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Repeat a lie often enough …

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Am I being a pedant? Or does my commitment to speaking the truth just keep getting me into trouble? I like Mike Harcourt. I have met him, and even “worked” alongside him: well they call them “workshops”. But he repeats a canard in his latest letter to the Vancouver Sun that irritates me

Vancouver … we are the only major North American city without a freeway (thank goodness).”

Vancouver Boundary

I just created the map above: I was surprised that the City Boundary does not appear on Google maps so I added a very crude dashed line along Boundary Road. The map area to the left of that line is the City of Vancouver. You will note that Highway 1 also known as the TransCanada Highway and “the freeway” is to the left of the line too. Vancouver does have a freeway. Not very much maybe and it just runs through the north east corner of the City and for some distance in a tunnel. But it is a freeway and it is well within the City limits.

Mike Harcourt was indeed instrumental in making sure that a freeway was not built through Chinatown – and downtown. Well done Mike. I salute you. But that does not mean that Vancouver is without any freeways at all.

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Choosing the happy city

with 6 comments

 

 

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.

 

 

A Reasonable Approach

with 7 comments

On Wednesday this week I watched the CBC Evening News and heard New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright talking about the Patullo Bridge. Two things stuck in my mind. He thinks that tolls on the new bridge would be a good idea to limit the amount of traffic. And a cheaper bridge would free up some money to spend on more transit in Surrey.

Actually there was a lot more that the CBC did not cover. There is a 32 page report on the bridge that went to New Westminster council (that link downloads a pdf which is in two column format, that makes on line reading awkward and quoting tricky) and there is also a shorter Backgrounder – which is also a pdf which does not permit cut and paste at all. But that is where the title comes from

TransLink has identified the need to rehabilitate or replace the Pattullo Bridge in order to respond to risks related to its vulnerability in an earthquake, its structural integrity and the effect of river currents on its foundations.

Like all the bridges that the province downloaded to Translink. The Knight Street and the Canoe Pass bridge also were badly in need of rehabilitation. They were old and had been neglected. And when the big shake happens would almost certainly collapse. It was a cynical ploy. The region wanted control transit but the province wanted to get rid of some impending liabilities. So the deal to create what became Translink was that the region would get some more gas tax points (it was already getting 4c a litre for transit) but only f it took on some roads and bridges. So the transfer allowed some increase in transit service, but it also tied the authority’s hands. There would be a “balanced” approach. Translating that spin it meant more would be required for roads – and would be a priority – and there might be some left overs for transit.

I applaud the Mayor for recognizing what the rest of region seems to have difficulty acknowledging. Our problems are based on lack of accessibility brought on by over dependence on the automobile. That applies as much in Vancouver (the suburbs begin south of 12th Avenue) as in Langley. New Westminster is a bit different since it is small, compact and mostly developed before the automobile became the primary means of personal transportation. It also has five SkyTrain stations for its 66,000 people. And a great deal of through traffic on old narrow streets.

The Royal City Record agrees the approach is reasonable. But its editorial goes on to point out that reasonable and well thought out does not necessarily mean that is what gets built. While Christy Clark enjoys the photo opportunity of naming the new TBM for the Evergreen Line she does not actually want to see an increase in transit mode share. And that is what her other big announcement is going to stall – as Translink points out. The New Massey bridge is not going to help increase transit use. Surrey is not pleased with the idea of a tolled four lane Patullo and will continue to press for its preferred free six lane version. And given the impact of the widening of Highway 1, the opening of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the chance that Vancouver will win the shoving match for rapid transit funding for its tunnel over their LRT one cannot really be surprised.

Of course, they are quite wrong in thinking that a six lane Patullo will actually help them. But then that is because no-one in this region seems to be able to grasp that traffic expands to fill the space available. No one has ever solved congestion by increasing road capacity. There are only two ways to cut traffic congestion – road pricing or economic decline. In fact I am not the only economist who has pointed out that traffic congestion is an indicator of economic success.

But to return to New Westminster. What the Mayor is pointing out is that cities are mainly places for people to live in. Not primarily places for cars to get through quickly. Indeed everything that has been done to “improve” traffic speed/flow has an adverse effect on every other aspect of life in cities. The introduction of the automobile has been decidedly deleterious to the quality of life in cities, and the most successful cities in recent years have been those that have been most effective in tackling that impact. Not because they focussed on traffic congestion but because they focussed on what makes cities work better for people. The common factor seen in all the current anti-transit, anti-bike, anti-Translink propaganda has been its uniquely narrow focus. It has been all about people who want to drive their own cars for all their own activities, no matter what that does to them and their communities. It is profoundly conservative in its focus in the sense of “there is nothing wrong with what we have been doing” perception. Like climate change denial, it actually gets stronger and louder in its denunciations of innovation the more that the demonstrable facts show them to wrong. And not just here either.

If you think that the real problems facing us are that gas prices are too high, that it takes too long to find a free parking space and that all government spending (except more prisons and newer war planes) is wasteful then everything I have written – or all of what Mayor Wright says – will fall on deaf ears. But if you think that we need to start rethinking how cities are organized and that reduction in car use is a good measure of success in that regard then a four lane tolled new Patullo actually seems a good idea. I cannot say however that I agree with his other suggestion of a another new bridge linking Surrey and Coquitlam. I think ten lanes ought to be quite enough.

I have cut and pasted some highlights below but I think if you are really interested you ought to read the full report – or at least the Backgrounder which I am unable to quote from

Problem Statement

The Pattullo Bridge may not survive a moderate earthquake or ship collision, the piers are at risk of being undermined by river scour and many bridge components have surpassed their useful lives.

Other Issues

When considering the best alternatives for the problem, it is an opportune time to establish the optimal roles for the crossing and also to address other issues with the current crossing, including:

  1. The Pattullo Bridge does not meet current roadway design guidelines, including for lane widths and curvature, potentially contributing to collisions.
  2. Pattullo Bridge facilities, such as sidewalks and barriers, and connections for pedestrians and cyclists, are inadequate and do not provide sufficient protection from traffic.
  3. During rush hours, travel demand on the roads leading to the Pattullo Bridge results in queuing and unreliable travel times for the movement of people, goods and services.
  4. Current traffic (including truck) volumes affect the liveability of adjacent communities due to air quality, noise and resulting health impacts, as well as due to neighbourhood traffic infiltration.

Objectives

The preferred alternative will meet transportation, environmental and health objectives,

including:

  1. Moves towards the regional goal that most trips will be by walking, cycling and transit.
  2. Minimizes single-occupant vehicle use and vehicle kilometres travelled.
  3. Minimizes emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollutants.
  4. Is capable of supporting neighbourhood liveability by minimizing and mitigating impacts, including during construction, and provides an aesthetically pleasing structure.
  5. Supports local and regional land use plans and economic development.
  6. Provides reliable access and predictable travel times for all modes, users, and for an appropriate level of goods movement.
  7. Provides a safe crossing for all modes, is structurally sound and meets current standards for seismic and ship impacts.
  8. Is cost-effective.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 2.25.59 PM

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 2.11.40 PM

The reality is that public money that is spent on the bridge will restrict the ability to fund other much needed projects such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system within Surrey. The City is supportive of reallocating capital cost saving from a rehabilitated 4-lane bridge project or a new 4-lane bridge project to the much needed rapid transit system in the City of Surrey.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 7, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Andrew Coyne at SFU

with 5 comments

There is already a post on this blog announcing the talk this evening and with my initial reactions. I have have attached my notes below. I have also assembled a storify from the tweets that used the #movingthefuture hashtag

The evening was remarkably short, ending at 20:15. Usually these things go on until 21:00. Was Translink paying him by the minute? I also have the strong suspicion that he was reading a prepared talk, so it seems quite possible that a transcript may appear sooner than the SFU video which is promised “within weeks”. I would have thought a talk like this, which used no visual presentation materials at all could have been distributed as a podcast much faster.

My reaction then is what I am going to write first. He opened by disclaiming expertise – in this field or any other. Experts, he said, know very much more about much less. He knows less about very much more. He also has seemed to me, from his opinion columns, a convert to right wing politics, and in particular their love affair with markets and less government. For such people economics is delightfully simple and straightforward, for they only have familiarity with the basic concepts as set out in Economics 101. They seem not to have been listening when told that the market conceived of under Perfect Competition is an abstraction. It is an entirely theoretical construct used for didactic purposes: to explain what would happen under a set of highly unrealistic assumptions. You have to grasp that in in order to understand what comes in the later courses – which deal with the complexities and difficulties of the Real World.

I have been an advocate of Road Pricing myself – and covered that here. (There are 69 results if you do a search on this blog for “road pricing” (without the quotes). It would be a better way of allocating a scarce resource (road space at peak periods) than the one we currently use – queueing. But that is not to say that such a solution can be implemented easily or quickly. Road pricing might be a better way to deal with congestion – but that does not mean we can implement it here and now. Andrew Coyne did not deal with either here or now. He did not reference the provincial fiat: they are the only ones who can price provincial assets including the designated provincial highways. So the Mayors have been told that Road Pricing is effectively off the table at present. Indeed they themselves have said that while they recognize its potential usefulness they do not actually want it for at least five years in the the future. Like St Augustine is supposed to have prayed: Give me Chastity but Not Yet.

UPDATE Breaking News – according to a paywalled story in the Globe and Mail this morning Todd Stone is now willing to consider tolls and regional road pricing in the upcoming referendum (Posted at 09:08 Feb 26)

Secondly he was very selective in some of the evidence he cited. And in some cases I feel that he rather mislead the audience. For example he asserted that London Transport had halved the cost of providing bus service since it adopted contracting out. What he did not say was that this was imposed by a Conservative government at the national level with a stated objective of breaking the power of the trade unions. Most if not all of the savings came at the expense of the wages of those actually performing the service. The profits of the bus operating companies have been quite remarkable. Indeed that is also true of the railways. There the cost to the public purse has tripled. A franchise to run trains – such as that owned by Virgin – is a bit like a license to print money. It has been a lot tougher for the people who build trains. Only one UK manufacturer remains. The users also now complain of very expensive tickets and gross overcrowding due to underinvestment in very necessary additional rolling stock. Outside London Andrew Coyne conceded experience had been “mixed”. He failed to mention the complete absence of service in many rural areas, the dearth of off peak services everywhere and the consequential huge problem of social isolation.

He did concede that introducing prices on services now provided “free” like road space, hit poor people hardest, but that he said was simply an income problem. Easily solved by a commitment to give poor people more money. If anyone has ever come across a conservative politician who is actually willing to embrace this notion, please let me know. As far as I am aware the idea of the guaranteed income is anathema to every conservative and is no more likely to be introduced into Canada or BC than I am to be given a seat in the Senate.

UPDATE Todd Litman has posted to Planetizen that road tolls are fair and benefit the poor – with lots of references. He does not address region wide road pricing in this piece. He argues as follows

While it is true that a given fee is regressive (a dollar represents a greater portion of income for a poor than a wealthy person), road tolls are generally less regressive than other highway funding options because poor people drive relatively little on such highways: many poor people are retired or unemployed, lower-income workers often have local jobs that do not require highway commutes, and if they do commute on major travel corridors they are more likely to use alternative modes, or travel off-peak because they often have off-peak work schedules.

Saying “eliminate the subsidies” is easy: getting that to happen requires the enthusiastic cooperation of Stephen Harper and Christy Clark. They would also both have to support income supplementation for the poor. Does that seem at all likely?

Afterthought

I happen to be reading Sacré Blues by Taras Grescoe (it’s about Quebec) where I came across his assessment of Andrew Coyne - “the knee jerk conservatism of power worship”

———————————————-

Easing congestion in Metro Vancouver: Pricing without subsidies.

Traffic is strangling our cities – he produced a bunch of statistics which I am not a fast enough hunt and peck tapper to record. He did not note that driving in the US has been declining – something which is also evident here.

The costs of congestion are massive and growing

Commuting by car 85% of total nationally unchanged in twenty years

We use the most perverse system to ration road space – time
Building more roads also doesn’t work it induces traffic
Reduction in capacity produces less demand
Induced traffic also results from other measures. To the extent that they have been successful in improving traffic volume/delay that space is quickly absorbed by new induced traffic

Incentive requires rational mechanism – tolls
Smeed Report (UK 1964)
Roads represent a tragedy of the commons – people leave early to try to beat the traffic just as farmers drove their sheep onto the common to crop its loser before their neighbours got there.

Sprawl creates congestion

Many will object “I paid for those roads already”  but you haven’t paid for the space you occupy at peak periods. Each extra vehicle that joins a congested traffic stream has an exponentially worse impact.  Congestion exists on some roads and some times, so the toll that is needed is a congestion price. Willingness to pay for uncontested roads is demonstrated by the success of express highway lanes in California, HOT lanes in Minnesota and tolled autoroutes in France. Toronto has Highway 407 an express toll route that parallels a section of Highway 401 but offers a faster alternative to those willing and able to pay. The prices imposed on these roads are set at a level to deter enough new traffic to keep the flow moving smoothly. 

Do we need new roads? Can’t we toll existing ones? It a toll had been applied to Highway 401 maybe the 407 would not have been needed.

Cordon tolls are used in  London and Stockholm which were initially very successful but
have induced traffic within the cordon. Singapore had its cordon set up much earlier and now also applies tolls within the cordon on arterial roads

Why not toll every road all the time?
UK 2004 white paper for just such a system (summarized on wikipedia)
the netherlans and Oregon are both considering such schemes and trucks already pay this way in Germany and Austria

Many are concerned about the impact of specific road pricing by location and time on privacy. However that is already the case with the use cell phones. (It seems to me that the general reaction to the relevations by Philip Snowden on the use of this metadata by the NSA shows this asserted faith in cell phone companies is misplaced).

The biggest objection  is that prices are unfair to the poor. This is an income problem not a price problem. We do not in general try to fix the  price of food which would help rich and poor alike. (This seems to ignore US and European food agricultural policies) Equity issues can be dealt with through tax credits and other transfer payments

Buses would move better as a result of less traffic on the road. He felt that this improvement alone would be enough to create a beneficent cycle of growth of bus use without diverting revenue from tolls to transit. He felt a better use of the revenue would be to distribute the surplus as a dividend to all

Not same to use revenue to subsidize transit
There is no virtue in transit use
Unnecessary rolling roads produces better transit levelling the playing field

Transit use is still subsidizing sprawl

Not a good way to get to use transit. Better passenger experience, subsidies insulate operators. Value to society exceeds cost of provision. Thicket of overlapping subsidies.

Competition
Transit is not a natural monopoly
Experience in UK mixed

People make better choices when they know the true cost

Even a modest rp scheme would have some benefits
No free lunch or no free road

Q & A

1 After a impromptu poll of the audience which I think was supposed to show more people drive than used transit (it didn’t) Test of political bravery. (I think the questioner should have stuck to the track record of politicians unwillingness to try road pricing – there are plenty of examples)

We are at least now talking about this, which was not the case a few years ago. There is a lot of  spadework needed but “the answer is staring us in the face”
Cash grab objection

Political leadership Mayors council says 5 years out

Partial scheme like only tolling one bridge real problems

Eric Doherty:  climate change costs wide range of damage costs of GHG makes congestion cost look trivial

Carbon tax is a separate instrument
Road Pricing (RP) benefits car users

ED: In Zurich all surface transit has exclusive lanes. There even bankers use transit as driving is so slow by comparison

The best thing for transit is take the subsidy out of driving

Clive Rock: we only have a  weak regional entity, and provinces don’t do cities well. We need a
champion for RP who has to have stature. We have to review our institutional structures - municipalities were compared to warring tribes

AC admires the GVRD model and called it  “civic federalism”. He also warned of the penalties of amalgamation and the possibility of getting a Rob Ford instead of an RP champon

The Centre for Dialogue at SFU has been consulting on this issue and found that citizens want fairness and choice. They also preferred that RP be distance based. She also observed that the
capital cost of rapid transit can’t come from the firebox [By the way you can get a pdf file of the report from the SFU Centre for Dialogue]

People will have options and choices
Give poor people more money
Don’t need to subsidize transit
Can borrow or raise on equity markets for private sector transit investment
Transit is only really “needed” if it can be financed commercially

Externalities … Is there a societal benefit from transit use?

Q There are very few places where transit is profitable

By pricing roads you change the options

We are subsidizing sprawl not good public policy

Dense cities built before transit

Make transit better self reinforcing cycle

Affordability guaranteed income without that inequalities

Fixing prices does not target help

Trying do social justice on the cheap

Collective responsibility on the tax and transfer system

Fuel tax does not address congestion

Q BC had a huge amount of trouble getting changes eg carbon tax

This is a local fix and an easier sell than carbon tax
Achievable with a phase in period but there will be life investment upheaval

Richard Campbell: In this region there has been over optimism in tolls on bridges

Which shows the danger of partial solutions It also demonstrates that you can’t be sure of how much revenue you will get, so that is another reason not to rely on RP to fund transit expansion

20: 15 close

Lovely Roundabout

with 7 comments

2014 Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Deputy Minister’s Consulting Engineers Awards, originally uploaded by TranBC.

I found this image on the Ministry’s flickr account. This won an award – not for the design (though it should) but for Construction Management and Supervision Services.

I have often written on this blog about roundabouts – and why they most never be confused with traffic circles. This is Highway 5 and Clearwater Valley Road. I will need to go find out on Google exactly where that is as the MoTI have not provided a map reference.

All the info you need is here as a pdf

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with

Coast Mountain Bus office staff threaten strike

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The Canadian Press report found on the CBC web page says that the issue includes retirement benefit cuts

The workers, members of Local 378, say the employer is demanding contract concessions and wants to cut retirement benefits.

Local vice-president Heather Lee calls company demands mean spirited and unfair.

There follows a reference to Medical Services Premiums, and probably does not include the increase announced in today’s budget. The MSP revenue has increased 60% since 2001.

As a retiree from the BC Public Service I saw my retirement benefits cut in 2012. Up until then MSP was paid by the employer. Of course since this was applied to people who had already retired, no-one threatened strike action no matter how mean spirited and unfair this was. At the same time Blue Cross increased the rates it levied for extended health care. And as for “Fair Pharmacare” I have never seen a red cent from them. I do dutifully tot up all the receipts on my income tax return, of course.

And of course there was no coverage of this at that time in any of the mainstream media – though retirees got an insulting letter from the powers that be reassuring us that the value of our pension had been preserved. The fact that we saw an increase in our expenses with no other choice but to pay was not mentioned.

I do not know if CMBC staff are covered by the same pension plan as Translink staff. And it may be that my situation is different having joined BC Transit from the civil service.

I also expect the usual right wing nonsense that pubic servants deserve much worse pensions since the private sector has been stealing pensions from their employees for years (to pad corporate profits and executive bonuses) and getting away with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Easing Congestion in Metro Vancouver: Prices without Subsidies

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Instead of my former practice of using “Upcoming Event” as the title, I have just cut and pasted the announcement from an SFU email.

That is because I want to make a couple of points even before I have heard what Andrew Coyne has to say – and I am looking forward to hearing that in due course. But all you ever get to do – if you are lucky – at these events is ask questions. And the points I need to make are not the sort that get dealt with properly in a Q&A session.

Firstly the subsidies that underlie our present land use and transportation pattern are not going to change any time soon. As we heard from Todd Stone, there is to be no road pricing on the provincial highway network no matter what the newly empowered Mayors’ Council might think. They can have more control over the region’s transportation – just not nearly enough. But the subsidy to the present level of car use is built in to the fabric of our society. We subsidize fossil fuels – and especially liquid fossil fuel for motor vehicles, which remains overwhelmingly the chosen method of propulsion and will not change very significantly for a very long time. Car makers get all kinds of assistance (as Coyne himself points out): if they look like moving that increases, because we think we need those jobs. If they look like their business model is failing, they are bailed out. We do not expect to see  that money repaid. We have never seriously considered for very long if there might be a better way of spending public funds to increase accessibility because we are still obsessed with mobility – which is not the same thing at all. We are still stuck at the point where we feel that land uses must be separated and that the single family home on its large lot is still the basic unit of residential development. Anything else is viewed with deep suspicion: “social engineering” is suspected – as though we had not been engineered into our current mess.  The pattern of urban sprawl has been produced by subsidies and is economically unsustainable – as well as unsustainable in every other dimension too – but very few people accept that inconvenient truth.

Suburban Cornrows

“Suburban Cornrows” by Jan Bucholz on flickr
Las Vegas Nevada suburbs

Secondly the faith in the ability of markets to produce optimal solutions, as long as governments do not interfere, is misplaced. There is no evidence that the people who control corporations will ever do anything else than profit maximize. Yes, subsidies distort their decisions – but so does greed and willful blindness to “externalities”. We have had plenty of  experience of the failure of the free enterprise model. It has not served us well at all, and unless we start to assert some very necessary political controls over businesses, our future on this planet seems very gloomy indeed. As long as money is protected as “free speech” and as long as profits can be squirrelled away in off shore accounts with little fear of penalty the present broken system will continue. And no private corporation is going to step forward to build us new transit systems unless it is paid handsomely to do so.


Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas 

Brought to you by TransLink in collaboration with the SFU City Program 

Easing Congestion in Metro Vancouver: Prices Without Subsidies

February 257 pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (at SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings, Vancouver
Admission is free, but reservations are required. Reserve

Live Webcast: http://creative-services.sfu.ca/broadcast/

Andrew Coyne, a national columnist for Postmedia/National Post,  will talk about a unified approach to pricing cars and transit. Transit advocates commonly suppose that subsidizing transit more heavily will induce more people to give up their cars, thus alleviating congestion. The evidence for this is scant, while a better solution is at hand: pricing roads. Not only would road tolls automatically make transit more competitive with cars, but surface transit users would also benefit from the faster traffic flows that result. Pricing road use is the only effective way to induce people to drive less: indeed, as road use is at present rationed by time rather than money, other proposed methods (wider roads, carpooling, synchronized lights, etc) end up inducing people to drive more, since they reduce the time-price of using the roads. Put the revenues from road tolls toward subsidizing transit? No: subsidized transit suffers from much the same defects as subsidized roads — both mask the real price of resource use, and both encourage sprawl. Moreover, to the extent subsidies make transit less dependent on riders for revenues, they lessen incentives to innovate and improve service.

Lecture Series Details

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Transportation

Breaking the Political Gridlock

with 4 comments

Anne Golden at SFU Woodwards on January 28, 2014

Actually I have shortened the title: what was advertised was “Breaking the Political Gridlock to Address the Transportation Challenge: Lessons Learned from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

The first of a new lecture series with the title “Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas” by the City Program. Gordon Price announced that the next two lectures will be by Andrew Coyne and Charles Montgomery, but he is also asking for ideas of new people we have not heard from before to address the topic. He invited suggestions to be sent by email to price (at)  sfu.ca

I found myself by chance seated with “the great and the good” name dropping Mike Harcourt, Nancy Oleweiler, Clive Rock, Mark Allison, Ken Cameron, and many other familiar faces.

The evening started with a video on the Greater Toronto Areas transportation challenges. Sadly so far all I can find now using transitpanel.ca address is this statement from the Minister.

I have created a storify from the tweets of other people present

Anne was the Chair of a Transit Investment Advisory Panel set up by the Premier of Ontario to examine funding options for transit expansion in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton area.

UPDATE  Jan 31

Making the rest of this blog post redundant, PriceTags now has the “complete and slightly revised text of Anne Golden’s lecture”.

She said that the issues in Toronto are different to Vancouver but similar.  Population growth is rapid – and the region of 6m now is expected to reach 10 m in 18 years. The tipping point of congestion has already passed. “The situation is intolerable. Everyone agrees it’s a crisis but no-one wants to pay for it.” The region is  already exceeding earlier population forecasts and has reached the level now expected for 2021.

Vancouver was always seen as leading the way with its land use policies – the Agricultural Land Reserve and “intensification” of urban development 18 years ago when Translink was proposed. The Premier of Ontario was uncomfortable with the present situation but she doesn’t have a majority government

Context

The Premier required a fast turnaround: the panel was given three months to produce its report and was already appointed when Anne was approached to Chair it. “The Mayor of Toronto was already misleading the public on a number of topics including transit.” It was widely recognized that finding a solution to congestion would be the “cornerstone of success” but there was considerable doubt it could be achieved.

Reaction to the announcement of the Panel was cynical: it was portrayed by the media as a way to postpone decisions. The Scarborough line was dominating discussion. The Mayor had rejected replacement of the existing SkyTrain like Scarborough LRT with a more conventional light rail system. He claimed that a subway extension was the only acceptable solution even though ridership would not justify the higher construction cost. Metrolinx was rehired to review its decision that LRT was the most suitable technology. The chaotic result destroyed public trust in the process. There is in fact $16bn worth of construction on transit under way now – including a heavy rail connection to Pearson Airport from an existing GO Transit line using diesel multiple units (see notes below).

The panel produced a plan that is “practical, doable” with unanimous support across the panel – which was drawn from a wide variety of interests inkling business and the Automobile Association. The simple solution chosen was to select a few revenue tools, and then borrow  against this new revenue stream. It included a raise in gas tax,  a “redeployment” of  some of the HST and a half percent increase in Corporate Income Tax (CIT). The amount of borrowing is to be a low multiple (2.5x) of the stream and does not affect the provincial debt. It did not ask too much from any one group.

The were dozens of meetings with groups and the public.

Hard truths

  • Subways are not the only good transit
  • Transit does not automatically drive growth: transit must link up places effectively
  • Construction is not the only cost
  • Riders are not the only beneficiary: driving commute times in Toronto exceed that of Los Angeles and building transit will relieve congestion

UPDATE Thanks to Price Tags here is a Toronto Star article which sets out six truths more clearly – notice too that the links at the bottom of the article not longer point to the source material

The benefits are spelled out in the report. The myth was that nothing was happening, and also that we can pay for transit expansion by cutting waste in the existing bureaucracy. This is the mantra of the Mayor and the opposition but it is not the case. “Where’s the waste?” The province already has the lowest spending per capita  - lowest in the country – and it is rising at less than the rate of inflation. Ontario is reducing its deficit. It is also unrealistic to sell capital assets such as land to fund transit.

After the report was released the tone of the media became more respectful. There was also some new research on employment patterns, which showed that the Metrolinx proposals no longer met expected demands so they had to “make some tweaks”. They did this by setting  priorities in the plan – which previously had not been included. Transit investments must ease congestion, and the Yonge St subway line is already congested. People already travel north to board southbound trains as they were unable to get on full services further south. The “Big Move” proposal did not add up to a network. The major adjustment was to build a relief line first to reduce existing congestion in the system.

There is widespread distrust of transit accounting. It was proposed to phase in gas tax at 3c per litre initially eventually to rise to 10c, plus the CIT increase and HST diversion.

It is critical how these things are communicated. The CAA’s Executive Director felt it would be unpopular but “it’s the right thing to do”. The gas tax could be capped if necessary and the revenue replaced by a switch to more HST diversion. “Don’t have to go back and ask again.”

There is a two year “kickstart program” including desirable improvements such as real time next bus information at bus stops.

The price of gas went up 5c since the report was released. “No one noticed.” Gas tax will still be less than Montreal and the average impact was calculated at $80 per family per year. At the same time it was also projected that $800 would be the cost of more congestion but the mainstream media ignored that.

Business was in favour of getting a bigger, better labour pool. Companies that had moved to the outer suburbs were moving back into town to get better labour. And even after the increase Ontario will still have a comparatively low  CIT.

Tolls are seen by the public to be avoidable. But even though they would have to be applied to every route they would take too long to implement, and the cost of collection would be high.
Road pricing will be needed eventually

As one of those consulted remarked: “Dedicated or fuggeddaboudid”

Transparency is going to be critical. Depoliticized decision making will replace decisions  “unimpaired by any information”. Every project will have a published business case analysis.
The Scarborough subway is not justified by ridership: but even Karen Stintz of the TTC defended it on the grounds that “Scarborough does not feel part of the City”. Investments must be based on more than just self esteem. This had given rise to projects like the “Sheppard stubway” – “at least you can always get a seat on it!”

Each proposal is designed as part of an integrated network

Governance

Toronto Hamilton doesn’t have a region wide government. Many people suggest “Make it an authority like the airport”. Metrolinx does not have tax power

They would like to be able to capture land value increase but it is not seen as a reliable revenue source. She said that the Reichmann company drove the financing of Crossrail in London.

All governments have a role to play, but the feds are “missing in action”. Federal contributions are ad hoc and not programmed. Jane Jacobs said that large cities are what drive the economy of Canada (as opposed to natural resources).

Guidelines have to become policies with teeth. It is not about ideology. We must all be on the same side. We need champions. The strategy is not just about transit it is about transportation [and should also be about land use].

Media

There is a “new world of ADD communication” Reporters is the “lock up” at the reports release were already tweeting and filing before the report document was handed out. These days, she said, everyone is an expert. [Actually I heard that forty years ago when I started work for the GLC: everyone with a driver's license thinks its an advanced degree in traffic engineering]

There is a “dumbed down” broadcast media driven by a short news cycle. They only rporte th gas tax increase with instant responses from live interviews with startled people at the gas pumps. “Informed people are [portrayed as] elites  - who drink cappuccino!”

She said “Democracy works best with filters” and equated the Referendum with “mob rule”. She also pointed to an [Gary Mason's] article about the Denver transit referendum in Monday’s Globe & Mail [paywall] People had time to absorb what was proposed – and could see benefits for themselves. Business leaders got behind the proposals. There is “no short cut”.

Trust

A dedicated standalone fund is necessary but not sufficient. People are influenced by events like the Senate scandal and find institutions untrustworthy – including the church. But they
trust the airline pilot or the surgeon “because you have no choice”

There is no single rule for leadership – despite all the books proclaiming their own. There are always going to the inherent tensions requiring  compromises and tradeoffs. There is no template for regional government: the Greater Toronto Services Board (which preceded Metrolinx) did not last. Land use and economic planning is not integrated – and TransLink does not meet the test of good governance.

Our reputation is at stake, “the region that does it right … mostly.”

The will be ten million people in 18 years time in the GTHA. City regions cannot rest on their laurels. Greater Vancouver  produces about half of BC’s GDP: the GTA 40% of Ontario’s

Q&A

1. Are there many other regions in same boat?

New York (pedestrians, bicycles, role of design) Washington (streetcar), Denver, LA (at long last). We did study what others are doing

2. Intermediate Capacity Transit Systems were not considered in Toronto. Do you have an a priori down on SkyTrain?

I don’t know nearly enough knowledge about technology to answer that. The business case is the analysis to determine mode choice. “Buried LRT” was chosen for the Eglinton Line (“to keep it out of the way of the traffic”) but its business case never published. It is now halfway built but great care was taken not to take away the road space from cars.

3.  Were walking, biking, car sharing considered?

Our remit was  very specific. We not have time to consider cycling

4.  Transit Oriented Development:  what research did you do on value capture?

Didn’t get into value uplift not done enough

5. What would you have done if you had had 6 months?

If we had we would have done more consultation, and considered options like no parking on King and Queen Streets [major streetcar routes in downtown Toronto] as well as reconsidering truck delivery rules

6. Does concentration on office employment makes peak hours worse?

An excellent relief line will help

7.  Development charges?

These are under review. We don’t charge the true cost of debt in suburbs. They got hooked on Development Cost Charges: they are a perverse incentive “like a drug”. 

8.  You talked about congestion not Climate change or carbon taxes.  Flooding Richmond might be a bigger cost than congestion

We didn’t look at Carbon tax not viable. Canada is becoming less interested in being green
People are stretched and cranky

Cost of collection of tolls is too high

Revenue from gas tax has a limited life. The 1m more cars the rein expects will help but it is time limited

9 Province doesn’t have a clue about munis

From where you sit is what you see. TTC is bigger than Metrolinx but they have to concentrate on immediate political situations. Maybe need a provincial office for the Metro area – that used to be the case in Toronto when Gardner Church ran it. BC should bring Metro Vancouver and Translink together

10 Do people understand opportunity cost (citing the avoided cost of congestion she referenced)? E.g. road tolls

“I am not optimistic that there is enough white space”. The speed of communications defeats the consideration of complex issues. “The big lie is winning”

————————————–

NOTES

GTA Toronto population is 5.8 million.

“Big Move” is a comprehensive 25 year $50bn transit plan for GTHA with a goal of a 33% mode share. Phase 1 is the $16bn under way now which includes $800m for a makeover of Union Station. The Bloor Danforth subway extension to Scarborough City Centre will cost ~$3bn. The Eglinton Crosstown line is 12 miles png and will open in 2020. The 7 mile Finch West line will start in 2015 with scheduled completion in 2020. An 8 mile Sheppard East LRT will connect the Sheppard subway  terminal at Don Mills to Morningside starting in 2017 completion by 2021. The Union Pearson line will be open next year. 37 miles of BRT are being built in York Region and Mississauga. Tunnelling has been completed on a 5.4 mile extension of the Spadina subway to Vaughn. It will open in 2016 and is the first TTC line outside of the city.

source: Trains February 2014

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

The following article arrived in my in box this morning from David Suzuki . I am copying it in its entirety since it expresses exactly what I would write.

I have not used the image that accompanied the text since it does not actually depict the dangerous DOT111 cars that are one of the causes of the present problems. DSF chose a picture from flickr (good) that comes from Europe, where they use a quite different car (oops!). The picture below is from one of my flickr contacts in Quebec and shows “a loaded tank car on CN 710, stopped for a crew change at Turcot West in Montreal. Train is destined for Ultramar refinery at St-Romuald, QC (near Quebec City)”.

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard

DOT111 rail car with crude oil placard
© Photo by Michael Berry on flickr – used with permission

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

Blogs as a tool for political change

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“I think a lot of times, elected officials are afraid of bloggers. A blogger combines an elected official’s two most scariest things which is a journalist and an engaged citizen.”

If only that were true!

I somehow doubt that Streetsblog was actually responsible for getting Times Square closed to traffic. But possibly it helped give Janette Sadik-Kahn some support for what was actually quite a controversial decision. It also helped that its method of implementation was readily reversible if it had not worked.

HAT TIP

“The Other Side of the Tracks” is a daily email summary of transit and related news:  links to news stories and blog posts about transit and TOD from around the country are collected daily by Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America‘s New Media Director and Chief Cartographer.

“The day may come when Men will fall, and Jeff Wood cannot read every transit article…. but that day is not this day” – Some Transit Lovin Dude

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Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

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