Stephen Rees's blog

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

“England brings in round-the-clock trains…”

with one comment

“…DVBIA says it’s time Metro Vancouver follows”

The headline comes from News1130 and, as usual, needs clarification.

But first, some background. On Saturday evening someone from News1130 and contacted me and wanted me to comment on their story. I suggested that they would do better to find someone from Translink. It appears from the on line version that they didn’t manage to get that.

To be clear, Transport for London is going to run underground trains on two lines overnight Friday and Saturday nights.

August 2016 Night Tube Underground leaflet map

Photo by BowRoadUK on flickr

 

There will be some other lines added later. This has not been easy to achieve as the unions were critical of the impact on their members. So only in London, and only a few lines: not the Overground and by no means round the clock everywhere.

[Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s] Gauthier says they’ve been told there are a number of things standing in the way of 24-hour service [on SkyTrain].

“You know, track maintenance, and there’s a whole list of things that come up as reasons. But I’m not suggesting those aren’t legitimate reasons, but hey, if London can do it, why can’t we! And certainly let’s start with a Friday and Saturday night.”

I do not know what else might be in that whole list of things. But I do know that the maintenance problems on SkyTrain are not trivial. So will anyone else who has tried to use SkyTrain, as breakdowns seem to have been more of a problem recently, and there has been an admission that maintenance needed to be improved.

Mr Gauthier might also recall that Translink was unable to secure a new source of funding for the rather long list of improvements that are deemed necessary to both catch up to recent increases in demand and better meet future needs, rather than rely solely on the province’s preferred method of expanding freeways. There is a shortage of resources, and even a “state of good repair” is a tall order when revenue from gas taxes is falling, due to people making better choices than driving everywhere and better fuel efficiency in vehicles.

If Translink does come up with more money, I think that there are many other more deserving areas than “Millennials … having to live further and further away from the downtown core.” The fact that they continue to seek entertainment in downtown Vancouver is important to some of Mr Gauthier’s membership but is perhaps less important than some other regional issues. Possibly the decisions to increase the number of seats at licensed premises on Granville Street needed to have considered transportation impacts, and come up with some way of meeting that “need” before expansion was permitted. There are night buses, and due to the lack of traffic at night, they provide much faster and more reliable service than they can during the day. I did not see any those making more money off the later openings offering any of it to transportation providers.

If Translink did extend SkyTrain service overnight it would not come free. There would need to be considerably increased security and policing – and that cost is actually higher than on systems that have to pay for additional train operators. Sadly the people who have spent a lot of time in bars tend to make more demands on  police than the rest of us.

If there is money available for some service expansion then I think it must go first to the most needy and worthwhile cause: HandyDART has long been underfunded and its service is nowhere near adequate. Its objective ought to be to provide a service that provides an equivalent level of mobility to people with disabilities as the rest of the population enjoys. Anything less than that is discrimination against an identifiable minority. And compared to the needs of people with restricted mobility all day and every day, the needs of the young and fit late at night on weekends pale into insignificance.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with , ,

Arbutus Greenway Conversations continued

with 13 comments

HAPPY

The stencilled graffito has appeared on the Greenway at 29th Avenue at the north end of Quilchena Park

A man using one of those small wheeled Brompton style bicycles stopped, and got off his bike to lift the front wheel over the lip of the bitmac. He started the conversation and told us “A lot of people opposed the use of blacktop.”

“A lot of people?” I asked

“Well, five.”

He was unwilling to take his bike onto the gravel, and felt that the opposition was overstated. He doubted that there was much danger from the runoff from blacktop and concluded

“I know that there are some people opposed to this because they want to extend their gardens.”

Crushed rock surface

The crushed rock use starts south of 33rd and continues up the hill towards 37th. The top surface is loose: in some places very loose indeed.

Unrolled

This kind of loose surface is not acceptable – especially for bicycles.

I have come off my bike on loose gravel, and it was not a pleasant experience. There are some significant drop offs on the west side of the right of way here.

As we were walking up the hill, a cyclist drew alongside us and continued to ride as we walked. He thought that there had been some loss of character in the greenway, as it used to be kind of wild and rugged. Maybe not everywhere needs to be entirely smooth and safe, he suggested. I have read something similar from Patrick Condon.

“People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it,” Condon said, adding that “it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like, that they’ve gotten used to.”

He said the path (“A little wide to be called a bike path and way too wide to be called a pedestrian path”) makes some sense from an engineering perspective. It would have been easy to plan and cheap to install — ideal for a temporary path, Condon said. Meanwhile, its foundation of crushed stone would offer drainage and stability.

“I think from a political perspective, they maybe today wish they had not acted so quick,” he said.

 

He might even be right in some places but the area between the two Boulevards in Kerrisdale is definitely not one of them.

Between the Boulevards

There is no reason at all why this could not be blacktopped. On each side is a road and a parking lot. In fact between the faces of the buildings this is the only bit not paved!

Towards 41st

and from Christopher Porter’s twitterScreen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.35.10 AM

 

Postscript August 22

The section up from 33rd to 37th has now got a finer, better rolled surface.

Bikes and strollers

None of the people in this group seemed to have any problem with the rolled gravel surface, though one lady wearing open sandals was none too pleased. You will note that the single wheeled stroller to the right of the group seemed able to cope with the coarser base on the outside of the rolled section.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway

Arbutus Greenway Conversations

with 2 comments

There is nothing scientific about this: merely talking to the people we happen to meet when walking on the Greenway. I am astonished how much information people are willing to share. I think it is an affirmation of how effective the current work has been that people actually want to stop and talk about it. I have yet to meet anyone who opposes the use of black top. And on the section between 16th and 33rd where the work has been completed, I have only heard positive comments.

Today we met a woman who had been in charge of the work creating the BC Parkway (formerly the BCER right of way through Burnaby and New Westminster). She was most impressed by what has been done north of 33rd, where we met her, but was unaware of the opposition to the use of blacktop. She felt that rolled gravel was far inferior, and would be the cause of greater injury to cyclists.

“You come off on gravel, that’s gonna hurt!”

Rolled gravel greenway south of 33rd Ave

This is the unpaved surface south of the 33rd Avenue crossing: it is going to be like this all the way to South West Marine and beyond.

We also discussed the politics of the decision. There are some people who feel that the priority for City funds should be affordable housing, meeting the needs of the homeless rather than a public amenity for one of the wealthiest  neighbourhoods. “But this” she said, indicating the Greenway, “is going to be available to everyone. And it’s going to be a great place to teach children how to bicycle. I taught my kids to cycle in a cemetery. There’s not much traffic and they don’t drive fast there.” She was also unaware of the upcoming consultations, so I pointed her to the sign (actually now set up again but facing the wrong way) which has the URL of the city information piece.

“I’m going to buy a bench for it!” She had also not heard of the use of movable tables and chairs in New York City for places like Times Square.

We also met Gabriel, on his electric scooter. My partner wondered to me if he was in the wrong place – but I pointed out it was not a motor scooter, as it was silent! He told us that the scooter is speed limited [“no faster than 32 km/h on level ground“]. He was very pleased to see the improvement which eases his commute: he works in one of the houses along the way. We talked about the process of consultation. He was full of ideas about what could go along the greenway. Perhaps the most far sighted was his idea for a roundabout to replace the current complex double signals at 41st Ave and the Boulevards. He thought that a large enough public space in the middle would become a popular meeting place, if properly designed, and a great improvement in the urban streetscape.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 5.56.23 PM

Earlier this week we met some people on bicycles, peering over the barriers at 16th Avenue where the gravel starts.

Rolled gravel Arbutus Greenway at 16th Ave north side

They were not inclined to proceed further, and turned around to retrace their route back up to Kerrisdale. They had some fairly pointed views on those who opposed the use of blacktop.

POSTSCRIPT I have just read another blog post in the form of a letter to Council on the issue from the perspective of someone who uses a wheelchair. Essential reading, I think,  for a number of reasons.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 10, 2016 at 7:08 pm

Blacktop War!

with 6 comments

Blacktop

The speed with which the tracks were removed has surprised many observers along the Arbutus Corridor. It was not long before the rough ground revealed by the removal of the track ballast was being graded, and now blacktopped. Even faster was the response from the creme de la creme. As reported by the Vancouver Courier they have been handed a short term victory, as the City Engineer appears to have conceded that not everyone is happy to see a nice new smooth surface. See also the Metro piece which links to the video made by the nay sayers.

Blacktop

Work is still needed at the crossings both to remove the track in the roadway, finish the connections to the sidewalks and place barriers to prevent use by motor vehicles.

Blacktop

I think the overall impact is a distinct improvement over the shabby railway, and the mess left behind after its removal (noted in my previous post). We also noted more use by people on cycles as opposed to those walking, but I think the debate needs to be refocussed away from the tiresome stereotypes applied to cyclists and pedestrians, and concentrate on the use of this revitalised space by people. All ages, types and abilities, with all sorts of interests, and not just the locals or those with a proprietary interest.

Blacktop

I would encourage anyone to come along and share the wealth – not just those with tall boyfriends or walking sticks with curved handles.

As it happens, there are plenty of good examples of pathways with multiple uses in the neighbourhood. This is the scene today in Arbutus Village Park: a blacktopped path, you will note, though not quite as pristine now.

Blacktop

There are mature trees, providing welcome shade, and benches from which to observe the passing scene.

Arbutus Village Park

And someone who really appreciates a nice smooth pathway.

I could also point to Ravine Park which parallels the Corridor on the other side of Arbutus Street, is not permitted for use by cycles (but which seems to be unenforced) and is also blacktop through the trees.

Ravine Park

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Arbutus Greenway

Arbutus Greenway

with 2 comments

Once the transaction between the City and CP was completed, work to remove the track and formation proceeded – and faster than expected. Since the Arbutus right of way was always one of my regular walking routes I have been documenting the process on Flickr. Looking at my latest effort there made me think that perhaps the blog reaches a different audience, and this might be a place to start a conversation about what the Greenway is going to look like. My impression is that there cannot be a standard end to end treatment, though some elements will need to be continuous. The integration of the Greenway into the neighbourhood is going to be critical to its success.

Arbutus Greenway

Between King Edward and 16th Avenues there is now a wide smooth pathway, awaiting blacktop. Very much more comfortable to use than the old railway and informal path. Nothing has yet been done with the crossings, nor the transverse pedestrian paths.

Arbutus Greenway

Grading south of King Edward Avenue W

The new greenway path is at least 7m wide in this section, with considerable amounts of land on each side.

Arbutus Greenway

Apparently someone wants the crossbucks preserved in place. I am not so sure that is a Good Idea: road signs should inform or warn of real present situations not outdated ones.

You can search Orders in Council but I couldn’t find one using that number.

Arbutus Greenway

Very little has been done to the right of way between 16th and Broadway. Inevitably parking is spreading like a plague across the available space behind the car maintenance businesses at the intersection of Arbutus and 12th Avenue.

Arbutus Greenway

Abandoned ties that are not much use for landscaping as they would have been treated with creosote: the contractors seem to have been remiss in not removing these

Arbutus Greenway

This section has Quilchena Park to the right and Maple Crescent to the left. I am baffled why this park isn’t green on Google Maps.

Arbutus Greenway

Informal access to Quilchena Park

The designers of the greenway will need to consider how to integrate it into the adjacent properties. A railway needs to have a barrier to limit trespass, but a bike a pedestrian way needs something else. Cyclists need to be deterred from using it as a racetrack, and pedestrians need to have reasons – and opportunities – to linger. There has to be more than the occasional bench, drinking fountain and securable bike parking – though all three are essentials. A Greenway is not a sewer to pull traffic through like a stroad, but a place in its own right. A destination as a much a passageway.

At this particular point, it looks like stairs may be required. Fortunately alternate flat access is not far away.

Arbutus Greenway

I think it’s daft that the railway crossing signs have been left in place

Arbutus Greenway

Even dafter is removing the City’s own signage before the work is even started, let alone completed!

Arbutus Greenway

This pathway and its connections to the local road network need better definition and surface(s).

Arbutus Greenway

The amount of land available along the route varies considerably, but most bas been left to vegetate, mostly shrubs, scrub and the invasive, prolific himalayan blackberry. These sites must not be neglected but deliberately adapted to improve both their community utility and landscape value.

As matters progress I imagine that I will return to this topic. So for now I have given it its own category

Written by Stephen Rees

July 25, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Bike share comes to Vancouver

with 3 comments

It has been a very long time in gestation, with at least one false start, but today was the first day of operation of Mobi, Vancouver’s bike share system. Ever since I used Velib (seen above), the system in Paris, I have been waiting for one to start here. I have also used systems in New York and Denver.

Mobi

 

This is the station on Bute at Robson: two parking  meters have been suspended until the end of the year to accommodate the station. Presumably, this is to allow for some assessment of need and the potential exists for the station to moved and the meters restored.

Mobi

Because we are in BC every bike rider has to have a helmet – and you can see how they are currently padlocked to the bike. In other places where helmets are mandatory, bike shares have been unsuccessful. Vancouver hopes this time it will be different. Of course our brain dead provincial government could not conceive of the possibility that its helmet law is based on falsehoods, and refuses to reconsider it in the light of current knowledge and, yes, data.

The current offer is for an unlimited number of rides for a year – and there is a discounted price for early adopters that ends at the end of July. It is not an offer that I feel inclined to accept. Nor does my partner. As I mentioned I have tried other systems, and none of them required a significant upfront investment from the user. Usually a credit card was necessary as a deposit in case of an unreturned bike, but the ride itself was cheap or even free. There were significant sponsorships on all of the bike share systems that I have seen. Barclays Bank had their name all over the bikes in London: even so everyone calls them Boris Bikes. Here the city has made the up front investment –  and I do understand that experience elsewhere has shown that bike shares that actually work reliably do not come cheap. Whatever the model was in Rome, for instance, that didn’t work.

The home zone does not extend south of 16th on Arbutus, so it doesn’t actually get close enough to me. A bit like Modo, whose nearest car to my front door is in Kerrisdale. So that’s another mobility aid that is out of my reach.

I also know that there has been significant lobbying by the established bike rental operators that Mobi not cut into their business, and the current pricing structure is clearly a real deterrent to use by visitors. Which is a shame, I think, but I can understand how the people who rent out bikes feel.

So I will watch what happens with a sense of detached interest. And will watch for the comments of the readers to see if they like the deal better than we do!

POSTSCRIPT a set of recent tweets

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.49.41 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.49.55 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.50.06 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.46.43 PM

 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm

My Air Canada United experience

with one comment

United  N496UA at YVR

I am going to Chicago tomorrow. Following the advice given on the documents I printed off from the Air Canada booking I made, I went to the Air Canada web site to check in, using my Air Canada booking reference. The documents warn that the flight is a code share with United but nowhere do they inform me of the United flight number or, even more importantly, the booking reference used by United, which is different from the one given me by Air Canada. Both airlines are members of the Star Alliance, but apparently the degree of integration between Alliance members is far from complete, or even adequate. I wait on hold for someone from Customer Care listening to AC tell me all the exciting things I could be doing instead of listening to the adverts.

When I finally get through I am given the United booking code, and the person I am talking to even waits while I use that to log in to United’s check in on line. Once I know that has recognized me, I hang up, and start re-entering the information about my booking that the booking reference ought to have provided and then go through the on line check in process. Now I know that they do like people to use their app and get the boarding pass sent to their cell phones, but since I am not a United frequent flyer I am not really happy with that process. I have used cell phones for such things in the past and frankly the paper document seems to be much more likely to work first time with most gate readers. Though even then I have stood and watched while gate attendants type in my data manually. So I opt to print my boarding pass at home.

No, that won’t be possible. In fact, I get a message to tell me that I am not actually checked in. United says that it doesn’t have my passport number on file. So until a United representative can actually see my passport or I use the self service check in at the airport to scan my passport, I cannot have a boarding pass.

If United actually kept track of who flies on its planes, this might have been avoided. Since I have flown United. In fact my family has a store of United stories. Most recently I flew to New Orleans, via Chicago, on United: that was in May last year. So I would have used my current passport then: and none of my information has changed since. But, once again, because I am not a United Frequent Flyer I get treated like a second class citizen.

I used to think that maybe the treatment I got on United was something to do with how much I paid for the flight. Perhaps there is indeed even more market segmentation that is apparent from their loading preferences. Since my outbound flight on United to New Orleans was so grim, I actually upgraded to “better” seat for the return journey. That seat was actually in the row in front of the emergency exit, and would not recline. I cannot imagine how United could justify charging me the higher price for that seat and no-one has ever even tried to.

There is now a direct Air Canada flight between Vancouver and Chicago – though not at a time which I find acceptable. United, of course, will grimly hang on to its gate slots. There are clearly differences between allies and the extent of their co-operation is limited.

I remember a time when flying was enjoyable. When the journey was a fun part of the trip. When the skies were actually friendly.

Crepuscular Rays over MSY

POSTSCRIPT After posting this I heard from AirCanada on Twitter – who prefer to keep their conversations with customers private by using Direct Messages. Which I shall respect. But I will note that this DM thread extended back to last year, and I saw then that I raised exactly the same issue. I thought then that it had something to do with me paying for the flight with AirMiles, who of course handled the booking. I had rather expected that if I booked through Air Canada this time the experience would be different. I was wrong about that. I also think the problem lies with United and not Air Canada. I have never had any contact from United other than speaking to their employees during my travels.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2016 at 10:52 am

Posted in Transportation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,618 other followers