Stephen Rees's blog

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

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

HandyDART Trip Denials Soar to Record Levels

leave a comment »

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 12.07.34 PM

Press Release received from Eric Doherty via Twitter

Seniors vote needed for transit referendum win

For immediate release –Thursday February 27, 2014

Data obtained through freedom of information requests shows that people with disabilities and seniors were denied HandyDART service over 42,000 times in 2013, an eight-fold increase in four years. There were 5,075 HandyDART denials in 2009, 18,188 in 2011, 37,690 in 2012 and 42,418 in 2013.

“Other folks in society are sentenced to house arrest for committing a crime,” says HandyDART Riders Committee spokesperson and former Vancouver City Councillor Tim Louis. “We have committed no crime and yet are sentenced to house arrest when demand for rides outstrips capacity to provide rides because politicians won’t make transit funding a priority.”

HandyDART service was increased by about 5% annually to meet growing demand between 2002 and 2008. However, 2013 service hours were slightly lower than in 2008.

“HandyDART service levels have been frozen for five years while the population of older seniors and people with disabilities has grown dramatically” says transportation planner Eric Doherty the author of the 2013 report Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service. “The number of people over 70 in Metro Vancouver will increase by 40% in the next decade.”

The HandyDART Riders’ Alliance says that three 80,000 hour increases, each costing about $7 million or 0.5% of TransLink’s present budget to operate, is needed to catch up after five years without an increase. After that, smaller regular increases will be needed to keep up with growing demand.

The provincial government has delayed transit improvements, including HandyDART service increases, pending a transit funding referendum likely to be held in June 2015. The TransLink Mayors council will apparently be setting the HandyDART service levels to be voted on, although the provincial government has not released details of promised governance changes.

HandyDART is a door-to-door transit service for people with disabilities and older seniors who cannot use the regular transit system for at least some trips.

“Seniors like me vote. The transit funding referendum likely won’t pass unless we can vote to meet the needs of an aging population, including better HandyDART service” says Elsie Dean, a HandyDART Riders’ Alliance member. “It is time to make the investments in public transit, including HandyDART, needed to make Metro Vancouver a livable and age friendly region.”

The newly-formed HandyDART Riders’ Alliance is open to HandyDART riders and allies. The group will be holding their first public meeting and electing board members on Saturday March 1st 1:30 to 3:30 at the 411 Seniors Centre, #704-333 Terminal Ave. Vancouver (5 min east from Main Street SkyTrain station).

Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service was commissioned by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1724 and is available from http://www.ecoplanning.ca/selected-projects. ATU Local 1724 also commissioned the FOI requests described above: Trip Denials http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2014-009-1-2013-Denials-Refusals.pdf & http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2013-179-Denials-2008-12.pdf HandyDART Service Hours http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2014-012-2-Service-Hours-02-13.pdf

Written by Stephen Rees

February 27, 2014 at 9:15 am

Mode share

with one comment

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 8.24.07 AM

 

I took this graphic from Moving in a Livable Region. In a discussion recently with Ken Hardie I had asked about this statistic. So when at the Andrew Coyne event someone handed me a card from this web site I thought I should check it out. This is some information there – just  not nearly enough. This chart has a link to the Translink web site but the page it links to is not found, which comes as no suprise. I think there is definitely a real need for data to be easy to find and have a credible source. I suspect given the years that the data represents this comes from the Trip Diary Survey. And I suspect it is based on all trips region wide, since so often with transit the figure that gets quoted is journey to work – since the census was a reliable source for time series and the sample size was huge. And it was easy to do comparisons to other city regions in Canada.

The figure I have in mind is the target that was set for transit mode share: 17%. Trouble is I cannot now remember the year it was assigned to. Was that 2011 or 2021?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 27, 2014 at 8:47 am

Posted in transit

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

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

Upcoming event at Richmond City Hall, which I will be unable to attend

On Thursday, May 15, Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, will explain how cities influence how we feel, behave, and treat other people in ways most of us never realize. Preceding this talk will a brief performance by the Indigenous vocal ensemble, M’Girl.

All events will be held at Richmond City Hall Council Chambers, located at 6911 No. 3 Road at 7 p.m. They are free to the public and seating is limited.

To RSVP, please email lulu (at) richmond.ca .

Since 2003, The Lulu Series: Art in the City has presented international, national and regional speakers including acclaimed artists, architects, urban planners and other cultural leaders. From urban planning and placemaking to art as community development and urban revitalization, The Lulu Series: Art in the City explores the relationship between art and our urban environment.

For more information, visit www.richmond.ca/luluseries

Written by Stephen Rees

February 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with

Coast Mountain Bus office staff threaten strike

with one comment

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 968 other followers