July 2009


The GF and I were having drinks on the Sylvia’s patio earlier this evening, and we ended up having front row seats for Critical Mass as it rolled past along Beach Ave.  Fun!

But while the minions of the Insidious Cycling Lobby were pedaling by, we also got a reminder of why cyclists feel the need to assert their right to a piece of the road.  As they were riding by, someone in a Honda Civic rolled through a stop sign and started trying to nose her way into a road that was jammed with bikes.  She didn’t think the stop sign applied to her when the only traffic in front of her was bikes.  And she thought it was perfectly fine to use her car to force cyclists out of her way.  After all, if she cut too close to a bike and someone went over the hood of her car, she wouldn’t be the one going to the ER.

Fortunately, a couple of Critical Massers, following their SOP, stopped their bikes in front of her, politely and cheerfully making it clear they weren’t going anywhere and neither was she.

None of this tells against Gordon Price’s argument that Critical Mass could be more politically effective if it were less confrontational.  But I get why cyclists feel the need take back a piece of the road once a month from drivers who don’t want to share.

Portland

(Photo credit: Flickr user crumj.)

Stephen Rees raises the question of what kinds of cities Vancouver should take as models to try to emulate.  North American cities?  When people talk about transportation in North America, they eventually end up talking about Portland.

People like Portland.  In part, they like it because it’s one of the most–if not the most–forward-thinking cities in the US when it comes to transportation.  It’s excellent for cycling.  Their parking meters take credit  cards, and parking’s priced effectively enough that it’s never too hard to find a spot, even downtown.  And they’ve got light rail.  For a city that size, they’ve got a lot of light rail–from more conventional trolleys to the spine of TriMet’s system, the mammoth light rail Max, a sometimes-grade-separated surface train that runs from the suburbs through downtown.  The best part is, to encourage more people to get out of their cars and onto buses and trains, you can ride for free in the downtown core.  Yes, you read that right.  In Portland’s busiest, densest districts, you ride buses and trains for free.  Forward thinking indeed.

Maybe the best thing about Portland’s transportation planning is how the city has cheap, creative little ideas that make big differences for how people get around.  If you ever bike in Vancouver, you know it can be a pain in the ass to find a place to lock your bike.  Especially in dense neighbourhoods.  So in Portland’s downtown core, the city’s taken one or two street parking spots at the end of blocks and installed heavy-duty bars for cyclists to lock their bikes to. The bikes aren’t falling all over the sidewalk, and you can lock a lot of bikes in just one or two street-parking spots.  It’s a great idea, and Vancouver should do it, like, yesterday in the dense parts of Commercial, Main, West Broadway, downtown, and the West End.  Just to start.  Also, since Portland’s street parking rates are high enough to ensure people don’t ovruse parking, you can always find a spot to park.  The best part about that?  It reduces the congestion of people circling the block looking for parking spots!  Vancouver could use ideas like that.

But it’s also worth pulling back to bring the big picture into focus.  This photo above is of the view of downtown from the south.  It’s all freeways.  And that picture doesn’t even show the city’s main freeways on the other side of the Willamette river, the I-5 and the 84 heading out through the eastern suburbs to the Gorge and The Dalles.  These freeways are Eisenhower’s legacy.  They’re products of the middle of the twentieth century, when the US was, all of a sudden, the richest country in the history of the world, oil was cheap, and the family car was at the centrepiece of the country’s transportation policies.  These freeways show what a serious investment in transportation infrastructure can do.  It can transform the way people live.

Portland made that investment in transportation infrastructure in the 1940s and 1950s, along with the rest of the US, and it changed the way its citizens lived their lives.  It has not made anything like a comparable investment since then, and consequently the overwhelming majority of Portlanders still live and move through their city just the way Eisenhower envisioned–in their cars.  For all its forward-thinking and great, creative little ideas, Portland’s efforts to get people out of their cars have been nibbling around the edges, doing things on the cheap.  So Portland remains fundamentally a car-dependent city.  Even in its downtown core, cars dominate the streets, with only the streets the Max runs along the few exceptions to that rule.  As a transit geek put it to me this past weekend, Portland’s the best of the worst.

So when we’re thinking about Portland as a model of how to make Vancouver less car-dependent, it’s worth remembering the wisdom of Flava Fav: don’t believe the hype.  Vancouver can and should implement a lot of Portland’s cheap little ideas.  But if we want most people living in the city to have the option of a car-free life, we’re going to have think bigger.  A lot bigger.

I’m a fan of Critical Mass, but if anyone’s going to convince me that agitation isn’t what Vancouver’s Insidious Cycling Lobby needs right now, it’s Gordon Price:

Vancouver doesn’t need direct action to move in the right direction; it’s been going that way for three decades. If Critical Mass provokes a backlash, it ain’t helpful.

Okay. Food for thought.

Kelly Sinoski’s got some news on Translink’s plans to try to raise more money.  The idea is to put tolls on bridges and to charge LowerMainland drivers a vehicle levy of, on average, $122 a year.

To make this happen, Translink’s got to get it approved by the province and the regional mayors’ council.  But two mayors are already griping about it.  Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan complains that it’s just a way for the province to push costs onto the cities.  Which is to say he’s a politician complaining that he’s going to have show some political courage, instead of having other governments do that for him.  Boo hoo.

But Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has a trickier concern:

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said road pricing could work as long as it’s done with a policy in place and plans to build up the transit system. Right now, there aren’t enough buses to support Surrey residents, she said, let alone another million people moving into the region by 2040.

“The vehicle levy, is for me, unsupportable,” she said. “There’s no way I can go out to our residents and say, ‘You’re not going to get anything, but pay an additional property tax and a vehicle levy. You might get a bus or two.'”

[Translink bossman Ken] Prendergast acknowledges transit service is lacking south of the Fraser. TransLink is working with municipalities to add new routes and increase population density along transportation corridors, but needs money to do so.

So Watts wants some assurance that Surrey’s going to get something in return for the money its residents will be sending to Translink.  And she’s worried because transit in Surrey is crappy.

But there’s a reason Transit in Surrey is crappy.  It’s intrinsically hard and expensive to provide mass transit in low-density sprawl.  Of course, a lot of Surrey isn’t low-density sprawl, but let’s be honest here, a lot of it is.  (Compare Surrey’s 1,244 people per square kilometer to Vancouver’s 5,335.  Surrey’s not even a quarter as dense as Vancouver.)  How many people are going to take a bus when they have to walk for 15 minutes to get it, as opposed to walking for five minutes?  When the walk isn’t going down to the end of your tree-lined block, but winding your way out of a cul-de-sac and then marching along the side of a highway for half a kilometer?  You can keep adding more and more buses on more and more routes, but if you do that, fewer of your routes carry enough people to break even.  That gets expensive.

Surrey has crappy transit in part because it’s zoned for crappy transit.  Change that–and give Translink the resources to put more buses on the road–and Surrey’s transit will improve soon enough.

From an unsigned Tri-City News op-ed:

It seems crazy to be planning cities without any guarantee of a rapid transit project that is supposed to be the spine of development. But that’s what’s happening and Moody and Coquitlam are flying blind, with the former trying to draft a new OCP and the latter considering strategies that would put more people around stations while reducing parking requirements.

This highlights how bad it is to have, on one hand, a definite plan for transit expansion and, on the other hand, no plans for how to pay for that expansion.  Without knowing where the money’s coming from, no one knows if the Evergreen Line is going to happen.  But that means Coquitlam can’t really start zoning for higher-density development around future stations.  And that means that if and when the new line opens up, it’ll have fewer passangers than it could have had to start.  The development will happen eventually, and people will start riding the train, but it’ll all happen slower than it needed to.

Zweisystem looks at the cost of taking the Canada Line to YVR and concludes it’s too expensive, especially when compared to the price of a cab, which is $30 from downtown.  How expensive is the Canada Line?

[T]here will be a $2.50 RAV surcharge on a two zone ($3.75)  TransLink fare. To get to the RAV/Canada line, a potential passenger must take a cab to a RAV/Canada line station with a minimum fare of $5.00 not including tip. The minimum cost of trip via RAV to the airport is $11.25, with one transfer.

Look. You can’t just decide to add a $5 cab fare to the cost of the Canada Line and declare the cost of a trip to the airport $11.25.  Most people coming from downtown aren’t going to take a cab, or even a bus, to get to a Canada Line Station.  The sort of traveler who isn’t willing to walk to a station downtown isn’t going to take the train anyway.  People in other parts of Vancouver are going to take buses to get to the Canada Line, and people outside of Vancouver but on another Skytrain Line are going to take that to get to the Canada Line.  While it’s true that any transfer will make things a little less friendly for tourists, decent signage can take care of that.  And besides, a lot–maybe most?–tourists are going downtown, and so won’t have to transfer anyway.

Comparing the cost of a trip on the Canada Line and the cost of a cab, Zweisystem observes that if you can get three or four people together, a cab starts to look like a really good option.  It  sure does!  Just like it does in most cities that have rail transit to the airport!  So people traveling in packs will take cabs.  That’s fine, they’re carpooling!  But all the people traveling alone or in couples–and who want to save a little money–will take the train.  That’s most of the students, shoe-string travelers, and conference-goers who want to save their per diem for Vij’s–to say nothing of the people who actually work at the airport and do the commute every day.

Maureen Bader, of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, concludes a post with this pearl: “[p]ublic transit expansion must stay within the ability of riders to pay for it. . .”

It seems like just yesterday we were talking about how drivers rely on government subsidies to pay for the roads they drive on.  Will the CTF stand up for taxpayers, and tell the government that road expansion must stay within the ability of drivers to pay for it?

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