This week, Alex Boston, the Executive Director of the Renewable Cities program at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on the proposed two big changes threatening to upend phases 2 and 3 of TransLink’s Mayors Plan.
Boston’s piece is a call, if slightly veiled, to Vancouver’s Kennedy Stewart and Surrey’s Doug McCallum to do what they were elected to do when it comes to regional matters — understand all the issues in a city which are regionally dependent or impactful, obtain support and confidence from your respective councils on big ideas, and work collaboratively with the other mayors and the TransLink Board to realize them.
But of course as you may know, it’s never that easy. And much like the housing crisis, there may not even be agreement on what the two problems are.
Boston makes his position, and that of many academics, planners and pundits, that in the end, nothing should be done (or re-done, or undone) without a business case.
Since his accompanying, longer piece published on the Renewable Cities website includes some numbers, it’s a bit more compelling for those who are, shall we say, extra passionate about this issue.
Most interesting is the table comparing employment and resident densities — and the relative thresholds for shifting between transit type — of TransLink, the GTA’s Metrolinx, and the Government of Ontario.
(One assumes that, in addition to residents and workers, variegated student populations are also accounted for specifically due to the question of rail to UBC.)
What’s striking in looking at the table, and thinking about Boston’s argument in favour of business cases, is where the gaps are. While Translink has very granular density threshold guidelines in place for the lower-capacity, ‘bus end” of the spectrum, it’s not clear they’ve established similar thresholds for subway/Skytrain, rapid rail/bus, and commuter rail, as have the transit authorities in Toronto and across the rest of Ontario. If they do, they’re keeping them a bit too quiet given the present debate.
Toronto also takes the extra step, ala Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan, of linking demand thresholds to mode share targets.
Thus, one of the questions Boston’s deep-dive analysis prompts — whether he intended to do so or not — is whether aspects of TransLink’s Phase 2 and Phase 3 plans may have been developed without the benefit of a full set of demand guidelines, from which a bullet-proof case for high-speed, high-capacity solutions could be formed.
And so, while it should not be a reason to shy away from dissecting the plans, Kennedy and McCallum had better be prepared — back to Boston’s central point — to do an even better job of justifying their very specific remedies.
If indeed density thresholds, carrying capacities, and service standards have been established and agreed upon between the mayors and TransLink, and the mayors agree that transportation planning entails defining not ‘shovel-ready’ but ‘shovel-worthy’ projects (as Boston testified to as a witness at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities this past May on Ottawa), then maybe all this recent talk about extending or swapping in Skytrain is just that — talk.
Maybe, just maybe, the mayors didn’t want to bore us all with the reality of business case writing. Which is a process unto itself, a veritable rabbit hole, down into the warren of wonk.
Yet, with campaign season well behind us, maybe we’re all finally ready for some data-driven decision-making.
Tomorrow, Part II — a comparison of some of the metrics that would, in part, form business cases for the UBC extension, and Surrey and Langley Skytrain lines…and how they’re very, very different.
Photo credit: Colin Knowles, “Skytrain abstract 6“