Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘City of Vancouver

Mr Robertson, take down this sign

with 4 comments

This sign, and more like it, was put up by the City of Vancouver along the Arbutus Corridor, in anticipation of the resumption of rail traffic along the CP railway line.

The Arbutus Corridor

This particular image was taken on King Edward Avenue eastbound, just west of Arbutus Street. There is a full set of railway level crossing signals here: no barriers, of course, because the frequency of trains when they were running was so low they were not needed. But CP is required by law to maintain the signalling equipment as long as they have not formally abandoned the track. So if there was to be a train, lights would flash and bells would sound. If the equipment is, in fact working, of which I have seen no evidence. When CP’s contractors were operating rail mounted equipment near other crossings, nothing happened. Nor were flag persons present

Anyway, since these signs first appeared, no trains have run.   So the sign is not necessary. In fact, redundant signs tend to reduce compliance with signs in general. Which is not a Good Idea.

The Arbutus Corridor

This image is taken looking south at the point where the line crosses King Edward. You will notice the post and sign in the middle of the tracks, put there by the contractor to show the limit of the refurbishment work they had performed. From here down to Marine Drive/Kent Avenue track had been lifted, ballst added and graded, ties replaced, level crossings cleaned and so on. From this point north, only some desultory vegetation removal – plus the enthusiastic destruction of community gardens – had taken place. But it is clear from the state of the track that it could not support train operation in its current condition.

The Arbutus Corridor

At crossings south of this one, the flangeways have been cleared, and in some cases timbers inserted parallel to the rails to make subsequent cleaning easier. Obviously nothing was done here.

The Arbutus Corridor

On the other side of King Edward the blackberries are returning.

The Arbutus Corridor

From here northwards the track is once again dissapearing under the growth.

CP were bluffing. You do not need the signs: you can start with the ones one King Ed and work north from there confident that no trains will run. It seems pretty unlikely that they will to the south either, but theoretically they could. I doubt they will.

UPDATE May 7, 2016

The City of Vancouver announced today that they had finally got a deal with CP to take over the line and turn it into a Greenway: the potential for future light rail in the longer term is not ruled out.

Gary Mason of the Globe reveals how the deal was done

July 15, 2016

The City of Vancouver’s latest update on track removal and construction of the greenway

and more photos on my flickr photostream

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm

The Arbutus Corridor Dispute

with 4 comments

I was back on the CBC TV suppertime news last night. CP have sent in the bulldozers again to restart the work on their long disused track from Marpole to Burrard Bridge. They are down at the south end of the line now, back where they were ripping out gardens last year before the the City tried to get an injunction to stop them. Unsurprisingly, the courts were reluctant to stop CP from trying to make their tracks capable of carrying trains again. Except, of course, there is no reason for CP to do so: not one that makes any commercial sense that is. CP are not interested in carrying people: they are freight railway. There are no customers now on the line. That is why there have not been any trains: for years. The track has simply been left to return to nature. CP is obliged to maintain the road crossings as it has not formally abandoned the track. But the only reason it is clearing away encumbrances is to try to get the City to raise its offer. The corridor is designated for transportation use in the City plan. That also was established in court. CP is not able to sell the land to developers, so the City is the only potential buyer. And they do not put the same price on that strip of land as CP does.

UPDATE

I have been out taking photos of the ongoing work by CP and putting the images on my flickr stream

SPEC has a very interesting history of the line on their newsletter this month

“Gardens started along the tracks as “Victory Garden’s” during WWII and were tolerated by BC Electric Railway Co until 1952 when CPR took over the line and continued to permit those gardens and, over the decades, allow others to be built. For as long as they ran trains on this line, gardens thrived along many stretches of the Arbutus Corridor – What happened to that CPR?”

Community Garden Destruction

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Uber seeks to return to Vancouver

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I’m sorry that this story comes from a paywalled site. The Globe and Mail reports that Uber has had a meeting with Councillor Geoff Meggs who “said there will be a motion to council this week to freeze the status quo for six months while staff study the issues – past the election in November.” He also acknowledged that this will have to be treated as a regional issue even though “each municipality in the Lower Mainland has its own rules on taxis.”

Mohan Khang of the BC Taxi Association knows he can rely on the Passenger Transportation Board. They turned Uber down two years ago and are highly unlikely to do any different next time. Why? The PTB actually controls who can have a taxi license, even though they are issued by municipalities.

Section 28(1) of the Passenger Transportation Act states that the Board may approve an application if the Board considers that

  • (a)    there is a public need for the service the applicant proposes to provide under any special authorization,

  • (b)    the applicant is a fit and proper person to provide that service and is capable of providing that service, and

  • (c)    the application, if granted, would promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia.

So it actually does not matter what any one city decides to do. The provision to “promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia” means that the established taxi operators’ interest overrule any and all other considerations. Uber could indeed try to satisfy the requirements that there is a need – simply on the grounds that there are fewer taxis here per thousand population than anywhere else in Canada. They could also show that they are working in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto. All the BCTA has to do is point to the impact services like Uber and Lyft have had in cities in San Francisco – where taxi use was more than halved – and the PTB will be obliged to reach the same decision as it did last time.

It has become something of a truism that regulators become the client of the industry they are set up to regulate. That is demonstrably the case with the National Energy Board and the oil industry. While other places have sought to deregulate taxis or to operate on the basis that the public interest in plentiful, affordable and convenient access to mobility services is more important than the survival of existing providers, that has not happened yet in BC. It is not likely to change any time soon.

The people who drive taxis are not the people who drive the industry or the PTB. The people who make significant amounts of money from taxis are those who own licenses. Although these are issued by government they can be traded on the market, and thus, due to their scarcity, acquire significant value. The man (and it is usually a man) driving the cab has to rent the license from its owner. He also has to rent the cab and pay for its fuel, maintenance and access to the dispatch system. A cab driver does not start to earn any money until he is at least halfway into his shift and even then will be very fortunate to clear more than minimum wage. He will do better if his cab also has the even rarer YVR permit – which also means the taxi has to be licensed in Richmond as well of the municipality where it is based.

So for Uber – or anyone else – the task is to get the legislation changed. And while there might well be many people who would like to see that, the people who control the industry also have considerable political weight, not just because they are contributors to party funds but also because they claim that they can deliver votes from the people and communities that rely on employment in the industry. So far as I am aware, no politician in BC has ever tried to test the validity of that claim.

The virtues – or otherwise – of Uber do not matter. The public need for greater access to demand responsive transportation does not matter. Political power is what matters. Geoff Meggs can have as many meetings and as much research as he cares to commission. It will not make any difference to the outcome.

POSTSCRIPTS

I have now seen another post on the same issue from The Georgia Straight – which, of course, isn’t paywalled

The issue of taxi licensing in Greater Vancouver and a possible solution is presented by Ben Proctor in his recent (April 2104) Masters of Public Policy Thesis at SFU. I am indebted to Neil Salmond for this link. The research confirms what I have been saying on this topic. His proposed solution is practical but still requires a politician with considerable courage and willingness to take on a powerful and deeply entrenched private interest group. Both John Horgan of the NDP and Todd Stone in their recent comments regarding Uber show that neither has any intention of changing the present arrangements.

The real issue is that taxis are expensive and not as readily available as needed. Licence owners make a lot of money. Taxi drivers very little – but carry all the risk. Uber ought to be a better system but isn’t. Once again the drivers take all the risk, the company all the profit. Lots of seats in cars are empty: average occupancy of the cars on the road is around 1.4. Most cars are only in use for an hour or so each day. Much of the fleet sits idle most of the time. There are clearly opportunities to make better use of the resources tied up in private cars. The PTB and Uber are both significant blockages on the path to progress towards better, more efficient personal mobility.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm

The Fight for the Arbutus Corridor

with 5 comments

This post started out as a brief “in other news item” under the last post. It seems to me, as this story develops, that it needs its own space and promotion. More will be added, no doubt

Looking for pictures to illustrate this post – there is a good summary and illustrations on the CBC BC news site and also a useful summary of the background from The Province

CP has started ripping out community gardens in Marpole along the Arbutus corridor.

Fairchild TV crew

I helped Fairchild TV make a documentary about this episode this afternoon.

Quite why CP thinks the City of Vancouver is more likely hand over even more taxpayers’ money to them by holding hostages I am not certain. Kirk LaPointe of course would not be happy no matter no matter what decision the Mayor makes. He was on the CBC TV evening news blaming the Mayor for making a ridiculously low offer, forcing CP’s response. No doubt had the Mayor made a much bigger offer that would have been derided as overly generous. The sad truth of the situation is that the incumbent cannot please the opposition. Maybe voters in general will appreciate a Mayor who stands his ground against a bully even if gardens are destroyed.

CP could easily store trains or train its crews without going to all this trouble: there is plenty of track in better condition but just as unused elsewhere in the City.  If I was a CP shareholder, I think I would criticize management for wasting money on track of little use. Maybe reverting a pleasant greenway to a workable railway with no customers actually lowers its value. And here is a quote from one of the comments (“Naturalmystic”) under that Straight story linked to above which raises a possibility I had not considered

CP has the hammer and they don’t have to run a single train to get their price for the land. To run trains they need to upgrade the tracks. They need to upgrade the level crossings. Imagine you are trying to drive down Broadway and Arbutus at 8:30 am and the traffic is gridlocked. The cause? CP is doing work at the crossing. That entails working in the signals, the track…The city can’t do a damn thing. CP has the right to maintain their tracks, equipment, level crossings at any time without restraint. CP has the right to run their trains 24/7. CP has the upper hand.

You can also read Mayor Robertson’s response at the foot of which is the statement from CP which appears to confirm Maturalmystic’s prediction

“We are testing crossing signals, and assessing pedestrian and vehicle crossings to understand where, if any, maintenance is required.”

And then there is this I have lifted from the CP web site

At CP we know that a railroad may serve as the arteries of a nation, but at its heart is community. That’s why through CP Has Heart, we’re committed to improving the heart health of men, women and children across North America. And along the way, we’re showing heart whenever we can. Find out more@CPhasHeart

Working in a garden and eating fresh fruit and vegetables are a very good ways to improve your heart health. Try to do that, whenever possible, well away from the miasma of diesel exhaust.

UPDATE

There is an article on VanCityBuzz on the lack of ability to expand the Canada Line which mentions a possible Arbutus Line at the very end. When I read it, much of the subject matter and approach seemed very familiar. I am not sure if that is reassuring or not.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Repeat a lie often enough …

with 15 comments

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

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

Vancouver Boundary

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

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

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 11, 2014 at 12:05 pm

The lack of joined up thinking

with 9 comments

Two stories in today’s Sun struck me as being “bloggable” in the sense that they clearly meet the criteria of its stated purpose. The issue for me has been what to say about them that is worth saying – given that they are really not new or different, and only require me to repeat things that I have written here before, many many times.

Both illustrate what happens when we deal with transportation as though it were an end in itself. Both result from “silo” thinking. They are caused by the way we govern ourselves and the institutional arrangements we have. How people get to become decision makers – and what those decisions do to us.

The first is Ken Hardie threatening to cancel U-Pass.  An empty threat, of course. Ken himself can’t do that: indeed, it would be very difficult for Translink to do that, though they might indeed find themselves in that position. Fare evasion would not be the only reason, but could be cited as a contributory factor. Ken says that the selling of UPasses on Craig’s list is threatening the viability of the program. Now you do understand, don’t you, that Ken is the spokesperson – the chosen communicator. Indeed, that is where his expertise lies. Not in transportation or economics, but in presenting organizations to the public in the best possible light. The sort of person who suscribes to the idea that perception is reality. Though in fairness I have to say that is was his former boss Bob Paddon who tried to persuade me of that, not Ken himself.

And the rising losses, he warned, could put the program in jeopardy because if it’s not sustainable, TransLink will consider shutting it down.

Ah, so now we are in the murky area where we do not have direct  reported speech – and that is what the headline writer (not Kelly Sinoski) mangled.

UPass never was “sustainable” – and could not have been from the outset. For a long time, the staff who examined the idea of the UPass told the senior management – “The Executive” – that Vancouver was not like King County, which had introduced UPass for Washington state university. Metro there had spare capacity it could utilize. BC Transit in Victoria found something similar. In this region UBC is out at the end of a peninsula and SFU is on the top of a mountain. And neither university has nearly enough student accommodation on campus, and no way to fund more. The pressure on the transit provider was to help solve the universities’ problems – and those of the students forced to commute great distances by the lack of affordable accommodation. As a policy analyst I pointed out that students were no different to large numbers of other people who were also commuting due to the Vancouver housing affordability issue, and I could not make a plausible case for their needs to be given priority over other, arguably more deserving groups – the working poor for instance, or single mothers trying to get off welfare , or people with disabilities.

It may have been significant that when the UPass was finally approved Translink’s CEO had a daughter who was going to UBC. It may also have been significant that the planner who presented the case used the “revenue neutral” formula. He said that the deal would not reduce the amount of money coming in to the system. He said nothing about cost – the money going out of the system – or capacity – the ability of the system to adapt to changing demand patterns. “Sustainability” was not an idea mentioned in the context of Upass.  I know that since it was such a hot button word for me. The communicators had gotten ahold of it. Indeed some time before I was trying to convince provincial government environment ministry communicators not to talk about “sustainable transportation” since it was not a meaningful concept. Sure it would help the environment if fewer students drove and more used transit – but since many students car pooled that was not exactly clear cut. And anyway, no one was willing to pick up the tab. It seemed to me that any decision had to be based on a cost benefit analysis in policy terms and a cost effectiveness analysis for operational reasons. UPass was not subject to either of those tests. “Revenue neutral” was a catch phrase, usable in sound bites. Not good policy but easy communicability.

If we were really interested in sustainability we would question the location decisions that give rise to so much motorised transportation demand. And we would also wonder about setting up higher education establishments that think only of research and teaching but not accommodation.  At one time the most important person in any college was the bursar – not the vice-chancellor. Once universities were made more business like – and made to get their funding from corporations – they lost the ability both to govern themselves sensibly and to meet the needs of society as a whole.

UPass has been very successful in getting transit ridership increased quickly. Unfortunately, the transit system has not been able to cope with that. Prior to UPass, it was already straining capacity – and having difficulty justifying to the region as a whole how that capacity was distributed. Because in places where ridership was low because service was poor – and even pockets of dense development were single use and widely spaced – it was hard to justify levels of taxation equal to those in areas where service was better (I cannot use the word “good”).  But that toothpaste is out of the tube now. Cancelling UPass would have much larger consequences than not starting it in the first place. And as long as Translink has funding problems to solve, fare evasion is always going to command more attention than it might reasonably merit on a cost benefit or a cost effectiveness basis. Just look at the figures. Actually on second thought look at the absence of the really important figures: no total revenue, no revenue  from UPass, no percentages. Just large numbers waved around without context. It’s all spin, no substance. $15 million sounds a lot – it would make a nice lottery win, for instance. But in the context of the transit budget? Or of Translink’s revenue as a whole?  Or in terms of what Translink needs in terms of operating funding over and above fare revenue to meet the needs of a growing region that wants to become more sustainable?

Which brings me to Jerry Dobrovolny, the City of Vancouver’s Director of Transportation who is starting a public consultation process for the long-range transportation plan for 2040.

The city hopes to shape its latest plan with feedback from the public, who can give suggestions at 11 town hall meetings, 50 stakeholder events and through a city website, talkvancouver.com, between now and July 15. A second phase of the plan will start early next year.

Interestingly the link the Sun provides (but not as a working, clickable link like the one above) takes you to two such processes – but we will stick to transportation for now. I will go back to the housing one later, since it raises similar issues of governmental “silos”.

What is being suggested is quite remarkable for a Transportation Director and really refreshing to hear, as I have reported before

Dobrovolny envisions a city of dense, compact communities around transit hubs, with HOV and bus lanes on major arterial routes so it’s “not a hardship but a joy” to get out of the car.

It has never been unusual to hear Vancouver planners to talk like that, but to hear it from the engineer is progress indeed. I will pass on the HOV for now and just press for bus lanes. Since the city cannot possibly afford to widen any of its arterial streets and avenues, bus lanes can only be made available by taking road space from cars. (Or, whisper it quietly, those wide, treed  boulevards.) Dobrovolny could have been doing this for some time – and indeed has been doing exactly that for bicycle lanes. Again, I suspect that this has more to do with who is the Mayor and what his priorities are. In terms of mode share – especially at the regional scale of movement – I happen to believe that bus lanes would benefit more people than bike lanes, especially in a city that has a tight grid of streets and lots of marked cycle routes off the arterial roadways. But I concede that bike lanes in the city centre were an important political fight to win.

To entice more walkers, the city would consider wider sidewalks on busy downtown streets like Granville and Georgia to reduce congestion and pedestrian “traffic jams” and ensure they’re covered with awnings to protect people from the rain. More lighting and way-signing would help pedestrians find their way around town.

Public spaces with chairs, benches and tables for major events would draw more walkers and cyclists, he added, while traffic calming on neighbourhood streets and separated cycle lanes would make cycling more comfortable for the 60 per cent of people, like seniors and children, afraid to ride in traffic.

“Tables and chairs” is pure Jan Gehl, via Janette Sadik-Kahn. I am sad that Jerry cannot bring himself to espouse the very necessary commitment to gradual but steady reduction in car use as a policy objective, but maybe that is just a red rag we do not need to wave right now. If we can get this and the following we are going to be going the right way

And those who can’t give up the car would have the option of car-sharing, pay-as-you-drive insurance and low-carbon vehicles.

And those of course are largely outside the City’s jurisdiction, but as we saw at the Car2Go launch they are being supportive.

But when it comes to transit, the city’s hands are somewhat tied,

More than “somewhat”. In a regional transit system, giving more to those who already have most is politically difficult. We do not have a regionally run system  – indeed I doubt we ever did – but it is hard to see how Christy Clark is going to resolve this one. The carbon tax was another of those “revenue neutral” sales jobs – just like the HST. She seems to be making a dog’s breakfast of both right now. Jerry does a good soft shoe shuffle here.

Christy Clark is not about sustainability any more than Gordon Campbell was. I frankly doubt her credibility on the HST business and it may even be her downfall. If she can pull it off, expect a fall general election. But also do not expect vast amount of capital flowing to major transit projects from the carbon tax. That is a small slow trickle – but might be useful to prop up operating funding for transit across the province. It would mean less would be going to tax cuts of course, but she is showing that she is far less dogmatic in that area. Even Kevin Falcon now professes the need to do things differently (though I doubt he would have had he won the leadership).

Making Vancouver – City or Metro – better able to cope with a world which is reducing is anthropogenic carbon emissions and adapting to the consequences of those already emitted – ought to be item one on the agenda of all the levels of government involved. Since most of us live in cities and all of us depend on what cities provide.  ICBC is a provincially directed corporation  that could go for pay-as-you-drive but has not, yet. “Can’t give up the car” is a function of housing and highways – and right now I do not see Canada getting back into public provision of housing (except in very limited special cases) and no sign at the provincial level of abandonment of their disastrous highway expansion projects.

Red streetcar

Seattle Streetcar - my photo

The City must do what it can – and I would like to suggest that among those things could be providing a downtown streetcar. Both Seattle and Portland found ways to do that outside of their regional transit systems. Because it was a City priority, but not a regional priority. And it was more to do with encouraging compact urban development in both of those cities  than with current transportation demand. Our needs are a bit different – and we already have the compact development along much of the route.

Much of what must be achieved in this region requires senior governments to start to grapple effectively with issues that up to now they have muffed. Or they could (even more unlikely) stop treating municipal government so badly.  Taxinequities is a powerpoint slide show that Gaetan Royer, the City Manager of Port Moody has put together. I saw it at the Green Party of BC AGM, and applauded it loudly.

POSTSCRIPT  May 26, 2011 2:50pm

The Richmond Review is now reporting that Craig’s List has been removing the adverts for UPasses – after a request from the “Transit Police” and adds

Hardie said TransLink has not considered cancelling the U-Pass program over the pass reselling problem.
 

May 27, 2011 3:13pm

And I am not the only blogger looking at this issue: Darren Barefoot takes a closer look at Translink’s creative UPass math

Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

Davie Day Highlights Need for Car Free Street Trial

with 10 comments

As you probably know I do not live – and therefore vote – in the City of Vancouver. But I am very much in favour of car free streets. I administer a flickr group called “places without cars” to collect pictures from around the world of urban areas that have stopped cars coming into streets – either temporarily or permanently. And written about it here quite often.

So when three candidates for the Vancouver council election start talking about it, I am all attention. Go now to Andrea Reimer’s site and learn more. I am not going to endorse candidates but I do feel that it is time for some more progressive attitudes to be represented at City Hall. And from my experience of dealing with them (which admittedly is now getting a bit dated) the City Engineers are not exactly cutting edge on this kind of issue. Which means the new councillors – if they want to see this kind of change – are going to have to be pretty determined to stand up to groups like the very pro-car DVBIA.

And if you want a really well informed blog on the City of Vancouver election Frances Bula (formerly of the Sun) is now on the hook as well as her own blog.

And you can find pictures of Davie Day here

but here is one of them as a sample

Photo by Paul Hillsdon

Photo by Paul Hillsdon

Written by Stephen Rees

September 8, 2008 at 12:54 pm