Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 2012

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

Paris to ban older cars

with 4 comments

BY proposing to reduce air pollution by banning vehicles made before 1997, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has angered vintage car owners and motorist groups and raised concerns among those who say they cannot afford new cars.

That is the first paragraph of a New York Times story last week - and is an admirable example of summary of the story.  And much better than the Grist follow up which is just facetious, but at least made it to my twitter stream this morning. It is not that there are no local stories – just that Voony, Gord Price and Eric Doherty are beating me to the blog. And, it just so happens that I happen to have a set of flickr pictures I took when in Paris earlier this year of some very nice classic cars.

Deux Chevaux

There are apparently 367,000 vehicles that would be affected. Just how many that is as a percentage of the fleet is not mentioned. Nor is the fact that old collector cars tend not to be used every day – unless there is some special reason.

Another big old Bentley

An old (British built) Bentley, used as a wedding limo in Paris

There are some 2CVs (they look like the one above) that are used to drive tourists around the city. I think the Woody Allen film has probably cemented the idea for all that one of the reasons for visiting Paris is an attempt to re-visit its history. It is a lovely idea that one could be picked up by some antique vehicle to whisk you off to a party with Fitzgeralds, Hemingway and Dali. I would settle for the opportunity to see again the Paris on 1964 – just for the old cars, old trains and older buses that were running then, when I first visited. In those days, the streets were full of French cars. These days, it is not just Europe that has become the “home” manufacturer – but the far eastern volume makers too. The street scene, automotively speaking, is more like everywhere else.

Renault Twizy

Renault Twizy

Though I doubt you would see one of these anywhere else.

I think it is right that there is a move to make the city a low emission zone, and, as with Greater Vancouver, the decline of manufacturing industry means that cars have become – proportionately – the main source of air polluting emissions in the city. And the opportunities for other kinds of mobility are far greater in Paris than here. We, of course, do not ban old cars. They get grandfathered emissions standards, but we do have the, very successful, ScrapIt program,  and ICBC does give special status to collector vehicles that have very low usage limits set on them. That does not mean they cannot be licensed for everyday use, of course, nor do we have the sort of mandatory vehicle safety testing program that gets dangerous clunkers off the road elsewhere. They don’t even have to be all that old – just cars that are not properly maintained, which is not usually the case for collector vehicles but can, too often, be the case for older cars used by people who cannot afford to pay for preventative maintenance – and will often have several older donor vehicles in order to keep one runner going.

Citroen XM

I will admit to an affection for the daring designs and technological innovation of Citröens – I did not see any of the lovely DS Pallas that the NYT features at the top of their story – this XM was later and less attractive.  But the French are by no means exclusive in their affections and still run classics like the original (British) Mini or (Italian) Fiat 500 (“cinquecento”)

Mini

FIAT 500

These were real small cars unlike their repro modern equivalents. And while their tailpipes might not be as pristine in terms of common air contaminants, they were certainly very fuel efficient because they were light cars with tiny engines. Obviously it is better that people walk, ride bikes or use transit. But if they are going to use a car, surely there is less CO2 emitted from either of these  than an SUV. Or – the ones that make me especially irritated – the huge pick up truck with the off road tires.

The need for a ban is apparently driven by European air quality directives. And if that is the way that Paris can meet these then I suppose that is the way it has to be. In general, I think that there are usually better ways of ensuring compliance. And if we are going to ban vehicles then perhaps we should turn our attention as well to the needless huge, gas guzzlers – and the high performance vehicles which are designed to be operated at race track speeds which ought never to be permitted on public use roadways.

Ferrari

These things have so much power the problem is keeping them within legal speeds – and earlier versions (prior to EFI) used to die in traffic congestion. But really, does anyone actually need to have this kind of performance available in a city bound runabout? Anymore than they need a Hummer?

Model T Ford

Model T Ford on the Champs Elysees

Amphibious car

Amphibious car on the Seine, near the Tour Eiffel

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Posted in cars, Environment

Tagged with ,

Stolen from Price Tags

with 12 comments

Stolen from Price Tags

There has not been much activity on this blog of late. Possibly due to the paywalls on the mainstream media I used to read. When I saw this graphic on Gordon Price’s blog, I knew I had to use it.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with , ,

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