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North America’s Best Kept (Cycling) Secret

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Photo © by Chris Bruntlett on Flickr

“…when it comes to building bike culture, North American cities tend to use their (chiefly ineffectual) neighbours as a yard stick, rather than measure themselves against far braver European cities like Paris, Seville, and Barcelona. Sadly, their myriad successes are seen as unattainable; their urban areas far more willing and able to embrace change. Quebec, meanwhile – with its own cultural heritage, identity, and language – is simply too “foreign” to figure into the daily consciousness of this continent, and somehow ends up lumped in with the rest of Europe.

Three years later, all of that is changing,.. people [are waking] up to what is undoubtedly North America’s cycling capital. Montréal now regularly tops lists of the most bicycle-friendly cities on the continent, and is often named one of the top twenty cycling cities on the planet. Their secret is (slowly) getting out; their compelling story is being told, and it is inspiring romantics, such as myself, to demand better than the half-baked policies, poorly-connected facilities, and dismal, single-digit mode shares officials and advocates have accepted for far too long.”

Chris Bruntlett does something very clever. He has been taking photographs of people cycling in smart clothes “cycle chic” – he may not have invented the term but that’s how it came to my attention. I tried to do something similar while in Italy: it is not as easy as it sounds. I was was going to write about what they do for cyclists in Rome and Florence  - but that all came out too negative. Cycling is, of course, forbidden in Venice.

Quebec City has long been on our bucket list. Montréal I once visited for work purposes back in the early nineties: I was not impressed then. Obviously I need to go again now.

Is that a popup bistro?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

Posted in bicycles, cycling, Transportation

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Roma

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This is the third, and final, instalment on my trip to Italy. And, as is common to blogs, it’s backwards, in that Rome is where our trip began.

On the way from the gate where we got off the plane, to the baggage carousel, there were all kinds of the usual retail opportunities that airports offer, and, indeed, depend upon. One of them was for the mobile phone company TIM, that internet research had shown to offer the best value for what I wanted. I bought a SIM card for my smart phone. It cost me 30€ ($46.87) of which about half was prepaid for calls, and the rest for 2G of high speed data (and unlimited low speed thereafter) and unlimited texts for the month. I think. The clerk’s English was barely adequate and all the documentation is, of course, is Italian. I was given documents to sign, and I though I was saying I did NOT want adverts by text. But it was the reverse. I got a daily barrage of incomprehensible offers by text from TIM the whole month. But now I was not dependent on wifi, and could access the internet anywhere. My phone also has Word Lens that is supposed to translate signs and stuff, and was almost entirely useless. I needed something to translate the translations. More than once I was glad of the data link to access Google Maps and sort out not just where we were but what direction we ought to head off in. It also meant that when I booked our trip to Venice, all I had to do was show the conductor on the trains the automated text message the FS system had sent me.

We were picked up from the airport by prior arrangement, and the journey into Rome was one of the scariest experiences I have had in a motor vehicle short of actually being in a collision. Afterwards we solemnly abandoned any thought of renting a car in Italy.

Roman parking

This is on the street where we rented an apartment. This car is not pulling out of a side street. It is parked. It is not unusual to see cars parked on the corner. They more usually park at an angle. The corner is usually the only place where there is a space to park. As pedestrians, we found that we were always taking what in a Canadian context would be very risky activity. If you wait at the curb, cars do not stop. You have to step into the traffic to show you are serious about crossing. Even then, motorcycles and scooters will simply weave around you as you cross. Fortunately many roads are narrow and often parked up on both sides. Most urban areas have one way streets, which result in much faster speeds.

Tiber embankment

Testaccio used to be part of the ancient Roman port facilities. It was redeveloped at the end of the 19th century as an industrial area with workers’ housing, and hosted the city’s slaughterhouse.

The river was prone to flooding, and the embankment process greatly reduced access to the waterside. Look at the height of the embankment and imagine that imposed on the Richmond dykes: or the waterfronts of Vancouver. Rome had to face floods every spring as it is surrounded by mountains – as we are. The rich lived on the hills: the ghetto regularly got flooded. That changed at the end of the nineteenth century for them. I suspect that it will have to change for us too, and in much shorter order than we are currently contemplating.

Riparian cycle track

Trastevere, on the other side of the Tiber, has this two way cycle and pedestrian trail. I was lucky to be able to catch a cyclist actually using it. The Lonely Planet Guide has this to say about cycling “The centre of Rome doesn’t lend itself to cycling: there are steep hills, treacherous cobbled roads and the traffic is terrible.”

City Bikesharing

We saw several of these stations, but never any bikes. The only information I can find on line is entirely negative. There were no bikes in 2011 either. Lonely Planet does not mention bikesharing.

Ancient Rome is still in the centre of the City and most is unrestored ruins. This is the Forum – a view taken from Il Vittoriano. What is very noticeable about this view of the Eternal City is the amount of tree canopy, and the absence of modern high rise buildings.

Centro Storico

Pedestrian street

There is a connected network of these streets across the Centro Storico.

Pop up road closure

I would like to see greater use of these barriers to car use in more cities. Robson St might be a suitable candidate, with trolleybus activation of barriers/signals.

Protected two way bike lane, Testaccio

Our neighbourhood had seen some traffic calming with this protected bike lane, and bumpouts for pedestrian crossings. Though you will note the pedestrian taking the more direct, diagonal route across the intersection. I did not actually see anyone use the bike lane, but I admire the vertical stanchions along the curb to prevent any danger of dooring.

There are many famous public spaces in Rome. Below is Piazza Navona – which was at that time the subject of some dispute between the authorities and the artists who rely on the tourists for their living.

Piazza Navona

Others are very impressive spaces, but seem to serve very little actual purpose. Or perhaps had one once that has now been lost.

The view from Pincio Hill

This is Piazza del Popolo, once the site of public executions. At least they managed to keep it clear of traffic unlike the similar Place de la Concorde in Paris.

We did use the two line underground Metro. There is a third line now under construction, but progress is slow possibly due to the huge haul of archaeological material uncovered whenever you dig anywhere in Rome. It was reliable in some of the worst traffic disruptions, but not actually pleasant to use due to the crowding and the persistent presence of piano accordion players – some very young children. Begging – and demanding money with menaces at railway stations – is a real problem. We prefer surface travel, but one trip on Tram Number 3 from Piramide (near our apartment) to the Modern Art Gallery at the other end of the line took all morning! Trams do have some exclusive rights of way – but they often have to share them with buses and taxis and seem to have no ability to affect traffic signals.

7029 with bow collector

There are two “albums” on flickr of public transport in general and trams in particular. Rome used to have an extensive tram network, but unlike other cities never abandoned it completely and has upgraded some lines in recent years with modern low floor articulated cars and reserved rights of way. Route 8 through Trastevere is one the better efforts. Our local service, route 3 along Marmorata, was curtailed during our stay due to track maintenance.  We did best by choosing some of the designated express bus routes, which simply stop less often than regular services, rather like the B Line. Bus stops in Rome have very detailed information on them about services – but rarely have real time information. And the sale of bus maps is a commercial activity, not a public service. In the event of service disruptions, having a smart phone was no help as no information was available in English.

We did a lot of walking in Rome. There are lots of parks – Villa Borghese for instance, which is no longer an actual villa just its gardens. And we were next to one of the nicer neighbourhoods, Aventino, sort of a Roman Shaughnessy. So we saw a lot of a relatively small area, and not very much of the rest of the city, apart from one trip out of town to Ostia Antica (fantastic) – and on a our return an overnight stay in Fiumicino, which is not really worth visiting if it were not for the airport. The biggest issue was the tourists. Many more people are travelling these days, especially those from Eastern Europe who were once forbidden to travel but can now afford to do so. They all want to go to the same places, so the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Mouth of Truth are beseiged all day. Rome of course still attracts pilgrims. If you are not one of those avoid the Vatican on Thursday mornings when the Pope addresses the faithful in St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum on Mondays when it is one of the few sites that is open. And if you have the guide book and it promises you “secrets” you can bet your life every other tourist has the same guidebook in their own language and is headed the same way. How else to explain the line up to peek through the keyhole of a locked door on a monastery – to get as glimpse of the dome of St Peters, more easily seen from a park a few metres away?

They all read the same guide books

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Choosing the happy city

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There is a storify based on the #happycity hashtag,which now features many more pictures thanks to the recent Twitter upgrade

At SFU Woodward’s on Wednesday March 26, 2014 the third in the Translink series.

Choosing the Happy City
Charles Montgomery

There were many empty seats even though SFU had “oversold”. If you reserve a seat at one of these events and then find you cannot attend, please remove your reservation as soon as you can. There were people who would have liked to be there. But at least there was also a live stream and the event will be added to the Youtube site in due course.

The introduction was made by one of Fraser Health’s public health officers. Happiness is fundamental to health. We need a system that promotes physical activity. Urban form and transportation determine how people choose to move around, and also affordability of housing and access to green space. People who live in the suburbs of Vancouver walk more than other places. We must improve and maintain choices especially for non urban places. She made the point that some policies which seek to deter car use can adversely affect the mobility of people who live in places where there is no other choice but to drive for many trip purposes. There is an inequity in adopting such deterrents before there are adequate choices fro everyone.

Charles Montgomery started his presentation with two “exercises” – the first to identify  Translink staff “the institution we love to hate”. He invited audience members to hug a member of Translink staff if they were near them. The second related to two images of dorms at Harvard University. One was a traditional building, the other a somewhat forbidding modern block. Most people indicated they preferred the traditional building, as did newly arrived students. But a study showed that there was no difference in the happiness of the students after three years. Many factors determine happiness not just the design of the buildings but social environment within them is important.

The idea of idea of increasing happiness is not new. Early economists called it maximizing utility. However often  “we get it wrong.I think pursuit of happiness is a good thing. We can measure it. … More pleasure than pain, healthy, in control, meaning, security but strong social connection underlies all of these. Both the GDP and creativity in a city depends on opportunities for social interaction. He showed a three dimensional graph of space time prisms, which showed the people who are more dispersed find it harder to connect. They spend much less time in the spaces and times when they can meet others. The edge of the urban agglomerations are the least likely to be socially active. If you live in the exurbs you do not have the time, energy or willingness to join things or even vote.

The shortness of the the commute time is the best indicator of satisfaction. “How we move is how we feel”, and even only five minutes of walking or cycling improves mood and regularly moving under our own power also  improves health. Equally driving a nice car on an open road also improves our mood. The trouble is that open roads are rare – and impossible to find at commute times. Driving even a nice car in a congested city is like piloting a fighter jet in terms of the stress experienced. People rate the experience of using transit lowest of all mostly due to the loss of control and that the trips on transit tend to be the longest.

In Greater Vancouver 40% of all trips could be done in 20 minute bike ride. In cities the design of the built environment determines both our behaviour and our bodies. If we build infrastructure for cycling – making it safer – more people will cycle. People will walk 800m to shop in a good urban environment but less than 200m in the typical suburban big box centre. The huge parking lots are a deterrent to walking even short distances.

He cited Larry Frank’s work in Atlanta showing maps of destinations available within a 10 minute walk of home. While there are many in the traditional city centre in the suburbs there are none. It is not surprising then that people who live in the suburbs on average have 10 pounds more in weight

Status interventions

- Equity
Having  low social status is bad for health. When transit viewed as a “hand out for the undeserving” – he used the notorious ads in the Georgia Strait some years ago for a GM car dealer which had a bus with the words “creeps & weirdos” as the destination sign – it is unsurprising that it is difficult to persuade people to change modes. Enrique Penalosa redesigned the city of Bogota and it was all about equity. He cancelled a new freeway but built the Transmilenio BRT based on the Curitiba example.

 - Freedom
This is represented by our having mastery of our movement. In one experiment they used skin conductance cuffs on people  in a mockup of a subway car. Even though this was staged at a party, as the space available to the group in the car became more restricted so their stress levels rose. He showed a picture of the Navigo card in Paris which is much more than a transit ticket. It also gives access to Velib bike sharing – and (he claimed) car sharing (which if so is a change since I was in Paris). “It also gets you cookies” But mostly it gives people the freedom to live with less stuff. they do not need to own a car or a bike [and can get around without worrying about either being stolen]

He then showed picture of the land the province has recently put up for sale in Coquitlam. This “swathe of Burke Mountain will not be well connected”. But families can save $10k a year by not owning a car. He cited Daniel Kahneman’s Book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” We are rightly fearful of house fires and build new suburbs to allow access to big fire trucks, with wide roads and sweeping curves – like a race track.  Streets aren’t safe enough for kids to play on – but we somehow think that we have made them “safer” and the areas they serve. There was a notorious experiment on children with Oreos. They could take one immediately or wait awhile and then get two. He says that the problems we require that we slow down and consider their complexity.

The challenge is the cost of congestion, but we attempt to solve it by designing disconnection. He illustrated this with a picture of the new Port Mann Bridge construction and remarked that we only realized that the new bridge was not needed until after it opened. All the traffic and people that now use it could have been accommodated if the old bridge had been tolled and a rapid bus service along Highway #1 introduced. [This was actually something that the Livable Region Coalition pointed out at the time, by the way. No-one believed us.]

“We did it before” He showed a slide of the Livable Region plan from the 1970s. And he also showed the “Leap Ahead” transit plan which its authors (Nathan Pachel and Paul Hillsdon) estimated would cost $6.5 bn but could be paid for with a $0.05 sales tax.

Referendum = fast brain disaster

“The best thing to do is cancel the referendum.” However since that is unlikely  we can save ourselves by adopting the recommendations that Roger Sherman used to win the second Denver referendum. Their program was called “Fast tracks” It was a clear plan and fully costed designed to appeal to the core values of the voters. Most of them drive so it has to show how improving transit improves life for drivers

It is not enough to present a clear picture – it has to have a champion, preferably a celebrity and since Brad Pitt is unlikely to be available he suggested Diane Watts

Bring it back to happiness

Working together is good for us build more resilient community

Q&A

The first question pointed out that the Leap Ahead plan did not seem to have much for the North Shore

“Now is not the time” to determine the details – though it does have a fast bus, and I suggested adding another SeaBus

The second noted that he used an illustration of Disneyland. Expectation of good time in built form

Tests in Disneyland show that architecture that speaks to us is good for well being

Technology in design of transportation

Vehicle sharing systems, driverless cars, use of Car2Go in East Vancouver shows that is a bedroom community. there are plenty of cars there overnight but none during the day. We have to have more activity in our residential areas – this is not a technology problem.

Eric Doherty pointed out that he had not mentioned climate change

“While it feels good to do the right thing but not everybody agrees on what that is. Trying to convince people to think like us does not work”. Gateway sucks did not work – it did nothing to convince people who had to drive that there was any concern over their needs.

How do we overcome this mindset of entitlement?

Golden (referring to the first presentation in this series) got all the players in the room and respecting others point of view. sophisticated comm??

Q from twitter on codes

Self reports on happiness higher in small towns

Rural areas

Everybody can benefit from a village

Codes for rural community Gordon Price commented  “The City is not shaped by market forces”

Nathan Woods (Unifor)  said: We need $3m and Brad Pitt. How do we get that?

Developers stand to benefit – they have the resources. The Surrey BoT strongly supports transit

Can you supply examples of success of postwar planning

Lewis Mumford
False Creek
New Urbanists
Seaside FL

Lean urbanism

Forest Hills Gardens NY (GP again)

Is a dense urban environment enough?

Towers are as bad for lack of trust as exurbs
Just pushing us together is not enough
“Lazy tower style in Vancouver”
Town houses, courtyards, green space

Example of Copenhagen – can we transfer that here?

The answer would be Long and complex. But in one word-  Experiment – just line Janette Sadik Kahn did with bike lanes in New York

Gordon Price pointed out how really emotional the fight over bike lanes here had become

Change is very difficult. Regarded as intrusive

One action for individuals?

Started out as a journalist feeling I had no right. We can all change a bit of the city. Those of us who live here have the right to change where we live

What has surprised you in the reactions since the book came out

Jarret Walker told me that on these examples its not the planners who are the problem. “We know that.  You have to convince the politicians … and the people.”
Try not to scare people

Someone from modo talked about Share Vancouver and its implication for resilience, during disasters for instance

Life changed in New York with Sandy. How can we create that sense of urgency?

Experiment Granville St what are we learning?

The questioner felt that all the changes we have seen have been controlled by the business community

Times Sq occurred with support from the BIA – who have benefitted as rents are now going up. The police closure of Granville St at weekends was a response to violence. It gave more space for people to move around and thus reduced conflicts

Councillor Susan Chappelle from Squamish said that they were trying to get  a regional transportation dialogue going – they are outside the Translink area with a small transit system provide by BC Transit.  They remain “disengaged”. The immense changes he talked about are not translated into budget of small town. In the current situation “Words are used, with no change happening.” Squamish is left disconnected

The measures are the same for reducing GHG and increasing happiness. Should we encourage commuting [between Squmish and Vancouver]? The industrial zoning is out of date.

Can design offset crime?  Social justice?

Some people assert “None of this is going to work until we overthrow the 1%” But his work shows that the way we design cities has an immediate impact. It’s an equity issue. Many people complain that they can’t afford to live here but then they oppose the density increase essential [to get reduced housing/transportation combination cost reduced]

Some who was arranging a summit of cultural planners pointed out how hard it was to get a large meeting to places which did not have good connections. Change the way transit works to support the summit

BC Transit should take cue from TransLink interagency approach We can crowd source all kinds of stuff

btw People actually talk on the #20 bus

Big issue is transit funding. A city has found solution?

Richmond is the only place where car ownership has fallen – obviously a response to the Canada Line
See the example of the Los Angeles referendum which was not just about transit – it paid for everything with something for everyone

REACTION

This was by far the best presentation in the series so far, in large part because it was not read from a script. He was speaking to the slides he was showing but clearly enjoyed interacting with the audience. It was indeed a performance – and a good one at that. On the other hand there did not seem to be a great deal that was new or remarkable in the content. Working in this field for forty years means that I have actually witnessed exactly the same set of prescriptions proffered for a what at the time seemed like different problems – congestion, growth, inequity, sustainability, bad air quality, global warming. And now happiness – or its absence.

I have got into a lot of trouble for stating unequivocally “transit sucks” to transit management. They of course would rather boast of their accomplishments, how well they do under difficult circumstances, and how resistant politicians are to pleas for more money. But the fact remains that despite increasing expenditures, the overall transit mode share is very difficult to change. We know what the solutions are – we always have done – but we seem reluctant to embrace the changes necessary. And he is probably right that we have an elite stuck in fast brain mode whenever they deal with these situations. He actually cited Kevin Falcon – more than once – and it seems to me he is right. The Jordon Batemans of course simply play to that preference. It is a lot easier than actually thinking clearly (slowly) and then acting.

 

 

The Bicycle Dairies Episode 10

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It has been a while since I have written anything under this heading. We just returned from a trip to New York. Given all the press attention it has received, we could hardly ignore the new bike sharing system known there as citibikes after its sponsor. (In London people refer to them as “Boris Bikes” rather than “Barclays Bikes”). I visit New York quite a bit as my son lives there, and have got to know my way about Manhattan. I have also now visited Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island too: the Bronx I am saving for later. As with Paris, my first instinct was to try and get everywhere by subway, but I soon learned its limitations. “The only way to get across town is to be born there.” Like most visitors, there’s a lot of walking – and “flaneuring” – too.

a full rack of citibikes

A lot of people got very upset when these stations started appearing. I think they are neat and tidy, but what they seemed to do was take away that precious commodity – on street parking spaces. In fact, very few people can actually use on street spaces, since there are so few of them and much of the curb space is needed for deliveries. All over Manhattan much space is taken by large black limousines and SUVs waiting for passengers (livery cars are an important part of the transportation system but are not taxis).   The price of off street parking is of course ridiculous – and much traffic is simply circling looking for an on street spot.

How to use citibike

I am writing about my experience and this is not intended as a detailed critique of the system. There is plenty on line about how to use the system, but as usual the PR folks have made the process look a lot easier than it is in practice. It is not just a question of sliding in your credit card. There are a number of screens that you have to go through and on line forms to fill in. One good thing is that the screen accepts CA as the country code in default of a zip code. That is not possible at other terminals, like ticket vending machines at subway stations – or self serve gas pumps. My partner found that after going through the entire process it simply failed – something we also experienced in Paris. I managed to use two different credit cards for two separate bikes: I think you can register more than one bike at a time, but this seemed easier if we wanted to use them at a docking station later.

citibike docking station

Getting the bike is simple. Having completed the registration process, you get a five digit code to punch into a dock – the buttons are on the left hand side – and a green light comes on to tell you to take the bike. This is time limited. Returning is equally simple. Push the front wheel into the dock until the green light comes on.

As you might expect, there are times when the stations are full of bikes – which makes it easy to rent hard to return. Equally we would have used the bikes more often but either the station was empty or not co-operating. We saw one man with a citibike key fob that he could put into the dock, but it refused to give up its bke. And that would have left only one for the two of us. I did not feel like using my card in a system that was behaving like that, but maybe the bike had been reported damaged. Yes, you can do that (“notify us by pushing the white wrench button on the top of the dock”) I do not recall seeing that very useful tool in Paris.

I strongly recommend the use of a smart phone or tablet to find bikes and stations. Like car2go it is not exactly essential but makes life a lot easier. I would also, like car2go too, not rely on the system exclusively. You will still need a Metrocard, and do not neglect the ferry system either. The Staten Island ferry is free, and the East River ferry only $4, which is still great value.

Left unattended

Contrary to the instructions, these bikes were simply left while the people who had rented them went and looked at the carousel in Central Park. If they had been stolen while they were in there, it would have cost them plenty.    Even citibike say that for protracted periods, conventional bike rentals are a better deal. Since it costs $9.95 for a 24 hour pass, it is actually cheaper to rent if you do not intend to make a large number of trips. The first thirty minutes do not incur an extra fee so you can keep swapping bikes – but then you have t be able to find them when you need them. We would have got much more use out of our membership if bikes had actually been available when and where we needed them.

While we were looking at a bike station near Central Park, we were approached by a sidewalk salesman for one of the bike rental companies, offering a very attractive deal. And, this being New York, you could always try haggling.

DENVER

We also saw bike share in Denver. Interestingly this one is sponsored by Kaiser Pemanente one the larger HMOs

Denver Bike Share

We did not use this. Partly because it was so hot, but also because there is a free bus shuttle through downtown, which we used a lot, and everything we wanted to see in the two days we were there was within walking distance

Bike share component

The weakest component on the Velib bikes in Paris is the seat adjustment. Denver has adopted a much more robust approach

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling

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Transit investments lead to healthier people

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A Media Release from UBC with a link to the whole research paper – actually hosted by Translink – and dated August 20 last year

No surprises here – but useful back up to the argument that we ought to spend more on transit. Not that I expect that to influence people like Jon Ferry, [The Province, paywalled]  who is pretending to be open minded!

B8106

A new report from the University of British Columbia shows that transportation and health are closely linked and recommends that health outcome be considered in transportation planning.

The report, funded by TransLink and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as part of updates to Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy, presents a range of opportunities for Translink to incorporate health into its planning.

“This report documents how prioritizing transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure will positively impact health,” says the study’s lead author Lawrence Frank, Professor and Director of the Health and Community Design Lab, part of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “It looks at encouraging active transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, and reducing air pollution and traffic collision risk.”

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Previous research by Frank has shown that every hour a person spends in a car each day makes them six per cent more likely to be obese, while each additional kilometre a person walks makes them five per cent less likely to be obese.

Sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Many chronic diseases are preventable and active transportation and other sustainable transportation choices offer the possibility of prevention and even treatment through increased physical activity. The costs of these diseases are projected to increse by more than $1.5 billion in B.C. over the next 2 to 3 years.

“TransLink’s consideration of the health impacts of transportation systems could help offset the rising costs of health care in the Vancouver area and promote an active lifestyle that will benefit all Canadians,” Frank adds.

The full report is available at here.

Canada Line

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in cycling, health, transit, walking

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Kitsilano Farmers’ Market

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This is our regular Sunday morning walk in the summer. And usually, when I post pictures to flickr I post them as a set and, more often than not, and quite a bit of text to the set description. The new layout means that now, nobody else can even see what I write there. Really, really stupid and insensitive to how people use flickr – not that they care. So if you follow me on flickr this blog post duplicates what is on there, and the text now appears there under each image. And I know there are cyclists who follow this blog, so it is not at all off topic.

Kits Farmers' Market

My partner says she can see the tents from Arbutus Street when we drive past. That is because 11th Avenue is closed to traffic.

I have seen cricket and baseball being played at this location at the same time. But not this week.

Securing their cycles

Securing their cycles

As you can see, there is a large poster “Free and Safe Bicycle Parking” – so of course I had to ask why they were doing this.

They said they did not feel comfortable NOT paying at the Free parking – which actually asks for a $2 per bike donation (see next picture). They also said that it was a lot quicker to reclaim their bikes when they needed them.

But the young woman woman in the white shirt said it best: “We saw this space and it spoke to us.”

That’s art.

If you can donate $2 ...

Well that doesn’t sound so bad. Though it seems to work a like PBS. I wonder how many people (like me) just don’t pay. Mind you, I walked both ways. My bike is in the locker downstairs, and I did not even think about getting it out.

Lining up for crepes again

Lining up for crepes

And this was at eleven o’clock. However, other trucks use different techniques to deal with crowds.

Waiting for lunch

Waiting for lunch

I got a poached eggs sandwich (with bacon and cheddar) but then had to wait ten minutes while it was prepared. So there is no line up for Yolk’s, but just as many folks waiting. Just not standing in line.

There is a dearth of seating and shade here.

Faith in his product

Faith in his product

One of the guys from Yolk’s having his lunch.

People watching on W10th

People watching on W10th

The grassy knoll viewpoint

Seeking out the shade

Under that white tent are UBC students offering free bike tune-ups. And they do mean free. Although there is still an opportunity to donate if you really insist.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling

Tagged with ,

Small triumph for social media

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It’s press release Thursday. This one come from the BCAA with the headline “BCAA unveils 2013 Top 10 “Worst Roads” list: Kelowna’s Westside Road, Vancouver bike path and George Massey Tunnel take top spots”

Bike path makes ‘worst’ roads list

This year, a surprising twist occurred with Vancouver’s BC Parkway, a bike path, leading the pack throughout the survey and landing in second place.

“It was really interesting to see a bike path get nominated which shows that cycling safety is an on-going concern and cyclists really see bike paths as their roads,” says Cousin [Ken Cousin, BCAA's associate vice president of Road Assist]. “The bike path making the top 10 ‘Worst Roads’ list speaks volumes about the need to ensure cyclists—and pedestrians, for that matter—have safe places to commute, which helps reduce the risk of traffic collisions for all road users.”

The reason it got on the list was that it was nominated by Patrick Johnstone on his NWimby blog and then promoted on twitter, where it was picked up by the cycling advocates The British Columbia Cycling Coalition and HUB: Your Cycling Connection. Since few people actually go to the BCAA site to vote for their roads, and they get spread all over the province, it is not too difficult for organized activists to influence the vote. My twitter stream is regularly populated by tweets trying to influence on line polls – especially those on main stream media. These are, of course, unscientific measures of opinion, and no one tries to measure how representative the sample is compared to the rest of the population. Equally no-one pretends that they are either.

Even so, I want to draw attention to number three – the Massey Tunnel – just in case my vote influenced things at all. I was annoyed by the way the map selection tool worked on the survey. Since what I wanted to draw attention to is not the congestion on Highway #99 – but rather than on Steveston Highway. At that time I lived there – and saw the daily back up of traffic, queueing to get into the tunnel which sometimes got as far back as Number 4 Road – and always well past Shell. I used to have to plan my trips to avoid that length of road in the mid afternoon. The problem is the intersection. Some work is going on as a result of the re-development of the Fantasy gardens site at the intersection of Steveston Highway with No 5 Road. But that stops at the boundary (CoR/MoT) – because the Ministry is responsible for the two lane overpass. And that is now a real barrier to local movement as the rest of Steveston Highway is 4 four lanes – and the SilverCity Riverport complex generates lots of trips. My views on the tunnel are here.

But it is one thing to get #2 place on an online poll, it is quite another to get something done about it. The BC Parkway was built at the time of the Expo line, but it was not part of that project. SRY still operated freight trains under the SkyTrain – and the budget then was for transit, not walking or cycling. The Parkway was partly funded by sponsors Molson and 7-Eleven in return for naming rights. They did not contribute to maintenance or improvements which quickly became evident. Some improvement did take place in Central Park, where the bike path used to use a winding path through the rhododendrons – the site of my first major cycling crash. Not that I think my broken wrist had anything much to do with the improvement.

BC Parkway at Patterson

What is left of the crash site

Translink at least now has some commitment to cycling and walking. Not enough but its a start. And Burnaby does seem to be able to get itself moving on these issues. The Central Valley Greenway, for instance was an initiative of Translink, with contributory funding from the feds (back when they cared about GHG reduction) and Burnaby. But in order to get something done, there will have to be co-operation again between municipalities and Translink ought to be able to organize that. The problem right now is that they are more focussed on major strategic issues – and the line up for more immediate fixes to the system as a whole is longer than they can deal with.

In the coming weeks, the Association will provide the complete survey results to municipalities and the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to encourage improvements.

Well I hope they BCAA has the sense to work with BCCC and HUB on this one. And maybe someone with an eye for publicity can round up some more sponsors. With a longer term commitment this time please.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2013 at 10:22 am

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Do bike helmet laws really save people?

with 7 comments

A really balanced and thoughtful opinion piece from the Washington Post. The answer is not nearly as much as the helmet law proponents would have you believe:

Helmets are sometimes said to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent, but that statistic comes from a 1989 study that has not been replicated. “Studies in the last 20 years have calculated that helmets prevent 10 to 40 percent of head injuries,”

But this is in the context of states which do not have such laws, deciding whether or not to introduce them, and mostly they will only apply to children.

“No one would argue that helmets don’t decrease the risk of injury,”

Actually I think I might. For instance I often see cyclists who have a helmet on that will not do anything to protect them. That is because they do not wear them properly. Add to that the poor design of even the best helmets – which have not changed very much since standards were established – which do very little to protect against concussion. Moreover, many people do not replace their helmets often enough – or when the helmet gets damaged. If you have a helmet on, you won’t get a ticket is about the best advice I can give people here. But I am not at all confident that in the event of a collision the helmet will make a great deal of difference. What we do know is that helmet laws reduce the number of people cycling – and they deter the safest cyclists. They also get in the way of successful bike sharing programs, which otherwise are very good news for getting more people to cycle. The big killer these days is not collisions – its the diseases caused by inactivity: obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The metabolic syndrome of industrialized high calorie food (loaded with salt, sugar and fat), high levels of car use and widespread computer use for work and (with tv and video games) leisure time. Helmet laws make people think that cycling is dangerous, when not cycling is more dangerous. While the US can still avoid most of the silliness by sensible analysis of the Canadian data

overall rates of head injuries were not appreciably altered by helmet legislation.

we have the much harder problem of getting rid of the law we have. And at the same time persuading children that they ought to wear helmets – and that we need much better helmets, which people can wear if they want to.

PS And also see Feds Withdraw Claim That Bike Helmets Are 85 Percent Effective from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association as well as this post from Gordon Price on what ought to be the definitive study from New Zealand

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

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Return of the blogger: Stakeholder Forum – Translink

with 10 comments

It has been twenty one days since I last posted on this blog. A lot has happened in the intervening period, some of which I might well have reported or commented on. But I was otherwise occupied. I have sold my townhouse in Richmond, and after disposing of a lot of my possessions, and relocating others, am now a full time resident of Vancouver. And hopefully will now find more time to write here, as there should be a declining demand on my time from domestic duties.

This morning I attended a Stakeholder Forum organized by Translink as the start of the next steps towards “confirming our vision for the long-term and map out the near-term steps needed to get us there” (their words, not mine). It was held at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the range of “stakeholders” present was quite wide – it included the cyclists, the truckers, the unions and quite a lot of municipal people as well as NGOs like the Fraser Basin Council. Many familiar faces – but nearly as many empty seats.

Ian Jarvis opened with a summary how well Translink has done, doubling transit ridership in the last ten years, securing $3bn in senior government funding and surviving a series of reviews which showed that it is well managed. But “we can’t save our way to growth”. One million more people are coming to this region by 2040 – and they will want to get around a system which is already straining its capacity. There are funding sources but they are all at the maximum they can be – and the fuel tax (one of the more significant sources) revenue is declining. We need to have a “new conversation” about how we shape growth in the region and protect the quality of life here. This stakeholder review is just the start. There will be “broader engagement” in the fall. The purpose of this meeting was to “pin down the strategies”.

Bob Paddon

Transport 2040 will remain in place but some things need to change. Much of the subsequent presentations concentrated on what these changes would be. Unfortunately, that assumed a high level of familiarity of what was already there. It is perhaps unfortunate wording but Goal 1 of the current plan is

Goal 1 Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are aggressively reduced, in support of federal, provincial and regional targets.”

Both federal and provincial governments maintain lip service to reducing emissions but both are actively promoting export of carbon fuels. While in this region, transportation is a significant slice of our own ghg emissions, they pale into insignificance when compared to the volumes of fossil fuels that both federal and provincial governments and their agencies propose to move through this region.

The region has two metro centres (Vancouver and Surrey) seven city centres and many town centres. The movement pattern (as shown by the 2011 Trip Diary Survey) is between these centres and is not simply centred upon commuting to downtown Vancouver. The economy of the region is also dependent upon goods movement – and, he implied, mostly by trucks.

The intention is still to increase sustainable transportation choice. The Regional Health Authorities have been engaged in the process (which is a considerable departure from past practice, and very welcome). The vision and goals remain similar, and there was a lot of investment in the last ten years and “I would like to believe that those days will return.”

Currently trips by walk, cycle and transit are 27% of the total (compared to 19% in 1985) and should be 50% by 2045. [Transportation 2040

"Goal 2 Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling. ]

All trips, 6m in 2013, will rise to 9m by 2045

73% of trips by auto now 4.4m

50% of trips by auto in 2045 is also 4.4m – no change

That is because transit, walk and cycle together will rise from 27% (1.6m) to 50% (4.4m)

Our focus now will be outcome driven. Integrated (the automobile will always be part of the pattern, as will trucks) co-ordinated, resilient and affordable (value for money, performance driven). The new strategic approach will be to manage (improve utilization by pricing) invest ($5bn just to maintain a state of good repair plus up to $18bn if all the desired projects are built) and partner. The choice of how to do this will be based on what can be achieved not by adopting a particular technology [I take this to refer to SkyTrain] We will not follow the pattern of “build it and they will come” but rather ensuring that land use changes to support the new transit lines.

At this point questions and comments were invited:

Martin Crilly – the former Translink Commissioner but now a private citizen – pointed to the legislated requirement for a Plan by August 1. Bob Paddon responded that they could simply adopt  Transportation 2040 as the new plan, but they would prefer to adopt the visions, goals and strategies of 2045 by August 1 and then proceed with an implementation plan.

Bob Wilds of the Gateway Council asked about the role of Ministry [who were not present]. Doug Hall (an ADM at MoTI)  is co-chair with Bob Paddon of the key Steering Committee, and provincial staff are working on the plan.

Louise Yako of the BC Trucking Association pointed out that one of Translink’s problems is that is has responsibility but no authority, to which Paddon replied “We are having that dialogue and governance changes will occur.”

Bill Susak of the City of Coquitlam said that Translink should add advocacy to its aims. Ian Jarvis replied that Translink supports the regional growth strategy. “The vision is not ours, it is what the region comes up with.”

Dr John Carsley, Vancouver Coastal Health urged “aggressive advocacy” – “this is a pressing health issue” – obesity and diabetes. [In fact this is something for stakeholders to do.] He also remarked: “Who is the doctor who prescribes your equanimity tablets?”

Tamim Raad took over the rest of the presentation

He opened by talking about the “new reality” – the revenue challenges would remain for the foreseeable future: 2008 marked a structural shift, and Translink now has to do more with less. The reference to Partners is significant – municipalities in particular, with the emphasis on land use, to establish that land will be in place to support the investments. His presentation concentrated on what is different in the present plan to T2040 – and he said that a draft list of strategies and actions will be made available “in the next few weeks”.

1 Manage: In 2045 the car will still be dominant but now the car is too often the only available choice. “Pricing is the key to efficient choice”  Translink now has a 100% accessible bus fleet and “we do have some spare capacity” This could be utilised by shifting demand from the peak time and peak direction. For instance the development of employment in Surrey Town Centre will provide a useful back load  for SkyTrain. They also need to introduce priority lanes for buses and trucks [my notes indicate my surprise at hearing that]

Pricing for fairness and revenue: we expect to pay more if we consume more, or at peak times. For example, the City of Vancouver does a good job of pricing curbside parking which reduces traffic circling, looking for a space. [Actually other cities like San Francisco do better, but we'll let that pass.] Transit does have user pay, but it only covers half the cost. There is a societal benefit from transit use – it frees road space for others – and all users [of the transportation system] benefit from the transit subsidy. The decision to remove the midday off peak discount (to increase revenue and reduce complexity) has had an effect on demand and was not the most efficient choice as it shifted more trips into the peak period, raising costs and overcrowding. The fare zone system’s coarseness often seems unfair (for example the two zone fare for SeaBus) and there is a lot of opportunity for a finer grain system made possible by the Compass smartcard technology.

Driving is priced indirectly, and we need to shift  from general revenues to user pay. This is not a new concept. Metro and the Mayors’ Council have both endorsed it. The present policy of tolls only on new bridges, and just to pay for the facility, seems unfair and is not optimal for system utilization. At the same time, road pricing is not a panacea for revenue.

At this point reaction was called for, so I got to express my concern that somehow protecting the environment seemed to have slipped into fourth place – behind concerns for the economy, efficiency and health. I pointed out that environmental concerns ought to be a more significant driver – especially if Vancouver is to become a major route through which carbon is exported to the rest of the world.  Richard Campbell (BC Cycling Coalition) and Lon Leclair (City of Vancouver) both spoke of the need for the plan to include more detail “its a hard sell at this high level” – the details will help individuals work out how it will affect them. People need to see solutions. Los Angeles has recently approved a 1% sales tax increase to invest $300bn over 30 years – and would have passed that for a ten year implementation but for the requirement of a two-thirds majority which was very narrowly missed. “The power of lines on a map”

Tamim responded that we have actually completed most of what was proposed in Transport 2021 – in terms of investments – but road pricing was supposed to have been implemented by 2006.

Someone whose name I did not hear from HUB stated that pricing was not the best way to get people to use active transportation. She felt that the role of education was a more appropriate approach to change lifestyles.

2 Invest Strategically

After the coffee break Tamim returned. T2040 identified the need for significant and early rate of progress and identified a need for an additional $1bn for the regional share of projects. In fact the search for savings only produced $35m, about half the target. He said “there is a sense that we have more limited means”. TOD is really about walking and cycling – and the number of cyclists in the region now is roughly equal to those who use the Millennium and Expo lines: the amount invested on each mode is very different.

Transit: 1. meet basic mobility and access needs across the region i.e,. commit to transit in low ridership areas, since these are the capillaries of the network but they will set clear minimum thresholds for ridership (plus grandfathered established services, on which people rely) But communicate a clear set of criteria so that there are no surprises.

2. Have high levels or good future prospects of demand for new services which will be prioritized by the objectives – supply in the right places at the right times “We will not be driving empty buses around” Translink must have confidence that future levels of demand will rise over time and the demand management is in place.

Roads – autos are not the only user of this mode, there are are also walkers, cyclists and trucks. Too little investment in roads can stifle growth. Too much road capacity is NOT an antidote to congestion, in fcat building more roads can make matters worse. We will provide access but not promote dispersal. There will be no more vehicle trips overall by 2045 than there are now. There will be three programs 1. Local access – a finer grain network in urban centres  2. Safety – reconfiguration of intersections can reduce crashes  3. Goods movement – selected links to improve travel time for goods without increasing general purpose traffic.

A representative from UBC asked if a cap on all car trips is actually realistic – he saw a disconnect between aspiration and the proposals

Stu Ramsay of the City of Burnaby said that while he appreciated the idea of supporting local access and providing a finer grid in town centres this was “not Translink’s role hitherto”. Tamim responded that Translink has always been willing to provide support especially around rapid transit stations

Don Buchanan of the City of Surrey said he welcomed the opportunity to exoand the dialogue. The biggest opportunity to leverage change is through walkway and bikeway networks. Funding for that would get a lot more trips shifted from cars than in the last 20 years.

Marion Town of the Fraser Basin Council thought that influencing behaviour would require Translink to be more “nimble”  in the way that information is collected and used.

Katherine Mohoruk of Coquitlam observed that much of the population growth was going to be in the South of the Fraser and the Eastern communities. “We have an excellent system on the Burrard Peninsula” but not in the areas where most of the growth was going to occur. It is critically important to build the roads to complete the grid, and provide transit, in these areas

Tanya Paz (a consultant) said that Translink had an ambitious goal and 2.2 was an effective way to get there but “you will need down escalators on Sktrain”. The system must be both multimodal and seamless. She noted that the province was not here  but we need legislation to reduce speeds in urban areas as well as changes to the Passenger Transportation Act to encourage real time ride and car sharing. “There is an app for that.”

Peter Ladner asked about the provincial conditions for Translink to be able to collect charges on the lift in value that occurs due to transit investment. He asked if that required Translink to invest in land acquisition. Tamim responded that value capture did not require ownership and that benefitting area taxes are within the current legislation.

3.  Partnering 

Funding must be stable, sufficient, appropriate and influence travel choices. There is a real need for new funding – not just road pricing. Land use must support walking and cycling and we should be making decisions about land use around stations before the line is built. There has to be a written commitment [from municipalities]

On economic development, being an advocate for change is not “within our mandate” but ” we need to know what the econmic objectives are.

Martin Crilly pointed out the need for political endorsement

Rob Woods of CUPE (speaking for the other unions present) noted the need to “keep trips safe and secure” and noted that “there was not a lot of talk about retaining employees” although Translink trains people who then get lured away to other employers. “Keep Canadian, buy Canadian, keep jobs local”

Paul Lee of the City of Surrey found it difficult to make the judgement “when the trade-offs are not made apparent – more content would help”

A representative from MVT made the point that Burnaby had used Travel$mart to educate users – but we also need to educate the whole community. For instance there was little value in encouraging users to make appointments later in the day than 9am (to increase the probability of getting a trip) when doctors close their offices between 11 and 1 for lunch. If we provided services throughout the day, then better use could be made of existing capacity.

=========================

REACTION

We live in desperate times – and we need desperate measures. This forum was not the one to make observations about federal or provincial priorities – but the last twenty years have been dominated by the Gateway. Decisions about international freight transportation – the port, the airport, railways – and the need for treaties with First Nations (The Tswawassen was the first urban treaty) blew a hole through regional transportation and land use plans. Massive expansion  of the freeways and loss of agricultural land were wholly contrary to the LRSP – but went through the system with hardly a ripple. We have lost huge tracts of prime food growing land to be covered in concrete for storing empty containers, when climate change is destroying the capacity of California to continue to provide our food.

As it happens, very little of our regional economy is about making stuff anymore, there is a fair amount of distribution, but not much manufacturing. Trucks are not nearly as important in freight transport as trains and ships, both of which are largely a federal jurisdiction – a fine distinction which is destroying our ability to be sustainable – or even to have any kind of effective voice in determining our own future.

Three billion dollars has been spent on a freeway at the same time as car use has started declining.

We passed 400ppm CO2 in our atmosphere at the same time as we became more car dependant – when transportation is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gas in this region.

This plan is going to be more modest and “realistic” than the last one. It is no longer  “Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling”. It is now half. And no doubt consultations with stakeholders like the truckers, and big business, will whittle that down further. Both provincial and federal ruling parties are indebted to big business, and it is corporate interests who really call the shots, not “stakeholders”.

Translink has been cut off at the knees by a previous BC Liberal Minister of Transport. Why would they now admit that they were wrong? Do we really expect them to allow road pricing to replace their current model of tolls for new build only? And won’t their attention be focussed on Prince Rupert and the Peace  and all that lovely LNG?

Unfortunately, Translink made the very bad choice of showing that they were right. They are well run, there are no magic buckets of savings to pay for new services, despite what Christy knew for a certainty. And the one thing that is absolutely unforgivable is to be right and in disagreement with our Premier at the same time. The BC Liberals were willing to say anything before the election, but now they are back, and with more seats in the leg. Don’t hold your breath waiting for all that new funding for transit in the lower mainland. Not a priority, sorry.

I would have liked to have given a précis of the talk by David Miller former Mayor of Toronto over lunch. But I was too busy eating to make notes. I really hope that Translink did not pay for him to come all that way just for an hour’s talk. Even though it was highly entertaining. And it is not as if they have done so much better than us in recent years, after all.

Better Cycling Facilities Means Mobility for Everyone – Not Just Cyclists

A Press Release from the BC Cycling Coalition

This just turned up in my inbox. I have already posted it in the comments section of an earlier post, that covered a Transportation event in Richmond I spoke at. Then it occurred to me that not many people would likely see it there.

Disability Advocates & Seniors Support Cycling Infrastructure Improvements

VANCOUVER, BC – Improved cycling facilities are not just for cyclists – they benefit everyone by increasing mobility, safety and accessibility. People who use power wheelchairs and mobility scooters have seen real everyday benefits in accessibility from new bike lanes and paths in the City of Vancouver. Leaders in the disability community and seniors are voicing their support for major investment in cycling facilities across B.C via a new video:

The BC Cycling Coalition (BCCC) is calling for $75 million a year in provincial funding to implement comprehensive cycling improvements outlined in their Cycling Strategy for B.C.  “Investing in better cycling facilities and safety education will bring widespread benefits to BC communities and all of its residents – including people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Craig Langston, vice-president of the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC.

“I get around on a power wheelchair – it goes a lot faster than is safe on crowded sidewalks and I used to have to creep along in Downtown.” added Langston, who sits on the Disability Advisory committees for the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and for TransLink.  “On the new separated cycle routes, I can travel at the same speed as slower cyclists and get around more efficiently. Cycle tracks are not just for cyclists or for the young and athletic.”

“I’m 63 years old and I started riding an electric-assist bicycle three years ago. I love the freedom and mobility that it gives me, but there are plenty of areas where I still feel unsafe riding.” says Fiona Walsh, Board Member for HUB: Your Cycling Connection. “We want better cycling facilities so that everyone – from eight to eighty years old – can ride their bike and feel safe and comfortable.”

The Cycling Strategy for BC calls for greater investment in cycling facilities, improved road user safety education for cyclists & drivers and clearer regulations in the Motor Vehicle Act around the use of cycling facilities by electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

“Streets that are bike-friendly improve safety, mobility and accessibility for citizens of all ages and abilities – including families with children, pedestrians, people with mobility issues and even drivers.” says Richard Campbell, President of the BC Cycling Coalition. “This is a wise investment that benefits everyone – not just the cycling community.”

For more information about the Cycling Strategy for B.C., visit http://bccc.bc.ca/election/.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 29, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Posted in cycling

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