Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Granville Bridge

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It’s huge. Eight lanes wide, it was the only bridge in the region which was never associated with congestion. Until the even wider Port Mann opened. There have recently been some proposals to dedicate the centre lanes of the bridge to a linear park.

These pictures are of course all from my flickr stream where they form an album or set. I have the feeling that people there no longer read the set description – if they ever did. So I make no apology for repeating that here. By the way the set is called “Vancouver’s High Line?”

There is much talk in urban circles of finding similar linear structures to the High Line capable of being converted into public space. In Vancouver, that has centered around the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Which in my view should simply be removed altogether to create a new development opportunity.

On the Granville Bridge people have been suggesting a new pedestrian area in the centre lanes. This seems to me to be even sillier than the viaduct idea. If I am going to walk over a bridge, I want to see what I am crossing over not three lanes of traffic on either side. And no doubt a pair of solid, unclimbable safety barriers too.

This set is of the views from the Fir Street off ramp, where there is a sidewalk on the west side, overlooking Kits and Granville Island. An elevator directly down to the Island would be good too.

Fir Street

In the foreground the CP railway (Arbutus Line) crossing and then the other Granville Bridge off ramp to 4th Ave. That’s West Van in the distance.

7th Ave

The High Line in New York is actually midblock – it threads itself in between buildings, which used to be the factories and warehouses it serves. So neither this bridge nor the viaducts will work in quite the same way. But they do provide a view down the streets – sorry Avenues in our case – they cross. Much quieter than the streets of Lower Manhattan.

A view of distant snow capped mountains

Just as the High Line there are good views off to the distance. And I happen to think the Burrard Inlet is a lot more picturesque than the Hudson River, but your view may be different.

Playground

The playground is a very happy addition to this corner site.

6th Avenue West

The CP Arbutus tracks are off to the right, hidden by the trees

Six lanes on West 4th

Count them – six lanes – on West 4th Avenue. That makes it a stroad: a major arterial road and a shopping street. I would suggest that it is a candidate for traffic calming – or maybe bus lanes for the #4, #7, #44 and #84 – but of course that would set off the same outrage we had to weather from the Point Grey Road changes. Which of course have not actually lead to the decline of Western civilization as we know it.

Starbucks on 2nd

At one time the CP track along Lamey’s Mill Road went through here, crossed the road at an oblique angle and then swung right up towards Burrard. But then Starbucks was built which in some people’s mind ended the possibility of reopening the Arbutus Line for trams, which would connect with the now abandoned Olympic Line. But the old Sockeye Special did not come through here. That line crossed False Creek at an angle on a long gone trestle. Anyway there’s a better alternative: I will get to that in a bit.

Duranleau Street

The Fir Street ramp leaves the main bridge around here. Granville Island is immediately below. One of the features of Granville Island is the large amount of space devoted to car parking. On a sunny weekend, the line-up of cars trying to get on to the Island backs up to the 2nd Avenue intersection and sometimes beyond. Traffic on Granville Island of course moves very slowly because of all the pedestrians, the service vehicles and all those people either hunting for a parking space or trying to get in or out of one. I think a pair of elevators either side of Granville Bridge with their own bus stops would be ideal to improve transit accessibility. I am not a great fan of the #50.

6th Avenue West

This shot down the length of the railway track next to 6th Avenue West illustrates my other great idea. The Fir Street Ramp could be taken away from cars altogether and repurposed for light rail/tram/streetcar – chose your own favourite term. As you can see the trains/interurbans had to climb from here to get up to Arbutus. The alignment could be used for a level rail structure that would connect onto Granville Bridge. That also allows for grade separation of the crossing of Burrard Street. On Granville Bridge the line would use those two centre lanes with a straight shot off the Bridge to the Granville Mall (does anyone still call it that) for transfers to the Canada Line, Expo Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express. The old CP Arbutus right of way could be turned back into an interurban as a cheaper alternative than expanding the stations on the Canada Line. It could also connect to a future conversion of the little used CP tracks to New Westminster and Coquitlam, via Marine Drive Station and the new riverside developments.

new line

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Why can’t we be like Zurich?

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I retweeted this video this morning and as I sat watching it, I kept thinking about that question. Or perhaps we just need to rephrase: when Vancouver grows up, it will be like Zurich.

The bit of history that I think is important that is not mentioned in this video is about the trams. It is part of a European awakening. Cities like Amsterdam seriously considered replacing their trams (streetcars) with a subways. Others used a technique they called “pre-metro” to put the trams underground in city centres. And of course what happened in every case was the traffic expanded to fill the space available. So they stopped doing that. Places like Strasbourg designed the trams to be a desirable part of the city, not just a regrettable necessity. There is a lot about public transport in North America that reminds me of other public conveniences.

The same thing also happened in Toronto. When the Yonge Street subway opened, traffic in the City Centre increased because there were no longer streetcars on Yonge getting in the way of the cars. It might be significant that Toronto still has streetcars. It is also very significant that while the planners (transportation, urban and regional) all now think in terms of surface LRT, Rob Ford wanted a subway.

Some people have even referred to the referendum as Vancouver’s Rob Ford moment. And even Daryl dela Cruz is convinced that the choice of LRT for Surrey is increasing the No vote there.

In Zurich they did plan on a subway system. But the costs were astronomical. And they already had a tram network as well as really good railways, which provided both suburban and intercity services. The Swiss are very well off, of course, and Zurich is the centre of financial services. But they are also very keen on democracy and civic minded. An American in that video almost cannot believe that government can be genuinely concerned about people.

I have often thought that the reason we like SkyTrain so much here is that it keeps the transit out of the way of the cars. An elevated structure does provide a more attractive ride than a tunnel – and is considerably cheaper. But it also has an impact on area through which it runs. Not as horrible as the old elevated railways – which may have been taken down in Manhattan but are still the dominant mode of the New York subway in the other borros.

El Queens

I wonder if in some future Vancouver, having finally got up the courage to rip down the viaducts we will start planning to get rid of the SkyTrain structures. Or perhaps turning them into High Line style parks. SkyTrain of course has to grade separated because of the LIM rail.

The British method of light rail is to use old railway lines wherever possible, but on street running in town centres. In Paris even though there is a disused Petite Ceinture railway line parallel to its route  – grade separated at street crossings – the new T3 runs in the centre of the boulevard. The “art of insertion” is actually just removing space that is now taken by cars (moving and parked) and replacing it with people. Lots of people.

New tram station under construction

Here we seem to be much less concerned about people. The Cambie Street line had to be underground because the City had designated much of the route as The Heritage Boulevard. A broad strip of grass with some large trees. Not actually usable. No one plays on it, or sits watching the cars speed by. There are no couples strolling hand in hand on those lawns. Cutting down trees for a transit line – or widening the Stanley Park causeway – is a red flag. Oddly, not for wider sidewalks and bike lanes apparently.

The other thing I noticed about Zurich’s city centre was the absence of towers. This is also common in much of Europe. In cities like Rome or Florence the centro storico is four to six stories maximum. Unless it’s a cathedral or something. Paris does have towers – but only one at Montparnasse which is widely derided or clustered in La Defense (which is the location for shooting dystopian SF films).

You will also note that the film concentrates on the decisions to limit parking and the volume of traffic allowed into the centre.

One other thing that needs to be said too is that the Swiss are very particular about who they let in to live there. I haven’t looked but it seems to me highly unlikely that the Zurich region is planning on absorbing another million people in the next thirty to forty years.

Haven’t I written all this before?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 10:31 am

Transit Funding Plebiscite FAQs

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Maria Harris is the Director Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A and thus a Member of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. She wrote to me to tell of her creation of a list of Frequently Asked Questions – and of course – the answers. These are very thorough and objective. They are currently available as PDF File and will be available as a web page shortly.

She writes “I intend to update the FAQs if there are more questions that should be answered or if any of the answers need to be modified based on feedback I receive.” As you can probably tell, I have not yet sent any feedback but when I do it will be very brief. I am very impressed, and reading through her answers there was nothing that caused any surprise or instant urge to suggest a correction. Which is something of an unusual experience in general and especially in connection with the current plebiscite.

I wish I felt that people have generally open minds on this issue, and are seriously seeking out advice. I find it somewhat distressing to see reports of ballots being discarded in the recycling bin of apartment buildings, though these may simply be a reflection of the mobility of the population and their refusal to pay Canada Post to forward their mail. The least likely to look at the FAQs as a source of information are those who have already made their minds up based on the propaganda of the No side, who seem to be utterly impervious to either reason or good quality data. However if you know one of these rare people who actually do need one of these questions answered – or can suggest one that needs to be added – please click that link in the first paragraph.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2015 at 7:37 am

Another comparison

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This time from “Business in Vancouver

You can of course just click on that link to read the article. I just like this infographic

transit_infographic5

What I also think is worth sharing is the commentary from Todd Litman which he posted to facebook – which I take to mean he wanted it read more widely (as it should be) and even if you are on facebook you may have missed due to very odd way they chose to display information on your “newsfeed”

Here is a great new article published in Business Vancouver, “Who takes transit to work in Metro Vancouver? (with infographic).”

It cites my analysis in “Eleven Reasons to Support Vancouver’s Transportation Tas” (http://www.vtpi.org/VanTransitTax.pdf ), and includes criticisms of our analysis from Jordan Bateman.

Bateman’s comments suggest that he does not understand urban transportation statistical analysis. TransLink trip diary surveys (http://bit.ly/1DGfajZ ) report mode share for TOTAL trips, Census data shows mode share for COMMUTE trips, which generally have higher transit shares. Since regional travel surveys are not standardized between cities and are performed infrequently, that are unsuited for comparing cities. In contrast, Census data are collected using standardized methods, so even if there is bias (for example, because the long-form is voluntary), the biases should be similar between regions so the results are comparable. Commute mode share is a very useful indicator because it is one of the few transportation statistics that are collected around the world.

We can therefore be confident that Vancouver has relatively high and growing walking, cycling and public transit mode shares compared with peer cities even if we are not sure their exact magnitude. These positive trends are also evidence from other data, such as declining downtown vehicle ownership and total trip generation rates.
Cost-efficiency and mode share are what experts call “output” indicators, that is, they reflect the efficiency of a particular step in the system. Even more important are “outcome” indicators which reflect how well the system actually performs with respect to community goals. Vancouver fares particularly well with regard to two very important outcomes: Vancouver has one of the lowest per capita traffic fatality rates (considering walking, cycling, bus and automobile crash deaths), and its households devote a smaller portion of their total budgets to transportation than any other large Canadian city, as indicated in the revised version of my report. This suggests that the region’s efforts to improve and encourage walking, cycling and public transit are having positive effects and providing savings and benefits to residents and local businesses.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2015 at 10:08 am

Myths vs. Reality in the Transit Debate..

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“I heard it so often, it must be true.”

I went to this City Conversation at SFU yesterday lunchtime. The presenters were Daphne Branham and Gordon Price. I also put together a Storify.

Daphne wrote a very well considered opinion piece on this topic in Vancouver Sun

DB

She wants to be a citizen rather than a taxpayer, though she also noted when politicians use that term it is always qualified “ordinary citizen”. The No side has been able to frame the debate, and they have done as the end game of the movement that began with Reagan and Thatcher, and has been continuously sustained rhetoric of the right. Don’t trust government to spend your money wisely, it will not be used well. At the same time there has been a decline in voting, and a growing gap between rich and poor. It lead to the HST referendum, which was called by a citizens’ initiative and rejected merging provincial sales tax with the federal GST.   The elites who for a long time have been appealing to our self interest to cut taxes and let the public sector assets and services erode. This is apparent not just in transportation but schools and universities, ferries, hospitals. Citizens are now being asked to vote in a plebiscite to increase sales tax to pay for transit expansion and other transportation improvements but it is too late. This is now a watershed moment. It is time for a change. We must take back the word citizen and to do that we need to vote.

Gordon Price agreed but said he was here to add context, and set the plebiscite within a larger frame. He has been reading Gutstein’s “Harperism”. The rise of neoliberalism is not due to a conspiracy. It started with a very small number of people – a “thought collective in the marketplace of ideas” – and that phrase in itself is an indicator of their success. There views have become so accepted that we are like fish trying to describe the ocean. Frederick Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” was written to change the climate of ideas at a time when Keynesianism and planning were widely accepted as economic strategies. The political term “liberal” has now become meaningless, but “neo-liberal” is defined by its program of a balanced budget, free trade, and tax cuts. In the 1980’s politicians could talk of “starving the beast” – denying funds to government so that its power would be diminished. The torch has been picked up by Grover Norquist and Milton Friedman. A network of funders has been established for “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute – there are no over a thousand of these “dealerships in secondhand ideas” who produce things like the Economic Freedom Index and the TTI Congestion Index, and fund transit critics like Wendell Cox.

While the CTF may not publish its sources of funds if you Google its board members you will find people who also sit on the boards of these same think tanks and foundations. They share board members with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, World Taxpayers, Canadian Labour Watch. All share the same program aims: to reduce the size of government and persuade people to vote against government programs. He predicted that Translink will become “collateral damage” if No wins and that will lead to privatization. The point of the plebiscite is to deny government access to taxes. At the same time as it was launched, the BC budget enacted the sunset clause on the two year old tax increase on the richest 2% of the BC population. A tax rebate of about the same order as the funds sought by the sales tax increase ~$250m.

I was the first commenter, mainly because Daphne Bramham had not mentioned HandyDART in her opening presentation. I had actually come armed with facts and figures – as I thought that we were going to be talking about alleged waste at Translink.

“Is Translink a bloated, inefficient and wasteful public agency providing terrible public transit? Probably no. But facts don’t matter, emotions do. “

Well I tried an emotional appeal for HandyDART users. I am not sure it persuaded anyone.

The next speaker said that the problem with the Mayor’s plan is that it did not recognize how rapidly the world is changing due to new technologies which will make it possible for more people to live and work in the same place. 3D printers are changing the way that we will be acquiring things in the future. If there is less need to travel, or to transport goods, why are we spending more money on increasing mobility?

Gordon Price said “You are not going to get a vote about that.” A vote for NO is a vote for the default.

“Aren’t we here to talk about transportation?”

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.28.57 AMThis was followed by a gentleman who stated that he was “an irritated soul”. He spoke of an extractive industry whose agenda feeds a broken system. “I am not seeing my interests served: my needs are not being met.”

Daphne Bramham said “I don’t know how to vote. We should not have a plebiscite at all” [APPLAUSE]

Gordon Price: It is now the turn of local government to have the neo-liberal cap forced on it. “No” means NO.  Government must live within its means which must be no more than 30% of the economy.

Responding to the point about technology change – which is inevitable and irresistible – the next speaker preferred to move into that future with better transportation options. Transit that is attractive and affordable is a political question. If the NO campaign succeeds we move into a future dominated by cars and trucks.

At this point in my notes I have “GP talks too much. There is not enough time for a conversation as he challenges most speakers.” Afterwards I canvassed the point of view of those around me and they all agreed.

Daphne Branham pointed to the new tenants of the Pacific Centre building (that used to be Sears). These include employers like Sony who need to be at the centre of the transit service.

It is a fundamentally flawed process, but it is difficult to buy into the doomsday scenario. The Yes vote is endorsing what? The No vote is at least saying “I’m not playing this game”. All aspects of infrastructure have declined: will we be asked to vote on them too if this works?

There is a general level of apathy on the part of the public  – and there will be a City Conversation on that topic soon

If there were a 100% No vote it would be much clearer as a rejection of the process. The Mayors have done everything the province asked for.

Daphne Bramham spoke about a charity she works with which gets constant requests for bus tickets

Gordon Price – the base plan is funded. But there is nothing for growth. That means as more people arrive the level of service per capita will decline. By 2020 we will be back to 2003 levels of service.

Translink is run well when compared to other North American systems

DB People can no longer afford the house they want. The anger is real: they want to say No because over everything else they feel they have no control. The plebiscite has unleashed a basketful of resentments.

GP If this works, it will be used again. “Kill the green dragon in its own den. Get ready to fight the freeway battle 2.0″

People are mad for legitimate reasons but at the wrong things

Landlords cannot rent the space they have in office parks because employers need to be where transit it. Translink is like democracy. It’s terrible –  just that everything else is worse.

REACTION

It seems to me that there must have been more from participants, but at this conversation there was not a lot of listening. I had expected to need my notes on how well Translink is operating its transit system – since the waste is located elsewhere. I think too that what needed to be said is that the referendum was designed to be lost from the start. Christy Clark was badly burned by the HST decision. But she is also well aware that when transit funding initiatives have succeeded in the US (nowhere else in the world uses them) they have had much longer campaigns when they suceeded. She has been determined to push this through as fast as possible. At the same time she has launched a Moving BC plan which does not require any approval process – and that is mostly about highway expansions across the province.

The other thing that did not get said is that the neoliberal policy nostrums do not work. They have failed miserably everywhere – even on their own terms. There was much less economic growth, not more. Free Trade was good for corporations looking to cut costs and avoid regulations that protected workers – and the environment. It was terrible for everyone else except the few who have been stuffing their increasing wealth into tax havens. Revenues did not increase when taxes were cut. Wealth did not trickle down. Market forces do not protect the environment nor do they ensure good quality products that meet consumers needs. We are being buried in our own waste, poisoned by our own activities, denied access to everything of value that does not have a price. Privatisation did not make any enterprise more efficient or successful. It has produced worse service at higher cost. Employers were forced by law to stop employing children. They were required to provide safe workplaces. Their activities were monitored – and they were required by law to clean up the mess they made. Deregulation has increased worker exploitation, reduced human health and happiness, damaged the environment to the point where not just human life on earth is threatened but all life forms. Well maybe not water bears, you can’t seem to kill those little buggers.

The right wing “think tanks” do not think at all. They recycle damaged ideas, broken promises, failed experiments. They cheat and they lie. They do not let their “research” be subject to peer review – and when it is a whole raft of legitimate objections are exposed. Faulty reasoning and flawed data are hallmarks of these bodies.

trickle

They talk about Freedom, but freedom everywhere – and especially in the US and Canada – is under assault as never before.  More people are imprisoned in the United States as a percentage of population than anywhere else. Only in the US can a law enforcement official take your money or other possessions and devote them to his own use – with no fear of legal repercussions. The US constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure has no force now. The government spies on everyone all the time, with almost complete impunity. Anyone involved in that activity who dares speak the truth is subject to cruel and unusual punishment without due process of law. Bill C51 in Canada has a similar intent – based on the fear spread by the Prime Minister playing on the activities of a solitary individual labouring under delusions. Vulnerable people have been lured into heinous crimes by agents provocateurs – police officers  who entrap those who would be incapable of causing any harm without police assistance.

In 1984 George Orwell introduced a new language – doublespeak. There was a Ministry of Plenty concerned only with shortages. A Ministry of Truth concerned only with lies. A Ministry of Love concerned only with hate. We are living now in the world that Orwell described. If you want to understand the output of the right wing “think tanks” just simply reverse everything that they say.

This went into the mail yesterday

Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

Our way out of this mess

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Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

Here’s another video

with 2 comments

I showed you the warm and fuzzy one. This one is a little more gritty.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Transportation

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