routes throughout the region based on their own preferences. In addition to the incorporation of multiple user preferences in route selection, the planner is unique amongst cycling route planners in its use of topology to minimize data storage redundancy, its reliance on node/vertex index tables to increase efficiency of the route selection process, and the use of web services and asynchronous technologies for quick data delivery. Use of this tool can help promote bicycle travel as a form of active transportation and help lower greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutant emissions by reducing car trips.

I have disabled the link in the quote because that site no longer responds. But Topophilo will give you both the sad story of why this useful tool is no longer available and what else is around to help you.

Cycle Vancouver Is Now Offline

October 31st, 2014

CycleVancouver, Metro Vancouver’s cycling trip planner, has been taken offline because it is no longer receiving funding to be maintained and hosted.

Other useful resources that may be helpful in planning your route are:

and then it also says

The original Cycle Vancouver code has been posted to GitHub for reference.

Which might be good news if we can come up with a rescue plan. Doesn’t this seem to be a Good Idea for crowdfunding? Or maybe support from the City – or even Metro? Isn’t Translink supposed to be into this alternative mode stuff too?

Of course being dead for three years may mean all of this has been tried before – but now the Mayors have come up with some funding for Translink, and even the feds seem interested in less carbon intensive ways of getting around (which wasn’t the case back in 2014) shouldn’t we be trying to resuscitate the patient?

UPDATE Sunday January 8

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and because that link won’t work in an image

AFTERWORD May 16, 2017

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

The subway versus LRT debate on Broadway

with 34 comments

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

Direct light-rail line to campus the way to go, UBC says

with 14 comments

Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail has been talking to Pascal Spothelfer, the university’s vice-president of community partnerships. He seems not to understand that the way to make a partnership is to look at the combined interest of both – or all – parties rather than than your own self interest. Of course UBC wants to get more people onto transit than the current bus lines can carry – and as usual all eyes are on the Broadway corridor. Prior to today, the City has been favouring an underground line from VCC to Arbutus, with bus the rest of the way. The city’s engineers have delivered an update today (see foot of this post).

I am a bit reluctant to open up the comments on this since it will almost inevitably revert to the tired old debate of SkyTrain vs LRT. What we really need to be talking about right now is what do we do to resuscitate Translink – which is starved of operating dollars and is busy cutting service in much of the region in order to get some more service into areas where there is now severe overcrowding. For UBC to be pushing its own agenda at this time seems more than a little insensitive. For the decisions that matter will not be made in the City of Vancouver, which is unlikely to be swayed by views of the unincorporated area to its west. UBC’s population may be growing, but they don’t vote in City elections. And the areas that are going to be impacted by whatever is built are some of the most expensive and politically influential bits not just of the city but the province.

And, like it or not, rapid transit is – and always has been – a provincial issue. “TransLink typically only takes on a big transit expansion once a decade. ” And that being the case, really ought be concentrating its attention on the part of the region that is growing fastest, has the greatest current and future car dependance, and is currently grossly underserved by transit of all kinds. Any new dollars that Translink gets seem to me should be ear marked for Surrey, so that the 555 Highway #1 rapid bus can have a park and ride and service connections into Surrey (instead of blasting straight through non-stop) and the #96 B-Line can be extended along the rest of King George all the way to White Rock. Rapid bus may not be as sexy as light rail, but it can at least be introduced in the next few years, given some political will.

Next year we will have a new provincial government. Let us dream a little and imagine that it is not only NOT the BC Liberals, but also the NDP with some significant Green influence – given last night’s federal by-election result of 34.3% in Victoria. That new administration might well want to reconsider the once a decade track record, and conclude that what BC’s major urban area needs is a program of steady transit expansion – with perhaps a moratorium on major new road building projects. Stop talking about six lane Patullo replacement and a new Deas Island crossing, start talking about managing the steady decline in driving that we have been seeing and how to provide all kinds of alternative ways of getting around. Don’t put all your investment into one big project, but start a long term program of continuous improvement in affordable increments. And the only way that gets thrown into doubt is if there is some change in funding strategy from other levels of government. As long as Canada is cutting is transit spending, and province is playing blacktop politics (where the NDP has a very similar record to the small c conservatives) Metro Vancouver needs a strategy that it can fund – likely from road user charges and parking fees.

The other thing that gets put back on the table with the a new provincial government has to be land use and higher education. Making universities behave like businesses was really silly since UBC had land that could have been used for student housing and might well have gone some way to cutting the distance that “140,000 people a day” have to travel. Allowing university land to be developed for market housing only makes sense if you view UBC as a commercial venture with a cash bottom line that overrules any other consideration. That does not seem to me to be a sensible way to run any educational service – or any public sector enterprise come to that. Of course we cannot unscramble that egg now, but we can resolve to do much better in future, and putting both UBC and SFU into downtown(s) was a good first step – but not nearly enough.

It also means that the region gets effective land use powers to overcome local resistance to increased density at rapid transit stations and along transit lines. I am not at all convinced that we could adopt a Hong Kong model, but given that developers pay for so much transportation and parking infrastructure now, diverting that to a broader toolbox of urbanization and public space management seems to make a great deal of sense.  As Brent Toderian has been saying – it’s not about the bike lanes it’s about building better cities. But it also seems to me that it is insufficient for one or two cities to follow that strategy while the rest continue with business as usual. We need a regional approach, both at setting priorities for major infrastructure investments and also to tackle the shape (as opposed to serve) development role.

POSTSCRIPT see the latest BC polling – and Bill Tieleman’s view – in the Tyee and here is the presentation that went to Council today – pushing for underground on Broadway all the way to UBC

“Given the impacts of surface rapid transit west of Arbutus, a Broadway Subway should be extended all the way to UBC.” staff presentation

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2012 at 9:48 am

Subway to UBC still a financial pipe dream

with 46 comments

Column by MIRO CERNETIG, VANCOUVER SUN COLUMNIST MAY 24, 2009

Miro pretty well nails this one with just the simple math that it cannot be justified in cost recovery terms. 

Let’s suppose 100,000 people would use that $3-billion rail line — a ridership figure far, far in the future. If it was financed at five per cent a year for 30 years, the actual construction cost to the taxpayer would be $5.8 billion.

That means about $58,000 per rider. Put another way, those 100,000 riders would have to ride the rails every day, seven days a week, for $5 apiece, for more than 30 years to pay down the investment. And that wouldn’t even begin to pay for the system’s operating costs.

Actually it is a great deal worse than that. Firstly because most of the people who would use it, already use transit. So while there is a huge incremental cost there is not nearly as much incremental revenue. They don’t just pay to ride the new subway – they need to use the rest of the system to access it. And, of course, out at UBC many of the users already get an incredible discounted fare deal thanks to U Pass. So the average fare paid per rider is going to me much lower than the system as a whole. Yes there would be some savings – or rather it would free up buses for use elsewhere. But that also frees up more road space on Broadway – just as the Canada Line will take buses off Granville – which will quickly fill up with single occupant cars instead. 

What is missing – of course – it always is – is any understanding of how this project would affect the transit mode share. That has not changed much since I arrived in Greater Vancouver 12 years ago. And a UBC subway would not shift it very much either.  Miro does capture the spirit of this by pointing out the need to use transit to shape growth rather than serve existing demand. And what he says is as true if you substitute most of the megaproject spending in this region that has happened in recent years and is in current plans. The opening of the Golden Ears Bridge next month does nothing to solve any real transportation problem – it just encourages more sprawl in Maple Meadows – as does the new Pitt River bridges. The Canada Line costs a bundle but has less capacity than many surface LRT lines. The Port Mann and Patullo Bridge replacements will both help to ensure continued car dependency and increase both traffic and emissions.

None of this will impact the threepeat Premier who is now  even more convinced that he is unassailable and has a mandate to do as he wishes. And it is not that Miro is better at math than the people who work for the MoT. It is that objective assessment of transport project investment does not happen in BC – and never has done. It is not just the Liberals who make this mistake – the NDP were exactly the same. The Millennium Line and fast ferries would never have passed any objective test – but then they did not have to. The Premier of the day wanted them done. Sadly this may well be what happens again this time around. After all he still thinks the Gateway is a Good Idea! 

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Tagged with ,

UBC Farm Threatened by Condominium Development

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Not so long ago I was talking to a UBC alumna, who had been on one of those official tours where former students are shown around the campus. She was utterly disgusted as the person leading the tour was simply concerned with selling them on the various real estate developments on the campus. She was particularly offended that this individual knew absolutely nothing about the UBC farm and how important it is to the academic program, apart from anything else.

Martin Twigg has done an interview with Gavin Wright, academic coordinator at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, about the farm’s uncertain future, the university’s byzantine planning process and how people can best help to ensure the farm’s survival. You can find it on his spiffy new WordPress blog.

It seems to me that UBC has been drifting way off course, and it started when the fees were frozen by Glen Clark. This drove the university ever closer to the commercial market, to do things that they were willing to pay for, as they had no other way to keep funding themselves adequately. This has affected research, teaching and the planning of the campus. The worst effect from my perspective is that given its location – on the end of a peninsular – it is not well located for a student body that does not live on campus. Instead of enjoying the whole range of the university experience, students are commuters – forced ever further out to find affordable accommodation and trapped into long commutes. The UPass worked to get them out of cars, but at great cost to the publicly funded transportation system. Students have to make far too many and too long motorised transport trips, and spend too much time in transit, and thus have much less time for all the activities that are supposed to make university a growth experience.

UBC has lost sight of its prime purpose. It has become a developer, not an institute of learning and academic research. One of the great weaknesses of the “free market” model is that it actually fails to recognise diversity of purpose. Every human activity is reduced to a commercial proposition where money making is the one and only measure. UBC should have been smart enough to recognize this, but it either didn’t – or more likely came up with spurious justifications for their self interest of the influential few who dominate decision making – and a great deal has been lost in the pursuit of a stronger financial bottom line.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 27, 2008 at 8:20 am