Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 2013

That new bridge

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I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”

60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.

The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.

It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.

The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief  that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.

Artic unloads at Bridgeport

As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.

What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.

I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.

Trains like this one serve the region beyond the Ile de France, and provide fast direct services for longer distances. The much faster TGV serves the intercity market.

It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.

New Jersey Transit provides statewide services to the suburbs and exurbs of the New York region

Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.

Running Campaigns, Winning Votes

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Carbon Talks organized a forum today with this title to get discussion going on how to win the upcoming Translink funding referendum with contributions from Bill Tieleman – based on his winning experience with the anti HST and anti STV campaigns in BC – and Denny Zane Executive Director of MoveLA based on winning Proposition R on the 2008 Ballot which secured a half cent sales tax to support improved transportation in Los Angeles County. It is important to note that although throughout the discussion both talk about transit improvements – which in LA went mostly to more light rail lines, it also included improvements to existing freeways, but no new ones.

I was at home watching the live webcast while eating lunch, so to make things easy for myself I have put together a storify using the carbon talks designated hashtag #bctranspo – which I have lightly edited as some of the live tweets were a bit fumbled. I have also deleted those which added nothing to reporting the talk but simply commented on the topics.

The whole thing is now on the Carbon Talks youtube channel and runs 1 hour and 24 minutes. Reading this summary might be quicker, but you will probably also miss some stuff.

Denny Zane opened by talking about the gridlock that seized LA county prior to the measure being put together. At that time LA Metro had $0 set aside for expansion projects and new capacity even though 3m more people were expected to move to the region in the next thirty years. “It was like Chicago was moving in.” There was Mayoral leadership in the campaign and there was only one place to go for money. In California every revenue source has to be passed by a referendum with a 2/3 majority. This was the “crazy legacy” of Proposition 13, which meant that most people felt that there was no hope of raising taxes for anything. MoveLA is a broad based coalition which includes business,  labour and environmental groups which proposed a half cent increase in local sales tax mostly to add rail lines to their transit network. Since the closure of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1961 there are many unused rail corridors and the overall network will reflect much of the old PER interurban system.

While they had strong political leadership it was important to hold the coalition together. They acknowledged that freeways matter – but they were not going to build any more of them. They would make sure that the existing system became safer with improved intersections, for example and also ensure a state of good repair for local boulevards. They also found that once the measure passed they could use the revenue stream to fund bond issues – and persuaded the federal government to become a ‘smart lender’. By converting the federal grants into forgiveness for interest they could fund a thirty year program in ten, achieving  faster results and lower costs. They also proposed Measure J which would have extended the program to 60 years which did not pass but did win 66.1% of the vote (not the required 66.6%) This was partly ude to a lower turnout election.  Measure R was on the same ballot as the 2008 Presidential Election which saw a win for Barack Obama. LA County is heavily Democratic.

Bill Tieleman was on the winning side of both the fight against the  Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) . He stressed the importance of having a strategy – which is focussed on the ends and is an art – that is supported by tactics – the means – which is science. He started with two simple words of advice “Stop Whining!”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Sun Tzu The Art of War

Winning this referendum is entirely possible: 70% of transit referendums in the 2008 US general election passed, even though America is largely right wing and anti-tax. Hundreds of thousands of people in Metro Vancouver want to see better transit. They are the people who use the system every day to get to work or school. It will really help if we can get a fair question – and even government support. Both earlier campaigns had surprising cooperation  across party lines and sectional interests. “There is room for everyone on this bus.” This is an opportunity to improve transit, improve our lcoal economy and improve air quality. People need to understand the value proposition: there must be tangible results, but it is not a radical idea. It cannot be soft sold to drivers: the hard core of drivers will be opposed as will the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers.

The anti HST was constantly in the news as it has no resources for widespread advertising – unlike the government which outspent them 100 fold. They had to have earned media to explain the problem and the solution.

“However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at results”    Winston S Churchill

He also cited the Pirate Code for his recommendations – they are guidelines rather than rules. This region needs and deserves better public transit.

Q & A

In answer to the first question about the $4m that had been raised to support prop R, Denny Zame said that while MoveLA is a permanent institution there was a separate, specific committee formed to fight the referendum campaign. They had a few weeks in which to raise that sum.

qs:  We have not reached gridlock here and What will the question be?

A   If Translink takes the lead we have a huge problem. People are fed up with the inadequacies of the transit system – overcrowding, passups, lack of service in the suburbs etc. Our support will come from transit users who want a better system. It doesn’t have to get as bad as LA was to need improvement. LA Metro had had a period of very low public esteem and lots of trouble with the local electorate but had turned that around by being more responsive. Even so transit mode split in LA county was only 10% at peak periods- which meant support had to come from the 90%! The half cent tax showed that small increments mattered, defining each element clearly on a project by project basis. In Vancouver that means the Broadway subway must be on the ballot – but there has to be something for each part of the region as well. The case was made to drivers: transit would help

  • relieve traffic congestion
  • promote economic development and job creation
  • increase safety (there was genuine cause for concern with falling freeway bridges)
  • Increased choices for travel

There was an appeal to their self interest but also highly defined projects for each part of the region and an overall low cost ~25c a day per person

One source of funding was the Art Gallery: access to arts and culture is a big deal for the wealthy funders but with a station planned for the art gallery they got a better ROI from supporting the R campaign than their own capital budget.

Don’t go out and antagonize drivers

Municipal elections have a low turnout. The Mayors are not keen on having the question on the municipal ballot

A mail in question as with the HST referendum is possible

BT was more hopeful than has been suggested since we can have labour and business on the same side. He noted Peter Ladner’s article which raised concern that up to now business has been largely silent on the issue. We need a broad understanding that investing in infrastructure benefits all in the community. This is a unique opportunity to come together.

Q – Who draws up the plan?

This was directed at Denny Zane, who got into the complexities of Councils of Government. He nailed it with the line “basically a bunch of depressed people who think it isn’t going to happen” (Local municipal staffs)

An unfair question will rebound on the proposer

Treat it as an opportunity.

Expect the best of your leaders

The best decisions are those which afterwards appear to have been inevitable.

REACTION

The last question really annoyed me. We know what the Plan is for this region. It is on Translink’s website and they have been consulting on it for years. The projects are all well known, the only real discussion now is which one goes first. The problem I see is that there is no consensus on which funding mechanism – or combination – is going to be favoured. I suspect that the provincial government might even support a question that suggested some increase in property tax since that has always been their preferred method, even though it makes no sense and will never get the support of the Mayors.

Someone should have been putting this broad based coalition together ever since we knew that there was going to be a referendum.

Businesses which depend on transit expansion – which includes real estate developers – should already be beating the drum for more TOD which will follow the transit expansions. It is not just the bus drivers and the environmentalists who want to see more rapid transit.

There is going to need to be similar sessions in Surrey and further out in the suburbs. Meetings in downtown Vancouver, even though they are webcast, are not going to be enough to get people to support a question – even before we know what the question is and when it is going to be asked.

I also think we need to keep in mind the reality that Translink is not just about transit – nor should it be presented in that light. It is not “soft selling drivers” to point out that Translink owns the Patullo and Knight Street bridges and provides funds for the Major Road Network. Increasing the funds going into Translink will inevitably result in more spending on roads too. You cannot put in a bus lane on a two lane road!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Adrian Dix Leaving Good News for Greens

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I must admit I was a bit surprised by the announcement yesterday that he was stepping down – as soon as they can find a new leader. I expected him to soldier on, especially since his caucus had been so quiet.  He is speaking at UBCM as I am writing this and the coincidence of a couple of tweets  inspired this post

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.10.05 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.09.35 AM

The link on the image won’t work so here it is in working condition Insight West Poll on Fracking 

He is also reported to be trying to distinguish NDP on LNG from BC Liberals on LNG, but the point is that LNG is a fossil fuel that has to stay in the ground. For one thing gas extraction always leads to leaks of methane, and that is a far more powerful gas than carbon dioxide. But secondly it is not a “transition fuel” as the industry claims. It is a fuel that locks in existing technologies and thus slows the introduction of renewable sources of energy and also slows the introduction of greater energy efficiency. But the really important linkage is that these LNG plants rely on fracked gas. There is no way that conventional gas wells can produce more – most are in decline, and the new resources being discovered are now nearly all “tight gas” requiring fracking. And the opposition to fracking is based on concerns about local environmental impacts – especially the effect on water supplies – rather than understanding the ghg implications of its development. The gas industry has been very clever to emphasize how “clean” gas is, without making clear what they are comparing it to. Probably coal.

The Green Party on the other hand has made its position clear “economic suicide”  and “a pipe dream“. While Dix and the NDP would like to present themselves as defenders of the environment, they cannot do that credibly while supporting expansion of fossil fuel extraction for export.

It has also caught my eye that Thomas Mulcair the leader of the NDP nationally is not in favour of increasing taxes on the super-rich.  Which suggests to me that he is really out of touch with the roots of the NDP and the need for far greater equality. Although other NDP members do not agree with him. It reminds me forcefully of the conversation I had with Geoff Meggs just before the provincial election, when he said the NDP if elected would not be raising provincial income tax rates for the wealthy. (Meggs bio on the Vancouver City web site does not mention his NDP link directly but does say “He served as Director of Communications in the Office of the Premier under Premier Glen Clark, and later served as Director of Communications and Executive Director of the BC Federation of Labour.”)

Just in case you have not read them here are our Ten Core Principles, which all Greens adhere to.  Sustainability and social justice are numbers 1 and 2 respectively.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.45.41 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.45.08 AM

One way to do that would be to abandon LNG entirely and embrace progressive taxation policies. I do not expect either – from Dix or the NDP. If you agree we need both then you should join the Green Party.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 19, 2013 at 9:48 am

Container Port Expansion

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Apparently I am a ‘stakeholder’. I got the following information in an email today, and thought I would spread it around. Port Metro Vancouver wants to build even more container capacity at Roberts Bank. The “Terminal 2 Project” will they say be subject to “a thorough and independent environmental assessment.” I suppose much of the argument will be that this area has been so developed over the last few years that there is now very little left to be protected, but perhaps I am a cynic. What I do not see – and please somebody of you see it let me know – is any kind of justification for the project. Like the coal terminal expansion, these projects have long been on the wish list, but the world has changed. It seems the people in the Port Boardroom have not noticed that yet. Sea level rise will probably wipe out all this development, but sooner than that the penny is going to drop that importing stuff from China that we do not need is a pretty silly way to run an economy, especially when the only way we can think to pay for it is to dig up ever more fossil fuels for them to burn. Actually China is beginning to reassess how it grows, and in future more of its products will be for home consumption, not export. They are going to wean themselves off imported fossil fuels by becoming leaders in renewables. And the need for West Coast ports is going to decline because of the new Panama Canal and ice free shipping routes through the arctic.

Is it worth going to any of these meetings  to repeat this, or do I just cut and paste this into an email? I somehow doubt anyone there reads this blog.

Invitation to participate in Pre-Design Consultation for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project

Dear Stakeholder,

Port Metro Vancouver is undertaking Pre-Design Consultation regarding the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project between October 7 and November 12, 2013.

As part of this consultation, Port Metro Vancouver will present information regarding the conceptual project design, and will seek input regarding elements of the project and developing environmental mitigation plans.

The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project is a proposed new three-berth container terminal at Roberts Bank in Delta, BC that could provide 2.4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of container capacity. The project is part of Port Metro Vancouver’s Container Capacity Improvement Program, a long-term strategy to deliver projects to meet anticipated growth in demand for container capacity to 2030. For more information regarding the project, please visit www.portmetrovancouver.com/RBT2.

You are invited to provide feedback and learn more about the project by:

  • ·         Attending a small group meeting or open house (see schedule below)
  • ·         Reading consultation materials and providing feedback online (consultation materials and an online feedback form will be available at www.portmetrovancouver.com/RBT2 on October 7, 2013)
  • ·         Visiting Port Talk (www.porttalk.ca/RBT2) and participating in a discussion forum
  • ·         Calling 604.665.9337
  • ·         Providing a written submission through:

o   Fax:  1.866.284.4271

o   Email: container.improvement@portmetrovancouver.com

o   Mail:  Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project
100 The Pointe, 999 Canada Place
Vancouver, BC               V6C 3T4

Small Group Meeting & Open House Schedule

 *To register for a Small Group Meeting, please email container.improvement@portmetrovancouver.comor call 604-665-9337. Pre-registration for open houses is not required.

[click on the box to make the table larger]

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.24.22 PM

How Input Will Be Used

Input received will be considered, along with technical and economic information, in developing project designs or plans, including engineering and environmental mitigation plans, for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project.

Regards,

The Container Capacity Improvement Program Team

Written by Stephen Rees

September 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Posted in port expansion

The Bicycle Dairies Episode 10

with 4 comments

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

a full rack of citibikes

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

How to use citibike

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

citibike docking station

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

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

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

Left unattended

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

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

DENVER

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

Denver Bike Share

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

Bike share component

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

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Posted in bicycles, cycling

Tagged with , ,

Richmond Bikes Still Lagging Behind

with 4 comments

That has been my view for a long time – but the title is taken from a “Friday Feature” in the Richmond News. Although I no longer live there, I still find that I go there quite a lot. The airport, picking up parcels from couriers who did not find me at home, car servicing, the doctor … the list is quite long. I have not tried to get there by bike. Though it would be straightforward enough, and with bike racks on buses, easy to avoid Vancouver’s hilly bits. But if I am going to use transit anyway, why hamper myself with a bike? We also still like walking on the dyke. And at one time we used to put the bikes on the car rack and go further. I am not sure why that has not been happening of late. I feel a Bicycle Diary coming on but I will leave that for later.

Richmond ought to be great for cyclists as it is as flat as a billiard table. There has long been a cycling committee there – and I am afraid that they have not achieved very much. If you remove the use of the dyke – which is much more about recreation than transportation – then there is actually not much cycling in Richmond. It is still very much a car oriented suburb and what facilities there are, were grudgingly conceded. Or pushed by the availability of funding from Translink or extracted from developers. Few bike lanes – lots of sharrows. And one or two paths shared with pedestrians and unpaved.

Raised Bike Lane No 3 Road

There is a pretty fair summation in the News piece.  It would not have gone amiss to have pointed out that the No 3 Road lane was separated and raised – for some of its length, but ruined by incompetent paving and never corrected. The best example of arterial road reorganization is still Williams Road. For much of its length the traditional four lanes of traffic has been reduced to two with a centre turn lane and bike lanes each side. This gets altered at intersections, with  no priority for bikes, and actually improves traffic flow, just as separated bike lanes have done in Vancouver. It also should stop on street parking – but is not well enforced.

Bad Parking 1

The biggest issue for me is that after twenty years of “demonstration” it has not been replicated and should have been. Critical intersections like Granville at Garden City, or Shell at Hwy 99 remain diabolical for cyclists.

Highway 99 overpass

The News does not expect much to change any time soon and I think they are right. The City Council is very secure and is unlikely to face any great challenge at the ballot box, so smugness rules. They will not change and no-one seems likely to make them.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm