Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dutch Bike Infrastructure Porn

Care of Bike Snob NYC (who provides an alternative - and hilariously sarcastic - take on North American bike culture):

It's a good video for ideas on how to improve cycling infrastructure. Just don't get too caught up in the smugness. Also, keep in mind that Holland has been working on this for decades. The "normalization" of bike culture/infrastructure didn't arise overnight.

Watch for:
- how many riders are wearing lycra, or helmets
- the types of people riding bikes...these aren't road warriors!
- the bike lockup facilities with counters for empty spots
- different separation mechanisms for different types of roads
- planning a direct-access bike path between a new suburb and the downtown core where the jobs are
- bike education as part of the school curriculum (hello, SD40!)
- the central importance of intent and planning

Finally, see if you can spot the American transpo planners on bikes (clue: check for wobblies)!

Friday, June 22, 2012

...Meanwhile, Back in Vancouver...

While New Westminster has a tough fight on its hand to get TransLink, the Province, and neighboring municipalities to reconsider their 6-lane Pattullo plan, what's Vancouver doing?

Removing roadspace for vehicles on a large scale.

Car traffic in Vancouver's downtown has declined steadily in the last decade. They are now talking about tearing down the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts and replacing them with park space.

They are talking about removing 2 car lanes from the perenially under-used Granville bridge and putting a nice pedestrian/bike pathway in their place.

[the plans for the Granville Bridge]

Of course, Vancouver can do these things, because it owns the infrastructure in question, and the infrastructure is entirely within VCR city borders. The Pattullo, as regular readers will know by now, is owned by TransLink and connects Surrey to New Westminster. So doing anything with it is at least three times more complicated because you have to get three parties to agree.

Parallel to Vancouver's situation, New Westminster's own car traffic is also decreasing - by this I mean, car trips originating inside City borders. The overwhelming majority of our traffic comes from outside. And, because we're not the final destination of that traffic, our options for dealing with it are a bit differrent from Vancouver's. The best thing New West can do is to get its neighbours better transit!
Meanwhile, South Surrey's Park'nRide locations are packed full (illegal parking is an issue) and more spots are needed. Surrey's continued growth depends on improving transit, but because of TransLink's financial woes (largely due to political interference by the Province), everything is grinding to a halt. And that is really too bad, because easing congestion does not require that large numbers of people take transit - it only requires about 10% of people to shift in order to see a real difference in traffic flow. Mind you, that transit needs to be high quality, dependable, and rapid - whether SkyTrain, rapid buses with dedicated lanes, or light rail. Luckily, we've already got SkyTrain across the Fraser!

On the flip side, widening roads as a way out of congestion is doomed to failure (and I'm pretty sure TransLink understands this, even if commuters and Provincial Transportation Ministers don't). This means that taxpayers - those who drive, as well as those who don't - get far more bang for their taxpayer buck if it gets spent on rapid bus service than on more pavement.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wassup Along the Brunette River?

OK, so for the first time this season I rode home along the Central Valley Greenway, which takes you through the park along the Brunette River from Burnaby Lake to Hume Park.

This is what it usually looks like:

[nice greenery and birdsong along the CVG]

I round a corner and suddenly am faced with this:

[good thing they realize it's an environmentally sensitive area]

[holy tree-thinning, batman!]

[can't have a park without parking, I guess???]

This used to be forest. What the heck is going on?

[oooh, it's environmental enhancement!]

[fish habitat creation?]

Looks like they are putting in more culverts under the new MegaMann highway, and adding more creek bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TransLink's Pattullo Corner

Here is a very interesting document from TransLink, summarizing the past estimates on the possibility of refurbishing the Pattullo.

From this report, I learned:
  • TransLink took over responsibility of the Pattullo in 1999 and since then has commissioned a number of studies on the bridge - which are summarized in this report.
  • The most important issues with the bridge (and I think most people will agree with these) are:
    • pedestrian and bicycle safety (there is no barrier between traffic and the sidewalk, and the sidewalk is too narrow)
    • narrow lane widths for traffic and excessive traffic speeds, high volumes of heavy trucks
    • structural integrity of the bridge
  • Refurbishing the bridge would cost about $200M (I'm rounding up from the figures in the report) and it is possible. It would extend the life of the bridge by 50 years (see pg. 15 of the report).
  • Traffic impacts would be large during a refurb, which would take about 2 years.
  • The existing bridge is too narrow for 4 lanes, so a refurb would be to a 3-lane-with-counterflow. Sidewalks could be made wider by cantilevering them off the bridge, as was done for the Lion's Gate.
  • 4- and 6- lane replacements are considered in the report, and these options start talking about connecting the Pattullo to the SFPR:
"A new six lane bridge will provide opportunities to improve the connectivity [...] to both the North Fraser Perimeter Road and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The additional lane in each direction [...] will provide improved operations across the river, especially for large trucks travelling [...] to / from the regionally significant Perimeter Roads."
  • In terms of financing the bridge,
"Toll revenues are likely adequate to service the level of debt required to finance the proposed expenditures (for a six lane replacement structure)". [emphasis mine]
  • A closure analysis was performed in 2007 (see pg. 13 of the report), where they tested the impacts of closing the bridge to trucks:
"The results indicated relatively small and effectively unnoticeable changes in truck volumes over most of the network; the largest changes were at the approaches to the Alex Fraser and Port Mann Bridges, with two-way diversions of 180 and 250 trucks per hour, respectively".

[note: these numbers seem too large to me. Current truck traffic over the Pattullo is about 3000 trucks/day, or 300 trucks/hour over a 10 hour workday. Diverting these evenly over the two other bridges gives 150 trucks/hour on each - smaller than the report indicates.]

So, it's clear to me after reading this report, that a refurb to a 3-lane structure with counterflow lane and adequate bike/ped facilities, with 50 year lifespan is possible, and will cost $200M. It's also pretty clear that TransLink has no way to pay for this as it would be difficult to toll a refurbished bridge without having a coherent regional tolling strategy. Closing the Pattullo to trucks would divert traffic to the new Mega Mann, which should be able to handle the extra trucks, although the trucking industry would not like the detour. A refurb operation, however, would have impacts on the traffic during the 2-year construction period.

The initial decision for a 6-lane replacement was made in 2008, and was likely driven more by the "well, if we're gonna replace it, might as well widen it" mentality than by any overall planning considerations. However, the motivation to stick with this decision today is that a 6-lane replacement gives connections to the SFPR (for trucks) - and hence "benefit" - and, more importantly, that 6 lanes will give sufficient toll revenues to pay for the financing.

Translink is flat broke. It doesn't have $200M to spend on a refurb. It certainly doesn't have another $800M to give to Surrey for transit to sweeten the deal. The only way it has to fix the Pattullo is to build big - to attract traffic - and toll. The new Pattullo would look like the Golden Ears bridge - a P3 with tolls, and the public left holding the bag if the traffic doesn't show up.

How do we get TransLink out of this corner?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New West's Capital Works Plan

I sit on New Westminster's Neighborhood Traffic Advisory Committee (NTAC). Most of the committee members are representatives of the various neighborhood residents' associations, and NTAC is a venue for them to bring their traffic-related concerns to the City, and for the City to disseminate information back to the residents.  It's not that much work to sit on these committees, and it's a great way to learn about how the City works and a good way to meet the staff!

At the last meeting, we got to hear about the capital works projects that the City is planning for this year. Here is a map of all the things they are planning to do. It's kind of low-resolution (we got a higher resolution hardcopy at the meeting), but of most interest to me were the pedestrian crossing upgrades they are planning across 8th avenue (note: a "special crosswalk" is one with flashing lights). I'm pretty happy with these upgrades; these are all existing crosswalks in my neck of the woods, and all have safety issues. The cars along 8th never stop for pedestrians. That's a problem because this is a well-used bus route with lots of passengers crossing the road, and because all the kids north of 8th have to cross this street to get to school (McBride). So it's great to see the City taking action!

This is what happens when you complain about City infrastructure - all complaints (especially letters!) get looked at and prioritized, budgeted, and finally they make it on to the map. Yay!

Now, if you look really carefully at the map you'll see a blue shaded area in the middle of the city running north-south, and marked "CCTV". No, this is not some kind of surveillance scheme. Apparently Engineering is lowering cameras into the sewer system to check the pipes. Phew.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pattullo Bridge Repurposing Forum

Last night I attended the forum on "repurposing" the Pattullo, hosted by New West residents Daniel Fontaine and Keith Mackenzie, and sponsored by La Perla and 24 Hours. The format was 3 speakers (Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and our own transportation planner Jerry Behl), followed by an open question period. The event was attended by about 100 people, overwhelmingly from New West I believe, with a few residents of the Surrey Bridgeview neighborhood present. There were 3 New West city councillors there and 1 councillor from Surrey.

The title of the forum, as well as most of the advance publicity, was focussed on creative uses for a non-bridge, given that a new, 6-lane structure was a done deal. For this reason, I almost didn't attend. As far as I'm concerned, we still need to explore what kind of north-south connections we need across the Fraser, and where they should be. This discussion needs to be finished before we can reasonably start planning what to do with the old bridge. Who wants to bungy-jump next to 6 lanes of roaring truck traffic?

However, because I know Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and Jerry Behl, I had at least some hope that the discussion would also include a bit of bigger picture thinking about regional transportation planning and the Pattullo's role in this.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, none of the three invited panellists stuck to the script. None of them talked about creative uses of the bridge. All were highly critical of a 6-lane bridge and spent their presentations talking about traffic reduction in the context of high oil prices, about alternative freight movement, about historical precedents, and about the politics that has driven TransLink to this point. The Q&A session at the end continued in the same vein.

What did I learn? Here's a bullet list of the most interesting quotes I remember, in no particular order...
  • the new Port Mann is the widest bridge in Canada, with 10 lanes. Nothing on this scale exists in the more highly-populated provinces, or the busier border crossings. It is a bit of an anomaly.
  • the express bus service promised by Kevin Falcon across the Port Mann has been cancelled due to TransLink's lack of funds.
  • globally, we are almost finished with the cheap and easy oil, and now we are into the age of extreme oil. This means: higher prices, more volatility in supply, mounting environmental and political costs.
  • TransLink's traffic projections for the Pattullo and Golden Ears (and MoT's for the Port Mann) are all based on $60/bbl oil. Oil currently trades at around $80-100/bbl. It's unlikely to come down, unless there is a recession - and recessions cause a decrease in traffic.
  • trucks are the most energy-intensive form of freight transportation.
  • shipping by boat is cheap and likely to remain viable for a long time. With "new" technology boats can save 10-15% on fuel (of course, the bigger your sail, the more your savings. One could go back to sailboats and get 100% fuel savings...)
  • long-term freight movement needs to be done by boat and rail. Our current infrastructure is inadequate for this. The rail bridge next to the Pattullo is from 1905 (!!!) and still in operation (puts the "Pattullo is at the end of its life" statement in a bit of a different light).
  • planning and design for a new Pattullo will cost $100M over the next few years. $50M would supply Surrey with their desired light rail. (edit: this seems low to me so I checked. $50M won't buy light rail - it'll buy express buses across the new Port Mann, or along King George. Light rail is considerably more expensive.)
  • the real decision-makers are the Port and the trucking industry. These folks have the ear of the Province, who is, these days, making TransLink's decsions. These players do not attend open houses. They don't need to.
  • a 6-lane Pattullo was decided on in 2008. It was one of the first decisions made by the new TransLink board - the governance model was changed by the Province at that time, from a board of elected officials (mayors) to a board appointed by the Province. The main driver for this change: getting the Canada Line to the airport moved to the front of the queue in time for the Olympics (the mayors all wanted the Evergreen line first, so they were basically fired).
  • Experience shows that the Golden Ears Bridge is far underused. In contrast, the Canada Line is overcapacity after only 2 years in operation and is underbuilt (stations too small for much added capacity). Apparently we have plenty of money for throwing at car/truck infrastructure that is overbuilt (ie. a total waste of money), yet we claim we have no money for desperately needed transit infrastructure. Why is the press not all over this?
If you attended and can remember some other points I've missed, drop me a comment.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Jeff Rubin and The End of Growth

Recently my hubby and I attented a talk by Jeff Rubin at Capilano University. Part of the (low!) ticket price was a free copy of his latest book, The End of Growth (note: he's not the only one to have written a book with this title!).

Mr. Rubin is a really good speaker, very entertaining and thought-provoking. His main premise is that the days of cheap oil are gone, and that $100+/bbl oil will have economic consequences including:
- lower economic growth around the world and specifically very low growth in the developed world for years;
- the breakup of the European Monetary Union (the so-called "PIIGS" will leave the Euro) as debt-ridden, low-growth economies can no longer be supported by the richer members;
- lower social benefits (health, education, retirement) as governments struggle with debt load and lower tax revenues;
- permanently higher unemployment (especially for youth);
- pressure to decrease immigration...

None of these ideas are really new to me; I've been reading about this type of stuff for a while. This blog, in particular, has some pretty clearly reasoned arguments about the limits to growth and its consquences, from an economics perspective (as opposed to from a science perspective). While I may not buy into the rather apocalyptic visions of some of the peak oil doomers, I think it's pretty clear that changes are on the horizon.

Anyways, what I found interesting about his talk was his realpolitik take on a lot of these economic issues. Having been active in the heady world of international finance for decades, Mr. Rubin knows how decisions are made. He's pretty practical when it comes to realistic expectations of what can and can't be done. I found it interesting, for instance, to hear why Germany wants to have Greece in the Euro: it keeps the value of the Euro down, which is good for German exports. Not something I'd really realized before...

Another interesting point was that Mr. Rubin is not a big fan of the Kyoto or Copenhagen agreements, and basically thinks these kinds of treaties are a waste of time. Governments will simply back out of them when they really start to cost money...as Canada did to avoid paying a hefty fine for not living up to its treaty obligations!

Mr. Rubin's point is that rising energy costs alone cut energy use and GHG emissions. Becoming "more efficient" isn't good enough and is in fact counterproductive. There's enough analysis done by economists (inlcuding our own Mark Jaccard) that - in economics circles anyways - this isn't a controversial idea (and you can bet that BC Hydro understands this even if the Province - its political master - doesn't want to hear it). The only thing that makes people downsize is high prices. Kinda like the Vancouver housing market, eh?

Mr. Rubin's most surprising contention is that the IPCC predictions about climate-geddon will not come to pass because there isn't enough cheap hydrocarbon fuel (oil or coal) to burn to get us there. This is an interesting idea, although I'm not convinced. While I'm sure he's correct that the IPCC doesn't include any economic considerations in their predictions, I've not seen any hard analysis of, for instance, the energy prices that would be required to start shuttering coal-fired electricity in China, or to grind truck-based transportation in North America to a halt.

But since we've just hit 400ppm CO2 in the Arctic, if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, whatever that price limit is, we'd better hit it soon.