Governance & Politics
November 5, 2007

TransLink: Beyond Google

Info VP at TransLink, Bob Padden, has some follow-up to the Google presentation:

… the partnership with Google is just the beginning of an extensive push to ensure that TransLink has an engaging and effective web presence. 
Over the last year I have been leading a corporate-wide initiative called “E-Revolution” that has generated a comprehensive strategy that will see us rolling out online fare purchases, a system that will provide next scheduled bus, initially, and real time bus arrival as soon as the GPS and new bus communications system is installed (branded as MyBus), actual congestion information that estimates wait-time and finally, personalized travel alerts that will let you know if West Coast Express is delayed or there is a problem with your bus connections. 
In addition to the customer information, we will be engaging stakeholders and the public in on-line dialogue for policy development and project consultations (“TransLink Listens” now has over 5,000 subscribers across the region and its representation mirrors the accuracy of telephone surveys). 
Hey, we may soon be relevant in the cyberworld that is the 21st century.   

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It was one of those days.  TransLink launched their new trip-finder service with Google – the first city in Canada to do so – on the day the media had some raw meat to feed on: bus driver assaulted by teenage girls; bus burned.  TransLink execs paid big bucks for car use. 
And so a very cool new service gets lost in the buzz.  Cynicism increases.  
But let’s go back and check out what Google Transit can do.  I’ll use the demonstration the nice young man from Google showed us.
Let’s say you’re from out of town and have heard about the “Giant Crab of Doom.”  Forget Stanley Park; you want to see the giant crab.   How do you get there when all you know is that somewhere in the city, there’s a large, ominous crab?
You go to Google Maps – here.  And you type in “Giant Crab of Doom.”  Really.  Go ahead, try it out.
Because Google Maps is now integrating home-made ‘community maps,’ you’ve come across Danielle’s personal list of “Great Fountains of the World” as the first entry.  And to the right: a map specifying the location of our very own doom-like crab.  But still, how do you get there?
In the box on the map to the right, after “Get Directions,” click on “To Here.”
Now type in your own address in the blank box, assuming you’re in Vancouver, or, if not, try “SFU Harbour Centre.”  Click “Go.”
Google Maps will have given you default directions to go by car to the Vancouver Museum.
But now the good part: On the upper left, under “Search Results,” second line down, you’ll see after “Drive There,” the option to “Take Public Transit.”
Which, of course, you will click so you can get this:

Now you have walking directions to the nearest transit stop that will get you to the closest place from which to walk to said crab.  Of course, there’s the name of the bus, the route, the schedule, and the option to get all the details for the reverse trip.  You get the travel time – 20 minutes in my case.
Up near the top of the box on the left, there’s “Options” to choose other dates and times, as well as alternate routes.
You can zoom in on the map to get a closer look, and change to “Satellite” or “Hybrid”  to see details of the urban fabric. 
It doesn’t tell you how much the trip costs – but there is a link to “TransLink” at the bottom.
Altogether, a very cool way to get to meet your crab of doom.

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I spent all day yesterday at a Stakeholder Transportation Forum – part of the public consultation process for Transport 2040, to help shape TransLink’s 30-year strategy.
And lest your  eyes glaze over and your brain turn numb when contemplating such a wonk-fest, be assured, this was one of the best such processes I’ve attended – certainly the best use of the Wosk Centre I’ve ever seen – where the feedback was immediately transcribed, refined by a ‘theme team,’ projected for all to see and vote on, and the senior staff of the agency were all present to listen.
Of course it was also a bit of a farce.  It doesn’t much matter what we think: the real 30-year plan will be devised in Victoria, by people we have never heard of, who never attend sessions like this, who are accountable to basically one man – the Minister of Transportation.
Under the proposed restructuring of TransLink, the provincial government establishes the 30-year vision for integrated transportation from Pemberton to Hope; it sets “clear goals to guide TransLink and other transportation agencies in preparing their respective plans.”
Regardless of what the citizens of the Lower Mainland may prefer, TransLink’s strategy and plans must be consistent with the provincial government’s.  If Victoria determines that the Lower Mainland is to become the loading dock of North America, then the priority will be the roads and bridges and rail lines needed to achieve that, and that’s where the money will go.
In any event, much of the discussion that filled the Wosk Centre simply isn’t relevant to the Ministry of Transportation.  It’s policy branch, for instance, is described as “responsible for planning the future of the highway system and for implementing large scale capital projects.”  No menton of land use, transit, climate change, sustainability, blah, blah.  These boys build roads.
I keep waiting to hear when stakeholder consultation will occur with the Ministry of Transportation – really, the only people who count, since they will be the ones shaping our future.  I understand they meet with the Gateway Council, with those whose vision is consistent with the Minister’s, but what about all those who spent a day at the Wosk Centre? 
Perhaps the policy-makers in Victoria will get a PowerPoint presentation and a pdf file.

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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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Business interests dominate new TransLink panel
By Jeff Nagel
Black Press
Aug 22 2007
The province has taken its first step toward installing a professional unelected board of directors to run a radically reformed TransLink. A screening panel of five people that critics say is too heavily weighted in favour of business interests has now been chosen to nominate prospective TransLink directors.
The panel consists of:
•Graham Clarke, chosen by the province. He is chair of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade and owner of the Clarke Group of Companies.
•Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, nominated by TransLink directors and Metro Vancouver mayors.
•Hugh Lindsay, chosen by the BC Institute of Chartered Accountants, is president of FMG Financial Mentors Group Inc.
•Dave Park, nominated by the Vancouver Board of Trade and that organization’s chief economist.
•Bob Wilds, nominated by the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council. He is the council’s managing director and is on the board of the Business Council of B.C. and a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade.
The five panelists are to propose 15 qualified candidates, from which a group of area mayors will select nine directors who will form the new TransLink board in January.
The panel is expected to begin its work soon on orders of transportation minister Kevin Falcon even though the legislation to overhaul TransLink introduced in the spring has not yet become law.

Note, these are not the people on the new board; they will choose those who will be, after being vetted by the region’s Mayors.  
The easiest question to ask of them is, of course: do you use transit.  But that’s a cheap shot. 
No, the critical question is this: name the place you’d like us to be more like.  Tell us about your vision for Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – and how you anticipate the investment we make in transportation will help achieve this vision.
Since we’re turning over city building in this paradise (to paraphrase the title of Mike Harcourt’s new book) to the Board of Trade, we need to know what their version of paradise is like.  So we won’t be surprised.

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Planning Director Brent Toderian thinks Vancouver’s designers should take this New York challenge to heart.
It’s in this issue of Metropolis.

We’re poised to build the sustainable twenty-first century—as Mayor Mike envisions in his 127 proposed projects, many of them impacting the design community: the creation of parks, retrofitting buildings, making schools community-friendly, new transit, and more housing. …
Will the design community respond to the challenge of building the twenty-first-century city? Will they rally around the mayor’s plan? Will other leaders be able to see beyond their own egos?

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August 20, 2007

After the GVRD announced a change of name to Metro Vancouver, editors assigned reporters to another story on that old chestnut: the amalgamation of the region’s municipalities into a megacity, a la Toronto and Montreal.
Jeff Nagel at Black Press did the most comprehensive piece here.

This region now has a spiffy new name – Metro Vancouver – replacing the clunky old Greater Vancouver Regional District.
Could the name change approved this summer be just the first step towards a mass merger of the 21 member municipalities into one giant megacity like Toronto or Montreal?
Not likely, according to a sampling of politicians and experts.

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August 15, 2007

Given the person, the place and policy, this is an extraordinary statement :

“It’s a very major matter that threatens Canadian unity,” said Lougheed, who seldom speaks out on public policy matters.

While Ottawa, Alberta and the oil industry have historically clashed, Lougheed predicted that the bubbling battle “will be 10 times greater than in the past” because the public is more engaged than ever before.
“I’ve been worried about this confrontation growing and growing,” said Lougheed. “It’s just been boiling with me over the last few weeks.”

Peter Lougheed is speaking of climate change, and the Alberta tar sands.   I went to the Calgary paper to see how his remarks were treated.  From the Calgary Herald:

Alberta ground zero for green battle

On one side is the Canadian public, deeply worried about climate change, putting pressure on the federal government for strong environmental protection legislation that will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other side is the province of Alberta, which has constitutional power over its non-renewable resources, including the oilsands around Fort McMurray, which have been dubbed “Alberta’s Runaway Train” because they are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in the country.

Look, it’s a moral issue.  We can continue to make ourselves rich and secure by mining the tar sands – so long as we are prepared to ignore climate change, discount our environment, both local and global, and, to put it most bluntly, write off the planet for our short-term advantage. 
Lougheed looked into the mirror:

Now 79, the elder statesman who led the province from 1971 to 1985 remains an Alberta icon. He already sounded an alarm last summer over the oilsands, calling for a slowdown as the industry seeks sustainable solutions to cap pollution and the strain on the water supply.
Lougheed’s concern was sparked by a helicopter ride over the oilsands in June 2006.
“When you actually see the magnitude of it by helicopter, it just gets you,” he told reporters. “I was appalled by what was happening there.”

In three weeks, $38 billion was invested in the tar sands by just three firms.

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Read this story – Road Kill: Why are we so worried about terrorism when so many more people are dying on our highways? – and then ask yourself:

Why will the Provincial and Federal governments not legislate against the use of cell phones while driving?

Not allow the use of photo radar?

Not limit the horsepower of vehicles?

These actions will save lives, by the tens of thousands, and yet we are adamant as a society (since there is almost no pressure on legislators to do any of the above) that we will not take these actions.  

A relatively small number of deaths by terrorism will change laws, restrict freedoms and redirect billions of dollars.  Thousands of deaths on the road mean, essentially, nothing.

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By, in this instance, the Washington Post:

Vancouver’s Olympic Challenge
City Faces Pressure to Fulfill Social Pledges That Helped It Win 2010 Winter Games
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 23, 2007; A11

VANCOUVER — Rob Skish is looking forward to the 2010 Winter Olympics. A “binner” who plumbs garbage containers to fill his shopping cart with food for his stomach and cans for the recycler, Skish figures that when the Olympic crowds come to town, the pickings in the bins will be good.
“They’ll be full,” said Skish, 40. “But there will be a lot more people picking. They will come from all over the world.”
Skish’s prediction is the stuff of bad dreams for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
When the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver, visitors will find one of the most alluring cities in North America, a green and vibrant port to Asia brimming with diversity, skyscrapers and West Coast cool. But if they take a wrong turn, they will enter Downtown Eastside, a 16-block area teeming with drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and panhandlers.
The side alleys are open markets for crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The streets reek of urine. Rates of AIDS and hepatitis C are at Third World levels. Those who don’t have rooms in some shabby flophouse sleep on the pavement. A U.N. report last month called the area “the trouble in paradise.”
To win the Games, Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments made some of the boldest promises of any Olympic bid. They promised to add 800 new housing units a year for four years. They promised to cut homelessness and to ensure that people living on welfare and disability checks aren’t ousted from their hotels for higher-paying guests.
The city had already seen that happen once. Thousands of low-income residents were dislocated for the 1986 world’s fair, Expo 86. Olaf Solheim, an 88-year-old former logger with a long white beard, starved to death, disoriented and confused, after being evicted from his home of more than 40 years at the Patricia Hotel in Downtown Eastside. A welfare housing block is now named after him.
“I believe the Downtown Eastside will be the legacy of this Olympics. It will be a lot different,” the mayor said in an interview at City Hall. “We want every investment we make to leave a legacy that is needed by the city.”
Full article here.

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