Public Transit
June 19, 2019

Washington State Going for Electric Transit Buses with Volkswagen’s Settlement Funds

Via Tom Durning this story from Washington State which is just starting to receive the settlement that Volkswagen is required to pay to all fifty states. In 2015 Volkswagen was found liable for working around emission standards on their diesel vehicles and were required to pay out almost three billion dollars to the states to “reduce diesel dependency and related pollution” as Hannah Weinberger describes in Crosscut.

Washington State allocated the first $13.3 million dollars among six transit companies that purchased fifty zero-emission electric transit buses, and plans to also invest in electric school buses. In total Washington State  will receive $112.7 million from the settlement, and will be directing half of those funds to electrifying existing buses and trucks. Of the nearly 3,500 transit buses in the state, many use diesel as their fuel.

Volkswagen settlement funds represent a critical opportunity for states to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Washington is taking a big step in the right direction here, and we hope other states — some of which are still spending on dirty diesel buses — will take heed,” says the National Resources Defense Council’s Luke Tonachel, who directs its Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group.

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Everyone has an opinion on them and in Asia there are over two hundred million in use. Although the technology is twenty years old, “e-bikes” or electric bikes originally had cumbersome heavy batteries that did not last long. Lithium ion batteries now replace those huge early batteries and can weigh ten pounds or less, half the weight of earlier e-bike batteries, and have a range of up to 60 miles or nearly 100 kilometers.

Technically the difference between an electric bike and a regular one is an electric drive system and a power control.  An e-bike can level the playing field for people of all ages and fitness levels to ride hills and shorten the time it takes to travel. While there is an electric motor to provide a power assist, it does not need to be used all the time, and e-bikes can also be used for small shopping errands that normally would require a car.

The Province of British Columbia has just announced that a bigger rebate of $850 to purchase an e-bike will be given to people who junk cars through their program.While only 2.5 percent of people in this province are currently biking, the Province’s mandate is to double active transportation trips~those by walking, rolling or cycling~by 2030. E-bikes are on the verge of becoming the next big thing in Metro Vancouver, and it turns out that electric bikers might actually be happier too.

There’s a new article in the Journal of Transport and Health coming out in September that examines the qualitative reasons that people on e-bike have adjusted to this form of travel. It turns out that people on e-bikes identify four main reasons for happiness:

  1. Having reliance and comfort in controlling the commute and having dependable reliability on arrival times, regardless of  traffic;
  2. Being able to be outdoors, with the sights, sounds, and nature visible on the commute;
  3. Enjoying the impact of moderate intensity exercise to and from destinations;
  4. Having the chance for enhanced social interaction with others along the route.
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I have previously been writing about  midblock crossings and raised crosswalks on this blog as well as on Walk Metro Vancouver’s website.

There is always lots of discussion about midblock crossings, and the term “jaywalking” was developed in the 1920’s to refer to those pedestrians who darted mid-block instead of freeing up that road space for rapidly moving vehicles. Pedestrians were moved to intersections controlled by engineering traffic standards, as the assumption was that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American  Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and with all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.

I have also written about my involvement with the installation of the first permanent raised crosswalk in Vancouver located at East 22nd Avenue and Commercial Street north of Lord Selkirk Elementary School. The raised crosswalk is a walkable speed hump that is at the same grade as the sidewalk on either side of the street. The raised crosswalk serves to  elevate the pedestrian, and slows vehicular traffic which should be travelling the posted school speed limit anyway. You have probably driven over the  raised crosswalks located outside the Vancouver Airport.

So how effective are mid-block crossings and raised crosswalks at making pedestrians safer, more comfortable and secure on the street?Angie Schmitt of StreetsBlog has been collecting data on pedestrians and crossing safely, and the statistics she has found are quite shocking. In looking at how many drivers yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk without a traffic signal or signage, she found that only 16 to 32 percent of drivers will stop for those pedestrians.

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There is a  loophole enabling developers not to pay the full cost of property tax on undeveloped property in Vancouver. A developer can purchase a piece of land in the city and instead of immediately establishing a timetable for development can leave the land fallow for temporary community gardens or parks.  As Dan Fumano in this article dryly observes, the taxation on these temporary developer owned community gardens have been a “perennial” issue.

This loophole has been flying below the radar for quite some time. In 2017 Kerry Gold in BCBusiness  noted that  15 properties were converted from class 6, or commercial, to class 8—community garden or public park use. While developers cite the high value of holding land and the length of time it takes to get development permits as reasons to allow the low tax rate for community gardens, Simon Fraser University’s  Duke of Data Andy Yan has another take.

We are rewarding land hoarding and subsidizing it through these community gardens. We are losing tax money to subsidize this thing that looks good—and all we’re getting in return are really expensive taxpayer-subsidized tomatoes. They are the most expensive tomatoes in North America.”

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While most cities are now embracing the importance of ensuring that cyclists and sidewalk users have safe accessible ways to travel to services, shops and schools, Saskatoon has proven to be the remarkable disappointment, choosing hyperbole and conjecture instead of good data and researched example in ripping out their existing protected downtown bike lane.

We talk about equity, sharing the road and giving the most vulnerable road users priority,  but places deeply entrenched in vehicular movement use those politics to continue the 20th century domination of road space. I have written about the Transport for London study released this spring that shows that street improvements for walking and cycling increased time on retail streets by 216 percent, with retail space vacancies declining 17 percent. Best of all, and just like studies conducted in New York and Toronto “people walking, cycling and using public transport spend the most in their local shops, spending 40% more each month than car drivers”.

Back to Saskatoon. This is a perfect place to put in protected bike lanes, and they are needed to provide connected, safe travel. But imagine this~in April Saskatoon City Council voted to remove the protected bike lanes on Fourth Avenue North which had been in place for two years. Why? Because of “member of the public” complaints about limited parking space. What that really meant is that drivers could not park in front of businesses as they had been accustomed to.  Drivers were also concerned that bike lanes were cleared of snow before vehicle lanes, and that cyclists were in danger in drivers’ “blind spots”.

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Trust The Tyee’s Chris Cheung who consistently finds the story in front of the headline, and his latest article does not disappoint. Douglas Coupland wrote a book on Vancouver called “City of Glass”  describing  Vancouver’s towerscape, which is tall, not particularly inviting to look at, and appears to have a whole lot of glass.

Chris Cheung  introduces Genta Ishiumura, a recent graduate in Architecture who looked at Vancouver’s glass landscape after taking a course on “window behaviourology” in Switzerland from Tokyo architect Momoyo Kaijima.

In a time when we are moving toward a more sustainable city, Ishimura notes that the floor to ceiling glass walls of towers are energy wasters, requiring a lot of energy to maintain ambient temperatures. The glass towers are also rather impersonal~in Vancouver it has not been about the close views, but the long range distant vistas. And focusing on the long range views adds “a lack of intimacy and creates a disconnection between occupants and the world outside”.

Ishimura suggests a two fold approach in his thesis work: firstly, create a new exoskeleton for existing towers to deal with the energy loss of huge windows. Secondly, use the opportunity provided by the exoskeleton to create new windows and balconies for more floor space with a flexible use.

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In 2015, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) undertook a strategic planning process that might have invited a bit of cynicism — give a fancy name and lengthy timeline to a stock-in-trade exercise, and call it transformative.

That exercise, however, was Re-Imagine Downtown Vancouver, and it has already proven to be anything but typical. For one, it’s a 25-year legacy ‘vision’ project laid upon a foundation of rigorous research and public engagement. For another, it included recommendations that, unlike many corporate visions, were tied to tangible actions that would change the very face of downtown and how it would be utilized for the next generation.

And as a public expression of that vision’s intention, CEO Charles Gauthier committed DVBIA to “bring something to life” within the first year of releasing the report. So they did — award-winning Alley Oop, the laneway behind West Hastings street between Seymour and Granville, which was transformed from service corridor into a bright, playful public space.

An even better example of the Re-Imagine commitment? The governance structure of the DVBIA itself which, behind Gauthier’s leadership, was re-jigged — Board refreshed, committees disbanded, committees created — in order to empower and energize the organization, and better position it to realize the recommendations contained in the Re-Imagine report.

As a result of bringing the leaders of tomorrow to the forefront of the organization, the DVBIA has, of late, found itself championing a variety of initiatives that, as Gord put it, seem a bit foreign for a business-forward organization. Bike lanes. Child care. Living wages. Why would a business advocacy organization be involved in many of the same issues that are often believed to make business more challenging?

Gauthier answers this question, and many more, with the support of special guests Landon Hoyt and Julianne King of the SFU Public Square research team that led the project. Armed with three years’ worth of data and insights, they compare reality to the plan, and give an honest assessment of how well-positioned the DVBIA is to move forward, both with ongoing dialogue, and the commitment to change.

Championing the Vision: 3 Years into Re-imagine” will be presented to members at the DVBIA Annual General Meeting next Tuesday, as one of the cornerstones of the organization’s resolution to renew its mandate for another 10 years, which will be subject to a vote.

Guess what? We think it might just pass.

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Do you live or work on the North Shore? Are you a fan of Price Talks, the podcast? Want to hear — and be part of — a discussion about decisions on housing, transportation, and public spaces in West and North Vancouver?

Join Gord and a panel of local residents and pundits in a public chat, and a live recording of Price Talks:

Wednesday, June 26
Doors @ 6:30pm | Recording @ 7:00pm

North Vancouver District Public Library – Lynn Valley Branch
1277 Lynn Valley Road, North Vancouver

Register here — tickets are free.

After the recording, the conversation will continue next door at Brown’s Social House.

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The ‘golden age’ of active transportation development in Vancouver continues, with ongoing expansion of the downtown bike network now reaching Drake Street.

Despite what you may hear elsewhere, Drake isn’t very sexy, or even that interesting. But as the City suggests, Drake is actually essential to the concept of a complete network, because it connects where people are coming from, to where they want to go.

A fair number of people cycle beyond the protected cycling facilities on Drake Street, indicating…strong desire.

Currently, cycling volumes on Drake Street are highest between Burrard Street and Hornby Street, the only section with dedicated cycling facilities.

That “strong desire” is based on evidence of an average of 500 daily midweek bike trips in the summer, about 40% of the volume at the separated portion.

By focusing on the rest of Drake, one can infer that, not only is the ultimate goal to provide safe passage for those venturing between Burrard/Hornby and Richards, Homer, or to destinations like David Lam Park, but that more people could be drawn into downtown by bike in the first place, if only these connecting bits (like Drake) had dedicated facilities.

Here’s where the City needs your input — they’re seeking feedback on two different design options, plus ideas on how to support the activities of local businesses, organizations, and residents.

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There are two stories here. One is told by Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger that young people are just not into cars, and carmakers haven’t figured out how to get that group interested. Even an analyst for the J.D. Power research firm detailed the problem:

“Gen Z buyers’ participation in the new-car space is declining year after year. We expect to see them get their first job and buy a car. But we’re not seeing this.”

In the United States in 1983 46 percent of 16 year olds had drivers licences; in 2016 that figure was 26 percent. As Lloyd Alter observes “young people just might care more about the air they and their kids are breathing  than they do about the conveniences in cars.” He also points out that this socially responsible tech-savvy cohort chooses to live in places where they don’t have to drive.

The other story and it is Big News is that anyone 18 years or younger living in the City of Victoria will get a free transit bus pass, no matter what school they are going to. The 6,000 passes will cost $850,000, and will be covered by the City’s Sunday downtown parking fees. This is a great way for students to use the transit system and become accustomed to public transit, of course also meaning that there will be less vehicles on the road.

That was echoed by Susan Brice, chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission:  “Anytime we can get more kids riding the bus and making bus riding a part of their life and a habit, that’s good for all of us.” 

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