May 27, 2008

The Pulse of Paris

In Price Tags 101 – on the Paris bike-sharing system known as Velib’ – I wondered what patterns would emerge, given that the system collects real-time data every time a bike is used.

Well, here’s the answer:

This is an animation of the Velib’ system for a full day (February 10th) based on the number of bikes available at each station.  More here.

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Next up: London

We’ve already seen the massive success of urban bike sharing in Paris, but now the super-smart Velib Bike program is taking to the streets of London! 15,000 bikes, 1,000 stations and more than 7.5 million miles of combined biking later have already been implemented in London, and the new scheme will contribute £75 million and 6,000 shared bikes to the mass biking scheme. Spearheaded by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the new ‘granny bike’ sharing scheme will reduce traffic congestion and help clear up the air of England’s sprawling capital city.

More here.

In Vancouver, we’re waiting for (1) the report out by TransLink on recommendations of the task force set up to examine bike-sharing for this region.  And (2) support by those running for office in the upcoming election.

How about we ask them.


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Brisbane looks set to become the first Australian capital city to join several European centres in introducing a public bike hire scheme, with the city’s council launching a call for proposals for the project at the weekend. Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said the scheme would be similar to the Paris and Barcelona models.

There’ll be bike (stations) every 300m in the inner parts of Brisbane and in terms of the price structure, it could be similar to Paris, where the first half-hour is free’. Mr Newman said the initial stage of the project would have 2000 bikes at 150 stations across innercity Brisbane, from Newstead in the inner-north to the University of Queensland at St Lucia in the city’s southwest.”


[Thanks to Stephen Ingrouille]


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Bravo to The Sun for stoking a discussion on the future of Burrard Bridge – Bridging the Repair Bill Gap.  Journalist Catherine Rolfsen found a range of opinon, from going ahead with the widening but trying to do it cheaper, to building a separate low-level bridge. 

I like that idea.  Build a passerelle, as the French call them, and as so many cities are doing

My current favourite: the Simone de Beauvoir Passerelle across the Seine:

Cost in 2006: 21 million Euros.  But there are so many bridges varying in size and cost, so many being done by great architects with cities vying to outdo each other that I’ll feature some in upcoming posts.   (Send in your nominations!) 

Some are icons for their city, like the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

According to the Wayfaring Travel Guide:

The 808 metre long bridge has a 139 metre-high asymmetrical pylon, earning the bridge its nickname of “The Swan” by locals because of its graceful posture over the water. The southern span of the bridge has a 89 metre long bascule bridge for ships that cannot pass under the bridge. The bascule bridge is the largest and heaviest in West Europe and has the largest panel of its type in the world. The bridge was officially opened by Queen Beatrix on 6.09. 1996, having cost about 75 million Euros to construct.

It’s time to put together a task force to really explore the options and not lose a chance to build something truly great – and affordable.


UPDATE: Councillor Chow calls for False Creek pedestrian bridge. 

Derek Moscato’s column in The Province: It feels like we’re being taken for a ride ….

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In arguing against action on the Burrard Bridge, to make it safe for cyclists and pedestrians, The Sun has it exactly backwards.

Let’s just stick to fixing the railings on Burrard Bridge

There is no evidence that widening the sidewalks will increase the numbers cycling or walking, but it’s a sure bet that vehicular traffic will grow.

 If I were a Sun editorial writer, I wouldn’t take that bet.

In fact, the number of vehicles moving on the Downtown Peninsula has been dropping since the mid-1990s.  Cycling has been the fastest growing mode of travel.  And the Burrard Bridge would more than likely seen an explosion of cycling use if the route was separated and safe.

Resolving the Burrrard Bridge problem would simultaneously improve local air-quality, address climate change, reduce traffic congestion and promote public health.  And yet The Sun is arguing that no action should be taken – other than to review some old reports. 

At this time, on this planet, in this city, that is perverse. Read more »

On July 4th, 2004, the people of Redding, CA, celebrated the opening of a footbridge – a spectacular piece of engineering art that would become an internationally known icon for their small town. 

Designed by Santiago Calatrava (who has gone on to become one of the world’s ‘starchitects’), the Sun Dial Bridge is 700 feet long and cost $23 million. 

By comparison, the distance between the seawalls on the North and South Shores of False Creek at the Burrard Bridge is about 950 feet.  And I’m guessing that for something under $62 million, the estimated cost of widening Burrard Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, we might get something equally iconic.  

It’s time the city seriously looked at that option. 

We need a passerelle across False Creek – a low-level structure that so many cities are choosing for their narrow water crossings, as I discussed here.  And I’m not the only one.

Real-estate consultant and City Program instructor Herb Auerbach feels the same:

During the  open house seeking public opinion on the renovation of the Burrard Bridge to better accommodate pedestrians and bicycles I recommended that a better alternative was to consider a dedicated light weight pedestrian/bicycle bridge. This recommendation was pooh poohed by the consultants at the open house as technically not feasible and too expensive. In light of the new estimates for renovating the Bridge perhaps this should be reconsidered. 

I was delighted to hear an interview with a Carol McArthur (?) the other morning on CBC re the idea for a pedestrian cycle bridge across Burrard Inlet in lieu of trying to modify the bridge for $62 million.  I couldn’t agree more, that that is the best, most effective, efficient and people (tourist) friendly solution. 

It would also enhance the link from English Bay promenade and the Aquatic Centre to the Maritime Museum, Vancouver Museum and Festival sites (Children’s, Bard on the Beach), Kits Pool, Conservatory and Archives without negatively effecting, in fact reducing the impacts on the Kits Point neighborhoods.   It also precludes “tampering” with the Burrard Bridge which has heritage characteristics.

In a world of changing climate, rising energy costs, increasing obesity and limited budgets, how odd that decision makers aren’t spending ‘the first dollar’ on solutions that we know will address all of these challenges simultaneously.  

UPDATE: Several commentators have noted the inability to build a low-level bridge because of False Creek boat traffic.  Correction: sailboat traffic.   Barges and motor-boats would still be able to slip underneath most passerelles.   The problem is with the masts of sailboats and the occasional very large boat. 

Okay – that’s the trade-off.  Unless a draw-bridge was included – too expensive to man, says the city – then sailboat traffic would have to be phased out of False Creek or limited to those with masts that could be lowered. 

So that’s the choice: provide ustainable transportation for literally thousands of people a day, save the heritage features of the Burrard Bridge, provide better connections for Kitsilano and the West End, create an iconic structure, and do it all for less cost.  Or serve sailboats as the highest priority.

It’s time there was at least a discussion about that trade-off.


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I suppose there was a remote chance that Vancouver could have had North America’s first Paris-style bike sharing program (see Price Tags 101 for details).  But now it looks like Washington, D.C. will be the pace-setter. 

The New York Times has an article here.

Starting next month, people here will be able to rent a bicycle day and night with the swipe of a membership card.

A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city…  The district has teamed up with an advertiser, Clear Channel Outdoor, to put the bikes on the streets…

In the deal, Clear Channel will have exclusive advertising rights in the city’s bus shelters. The company has reached a similar deal with San Francisco. Chicago and Portland, Ore., are also considering proposals from advertisers.

Proponents hope to see the D.C. system grow to a thousand bikes in about a year – a necessity, I’d say, since 120 bikes aren’t enough to reach critical mass. 

TransLink currently has a study underway as a result of a motion moved by Peter Ladner under the old structure.  It should go to the executive committee in a week or so, and then to the board.  The report won’t likely be posted, since these meetings are all closed.  Indeed, it’s possible we won’t even know publicly if it’s killed off at that point. 

But I’m hopeful that some progress will be made towards a full-scale system that will show this region is sincere about leadership in sustainable transportation options.


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Thanks to all you PT readers who came out to celebrate the 100th issue of Price Tags and the donation of my slide collection to the Active Transportation Lab at UBC.  (Special thanks to Larry Frank, the Bombardier Chair at SCARP and to the Bombardier Foundation for making it possible.)

Of course, fellow blogger Stephen Rees was there – and here’s his summary.

What will most people remember?  Probably this:

Thanks, B:C:Clettes – you give new meaning to pedal power.


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This bit of pavement doesn’t rank as “New Stuff” quite yet: it’s the southern end of the Carrall Street Greenway (design here) – a critical link between the False Creek seawall and, eventually, Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour, completing the loop around the Downtown Peninsula.  Eventually, thousands will be biking, blading and walking on this connecting link every day, joining up Gastown, the Downtown East Side, Chinatown and Concord Pacific Place.

Indeed, Concord Pacific has placed the Presentation Centre, where they market their current projects, right next to the Greenway:

Now, if you look carefully (and I have), you’ll notice something very odd: there’s no bike rack.  Regardless of the traffic flowing by on the seawall and already using the greenway, Concord has made no accommodation for cyclists at all.

In fact, the whole lay-out of the Presentation Centre site has been designed purely for drive-in traffic.  There’s no pedestrian entrance on the seawall, and even the berm that surrounds the site on the north side avoids providing a pathway for bikes and peds directly to the entrance. 

The assumption: if you didn’t drive to get there, you don’t count.

Now here’s what I find odd.  Not that they designed the site only for cars, not that they have don’t have a bike rack, not that they’re ignoring the traffic on the seawall.  What I find incomprehensible is that they failed to take advantage of one of the best marketing opportunities available today – one that they paid millions for, and that they could lever to make millions more. 

It was Concord, after all, that paid for the seawall on the North Shore of False Creek; it is Pacific Place that pioneered a more pedestrain-friendly urban design.  Concord already has the brand!

And as I’ve written elsewhere about bike sharing, “green” makes green.  Sustainability is, as any strategic thinker realizes, the wave of the present, not just the future.  Whether it’s peak oil, climate change, smart-growth or resilient planning, any company that has an opportunity to position themselves for the future – when disruption can turn into opportunity – has the opportunity to put money in the bank.  “Gas expensive?  Live without a car.”  “Reduce your carbon footprint – and your weight.  Live in a walking-friendly community”    “Smart growth?  It starts here.”

And Concord, apparently, is oblivious.  Forget ‘good intentions’ or even the city’s bylaws that require bike racks.  To not take advantage of what you’ve already paid for, to fail to market your legitimately green credentials, to ignore your potential customers walking and cycling by, is leaving money on the table. 

That’s what the absense of a bike rack really means. 




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